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22 June 2013

Press review 22-06-2013

"There are relevant signs that Portugal will explore natural gas", that's how the State Secretary for Energy put it this week. In a follow up interview the Minister of Economy further detailed that 40 M€ have already been invested to assess the potential of the southern coast off the Algarve and that estimates of success stand now at 30%; exploratory drilling should start in 2014.

Speculation on natural gas reserves off the Algarve has been around for years, but this is the first time a government seems genuinely interested. The coverage by the Portuguese press has been so far rather poor; with no technical data reported, it is hard to distinguish this move from previous hypes on local fossil fuel production. One thing is certain though, whatever happens off the Algarve it won't benefit Portuguese consumers, all profits are to be taken solely by exploring companies themselves; they don't seem even obliged to sell the gas in the country.

Four or five years ago the hype was much stronger on the prospects of petroleum resources in deep waters of the western coast. Exploratory work commenced in 2012 and so far no one has judge it suitable to invest the hundreds of millions of euros required for a drilling campaign. I'll follow the situation in the Algarve with the same scepticism.

Exploração em Portugal não baixa preço do gás natural

O secretário de Estado da Energia, Artur Trindade, afirmou hoje que "há sinais significativos" de que Portugal irá explorar gás natural, mas alertou que "não é expectável que a energia baixe num país que encontre energia no seu território".

Artur Trindade acredita que Portugal esteja muito perto de começar a explorar gás natural no 'offshore' do Algarve, o que não significa muito para os consumidores já que o secretário de Estado da Energia deixa desde já o aviso que a exploração não terá reflexos nos bolsos dos consumidores daquela fonte de energia.

Aquele elemento governamental explicou que "há sinais cada vez mais significativos de que em breve Portugal poderá também explorar gás natural no nosso território" mas acrescentou Artur Trindade que "seja qual for" o cenário de potencial energético "não é expectável que os custos da energia baixem num país que encontre energia no seu território", porque a energia é uma "commodity" e "o custo da energia consumida nesse país não tem alterações estruturais significativas".
Moving to global issues, the European solar industry is trying to go through its worse moment by targeting markets overseas. Battered left and right by local governments, that dumbly prefer traditional sources of energy like coal, solar systems assemblers and installers are trying to export the knowledge they built during the past decade. For now the war on solar energy seems restricted to Europe.
Deutsche Wella
Cautious optimism at Intersolar renewables fair

[...]But this year, the industry expects Europe to grow only slightly in solar power, especially in the established markets of Germany and Italy, especially because feed-in tariffs for solar power producers are reducing.

Solar experts see the development in the rest of the world very differently. The industry's foremost experts expect global growth to increase this year more than 10 percent over last year.

"It's highly probable that China will be the biggest market this year, number two will be Japan and number three, the USA," says Winfried Hoffmann, President of the European Solar Industry Organization EPIA.

Market research bureau IHS, from the United States of America, says a further reason for the decline in Europe's solar market is the anti-dumping tariff the EU Commission enforced against Chinese modules. Altogether, the analysts from IHS expect a European market decline of 35 percent in comparison to last year.
In the same article there's a small reference to the tame growth of off-grid systems, which seem to be taking off among medium size investors, again confirming my observations on the solar market. The anti-dumping tariff was the first measure by governments to hinder the expansion of the off-grid solar park, but harsher measures will be needed to halt it.
A new market that is developing in Germany, however, is the private use of solar panels, which in turns reduces reliance on the electricity grid. For businesses and supermarkets which need a lot of energy every day, it is increasingly worthwhile to have solar panels on the roof, so they can obtain electricity more affordably than from a power company.

Module manufacturers and project developers, Centrosolar, have already built numerous solar units on Italian and German supermarkets and see there a growing market, which needs special development.
Now for a few notes on Agriculture, starting with worrying news from Argentina. With such fowl weather in the northern hemisphere this Spring, these protests can have a deep effect later in the year; something to follow closely in the comming weeks.
Seed Daily
Grain markets face turmoil as Argentine strike looms

International markets for corn, soybeans and other grains face turmoil as Argentine farmers announced they'll go ahead with port stoppages starting Saturday.

Farmers' representatives blame the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for a stalemate in talks on agricultural policy reforms. The farmers are unhappy with a taxation regime Fernandez introduced after winning re-election in 2011. They're furious with what they denounced as convoluted regulation that has unloaded a burden of bureaucracy on the country's agriculture sector.

Argentina is the world's second largest corn exporter and No. 3 soybean exporter and this year in particular has been profiting from a downturn in U.S. yields. Traders said the Argentine farmers' action was certain to push up global prices for commodities. Wheat and other grains exported by Argentina are also likely to be affected.
Longer term Agriculture seems again a major constraint to world population (or is it the other way around?). The main fact here is that the effect of the green revolution seems to be tailing off. My own impression is that neither population nor yields will grow as currently projected, as the world transitions into a different economic paradigm, non reliant on fossil fuels. I'm just not sure what paradigm is that.
The Guardian
Growth in crop yields inadequate to feed the world by 2050 – research
Fiona Harvey, 20-06-2013

If the world is to grow enough food for the projected global population in 2050, agricultural productivity will have to rise by at least 60%, and may need to more than double, according to researchers who have studied global crop yields.

They say that productivity is not rising fast enough at present to meet the likely demands on agriculture.

The researchers studied yields of four key staple crops – maize, rice, wheat and soybeans – and found they were increasing by only about 0.9% to 1.6% a year. That would lead to an overall increase of about 38% to 67% by 2050, which would only be enough to feed the population if the lower end of the estimate of yields needed and the maximum yield increase turns out to be the case.
Once in a while there is this piece in the press about an imminent breakthrough with a new energy source. Sometimes it is good enough to create some suspense, but in other cases not even that, as below. This has been a persistent issue all these years I've been studying energy, the general lack of knowledge from journalists to properly report on the mater. I'm sure more articles like the one below are to come.
Bio Fuel Daily
Black locust showing promise for biomass potential

Researchers from the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois, evaluating the biomass potential of woody crops, are taking a closer look at the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), which showed a higher yield and a faster harvest time than other woody plant species that they evaluated, said U of I associate professor of crop sciences Gary Kling.

"For now the only thing you can do with it is use it for direct combustion," Kling said. "But if it becomes a major crop other researchers could start working on the process of how to break it down," he said. "The EBI is working on how to get the sugars out of plants and how to turn those to alcohols. It is a very tough thing to do. It's typically been tough to break down the biomass in woody plants to make it useful for alcohol production. Our plan is to be able to take anything we grow and convert it into a drop-in fuel."

Kling said he and his team's role in the EBI's feedstock production/agronomy program, is to improve the production aspects of bioenergy crops. While other researchers in the program have evaluated miscanthus, switchgrass, and prairie cord grass, Kling is examining which short-rotation woody crops grow best in the Midwest.
Closing is an issue that jumped up the last few days. The Chinese Central Bank seems unwilling to support the country's banks, at least for the time being. The interbank lending rate has soared to record highs in a flash and concern is growing. We shall see how this evolves next week, a crash in the Chinese financial sector will have implication worldwide.
The Economist
The Shibor shock

BANKS do not keep their doors open an extra half-hour just because their customers need more money. But when the banks themselves are short of cash, things are different. On June 19th China’s interbank market stayed open late as banks scrambled to borrow funds from each other. On June 20th the seven-day repo interest rate shot up to 12%, the highest on record (see chart). The Shanghai interbank offered rate (SHIBOR), an average of the rate at which big banks say they will lend, also rose.

In a more mature economy such a spike would be “very scary”, notes Tao Wang of UBS. In such economies central banks set the interest rate at which they will provide funds to banks. If they keep this policy rate steady, then interbank rates can surge only if banks start to doubt each other’s creditworthiness.

In China the central bank’s provision of liquidity is more ad hoc. As a consequence “short-lived cash crunches” are not unusual, says Mark Williams of Capital Economics. This crunch began innocuously enough. Deposits were drained by companies paying taxes and customers withdrawing money in advance of the Dragon Boat holiday on June 10th-12th. A crackdown on illicit capital inflows hit another source of liquidity.
Have a nice the weekend and don't forget the umbrella.

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