Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The US crude oil stockpile is the highest since July 1993 representing over one trillion barrels of oil, when the strategic reserve is included. Some are surprised by the growing stockpile and continue to bet on increased petroleum prices in the future assuming that it is only a matter of time before we resume our old oil usage habits. Though much of the growth in inventory can be attributed to the recession impacting the demand for gasoline and petroleum by-products (like plastics), we believe a confluence of new energy saving technologies may also be lowering the US demand for oil.

1. Smart motors: It is estimated that 40% of all electric usage in the US is used by motors. The last decade has seen huge improvements in the efficiency of electric motors, so it would be easy to think that there is no way to further reduce their energy consumption. But recently a new generation of motors, with micro processors that calculate and control the amount of electric current needed, have come on to the market. Motors keep running even when there is no load; these new smart motors lower the current when there is no or a reduced load. Estimates vary about how much electricity these new motors save, but some state the savings are as high as 40%. This type of technology takes a while to become pervasive, but every piece of equipment and every factory that switches over to these motors lowers the power usage. If 40% of all electric usage is reduced by 40%, it could ultimately save 16% of the US’s overall electricity usage.

2. Natural Gas Extraction: A new technology has recently emerged that uses horizontal wells to extract natural gas from shale deposits in the northeastern US. We have been watching this development in the Marcellus Shale Play (a large geological deposit of shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) by a small oil and gas producer, RRC. RRC has had great success with horizontal wells drilled into the shale resulting in an increase of natural gas production from 1 million cubic feet per day a couple of years ago to 22 million cubic feet per day from 7 wells as of May of last year. A great benefit of this gas field is that it is close to the major power users on the east coast that have typically depended on imported oil. In some cases, the natural gas is piped directly to East Coast power plants without the requirement of a cross-country pipeline infrastructure. A daily production of 22 million cubic feet of gas replaces the energy equivalent of 3,700 barrels of imported oil a day. RRC is drilling new wells and other producers are also starting to copy horizontal well technology. This increased production from US shale deposits has the potential to completely replace the 1.2 million barrels of oil a day currently being imported from Saudi Arabia.

3. Home Electric Cogeneration: It is becoming popular in parts of the northeast US to install a home cogeneration system, CHP (Combined Heat and Power) system, which simultaneously generates heat and electricity. CHP systems use natural gas to produce electricity which generates heat as a byproduct. This waste heat produced by the generator is used to heat the owner’s house and water. The electricity produced while the generator is running is put out to the power grid; the generator is only run on demand for heat or hot water needed by the house which conserves natural gas. In Western states and here in Hawaii, solar and wind power systems being installed by home owners and businesses have a similar benefit of putting excess electricity generated on to the power grid. Every additional source of power on the grid reduces the need for power companies to burn imported petroleum products to produce electricity.

4. LED lights: Though still in their infancy, LED systems are being installed by cities throughout the US. Street light replacements are the most popular due to their immediate and huge savings; many cities are seeing savings in the millions of dollars in their electric bills the first year. LED lights, which are still expensive for the home, use only 10% of the electricity of incandescent lights for a electricity savings of 90%. Applications of the technology with the most obvious benefit are night lights, specifically street lights, signs, and architectural night lighting. It also has the benefit of being 12V and so is very efficient with 12V solar systems. As the LED market develops the prices will hopefully come down making it more affordable for home use. Lighting accounts for 34% of US's electricity usage, so LED systems could potentially save another 28% of the US’s electricity requirement.

5. Hybrid cars: Hybrids have become almost common place now. Toyota has recently announced that they are adding solar panels to their hybrid cars which could provide up to a 10% increase in mileage if you live in a sunny area. The average US car, a SUV or light truck, gets less than 17 miles per gallon. Hybrids get up to 48 miles per gallon; switching to hybrids could reduce the US’s need for oil by about 7 million barrels a day, or 30% of all US oil consumption and 50% of all US crude oil imports. Those that have added solar panels to their Toyota Pirus have seen an additional 29% increase in miles per gallon; this would reduce oil consumption by an additional 2 million barrels a day!

Although the barrels of oil that these new technologies save today seems small in comparison to the total US petroleum imports, we believe that rapid adoption of these new technologies will vastly reduce the US dependence on imported oil over the next decade. We know that everyone won't be driving a hybrid with solar panels or heating their house with a CHP or solar system next year, but as more and more people do, it will vastly reduce our dependence on imported oil.


Keahi Pelayo said...

Your forgot drilling for our own oil on our own land and clean green nuclear energy.

mdd said...

A friend here in Central Illinois purposely bought a lot in an area known for having natural gas underground and now has a house heated by his own natural gas well. His cost was about $5000 for the well and equipment.

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