Friday, December 21, 2007

The Great Pipeline Game

In May 2006, the US and EU made a determined effort to convince Kazakh officials to build a gas pipeline, around Russia in order to supply the energy needs of Europe. "Top officials from the European Union and the US are visiting Kazakhstan in an attempt to revive the idea of a gas pipeline bypassing Russia. Kazakhstan's energy minister told the EU's energy commissioner his country favoured the proposal for a pipeline across the Caspian Sea." Kazakhstan should be pumping up to 45 billion cubic meters of natural gas by 2015.

That effort failed today as Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan signed a deal to build a gas pipeline through areas controlled by Moscow to the EU. "The pipeline will skirt the Caspian Sea from Turkmenistan to southern Russia via Kazakhstan and will be built by the end of 2010. The trilateral agreement was signed in Moscow in the presence of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan."

The agreement will likely disappoint the US and the EU, which have been lobbying for a rival pipeline to be built under the Caspian Sea, analysts said. They had hoped to pipe Turkmen gas across the Caspian Sea via Turkey, in order to reduce the EU's dependence on Russian-controlled energy. ... Prospects for pipelines under the Caspian have been clouded by high costs, environmental concerns and disputes over ownership of the sea resources.

It was do-or-die not only for the EU but also for Russia, which needed to cement relations with Kazakhstan in order to keep it's leverage over the other 'stans. STRATFOR, in a subscription-only report said that failing to get the pipeline would mean

Russia could lose control over the region's petroleum output of some 2 million barrels per day of crude and 70 billion cubic meters annually of natural gas. That would not just hit the Russian pocketbook from lost transit income, but in the case of natural gas it would prevent Russia from meeting its European supply contracts. Those contracts have long been vital in influencing Europe.

Second, more is at stake in Kazakhstan than "merely" the points mentioned earlier. Russia does not border the other four Central Asian states -- its influence there must be projected through Kazakhstan. Should Kazakhstan slip away from Russia, the other four states will have little choice but to follow, expunging Russian influence from the entire region.

The deal between Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan looks to represent a big win for Russia. The Asia Times points out that Russia's growing lock over the EU's energy markets may also be a big win for Iran. With Europe's growing dependence for energy, it may soon have no place else to turn for alternatives but Iran.

After much US prodding for a coordinated European energy security policy, European Union (EU) members adopted at their spring summit in Brussels an action plan for energy security for 2007-2009, which emphasized the need to diversify Europe's energy sources and transport routes. But the ground reality continues to be that Europe's dependence on Russian energy supplies is growing. In 2006, Europe imported from Russia 290.8 million tonnes of oil and 130 billion cubic meters of gas. ...

As supply becomes concentrated in Russian hands, the Kremlin will find itself in a position to dictate oil and gas prices. There is also the possibility that the supply and demand situation itself might become less elastic - Russia's own demand for gas, for instance, is growing by over 2% annually.

Clearly, the economics of energy supply to Europe are getting highly politicized. Ariel Cohen, a prominent Russia specialist at the US think-tank, Heritage Foundation, who is closely connected with the George W Bush administration, wrote recently, "It is in the US's strategic interests to mitigate Europe's dependence on Russian energy. The Kremlin will likely use Europe's dependence to promote its largely anti-American foreign policy agenda." ...

The commitment of Turkmen gas to Russia has broader implications. For one thing, the fate of the US-supported proposals for a trans-Caspian pipeline and the Nabucco pipeline depended significantly on the availability of Turkmen and Kazakh gas. Their future is now up in the air. That, in turn, means Europe is increasingly left with only one serious option for diversifying its gas imports - Iran.

Now Russia is expected to vie with US majors for the control of the Caspian fields themselves.  The Asia Times suggests that energy politics makes it vital for America to consider entering into a rapproachment with Iran in order to woo it away from partnerships with Russia.

But the most important consideration for Russia will be that Iran's energy policy should not come into conflict with Russian interests. Once the US's engagement of Iran commences, Tehran will have plenty of choice while accessing foreign capital and advanced upstream oil and gas technology. Iran is bound to probe gas markets such as Turkey, the Balkans and central and east Europe. Also, Iran is keen to develop a new LNG industry. Over and above, Iran could well end up competing with Russia as a major oil and gas route connecting the Caspian and Central Asian energy producing countries.

Cooperation with Iran is no less important for Russia in terms of Caspian Sea issues. True, the two countries have divergent views on how the Caspian Sea should be divided. Russia prefers a median line solution, whereas Iran has insisted on an equal share (20%) solution for each littoral state regardless of the length of coastline. All the same, Russia and Iran are in profound agreement in their opposition to the US-led trans-Caspian pipeline projects. ...

Over and above, Moscow would be pleased at the present orientation of Iranian energy exports toward the Asian market. On the one hand, this would ease the competition from China for gaining access to Central Asian energy producers and on the other, it reduces the likelihood of Iranian energy flows to Europe, which may otherwise cut into Russia's market share.

The emergence of Central Asian energy sources will mean a prolonged struggle between Russia, Europe, China, Islamists and the US for the control of its production and distribution. Contrary to the public morality espoused by liberals, neither Russia, Europe, Islamism nor China may see anything wrong with making economic "war for oil" at least. John Robb suggests the Caspian sea area may become an actual theater of operations for terrorism and disruption. Describing the spiderweb of pipelines, he wrote: "Given this sparse and undefendable network, the potential for GG [global guerilla] control of oil production from the Caspian region is extremely likely. There is also the potential for cascading failures with the right analysis."

However that may be, the rivalry for Central Asian energy may spell an end to the purely utopian aspects of the transnationalism and the revival of Great Power politics. Issues like "climate change" and World Government may be less important in a 21st century where the US is perceived less as a hegemon than as an arbiter of the balance of power.


Blogger Fat Man said...

As I have repatedly written here. It is all about the Caspian.

12/21/2007 04:17:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

The “Great Game” continues and with much the same players as before if using different tactics and technology. The Chinese forces that penetrate deeply into the “Stans” to displace Russian influence are 18 wheelers loaded with American-designed and inspired consumer products.

As we ponder this challenge, it is odd indeed to think that in terms of 1955 – or 1855 – viewpoints this situation is not too far from “utopia.” What hath Reagan wrought!

A recent article I sent Wretchard on the return of the Great Game says “In recent years, China and Russia have forged a strategic alliance, as part of a group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to squeeze the United States out of Central Asia, after the U.S. established military bases here. They have largely succeeded.”

What about the bases we put there? Does anyone know if we are still there?

12/21/2007 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

Russia could be the one to save Europe from itself. It is clear the US cannot, as it is a vessel of the Saudis.

12/21/2007 06:42:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

For almost 3 years GM has been saying that they will collapse the \cost of electrical cars by a factor of 10 by 2009.
And generally make all the pieces come together so that electrical cars are competitive with internal combustion cars. What's also been clear is that by the time GM arrives at the USA won't have much of a technological lead. Two developments in the last month show that electrical cars will meet cost style maintenance specs of current internal combustion cars by 2009. And that the US won't have much of a lead in the field.
December 13, 2007 Toshiba have stunned the world with their announcement of what’s pretty much the holy grail in Lithium battery technology – the Super Charge ion Battery, which recharges up to 90% of its energy in just five minutes, and has a lifespan of over 10 years. Slow charging has been the key hurdle to public acceptance of battery-electric vehicles as viable distance travelers, so this breakthrough has all sorts of implications for the automotive industry as well as being a very welcome upgrade to a whole host of other portable devices.

For more details go here
The Toshiba development may be based on the work of an Austin Company called EEstor
Stanford's nanowire battery holds 10 times the charge of existing ones
Stanford Report ^ | December 18, 2007 | DAN STOBER

Posted on 12/19/2007 5:29:22 PM PST by decimon

Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.

The new version, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.

"It's not a small improvement," Cui said. "It's a revolutionary development."
The new demands on the electrical grid will call for new sources of power. Here's one.

With this personal nuclear reactor from Toshiba we have unlimited energy. Now if government just gets out of the way and lets these companies build these things.

For more infogo here

Toshiba's building a "Micro Nuclear" reactor for your garage? Alright, details are slim, and we really have no idea if Toshiba has any plans whatsoever to sell these nuclear reactors to consumers -- in fact, we hope it doesn't -- but it does seem like the company is well on its way to commercializing the design. Toshiba's Micro Nuclear reactors are designed to power a single apartment building or city block, and measure a mere 20-feet by 6-feet. The 200 kilowatt reactor is fully automatic and fail-safe, and is completely self-sustaining. It uses special liquid lithium-6 reservoirs instead of traditional control rods, and can last up to 40 years, making energy for about 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Toshiba has been testing the reactors since 2005, and hopes to install its first reactor in Japan in 2008, with marketing to Europe and America in 2009. Oh, and we lied: we totally want one of these in our garage

12/21/2007 07:49:00 AM  
Blogger Kinuachdrach said...

Maybe it is time for the US to look to its own interests. Why should the US expend effort & treasure to diversify Europe's energy supplies? So that Europeans have more time & freedom to criticize the US?

The EU has a GNP equal to that of the US, and a population 50% larger. The EU is also the world's largest importer of fossil fuels: it imports about the same volume of oil as the US, and a lot more gas & coal.

Time for the US to step back. Let Europeans handle European problems.

12/21/2007 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger Zenster said...

in the case of natural gas it would prevent Russia from meeting its European supply contracts. Those contracts have long been vital in influencing Europe.

Yet once again, Europe snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. It is difficult to imagine how the Europeans manage to delude themselves so successfully about the ramifications of letting Russia be the gatekeeper of their natural gas supply. Moreover, by imperiling the free flow of this vital resource they have further empowered Iran. Evidently, unsatisfied with merely shooting their horse, they feel compelled to remove their cart's wheels as well.

charles: Slow charging has been the key hurdle to public acceptance of battery-electric vehicles as viable distance travelers

None of this addresses one significant factor in the "refueling" of an electric vehicle: How to safely transfer megawatts of electrical power in a couple of minutes. This is no joke. Recharge levels of several kilowatts or more are needed and this represents a dangerous amount of current. Couple this with a simultaneous draw-down from the power grid of several thousand people recharging their cars all at the same time and things get really squirrely.

While the notion of Toshiba's distributed nuclear power generation does address this problem to some extent, none of these technologies are remotely close to converging at present. Clearly, there are many unintended consequences involved in electric vehicles. Look to see the Prius eventually become reviled for its horrendous lead footprint which could easily cancel much of it putative "pollution free" status.

12/21/2007 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I agree with Zenster re electric cars and batteries. They do not have any appreciable effect on our (and Europe’s) need for fossil fuels. They just transfer the need from the vehicle owner to power plants. Since there are no nuclear power plants being built (or even planned), and no coal plants being built (which would at least reduce the need for foreign fossil fuels), the net requirement for fossil fuels is not really changed.

12/21/2007 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

I am not aware of the Prius having any kind of a significant lead footprint. It uses NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) batteries and very few of them as well. It depends on the batteries for boost only and can only drive maybe 2 or 3 miles on batteries alone. I suppose it uses a conventional lead acid battery for engine start but that is no more than a regular car – and probably less than most, since the engine is so small.

The Plug In Hybrids that Toyota and GM plan to start building soon will use more batteries but we are we still not talking about a big “lead footprint.” That is what the Lithium Ion batteries are about.

The reduction in the need for oil is very significant, because the US dwarfs most of the rest of the world in coal reserves. Turning coal into a liquid fuel usable in an IC or EC engine is very expensive – although the USAF is testing some B-52’s with such artificial fuels, it is a costly way to go. And, of course, trading oil for nuclear energy- produced electricity may get the NIMBYS and Eco-nuts out of the way of the production of new plants.

The Hydrogen Economy that some of the leftists have started embracing as an alternative to developing competence in foreign policy has the same problem. The current industrial process for making Hydrogen uses natural gas as feedstock, not electrolysis of water. So the energy balance there is a problem, too.

12/21/2007 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Zenster said...

Good clarification, rwe. That should have read, "heavy metal footprint" instead. Still, would you want to be a firefighter who responds to a burning Prius? Also, the heavy metal, nickel, is a serious carcinogen and nothing we want in our landfills. The more important point, as brian noted, is that without a massive buildup of nuclear power generation, electric vehicles represent an energy shell game. On average, coal-fired power plants actually release more radiation than a nuclear power reactor, not to mention regular smokestack emissions. Few states have hydroelectric resources while natural gas fired generators are the exception and not the norm.

rwe: The current industrial process for making Hydrogen uses natural gas as feedstock, not electrolysis of water. So the energy balance there is a problem, too.

Hydrogen fueled vehicles present a host of other problems as well. Although the current natural gas distribution network might be converted for hydrogen transfer, storing it is another matter. Especially so in the case of vehicles.

To date, weight economy. strength and safety issues require hydrogen to be stored in spherical tanks. That form factor is not compatible with vehicles. Other methods of sequestering hydrogen in the form of metal hydrides require liberation temperatures of several hundred degrees centigrade. Such high temperature sources aren't a real good thing to have in moving vehicles.

Ubiquitous electric vehicles will require lots of nuclear reactors. Shifting public opinion on this issue is going to take some serious resolve that neither our government nor the scientific community have shown the backbone for. Ironically, Patrick Moore, a cofounder of Greenpeace, now belatedly admits that nuclear power is a must to help reduce environmental impact. Sadly, the damage has already been done and public hysteria over nuclear power overrides all reason.

12/21/2007 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Oh, I don’t think that the nickel disposal problem is a real problem with cars. There is already so much use of nicad and nimh batteries in some many things ( I have God knows how many nicad batteries out in may garage, waiting for me to take them to a proper disposal) – and the car disposal problem is much easier – far fewer of them and they rarely just get thrown in the trash can, being a bit large for that. In any case we are going to Lithium Ion batteries. And they said that airbags were going to be a disposal problem as well

Now, working on or responding to accidents relative the high voltages required in electric cars (500V plus to keep the wire size down) – that could get a bit dicey. A tank of gasoline looks downright safe in comparison.

We won’t be pumping hydrogen through the natural gas distribution system. It is actually probably a safer gas but would be too leaky. When Lockheed thought they would pump liquid hydrogen 15,000 ft to the Venturestar pads we thought they were crazy. And they probably were.

I recall reading in the early 70's that the cost of building a nuke plant in the U.S. was three times that of in Japan ($5B versus $15B)–and Japanese plants were built to even higher standards. The difference was licensing and litigation costs. And as you say, the Carbon 14 emitted by coal plants mean that they are more radioactively dirty than the nukes.

12/21/2007 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger John B said...

Since we are discussing energy, I'll toss this recent announcement into the works:

"- the world’s lowest-cost solar panel – which we believe will make us the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at as little as $.99/Watt;"

Since the company has acquired sites for 650,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and Europe, It seems this is more than vaporware.

12/21/2007 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

Photovoltaic solar power is nice but in no way overcomes issues like peak demand or the vagaries of inclement weather. Look for the real breakthroughs with solar power in the form of nanoparticles.

Imagine ceramic-style or shingle-type roofing tiles with a grommet in each upper corner. These are nailed onto staggered rows of conductors running across the roof trusses. The tiles are coated with a nanosphere-laden compound bearing particles tuned exactly to the predominant wavelengths of light impinging upon their surface. A building's entire roof would become one massive photovoltaic array at nearly the same cost as standard construction materials.

Going one step further, imagine these same nano particles dispersed in ordinary paint such that a building's entire external surface becomes one huge solar power collector.

These are among some of the quantum leaps awaiting solar power generation. They absolutely dwarf the cost efficiency of any current monocrystalline silicon wafer or polysilicon ribbon based substrate technologies. However, none of these applications preclude the need for nuclear or fusion-based bulk power generation.

Fortunately, Robert Bussard, inventor of the ramjet, is currently working on a compact fusion reactor with a radius of about 2.5-3 meters burning hydrogen and Boron-11 that produces some 4500-8000 megawatts.

Functional fusion technology still represents a vital component in energy independence and needs lavish funding to get us off of the oil tit right away.

12/21/2007 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Here are my ideal transitional vehicle technologies:

1) A plug-in hybrid which can burn gasoline, ethanol or methanol. The last one is easier to make from coal than ethanol or synthetic gasoline, but the problem is it can be corrosive to auto parts.
[Space scientist Robert Zubrin, designer of a low cost Mars mission that produces fuel for the return trip in situ on Mars, has been pushing for for the govt to make a mandatory requirement for methanol-friendly fuel systems in vehicles to allow for ultimate strategic flexibility -- I believe it was a few brass instead of steel fittings.]

2)As an alternative, a *diesel* plug-in hybrid which was also bio-diesel/ vegetable oil friendly.

No matter how efficient they might become, I would also be very leery of electric only vehicles because of dependence on the grid. Again, thinking strategically (in terms of natural as well as manmade disasters) families should have a fuel-based car and leave the all-electrics to just the 2nd or 3rd vehicle.

I'd also add that every hybrid should also add an "out" plug, as some planned military hybrids do.

Hydrogen cars really seems to be nothing more than cover for the car mgs against the AGW green enviros. Even with more nuke plants (which I am heavily in favor of anyway, with the newer passive safety designs) to provide H2,

12/22/2007 07:38:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Even with cheap H2, storing it (even in the vehicle) as well as distributing it is hard just because so many materials are porous to the small molecules Of course the whole cryogenic and high pressure issues are nasty too.
The first explosive crash of a production H2 vehicle incinerating a family would be the Pinto of the 21st century.

12/22/2007 07:43:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

The cost of photovoltaics appear to be falling faster than computer chips. It looks like there's cool stuff coming in the future. Still to reinterate John B's post the newest output hits the price points of coal. This absolutely cannot be underestimated. The likelihood of more coal powered electrical generations plants coming on line in the USA is greatly diminished. Just a few months back the governor of Nevada banned all future coal plants--not more than a couple months after the first solar electrical generation plant came online.
Start-Up Sells Solar Panels at Lower-Than-Usual Cost

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: December 18, 2007

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Nanosolar, a heavily financed Silicon Valley start-up whose backers include Google’s co-founders, plans to announce Tuesday that it has begun selling its innovative solar panels, which are made using a technique that is being held out as the future of solar power manufacturing.
Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal.

“With a $1-per-watt panel,” he said, “it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems.”

According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said.

12/22/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

Nanosolar achieves their spectacular $/Watt figure by abandoning the usual silicon wafer substrate technology. Also discarded are any deposition methods that require expensive and low throughput high-vacuum chambers. Instead, Nanosolar employs an "ink" of copper-gallium-indium-diselenide that is "printed" directly onto foil in ambient conditions. The process is "roll-to-roll" and the spools of foil are miles long. This is the sort of mass-production methodology that is required to drop solar power operating costs through the existing price floor.

All said and done, you still cannot run a steel mill using solar power. Making every residential roof into an economical solar farm is still a good measure but nothing replaces the desperate need for bulk power production in the Mega and Giga Watt range. I look forward to more results from Bussard's team. Fusion is where the real cost/energy payoffs await us.

12/23/2007 11:54:00 AM  

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