Book and Travel Update, and Some Interesting Stories

Book Update

I have mentioned it on here a couple of times, but I am under contract to deliver a book on energy by the end of this year. I initially had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to write, but that has evolved a bit as I started writing. So far, I have turned in three chapters to my editor, and I have several others partially complete. The book is going to be broken down into sections of general information (who uses what, who produces what, how it is produced, etc.), controversies (nuclear power, climate change, peak oil, etc.) and then one on possible energy solutions going forward.

I am trying to cover stories from an objective point of view. For instance, when you read the nuclear chapter, my intent is that you won’t be able to tell whether I am for or against, but you will have a lot more facts at your disposal. This is not an advocacy book, except in the section on solutions I will have to advocate somewhat. But generally speaking, I am not taking a pro or con position on fossil fuels, renewable power, climate change, etc. I am just trying to provide some interesting thought material for readers.

I am creating a lot of my own graphics, as I often don’t find exactly what I am looking for. As an example, I have oil consumption graphed over the past 45 years, and I show the times that global oil consumption dropped. It’s always in relation to bad news, which I point out on the graph. I am also trying to highlight interesting facts throughout the book that people won’t generally know by placing them in highlighted text boxes throughout the book. For instance, when I think of huge power plants, my mind instantly goes to large coal and nuclear plants. But, “Did you know that 4 of the 5 largest power plants in the world are hydroelectric plants?”

However, this is not just to update readers on the book status. I also want some input. What are some of the topics that you feel are inadequately covered in other books? What would you particularly like to see covered? I don’t want to wait until after the book is published and think “How could I have forgotten about that?”

Despite the book schedule, I am still putting up two columns each week. Sometimes one of those will be a guest column, but often I will still post my own original column each Monday and Thursday. I intend to maintain that schedule.

Upcoming Travel to Bay Area and D.C.

After getting to spend the latter half of the summer at home in Hawaii, I will be hitting the road again soon. From October 9-12, I will be attending the Gasification Technologies Conference in San Francisco. Over the past year, I have had a number of readers/companies in the Bay Area ask for a meeting or for me to make a facility visit, and I always say “The next time I am in the area.” Well, I am going to be in the area. If necessary, I can tack on a day earlier or later if there is a compelling reason to do so. But if you would like to meet, please contact me over the next couple of weeks so I can get an idea of whether I need to budget more time. In the case of a facility visit, ideally I would do that with the intent of writing a feature story about the company.

The same applies for a November trip to Washington D.C. For the first time in 3 years (and only the 2nd time ever) I will be at the ASPO-USA Conference 2011 on November 2-5 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. I am currently scheduled to speak three times during the conference. I am supposed to speak on Thursday afternoon on peak oil implications for businesses and investors, kick off Friday’s plenary by talking about peak oil concepts and principles, and then participate in an Investment Roundtable on Saturday Morning.

To be honest, since this is a peak oil conference I won’t spend much time talking about concepts or principles. People who attend these conferences know these things. I plan to spend some time talking about how to conduct due diligence, and then talk about major energy-related threats to the global economy. I will have some slides on why I think we are on a collision course with China.

Again, if you would like to meet during this time (and outside of the ASPO meeting), please let me know and I will do my best to accommodate that.

Energy Stories in the News

There were several energy stories of note in the Energy Ticker last week that could have been fodder for a column. Instead, I will just highlight them here with some brief commentary.

First up was something that I was certain had been brewing in the background, but it was the first time I have seen it come to the surface. Many people believe that corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol are natural allies. After all, corn ethanol is a transition fuel to cellulosic ethanol, right? Get all of the ethanol infrastructure in there and then we will transition over to cellulosic fuel.

Do you know who might not see things that way? How about corn growers and some corn ethanol producers? Here is how I always viewed their position. They know that they can produce more ethanol, but the cellulosic ethanol mandates are in their way. They are capped. Further, cellulosic ethanol is pulling money away from them that they could use to help push corn ethanol market penetration higher. So I suspected that there was some resentment at least among some in the corn ethanol camp. There was some proof of that last week in a story highlighted in Biofuels Digest:

The Unicorn and the Fairy: Corn declares war on cellulose

The National Corn Growers Association declares War on cellulosic biofuels, calling them “non-existent”, then mysteriously removes the blog post. What gives?

Ten days ago, Cathryn Wojciki, communications manager for the National Corn Growers Association, wrote a blog post in which she tossed the cellulosic biofuels industry under a bus.

Referring to cellulosic biofuels targets in the Renewable Fuel Standard, she wrote: “Much as parents may tell stories about unicorns and fairies, some players in the ethanol and environmental industries pushed a product which they were not prepared to deliver. In both scenarios, optimism created a beautiful vision of a world that does not exist.”

That original post was removed, but you can see a cached version here. The funny thing was that they had linked to one of my essays pointing out that there still has not been any production of qualifying cellulosic ethanol. Funny to be quoted by the National Corn Grower’s Association, given that I was branded as one of corn ethanol’s worst enemies. Maybe it’s that thing about the enemy of my enemy…


In other ethanol news, This Week in Petroleum (a feature I used to report on every week) had a blurb on ethanol exports that suggested something that ethanol producers have long denied:

E90 exports to Europe may have benefited from both the U.S. blending tax credit ($0.45 per gallon of ethanol) and lower European import duties on ethanol/gasoline blends (compared to pure ethanol imports).

The ethanol industry has claimed numerous times that their exports were not benefiting from U.S. tax credits, but I have long suspected that they were to some extent in any case. Looks like the EIA suspects it as well. I suppose we will know next year — when the tax credit will almost certainly be gone — if ethanol exports from the U.S. plummet.


Finally, there has been a lot of criticism of late on the cost of creating green jobs. If you recall, this was a big part of President Obama’s platform, and has been stressed by other politicians as well. The idea is that we must transition from fossil fuels, and a green economy will take the place of the fossil economy — creating many jobs in the process. It turns out that those jobs are pretty expensive to create:

Some question green investment as clean-energy summit nears

Agencies and advocacy groups count green jobs differently, so databases don’t show consistent numbers. For example, the BlueGreen Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of labor unions and environmentalists, says the Obama administration has spent $93 billion saving or creating 1 million green jobs nationwide, at $93,000 per job, while a November report in The Washington Post pegged federal investment at $90 billion to save or create 225,000 green-energy jobs, or $400,000 per job.

So even the advocates concede $93,000 per job. The Washington Post — not exactly a bunch who would appear to have an anti-green agenda — puts the number much higher.

I don’t question that we need green jobs and a new renewable energy economy, but come on. Those are ridiculous numbers. Surely we have more efficient ways of job creation. I think the bottom line problem is that a lot of money has been spent on promoters who never delivered, and that inflates the costs of creating those jobs. But that has to stop.