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April 18, 2008

This Day In History: April 18

Today is the 109th day of 2008 and the 30th day of spring.

TODAY'S HISTORY: In 1775, Paul Revere began his famous ride, warning, "The British are coming!" In 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake struck. In 1942, U.S. planes, led by Gen. James Doolittle, bombed Tokyo and other Japanese cities. In 2002, Exiled Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah returned to Afghanistan.

TODAY'S BIRTHDAYS: Franz von Suppé (1819-95), composer; Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), lawyer; Wendy Barrie (1912-78), actress; Joseph Goldstein (1940- ), geneticist, is 68; Hayley Mills (1946- ), actress, is 62; James Woods (1947- ), actor, is 61; Conan O'Brien (1963- ), TV personality, is 45; America Ferrera (1984- ), actress, is 24.

TODAY'S SPORTS: In 1923, Yankee Stadium, known as the "House That Ruth Built," opened in the Bronx with a crowd of 74,200 people. Babe Ruth hit the stadium's first home run in the third inning.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free." - Clarence Darrow

TODAY'S FACT: Paul Revere did not complete his ride from Boston to Concord; one of the two men who accompanied him reached Concord to deliver the message after Revere was detained by scouts.

TODAY'S NUMBER: $400,000,000 - estimated property damage (in 1906 dollars) as a result of the San Francisco earthquake and fire.

TODAY'S MOON: Between first quarter (April 12) and full moon (April 20).

January 3, 2008

World Oil Reserves and Consumption

whohastheoil-400.jpg Via EnergyBulletin.net comes this map showing world oil reserves and oil consumption by country at year-end 2004. (Click on the map for a full-size image, or here for the original.) What's neat about the map is that the size of each country is proportional to its share of the world's oil reserves. At a glance, one can tell that Saudi Arabia held most of the world's oil, or about 22.3% of all reserves.

The amount of oil consumed determines each country's color. Although the U.S. had only 1.8% of the world's oil at year-end 2004, it was the biggest oil consumer. China, Russia, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil were also among the world's top oil consumers.

As of Jan. 1, 2006, Saudi Arabia still controlled the largest percentage (20.6%) of the world's oil reserves. More recent statistics on the size of each country's oil reserves can be found on page 107 of The World Almanac 2008.

Also, check out the two bar graphs depicting the world's major consumers and producers of primary energy in 2005, on page 105 of the Almanac. Among all countries, the U.S. still consumed the most primary energy (petroleum, natural gas, coal, net hydroelectric, nuclear, geothermal, solar, wind, and wood and waste electric power). That same year, however, the U.S. led the world in primary energy production.

Map source: BP Statistical Review Year-End 2004, Energy Information Administration (Aaron Pava, CivicActions)

December 27, 2007

The Rising Cost of Home Heating Oil

Heating_oil_prices.gif The price of home heating oil has been in the news lately. Record prices have forced low- and fixed-income individuals and the elderly to choose between staying warm and other essentials. The majority of U.S. households that rely on oil heat are located in the Northeast, making residents in that region particularly vulnerable.

Congress recently approved a funding boost to the federal government's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Officials in Maine, however, still worry a crisis will develop. They estimate that an average of $579 is distributed per fuel aid benefit, which would last a family only one month given projected heating oil costs. A few years ago, that same benefit might have carried a family in Maine through half the heating season.

The graph at right shows home heating oil prices in cents per gallon (including taxes) between 1995 and 2008. In 1998, the national average was $0.90 a gallon. The U.S. Dept. of Energy has projected that the national average will rise to $3.11 a gallon in 2008.

For more statistics on energy production, consumption, and retail prices, check out The World Almanac 2008 chapter on Energy, which begins on page 104.

Links:
Heating Oil and Propane Update (Energy Information Administration, U.S. Dept. of Energy)
Residential Heating Oil Prices: What Consumers Should Know (EIA)
Short-Term Energy Outlook (EIA)
"Federal Home Heating Aid Gets Boost," (The Associated Press)

Table source: U.S. Regional Heating Oil Prices and Inventories, EIA, U.S. Dept. of Energy

March 23, 2007

No Impact Man

beavan.jpg Yesterday, the New York Times published an article that quickly jumped to the top of the 'most-emailed' list. The story profiles Colin Beavan, who, with his wife and daughter, are making scads of sacrifices (think: in-house composting and no toilet paper) to live a "no impact" lifestyle and reduce their ecological footprints. Now, this is something that's been done by others in the past—insert obligatory reference to kooky commune-dwellers here—but not, to my knowledge, on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. This makes the process different when you consider a lot of the changes the family has made—they've walked up many, many flights of stairs, they have no backyard for the compost heap (it's in the kitchen), and they're limited to eating only locally-grown food even though there's only so much that can be produced locally in a New York December.

Check out the article and visit Beavan's blog at the links below. Or measure your own impact on the earth with an ecological footprint quiz. You can also read the first chapter of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices online, which contains a less life-altering approach to reducing our negative impact on the environment.

The Year Without Toilet Paper
No Impact Man blog
My Footprint quiz
The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices

Photo of the Conlin-Beavan family from the No Impact Man blog.

January 30, 2007

The Oklo Fossil Reactors

Oklo%20Natural%20Reactor.jpg Keeping with the nuclear power theme, apparently there were naturally-occurring nuclear fission reactors in Africa about 2 billion years ago. The 15 reactors were buried in what is now the Oklo uranium mine in southeast Gabon. They ran off of Uranium 235 (just like man-made nuclear reactors), generating 100 kilowatts for about 150,000 years. Groundwater evaporation and condensation kept them on a 3-hour cycle that prevented meltdowns. More recent research indicates a natural reactor probably occurred at Bangombé, about 22 miles away, around the same time.

While interesting merely as a phenomenon, scientists are more concerned with applying lessons learned from the natural reactors to the disposal of nuclear waste at places like Yucca Mountain. Visit the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management for a detailed fact sheet.

Dr Robert Loss at the Curtin University of Technology in Australia
has also assembled an explanation but it has some dead links.

Link: "The Pulse of a Nuclear Reactor "
(American Physical Society’s Physical Review Focus)

January 25, 2007

Heat Mining: A New Energy Source for the U.S.

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Bush mentioned coal, solar, wind, and nuclear energy, but didn't say a word about geothermal energy. While working on the Environment section of The World Almanac for Kids 2008, however, I came across an interesting new MIT report, which suggests that geothermal energy could commercially supply 10% of the United States’ electrical supply by 2050.

Geothermal energy doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention; according to MIT, the last in-depth study was done in 1979. This energy traditionally comes from hot springs near the Earth’s surface (like in Reykjavik, Iceland). They emit hot steam, which spins turbines to generate electricity. In contrast to coal, a non-renewable fossil fuel that generates half of the U.S. electrical supply, geothermal energy creates very few emissions; and unlike other "alternative" energy forms, geothermal energy generators can run non-stop without relying on sunlight or wind. Geothermal%20Heat%20Map.jpg

The U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored study focused on an alternate "Enhanced Geothermal System" that would involve drilling holes more than 5,000 ft toward the Earth's mantle, into hot, dry rock. Water would then be sent down the holes to be heated, and then travel through natural fractures to be sucked up other nearby tunnels (The Department of Energy has a good animation). At the surface, the water would either be cooled quickly to make steam (a process called flashing) or looped around another liquid that could be heated into steam at a lower temperature; that steam would power turbines to generate electricity.

The report notes that water would have to be heated in excess of 150-200°C for electricity or 100-150°C for heating homes. Compare those numbers to the map at right, which shows estimated rock temperatures at more than 20,000 feet below ground.

This sounds completely fascinating to me. If you're still confused about how it all works, the Union of Concerned Scientists has a good page explaining these systems.

MIT-led panel backs "heat mining" as key U.S. energy source (Mass. Institute of Technology)

December 1, 2006

Turning Off the Lights

In 2003, several Japanese environmental groups urged people to turn off their lights for two hours on the night of the Summer Solstice and “to enjoy something different and unusual.” It marked the beginning of Candle Night. Approximately 5 million people participated in that first Candle Night, according to Japan’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE). The event was repeated on the Winter Solstice.

Since then, Candle Night—with its slogan of “Turn off your lights, and take it slow”—has grown, with many major Japanese landmarks and facilities also committing to turning off their lights.

The MOE holds a similar campaign to reduce CO2 emissions. Called Black Illumination, it takes place over several days around the time of the Summer Solstice. The MOE estimated that about 4,000 facilities participated in 2006, saving roughly 810,000 kWh of electricity. (The average U.S. household consumes about 10,000 kWh a year.)

November 18, 2006

...Or, Put on a Sweater

With temperatures dropping and days shortening, it might be time to consider how energy efficient your home is. In October, the government projected that the prices of residential heating fuel would be lower than or close to what they were last winter. Forecasts of a cooler winter, however, might mean that some consumers—specifically those who rely primarily on heating oil or electricity—will end up paying more to heat their homes these next few months. Here are some things you can do to save energy and reduce your home heating costs: 1) Seal or caulk any leaks in your home, such as the area around window frames; 2) Use sunlight to heat your home during the day; and 3) Adjust your thermostat to the lowest comfortable setting. More tips can be found at the Alliance to Save Energy web site.

–M. L. Liu

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