China and Japan have started harvesting methane ice from the seafloor.  Commercial development of the globe’s huge reserves of methane hydrates or “combustible ice” has moved closer to reality after these Asian companies have successfully extracted the material from the seafloor off their coastlines. Methane hydrate is a frozen mixture of water and concentrated natural gas that can be lit on fire in its frozen state and is believed to comprise one of the world’s most abundant fossil fuels. A Chinese drilling rig operation successfully mined the fuel in the South China Sea last week. Meanwhile, a drilling crew in Japan reported a similar successful operation two weeks earlier offshore the Shima Peninsula. Methane hydrate has been found beneath seafloors and buried inside Arctic permafrost and beneath Antarctic ice. The US and India also have research programs pursuing technologies to capture the fuel. The consensus within the energy industry is that commercial development will not happen until at least 2030. James Taverner, a senior energy industry researcher at IHS Market, said:

Commercial-scale production could be transformative for northeast Asia, particularly for Japan, which imports nearly all its hydrocarbon needs.

Estimates of worldwide methane hydrate reserves range from 280 trillion cubic meters (10,000 trillion cubic feet) up to 2,800 trillion cubic meters (100,000 trillion cubic feet), according to the US Energy Information Administration. This means methane hydrate reserves could meet global natural gas demands for 80 to 800 years at current consumption rates. The fuel could displace renewables such as solar and wind power according to Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

This week India’s cabinet approved plans to build 10 nuclear reactors with a combined capacity of 7 terawatts. India presently has installed nuclear capacity of 6.8 TW from 22 plants and plans to add another 6.7 TW by 2022 through projects currently under construction.

A new agreement between China and the US has opened the door for US liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers to export vast energy supplies to China. It is the first step for the US. to become a key supplier to the world’s largest energy consumer. The trade deal invites Chinese companies to import American LNG and negotiate long-term contracts to ensure future supply. Last year the US supplied only 1% of China’s imported LNG. Bloomberg predicts imported natural gas may account for 40% of China’s total natural gas consumption by 2020, up from one-third today. US LNG exporters who tap into the Chinese gas market now could find it a tremendous opportunity for growth as their capacity grows.

According to Bloomberg, China’s coal power generation capacity may grow as much as 19% in the next five years. The country recently canceled 120 gigawatts of additional coal power plants, but still plans to add coal-fired electric power plants to nearly 1.1 terawatts of power — the same generating power as 1,000 nuclear power stations, which typically produce 1,100 megawatts each. This is three times the present coal-power capacity of the entire US coal industry.

The price of solar energy in India has fallen to a new record low, making it cheaper than fossil-fuel generated power. At a solar auction in Rajasthan last week the price of solar energy was 18% lower than the average price for electricity generated by coal-fired plants. Phelan Energy and Aaada Power offered to charge 2.62 rupees per kilowatt-hour (kWH) of solar-generated electricity, lower than the lowest price of  3.15 rupees per kWH at the previous month’s solar auction. After the auction India Energy Minister Plyush Goyal said  India would meet its ambitious target to deploy more than 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022.

The American Wind Energy Association reported that another 21 gigawatts of wind energy capacity is now under construction or in advanced development in the US — enough to power an additional 5 million average American homes. Forty-one US states now have utility-scale wind power projects. Federal government credits for wind energy production, state government renewable energy mandates, and falling costs to build and install wind turbines are combing to drive growth in wind energy capacity.

The Terawatt Workshop projects US solar power will become less expensive than conventional, fossil-fueled electric generating sources by 2020.  Moreover, more efficient solar panels combined with lower cost battery storage will threaten the economic viability of the entire electric utility distribution grid by 2030. In effect, if consumers can economically produce, store, and swap electrical energy, they will not need the conventional power grid. They can replicate it with other technologies and at lower costs. The Terawatt Workshop concluded solar photovoltaic power costs could decline to 3¢ per kilowatt-hour by 2020 (from around 5¢ per kWh now) as compared with 10¢ per kilowatt-hour for the US electric grid.

China’s latest plan for it’s auto industry calls for two million ‘New Energy Vehicles’ to be sold per year by 2020 and seven million a year by 2025. If the targets are achieved this would represent 20% of the total domestic auto market in 2025, with all of the growth coming from electric models.

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