David Fuller and Eoin Treacy's Comment of the Day
Category - Energy

    VW's Diesel Defeat Devices Finally Located, Cracked Wide Open

    This article by Joel Hruska for EmtremeTech may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    But making those rules public does have a downside: It means companies know precisely how to cheat. Here’s how the Jacobs School describes the situation:

    During emissions standards tests, cars are placed on a chassis equipped with a dynamometer, which measures the power output of the engine. The vehicle follows a precisely defined speed profile that tries to mimic real driving on an urban route with frequent stops. The conditions of the test are both standardized and public. This essentially makes it possible for manufacturers to intentionally alter the behavior of their vehicles during the test cycle. The code found in Volkswagen vehicles checks for a number of conditions associated with a driving test, such as distance, speed and even the position of the wheel. If the conditions are met, the code directs the onboard computer to activate emissions curbing mechanism when those conditions were met.

    But VW didn’t stop there. The researchers who examined Volkswagen’s work pulled 964 separate versions of the Engine Control Unit (ECU)’s code from various makes and models of Volkswagens. In 400 of those cases, the ECU was programmed with defeat devices.

    Now, you might be thinking that a single code model couldn’t possibly compare all the variables in play between various test facilities, and that some cars should have shown a fault simply due to random chance. But VW was aware of that possibility and took steps to prevent it. Their defeat device had ten separate profiles to allow it to detect various permutations in test scenarios.

    Not all the defeat devices were sophisticated. The Fiat 500X (not manufactured by VW) has a much simpler defeat device. The vehicle’s emission control system runs for 26 minutes and 40 seconds after you first start the car, period. That’s long enough to pass most emission tests, and it doesn’t try to detect if the vehicle is being tested. But VW’s work was extremely sophisticated, it evolved over time, and the company’s claims that this was all instituted by a few rogue engineers are more farcical than ever.

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    OPEC, Allies to Extend Oil Cuts for Nine Months to End Glut

    This article by Nayla Razzouk, Golnar Motevalli and Laura Hurst for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    "The market seems to be a bit disappointed as there is no ‘something extra,’” said Jan Edelmann, a commodity analyst at HSH Nordbank AG. “It seems as though OPEC fears letting the stock-draw run too hot.”

    The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed in November to cut output by about 1.2 million barrels a day.

    Eleven non-members joined the deal in December, bringing the total supply reduction to about 1.8 million. The curbs were intended to last six months from January, but confidence in the deal, which boosted prices as much as 20 percent, waned as inventories remained stubbornly high and U.S. output surged.

    OPEC agreed earlier Thursday to prolong their own output cuts by nine months. Nigeria and Libya will remain exempt from making cuts and Iran, which was allowed to increase production under the original accord, retains the same output target, Kuwait’s Oil Minister Issam Almarzooq said after the meeting.

    That deal gave the Islamic Republic room to increase output to a maximum of 3.797 million barrels a day.


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    The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable

    Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Pilita Clark for the FT which may be of interest. Here is a section: 

    “I have been early twice in financing the low carbon energy transition,” says Bruce Huber, cofounder of the Alexa Capital advisory group. “But we feel it’s third time lucky.”

    One reason for his optimism is what he calls the “tectonic plateshifting” in the car industry that is driving down the cost of energy storage. Storing clean power has long been a holy green grail but prohibitive costs have put it out of reach. This has begun to change as battery production has ramped up to meet an expected boom in electric cars.

    Lithium ion battery prices have halved since 2014, and many analysts think prices will fall further as a slew of large battery factories are built.

    The best known is Tesla and Panasonic’s huge Nevada “gigafactory”. Tesla claims that once it reaches full capacity next year, it will produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were made worldwide in 2013.

    It is only one of at least 14 megafactories being built or planned, says Benchmark Minerals, a research group. Nine are in China, where the government is backing electric cars with the zeal it has directed at the solar industry.

    Could this lead to a China-led glut like the one that helped drive solar industry writeoffs and crashing prices after the global financial crisis?

    “It’s something to watch,” says Francesco Starace, chief executive of Italy’s Enel, Europe’s largest power company.

    The thirst for electric cars, not least in China, means “the dynamics of demand are completely different” for batteries than for solar panels, he adds.

    Still, Enel’s internal forecasts show battery costs falling by about 30 per cent between 2018 and 2021 and it is among the companies already pairing batteries with solar panels to produce electricity after dark in sunny places where power is expensive, such as the Chilean desert.

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    China successfully mines flammable ice from the South Sea

    This article by Cecilia Jamasmie for mining.com may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    During the mining trial done at a depth of 4,153 feet, engineers extracted each day around 16,000 cubic metres of gas, with methane content of up to 99.5%, Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming said.

    The new energy source, while revolutionary, is not exempt of risks. The release of methane into the atmosphere as permafrost melts is regarded for those who believe in climate change as one of the worst potential accelerator mechanisms for it. Methane hydrate is also hard to extract, which makes the cost of producing it high.

    Test drillings have also taken place in the US, Canada and Japan, with the latter announcing earlier this month that it was successful at producing the natural gas on the pacific coast and will continue mining it for around three to four weeks.

    Sources of methane hydrate are so large that the US Department of Energy has estimated the world's total amount could exceed the combined energy content of all other fossil fuels.


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    Musings from the Oil Patch

    Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section on Saudi Arabia’s motivations in the oil market:


    The analysts’ takeaways were that the Saudi Arabian economy was healthier than many thought, thus pressure for the country to lead the OPEC charge to substantially higher oil prices was soon dissipated. The headlines also helped explain King Salman’s willingness earlier to reverse the salary and benefit cuts for ministers and to grant salary bumps for the military and air force pilots. With the shrinking budget deficit and the ability of the kingdom to tap global debt markets twice in the last six months, the government felt comfortable it could increase spending without necessarily needing higher oil prices. Further comfort in its spending decision was provided by the point about non-oil revenue in the first quarter exceeding the government’s expectation. That latter point is important and helps explain why MBS says that Saudi Arabia’s debt will not exceed 30% of GDP. This is in contrast to many countries where total government debt equals or exceeds the country’s GDP. The shifting economic condition in Saudi Arabia is a long-term dynamic at work within the global oil market, and requires that analysts reassess their view of the kingdom’s strategy toward higher oil prices in the future. The last pillar supporting the significantly higher oil price forecast is the requirement for a favorable oil price backdrop in order to launch the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, the state oil company. 

    Crude oil prices are likely to remain highly volatile in the near-term as the shoulder months for oil demand and the restarting of refineries from the heating oil to gasoline turnarounds is creating inventory fluctuations. Many of these inventory fluctuations are not being accurately captured in the average analysts’ weekly inventory change forecasts, setting the oil market up for weekly surprises between the data and estimates. A key driver over the next few weeks will be people trying to guess the outcome from the May 25th OPEC meeting, but the outcome seems preordained. A negative surprise will be if the OPEC members fail to extend the production cut agreement as assumed by conventional wisdom. A positive surprise might be an increase in the production cut volumes, or an extension of the production cut agreement into 2018. Either or both of those actions will likely be viewed skeptically as greater volumes and longer time horizons create an environment that encourages increased cheating by OPEC members. If there has been a surprise from the current production cut it is the high compliance by the OPEC member countries. Is that a reflection of desperation or a true commitment to greater output discipline? 

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    Third Well to Help Meet Demand for Geothermal Heating in Boise, Idaho

    This article by Parker O’Halloran for thinkgeoenergy.com may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section

    According to Colin Hickman, a spokesman for Boise Public Works, “We’re getting to a place where the amount of space downtown that we’re heating we felt it was the right time to bring on the third well to ensure that we have redundancy, in case something happens during the winter months, during our peak season so we have some back up for the customers on geothermal heating,”

    Interestingly, a third well was dug in 1982, however, it has been not in use. Hickman says this third well is needed. These particular wells in Boise have geothermal water that is approximately 177 F (80 C) degrees when it comes out of the ground and is then pumped in insulated pipes to the downtown locations where the water heats the buildings.

    “The buildings will basically take the heat out of that water, use it for their heating purposes in their building, and then that water goes back to Julia Davis Park, and there’s an injection well there that puts that water back into the earth,” Hickman said.

    Hickman adds that Boise should be proud of its geothermal system as it eliminates the use of fossil fuels, it’s renewable and it’s an economic driver that will bring businesses in that are interested in this type of renewable energies to the Boise area.

    Geothermal energy use in Boise dates back to the 1890s.

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    Stretching Thin

    Thanks to a subscriber for this heavyweight 114-page emerging market fixed income focused for report from Deutsche Bank which may be of interest. Here is a section on Saudi Arabia: 

    Large FX buffers buy time despite high fiscal breakeven KSA also has a high fiscal breakeven, expected to reach USD84 in 2017 according to the IMF and somewhat lower according to our estimates at USD72. As such fiscal reform is a priority, but over USD500 billion of SAMA reserves and the potential for part-sale of oil assets give flexibility of timing. However, arguably, the size and conservative nature of the Kingdom makes early reform a necessity.

    Saudi Arabia’s approach to breaking its hydrocarbon habit has been to undertake something akin to a revolution in the country, as outlined in the Vision 2030 document and the shorter-term National Transformation Program 2020. The challenges are significant, given the elevated fiscal breakevens, delivering 11% budget deficit in 2017. Ambitions for achieving a balanced budget by 2020 (“Fiscal Balance Program 2020”), suggests the bulk of the social and economic overhaul should be front-loaded. 

    The National Project Management Office (NPMO), announced in September 2015 and tasked with moving projects forward in a coordinated fashion, has stalled. Furthermore, headline projects such as the Makkah Metro or the North-South rail line have been pushed out. Of the USD1 trillion pipeline, the only actual new project awards have been limited to Aramco investments. Until the NPMO is fully in place, any major project awards will be exceptions.

    By contrast the establishment of the Bureau of Capital and Operational Spending Rationalization – an entity aimed at reviewing the feasibility of projects less than 25 per cent complete has moved forward with a review of some of the SAR1.4 trillion of projects in development. On the first round, approximately SAR100 billion of costs have been cut. Some projects will be cancelled, others retendered or converted to self-financing PPP-style contracts, but the certainty is that these cannot continue to be financed substantially from the public purse. There has also been additional controls on current spending with cuts in civil service allowances. The switch from an Islamic contract year to a slightly longer Gregorian one amounts to a 3% pay cut.


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    Musings from the Oil Patch May 2nd 2017

    Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section:

    As automobiles transition from being completely under the control of a human driver to being totally controlled by machines and computers, several things can happen. If cars can operate without having accidents, highway speeds can be increased, which could reduce vehicle fuel-efficiency, boosting fuel consumption. Fully-autonomous driving will also enable classes of the population currently unable to utilize vehicles, adding more vehicle miles traveled to the nation’s transportation system and increasing fuel consumption. Those classes of people include non-drivers, along with the elderly, disabled and young people. A study by Carnegie Mellon University estimates that this expansion of the driving population could increase vehicle miles traveled by 14%, or adding 295 billion miles of driving annually. That will mean more fuel consumed, regardless of how fuel-efficient the vehicles are that these classes of people utilize. A rough calculation based on vehicles with 30 miles per gallon ratings, means about 675,000 barrels a day of additional gasoline, or approximately a 7% increase on today’s gasoline consumption. Fully-autonomous driving suggests more vehicle use, more miles driven and more fuel consumed. The offset is if fully-autonomous vehicles dominate the growing car/ride-sharing segment of the transportation sector, which could act to reduce fuel consumption. 

    Whether the vehicles of the future are ICE-powered or derive their power from some other fuel source will be influenced by the outcomes of the other two broad trends. For example, if we become a nation of car-sharers, there will be fewer vehicles needed, vehicle miles traveled might decline, although they just as easily could increase. A fully-autonomous vehicle provides the possibility of having a greater impact on fuel consumption than human-driven vehicles. First, cars that don’t have accidents can be made from lighter materials that facilitates more EVs since greater battery weight will be offset by lighter vehicle bodies and frames. That could help EVs overcome some of the range-anxiety challenges for many potential buyers. It could help accelerate the electrification of the automobile fleet, which would have a significant negative impact on vehicle fuel consumption. On the other hand, if ICE powered vehicles remain the popular option, fuel consumption might not be as impacted as in an EV-favored scenario. With fully-autonomous vehicles offering the potential for increased vehicle use, fuel consumption is likely to increase. 

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    Musings From the Oil Patch April 18th 2017

    Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section:

    The worst downturn in the history of the oil industry has been followed by the fastest drilling rig recovery in history. From massive layoffs and corporate restructurings, oil and gas and along with oilfield service companies have had to switch gears and figure out how quickly and profitably they can grow along with the current recovery. As someone mentioned, the industry has crammed a year’s worth of rig activity growth into a few months – something that is creating a challenge for the oilfield industry. 

    As the energy companies are about to start reporting financial results for the January - March 2017 period, numerous oilfield service company managements have already signaled that the numbers will likely not reflect the levels of profitability Wall Street analysts had expected due to the costs of responding to the explosion in activity, especially following OPEC’s surprise output cut to help drive a recovery in oil prices. From the rapid climb in the rig count, it is clear that not only had investors and analysts bought into the recovery scenario, but so too had exploration and production (E&P) company managements. 

    There is an expression in English literature that “all things come to those who wait,” but that isn’t the case in the oil patch – especially if one wants to make money. In reality, the expression “the early bird gets the worm” is more appropriate to describe how people in the E&P business operate, but it is taking a toll on the pace of the recovery in oilfield service company profits. Service company managers have had to spend money to reactivate equipment and re-crew them before they can actually earn revenue. The more aggressive a company has been, or is, in ramping up its idle equipment, the greater are the costs incurred. At the present time, everyone is comfortable in the belief that the delay in gratification – increased profits – will be worth the effort, and the wait. Whether that proves a correct assumption or not will depend on how the recovery continues unfolding and what happens to well costs, which is what is driving the increased activity. Everyone has to make money going forward for the recovery to be sustained. That doesn’t mean, however, that everyone will enjoy the levels of profitability experienced during the era of $100+ a barrel oil prices. But, unless people make money, the industry will not be able to support additional activity, or possibly even support the current level of work. So where are we in this recovery?


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    Global Shipping Fleet Braces for Chaos of $60 Billion Fuel Shock

    This article by Firat Kayakiran for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    Little more than 2 1/2 years from now, the global fleet of merchant ships will have to reduce drastically how much sulfur their engines belch into the atmosphere. While that will do good things -- like diminishing the threat of acid rain and helping asthma sufferers -- there’s a $60 billion sting in the tail.

    That’s how much more seaborne vessels may be forced to spend each year on higher-quality fuel to comply with new emission rules that start in 2020, consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. estimates. For an industry that hauls everything from oil to steel to coal, higher operating costs will compound the financial strain on cash-strapped ship owners, whose vessels earn an average of 70 percent less than they did just before the 2008-09 recession.

    The consequences may reach beyond the 90,000-ship merchant fleet, which handles about 90 percent of global trade. Possible confusion over which carriers comply with the new rules could lead to some vessels being barred from making deliveries, which would disrupt shipments, according to BIMCO, a group representing ship owners and operators in about 130 countries. Oil refiners still don’t have enough capacity to supply all the fuel that would be needed, and few vessels have embarked on costly retrofits.

    “There will be an absolute chaos,” said Lars Robert Pedersen, the deputy secretary general of Denmark-based BIMCO. “We are talking about 2.5 million to 4 million barrels a day of fuel oil to basically shift into a different product.”


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