Displacing More Oil from Power Generation
- Thursday, 20 January 2011
Increasing the US contribution of wind and solar power, geothermal energy, and even nuclear power would have virtually no effect on our oil imports or energy security, because we use so little oil for power. However, a pair of articles reminded me that this logic doesn't necessarily apply elsewhere. On Monday the Financial Times described the rapid growth of electricity demand in the Middle East, much of it fueled by oil that might otherwise be exported. Saudi Arabia apparently burns up to a million barrels per day of oil for power generation in the summer. And last week Fast Company highlighted the potential of large fuel cells to replace the diesel engines that generate power aboard tankers and other ships. As oil prices again approach $100 per barrel , with the possibility of even higher prices ahead when the entire global economy has returned to normal growth, these situations represent golden opportunities to save large quantities of oil for other uses for which its nearest substitutes still cannot replace it at scale.
Based on Department of Energy data the US generated just 0.9% of our electricity from petroleum and its products in the last year, with more than a third of that fueled by petroleum coke, a low-value solid byproduct of oil refining. The 43.5 million barrels of petroleum liquids used in power generation in 2009 represented only 0.6% of the 6.9 billion barrels the US consumed that year. When you break that sliver down by location , much of it is used for either backup generation or on islands or other remote locations. In other words, the remaining potential to displace oil from power generation in the US is very small and not necessarily well-suited to the intermittent renewable energy technologies now in favor. (That should change as electric...