World Oil Production, Solar Radio, and Other Energy News

Predictions about world oil production and an update on solar radio—a radio station that met most of its energy needs through solar electric generation—were among the energy news stories reported in this regular feature.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
July/August 1981
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In 1981 some energy experts projected a 20% drop in world oil production by the year 2000.

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A DRY WELL? Political factors and technical hurdles could cause world oil production to drop by more than 20% by the year 2000, according to a recent federal study. The report forecasts a total daily production of about 50 million barrels, which represents a decline of 12 million barrels from current figures.

UPDATE ON SOLAR RADIO: WBNO, a 500-watt radio station in cloudy Bryan, Ohio that switched from conventional to solar energy in 1979 is functioning better than ever: The photovoltaic installation was expected to provide 80% of the facility's needs, but is producing 90%.

CREMATORIUM COGENERATION? A 5,000-square-foot funeral home in Corvallis, Oregon is being heated by a $30,000 system that reclaims waste heat from the complex's natural gas-fired crematory. The setup permitted the mortuary's owners to take advantage of Oregon's alternative energy tax credits.

SLOWPOKE ISN'T A LAZY HORSE: The Atomic Energy Commission of Canada has developed a nuclear reactor—dubbed "Slowpoke"—that's purported to be the least expensive and smallest unit ever designed for commercial use. Researchers say the $850,000 mini-reactor can generate two megawatts of power and claim that the plant is safe enough to replace conventional furnaces in the basements of large hotels.

WHAT ABOUT BLACK CAR SEATS? A patent has been granted for "Solatorus," a solar collector made out of discarded automobile tires. The inventor of the device says that two of the units have successfully heated homes in Orange County, New York during the past two winters.

A CORPORATE BREAKTHROUGH? Southern California Edison recently amended previous statements to say that more than 30% of its additional generation needs will derive from "renewable and alternate sources" by 1990. In the past, the company had maintained that only about 10% of its energy could come from wind, solar, or geothermal power by the end of the century. Energy analysts likened the utility's announcement to "Richard Nixon recognizing China."

POWER (AND PROFIT) TO THE PEOPLE: When Haines, Oregon faced a 32% electrical power rate increase that the town's budget simply couldn't absorb, city officials started investigating the feasibility of installing a municipal hydropower facility on a nearby stream. The potential is so promising that Haines (with a population of 355) may float a bond issue to build a hydroplant capable of generating $4 million worth of electricity each year. If it does so, the town will be able to pocket an estimated $1.5 million annually by selling the surplus juice.

AND WHAT'S MORE, Oregonians aren't the only folks joining the return to hydropower (a source of energy, by the way, that was supposedly made "obsolete" by massive federal projects years ago). The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reports that the number of applications for permits and licenses to study, build, or expand hydroplants climbed from 294 in 1975 to 8,300 in 1980, a 2,700% increase.

BUT IT'S NOT ORGANIC: In recent public service ads, Mobil Oil Company attributes a 240% increase in American corn yields to the availability of diesel fuel for farm machinery and petrochemicals to kill weeds and pests. "Sure beats the era of the horse and natural fertilizers," Mobil comments. The ad also states that 50 tons of manure would be required to supply the nitrogen contained in half a ton of ammonia fertilizer. "How's that for reducing air pollution?" Mobil asks. It's enough to make one wonder whether the oil company even understands the problem!

WHO OWNS THE WIND? Commercial investors are moving aggressively to capture a share of the burgeoning wind power market. Large manufacturers—such as Bendix, Alcoa, and Boeing—are turning out wind plants, and an estimated 91 utilities nationwide have wind power projects in the works.

TREE POWER: A 260-page study, Tree Crops for Energy Co-Production on Farms, explores the energy potential of such trees as mesquite, honey locust, persimmon, Chinese tallow, and other varieties suitable for cultivation on marginal land.

Southern California Edison—spurred by the success of Israeli researchers—is building an EXPERIMENTAL SOLAR POND at Salton Sea which, it's predicted, will be capable of generating five megawatts of electricity .... MORE THAN 6,800 AMERICANS NOW HAVE LICENSED STILLS to produce ethanol, as compared to 800 just five years ago, according to the National Alcohol Fuels Information Center .... Alcoa's 139-FOOT-TALL EXPERIMENTAL WINDMILL COLLAPSED during tests in Palm Springs, California when a malfunctioning motor caused a blade to slice through a support wire .... FEDERAL INCENTIVES FOR CONVENTIONAL AND NUCLEAR ENERGY PRODUCTION totaled $252 billion between 1921 and 1978, while only $5 billion has been spent for solar energy development to date .... This summer, Paul MacCready's SOLAR CHALLENGER—a photovoltaic-powered aircraft—will attempt its longest flight yet: an excursion from Paris to London.

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