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theWatt's Unifying Theme

Welcome to the very first column on theWatt about energy issues and ideas. As I write this, oil is at $90/bbl, just shy of its record breaking nominal high of $100/bbl set on Jan 2, 2008 by a single trader looking for bragging rights who took a $600 hit on the deal. He might be remembered, but I would bet that $150-$200/bbl oil in the long run will overshadow his heroics.

So why the high energy prices? Energy analysts will blame it on a speculation premium added by traders worried about pipelines in Nigeria, or a possible war with Iran, the world's 4th largest producer. But the real crux of the problem is simple: oil consumption is increasing faster than the world is pumping, a sure sign that we're running out of oil. Analysts blame China and they blame India, but rarely Americans who, by paying for a quarter of the world's oil, will actually be funding both sides of a possible U.S./Iran war.

What to do...what to do? How will investment into alternatives such as solar and wind power be affected by a looming U.S. recession partly caused by their own appetite for oil? Or by a possible carbon tax/cap and trade system? How will Europe fare? Europeans appear to be inherently more efficient people but they also have an energy overlord, Russia, who is learning to flex its energy muscle. Of course nobody can be sure, but predictions from the U.S. Department of Energy see the growth rate of coal, already the fastest growing fuel, dominating over all renewables combined.

These are all issues that are discussed at theWatt. The unifying theme is that energy and the environment are some of the most important factors influencing the quality of our lives. Energy efficiency is the key tool that we must use to break the link between energy production/consumption, the environment, our economy and our quality of life. How we use energy now and how we can use it more efficiently will be the main topics of this column.