Category Archives: Technology

A Greener Champagne Bottle

Newly forged bottles, still red hot, being checked at random for defects at the Saint Gobain glass bottle factory.

By LIZ ALDERMAN  THE NEW YORK TIMES  Published: August 31, 2010

REIMS, France — Deep below a lush landscape of ripening Champagne grapes, Thierry Gasco, the master vintner for Pommery, ran his finger over the shoulders of a dark green bottle that looked just like the thousands of others reposing in his chilly subterranean cellars.

But to the practiced hand and eye, there is a subtle, if potentially significant, difference.

“This is how we’re remaking the future of Champagne,” he said, pointing to the area just below the neck. “We’re slimming the shoulders to make the bottle lighter, so our carbon footprint will be reduced to help keep Champagne here for future generations.”

The Champagne industry has embarked on a drive to cut the 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide it emits every year transporting billions of tiny bubbles around the world. Producing and shipping accounts for nearly a third of Champagne’s carbon emissions, with the hefty bottle the biggest offender.

Yet while many other industries might plaster their marketing with eco-friendly claims, changes to Champagne, as with so much else in France, are being made discreetly. Producers in this secretive business are tight-lipped about the costs and occasionally enigmatic about how much their carbon emissions will really be cut.

“Champagne is sometimes more humble than it should be,” said Philippe Wibrotte of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, the region’s trade organization. “Much is done for the promotion of the environment, but it’s kept quiet because we want to make sure each step is perfect.”

The industry speaks in hushed tones, too, in deference to the luxurious image and ritualistic traditions of Champagne, as symbolized for centuries by the bottle. It was Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, who first thickened the glass in the mid-1600s to contain what was often referred to as “the devil’s wine” because its vessels exploded so often. Over time, the bottle was gradually recalibrated until 900 grams, or about two pounds, became the standard weight in the early 1970s.

The current retooling, which uses 65 fewer grams (2.3 ounces) of glass, is in response to a 2003 study of Champagne’s carbon footprint, which the industry wants to cut 25 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2050.

The move comes as efforts to reduce carbon output and improve vineyard ecology are accelerating worldwide, as wine houses reduce packaging, pesticides, water use and transportation. In California, for example, winegrowers are promoting what their trade group, the Wine Institute, says are nearly 230 “green practices,” including methods to cut carbon emissions.

Champagne accounts for only 10 percent of the three billion bottles of sparkling wine produced globally each year. But the bottle stands out for its heft. Italian prosecco, for instance, uses a 750-gram bottle. But it and its various fizzy cousins have only about half the pressure of Champagne — which generates three times the air pressure of a typical car tire.

Although some of Pommery’s restyled bottles are already on the market, the C.I.V.C. expects all Champagne houses to start using the new 835-gram vessel next April for bottling this month’s grape harvest; the new wave of bottles will hit stores after three years of fermentation. The effort, the group says, will trim carbon emissions by 8,000 metric tons annually — the equivalent of taking 4,000 small cars off the road.

“For Champagne producers to reduce the weight of their packaging is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Tyler Colman, an author of environmental studies on the wine industry, “because there’s less mass to transport around the world.”

Vranken-Pommery Monopole, which in addition to Pommery owns Heidsieck & Company Monopole and other labels, got a head start by adopting the lighter bottle in 2003. Consumers around the world may have already uncorked some specimens without noticing the new bottle. Moët & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot and a few others quietly switched this year, with those bottles still under fermentation.

The rest of the Champagne producers are deciding whether to embrace the C.I.V.C.’s mandate, which is voluntary but carries special force in this clannish community.

Designing a new bottle was no small feat. The container still had to withstand Champagne’s extreme pressure. It would also need to survive the four-year obstacle course from the factory floor to the cellars to the dining table, and fit in existing machinery at all Champagne houses. And it had to be molded so that consumers would barely detect the difference in the bottle’s classic shape.

“The bottle is part of Champagne’s image, and we don’t want to affect it,” said Daniel Lorson, a spokesman for the trade group.

Mr. Gasco said Vranken Pommery, one of the largest houses, has spent 500,000 to one million euros ($635,000 to about $1.3 million) each year since 1994 on environmental initiatives, including research and testing of the lighter bottle.

But the bottle, he said, is not about money, which has become tighter since the financial crisis. Industrywide sales for Champagne last year were 3.7 billion euros ($4.7 billion), down from nearly 5 billion euros in 2007.

“Reducing their carbon footprint and energy use is also a great way to make their operations more financially viable, especially with the economy the way it is,” said Euan Murray, an official at the Carbon Trust, a nonprofit group that advises businesses and government on global warming issues.

Sipping a glass of Pommery during an interview, Mr. Gasco eventually disclosed that the new bottles cost around 32 euro cents (41 United States cents) each, not much cheaper than the classic. But Mr. Gasco, who sits on the C.I.V.C.’s bottling panel, said “if everyone starts to use it, the price will come down.” Any savings, however, would be too slight to pass on to consumers, he said.

Most of the new Champagne bottles are made at the St. Gobain plant near here, where molten red glass is dropped from a 20-foot-high chute into molds at a rate of 160 a minute. The glass is cooled from more than 1,000 degrees Celsius for over an hour, scanned for imperfections and stacked on pallets for shipping.

A worker on Pommery’s assembly line, who declined to be named, said he noticed that a few more of the new bottles were exploding, and that they made a higher-pitched sound when they clinked together. Mr. Gasco denied there were more explosions, and said any damage more likely came from using heat to inject the cork.

Bruno Delhorbe, the director at the St. Gobain factory, said that using less glass lowered the carbon emissions necessary to make each bottle by 7 percent, and allowed about 2,400 more to be placed inside delivery trucks, reducing the number of trucks on the road.

Slimming the shoulders while thinning the glass, he noted, also allowed his clients to avoid giving their customers more Champagne for the same price.

Of course, there are even lighter alternatives: Many of the world’s producers of still wines are employing plastic bottles and box containers to reduce their carbon footprint.

But it may be a long time before Champagne goes that route. Most houses take pains to cultivate an image of luxury through packaging and pricing — and intimations that other sparkling wines are inferior because they simply are not Champagne.

Still, many producers insist that while tradition has its place, the environmentally motivated changes are about the future. Patrick LeBrun, an independent producer, said he started going green “for personal reasons.” He has not used herbicides for five years, and this year, he is putting all of his product into the lighter bottle.

“There’s about a 2-cent price difference but that’s not what decided me,” he said. Trying to improve the environment “is my contribution to the next generation.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Businesses Going Green, green living, Technology

U.S. on track to double renewable energy capacity: Biden

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. government stimulus spending has put the country on track to double renewable energy production capacity by 2012 and halve solar power costs by 2015, Vice President Joseph Biden said on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama’s stimulus spending poured $814 billion into the U.S. economy, including more than $100

Reuters – Solar panels sit on the roof of SunPower Corporation in Richmond, California March 18, 2010.

billion for science, technology and innovation projects.

With Energy Secretary Steven Chu by his side, Biden unveiled a new White House report estimating the impact of the Recovery Act funding on American innovation in transportation, renewable energy, broadband, smart electrical grids and medical research.

Biden said the stimulus funding would lead to breakthroughs in many of those areas.

“The government plants the seeds. The private sector nourishes and makes it grow,” Biden said. “And in the process, if we’re as innovative as we’ve been in the past, we launch entire new industries.”

The report outlined a goal of doubling renewable energy capacity from the 28.8 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal sources installed as of the end of 2008 to 57.6 GW by the end of 2011, which would be enough to power 16.7 million homes, or 55 million electric cars, for a year.

The manufacturing goal is to double the 2008 level of output of 6 GW of renewable equipment like wind turbines and solar panels to 12 GW at the end of 2011.

Solar power now accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation, while wind power produces almost 2 percent.

The cost of solar power is expected to be on par with common grid electricity by 2015, while the cost of electric car batteries is expected to fall by 70 percent between 2009 and 2015 and be competitive with common car batteries.

In May, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the U.S. stimulus money put up to 2.8 million people to work and raised U.S. gross domestic product by up to 4.2 percent, but predicted the impact would taper off in 2011 and 2012, after peaking later this year.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Walter Bagley)

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology, World Greening Trends

GREEN: First Look: 2011 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid Concept

GREEN:  First Look: 2011 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid Concept

From the March, 2010 issue of Automobile Magazine
By Georg Kacher
Officially it’s only a concept, but there’s no doubt that project XG10 — or the 918 Spyder concept — will pave the way for the next Porsche supercar. And what a supercar it is going to be: in addition to the normally aspirated, high-revving, 3.4-liter V-8 good for more than 495 hp, the striking 918 Spyder has three electric motors onboard that add another 215 hp to the tally. Says Wolfgang Dürheimer, board member in charge of R&D: “This car can lap the Nürburgring faster than the Carrera GT. At the same time, it averages 78 mpg [on the EU driving cycle] when driven gently. Are we going to build it? We will definitely bring some blank sales contracts to the Geneva show, but it’s too early to talk pricing, production volumes, and timing.


“The strategic aim is to demonstrate that even a supercar can be environmentally friendly. XG10 promises total driving pleasure—and a clear conscience. This is a trendsetting and sustainable premium product that uses the issue of social acceptability to its advantage. And it reflects the legacy of Ferry Porsche, who was convinced that sports cars would never go out of fashion.”

XG10 stands for X1, Geneva 2010. X1 is the code name of the 918 Spyder, which is only one version of many. Potential variations include a 918 coupe, an electric 918, and a 918 RS/RSR. This car can be either two- or four-wheel drive, have plug-in electric or gasoline power, come with an open top or a fixed roof, and be either a racer or a street machine. Its genetic evolution dates back to the 1997 Porsche GT1, which was a Le Mans–winning 911 on steroids. That car triggered project LMP 2000 (Porsche’s exciting Le Mans comeback car), which was halted at the eleventh hour by then-chairman Wendelin Wiedeking, who was always more of a numbers man than a car guy.

Thankfully, Wiedeking and his controller, Holger Härter, allowed Dürheimer to pick up the LMP pieces and convert them into the street-legal Carrera GT, which was launched in 2003 and found 1250 takers. In 2006, Porsche moved on to form the basis of the successful RS Spyder. Four years later, we’re witnessing the debut of XG10, which still uses several Carrera GT elements, such as the front suspension and the forward structure. For 2011, insiders are already predicting LMP1, a race version of the 918 Spyder, which would comply with planned hybrid-friendly Le Mans regulations.

“In terms of performance, XG10 will even eclipse the Carrera GT,” promises a beaming Dürheimer. “In terms of fuel consumption, it beats every microcar. It really does combine the best of both worlds. Thanks to the modularity of the engineering concept, hybridization can quickly filter down to the 911 and the Boxster, if required. Better still, all the R&D work was done in-house—and that includes the performance electronics and the electric motors. There was not a single systems supplier involved in the gestation process. As a result, we own all the intellectual property rights.”

The team of fifty specialists was led by Gernot Döllner, a seasoned and multitalented vehicle engineer. We asked him to name the three most critical crossroads of the concept-defining process. “XG10 started off as a conventional hybrid but then switched to the more practical and more advanced plug-in concept. The number of electric motors and where to position them was also an issue. In the end, we decided to integrate the rear motor in the housing of the seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission. We are still experimenting with the packaging of the cooling system. The best solution may be a nose-mounted, low-temperature circuit complemented by a pair of mid-mounted, high-temperature radiators. The body style is not yet cast in stone. Although the show car is a Spyder, generating a coupe version would be simple.”

The design of the low-noise, low-emissions crowd-stopper is the work of Hakan Saracoglu, who works for department chief Michael Mauer. Inspired by such legendary Porsche racing cars as the 908 Spyder and the 917 Le Mans coupe, as well as by the current ALMS RS Spyder, the former Mercedes-Benz and Saab designer masterminded the creation of an emphatically modern sports car with a few familiar touches.

“In a way, the 918 is two cars in one,” explains the soft-spoken design director. “Its character can change from mild to wild and vice versa—mild as in wafting along in eco mode, wild as in switching the drive program selector to sport or race. In mild, the car benefits from the relatively low weight and strong aerodynamic performance. In wild, it improves downforce and stability by extending the adjustable wing, and it raises the two ram-air intake scoops to further enhance thermodynamic efficiency. Design-wise, it was our mission to visualize a brand-new, unique, and revolutionary vehicle concept. Big wheels were a must, the stance had to be positively ground-hugging, and an unmistakable front end was imperative, as was a pacesetting mix of classic curvatures and contemporary creases. There is no doubt that the XG10 marks an important evolution of our design language, certain elements of which are bound to appear on future production models.”

Continue article at….

Leave a comment

Filed under Green Transportation, Technology

GREEN: First Drive: Audi E-Tron

From the December, 2009 issue of Automobile Magazine
By Georg Kacher
 The three volume German premium brands are about to introduce electric mobility from the top down – in new models like the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics, the electric Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, and the Audi E-tron. We got an early turn in the E-tron, which aims at the niche currently owned by the Tesla Roadster.

Although it shares elements of its aluminum architecture with the R8, the E-tron is smaller, almost as short as an A3. Despite the generous wheelbase (102 inches), the cabin isn’t particularly spacious. The towering battery stack behind the rear firewall takes up even more space than the R8’s V-10 engine, transaxle, and fuel tank combined. Wrapped in liquid-cooled safety foil, the lithium-ion cells provide an energy capacity of 53 kWh, an exact match to the Tesla. To extend battery life, only 80 percent of that capacity is used. The batteries power four electric motors, rated at a total of 313 hp. The whopping maximum torque of 3319 lb-ft needs to be scaled back drastically so that full acceleration doesn’t peel the tread off the tires. “The biggest challenge is of course to synchronize the four motors,” says Thomas Kräuter, technical project leader for concept cars. “Since each wheel can be accelerated and decelerated individually, this is no mean feat.”

Time to put the electric showpiece to the test. Getting in is a challenge not only because of the concealed door handles but also due to the narrow door aperture and the restricted adjustment of the space-age bucket seat. The airy cockpit has a jet-fighter touch, with hard-to-decipher LED monitors instead of rearview mirrors; a dished, flat-bottom steering wheel; and various iPhone-style touch pads instead of push buttons. Hit the start button, and the gear lever rises from its flush sleeping position like the head of an angry cobra. I select D, but nothing happens. To save energy, the E-tron doesn’t crawl, so you don’t have to hold the car with the brake. At the first stab of the accelerator, the Audi takes off like a noiseless red arrow, but the quoted 0-to-62-mph time of 4.8 seconds is at this stage strictly theoretical, since the concept car weighs some 1300 pounds more than the target, and it’s muzzled by a speed limiter. In finished form, the E-tron will accelerate with no holds barred from 0 to 85 mph, at which point the system starts to ease off because of the rapidly increasing aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance. The top speed will be capped at 125 mph.

Driving an electric vehicle, you gaze at alien instruments, such as the neon-green power-reserve meter and the equally prominent range indicator. You hear unfamiliar sounds, like the gushing coolant flow that keeps the batteries healthy, the distant hum of the heat pump that also serves as the air-conditioning, the subdued whine of the regenerative brakes, and the much more intense mix of wind and road noise. What one doesn’t notice at relatively low speeds are the E-tron’s 70 percent rear-biased torque split, its 42/58 percent front/rear weight distribution, the torque vectoring that combats excessive understeer and oversteer, or the qualities of the suspension, which uses control arms in the front and rear. The carbon-ceramic disc brakes are squeezed by hydraulically operated calipers up front; the rear ones are electrically activated. The advantages of this arrangement are lower friction losses, lighter weight, and more efficient energy regeneration.

Feather-footed drivers can hope for a range of 155 miles between charges, but if you storm up a mountain flat-out, the low-power warning light will likely come on after only sixty miles. At the conclusion of our two hours of driving and maneuvering, the charge meter still read 40 percent full. With a 220-volt household current, a recharge can take up to eight hours. Tapping a 400-volt network drops that down to two and a half hours.

The E-tron will be built alongside the R8 and the Lamborghini Gallardo starting in 2011. The first year, Audi plans to build 100 units, most of which will be leased to customers. For 2012, the goal is 1000 vehicles for lease and sale. Of course, there are still many questions, typical of electric cars. How will the batteries cope with extreme temperatures, dust, and moisture? What effect will the number, sequence, and duration of charge cycles have? How do owners access and replace subpar batteries? How often will software updates be required? Will enough customers be willing to fork out at least $200,000 for what in essence is an experimental vehicle?

“The age of electric mobility has only just begun,” says Kräuter. “Audi wants to be a force to be reckoned with in this segment. Of course, there will be setbacks. But setbacks have always been part of the pioneer’s fate.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Green Transportation, Technology

The Differences Between Clean Energy, Renewable Energy, and Alternative Energy

To many people, the differences between “alternative energy,” “renewable energy,” and “clean energy,” might not be obvious. But each term is unique and has its own individual definition. These three terms are not all exactly the same.

Alternative Energy

When we speak of alternative energy, we refer to sources of usable energy that can replace conventional energy sources (usually, without undesirable side effects). The term “alternative energy” is typically used to refer to sources of energy other than nuclear energy or fossil fuels.

Throughout the course of history, “alternative energy” has referred to different things. There was a time when nuclear energy was considered an alternative to conventional energy, and was therefore called “alternative energy.” But times have changed.

These days, a form of “alternative energy” might also be renewable energy, or clean energy, or both. The terms are often interchangeable, but definitely not the same.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is any type of energy which comes from renewable natural resources, such as wind, rain, sunlight, geothermal heat, and tides. It is referred to as “renewable” because it doesn’t run out. You can always get more of it.

People have begun to turn to this type of energy due to the rising oil prices, and the prospect that we might one day deplete available sources of fossil fuels, as well as due to concerns about the adverse effects that our conventional energy sources have on the environment.

Of all the different types of renewable energy, wind power is one which is growing in its use. The number of users who have some form of wind power installed has increased, with the current worldwide capacity being about 100 GW.

Clean Energy

“Clean energy” is simply any form of energy which is created with clean, harmless, and non-polluting methods.

Most renewable energy sources are also clean energy sources. But not all.

One such example is geothermal power. It may be a renewable energy source, but some geothermal energy processes can be harmful to the environment. Therefore, this is not always a clean energy. However there are also other forms of geothermal energy which are harmless and clean.

Clean energy makes the less impact on the environment than our current conventional energy sources do. It creates an insignificant amount of carbon dioxide, and its use can reduce the speed of global warming – or global pollution.

As you can see, alternative energy, renewable energy, and clean energy are very similar. But it is important to know that there are differences.

There are many actions which can be taken, to help reduce the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Some of these steps can be taken in your own home. Many clean energy solutions can can be easily installed, and some kits are quite affordable.

Carbon emissions and other forms of pollution are not only created by heavy industrial factories. They are created in the common household as well. Energy efficiency has become an important aspect of our lives.

It’s important to start making changes now; if we want to save our planet for our children, for the flora and fauna of the Earth, and for the future of mankind. Clean energy, to be exact, can make a big difference.

Learn more about clean, renewable, and alternative energy forms at Alternative Energy.


Filed under Alternative Energy, Technology

Roundup: Support of offshore drilling comes late

President Obama has now decided that offshore
exploration for oil and natural gas is important for
our economy. This is a political ploy used to gain
support for a very controversial cap-and-trade
energy bill (“Obama: Offshore drilling part of
broader plan,” News, April 1).

The obvious question to ask is why offshore drilling
has been blocked by the president and Democrats
for years. If it had been approved earlier, our
economy would be in better shape and our
dependency on foreign energy sources markedly

In addition, the billions used to purchase energy
from foreign countries would have been invested
here. The benefits would be lower utility costs for
businesses and citizens, lower gas prices, and more
jobs for those involved with exploration,
processing, refining, transporting and distributing
the oil.

We should have kept focusing on oil, natural gas,
nuclear energy and coal for civilian, industry and
military use rather than alternative energy sources.

Wind and solar power are not reliable enough to
meet our needs. Also, the subsidization of ethanol
is a prime example of bad energy legislation and
should not be repeated. Ethanol is costly, inefficient
and pollutes the environment.

Marvin L. Hoovis; Centerville, Mass.

Irresponsible gains

As one who did not buy at the top of the housing
market and who also rejected my lender’s offer of
more money when I refinanced, I could not agree
more with your criticisms of the government’s loan
modification program (“Get out of the business of
mortgage modifications,” Our view, Foreclosures
debate, April 1).

Millions of us were sober and responsible, only to
watch as the profligate and irresponsible have been
handed huge piles of government money to get out o
f financial problems of their own making. That
money ultimately comes from me and the millions
like me.

And as your editorial correctly points out, “This is
bailing out bankers because it’s impossible to help
borrowers without helping lenders as well.”

So responsible homeowners are bailing out the very
people and businesses whose actions have tanked
the economy. Everyone should fear the lesson this
has sent. We sober borrowers and businesspeople
might decide next time to join the party, and let
someone else nurse us through the financial

Steve Stanek; McHenry, Ill.

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology, World Greening Trends

Oil Prices Find a Sweet Spot for World Economy

March 30, 2010
The New York Times
Oil Prices Find a Sweet Spot for World Economy
HOUSTON — Oil prices have done something remarkable over the last half-year or so: they have barely budged.

Memories are still fresh of the chaotic climb to $147 a barrel only two summers ago, accompanied by gasoline costing $4.11 a gallon. The spike led to accusations from drivers and politicians that oil companies were price-gouging. Then crude prices plummeted along with the economy, to around $34 a barrel just over a year ago, only to double again in a matter of months as confidence began to recover.

And there the price has stayed, more or less, since August, reaching a rough stability in the $70 to $83 range.

Economists and government officials say that if prices remain in that band, it could benefit the world economy, the future security of energy supplies and even the environment. The price is high enough to drive investment in future oil production and in supplies of alternative energy, they note, but low enough that consumers can bear it.

“It’s a sweet spot,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard professor of international finance. “It’s not too low that it’s crushing demand for renewable energy sources or causing debt and fiscal crises in oil-exporting countries. And it’s not so high that it’s driving African countries deeper into poverty and threatening the recovery in the U.S. and Europe.”

Gasoline prices have stabilized along with oil prices, with the average national price for a gallon of regular gasoline ranging from $2.50 to $2.80 since June. Prices are expected to go as high as $3 a gallon during this summer’s driving season. That is a relatively high price by historical standards, but it is more tolerable than in the summer of 2008, when prices exceeded $4 a gallon for weeks, and rose above $4.50 in a few states.

Oil prices have jumped somewhat this week, but they are still within the band they have occupied for months. Light, sweet Texas crude closed on Tuesday at $82.37 a barrel.

Energy experts say that several far-flung global developments have converged to put supply and demand in relative equilibrium, at least for the time being.

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have remained fairly disciplined in complying with their announced production cuts. Meanwhile, among non-OPEC producers, growing oil output in Brazil, Russia and the Gulf of Mexico has counterbalanced production declines in the North Sea, Alaska, Venezuela and Mexico.

On the demand side, growing appetites for oil in China, India and other developing nations have been offset by declining demand in the United States and Europe, because of their slowing economies, conservation efforts and growing use of biofuels.

“The current price range provides a geopolitical benefit,” said David L. Goldwyn, the State Department coordinator for international energy affairs. “With ample capacity in oil, and commercial inventories at five-year highs, markets are well positioned to absorb any potential supply disruption, even without resorting to strategic stocks.”

While the last four decades have been punctuated by various oil price booms and busts stemming from oil embargoes, wars and recessions, periods of relative stability lasting months or years have been commonplace.

Not surprisingly, oil producers prefer stability to plan their investments. “The worst thing that happens in our industry is volatility,” said G. Steven Farris, chairman and chief executive of Apache Corporation. With prices stabilizing, his company has increased its exploration and development budget by 50 percent, to $6 billion, this year.

The new return to balance is rooted in the price spike that occurred from 1999 to 2008, when oil prices climbed from under $20 to nearly $150 a barrel. Those high prices performed their elementary economic function: they called forth additional supply.

As prices rose, producers invested in expensive exploration and production projects around the globe. At the beginning of the last decade, fewer than 20 drilling ships were capable of finding and developing deepwater oil; today there are well over a hundred. Saudi Arabia and Russia undertook big expansions of their production capacity.

When oil prices suddenly collapsed in late 2008, future supply gains were put in doubt. Several large companies postponed decisions on whether to go forward with big projects to develop oil sands in Canada, for instance, and smaller independents slashed their exploration budgets.

But now most of the suspended oil sands projects are going forward, with an estimated 580,000 barrels of new capacity under construction. Meanwhile, many of the independent oil companies are pumping up their oil exploration investment budgets as well.

“If we still had $35 oil prices, you would not have seen us be nearly as active in the Gulf of Mexico,” James T. Hackett, chairman and chief executive of Anadarko Petroleum, said in an interview. With prices recovering, he said his company was moving forward with an aggressive program of installing 30 deepwater exploration and appraisal wells this year in the Gulf, Asia and Africa, each costing $50 million to $200 million.

“An $80 price curve tends to work for us,” Mr. Hackett added.

The biggest long-term threat to the new balance is growing consumption in China and other developing countries. But some analysts express hope that such countries can curb their oil demand growth as they build power transmission lines that will enable them to replace inefficient diesel generators with alternative power sources like gas and nuclear.

Stable, relatively high prices also may encourage conservation. Energy experts note that American drivers still have an incentive to buy efficient vehicles with gasoline prices at $2.80 a gallon, while high oil and low natural gas prices are encouraging use of compressed natural gas vehicles and biofuels in many countries.

“The price range we are in is positive for encouraging diversity of supply,” said Mr. Goldwyn, the State Department energy official. “It’s high enough so that countries that subsidize the price of oil still have a high incentive to reduce those subsidies and it’s high enough to support energy-efficiency measures that are positive for mitigating climate change.”

For all the good that stable prices can do, however, no one is willing to predict they will last forever.

“Demand will change; supply will change,” said Christof Rühl, chief economist of BP, the oil company. “The world changes all the time.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology