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The Climate Post: Worldwide Energy Shortages Triggered by Drought, Subsidies

Posted: 07/08/11 03:31 PM ET

As the summer heats up, energy shortages are striking around the world -- including the oil-rich Middle East.

Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), stopped supplying gasoline to the other emirates, because the government can't afford to continue subsidizing gasoline, which it currently sells at far below global market rates. Now a UAE company has hashed out a deal to turn fast-food fryer oil into biodiesel to fuel vehicles. In Iran, one of the world's largest natural gas producers, many power plants have run out of natural gas and are instead burning oil to keep the lights on.

Pakistan's main export is textiles, but with power outages of 12 hours or more a day in many cities, the sector is ailing, forcing an estimated 400,000 people out of jobs. Many businesses in Pakistan are turning to diesel generators, but this is a major drain on the economy.

With only 19 of 54 nuclear reactors running, Japan is facing electricity shortages, and the government has instituted a 15-percent cut in electricity use by large users in eastern Japan. Temperatures are high in Japan, and the country may suffer the hottest summer on record, raising fears of heat stroke deaths.

South America's second-largest economy, Argentina, is rationing natural gas through the cold months (it's winter there). And Tanzania, east Africa's second-largest economy, is facing indefinite power outages as a result of fuel shortages as well as drought -- which has cut power output from the hydroelectric dams that supply more than half its power. Business leaders in the country have called on the government to work out emergency plans to save the economy from collapse.

End In Sight?

Power outages are likely to continue, says the International Energy Agency (IEA), because the world will find it difficult to raise the global investment of $16.6 trillion needed over the next 25 years to keep electricity production growing at 2 percent a year. But there are many ways countries can save energy in a hurry, according to a new IEA report drawing on case studies of nations that faced shortages.

As in Pakistan, many countries are falling back on diesel-fueled generators, the IEA points out -- and this has been a boon for companies deploying generators and portable power plants, in particular to developing countries.

Many countries could face a problem similar to what Tanzania faces, said a report by the New America Foundation, which indicates that the use of water in energy production is rising -- both for fossil fuels, such as shale gas fracking, and for renewables. Another report, from the Institute for Development Studies, echoed similar concerns, saying climate change threatens the world's electricity systems.

Attack Of The Jellyfish

An unexpected complication at power plants -- which may be related to greenhouse gases -- has been plagues of jellyfish clogging up water pipes. In late June, jellyfish clogged a cooling pipe at a Japanese nuclear power plant -- the first time that had happened in 14 years of operation. In Israel, jellyfish likewise clogged a cooling pipe at another power plant -- requiring construction equipment to scoop up many dumpsters' worth of the creatures.

Jellyfish numbers are likely booming in part because of overfishing, but also because of warming waters as well as ocean acidification, both caused by rising carbon dioxide levels.

The Long And Short Of China's Coal

A new study suggests that pollution from China's coal-fired power plants has stalled global warming -- for the short run. It's long been known that burning coal produces sulfur dioxide, an aerosol that has a cooling effect, but which also contributes to acid rain, one reason the U.S. created the Clean Air Act that required scrubbers on coal plants.

China's coal consumption has more than doubled in the past decade, and the country is now responsible for about half the world's annual coal use. Their coal plants are largely without scrubbers, although they're now starting to install these.

French Fry Flights?

U.S. commercial flights can now use blends of biofuels made from plants and organic waste, after winning approval from a U.S. standards group. On June 29, Dutch airline KLM made the first commercial biofueled flight, from Amsterdam to Paris, and the airline plans to expand use of a 50-50 blend of jet fuel and HEFA -- hydro-processed esters and fatty acids made from used cooking oil.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.