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Category — Energy Forecasts

How the Federal Reserve Affects the Gold-Oil Relationship

After oil and gasoline prices continued their relentless march up earlier this year, it was nice to have some relief at the pump in May and June. However, since the end of June, prices of WTI crude oil is up over 15%, Brent crude oil is up about 25%, and retail gasoline is up over 7%. Oil and gasoline prices reached three-month highs last week and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) increased their 2012 forecasts of these prices.

There is no doubt that these higher prices will grab the attention of news outlets, policy makers, and the public. With this increased attention, political rhetoric regarding fantasies of governmental regulations and market manipulations will likely reemerge as catalysts to lower these prices.

The less likely scenario is increased awareness on the impacts that central banks, particularly the Federal Reserve, have on these petroleum prices by changes in the money supply. Over the period of this substantial rise in petroleum prices, central banks around the world have taken action from the dismal economic outlook in many global regions.

The U.S. GDP growth rate of only 1.5% in the 2nd quarter of 2012 and unemployment rate of 8.3% in July concern the Fed about economic stability, and several Fed governors recently called for additional quantitative easing measures—purchase of long-term bonds by printing more money. Although the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher opposes these additional measures (there are few marginal benefits versus costs), I examine the costs of monetary easing policy based on the relationship between gold and oil prices.

[Read more →]

August 24, 2012   3 Comments

Joe (Romm), Where Art Thou? (my peak oil bet deserves an up or down)

In a post on his blog and then again on the Huffington Post, Joe Romm challenged me to a wager on oil prices, claiming prescience concerning the price rise in the past decade compared to my 1996 forecast of low prices for two decades.  He seems to be implying that that I have refused to wager him, having closed the webpage to any further comments.

I find myself taken aback, as my experience with the blogosphere is somewhat limited.  My experience is primarily as an academic, writing articles for refereed journals and books, as well as working papers, with an intention to make them carefully sourced and referenced.  A blog can consist of nothing more than a rant, and the comments appended to them often worse (and usually anonymous).  I will not however yield to the temptation to follow suit (even if our illustrious moderator would permit it, which he won’t).

Having put up approximately 20 posts on the subject of peak oil, it might be thought that Romm is an expert on the subject. But so far as I know, he has a grand total of one article on oil, his famed, “Mideast Oil Forever” Atlantic Monthly piece (co-authored with Charles Curtis), which is the source of his pride on the subject.

A careful reading of “Mideast Oil Forever” shows that his argument was not so much that prices would soar, but that global dependence on Middle East oil would soar, which has not happened.  My argument was that the forecast of rising Middle East market share was likely to be incorrect, and it was (see Figure), so that economic fundamentals would not imply ever rising prices.

Forecasts of OPEC Market Share from 1996/97

Which is a far cry from saying my forecast was wrong and Joe’s correct.  In my testimony, I specifically stated,

“The reality is that prices may go up in the future.  And Persian Gulf oil production and exports will rise.  However, the most likely scenario, given what we know about oil supply and demand and what we have learned about forecasting in the last 10 to 15 years, is that OPEC is going to be under continued pressure for at least the next 10 years, possibly for much longer, that they will be fighting with each other for market share.  And, it’s going to require some very substantial changes in the world to see prices rising.” (See my opening statement on pp. 127-128.)

Arguably, the price collapse leading to the rise of Hugo Chavez, the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, are those ‘substantial changes’.  Certainly, not the soaring Middle East market share predicted by Romm.  (Since he downloaded the transcript of the hearing, it’s not clear how he missed this.) [Read more →]

March 5, 2010   1 Comment

Power Generation Industry Forecast: Natural Gas as Fuel of Choice, Little Change for Other Technologies (Part II)

In Part I of this two-part post, we presented our observations of a power generation industry that will likely become more dependent on natural gas as a source of fuel for new power plants constructed in the coming years. Other fuel-based technologies (principally nuclear and coal) don’t seem to have the wherewithal to grab a larger piece of what should be a growing demand for electricity in the U.S. Both will be lucky to maintain their market share in the future. Renewables, with high levels of production tax credits, coupled with legislative mandates, will continue to grow in installed capacity but will contribute little to peak demand reduction. And should politically correct renewables (not hydropower) lose part or all of its government support, say as part of a deficit reduction program, then market share will actually be lost.

What follows is what we believe to be the future path of the remaining fuel-based power generation alternatives in 2010 and beyond.

Nuclear power, the last best hope for zero-carbon emissions from baseload generating plants, was many analysts’ early pick for a generating revival in the first decade of the 21st century. If one accepts the conventional view of climate change, the rational case for nukes appears unassailable. If you want low-carbon generation, you must go nuclear, period. (Gas-fired capacity to firm intermittent sources of power makes carbon-free wind and solar an illusion.)

The first decade of our new century has passed. After years waiting for the nuclear renaissance, it doesn’t look as if the second decade will bring the nuclear industry closer to revival. Indeed, the horizon may be receding. Literature Nobel laureate Samuel Becket could not have had U.S. nukes in mind when he wrote his iconic 1953 play, Waiting for Godot. But some of its dialog is eerily on target. The character Vladimir in the second act comments, “What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”

In the U.S., we are into the second decade of the 21st century, waiting for the nuclear renaissance, after the market collapsed in the 1970s. Waiting and waiting.

Nuclear power plants won’t pick up U.S. generating market share in 2010, by all accounts. That’s despite prior federal government policy aimed at jump-starting new nuclear generation, including allegedly streamlined federal regulations and a longed-for candy jar of additional subsidies, such as major loan guarantees, pledged in the Republicans’ Energy Policy Act of 2005. Those have yet to materialize.

Some in the Obama administration and Congress are contemplating additional loan guarantees and other nuclear subsidies, to be included in pending climate change legislation. Arguing for $50 billion in additional federal loan guarantees, Exelon CEO John Rowe told a Senate committee in late October, “Deployment of new nuclear plants simply will not happen, given the large up-front capital costs, without a much more robust federal loan guarantee program than currently exists.” There doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm on either side of the partisan aisle for committing that kind of money to nuclear power.

The 2005 congressional vision (perhaps a hallucination) was of a modest new fleet of nukes—a dozen or so—that would come into the U.S. market and revitalize the stagnant industry. New reactor designs from U.S., Japanese, and French companies; interest from multiple utilities; applications for more than 30 units under the streamlined approach of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) licensing reforms of the 1990s; and the Energy Policy Act of 2005 all led to irrational exuberance among nuclear power developers. The 2005 loan guarantees would jump-start the market, the legislation assumed and the industry agreed.

More than four years later, [Read more →]

January 14, 2010   3 Comments

Power Generation Industry Forecast: Natural Gas as Fuel of Choice, Little Change for Other Technologies (Part I of II)

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” said Yogi Berra. The baseball Hall of Famer could easily have been predicting the coming resurgence of new natural gas–fired power plants. A couple of nuclear plants may actually break ground, but don’t hold your breath. Many more wind turbines will dot the landscape as renewable portfolio standards dictate resource planning, but their peak generation contribution will continue be small (and disappointing).

The most interesting story for 2010 is that the dash for gas in the U.S. has begun–again. In Part II or this two-part report, we will explore the challenges facing nuclear, coal, and renewable energy electricity sources in 2010 and beyond.

Business Climate–Energy Demand

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century and a second year of avoiding an economic collapse, the U.S. business climate seems to have become more positive. A growing sense of cautious optimism is appearing. A mid-October survey by the National Association for Business Economics concluded that the largest recession since the 1930s Great Depression is over, and economic growth is likely for the U.S. economy in 2010. The government announced that third-quarter 2009 economic growth hit 3.5%, the first positive growth in five quarters, suggesting an end to the recession (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Electricity growth resumes in 2010. After a two-year contracting market, total electricity consumption in the U.S. in 2010 is expected to increase. Source: EIA, November 2009 Short-Term Energy Outlook

The implications for electric generation are mixed. What gets built depends on a complex stew of credit markets, regulatory responses, economic growth, technology, and national politics. Some of those are leading economic indicators, some lagging, some not clear at all.

Renewable generation has not made a convincing economic case in the market. But politically it has the upper hand. Coal and nuclear continue to take a political battering at the hands of the renewables advocates. The politics of energy is being upended by new implications for natural gas. The political and regulatory landscape is a dog’s dinner (a Britishism for an undigested mess).

The need for new generation to supply load appears less urgent than in previous years. According to the EIA, demand for electricity has fallen since the economy tanked in 2008. The demand down-tick is the first since the EIA has accumulated these statistics in 1977.

Facing a sluggish economy, consumers have reduced thermostats, cut off air conditioning, and dialed down appliances, leading to the decline in electricity demand. A cool 2009 summer in most of the U.S. helped to reduce air conditioning load. Net electric generation dropped 6.8% from June 2008 to June 2009. That was the 11th consecutive month that electric generation slid downward, compared to the same month in the prior year.

Analysts say they expect the declining demand trend to reverse when economic growth shows up at the beginning of 2010 or thereabouts. But they have been wrong before and may be wrong again. The EIA, the U.S. Department of Energy’s statistical agency, says it suspects the decline in demand will continue into early 2010, despite what appears to be a bottoming-out of the recession.

Many electric power company long-term capital spending plans have been built on the dire forecasts of the past decade, particularly from NERC. For years, the conventional wisdom in the generating industry was that the U.S. was running out of generating capacity. Year after year NERC had the same message: It’s time to build baseload, particularly nuclear and coal, and make major investments in high-voltage transmission.

Maybe not. Intermediate-load and peaking units, suggesting new gas plants, may be the ways to hedge big investment bets on future baseload units. A recent Washington Post article quoted anonymous sources as saying that new nuclear plants aren’t economical until natural gas prices are above $7/mmBtu. That’s more than double the current price. [Read more →]

January 13, 2010   2 Comments