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Week of 3 December 2018: Energy Update

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For years, Energy has been our editorial topic for December. We have covered every side of it--from science, engineering, politics and personal perception. Yet, energy always remains a fresh topic since it is so important.

It has been important since the steam engine was invented, well over 200 years ago. Prior to that time, energy sources (wood and coal) were used for heating but not much else. The steam engine allowed heat sources to be turned into something very useful--rotating motion.

Sometimes I think the younger generations (say, those under thirty) think energy is a new discovery. At least with the comments they make to me, it seems so.

I got involved with energy when I started to work in 1970. In those days, energy consumers (motors, burners and so forth) were still fairly simple and not very efficient. In the 48 years since then, we have seen great gains in energy efficiency, from production to transmission to final consumer.

This was driven by politics and controled by powerful forces. The first oil shock, in the fall of 1973, drove companies to create positions such as "Energy Czar" and others. Today, it would be hard to find an energy czar.

Several things have happened. Raw energy costs have fallen back to nearly the level they were in 1973, when adjusted for inflation. In 1973, we were afraid the OPEC would dictate the prices for energy everywhere. Today, OPEC is a paper tiger.


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Energy extraction has gotten much cheaper (fracking) and energy reserves are more abundant. Boilers, generators and all other equipment on the production side has been greatly improved, now working at efficiency levels never seen before and at turndown ratios unprecedented in history.

On the consumer side, motors are much more efficient, smaller and less wasteful than ever.

Other consumers, such as dryers, coils, spargers and so forth are better than ever, too.

The science of energy is constant. Our abilities to convert one form of energy into another obeys the laws of physics, too, but we have gotten much better at the conversion process (efficiency).

The uncertainty is always the politics of energy, and now the politics of energy coupled with environmental perceptions and policies. As I write this, there are major riots in Paris due to the imposition of new carbon taxes. Carbon taxes are, of course, related to energy.

Energy continues to remain a fascinating agglomeration of the four P's: Physics, Politics, Perceptions and Price. For this reason, it is always a fascinating subject impacting us all.

In coming weeks, we'll delve a bit into the four P's as we continue our look at energy for now and the future.

Many accidents involve energized equipment. Study such matters, get professional help for assessments and let's keep everyone safe around our energy equipment.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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