The Age of the Giant Battery Is Almost Upon Us  

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Bloomberg has an article on the great strides being made by the missing link in the transition to 100% renewable energy - cost effective energy storage - The Age of the Giant Battery Is Almost Upon Us.

Battery costs have declined 40 percent since 2014 and regulators are mandating storage technology be added to the grid. That’s encouraging utilities to offer longer contracts and developers are expected build $2.5 billion in systems globally this year. These trends are changing the risk profile, giving lenders confidence in batteries in much the same way that power-purchase agreements opened banks’ doors years ago for wind and solar power.

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants a clean energy future  

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I quite enjoy watching Arnie's old movies with my son these days. The Terminator himself also makes a lot of sense in the political pronouncements he makes these days, whether it be trading insults with Donald Trump, lobbying against gerrymandering or insisting that dealing with global warming by adopting clean energy technology is an unmitigated good thing for everyone.

His latest rant on Facebook seems to have gained a lot of media attention for the last of these items, asking everyone to embrace a clean energy future - I don’t give a **** if we agree about climate change..

There are always a few of you, asking why we should care about the temperature rising, or questioning the science of climate change.

I want you to know that I hear you. Even those of you who say renewable energy is a conspiracy. Even those who say climate change is a hoax. Even those of you who use four letter words.

I've heard all of your questions, and now I have three questions for you.

Let's put climate change aside for a minute. In fact, let's assume you're right.

First - do you believe it is acceptable that 7 million people die every year from pollution? That's more than murders, suicides, and car accidents - combined.

Every day, 19,000 people die from pollution from fossil fuels. Do you accept those deaths? Do you accept that children all over the world have to grow up breathing with inhalers?

Now, my second question: do you believe coal and oil will be the fuels of the future?

Besides the fact that fossil fuels destroy our lungs, everyone agrees that eventually they will run out. What's your plan then?

I, personally, want a plan. I don't want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don't want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That's exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.

A clean energy future is a wise investment, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either wrong, or lying. Either way, I wouldn't take their investment advice. Renewable energy is great for the economy, and you don't have to take my word for it. California has some of the most revolutionary environmental laws in the United States, we get 40% of our power from renewables, and we are 40% more energy efficient than the rest of the country. We were an early-adopter of a clean energy future.

Our economy has not suffered. In fact, our economy in California is growing faster than the U.S. economy. We lead the nation in manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, entertainment, high tech, biotech, and, of course, green tech.

I have a final question, and it will take some imagination.

There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast.

I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.

I'm guessing you chose the Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice - who would ever want to breathe those fumes?

This is the choice the world is making right now.

To use one of the four-letter words all of you commenters love, I don't give a damn if you believe in climate change. I couldn’t care less if you're concerned about temperatures rising or melting glaciers. It doesn't matter to me which of us is right about the science.

I just hope that you'll join me in opening Door Number Two, to a smarter, cleaner, healthier, more profitable energy future.

Warming soils releasing carbon ?  

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The Washington Post has a depressing report on a new paper on nature on clime system feedback, with warming soils releasing carbon themselves - Scientists have long feared this ‘feedback’ to the climate system. Now they say it’s happening.

At a time when a huge pulse of uncertainty has been injected into the global project to stop the planet’s warming, scientists have just raised the stakes even further.

In a massive new study published Wednesday in the influential journal Nature, no less than 50 authors from around the world document a so-called climate system “feedback” that, they say, could make global warming considerably worse over the coming decades.

That feedback involves the planet’s soils, which are a massive repository of carbon due to the plants and roots that have grown and died in them, in many cases over vast time periods (plants pull in carbon from the air through photosynthesis and use it to fuel their growth). It has long been feared that as warming increases, the microorganisms living in these soils would respond by very naturally upping their rate of respiration, a process that in turn releases carbon dioxide or methane, leading greenhouse gases.

It’s this concern that the new study validates. “Our analysis provides empirical support for the long-held concern that rising temperatures stimulate the loss of soil C to the atmosphere, driving a positive land C–climate feedback that could accelerate planetary warming over the twenty-first century,” the paper reports. This, in turn, may mean that even humans’ best efforts to cut their emissions could fall short, simply because there’s another source of emissions all around us. The very Earth itself.

A Sydney to Melbourne Hyperloop ?  

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The Age reports that Australian government MP John Alexander is pushing for a high speed rail or hyperloop link between Sydney and Melbourne as a solution to unaffordable house prices - High-speed rail and a Hyperloop: John Alexander's radical housing affordability plan.

High-speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne would be used to decentralise Australia's urban population and open up cheaper housing under a radical plan now endorsed by a parliamentary committee. ... The report also urges the government to monitor and, in future, assess the feasibility of Hyperloop, a supersonic tube conceived by Tesla founder Elon Musk that would potentially see passengers traverse Sydney to Melbourne in less than one hour.

Linking regional centres by rail would enable people to live in Goulburn, for example, and work in Sydney, and ease pressure on crowded city markets. It would "provide an abundant supply of affordable housing for many generations to come", Mr Alexander said.

The Economist: Electric cars are set to arrive far more speedily than anticipated  

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The Economist has a look at the rapid growth prospects for electric vehicle sales - Electric cars are set to arrive far more speedily than anticipated.

Improving technology and tightening regulations on emissions from ICEs is about to propel electric vehicles (EVs) from a niche to the mainstream. After more than a century of reliance on fossil fuels, however, the route from petrol power to volts will be a tough one for carmakers to navigate.

The change of gear is recent. One car in a hundred sold today is powered by electricity. The proportion of EVs on the world’s roads is still well below 1%. Most forecasters had reckoned that by 2025 that would rise to around 4%. Those estimates are undergoing a big overhaul as carmakers announce huge expansions in their production of EVs. Morgan Stanley, a bank, now says that by 2025 EV sales will hit 7m a year and make up 7% of vehicles on the road. Exane BNP Paribas, another bank, reckons that it could be more like 11% (see chart). But as carmakers plan for ever more battery power, even these figures could quickly seem too low.

Weekend reading - Grantham on Capitalism  

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If you've got some free time I'd recommend these 2 articles:

The destruction of job security and financial prospects in the western world for workers without in-demand skills had created a generation of recluses living on the internet - Trump is their revenge on reality. "Trump’s younger supporters know he’s an incompetent joke; in fact, that’s why they support him." - 4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump.

Jeremy Grantham has a different look at the same problem in his latest newsletter: "The question now is: what for will the struggle take ?" - Grantham: ‘Twas capitalism that killed capitalism.

The data on rising inequality also led me to check what others had thought and written on this issue and made me realize that a self-destructive streak in capitalism had been well-noted in the past. A particular surprise to me was Schumpeter – he of “creative destruction fame” – who believed capitalism in its current form would eventually fail through overreaching, using its increasing power to dispense with regulations designed to protect the public good (that has a painful echo today doesn’t it?) until pushback FDR style (or Teddy Roosevelt style) results in a more controlled mix, which Schumpeter called socialism. There was also a suggestion in his work and that of Keynes that excessive corporate power would weaken the demand from ordinary workers and hence weaken the economy. This last point is also emphasized more recently by Mancur Olson, who argued that “Parochial cartels and lobbies tend to accumulate over time until they begin to sap a country’s vitality. A war or some other catastrophe sweeps away the choking undergrowth of pressure groups,” as The Economist rather eloquently summarized his thinking in his obituary of March 1998.

To promote a pushback against excessive corporatism (and elements of oligarchy) one needs first of all to recognize the problem. Given the rather apathetic response from what used to be called “the workers” to the last 30 years of relative slide, there appears to have been no such recognition. But then on the eve of the election I realized that the point had finally been made. For an astonishing 75% of those first 9,000 polled agreed that, yes, we did indeed need to be saved from the rich and powerful. From now on, in my opinion, we live in a different world from the one we grew up in. A world in which a degree of economic struggle between the financial elite, perhaps 10% but more likely 1%, and all the rest is finally recognized. The wimpy phase is probably over. The question now is which path will this struggle take? Will it be a broad societal effort through established political means to move things back to the 1950s to 1960s when a CEO’s pay was 40x his average employee’s pay and not today’s over 300x; when corporations never dreamt of leaving the US merely to save money; when investment banks set the standard (and a very high one) of ethical behavior? Or do we try to do it through the other historically well-used method, and a much more dangerous one – that of resorting to a “strong leader?” Strong leaders work out just fine if we end up with a Marcus Aurelius, the mostly benevolent and wisest of Roman Emperors. But when things go wrong, as they often do, we could more easily end up with Caligula. ...

I felt the pain from the “strong leader” bit because, like almost all in my age cohort, I am fanatically well-disposed to democracy. We were born, after all, at a time that overlapped the trio of nightmarish, strong leaders of the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. But I believe this fanaticism has weakened in other age cohorts born less close to these three as they have receded steadily into history. A recent report5 captured this decline: Of those born, as I was, in the 1930s, fully 75% gave a 10 out of 10 for extreme support for democracy. But each younger cohort felt less enthusiastic: 62%, 57%, 50%, and 43% for each younger cohort by decade until by the time we get to those born in the 1970s, the 40-year-olds, extreme support is down to 32%! And this is not the worst of it. The same report listed those who were actually against democracy as a “bad” or “very bad” way to “run this country.” Shockingly, in the period from 1995 to 2011, the percent of each age group agreeing to that proposition doubled. From 5.5% to 12% for those over 65 rising to a frightening 24%, up from 12.5% for the 16- to 24-year-olds. ...

The real challenge in promoting less inequality is to increase the share of GDP going to labor. Almost certainly, for any given increase in their share of GDP there must be a decline in the share going to corporate profits. How does the program of the new strong leader stack up on this one? He is surrounded by capitalists and billionaires who, to further advantage corporations and the super rich, are apparently prepared to wage war on the already sadly diminished regulations that defend ordinary people (and, yes, with no regulations corporations would make more money). The war would also include direct tax cuts for the rich and corporations, which would further increase the share of the pie going to corporations. This is a strategy that if successful in the long-run – despite its current market appeal – could not possibly be worse for the workers if he tried. Perhaps they, the workers, will feel betrayed as their share drops in order to further fatten corporations. Perhaps they will be bamboozled enough not to notice the betrayal. For bamboozlement of the working poor has become an art form in the last 30 years, with bamboozlement defined as an ability to persuade people to vote against their own economic interest for one reason or another. For example, 62% of voters do not like the sound of “death tax,” which in the form of estate tax is paid by only 1-2% of American families. An astonishing 35% of those earning less than $10,000 a year do not approve of increasing taxes on the rich. Does it get any richer than that? It has been called the Homer Simpson effect,6 whereby the poor voter reacts negatively to the idea of tax, which like death has little appeal, but does not get the point that a tax decrease for the rich has unpleasant implications for them. But, the gods willing, you probably can’t bamboozle enough of the people enough of the time. And the Reuters/Ipsos poll clearly shows that the worms have turned. The lack of class war or economic war in the US has always been a fiction, but it has been mostly hidden, and deliberately so, by the side so completely winning the undeclared war. Perhaps the 74% vote was indeed a public declaration that the war is now official.

Australia positioned to be a renewable energy superpower  

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Ross Gittins at the SMH is having a prolific week of high quality energy and global warming articles. His latest - Australia positioned to be renewable energy superpower.

It had been assumed that gas-fired power would bridge the gap because it was cheap, far less emissions-intensive than coal, and able to be turned on and off quickly and easily to counter the intermittency of renewables. Now, however, without successive federal governments quite realising what they'd done, gas has been largely priced out of the electricity market, with various not-very-old gas-fired power stations close to being stranded assets.

What now? We thank our lucky stars the cost of energy storage is coming down and we get serious about storage - both local and at grid level - using batteries and such things as "pumped hydro storage" (when electricity production exceeds immediate needs, you use it to pump water up to a dam then, when production is inadequate, you let the water flow down through a hydro turbine to a lower dam). In other words, the solution is to get innovative and agile. Who was it who said that?

Turnbull's party seem to be pro coal and anti renewables partly because they know we have a comparative advantage in coal. We can produce it cheaply and we've still got loads in the ground. The rest of the world is turning away from coal and the environmental damage it does, but let's keep opening big new mines and pumping it out, even though this pushes the prices our existing producers get even lower. If the banks are reluctant to finance new coal mines at this late stage, prop them up with government subsidies. Join the international moratorium on new mines? That would be unAustralian.

But get this: Garnaut says we also have a comparative advantage in the new world of renewables. "Nowhere in the developed world are solar and wind resources together so abundant as in the west-facing coasts and peninsulas of southern Australia. South Australian resources are particularly rich... Play our cards right, and Australia's exceptionally rich endowment per person in renewable energy resources makes us a low-cost location for energy supply in a low-carbon world economy. That would make us the economically rational location within the developed world of a high proportion of energy-intensive processing and manufacturing activity. Play our cards right, and Australia is a superpower of the low-carbon world economy."

Panoramic Plan Of The Principal Rivers and Lakes  

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Off topic, but I love these old maps and infographics - The Stunning Early Infographics and Maps of the 1800s.

Elon Musk Really Is Boring  

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Bloomberg has an update on Elon Musk's tunnelling hobby - Elon Musk Is Really Boring.

Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago. As with space launches, tunnels are often funded through cost-plus government contracts, in which the contractor assumes no risk for cost overruns, which tend to be enormous as a result. Famously, Boston’s Big Dig, which moved a section of Interstate 93 underground, was delayed by roughly eight years and cost $12 billion more than originally planned, but all tunnels tend to be wildly expensive. In L.A., plans to extend the subway’s Purple Line by 2.6 miles will cost more than $2.4 billion and take almost 10 years. “It’s basically a billion dollars a mile,” Musk says. “That’s crazy.”

Musk wouldn’t comment on Trump, but a person close to him says that while the Boring Company would be open to building tunnels as part of Trump’s infrastructure plan, it intends to move forward regardless of what happens in Washington. Musk says he hopes to build a much faster tunneling machine and use it to dig thousands of miles, eventually creating a vast underground network that includes as many as 30 levels of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains such as the Hyperloop.

Objections spring to mind. Such as: Wouldn’t having hundreds of feet of hollow tunnels destabilize the ground? Nope, Musk says, the mining industry does it all the time. “The earth is big, and we are small,” he says. “We are so f---ing small you cannot believe it.” Not only are these megatunnels possible, he argues, they’re the only way we can rid ourselves of the scourge of traffic.

“We have skyscrapers with all these levels, and we have a flat, two-dimensional road system,” he says. “When everyone decides to go into these structures and then exits them at the same time, you’re going to get jammed.” Tunnels, on the other hand, would represent a 3D transportation network.

The simple truth: Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia  

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After last week's blackouts, record heat and bizarre coal worshipping rituals in parliament, Ross Gittins has sarcastically concluded it as just as well we don't need to worry about global warming - Don't worry, climate change is just imaginary.

Malcolm Turnbull, the man who lost his job as party leader because was so keen to see action he supported the Labor government's emissions trading scheme, is now keen to ensure it never happens again. The squeakiest wheels in the party want him to demonise renewable energy, blaming it for all the blackouts and price rises? Introduce new government subsidies for coal while making the future for power generation so uncertain no one's game to invest in anything?

Sure. Whatever it takes. (Don't worry, Malcolm, I'm sure all the people inside and outside the Liberal fold who were so pleased when you became Prime Minister – me included – will learn to accept your need to abandon everything we know you believe and start doing Tony Abbott impressions.)

It's the easiest thing in the world for people to imagine that whatever's been happening lately is much bigger and more terrible than ever before.

Trouble is, the scientists keep confirming our casual impressions. A report this month prepared by top climate scientists for the independent Climate Council, is all bad news. They say all extreme weather events in Australia are now occurring in an atmosphere that's warmer and wetter than it was in the 1950s. "Heatwaves are becoming hotter, lasting longer and occurring more often," they say. "Extreme fire weather and the length of the fire season is increasing, leading to an increase in bushfire risk." ...

Of course, none of this is having any effect on agriculture. It must be a great comfort to our farmers to know that, by order of Barnaby Joyce and the National Party, climate change is a figment of the climate scientists' imagination. This is good news, since I read that reliable rainfall and predictable temperature ranges are critical to agricultural production, and these are the very factors affected by a changing climate – if it was changing, which it isn't.

A new CSIRO study, led by Dr Zvi Hochman, has found that Australia's average yields from wheat-growing more than tripled between 1900 and 1990 thanks to advances in technology, but have stalled in the years since then. The study found that, since 1990, our wheat-growing zone had experienced an average rainfall decline of 2.8 millimetres, or 28 per cent per cropping season, and a maximum daily temperature increase of about 1 degree.

Australia's "yield potential" – determined by climate and soil type – which is always much higher than farmers' actual yields, has fallen by 27 per cent since 1990. So all the efforts farmers have made to improve their yields with better technology and methods have served only to offset the effects of climate change, leaving them no better off. "Assuming the climate trends we have observed over the past 26 years continue at the same rate, even if farmers continue to improve their practices, it is likely that the national wheat yield will fall," Hochman says.

It also emerged that Prime Minister Turnbull has his own solar power and energy storage setup at home, which might explain his lack of concern at our ageing energy infrastructure.

Meanwhile the local press is full of stories like "Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and ministers were told wind not to blame for South Australia blackout" (explaining the government deliberately lied when they tried to blame wind power for SA grid outages), EnergyAustralia boss says shift to renewables “a reality”, need for plan “urgent” and this excellent article from Ian Verrender, concluding "carbon pricing is inevitable" - The simple truth: Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia.

As the finger-pointing over higher prices nationally, blackouts in South Australia and threatened disruptions across the eastern states escalates, any notion over rational debate on how best to address the nation's long-term energy challenges has evaporated.

Put aside the irony that the recent run of misfortune on the national electricity grid is the direct result of a savage uptick in extreme weather conditions, a trend the vast bulk of climate scientists have been warning of for decades.

The simple truth is that, despite the entertaining theatre of insults in the national capital, Australia's future power needs overwhelmingly will be provided by renewables and gas. Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia. That is a trend driven by energy generators and consumers, both of which have abandoned hope of policy leadership from Parliament.

Generators jettisoned the idea of coal years ago, at least when it comes to building new power stations, because they carry too much risk. You're looking at upwards of $1 billion for a large-scale coal-fired generator that would be expected to last around 50 years.

No rational businessperson is willing to commit that kind of funding over that period, in an electoral cycle that lasts just three years. And that's just the equity side. An investment of that magnitude also requires huge amounts of project debt and, faced with the prospect of stranded assets and non-performing loans, financiers have wiped their hands of the idea of coal-fired electricity.

Consumers, meanwhile, have plunged into renewables, with Australians among the world's fastest adopters of rooftop solar.

Big business now seems to be abandoning the conservatives to their collective delusion, with the country's largest utility, Energy Australia, declaring we need a national plan for shifting to renewable energy - EnergyAustralia boss says shift to renewables “a reality”, need for plan “urgent”.

One of Australia’s largest operators of coal-fired power plants has weighed into the national energy debate, calling for a non-partisan push to clean energy and reminding policy makers that the shift to renewables is “a reality” that must be addressed.

In a full page advertisement published in major national newspapers on Tuesday, Energy Australia managing director Catherine Tanna (pictured below) said the way the country generated energy “had to change”, and that her company – owner of the Yallourn coal power plant, among others – was prepared to do its bit to make this happen.

“We believe all Australians should have reliable, affordable energy,” Tanna said in the letter, mirroring one of Malcolm Turnbull’s favourite energy sound-bites. “However, the way we generate, deliver and use energy has to change and I’m determined EnergyAustralia will live up to its responsibility.”

Wind on US Great Plains Supplies More Than Half Region’s Power  

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Bloomberg reports that wind power in the US great plains region (from Montana to Texas) reached 52% wind power on last Sunday - For the First Time, Wind on the Plains Supplied More Than Half Region’s Power.

As more and more turbines are installed across the country, Southwest Power has become the first North American grid operator to get a majority of its supply from wind. That beats the grid’s prior record of 49.2 percent and the 48 percent that a Texas grid operator reached in March, Derek Wingfield, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.

“Ten years ago we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” Bruce Row, Southwest Power Pool’s vice president of operations, said in the statement. “Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent. It’s not even our ceiling.”

The power pool operates 60,000 miles of power grid across 14 states. Texas leads the U.S. wind industry with more than 20 gigawatts installed, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, California and Kansas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots  

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The local mining industry often justifies the tax breaks and incentives it receives on the basis it employs people in the mines (they usually claim to be a major employer but there seems to be little truth to that, employing around 1% of the workforce). MIT Technology Review notes that increasing automation of mine sites, which is going to drive the "cashed up bogan" of the mining boom into extinction - Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots.

Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board.

Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia’s Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port—the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically.

Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines—one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.

BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, is also deploying driverless trucks and drills on iron ore mines in Australia. Suncor, Canada’s largest oil company, has begun testing driverless trucks on oil sands fields in Alberta.

Send In The Coal Clowns  

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It's taken a long time but Australian climate politics are now as bizarre as the sad state of affairs in Washington, with the government's new infatuation with coal turning into some sort of pantomime for morons with Treasurer Scott Morrison waving a lump of coal around in parliament last week.

I'm staggered these fools could embark on this black comedy during Australia's hottest summer ever, in the midst of a huge heatwave and with fires burning across the most populous state and with blackouts happening or being threatened across half of the states in the country.

The Guardian has a good roundup of the latest state of play in Australian energy politics, noting renewables have now been clearly proven to be cheaper and no more prone to grid problems than coal - and have the added benefit that companies are actually willing to invest in them to provide new generation capacity - Hard facts unmask the fiction behind Coalition's 'coal comeback'.

Before we untether from reality entirely and drift off into a Trump-like universe where truth belongs to whoever delivers the best poll-driven lines or brings the dumbest prop to question time, let’s hammer down a few facts. Because we aren’t reviewing bad theatre here and when some commentators opine about whether Turnbull’s lines will “work”, or how funny the whole thing was, what they are really assessing is whether the prime minister can successfully, and in broad daylight, shift the blame for a monumental stuff-up, while apparently proposing solutions that will make it substantially worse in every regard.

Since it’s our job to point out things like that, here are a few facts that undermine the “coal comeback” PR strategy that started rolling out sometime last year:

* Renewable energy is not “causing” blackouts. They’re primarily due to the (incredibly complicated) energy market that wasn’t designed or isn’t being run to cope with a higher proportion of renewables, and is throwing up perverse incentives that mean South Australia can have a blackout while generators are sitting idle. It would seem obvious that the answer to this problem is not to abandon all incentives for renewable energy but rather to fix the market and the rules. Cars probably got bogged when they started driving on roads designed for horses and buggies too, but it wouldn’t have been wise to respond by trying to stop the roll-out of automobiles. And New South Wales – a state that gets a very small proportion of its energy from renewables, was also facing the prospect of blackouts on Friday, which sometimes happen during peak demand but also undermine the Coalition’s simplistic arguments.

* Renewables cannot take the blame for the recent rise in prices. Queensland, which also has a tiny proportion of renewable energy, has had price spikes that added an astounding $1bn to wholesale power prices just since the beginning of this year. South Australia, cited by the federal Coalition as the terrible case study of what Labor’s renewable energy policies might do, has had just a few. The

Queensland price spikes are also vastly higher than those felt in South Australia last July, which were described as an emergency, according to an analysis by Dylan McConnell from Melbourne University. Weirdly, no federal ministers have been berating the Queensland government over its (fossil fuel) choice of energy source.

* New coal-fired power stations are not going to be built. You don’t have to go to greenies for that assessment – it is also coming from the AI Group, which represents Australia’s manufacturers, and from the Australian Energy Council, which represents the big electricity and gas businesses that generate and supply most of our energy, as well as from the head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – who has expert knowledge of lending to the energy sector. Business knows climate change is a thing, and that locking in emissions from a new coal-fired power station for 50 years, no matter how efficient it is and how lovingly the current ministry can carry around lumps of coal, is incompatible with our long-term climate commitment and therefore an unacceptable investment risk. When really pressed, the only way experts can imagine the construction of a new coal-fired power station is if the government pays for it, or signs a contract indemnifying the company paying for it from the impact of future climate policy. And no sane government would do that. You’d only do that if you suspected the world was about to decide climate change was a hoax or at least not so much a problem, which might explain where some of the Coalition’s coal boosters are coming from.

* Even if they were built, power from new highly-efficient coal-fired power stations would not be cheaper. In fact, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has calculated that they would be the most expensive, and dirtiest, form of power available, costing more than solar, wind and gas-fired power.

* Governments could always reduce the strain on the system and help avoid blackouts by reducing energy demand but schemes to reduce demand at times of peak power usage (such as, say, heatwaves) were shelved after the Abbott government was elected, while programs for minimum energy performance standards seem to have been burned in Tony Abbott’s bonfire of red tape.

* And finally, as business and industry and environmentalists and pretty much everyone who looks at the evidence (including, a while back, Turnbull) have been saying for years, the very best thing governments could do to encourage investment and a sensible low-cost transition to cleaner generation is come up with a bipartisan policy, such as the energy-intensity carbon scheme that had bipartisan political support, the backing of industry and could have reduced power prices while also bringing emissions down. But the Turnbull government jettisoned any consideration of that in less than 24 hours, apparently fearing the response of right wingers such as Cory Bernardi. He’s now left the Coalition anyway, and it still has no climate policy.

We’ve been enduring this climate war nonsense for more than a decade and now we’re wearing the consequences – rising prices, unreliable power supply and increasing emissions. Responding with a parliamentary pantomime to try to shift the blame to a fictitious renewable industry bad guy is true ideological idiocy and also negligent, because it puts the shallowest, shortest-term and most opportunistic strategy for political survival ahead of households, investors and future generations.

RIP Hans Rosling  

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The NYT reports that star statistician Hans Rosling of Gapminder has passed away - Hans Rosling, Swedish Doctor and Pop-Star Statistician, Dies at 68. There's a good list of his TED talks here.

Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor who transformed himself into a pop-star statistician by converting dry numbers into dynamic graphics that challenged preconceptions about global health and gloomy prospects for population growth, died on Tuesday in Uppsala, Sweden. He was 68.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to Gapminder, a foundation he established to generate and disseminate demystified data using images. Even before “post-truth” entered the lexicon, Dr. Rosling was echoing former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s maxim that everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.

Why climate change activism has failed (and how it can be saved)  

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Crikey's Guy Rundle has some thoughts on how to talk to the masses about global warming written during a broken down train episode in the unseasonably warm Rocky Mountains traversal - Rundle: why climate change activism has failed (and how it can be saved).

This rail was the “high line”, a massive boondoggle that helped settle the northwest. The rail was built before the settlers; the 50 or so towns along the rail are named after surveyors, engineers, their wives, girlfriends and dogs. Once the high line was completed, the land was sold for farming in the east, at cheap rates to people who knew nothing about farming — or how frikkin cold the place was (Jonathan Raban’s great book Bad Land has this history). The frozen ground resisted the plough; people went broke, mad, there were suicides and family annihilations, farmhouses left standing unoccupied for decades.

Now, of course, it is starting to get warmer. The winters are shortening, the flowers come out early. The ground is loosening up. No one, as the dude on the platform said, has seen anything like it. And no one I dropped the conversational “warming-bomb” on will admit to, or even talk of the possibility of it.

This is something that many people have observed recently. Climate change denialism, which rose in power about 15 years ago, had appeared to be in retreat about five to seven years ago. Now it is returning, and in great strength. Climate change activists are dismayed by it, and also bewildered. The science has got stronger, the evidence more plentiful. Why has the public become, it seems, even more resistant to the notion that global industrial activity is warming the planet to at least a disastrous and potentially catastrophic degree?

The answer, quite simply, is that we are facing a new phase of climate change denialism, working off a different basis to the old. There is less stuff about fictional “pauses” in warming created by small time samples, albedo, urban heat islands … all the tendentious arguments of the Ian Plimers, and the late Bob Carter. There is now simply, among many people, a refusal to acknowledge it, or even accept it. Why? Because climate change science — pretty much all science — is now being enrolled in the great culture/class war that is consuming Western society, the brutal fight for recognition and position between the progressive-knowledge classes, and the working and middle classes, who now feel themselves to be excluded from the processes of power, wealth and legitimacy.

For many people in these classes — especially those whose worlds of meaning are being dissolved like, well, cowboys — it is not simply social science, gender policy, cultural studies, etc, that is the enemy. The enemy is now science itself, which is seen as the master’s discourse, and an instrument of class power by the other. We have moved past the post-WW II notion that science, having been applied to the defeat of fascism, could now be applied to the creation of the good society, creating interesting work, nice houses, curing disease and opening up opportunity for personal development. Knowledge workers were a small group, in service to a large society divided on traditional class lines.

Now knowledge workers are a ruling group, science and knowledge are an omnipresent discourse obscure to many; politics, and even economics, appear to have little role in shaping our society; and technology reconstructs our life world in a process of ceaseless revolution. Post-WW2, science was something curing TB, improving crop yields, and beating back drudgery. Now, the skeletal black-skivvied figures — Steve Jobs, Elon Musk — get up on stage to announce another revolution, and down the street another workplace closes down, the truck driver (the single most common occupation in the West) realises that driverless cars means driverless trucks, and so on and so on. Increasingly, the excluded classes see science as abstract, alien and oppressive. To counter this, they cleave to a form of knowledge that is concrete and mythical. In our era, that form of discourse is inevitably conspiratorial, turning impersonal and uncontrollable processes into known and authored ones. ...

Climate change activists have failed to consider this sufficiently, in large part because they do not want to think of themselves as the ruling class. They’re the insurgents, the new old new left, the social movements, the global anti-capitalist veterans. Us? We’re the privileged ones? That omission, and the failure to understand the way in which culture structures knowledge has led to several failures in climate change activism:

1. A lot of climate change activists, drawn from the humanities, have not bothered to learn the science. Or any science. Any climate change activist should understand atmospherics, basic CO2 chemistry, and the factors that are often cited as counter-forces to anthropogenic global warming: cloud/ice reflectiveness, carbon sinking in oceans, etc, etc, and the more complex excuses like the bogus warming pause. The most important thing any climate change activist can do right now, if they don’t know this science, is to drop everything and learn it. You should be able to answer any feeble objection simply, forthrightly and effectively. One of the most important things at this stage is to refuse people the permission to believe that there is any reasonable doubt about the existence of disastrous/catastophic global warming;

2. Climate change activists, and organisations, need to study and learn more effectively, the strategies and tactics built up over a century of socialist and radical campaigning, the different modalities of it. The most important campaigning you do isn’t going on the marches; it’s the conversation at the BBQ, the craft beer tasting, or the Killing Kittens orgy. But you have to know when to attack head on, and when to be more open and allusive; you have to have sequences of arguments in your head, but be genuinely responsive in the dialogue; you have to, above all, remove any notion of shaming, duty or moral superiority from the dialogue;

3. Activists and writers have to stop doing readable, luxurious evocative books, and start writing a few “flat ephemeral” pamphlets. Three decades into this campaign and crisis, and there is no single book/pamphlet to compare to Tom Paine’s Common Sense, The Communist Manifesto, Mao’s Four Essays, or the Gospel of St Matthew. Someone needs to write a short volume that — as book, ebook, app, wallposter, rap song — combines the basic science with what basically needs to be done, showing, actually, how little disturbance there could be to global growth, and what a boon to global retooling action on climate change would be: connect the revival of Western economies to the greening of them; and

4. There is still no single volume that, chapter by chapter, takes apart the climate change denialists (if there is, and I’ve missed it, I’m welcome to be informed of it). There’s thousands of blogs, chatgroups, etc, etc, doing so. The failure of anyone with the necessary knowledge to sit down, and at 20 pages a go, eviscerate all denialist positions, from the mad denial of the second law of thermodynamics, to Lomborg-esque evasions, is simply a testament to the arrogance and self-indulgence of geeks. Yes, a 200 post thread on recalibrating heat islands using a modified Poisson distribution multiplier (I made that up), is fascinating, and the denialists are tiresome, repetitive, obsessive, and usually wrong on page 1, thus invalidating pages 2 through 500 of their books. But this has to be shown. And once again it has to be shown in such a way that arms people for the fight that I’ve sketched out above.

Could 3-D printers hasten peak oil demand ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Platts has an article on another contributing factor to peak oil demand: 3d printing - Could 3-D printers hasten peak oil demand? – Fuel for Thought.

A global transition away from oil and gas is well underway as booming renewable energy sources and electric cars portend major changes for the industry.

Last week BP outlined the challenges ahead, but the company’s crystal ball has yet to focus on the disruptive potential from what may be the biggest paradigm shift in manufacturing since the advent of the factory.

Speaking at the launch of its annual long-term forecast, BP’s chief economist said the oil major is planning to grapple with the energy demand implications of the digital economy’s fast-growing upstart, 3-D printing. Also known as additive manufacturing, most technology watchers predict that the applications found for 3-D printing will only accelerate as networked automation, robotics, and Big Data become more pervasive.

“One of the things I think could really be transformative is additive manufacturing — artificial intelligence, 3-D printing and so on,” BP’s Dale Spencer said presenting BP’s energy outlook. “Suppose additive manufacturing really took off, so we do 3D printing of more and more things. The whole nature of trade, the whole nature of supply chain, changes fundamentally. I do not need to ship goods from one part of the world to another, I print it.”

EPA prompts VW to invest $2 billion to promote electric cars  

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BNEF reports that the US EPA has required VW to build EV charging infrastructure as part of their settlement for cheating on vehicle emissions tests - VW subsidiary invests $2 billion to promote electric cars.

Volkswagen AG has formed a new subsidiary to manage the $2 billion it is required to spend over the next decade in support of zero-emission vehicles in the U.S.

The company, Electrify America LLC, will invest in the construction and maintenance of electric vehicle charging stations, including a “high-speed, cross-country” network of more than 200 fast-charging stations for electric cars. It will also install more than 300 chargers in 15 U.S. metropolitan areas and fund “brand-neutral” advertising campaigns to promote awareness about electric cars, among other activities, the company announced Tuesday.

VW agreed to spend the money on infrastructure and other projects to promote the adoption of zero-emission vehicles as part of a legal settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stemming from the company’s cheating on emissions tests for its diesel cars.

Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, is powerful as never before  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Economist has a profile of Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin - Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, is powerful as never before.

“HELLO, you’ve called Rosneft,” goes a joke making the rounds in Moscow. “If you have an oil asset and you don’t plan to sell, press the hash key.” The Russian word for hash key, reshetka, also means “bars”, as in jail—where those who cross Rosneft’s head, Igor Sechin, tend to land.

Mr Sechin is one of the most feared men in Russia and an essential instrument of Vladimir Putin’s power. A major player among the siloviki (former and current members of the security services), he epitomises Russia’s nexus between political power and property. Despite being a target of American sanctions, earlier this month he succeeded in selling a 19.5% stake in Rosneft to Glencore, a commodities firm, and the Qatar Investment Fund, raising $11bn. The deal, the biggest foreign investment in Russia since the start of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, pleased the Kremlin no end. “Putin needs that like he needs air,” says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies the Russian elite.

Another boost to Mr Sechin’s prestige came with the nomination of Rex Tillerson, the boss of ExxonMobil, as America’s secretary of state. The two men’s long relationship was consummated by the deal they struck in 2011 for their firms to work jointly in the Arctic. Mr Sechin is now poised to become an intermediary between Moscow and Washington.

Tesla’s Battery Revolution Just Reached Critical Mass  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Bloomberg has a look at the rapid fire construction of large energy storage projects in California, declaring "Three new plants in California show how lithium-ion storage is ready to power the grid" - Tesla’s Battery Revolution Just Reached Critical Mass.

Three massive battery storage plants—built by Tesla, AES Corp., and Altagas Ltd.—are all officially going live in southern California at about the same time. Any one of these projects would have been the largest battery storage facility ever built. Combined, they amount to 15 percent of the battery storage installed planet-wide last year.

Ribbons will be cut and executives will take their bows. But this is a revolution that’s just getting started, Tesla Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel said in an interview on Friday. “It’s sort of hard to comprehend sometimes the speed all this is going at,” he said. “Our storage is growing as fast as we can humanly scale it.”

Alex Jones' Bat Signal To Donald Trump  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The weird spectacle of the day out of the White House is a crazy list of "under-reported" terrorist attacks in recent years (including the Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney, which had saturation coverage in the media here for months, but not including the now infamous, nonexistent "Bowling Green massacre" made up by Trump PR lady Kellyanne Conway recently, to the mirth of thousands of Tweeters).

The Washington Post noted that the whole thing seemed to have been lifted from Alex Jones' "Infowars" conspiracy theory site, which has transitioned from notionally libertarian to outright fascist in outlook in recent years - InfoWars is behind President Trump’s idea that the media is covering up terrorist attacks.

Trump and Infowars seem to have a symbiotic relationship over recent years, with Jones claiming broadcasting on Infowars is like sending the "bat signal' to Trump.

Author Jon Ronson (of "Men Who Stare At Goats" fame) has had a long relationship with Jones (the two first hooked up for their now infamous visit to "Bohemian Grove" many years ago) and published a great little ebook called "The Elephant in the Room: A Journey into the Trump Campaign and the “Alt-Right”" not long before the US presidential election.

The ABC had an interview with Ronson before the election, which ended (in retrospect) rather ominously - Elephant in the room: Jon Ronson on Alex Jones, the Trump campaign and the alt-right.

MARK COLVIN: You've got a quote in your e-book, where you say, "In previous election campaigns there was a clear delineation between the serious main event and the reckless fringe, but not in this."

Is that the main point, as far as you're concerned?

JON RONSON: I think so, yeah. I think the egalitarian nature of the internet has done some really great things, but it's also created insane chaos. And Trump and the Trump campaign is part of that chaos.

It feels like all of us, with our polarised, divisive ways, have polluted the waters. And Trump emerged from them like a kind of three-eyed fish.

MARK COLVIN: Is it a form of mass hysteria? In other words: do you think that it will come and go and that, a couple of years from now, people will be looking back and saying, "How could we ever have done that?" Or do you think it's the beginning of a trend?

JON RONSON: Well, you know: I mean, Trump is losing - thank God, you know.

Is there some collusion between the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton campaign? You know, probably there is some collusion. You know, when Trump says that, I think it's true.

I think everybody has decided that Trump would be incredibly dangerous. And so I think Trump will lose the election and things will kind of go back to normal a little bit.

However, I think we need to think of these times as, "Oh, my God. If things had taken a slightly different turn, this could have been..." Look, I don't want to get too grandiose here, but this could have been Germany in 1929.


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