The Other Liquid Gold – By Selim Can Sazak and Lauren R. Skin November 10, 2015

Nuclear Power and Desalination in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi regime has insisted that its primary motivation for building a nuclear program is to develop a sustainable power source for the country’s desalination plants. A 2009 royal decree outlining Saudi Arabia’s energy policy illustrated the logic: “The development of atomic energy is essential to meet the kingdom’s growing requirements for energy to generate electricity, produce desalinated water, and reduce reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources.” On the surface, this makes sense. The Saudis need water; for water, they need energy. And they have enough capital—political and economic—to make it happen.

Saudi Arabia is a desert country with no permanent rivers or lakes and erratic rainfall. The vast majority of its territory—95 percent—is covered by one of three deserts: the Rub al-Khali, an-Nafud, or ad-Dahna. Most of Saudi Arabia’s natural reservoirs, such as the Saq-Ram and Wajid aquifer systems, are nearly tapped out. Although other promising reservoirs have been found—for example, the Wasia aquifer, which is thought to hold as much water as the entire Persian Gulf—they are nestled deep in the desert, away from urban areas. Tapping into their full potential would take many years and billions of dollars. Accordingly, the Kingdom has turned to an obvious solution: desalinated water from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. According to the latest estimates, the country consumes an estimated 3.3 million cubed meters of desalinated water per day, and desalination provides 70 percent of urban water supplies.

Taking salt out of water is an

How Obama’s waiting game killed Keystone – By ELANA SCHOR and SARAH WHEATON 11/06/15 08:36 PM EST

After seven years, improving jobs numbers and plunging oil prices soothed the political costs of rejection.


Dressed as a polar bear, climate-control activist Catherine Kilduff from the Center for Biological Diversity holds a victory sign after President Barack Obama announced that he would reject the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. | Getty

In the summer of 2011, the signs outside the White House gates denouncing the Keystone XL pipeline mixed with Barack Obama campaign buttons and chants of “Yes we can.”

But inside, the president and his top aides were fretting about the economy, with unemployment stuck at 9 percent and gasoline topping $3.60 a gallon little more than a year before Obama had to face the voters again. And supporters of the Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline were playing the pocketbook card big time, promising it would put thousands of Americans to work, lower prices at the pump and lessen U.S. reliance on Mideast oil.

Obama and his aides were skeptical of those claims, but knew they could lose the political argument if his opponents painted him as a jobs-killer. So, stuck between the demands of allies he would need for his reelection — labor unions that supported Keystone, and green groups and liberal donors who detested it — he waited.

And waited some more, past 2012, past the 2014 midterms. Until Friday, when he finally rendered the verdict that the project’s supporters and foes had come to expect: He was saying no to the $8 billion, 1,179-mile pipeline.

The White House said Obama’s decision was entirely based on his commitment to taking on climate change — and the decision came just weeks before he’s due to jet to Paris to try to reach a global climate agreement with leaders of nearly 200 nations. But the move also came in a world where many of Keystone’s political and economic underpinnings had collapsed: Oil prices have plummeted in the past year, while the unemployment rate fell Friday to 5 percent, the lowest since before the 2008 financial crisis.

“Four years ago, anything that said ‘job creation,’ people would jump onto,” said former Obama chief of staff Bill Daley, whose one-year tenure coincided with those first massive anti-Keystone protests outside the White House. “Now it’s a very different world.

“They waited long enough to where — whether intentional or not — obviously I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Daley said Friday. “Oil prices are down, unemployment’s low.”


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Mitch McConnell’s “just say no” strategy on the Clean Power Plan fizzles – Updated by David Roberts on November 3, 2015, 12:20 p.m. ET

GOP version of patriotism. (Shutterstock)

Back in March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell encouraged states to “just say no” to the Clean Power Plan. He meant that they should refuse to develop state plans to implement the rules, which would require all states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their electricity sectors.

As a political gesture, it was petulant. As advice, it was … a political gesture. What’s remarkable is that McConnell got the media and the political class to take it seriously, at least for a while.

But now it seems that states are abandoning McConnell’s strategy, having discovered that it is stupid. The signals are becoming ever clearer that although a notional partisan battle over the Clean Power Plan will continue, behind the scenes almost all states have resigned themselves to developing compliance plans. The reasons are simple:

  • Outside far-right circles, the effort to reduce carbon pollution is popular. Polling by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication finds that restricting CO2 pollution and requiring a minimum of clean power from utilities are policies supported by majorities of voters, even in states that are suing to stop the Clean Power Plan.
climate opinion(Yale Climate Opinion Maps)
  • State executives have realized that the only tangible effect of refusing to create a compliance plan is that the feds will create one for them, which will almost certainly cost more. Refusing to write a state plan is a pointless gesture, meant to placate the conservative base, and it will only backfire — such maneuvers are extremely popular with Republicans in Congress, but Republicans running state agencies don’t have that luxury.
  • The Clean Power Plan has not created the shift away from coal; that’s a result of other trends that have been underway for a while. Even if the CPP vanished tomorrow, the trends would continue. Utilities are going to have to grapple with them one way or another, and a state compliance plan gives them cover to make overdue changes.

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One uranium mine in Niger says a lot about China’s huge nuclear-power ambitions – Armin Rosen Oct 24 2015


Armin Rosen/Business Insider Where’s the uranium? The highway between Agadez and Abalak.

The odds of finding much of anything seem slim in northern Niger’s unnerving expanses of hazy white desert.

The land is so vast, so untethered from any obvious landmarks that when straying just a few hundred feet off of the inconsistently paved road between Abalak and Agadez, it’s hard to shake the fear that the driver won’t be able to find the highway again.

Even with plenty of water, gas, and daylight on hand, there’s a general feeling of being marooned.

In the post-World War II years, huge amounts of cheap electricity were needed to fuel the breakneck growth of Western economies.

At the same time, nuclear weapons became the ultimate embodiment of national power and prestige.

So the discovery of uranium in Niger in 1957 was a much-needed economic boon for a country that still ranks 187th on the Human Development Index.

And the ambitions of the nuclear powers in Niger are still playing out today as Niger’s remote and inhospitable northern desert environment contains the world’s fifth-largest recoverable uranium reserves, some 7% of the global total.

The ore must be extracted and then milled into yellowcake in distant pockets of the Saharan wastes, where it’s then sent on a multi-day truck convoy to the port of Cotonou, in Benin, some 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) away.

NigerGoogle Maps

With degraded roads and unpredictable passenger air service, it’s hard to physically access the country’s two major mines, which are outside of a town called Arlit, about a five-hour drive north from Agadez and a more than 20-hour, 1,300-kilometer (807-mile) drive from Niamey, the capital.

Those mines are operated by Areva, a nuclear-energy-services company that is 70% owned by France, the colonial power that ruled Niger between the 1890s and 1960.

Those two mines have been in operation since the late 1960s and are collectively the largest employer in the country other than the Nigerien government.

On their own, the mines account for nearly one-third of Niger’s exports. Nigerien uranium is thought to provide for approximately one-third of France’s domestic consumer electricity needs.

Both of the mines are nearing the end of their operational lifespan — one is expected to only last another 10 to 15 years.

A third mine, at Imouraren, is currently under development and has reserves enough to become one of the most productive uranium sites in the world.

But plans to begin large-scale mining at Imouraren are now on hold because of the worldwide plunge in uranium prices that followed the Fukushima incident and the resulting shutdown of Japan’s 43 commercial nuclear reactors.



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Gas Politics in Gaza – By Tareq Baconi October 15, 2015

At the end of the summer, the Italian energy giant Eni discovered one of the largest gas reserves in the Mediterranean. Just off Egyptian shores sits Zohr, a gas field with a staggering 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. As Egypt celebrated the good news, Israel panicked about the implications of the discovery on its much-touted Leviathan gas field, which was discovered in December 2010. It was a “painful wake-up call,” the Israeli energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, said.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at Oct 15, 2015 2.36

Why? Eni’s discovery could possibly return Egypt, which significantly reduced gas exports in 2012, to its role as a regional gas exporter. This threatens Israel’s aspirations to position itself as the region’s energy powerhouse. For one, the rationale underpinning the $15 billion gas deal signed between Jordan and Israellast year now appears weak: Jordan, which sought to substitute for the drop in Egyptian resources, may now decide to turn to Cairo for a less controversial source of gas.

For Palestine, however, which has also been in gas negotiations with Israel, these regional changes have little impact. With nearly total dependency on Israel for its energy needs, Palestine is seeking ways to enhance the quality of life under occupation. Gazans are seeking to import gas from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon to alleviate suffering and reduce power shortages, while the West Bank is discussing with Israel the import of gas to increase local power generation and reduce electricity costs.

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Americans are spending more of the oil-price windfall than they realise – The Economist Oct 8th 2015, 6:00 BY H.C. | WASHINGTON, DC

BETWEEN June 2014 and February 2015 the price Americans paid for petrol fell by a third. Economists predicted this would boost growth by causing consumers, newly flush with cash, to spend more on other goods and services. Instead, the economy seemed to slow, with early estimates putting annualised growth in the first half of the year at a paltry 1.4%. Many claimed Americans were saving the windfall, or using it to pay down debts. Estimates of growth in the first half of the year have since been revised up sharply, to 2.3% annualised. Reinforcing this turnaround, a report released today argues that Americans are spending most of the oil-price windfall after all.

Researchers at the JPMorgan Institute, a think-tank tied to the bank, examined anonymised data from one million of the bank’s credit- and debit-card customers. The number-crunchers divvied up customers according to how much they spent on fuel before prices fell. Gas-guzzlers gain the most when fuel gets cheaper; reluctant-refuelers benefit less. Comparing the two groups’ spending before and after the price collapse can reveal how much of a dollar saved at the pump is spent elsewhere.

To mitigate the problem of mean reversion—high spenders spend less over time by virtue of being outliers to begin with—customers were categorised as gas-guzzlers or otherwise based on average spending on fuel by their zip-code neighbours. The researchers found that for every extra dollar those in gas-guzzling neighbourhoods saved at the pump, their spending elsewhere rose by 73 cents. This increased to 89 cents after adjusting for the fact that fuel is more likely to be bought with a debit or credit card than other expenses.

If this estimate is right, low oil prices are significantly boosting American consumption after all. This should reassure those who fret that low prices have reduced investment in oil and gas extraction without boosting consumer spending by much. The finding also contradicts recent survey evidence: one conducted by Gallup, a pollster, for instance, found that only 24% of Americans say they are spending their savings from cheaper gas.

The analysis, though, is not definitive. In particular, it relies on the similarity of gas-guzzlers and reluctant-refuelers along dimensions other than fondness for petrol (lest some other difference between the group be driving their divergent spending patterns). In support of this assumption, the authors point to the similar demographics of the two groups. For instance, both have a median monthly income of around $5,300. The two groups’ spending also follows a similar patterns before the oil price fall.

Much variation in fuel spending is driven by geography: gas-guzzlers are concentrated in spacious south, whereas almost three-quarters of low spenders are in the more metropolitan north-east. Divergent economic fortunes for different regions could, therefore, distort the results. In addition, there is a wide statistical margin of error around the estimates.

But the findings are still important, for three reasons. First, they provide some reassurance that boosting consumers’ disposable income does help the economy. The report’s authors note that the average household will gain $700 in 2015 from cheaper fuel—more than tax rebates issued in 2008 as a stimulus measure. Second, they suggest that consumers cannot always give pollsters an accurate picture of their budgets, especially when the question is complex. Even low earners spend only about 6% of their income on gas, so working out what they are doing with the savings is difficult. Finally, they show the potential for banks’ large data sets on individual behaviour to help answer big macroeconomic questions.

Free Trade for Green Trade – Foreign Affairs August 4, 2015

In the run-up to the Paris talks at the end of the year, governments are preparing their strategies to negotiate national emissions reduction targets. But elsewhere, a different battle is unfolding as firms and governments compete to try to capture the benefits of the rise of the new green economy. A wave of trade disputes in clean energy industries is one result. Since 2010, at least 11 such cases have been initiated. Trade cases in solar photovoltaics, in particular, have emerged as some of the most politically charged in recent history.

Trade disputes over subsidies and price dumping have the potential to stymie the deployment of low-carbon energy technologies by increasing their price relative to fossil fuels. And they are unnecessary; most arise out of the assumption that the clean energy race is a zero-sum game between competing national and regional economies. But that isn’t how green industries work, and government policy needs to catch up with the reality that domestic firms (and efforts to protect the environment) benefit from free trade in the clean energy industry.

Sprott Power Corporation's Wind Asset Manager Peder Schlanbusch looks out from on top one of the 15 wind turbines which were officially opened in Amherst, Nova Scotia, June 25, 2012.

Sprott Power Corporation’s Wind Asset Manager Peder Schlanbusch looks out from on top one of the 15 wind turbines which were officially opened in Amherst, Nova Scotia, June 25, 2012.


When clean energy technologies such as solar photovoltaics and wind entered the mass market a decade ago, producers were largely manufacturing locally for consumers in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Global trade, particularly in anything other than final products, was limited. In such a world of national or localized production, trade protection may indeed have served as a useful tool for securing jobs against unfair competition.

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Cashing In on Oil – Allen Neuhauser August 6 2015

LOST HILLS, CA - MARCH 24:  Pump jacks are seen at dawn in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

“Not sane,” “dreadful,” “super dumb” – these were the words lawmakers and experts used to describe a Senate plan to sell off the nation’s emergency supply of crude oil to pay for highway upgrades.

[READ: Boehner Calls for an End to the Decades-Old Ban on U.S. Oil Exports]

“It would be like cashing in our home insurance policy to pay for repaving the driveway,” Sen. Lisa Murkowsi, R-Alaska and chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told reporters last week. “The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a vital national security asset that must be maintained in case of serious future supply disruptions.”

It could also, she added, potentially be harnessed to support allies whose supplies are cut off.

Yet in a Congress led by Republicans resolved not to raise taxes, senators last week advanced a six-year transportation bill that harnesses the reserve to pay for roads, bridges and transit. That bill follows a House measure passed last month that would fund health care research by selling oil from the reserve.

“The most dangerous place to stand in Washington is between Congress and free money,” says energy consultant Bob McNally, former special assistant on the National Economic Council and former senior director for international energy on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. “Congress has gotten a whiff of that with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. While I disagree with this, I expect there will be a drawdown.”


If either measure is approved, it wouldn’t be the first time the reserve was tapped for large amounts of oil – that’s happened five times previously – but it would come at a time that booming U.S. oil and gas production has dropped oil to its lowest price in four years, and with no great change expected anytime soon.

“Selling oil at current prices is nuts,” says Steven Kopits, managing director of the consulting firm Princeton Energy Advisors (and he of the phrase “super dumb”). “Markets are really fragile right now: If you put a million barrels on the market, you’re going to tank prices by $10 a barrel.” With oil hovering at around $50, that’s as much as 20 percent.

But if the U.S. is sitting atop and producing so much home-grown oil, why is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve necessary anyway? The International Energy Agency, of which the U.S. is a part, calls on its 28 member nations to hold a 90-day supply of oil. But now that the U.S. is by some measures the world’s largest producer of crude oil, do we still need it?

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Obama to mandate steeper emissions cuts from US power plants – August 2, 2015 10:43AM ET Updated August 3, 2015 3:35AM ET

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at Aug 3, 2015 2.43

President Barack Obama will impose even steeper cuts on greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants than previously expected, senior administration officials said Sunday, in what the president called the most significant step the U.S. has ever taken to fight global warming.

year after proposing unprecedented carbon dioxide limits, Obama was poised to finalize the rule at a White House event on Monday. In a video posted to Facebook, Obama said the limits were backed up by decades of data showing that without tough action, the world will face more extreme weather and escalating health problems like asthma.

“Climate change is not a problem for another generation,” Obama said. “Not anymore.”

The president called the new rules “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

Opponents vowed to sue immediately, and planned to ask the courts to put the rule on hold while legal challenges play out. Many states have threatened not to comply.

In his initial proposal, Obama had mandated a 30 percent nationwide cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. The final version will require a 32 percent cut instead, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.

The final rule also gives states an additional two years — until 2022 — to comply, officials said, yielding to complaints that the original deadline was too soon. States will also have until 2018 instead of 2017 to submit their plans for how they’ll meet their targets.


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The Miracle of SolarCity – JULY 31 2015 1:04 PM

Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX are impressive. But the solar company he founded with his cousins could be transformational.

Lead installers for SolarCity, Charles Groves, right, and Matt Parra, install solar panels on the roof of a home on March 31, 2011, in Palo Alto, California. Photo by Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Lead installers for SolarCity, Charles Groves, right, and Matt Parra, install solar panels on the roof of a home on March 31, 2011, in Palo Alto, California.
Photo by Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

There’s a huge, ongoing, and justifiable obsession with Elon Musk and his ventures—chiefly Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, and SpaceX, his private spacecraft business. It’s not surprising a biography of the man was a best-seller this year. But to my mind, the most important and interesting venture that the polymathic South African immigrant helped start is the one that gets the least press. That’s SolarCity, a company that aims to paper America’s rooftops with solar panels.

Musk’s work with Tesla may inspire the most obvious comparisons to Henry Ford. But SolarCity—where Musk is the chairman, and whose concept he suggested to two of his cousins, Lyndon Rive (now the chief executive officer) and Peter Rive (Lyndon’s brother, now chief technology officer)—might offer some even more apt parallels to Ford’s career.

When it comes to forging new industries, coming up with a new technology is only the beginning. As I’ve noted before in this column, innovation in business models and processes can be as important as the initial Eureka moment. Henry Ford didn’t invent the internal combustion engine. But he did put together and perfect a combination of processes, methods, and tools—the superefficient assembly line, vertically integrated manufacturing, enormous scale, bold human resources policies like the $5 day, and cutting-edge financing techniques—that transformed the car from an expensive toy for the rich into a utilitarian vehicle for the middle class.

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