World Energy Outlook 2011

In the IEO2011 Reference case, which does not incorporate prospective legislation or policies that might affect energy markets, world marketed energy consumption grows by 53 percent from 2008 to 2035. Total world energy use rises from 505 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2008 to 619 quadrillion Btu in 2020 and 770 quadrillion Btu in 2035 (Figure 1). Much of the growth in energy consumption occurs in countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (non-OECD nations)2 where demand is driven by strong long-term economic growth. Energy use in non-OECD nations increases by 85 percent in the Reference case, as compared with an increase of 18 percent for the OECD economies

World Energy Consumption, 1990- 2035 (quadrillion Btu), source: eia.gov

Although the world continues to recover from the 2008-2009 global recession, the recovery is uneven. In advanced economies, recovery has been slow in comparison with recoveries from past recessions. Unemployment is still high among the advanced economies, and real estate markets and household income growth remain weak. Debt levels in a number of small economies of the European Union—Greece, Ireland, and Portugal—required European Union intervention to avert defaults. Concerns about fiscal sustainability and financial turbulence suggest that economic recovery in the OECD countries will not be accompanied by the higher growth rates associated with past recoveries. In contrast, growth remains high in many emerging economies, in part driven by strong capital inflows and high commodity prices; however, inflation pressures remain a particular concern, along with the need to rebalance external trade in key developing economies.

Beyond the pace and timing of the world’s economic recovery, other events have compounded the uncertainty associated with this year’s energy outlook. Oil prices rose in 2010 as a result of growing demand associated with signs of economic recovery and a lack of a sufficient supply response. Prices were driven even higher at the end of 2010 and into 2011 as social and political unrest unfolded in several Middle Eastern and African economies. Oil prices increased from about $82 per barrel3 at the end of November 2010 to more than $112 per barrel in day trading on April 8, 2011. The impacts of quickly rising prices and possible regional supply disruptions add substantial uncertainty to the near-term outlook. In 2011, the price of light sweet crude oil in the United States (in real 2009 dollars) is expected to average $100 per barrel, and with prices expected to continue increasing in the long term, the price reaches $108 per barrel in 2020 and $125 per barrel in 2035 in the IEO2011 Reference case.

The aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011—which resulted in extensive loss of life and infrastructure damage, including severe damage to several nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi—provides another major source of uncertainty in IEO2011. The near-term outlook for Japan’s economy is lower than the already sluggish growth that was projected before the events, but the impact on the rest of Asia and on world economic health as a whole probably will be relatively small, given that Japan has not been a major factor in regional economic growth in recent years. However, the event may have more profound implications for the future of world nuclear power. The IEO2011 projections do not reflect the possible ramifications of Fukushima for the long-term global development of nuclear power or the policies that some countries have already adopted in its aftermath with respect to the continued operation of existing nuclear plants. more

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A new technique to store solar energy

Solar thermal systems use mirrors to focus sunlight, generating temperatures high enough to produce steam to drive a turbine. One of the advantages of the solar thermal approach, versus conventional photovoltaics that convert sunlight directly into electricity, is that heat can be stored cheaply and used when needed to generate electricity. In all solar thermal plants, some heat is stored in the fluids circulating through the system. This evens out any short fluctuations in sunlight and lets the plant generate electricity for some time after the sun goes down. But adding storage systems would let the plant ride out longer periods of cloud cover and generate power well into, or even throughout, the night. Such long-term storage could be needed if solar is to provide a large share of the total power supply.

BrightSource Energy has become the latest solar thermal power company to develop a system for generating power when the sun isn’t shining. The company says the technology can lower the cost of solar power and make it more reliable, helping it compete with conventional sources of electricity.

BrightSource is using a variation on an approach to storage that’s a decade old: heating up a molten salt—typically, a combination of sodium and potassium nitride—and then storing it in a tank. To generate electricity, the molten salt is pumped through a heat exchanger to generate steam. BrightSource CEO John Woolard says one big factor in making this technology economically attractive is the use of power towers—in which mirrors focus sunlight on a central tower—that generate higher temperatures than other solar thermal designs. That higher temperature makes it possible to store more energy using a smaller amount of molten salt. “It’s a much more efficient system and much more cost effective, overall”

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Power walk – harnessing energy from everyday movements

These boots are made for walking . . . and for powering up your cell phone?
It could happen, according to a team of Princeton and Caltech scientists. In a recent paper in the journal Nano Letters, they report that they have developed an innovative rubber chip that has the ability to harvest energy from motions such as walking, running, and breathing and convert it into a power source.
Score one for the body electric.

“It opens up a lot of possibilities,” says Caltech graduate student Habib Ahmad, a coauthor on the paper. “We all dissipate energy as we move our bodies around, and conceivably that energy could be put to work charging small electronic devices like an iPod or a cell phone.”

The piezoelectric ribbons covering this minuscule rubber chip have the capacity to harness energy generated from body motions.
The key to this development is a class of materials known as piezoelectrics, which are substances—chiefly crystalline and ceramic—that respond to stress or strain by producing a charge, essentially converting mechanical energy to electrical energy. (“Piezo” derives from a Greek word, meaning to squeeze or exert pressure.)
“Piezoelectrics have been around for a while,” says Ahmad. “The best-known and most widely used natural one is quartz.” Ceramic ones, many of them man-made, often produce more voltage when stressed, but keeping that voltage level high generally requires that they be grown on a hard surface, or substrate. That limits how flexibly they can respond to the pressure generated by, say, a swinging arm or a treading foot.
Ahmad is currently working toward his PhD in the lab of Caltech’s Gilloon Professor and Professor of Chemistry James Heath, where he is developing micro- and nanodevices—ultrasmall instruments—that can aid in detecting and diagnosing certain types of cancer. He got involved in a precursor to the piezoelectric research a couple of years ago when he collaborated with Heath postdoc Michael McAlpine in testing out a new technique that McAlpine had come up with for transferring silicon nanowires from an inflexible substrate to a plastic one.

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