All posts by urvashiverma2017

Natural gas threatens future of nuclear energy

By Urvashi Verma

Nuclear power, the glamorous, high-tech power of the future, may be losing the energy race to humble natural gas, as abundant U.S. shale gas production causes natural gas prices to hit record low levels.

So far this year, natural gas has performed the worst among commodities, posting declines in both January and February. Prices have dropped 20 percent to $2.90 per million British thermal units from $3.65 in January. In the past three years, natural gas prices have steadily declined more than 50 percent, according to data from the Energy Administration Institute.

At the same time, withdrawals from U.S. shale drills have increased more than 700 percent. Last year, 1.3 trillion cubic tons were withdrawn compared with 170 billion cubic tons in 2008, according to the EIA.
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A prescient entrepreneur rides the solar-power wave

By Urvashi Verma

The anticipated ending of the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit for solar power installations caused a record-breaking boom in the solar industry last year. Now that the credit has been extended until 2021 sales are expected to surge again as both electric utilities and consumers take advantage of the federal incentive before it expires.

“That was definitely one of the reasons we did it. We did not know how long it would last. At the time we thought it was ending in 2016. My husband and I wanted to make sure we got the 30 percent credit,” said Nicole Virgil, who installed a 7.1-kilowatt solar array on her house in Elmhurst, Ill., last year.

The U.S. solar market doubled its annual record last year, topping out at 14,625 MW of solar electric, or photovoltaic, panels installed, a 95 percent increase over the 7,493 MW installed in 2015.
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Retail Sales Hurt By Income Tax Refund Delays

By Urvashi Verma

Sales at U.S. retail and food stores rose 0.1 percent in February, due in part to income tax refund delays that caused a slight consumer pullback, economists said.

The seasonally adjusted sales of retail and food services increased 0.1 percent in February to $474 billion, compared with January’s upwardly revised gain of 0.6 percent, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sales were on target, matching the 0.1 percent consensus estimate compiled by Bloomberg.

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Fukushima: Six Years Later Is It Safe to Go Back?

By Urvashi Verma

Nearly six years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, environmental activists are raising alarms that radiation levels are still dangerously high, despite the Abe government’s reassurances that thousands of residents can return home.

Last week the Japanese government lifted the evacuation orders in the Fukushima prefecture citing radiation measurement levels under 100 mSv per year and pronouncing that safe for residents to return. mSv means 1 one-thousandth of a sievert, which is a measure of the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body, according to a Wikipedia entry. But activists say 100 mSv is far from a safe level.

The primary contention of environmentalists regards the acceptable level of radiation for resettlement. “The notion that doses below 100 mSv are safe is not supported by science and contradicts internationally accepted standards,” said Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner at Greenpeace in Tokyo.

Radiation levels of 530 sieverts per hour, considered by some as alarmingly high, were measured in Fukushima’s Daiichi reactor number two in a test conducted by Tokyo Power and Electric Co., known as TEPC0, just last month.
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Existentialism in traditional Japanese tea ceremony

By Urvashi Verma

The Japanese tea ceremony, called “Chanoyu” “Sado” or “Ocha,” is a traditional ritual that dates to 9th century Japan. For both the host and guests, it is less about drinking tea and more about having an existential experience, or preserving the sanctity of the moment.

Japanese teahouse in the ancient city of Kamakura, 50 miles southwest of Tokyo. Teahouses are often beautifully landscaped and created for contemplation and connecting with nature, or “shizen”. Guests walk through the “roji,” or small garden that leads to the teahouse and is designed to create a connection to nature as guests enter the house.
The relationship between the guests, or “kyaku,” and host, or “teishu,” is a sacred one. “Aisatsu” means greeting in Japanese and is deeply rooted in the culture. When the guest enters the teahouse, greetings are exchanged.
Japanese tearooms have shoji screens. These screens are found in traditional Japanese homes to provide privacy and light. Moveable sliding doors give guests a view of the Zen garden outside.
The ceremony begins with the host serving traditional Japanese sweets called “wagashi” to balance the slightly bitter taste from the tea. The host will sit in front of the guest and place the dish in between them. The host will bow and verbally indicate when the sweets are ready to eat. Guests are expected to bow back and with both hands demonstrating their gratitude prior to eating.
The preparation ritual of tea appears very simple. However, every step is intricately designed and predetermined. A special mat called “tatami” is used to prepare the tea and utensils are placed with precision at prescribed locations.
The “koicha matcha,” or thick tea, is made by mixing hot water and macha green tea. While sipping the tea the guests are instructed to remain in the moment and consider that they may never experience it again. Oftentimes the tea cup is shared between guests. Guest should drink about three medium sips and wipe the rim before passing the cup to the next recipient.

The proper way to drink koicha matcha is to place the cup in the palm of the left hand, holding it above chest height. The cup should be turned clockwise two times so that the “shomen,” or front of the cup, is to the left. Then the chief guest, or “shokyaku,” must nod and acknowledge gratitude toward the host and drink the tea.
When the chief guest asks the host to finish, the host acknowledges the wish with a small bow in recognition. The host then properly bows and announce that he or she will finish the tea ceremony.
Kyakus departing the teahouse after the ceremony has been completed.

Why Wall Street May Be Losing Patience for Energy Giant Exxon

By Urvashi Verma

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s new CEO Darren Woods announced that the company will spend more on refining operations and acquired projects such as those in the Permian Basin. But the moves aren’t enough to change analysts’ pessimistic forecasts for the company, as higher oil prices hurt the bottom line.

Exxon will increase its spending on capital projects to $25 billion, after two years of declining investment, Woods said at a meeting with analysts last week. The move follows the acquisition of companies controlled by the Bass family, announced in January, that more than doubled Exxon’s shale oil footprint in the Permian Basin.

“This acquisition strengthens ExxonMobil’s significant presence in the dominant U.S. growth area for onshore oil production,” Woods said in the company’s press release.

But based on the steady rise in oil prices, and stiff competition in U.S. shale production, many analysts are holding to the view that the company’s growth will be slow.

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Gas prices expected to rise as inventories decline

By Urvashi Verma

Consumers can expect to pay more at the gas pump this spring as gasoline inventory levels are showing signs of dwindling.

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U.S. relents, honors doctor’s visa

By Urvashi Verma

U.S. officials confirmed late Wednesday that Chicago-bound Syrian national Dr. Amer al Homssi, holder of a valid U.S. visa who was prevented from returning to the United States last Sunday, will be allowed to re-enter the country on Thursday.

“They called us at 8:15 this morning and asked us if we wanted to settle,” said al Homssi’s lawyer, Thomas Anthony Durkin of Chicago. “I give credit to the government lawyers,” Durkin said in a press conference Wednesday at the Dirksen Federal Building.

Al Homssi, an internal medicine resident at Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, was stopped at the Abu Dhabi airport when trying to board a flight back to Chicago. He filed a lawsuit in Chicago federal district court against President Donald Trump on Monday morning.

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Exxon Mobil’s Profit Plunges 40 Percent

By Urvashi Verma

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s profit dropped nearly 40 percent in the fourth quarter as the company reported a $2 billion impairment in its natural gas assets and weaker profits from refining operations.

Nevertheless, the stock decreased a modest 1.14 percent and closed at $83.89.

Profit in the quarter declined to $1.68 billion or 41 cents per diluted share from $2.78 billion or 67 cents a share in the year-earlier quarter, sharply below the estimate of 81 cents per share compiled by Bloomberg.

“Financial results for the year were negatively impacted by the prolonged downturn in commodity prices and the impairment charge,” said Chairman and CEO Darren Woods in the earnings conference call.

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U.S. Shale Oil Production Rises to Meet Global Demand

By Urvashi Verma

After nearly two and a half years of barren fields, U.S. shale producers are restoring operations as oil prices have rebounded from increased demand from Asia and OPEC production cuts.

The Brent and WTI crude oil prices have increased 13.0 and 9.4 percent respectively reaching above the $50 per barrel mark since November after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries made a historic move to cut production by nearly 1.2 million barrels per day.

Less than two months later, shale oil output is rising as higher prices have made it more profitable for U.S. producers to restart operations.

In the first week of January alone, oil output jumped by 176,000 barrels per day to 8.95 million barrels per day from 8.77 million, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short-Term Energy Outlook.
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