The world’s largest energy research project, the $20 billion ITER nuclear fusion reactor, entered a key construction phase last month, as contractors began to pour 15,000 cubic metres of concrete into a pit in the south of France. It will house a huge doughnut-shaped machine, called a tokomak, where scientists hope to tame the fusion reaction that powers the Sun as a source of clean energy on Earth.  Nuclear fusion produces far less radioactive waste than nuclear fission and its raw materials are almost inexhaustible.  The facility is expected to be ready by 2020 with the first nuclear reactions beginning in 2027. The plan is then to have a superheated plasma burning at 150 million degrees and generating 500 MW of energy – comparable to a medium-sized nuclear power station – for several minutes at a time. (ITER stands for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and is a joint project of the US, the European Union, Japan, China, Russia, India, and South Korea. For more see here.)

BP’s Energy Outlook 2035 forecasts that world energy consumption will increase 41% between 2012 and 2035. Countries outside of the OECD, especially China and India, are forecast to contribute to virtually all of this growth. Energy per capita use will increase by 14%. According to the Outlook, all fuels will experience growth. Among fossil fuels, natural gas grows fastest (+1.9% per annum), followed by coal (+1.1% p.a.) and crude oil (+0.8% p.a.).

In Venezuela, Petrovietnam has suspended production of crude oil, citing tough economic conditions. Officials say the investment environment there is not suitable right now, either for them or several other foreign investors.  A Petrovietnam official said that skyrocketing inflation in Venezuela makes the cost of doing business there too high.

In Mexico, foreign oil companies will have to wait another two years before beginning to invest an estimated $20 billion in the recently opened oil and gas industry. Foreign crude producers will be allowed to bid on oil and gas fields for exploration and begin developing infrastructure and operations as soon as late next year. Prior to granting the operating licenses, the legal framework must be determined by the government.

US railroad officials don’t like to talk about it, but trains full of oil are rumbling through many large cities because of the surging output of shale oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale. New railroad car regulations that could require the railroad industry to improve, phase out or retrofit the tank cars it uses to haul crude oil and other flammable liquids are still more than a year away.

Recent railroad accidents in the US involving the transport of crude oil are increasing the chances President Barack Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

BNK Petroleum said it is optimistic about the shale oil and gas potential in Poland following the start of a drilling campaign.

Poland’s national auditing agency this week criticized the slow pace of developing the country’s shale gas industry, blaming government inefficiency. Several foreign energy firms that came into Poland seeking to drill for its shale gas potential, such as Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil and Talisman Energy, have pulled out due to mixed exploration results and the uncertain regulatory landscape.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron will give millions of pounds to local authorities that allow shale gas developments to go ahead, part of a drive to create more jobs and encourage investment in the that country.

Since 2005 and the shale revolution in the US, net imports of natural gas have been reduced by 58%.

Japan’s 10 major electric power utilities consumed 5.27 million metric tonnes of liquified natural gas ( LNG) in December, a record high for monthly imports and up 4.2% year on year.

European car sales fell for the sixth straight year in 2013. Some 11.9 million new cars were registered in the European Union last year, a decline of 1.7% compared with the previous year.

The European Union is moving away from ambitious carbon emission reduction policies in favour of more lenient policies toward fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.  EU member states are no longer to receive specific guidelines and targets for the development of renewable energy. The stated aim of increasing the share of green energy across the EU to up to 27% will remain. But how seriously countries tackle this goal will no longer be regulated within the EU. As of 2020 at the latest — when the current commitment to further increase the share of green energy expires — climate protection in the EU will apparently be pursued on a voluntary basis.

Data from the United Nations shows that global investments in renewable energy technology fell by 12% in 2013, the second year in which a decline has been recorded. According to a recent report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, some $254 billion in green investments were made last year, well below the $1 trillion mark that investments had regularly reached in previous years. Investments dropped most significantly in Europe. This is likely due to the ongoing sovereign debt crisis that has created a turbulent economic environment throughout the region.

According to a report from NPD Solarbuzz, solar installations in the US in 2013 reached 4.2 GW, representing a 15% increase from 2012 levels. This growth has made the US the second largest solar market outside of the Asia-Pacific region.

Only 1,500 new electric and hybrids vehicles were sold in Sweden in 2013 out of a total of 270,000 new car sales in the Nordic country.

 In 2013 17,600 EV units were sold in China, which included 14,604 pure electric vehicles and 3,038 plug-in hybrids. These figures compare with the 21,984,100 vehicles sold in total in the Asian country last year.  In 2012 China’s State Council set the target of selling half a million pure electrics by the end of 2015 and over 5 million by 2020. Most analysts now consider these goals unreachable.

with h/t Tom Whipple

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