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31 January 2015

Press review 31-01-2015 - Hopes for energy storage

For a change, this review starts with an highlight on renewable energies. Or better said: technologies that may facilitate the expansion of renewable energies. The liquid metal battery developed by American company EOS is coming to the market next year. This is one of the technologies I have been following closest in recent years and things start to look definitely good after real context testing (among which a pilot run by GDF Suez). The zinc cathode based battery is to sell for a third of a lithium-ion battery on a €/kWh basis, and boast an operational lifetime 5 to 10 times longer.

Is technology about to save us? Perhaps not, but developments like these clearly show that "collapse" is not the unavoidable predicament of Mankind. There are certainly other planetary constraints to overcome and the herculean task of swaying governments away from impoverishment centred policies. By ultimately, the Future is largely unknown, marred with bad and good surprises.

17 January 2015

Press review 17-01-2015 - Shocks

This was a week of shocks. Thursday the Swiss Central Bank announced the de-pegging of the Swiss Franc from the Euro, leading to a flash appreciation of the Helvetian currency by some 20%. Albeit Switzerland being a small economy at the global scale, some frisson erupted with confusion and contradictions stamped in the mainstream press. Stock markets in Europe rallied, while that of the US tanked; India devalued the Rupee. Various commodities rallied to multi-month highs, petroleum inverted early week losses to close exactly where it closed the week before. That a small country as Switzerland can cause such an amount of turmoil around the world attests by itself to the uncertainty and fear presently dominating markets.

In fact, the Swiss gambit ended up covering another shock, with much more relevant and lasting consequences. The conflict in Ukraine drags on, without progress at the negotiations table and renewed intensification of military action. Finally Russia announced the likely outcome of this stand-off: gas deliveries to Europe through Ukraine are coming to an halt. As soon as the Russia-Turkey pipeline is finished, Ukraine stops being a gas transit nation.

The Commission spent decades promoting internal market deregulation as the tenant of energy security. Here is the outcome: there might be not enough gas to supply the deregulated market. Failing to deal with reality, the Commission got dealt back by reality.

10 January 2015

Press review 10-01-2015 - Nous sommes tous Charlie

Over the past decade Europe has been the stage of various terrorist attacks resulting in great loss of indiscriminate civilian lives: Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, Utoya Island in 2011. To these adds the Beslan massacre of 2004, that while taking place in the Caucasus, sent similar shock waves across the continent. This week similar events took place in France, with 17 lives lost in the course of 3 days. If the death toll is not as large as in previous cases, this latest attack hit far more than civilian lives. It was an attack on one of the tenets of modern European societies: freedom of expression, and thus an attack on European identity itself.

The reaction unleashed by this attack is naturally one of unity but above all it must counter the goals of its perpetrators. In first place the fear of expression, the ability to put forward one's opinion, however controversial. And secondly the spread of hatred; if that is the only answer we can muster, then we are no better than the disturbed individuals that committed such hideous acts.

Issuing a newspaper, authoring a book, hosting a radio talk show, composing politically aimed music, even writing a blog, are possible today for many of our ancestors fought for it, in many cases with their blood and their lives. Freedom of expression is not for granted, we must never forget that, and fight for it when necessary.

03 January 2015

Press review 03-01-2015 - Peak Oil in China?

The big energy story of 2014 was certainly the halving of petroleum prices. But on the long term the most relevant piece of news of last year was the official admission of a petroleum extraction peak in Russia. And by the very last days of the year a similar story brews up in China. Daqing, the super-giant field that accounts for one fourth of the petroleum extracted in China is entering its terminal decline phase. This information definitely sits China's peak in the not-so-distant future.

Petroleum prices are still searching for a bottom, leaving an ever grimmer picture for the industry. News of lay-offs, spending cuts, equity loss and downward revisions to reserves have now become routine. This is certainly not the best of environments to replace "easy oil" giants such as Daqing.