Saturday, December 29, 2007

Supply vs. Demand

I only have two graphs to show. Right now crude oil is selling for almost $97/bbl. Of course some of that price is blamed on a falling dollar, and rightly so. What bothers me is that even at these high prices, our national inventory- the amount we have in the tank farms across the country - is falling.

My conclusion from this is that, world wide, we are beginning the slide down the back of the bell curve of production, and that while there is still a lot of oil out there that to have as much as we want, we will have to bid significantly more for it.

This graph show actual production and then a variety of different predictions for the future. Notice the very optimistic EIA and IEIA lines. These are governmental and international agency estimates that assume that supply will not be a problem for the next several decades.

The oil business is very complicated, and very intertwined with the economy in general. Everyone seems to be holding their breath for the minute that crude breaks $100/bbl. and I think that there is probably a some arm twisting from the FED/Treasury to keep it under that mark if at all possible, even if inventories suffer for it. But the truth is that $100/bbl. is just a number, and it's only importance is in our minds. If you correct for inflation oil would have to be closer to $200/bbl to produce the economic problems that we felt during the 1973 oil shock.

While these graphs illustrate the problem, here are a few links that show some promise for the future.

Designer microbes producing fuel from garbage.

New fusion techniques
that might have a huge impact on electrification. Go to 'future work'. More on the guy that came up with this new concept- Robert Bussard.

Thin film photovolatics
are promising. There are also new improvements in efficiency in standard thick film PV panels that have to do with splitting the incoming light into different colors, and allowing a wavelength specific receptor layer to accept that 'color' of photon. Efficiencies as high as 42% are claimed.

Note that these are possibilities- there is very little in the way of infrastructure. Photovoltaics are not common, they are a curiosity. They show great promise, but are still fairly rare. The garbage to fuel technology is promising, but think about how much fuel is used just in SLC in any one day, and then realize that all the garbage would have to be transported to some central location and then processed before the bugs could eat it.... a pretty big job in itself.

For you who want to wade through an excellent technical article I do recommend 'On Energy Transitions Past and Future'. There is a ton of information there.

So, what do we have here? The end of the world? Nope, but maybe the end of the world as we know it. Energy will become harder to get, and we will have to use it more carefully. If we move to a photovoltaic based energy system, we probably won't have much going on at night. Any power that is produced to keep things going will likely be charged at 20 times the daylight rate. Street lights will be a lot dimmer and probably LED based.... you get the idea. We will adapt, but adaptation is sometimes painful and inconvenient.

We are very blessed to live in a developed country as there is a good possibility that we can live comfortably and well in the future. Many developing countries are experiencing electrical shortages as well as fuel shortages. They often burn heavy oil in their power plants and find they just can't afford it anymore. Some have also installed natural gas stations and find they can't get it, or they have to import LNG, and have the port facilities necessary etc.... bottom line, they can't get that either.

Many countries are already experiencing food shortages, even famine. Food like fuel is available if you have the money, but right now grain stores world wide are at a 26 year low. In the US, they are at a 52 year low. Using grain to manufacture fuel is a bad idea. It makes food scarce and costly, and even if we use switchgrass or some other non-edible plant as a feed stock, fewer acres will be available world wide to produce food as acres are diverted to produce fuel.

I guess that time will tell. Expect the unexpected, prepare as best you can. 2008 might be an interesting year in the Chinese sense.