Richard Smalley And Smart Grids  

Posted by Big Gav

The Houston Chronicle reports that Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley, discoverer of fullerene and the carbon nanotube, has passed away.

Richard Errett Smalley, a gifted chemist who shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of buckyballs, helped pioneer the field of nanotechnology and became Houston's most notable scientist, died this afternoon after a six-year struggle with cancer. He was 62.

Smalley possessed prodigious talent both within the lab, where he cobbled individual atoms together like tinker toys, and outside academia after he won science's greatest prize. In the decade since he became a Nobel laureate, Smalley pushed Rice University and Houston to the forefront of nanotechnology research.

"He was a person with extraordinary intelligence," said Neal Lane, President Clinton's science adviser. "But more than that, he was a real civic scientist, one who not only does great science, but uses that knowledge and fame to do good, to benefit society, and to try and educate the public. He had a palpable wish to solve some of the world's problems."

Smalley, along with Robert Curl at Rice and Sir Harold Kroto of University of Sussex, discovered a new form of carbon. This fullerene, or buckyball, contained 60 carbon atoms arranged in a perfect sphere.

Few scientists had expected to discover a new arrangement of carbon atoms because the element already was so well-studied.

"It was an absolutely electrifying discovery," said James Kinsey, then a chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who later became dean of natural sciences at Rice. "Within a year or two, you couldn't pick up a chemistry journal without one-third of the articles being about fullerenes."

The new carbon material proved to be surprisingly strong and lightweight, and had almost magical electrical properties. The buckyball's discovery helped fuel today's explosion of nanotechnology research, in which scientists are racing to exploit the unique properties of myriad nanomaterials, with applications for everything from medicine to bulletproof vests.

After discovering the buckyball, Smalley's research group found a method to produce large quantities of carbon nanotubes, a cylindrical material also made of carbon which has eclipsed the buckyball in utility.

And then, in 1996, Smalley, Curl and Kroto won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Besides being a famous chemist, Smalley was also a keen observer of energy issues. Energy Bulletin posted a good excerpt a while ago from a paper by Smalley called "Future global energy prosperity: the Terawatt Challenge" (pdf) which looked at peak oil and the top 10 global challenges. Energy topped his list of the challenges facing us (he noted "energy is the key to solving all of the rest of the problems—from water to population"), with the others as follows:

1. Energy
2. Water
3. Food
4. Environment
5. Poverty
6. Terrorism and war
7. Disease
8. Education
9. Democracy
10. Population

Smalley's comments on peak oil:
There are three core problems that I think the president ought to address, all of which are connected with and impinge on the major issue of energy prosperity: inspiring the next generation of U.S. scientists and engineers, developing replacements for the dwindling fossil fuel resources that have provided a majority of our energy in the past, and finding a solution to global warming.

At some point, almost certainly within this decade, we will peak in the amount of oil that is produced worldwide. Even though there will be massive amounts of oil produced for the rest of this century, the volume produced each year will never again reach the amount produced at its peak. This year, 2005, might very well end up being the historic date of that global peak. Oil, along with gas, is tremendously important. The history of oil is basically the history of modern civilization as we have known it for the past 100 years. As our principal transportation fuel, oil has been the basis of our country’s power and prosperity. What will we do when there is no longer enough oil and gas? We do not yet have an answer.

While he did not have an answer to the peak oil problem, he did have a number of ideas (and I won't quote the whole paper - you should read the whole thing yourself when you have some free time), in particular what he called "The Distributed Energy Grid". The key (and missing piece) to the distributed energy grid ? Localised energy storage - or in other words - large capacity household scale batteries, and improved efficiency in power distribution.
How, then, around the year 2050, are we going to transport energy over vast distances while minimizing the costs and getting the amount of power we need? The best answer would be to transport energy as energy, not as mass. Instead of storing energy in some chemical form, keep it as pure energy. There are essentially only two ways to do that. We could microwave energy up to a satellite and bounce it back down, or we could run it along wires on the earth’s surface. We will do both, but mostly we will use wires.

Enabling the Grid: Local Energy Storage With this energy distribution model, the entire North American continent, all the way from the Arctic Circle down to Panama, would be wired together in a giant interconnected electrical energy grid. Indeed, we are already very close to that now, except that in the new grid, by the middle of the century, there would be two critical additions. The first would be local energy storage. Every one of the hundred million or so sites consuming energy in this grid would have its own storage unit—the equivalent of an uninterruptible power supply that not only gives a home computer a few minutes of power during an outage, but also can supply each of our houses or businesses with 12–24 hours of full operation.

Commercializing Local Energy Storage: I believe that creating an efficient local storage solution should be one of our prime energy targets. Let us develop what effectively would be a new major appliance industry. Since our proposed unit is very small, it could be easily marketed to each one of those hundred million or so energy customers who are seeking local storage. Since the unit would have to be inexpensive — a few thousand dollars at most — customers who were not satisfied could replace their units or trade up to a better model, as they do now with other technical products such as computers. It would be a way to “PC” this critical aspect of the energy industry.

Then, every one of those sites in the electrical energy grid would be able to use one of these units to buffer the grid’s energy fluctuations. Real-time pricing for individual electrical power usage would give each customer the incentive to buy a unit that could absorb the power needed to generate 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity in the six-hour time period when energy is cheapest on the grid.

Basically, this local unit would solve the energy storage problem. With that solved, it would now be possible to get most of the energy on the grid from “unreliable” or episodic sources, like wind or solar.

Completing the Grid: High-Voltage Transmission Lines In addition to a local system, one other innovation is needed on the grid to make it work. We need the capability to transport electrical power in hundreds of gigawatts over thousands of miles. High-voltage transmission lines would be very efficient for this purpose...If, through new technology, we could figure out how to transport electricity over wires that would deliver power thousands of miles away from where it is generated, and do that for several pennies per extra premium, we could make the whole North American continent energy– self-sufficient.

Everybody Gets to Play: That goal is not as impossible as it might seem. There are places on this continent that experience extremely intense solar radiation that is very reliable. There are also highly remote places that most people would not object to as sites for nuclear power plants—places that would not be in anybody’s backyard.

Of course, the distributed energy grid is a vision that is shared by many other people, with Jamais at WorldChanging running occasional pieces on what he calls "Smart Grids".
Moving to a post-fossil energy infrastructure is no small task. Leave aside the politics of the problem for a moment, and look at the logistics: replacing coal, oil and gas-fired power plants with cleaner, renewable technologies isn't simply a matter of unplugging one and plugging in the other. Renewable sources often requires wide spaces to generate useful amounts of power, and need to be situated in areas most conducive to their generation needs (sunny regions for solar, windy for turbines, the ocean for wave, etc.). Moreover, there is great value in adding in small, local generation (often referred to as micro-generation) to the mix, from wind micro-power, micro-hydro and rooftop solar panels to more exotic technologies like Stirling Engines, plug-in hybrids, and potential future developments like photovoltaic curtains.

Such a model of diverse, widespread sources of power generation is typically called "distributed energy," and it has some definite advantages over the current, largely centralized infrastructure. Distributed power can be more robust against accident or attack on the power grid: knocking down a 5 megawatt wind turbine would be bad, but not nearly as disastrous as abruptly taking a 1,000 megawatt coal power plant off the grid. Distributed power also allows greater resource flexibility: the more varied the resources used to generate electricity, the less likely are disruptions resulting from limited availability of one of them. This latter is particularly important due to the variable nature of wind and solar. Output from a given wind or solar farm will rise and fall with local conditions, but the overall availability of electricity from multiple locations and resources can still be consistent.

But distributed energy is currently more costly than centralized power. Some of that cost comes from managing the complexity of variable power generation, changing usage patterns, and a multiplicity of sources. Distributed energy resources will have to be managed more like a computer network, complete with abundant routers and switches. The success of distributed energy is ultimately dependent upon the increasing availability of computer-enabled power networks, or "smart grids." And smart grids for distributed power, in turn, will increasingly rely upon the availability of distributed computing.

It's likely that smart grids are coming, even without an aggressive shift to renewable energy. On top of dealing with variable, dispersed inputs, smart grids allow more efficient routing of power, with fewer idle or wasted generators; smart grids would, in principle, allow an overall lower level of generation to support continued levels of use (or, more hopefully, a growing level of use of in turn more efficient buildings and devices). Smart grids are, in the end, a fundamental part of building post-oil, bright green communities.

In a more recent piece at WorldChanging, Joel Makower looked at how to make the grid "smart" last week.
The realization that America's electricity infrastructure is shakier than a palm tree during a hurricane hits us every few years, when some blackout or rolling brownout reminds us of our electro-vulnerability.

But to truly understand what we're up against, it's important to step back for a moment to see just how vast -- and how vulnerable -- our electricity infrastructure is:
The North American electric power industry comprises more than 3,000 electric utilities, 2,000 independent power producers, and hundreds of related organizations. Together, they serve 120 million residential customers, 16 million commercial customers, and 700,000 industrial customers. [...] The continent has 700,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, owned by about 200 different organizations and valued at more than $160 billion. It has about 5 million miles of medium-voltage distribution lines and 22,000 substations, owned by more than 3,200 organizations and valued at $140 billion. The North American electric power industry will purchase more than $20 billion in grid infrastructure equipment in 2005, nearly one quarter of the worldwide total of $81 billion.

That analysis comes from a report released today: "The Emerging Smart Grid" (PDF), produced by the Redmond, Wash.-based Center for Smart Energy. According to the report, as much as $45 billion is up for grabs by new advanced technologies for modernizing the electric power infrastructure.

The notion of a smart grid is familiar to WorldChanging readers - the idea is to make the existing grid work more efficiently - so much more, in fact, that it could reduce the need for additional power plants, or for costly redundant systems designed to work "just in case" of peak demand. That's the vision of a growing corps of researchers and companies working on grid optimization, a term that describes a wide range of information technologies that better understand and analyze exactly what's going on in a complex energy system on a minute-by-minute basis, then optimize the system in a way that's cost-effective.

If you're interested in reading more on the subject, have a look at The Energy Blog on "High-Temperature Superconductor Discoveries", Wired on "The Energy Web" and "Surfing Through the Power Grid", the BBC with "Micro grids as peer-to-peer energy" (commented on by WorldChanging and Slashdot) and Tidepool on "How to make the North West a smart grid leader".
Two years ago this August the worst blackout in North American history left 50 million people from Broadway to Detroit without power and inflicted $6 billion in economic damages. In its wake came calls to rebuild an aging U.S. power network with advanced digital technologies to catch it up with economic sectors ranging from retailing to manufacturing already revolutionized by computerization.

This smart, digital grid indeed has great promise. Digital information and management systems will bring significant new capabilities to the grid, among them:

* To anticipate and thwart power disturbances and to automatically re-route power and "self-heal" when troubles occur.
* To shift and shave peak power demands, thus reducing need to construct tens of billions in peaking power plants and wires over the next 20 years alone, with huge implications for power rate control.
* To manage and control a multitude of cleaner, distributed energy resources including solar panels and wind farms with their varying and often unpredictable output.

There has been some movement toward the smart grid. An improved network of sensors is now providing better information to Northeast power grid operators, offering potential to catch problems before they rapidly cascade across entire regions as occurred Aug. 14, 2003.

But overall, most observers agree, progress toward developing a 21st century smart grid rich in digital intelligence and distributed energy supplies is encountering obstacles. This translates into continuing power reliability threats. Columbia University power grid researcher Roger Anderson, citing an increasing frequency of blackouts since 1998, comments, "If present trends continue, a blackout enveloping half the continent is not out of the question."

AGL Buys Southern Hydro  

Posted by Big Gav

AGL have announced the purchase of Southern Hydro and its renewable energy assets (as well as complicating matters by restructruing the company, which seemed to please the market today).

Of course, compared to the output of China's Three Gorges dam (which may be an environmental disaster but is certainly a massive generator of power) Southern Hydro's capacity is puny.

The mammoth Three Gorges dam will have generated a total of 100 billion kWh of electrical energy by the end of this year, according to Li Yong'an, general manager of China Yangtze River Three Gorges Project Development Corporation.

It currently generates 180 million kWh of electricity every day. This year alone, the project will generate 50 billion kWh of electricity, or the annual power consumption of Beijing. The project has put into operation generators with a combined installed capacity of 9.8 million kW, or one-tenth of the installed capacity of all Chinese hydropower plants, Li said.

The Peak Oil Crisis: Waiting for Winter  

Posted by Big Gav

Tom Whipple's latest update on Peak Oil at the Falls Church News Press looks at the delayed impact of Katrina on US oil and petrol supplies.

Last week the Department of Energy reported US demand for petroleum products had dropped by 2.3 percent as compared to 2004. The American Petroleum Institute did DOE one better by announcing that demand during September had dropped by nearly 4 percent. This was backed up by a consumer survey in which 69 percent claimed to be driving less.

There you have it. Economic theory worked. Higher gas prices have finally driven Mr. and Mrs. America to slow down, ride a bus now and them, or to simply stay at home and watch TV. Supply and demand will soon be back into balance and the crisis will be over for a while. There is no doubt some are cutting back on their driving, but how much and will it last enough to bring supply and demand back into balance without sharply higher prices?

That the US 's hurricane-disrupted crude production fell to less than 4 million barrels per day during September — the lowest since 1943 — does not seem to bother anybody. Just for the record, this means we are currently importing or withdrawing from our strategic reserve some 80 percent of our daily oil consumption.

Why didn't we fall flat on our backs with much of our crude production and significant pieces of our refinery production still out of service in the last six weeks? The answer is, our fellow members in the International Energy Agency (IEA) are letting us have an additional 800,000 barrels of gasoline per day out of their reserves. Moreover it seems our domestic refineries are still deferring maintenance and are still cranking out gasoline rather than switching over to more heating oil production at the end of the summer driving season. It is this combination that has kept us going.

The IEA, however, has already voted to stop letting us have world reserves beyond what was voted immediately after Katrina and the advent of colder weather will quickly force a choice between driving and staying warm.

On top of all this, some commentators are voicing concern that instead of reporting an actual reduction in demand, the government is really measuring a reduction in refinery output which, given all the flooded refineries, should be completely obvious.

Perth Seminar with ASPO President Kjell Aleklett  

Posted by Big Gav

The WA Sustainable Transport Coalition's latest newsletter is out, plugging their upcoming seminar with Professor Kjell Aleklett at UWA (my almer mata for those who care about such things).

Free evening seminar organised by STC and the UWA Institute of Advanced Studies with Prof. Kjell Aleklett, President of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas. Monday 21st November at 6.30pm

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) is a prestigious organisation promoting professional discussion of Peak Oil, holding annual International Workshops on Oil Depletion in Europe. As President since 2003, Professor Aleklett is in a unique position to review the conflicting forecasts, to explain the basis for their differences and the probability of the differing scenarios. The possibility of Peak Oil occurring within five years should be included in all WA planning and business scenarios. Those who bet the farm on 'business as usual' are likely to suffer adversely.

Other interesting snippets include a candidate running for the NRMA board on a peak oil platform (which is more realistic than the guy who has posters up on some roads around here proclaiming that he will cut fuel prices and eliminate road tolls if elected - presumably he is a magician) and the president of Shell saying no new refineries are needed.

Peak Sightings  

Posted by Big Gav

For those who haven't noticed these snippets elsewhere, Energy Bulletin points to a Reuters article that indicates that Russian production may peak in 2010.

Russian oil output could peak at more than 510 million tonnes annually in 2010, or 10.2 million barrels per day (bpd), Russian Energy Minister Victor Khristenko said on Monday.

"It will reach a certain plateau of production within the time frame of 2010," Khristenko told reporters. That plateau would be about 510 to 520 million tonnes a year, he said, or the equivalent of about 10.2 to 10.4 million bpd.

In September, Russia produced 9.53 million bpd, which was a post-Soviet high, according to Energy Ministry data.

Bubba has done a guest spot at The Oil Drum where he points out that US Deepwater reserves have declined.
I found this little tidbit in the October 17th edition of the Oil and Gas Journal (p 32 of print version).

"Deepwater reserves [for the US] fell to 4.1 billion bbl of oil, down 9%, and 19.3 tcf of gas, down 14%."
and
"New field discoveries totaled 33 million bbl, and new reservoir discoveries in existing fields were 132 million bbl. Most of the new field discoveries were small finds in gulf [of Mexico] federal waters."

I don't need to tell you all that this is not good news. This is the area where reserves and production are supposed to be growing. Now deepwater reserves and production potential in the US are further along the development creaming curve than in other parts of the world, but reserve declines of this magnitude do not bode well for the future of the deepwater in the Offshore US, and are likely the proverbial "canary in a coal mine" for deepwater reserves in other parts of the world.

Energy Bulletin also has a pointer to an article that makes the surprising observation that the US Air Force is one that nation's largest consumers of green electricity, as well as a producer (albeit often in offshore locations).
This past fiscal year the Air Force purchased more then 1,059 gigawatt hours of renewable energy. The next closest military purchaser was the Army with 52 gigawatt hours.

Jerry Doddington, Air Force energy management team chief, said, "In the 80’s and 90’s, we took care of most of the easy fixes such as turning down thermostats, using energy-efficient lighting and installing better insulation. But, to meet newer and more stringent federal energy goals, we had to go high-tech, so we started bringing renewable energy sources into the overall energy strategy.”

One of the answers was found in the wind.

The Air Force generates its own power and operates a 2.4-megawatt wind farm on Ascension Island, in the mid-Atlantic. And a 1.3-megawatt wind farm at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. Several other bases are considering wind farms.

While wind power is the largest contributor so far in the Air Force’s renewable energy plan, the portfolio also includes the use of biomass energy at Hill AFB, Utah, and the installation of more than 3,500 ground source heat pumps at various installations.

Energy management officials said they are also trying to increase the use of solar energy.

And finally, The Independent has a look at the dawning of the new age of sail based shipping.
Wind power used to be the means of propelling ships across the oceans - until the advent of the diesel engine. Now, as oil prices soar, mariners are again looking to the elements. ...

Mr Wrage's sail is actually an elaborate kite to help capture the power of the wind, using the energy to supplement convention forms of power. In trials this year on the waters of the Baltic Sea, he has performed the nautical equivalent of reinventing the wheel. By switching to wind power during favourable conditions, energy costs could be slashed, perhaps by more than half. ...

Kites of anything between 750 and 5,000 square metres launched from a ship, flying between 100m and 300m above sea level, where wind power can be twice as strong as that which propels conventional sails. It is operated with a computer autopilot and can be retracted by a winch during poor weather. ...

Its founder says it can be fitted on any type of ship up to an including the very largest, although the firm will start by equipping a mega-yacht, then move to bigger craft in 2007. Its fitting costs of between €400,000 and €2.5m (£270,000 and £1.7m) are relatively modest by shipping standards and could be recouped in anything between two and five years depending on usage. And, because of the computer-operated autopilot, there are not many additional manpower costs to consider. "We don't say to people, don't use your diesel," says Mr Wrage, "but if there are good winds, throttle back a little". ...

The economics of the industry, which was set at a time when oil was relatively cheap, have altered drastically. Fuel used to be a small component of costs, compared to manpower but, with the reduction in crew sizes because of new technology, that equation has changed. Meanwhile, environmental issues have come to the fore, with new rules from the International Maritime Organisation on marine pollution requiring ships to shift to a more expensive low-sulphur fuel. ..

The Mighty Amazon  

Posted by Big Gav

Behold the world's largest river.

Radioactive Road Trip  

Posted by Big Gav

Today's "Sunday" program had an interesting piece on the lack of security at nuclear reactors at universities in the US. I'm glad my university didn't have a reactor, though no doubt some pro-nuke commenter will come along to try and explain why every town should have an unguarded nuclear reactor in it and that this is all quite safe.

Probably a good thing the terrorist menace is so exaggerated otherwise the world would be in big trouble...

The United States has gone overboard on security since 9/11, which is understandable. But there are problems. Little things like the lack of security on a wide range of nuclear reactors on American university campuses. A four-month ABC America News investigation found huge security holes at many of the little-known reactors at 25 colleges across the United States. Among the findings of the investigation: unmanned guard booths, a guard apparently asleep, unlocked doors, and guided tours that provided easy access to control rooms and reactor pools with radioactive fuel.

None of the reactors had metal detectors, and only two apparently had armed guards. Many of the schools permit vehicles to park near the reactor buildings, without inspection for explosives. A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which oversees the US campus research reactors, said the agency had opened an investigation into at least five of the universities.
...

ABC America conducted its investigation in conjunction with Carnegie Corporation of New York, which invited university deans at five schools to select two of their most promising journalism and government graduate students to work with ABC for the northern summer.

Professor Graham T. Allison of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University said: "Highly enriched uranium that's vulnerable is an unacceptable threat to me, and to American citizens everywhere. We're as vulnerable as the weakest link in the chain." Professor Allison advised ABC on the project.

Nuclear safety experts say there is significant threat of sabotage, even at the facilities using low-enriched uranium. In the case of sabotage, a facility could, in effect, be turned into a so-called dirty bomb, which uses conventional explosives, such as dynamite, to spread radioactive material. Professor Allison said: "Explosive material plus radioactive material equals dirty bomb."

Most of the university reactors were built during the Cold War in an effort to demonstrate the peaceful uses of nuclear power. While smaller and less powerful than commercial nuclear power plants, the college reactors are considered a risk, given their radioactive material and location on crowded campuses, often in suburban and urban areas.

A former White House adviser, Matthew Bunn, said: "Research reactors aren't required to be protected against sabotage in the same kinds of ways that power reactors are. Security costs money and if you actually imposed serious security requirements on them, many of them would probably end up shutting down."

Collapsing Upwards - Bruce Sterling Speaks  

Posted by Big Gav

WorldChanging has an interview with Bruce Sterling called "The Planet Is An Ark" (via Past Peak, which quotes the interview and one interesting comment about Lech Walesa's advice on how to bring about change - "Lech Walesa was once asked how Solidarity started. He answered, "By talking loudly at the bus stops."").

With heavy weather upon us and even boring, established news conduits like CNN talking apocalypse, we consulted the Viridian Pope-Emperor, WorldChanging ally #1 Bruce Sterling, to get his take as he was leaving for Europe and Art Futura.

Q: With Arctic ice melting and the worst hurricane season in recorded history, are we past the point where mitigation of global climate change is going to have much of an effect?

A: The climate crimes we've already committed aren't much compared to what's coming down the pipe. It's pretty cynical to write off mitigation when we haven't as yet even tried it. It may well be that the roof is on fire, but that doesn't make it good policy to chop up the walls and floors and add them to the blaze.

Q: Should we be building an ark or two?

A: The planet IS an ark.

Where do you propose to hide or construct such a thing? There's no place to hide from the sky.

This might be a great time to make backups of your data and scatter 'em all over the planet. If you're in Tornado Alley it wouldn't kill you to clean out the storm shelter. But there's no particular safe haven where one is sure to go untroubled by weather. People went to Florida because they liked the weather. Los Angeles has great weather and it's very imperilled. Everybody and everywhere is at risk. Trent Lott lost his house and the oil industry took a major hit from Katrina. I've personally seen a minor hurricane rip limbs from trees in the White House lawn.

Arks are mere Biblical legend. Nobody who isn't mythical has ever thrived in a stupid ark. This is sheer Marxist accumulation. When real mayhem breaks out, it makes no sense for some tiny group, sci-fi movie style, to retreat to some survivalist enclave and sit on a stack of gold bars. You don't survive that way. If you're unlucky enough to be situated in serious Disorder, the smartest thing to do is retreat in whatever area of order seems handy, and regroup. Await a change in circumstances and prepare to resettle the mess.

Q: In getting certain world leaders to be responsive to the increasingly obvious, we can't seem to get past legacy issues (e.g. George W. Bush ignoring Kyoto because it would "cost jobs.") What should the average person, or at least the citizen change agent, be doing at this point to support both mitigation and adaptation?

A: I don't want to be a big cynic about this, but really, at this point, who WANTS George W Bush to get all interested in climate change? Sooner or later, that guy poisons everything he touches. He'd probably start a highly secretive and utterly disorganized "Department of Greenhouse Security," where Bechtel apparatchiks took over abandoned army bases to install leaky nuclear power plants in dead of night with extraordinarily-rendered, off-the-books, union-busting labor. Would that help? If he fought the Greenhouse in utter sincerity and with all his might, would he win?

George Bush doesn't care about Kyoto and "jobs." The American right's loathing for Kyoto is strictly a nationalist, anti-globalist, unilateralist power issue. They don't want Kyoto inspectors dropping by to double-check Exxon-Mobil's emissions; they figure they'd show up in black helicopters, with handcuffs and guns. Because that's exactly how they themselves would behave, if they had the chance.

I don't believe in "average people" doing anything. People ought to support mitigation and adaptation within their own line of work, no matter how un-average that is. I mean: if you're butcher, baker, ballerina, banker, or a plumber, envision yourself as the post-fossil-fuel version of yourself, and get right after it. We'd be best off struggling to create some kind of Solidarnosc-style entirely alternate society, for a 1989-sized across-the-board upheaval. So, just, well, stop co-operating with the status quo. Stop collaborating. Stop being afraid and stop feeling helpless. Just stop all that and start living by entirely other means.

Be glad for any scrap of choice you're offered. The UN expects 50 million people to have their lives entirely uprooted by environmental mayhem -- EVERY YEAR. That could be you or me. You're worried that a hybrid car costs more money? People in Key West are standing on the roofs of drowned cars.

Our best hope is to "collapse upwards."

The Seven Seeds of Meaningful Work  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger recently had a book review on a tome called "The Seven Seeds of Meaningful Work" which encourages people to do something useful with their lives. Considering the Dilbertian nightmare I'll be facing on Monday I should perhaps be reading it...

“What if you find yourself in a job with a useless company that makes useless or even harmful stuff, engaged in daily work that beaneath your potential, and beneath your own value system?” Then hopefully you’re out there, looking for employment, which might offer greater fulfillment. This book will lead you towards some of the elusive answers you're seeking. Very loosely paraphasing Dave Smith, author of the recently released To Be Of Use: The Seven Seeds of Meaningful Work”, he believes you should be looking for a workplace which:

• provides something of value, that we all need
• is in harmony with natural systems
• offers a tangible learning environment
• is locally based, encouraging the co-operation of good neighbours
• contributes to the good health of society and surrounding ecosystems

Just like his preacher father, Dave Smith, is forthrightly evangelical in proposing that the template for such workplaces is already with us, mirrored in small farm, organic agriculture. He espouses, if more work environments could take a cabbage leaf from the book of organic farming, we’d be happier and more fulfilled.

“Where we see things in business we don’t like, we can be part of the solution, by choosing how and where we work,.... It is a choice.” A choice that Dave Smith made many years ago and continues today. Back in the distant past he co-founded the iconic garden hardware company, Smith and Hawken*. After leaving the company, he went on to work in various capacities for a whole raft of eco and socially based businesses. Many of which will be familiar to Treehugger readers, like Real Goods, Organic Bouquet and Organics To Go.

...

It is a quiet book, but that does not diminish its importance. Taking up the thoughts of great thinkers and doers like Gandhi and EF Schumacher Dave applies them to a modern context. And if ever there was time that requires us to be responsible, not only with the contents of our wallets, but also with our 40 hours a week, it is upon us. Dave Smith is saying with his heart. “We still have a chance to get it right if we start now.” He goes on to evoke Doris Haddock, who in her ninety-third birthday speech had this to say: “Aren’t we privileged to live in a time when everything is at stake, and when our efforts make a difference in the eternal contest between the forces of shadow and light, between togetherness and division? Between justice and exploitation?”

Everything is at stake and Dave want us not only to buy with our conscience, but to work with it too. Quoting a community organiser, “You’ve got one life. You’ve got say, sixty-five years. How on earth can blow forty five of that doing something you hate?”

On the subject of books, WorldChanging has asked readers to provide their suggestions for a list of "WorldChanging books" (to be included in the forthcoming WorldChanging book).



I've read a fairly good sample of the books recommended by the readers (and there were plenty of suggestions) - one which I haven't come across but which got a few plugs is Bill McDonough's "Cradle to Cradle" which looks interesting.

One reader suggested Masanobu Fukuoka's "The One Straw Revolution", which I've seen recommended in a few places, most notably in Jeff Vail's blogroll and in one of his posts on "farming links", which references a resource page on Masanobu Fukuoka along with one for John Jeavons' "Grow Biointensive" website.

Global Public Media had an interview with Jeavons a while back on peak oil's impact on traditional agriculture.

Singapore To Set Up 2 Biodiesel Plants  

Posted by Big Gav

Singapore has announced plans to build some biodiesel plants, using palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia (via Lowem, who asks "200K metric tons is roughly 1.4 million barrels. But that's per year, so per day it's around 4K barrels. So it's rather small-scale compared to a petroleum refinery which can do 1 million barrels every *day*. Well, anyway, it's a start. But I wonder, what is the EROEI? Most indications are that biofuels are barely over the critical 1.0 level, and there's always the question of whether available arable land is better used to grow food for the people or fuel for the machines.").

Singapore's petrochemicals industry got a boost on Wednesday, as two foreign companies announced they would set up biodiesel plants here. These facilities will be a first for Singapore, and will attract more than S$80 million in investments. The two biodiesel plants will be built on Jurong Island, Singapore's petrochemicals hub.

The first is from a German family business, Peter Cremer, which will initially invest up to S$34 million in the Jurong Island plant with a capacity of 200,000 metric tons per annum. The second biodiesel plant, a joint venture between Wilmar Holdings and Archer Daniels Midland Company, will have an initial capacity of 150,000 metric tons a year, which can be raised to 300,000. Most of the products will be exported initially.

Both companies say Singapore was selected for their first biodiesel plant in Asia because of its excellent connectivity. Biodiesel is a growing energy source and is said to be a cleaner fuel than traditional petroleum-based products. From Singapore, the plants will have easy access to abundant palm oil feedstock from the neighbouring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Peak Oil At NSW Parliament House  

Posted by Big Gav

Sydney Peak Oil has announced a public community forum on peak oil.

Peak oil begins with an undeniable truth – that oil is a finite resource. The question is: when will oil begin to run out? When will demand for oil outstrip supply? What are the consequences? The theory of peak oil, or Hubbert’s Peak, suggests that the high-point of oil production is imminent and that the aftermath could be disastrous. Or is a smooth transition to a post-oil world possible? This public community forum will explore the issues that arise from the likely changes to our future energy-use profile.

Speakers
* Professor Ian Lowe - Griffith University, President of Australian Conservation Foundation
* Greens MLC Ian Cohen
* Rowan Tucker-Evans - Sydney Peak Oil Group

If you haven’t heard about peak oil, now is the time to find out. This forum is for anyone who drives a car, eats... or lives.

Venue
Tuesday November 15, 6pm
Theatrette, Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney

Download the event PDF:
http://sydneypeakoil.com/downloads/peakoilforum05flier_1.pdf


Global Warming Irony  

Posted by Big Gav

In another example of the fossil fuel industry getting bitten by the effects of global warming, Macarthur Coal is worried that coal production may have to be cut as a result of water shortages.

Macarthur Coal's managing director, Ken Talbot, has warned that water supply will become increasingly important to the viability of the Bowen Basin coal industry if summer rains fail to materialise.

An extended dry period has stretched the supply to its limit, and Mr Talbot said delays in the building of a $210 million pipeline from Burdekin Falls Dam to the northern Bowen Basin could be critical to the industry. He warned that without full rains this summer, Bowen Basin production might have to be cut by 10 million to 50 million tonnes next calendar year.

Mr Talbot, whose mines are at the northern end of the Bowen Basin in central Queensland, has called for the pipeline project to be accelerated. "This is a very important piece of infrastructure and unfortunately it has taken longer than what we could have liked," he told a Brisbane Mining Club function. "When that happens, the viability of our industry is at some risk. We'd expect that pipeline would be in place by the end of 2006 or earlier if we can possibility achieve it."

The coal industry extracts about 120 million tonnes of coal a year from the Bowen Basin. Coking coal, such as that produced by Macarthur's Coppabella and Moorvale mines, needs to be washed to prepare it for market.

In other Australian energy news, investment bank Babcock and Brown is chuffed by the successful float of their wind power spin-off .
It has three framework agreements in the US, Spain and Germany which the company said were key to medium-term growth. Future acquisitions under these agreements were not included in the forecasts.

Babcock & Brown has arranged financing for more than 3000 megawatts of wind energy projects and companies at an estimated value of $US3 billion ($3.96 billion) over the last 16 years.

A Friend Of The Earth  

Posted by Big Gav

The Sydney Morning Herald has a profile on businessman and ex-WWF head Robert Purves which I found quite interesting.

Apparently he funded both Tim Flannery's "The Weather Makers" and a great coffee table book on Tasmania's Tarkine rainforest which I bought a while ago.

I'm a restless soul. I like effecting change, I like making things happen.

Such words might trip lightly off many a business mogul's tongue but in Robert Purves's case they have the weight of action behind them.

For the past few weeks Purves has been busily sending out copies of Australian scientist Professor Tim Flannery's alarming new book on climate change, The Weather Makers, to key federal and state politicians.

Also on his mailing list are executives from the big end of town, many of whom he knows personally through his networks as a prominent businessman with large commercial grazing interests. And if you've been flying round the country you may have seen the book advertised prominently outside Qantas Club lounges, as well as on buses and trams. Purves is responsible for that as well.

He wants this book to be a tipping point, a catalyst for urgent action by Australia, especially Australian business, on global warming. He paid for Flannery to travel and research the work, underwriting it through the Purves Environmental Fund, which he set up in 2003 with $10 million from his own pocket. To raise this sum he sold off large shareholdings in the diagnostics and aged-care company DCA Group, which he still chairs.

Purves runs counter to all the stereotypes for a passionate conservationist. He's an industry and farming blueblood - the son of leading industrialist Sir Raymond Purves and grandson of legendary pastoralist T.A. Field - as much at home in boardrooms as in the paddocks of his three grazing properties in southern NSW.

As well as his own funds, he's poured energy, time and ideas into environmental causes. He's been chairman of the Australian chapter of WWF (formerly the World Wild Fund for Nature) for the past six years, and recruited another green-minded businessman, former BP Australasia head Greg Bourne, as its chief executive. Together they've built WWF's subscriber base from 6000 to 80,000.



Purves was behind the funding and commissioning of a landmark report on salinity and land-clearing produced by the Wentworth Group of scientists in 2002, which helped trigger key state and federal initiatives on water and land management. And he personally financed the production of a lavish photographic book on the Tarkine temperate rainforest in Tasmania - the second-largest forest of its type left intact on the planet.

The book was posted to every key player in federal and Tasmanian politics, and Purves credits it with helping to secure most of the Tarkine against logging under a deal between Canberra and Hobart earlier this year.

At this point you'd think Purves might be resting on his laurels a little. Far from it. The mother of all environmental battles - global warming - is building on the horizon. And Purves believes business is fiddling while the world burns.

Is Nuclear Power Part Of Australia’s Global Warming Solutions ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Professor Ian Lowe explains why nuclear power isn't the answer to global warming, particularly in Australia, in an address to the National Press Club (via Pacem terra).

As Bernard notes, carbon taxes and ending subsidies to aging energy technologies is the way forward.

There is no serious doubt that climate change is real, it is happening now and its effects are accelerating.... The science is very clear. We need to reduce global greenhouse pollution by about 60 per cent, ideally by 2050. To achieve that global target, allowing for the legitimate material expectations of poorer countries, Australia's quota will need to be at least as strong as the UK goal of 60 per cent by 2050 and preferably stronger. Our eventual goal will probably be to reduce our greenhouse pollution by 80 or 90 per cent. How can we reach this ambitious target?"

"Coal-fired electricity is by far the worst offender, so the top priority should be to replace it with cleaner forms of electricity. Since there is increasing pressure to consider nuclear power as part of the mix, I want to spell out why I don't agree. The first point is that the economics of nuclear power just don't stack up. The real cost of nuclear electricity is certainly more than for wind power, energy from bio-wastes and some forms of solar energy. Geothermal energy from hot dry rocks - a resource of huge potential in Australia - also promises to be less costly than nuclear."

"We are 50 years into the best funded development of any energy technology, and yet nuclear energy is still beset with problems. Reactors go over budget by billions, decommissioning plants is so difficult and expensive that power stations are kept operating past their useful life, and there is still no solution for radioactive waste. So there is no economic case for nuclear power. As energy markets have liberalised around the world, investors have turned their backs on nuclear energy. The number of reactors in western Europe and the USA peaked about 15 years ago and has been declining since. By contrast, the amount of wind power and solar energy is increasing rapidly. The actual figures for the rate of increase in the level of different forms of electricity supply for the decade up to 2003 are striking: wind nearly 30 per cent, solar more than 20 per cent, gas 2 per cent, oil and coal 1 per cent, nuclear 0.6 per cent. Most of the world is rejecting nuclear in favour of alternatives that are cheaper, cleaner and more flexible. This is true even of countries that already have nuclear power. With billions already invested in this expensive technology, they have more reason to look favourably on it than we do.

...

How can we reduce our carbon emissions by at least 60 per cent by the middle of this century, given our dependence on energy for our comfortable lifestyle? There are now seven fully costed studies showing that nations can reduce their greenhouse pollution by 30 to 60 per cent by 2050 without building nuclear power plants and without economic damage. By far the most cost-effective way to reduce our emissions is to improve the efficiency of turning energy into the services that we want.... Reducing waste is by far the cheapest way to reduce greenhouse pollution.

We should set the sort of positive targets for renewable energy that progressive nations in the northern hemisphere are doing. We should aim at 10 per cent extra electricity from renewables by 2010, 20 per cent by 2015 and 30 per cent by 2020. These are realistic targets based on existing technology.... Be in no doubt: renewable energy works. Renewables now account for a quarter of the installed capacity of California, a third of Sweden's energy, half of Norway's and three-quarters of Iceland's. It is time we joined the clean energy revolution sweeping the progressive parts of the world.

Renewables can meet Australia's energy demands. Just 15 wind farms could supply enough power for half the homes in NSW. And that would only use less than half a percent of the pasture land in the state - without disrupting grazing.... Fitting solar panels to half the houses in Australia could supply seven per cent of all our electricity needs, including industry's needs, enough for the whole of Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

Random Notes  

Posted by Big Gav

I'll be taking a blogging holiday for the next week (partly because I need a break to get some fresh ideas and partly because I have a lot of real world stuff to catch up on).

In the meantime here are a few links to keep you going - and you can get all the latest news from the "Essential Peak Oil" links in the sidebar.

The Falls Church News Press continues its Peak Oil series with a look at something I wasn't aware of - the North Atlantic Oscillation. It paints a bleak picture for the UK in particular, should a perfect storm of this particular phenomenon and oil and gas shortages occur this coming winter.

And this doesn't even consider the longer term possibility of a shutdown in the north atlantic conveyor current (at least there is no chance that is going to happen this winter). In any case I'm glad I'm not living in London (or New York) this year.

Back in our school days, we all learned how the Gulf Stream sweeps out of the warm Caribbean , flows along our East Coast, and crosses the Atlantic where all that warm water keeps Northern Europe from turning into a giant glacier.

What our teachers didn't tell us, however, is there is a similar and even more potent phenomenon hovering between America and Europe known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Every winter since the last Ice Age, a giant low-pressure area forms over Iceland and a giant high-pressure area over the Azores . The clockwise and counterclockwise circulation around this pair propels vast amounts of warm air out of the southern United States to northern Europe where it plays a major part in keeping the region habitable in the winter.

However, every few decades an unusual phenomenon happens. The pressure difference between the high and low weakens so much, only smaller quantities of America 's southern air are transported straight across the Atlantic towards the Mediterranean . Northern Europe suddenly becomes downright cold. One of the more famous occurrences of this phenomenon happened in the early 1940's when Hitler was invading Russia . Remember those pictures of German troops on the Eastern Front trying to survive 30 degrees below without the proper arctic gear? That was the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Now you may ask, what does all this climatology have to do with peak oil here in America ? The answer, unfortunately, may be more than you really wanted to know. When that big flow of slightly used American air is being sucked by New England on the way to old England , it serves to help block the frigid Canadian air that tries to float down onto the US during the winter. When the trans-Atlantic airflow is reduced our Northeast can get mighty cold too.

Last week, the London Times reported that her Majesty's government had called an emergency meeting of lots of important people. This meeting is to discuss what to do if the country runs out of heating fuel this winter. It seems the British long-range forecasters are now predicting there’s a 2 out of 3 chance the NAO will turn negative this winter and that Britain , and the rest of Northern Europe , will see lots of very cold weather. How harsh? When we had one of these negative oscillations back in the 1970's parts of Europe burned 30 percent more heating fuel to keep going.

Now you may recall that 40 years ago, the British along with the Norwegians discovered lots of oil and gas in the North Sea . Being sensible folks, they promptly shut down lots of their old fashioned mines that produced smoky coal and plumbed themselves up to heat natural gas.

Things went well until a few years ago when the North Sea oil and gas fields went into depletion and are now at the point where the British are close to not producing enough natural gas to cover domestic needs during the winter. This year, they have only 11 day's reserve of natural gas compared to an average of 55 days on the continent. In order to keep people from freezing, the British are making plans to shutdown large industrial gas users if supplies get too low.

...

In the US however, we face a somewhat different set of circumstances. First, it is only the northeast that would have a problem should the NAO go negative. Second, given the precarious state of our natural gas and gasoline reserves, any official announcement that the east coast just might be an icebox next winter would drive the oil futures market and the price of gasoline through the roof. This in turn would drive down the stock market and the administration's popularity polls.

Given this warning would be based on an experimental climate model, from the government's perspective there really is little harm in waiting until winter to see what happens. We are not going to ration anything before the Congressional elections unless we absolutely have to.
In the meantime, it seems prudent to lay in a good supply of firewood and check the shovels just in case a series of snowstorms hits the east coast this winter. Also keep in mind that if you should hear someone complain about the price of gasoline going to $4 next February, you can now smile knowingly and say "Yes, it was bound to happen once the North Atlantic Oscillation turned negative."

WorldChanging has a piece on a "nanotech solar" breakthrough, which sounds quite promising.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of photovoltaic materials: traditional inorganic solar cells, which are stiff (sometimes to the point of being brittle) and often expensive to make, but have decent efficiency of around 25-35% (with the potential for up to 50-60% with current research); and organic polymer solar cells, which are flexible (sometimes to the point of being able to be sprayed or painted on a surface) and relatively inexpensive to produce, but tend to have relatively short lifespans (generally no more than a couple of years, and sometimes far worse) and very low efficiency of around 3-5%. Ilan Gur, working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, may well have found a best-of-both-worlds solution: nanocrystal solar cells.

In the current Science magazine, Gur (a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate) and his research group report on the development of ultra-thin inorganic photovoltaic semiconductors using nano-scale crystals. The material can be cast from solution, like organic photovoltaics, meaning the nanocrystal solar cells are far less costly to make than traditional silicon cells. Unlike the organic pv materials, however, the nanocrystal solar cells respond to a wide range of light frequencies, and can last for years. In fact, aging seems to increase the performance of the nanocrystal cells, rather than degrade it...

TreeHugger reports that Man City (whose supporters have been known to sing something like this during games "we're crap at home and we're crap away - we lost last week and we'll lose today", obviously having become realists following decades of misery) are considering erecting a large wind turbine to power their stadium. At least they'll be ahead of the rest of the league on Viridian brownie points. Maybe Man U should coat Old Trafford in PV to outdo them ? Although given that the sun rarely shines in Manchester that may not be such a good idea. I wonder what power can be harvested from constant drizzle ?
"A global first in sporting history" is how it is being billed. If Manchester City Football Club get their way and can convince the planners, then their stadium will not only be home to the the largest land-base wind turbine in the UK, but it will also be the world’s first sport stadium to be powered solely by renewable energy.* The idea is to install a 85m (280') high Norman Foster designed turbine, that would also have a viewing platform and education centre. It is envisioned that the energy would be a similar price to current fossil fool costs. And apparently the turbine has the potential to power about 4,000 homes, so locals could purchase their energy from the site too.

On a non-energy related note (unless you consider the potential impacts of peak oil on globalisation), WorldChanging also has a look at some odd noises coming out of WalMart about their responsibility to make sure their suppliers in third-world countries are doing the right thing by the environment and their workforce. Fine sentiments - but why have they started caring now ?
For several years, a broad, diverse, and growing movement has been targeting Wal-Mart, which has become something of a tabula rasa for interest groups. Pick a social issue and you’ll find some group that’s painted a target on Wal-mart: Environmentalists, labor groups, women’s groups, minority groups -- that’s just for starters. There are also small business groups (who complain that Wal-Mart puts them out of business), first amendment groups (who object to Wal-Mart’s censorship of music lyrics and magazine and book covers and content), community activists (for contributing to sprawl), and so on.

I sat in on a meeting last year of a group of environmental activists looking at taking on Wal-Mart as part of a bigger campaign. At the table were environmental groups focusing on mining (Wal-Mart is one of the world’s biggest jewelers, so it buys lots of gold, platinum, silver, and diamonds); trout fishers (run-off from Wal-Mart’s parking lots foul local creeks, streams, and rivers for outdoors types); and forests (how else to target the world’s biggest seller of Pampers and Charmin?).

Labor, for their part, has another whole batch of activists under the name Wal-Mart Watch -- a multimillion dollar campaign funded in large part by the service employees union. (Earlier this year, the union launched PurpleOcean.org, “the world's first Internet-based union membership program.”)

But much like Nike before it, Wal-Mart’s overseas supply-chain challenges have raised the most heat among activists. The issue is both labor and the environment -- the low wages and poor working conditions of workers in Asian factories, and the environmental legacy that comes from practices to cut costs such as clear-cutting of forests and industrial factory farming of seafood.

In recent weeks, the heat has been turned up, as activists have prepared for release on November 13, of WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price, a documentary by Robert Greenwald, director/producer of last year’s “Outfoxed: Robert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.” The week of November 13-19 has been dubbed “Wal-Mart Week,” in which “3000+ screenings in 19 countries and all 50 states are already in the works for the largest grassroots mobilization in movie history,” according to the movie’s official Web site.

Greenwald's "Outfoxed" is a great documentary about the media (focussing on its lowest ebb in the form of Fox "News") so no doubt this new film will be interesting.

I'll close with Mike Carlton taking a look at our new sedition law - one of the amazing things about these laws is that they appear to have been resurrected from some 1914 law put in place for the first world war - the first item is about not criticising "The Sovereign" - so maybe Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Costello (who support Australia removing the aforesaid sovereign - ie. the Queen of England - as our head of state) and Amanda Vanstone (who recently called Her Majesty "Sweaty Betty") should be worrying about a knock on the door one night...
And in the general hardening of outlook that set in ... practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years - imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages and the deportation of whole populations - not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive. George Orwell, 1984

ORWELL jumped the gun with the date, but everything else is moving along pretty much as he predicted.

John Howard's anti-terrorism bill frogmarches Australia down the road to tyranny, towards an authoritarian state in which the police may arrest people at will, and hold them secretly and indefinitely without charge or trial.

"Suspects" may be questioned by ASIO, on subjects about which they may know nothing, and be jailed for up to five years if officialdom deems their answers unsatisfactory.

For all his trust-me protestations of good faith, this is exactly what Howard is planning. It is there in the draft bill published by the ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, on his website. Its provisions would have delighted General Pinochet.

Whatever Howard is publicly claiming, there is licence for the Federal Police to shoot to kill if a person "cannot be apprehended in any other manner".

If you are detained, you may tell one person only that you are "safe but not able to be contacted for the time being". That someone may tell no one else, least of all the media: penalty, up to five years' jail. On release you must reveal nothing, repeat nothing, about your detention.

And the crime of sedition will include such frightfulness as bringing the Sovereign into hatred or contempt; urging disaffection against either house of Parliament, or - wait for it - promoting feelings of ill will or hostility between different groups.

Malcolm Fraser, bless him, was right to say on Wednesday that "these are powers whose breadth and arbitrary nature, with lack of judicial oversight, should not exist in any democratic country". At some risk of getting arrested for ill will, he urges that these laws be opposed.

Imperial Candor  

Posted by Big Gav

Another quiet night for me - I think Peak Energy will be taking a break shortly to recharge the batteries.

Seemingly the most blogged item of the day is the talk given by Larry Wilkerson (Colin Powell's chief of staff) at the New America Foundation on Wednesday. I'll let Billmon provide the commentary on the energy related parts.

There is some truly scary stuff in there -- going way beyond the "cabal" comment that's been the soundbite of choice for the corporate media. Like this rather ominous look at the real U.S. energy plan:
We had a discussion in policy planning about actually mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly. That’s how serious we thought about it. We had a discussion in policy planning about actually mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly.

Wilkerson isn't specific about the timing, so he may be referring the contingency planning that was ordered up by Kissinger and DoD Secretary James "cover up" Schlesinger during the 1973 oil embargo. But it sounds a good deal more recent to me -- I don't remember anything in the '73 about a U.N. fig leaf . . . I mean, a U.N. trusteeship.

To my admittedly jaundiced eye, this would appear to be planning for aggressive war -- without even the notional justification of weapons of mass destruction, pre-emption, etc. The fact that it's almost as hairbrained a scheme as the invasion of Iraq, politically if not militarily (a U.N. endorsed version of Lebensraum??) isn't much comfort. If that's what the "good guys" -- i.e. the realists -- talk about behind closed doors, then what's the diffference between them and the neocons, other than the fact that the realists have fewer principles?

Actually, there is another difference: The realists aren't stone crazy. Another tale that Wilkerson tells out of school concerns just how close the neocons came to starting the second Korean War -- and probably would have, too, if not for a very unlikely dove:
I haven’t heard anyone lately saying they want a war with North Korea . . . And the president was wonderful in that regard during some very tense deliberations over North Korea. He essentially put his foot down: 'I do not want a war on the Korean peninsula.' And that was very helpful . . . It didn’t help us open negotiations, but it did help us fight off some other less desirable results.

The inhabitants of Greater Seoul should be happy to hear that, too -- since their charred corpses could easily have been one of those "less desirable" results. Something tells me that no matter how insane we may think the members of the "cabal" are, we don't know the half of it.

...

Like Richard Clarke, Wilkerson strikes me as reasonably representative of the technicians who actually run the empire -- and his assumptions largely appear to reflect those of his class. American supremecy is a taken as a given, requiring no legal or moral justification. Not because America has any grand historical mission to spread the blessings of democracy to the heathen, but because American power maintains the world order and keeps the peace, or at least something approximating it. It also keeps the sea lanes open and the oil flowing and the wheels of industry turning, not just here but around the world.

It does appear to have dawned on Wilkerson that the U.S. hegomony isn't viewed as quite such an execise in utilitarian benevolance by the rest of the world, but I'm not sure he understands exactly why this is. I think he puts far too much blame on the cabal's shenanigans -- although these admittedly have made things worse -- and not enough on the fact that empires, even the practical, no nonsense type favored by the realists, are anachronisms in the modern world.

It's very late now, and I'm going to have to leave it at that. I'll try to flesh out some more of the implicatiions of Wilkerson's rant tomorrow. But you should go read it for yourself -- you'll rarely see the bureaucratic warfare between the neocons and the realists (and the growing crisis in U.S. imperial strategy that it reflects) exposed so clearly.

If the realists win out will they actually understand how to deal with the root cause of the problem ? Or will they just find themselves unhappily following the neocon's bad example as we all slide down the peak in a state of perpetual military confrontation ?

Random Notes  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm having a night off, so no commentary, just links.

Anthropik note just how exceptional this years "once in a lifetime" hurricane season has been. Check out the animation of the full set here.

Monster hurricanes aren't the only obvious manifestation of global warming - Antarctica is melting too.

Steve at Deconsumption has been surveying the doomsayer world, including the fortune telling component (there is some troll baiting in the comments, for those who enjoy that particular spectator sport).

Jeff Vail has followed up his interesting little dissertation on Anti Economies (I hope regular readers at least understand the value of decentralisation, redundancy and diversity, particularly if you are concerned about the possibility of collapse, but if for those who don't, Jeff's stuff is worth studying and understanding) with a look at some of the underlying problems of the rush towards a flat earth.

Scrutiny Hooligans have constructed their own peak oil meta primer.

ABC Radio National has an interview on "Sustainable population" and peak oil.



Odograph has a list of Bush's top ten lies.

Resource investor has a look at a recent interview with oil investment sage Henry Groppe who believes we are near the peak and will be bumping along a plateau for a while. He isn't a believer in oil shale (me neither) but does see promise in oil sands for the time being (and that's where his money is).

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article on the recent Bioneers conference.

WorldChanging has a short note on large new wind farms in Brazil.

TreeHugger has a post on a Spanish company called Prosolmed that is testing a solar-power generation plant that tracks the sun throughout the day to always keep the panels at a right angle to the sun's rays.

Both WorldChanging and TreeHugger have posts on a new mobile renewable energy generator that can be used in disaster relief situations - and maybe would be handy to stick in your backyard if you fear the Olduvai Cliff

Does Peak Oil Signal The End ?  

Posted by Big Gav

There is no shortage of peak oil related news around today, with tonight's SBS News broadcast talking to Colin Campbell on the subject. At this rate even the commercial networks might be talking about the topic in a week or two.

The argument that oil supply is running out is one that is running hot in business and scientific circles but is only just starting to gain attention in the Australian media.

Peak oil is the name applied to the theory that after half the world's oil has been drilled, oil prices will spiral out of control, leading to mayhem for the global economy.

With demand for oil rising globally, particularly from China and India, the frenzied search for new oilfields has largely come up empty.

At the same time, many older fields have gone into decline, with more effort put into producing less oil.

"We've come to the end of the first half of the age of oil, not to the full end of the age of oil, just the first half of it," said Colin J Campbell, oil geologist and chair of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil.

Dr Campbell is considered one of the leading world authorities on the subject.

"But the significant point is, during the first half we've seen the rapid expansion of industry, transport, agriculture, and indeed financial capital, which has allowed the world's population to grow sixfold, exactly, in parallel with this growing oil supply," he told SBS.

It is not known when peak oil will occur, with estimates ranging from next month to 2025. But many experts say it is not the date that matters, but rather what we do as we enter the downslope of oil availability.

The main issue at stake is not so much concern over oil running out, but rather, that there will not be enough to keep oil-dependent economies — including Australia's — functioning properly.

Petroleum Review's Megaprojects October 2005 Update  

Posted by Big Gav

Sydney Peak Oil and Energy Bulletin have posted the latest update to Chris Skrebowski's Oil Fields Megaprojects. Their summation - there will be no supply gorwth in the next few years, and demand destruction is required...

In 2004, effectively all the world’s spare capacity was used up in meeting unexpectedly rapid demand growth. It is not at all clear if the world’s oil companies can provide an incremental 3mnplus b/d from all the small, untabulated projects and infill drilling going forward year after year. The world has now reached the point where the volumes lost to depletion are much larger than the levels of likely new demand. This means total increments required (new demand plus depletion) are running at around 7%/y, while the largest supply increments in 2006 and 2007 are contributing 3.6% and 3.5%.

"It would seem most unlikely that small projects and infill drilling could account for the remaining required 3.5%. The inescapable conclusion is that oil prices will have to remain high enough to destroy demand, bringing supply and demand back into balance.

SPO also notes that BP is now the world's largest oil producer.

Are You Paying to Burn the Rainforest?  

Posted by Big Gav

George Monbiot notes that while biodiesel producing soy farms are one cause of Brazilian rainforest destruction (and hence global warming) the worst culprit is beef farming.

The last three years have been the most destructive in the Brazilian Amazon’s history. In 2004, 26,000 square kilometres of rainforest were burnt: the second highest rate on record. This year could be worse. And most of it is driven by cattle ranching.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research, cattle pasture accounts for six times more cleared land in the Amazon than cropland: even the notorious soya farmers, who have ploughed some five million hectares of former rainforest, cover just one tenth of the ground taken by the beef producers. The four Amazon states in which the most beef is produced are the four with the highest deforestation rates.

Cattle ranching, if it keeps expanding in the Amazon, threatens two-fifths of the world’s remaining rainforest. This is not just the most diverse ecosystem, but also the biggest reserve of standing carbon. Its clearance could provoke a hydrological disaster in South America, as rainfall is reduced as the trees come down. Next time you see footage of the forest burning, remember that you might have paid for it.

Many Brazilians, especially those whose land is being grabbed by the cattlemen, are trying to stop the destruction. The ranchers have an effective argument: when people complain, they kill them. In February we heard an echo of the massacre which has so far claimed 1200 lives, when the American nun Dorothy Stang was murdered – almost certainly by beef producers. The ranchers believed to have killed her were, like cattlemen throughout the Amazon, protected by the police.

For the same reason, and despite the best efforts of President Lula, the ranchers are now employing some 25,000 slaves on their estates. These are people who are transported thousands of miles from their home states, then – forced to buy their provisions from the ranch shop at inflated prices – kept in permanent debt. Because of the expansion of beef production in the Amazon, slavery in Brazil has quintupled in ten years.

Random Notes  

Posted by Big Gav

Rigzone reports that analysts have cut BHP's earnings forecasts, with CSFB predicting that the Typhoon platform may not be rebuilt - effectively writing off the field it was pumping from, in an example of accelerated oil depletion due to global warming.

Analysts have revised down earnings forecasts for BHP Billiton Ltd after the company cut oil and gas production forecasts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

BHP Billiton's Typhoon rig, a 50/50 joint venture with Chevron, was torn from its moorings in the Gulf of Mexico by Katrina, flipped upside down and found days later miles from its normal position having suffered extensive damage.

The company says the impact of the hurricane along with unplanned maintenance in Australia and the impact of falling oil prices on contracts in the Middle East means oil production for 2005/2006 could be as much as 10 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe) lower than predicted.

Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) analysts on Friday said there was a strong chance the Typhoon project might now be abandoned. "Under our estimates, Typhoon only had approximately three to four years of production left and it is highly possible it will not resume production," the analysts said in a client note.

Rigzone also reports that even though the majors are hesitant about venturing too deep into Iraq because of well grounded security fears, small companies are finding the promise of the greatest prize of all a bit more attractive. I always find references to exploration in the western desert interesting, so here's one such snippet.
John Mitchell, an associate fellow at Chatham House, a London- based research firm that specializes in international issues, said that small, risk-taking companies "are expanding in places like Iraq, Nigeria or Angola they're prepared to take high risks, and the host government is making space for them."

Risks and danger are balanced by the possible financial upside. "For a very small company, if they do well, it transforms them," Mitchell said. Horgan of Petrel said security risks had increased substantially in Iraq since 2003. The company has been working in Iraq since before the war, and has built up good contacts within the Ministry of Oil, where at all but the top levels, many executives still remain from prewar days. But the company encountered its first real problems there when it started doing exploration work in the western desert in early 2004, Horgan said. Petrel received a letter in calligraphic Arabic that said, "Anyone who works with the oppressors will be decapitated and burnt," he said. The letter ended by apologizing for any inconvenience, he added. Petrel has since stopped sending executives to the western desert to do seismic or geologic evaluations, and does not hire employees from countries involved in the coalition that invaded in 2003.

Honduras is asking Venezuela to provide them with oil on preferential terms, in another sign of the erosion of oil fungibility.

Clough has won a bid to do the oil services work for Woodside's Australian oil production.
Clough Limited today announced that it and joint venture partner, AMEC plc have signed an engineering services contract with Woodside Energy Limited. The company said the joint venture had been provisionally selected by Woodside and had now completed the final stage of the selection process by formalising the agreement.

Clough advised the contract would encompass all of Woodside’s Australian oil assets including the Wanaea Cossack Lambert Hermes, Enfield, Legendre and Laminaria-Corallina fields.

In another piece of local news, it seems even gold miners aren't immune to rising oil prices, with Newcrest getting a hiding today on the market (so you gold bugs - be sure to buy the metal rather than equities).

While I always tend to consider opposition leader Kim Beazley a fat windbag (how's that for non-partisan abuse - and he is even from my home town), he has started waking up to oil dependency issues and even if he's not quite as game as the Greens are to address peak oil head on, he has at least started making noises about moving away from oil. Kim says we should be expecting $5 a litre petrol in the not-so-distant future, and that we should be encouraging a shift to LPG for transport fuel, given our relatively large natural gas resources.
Australia could face petrol prices as high as $5 a litre within a decade if it continues to rely on imported petroleum, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has said. Mr Beazley will outline a plan in Melbourne in which a Labor government would offer incentives including tax breaks to establish a network of gas-to-liquids plants.

"We are now hostage to Middle East oil and international oil and we are becoming more so - more and more dependent on it. That's got to stop," he told the Nine Network. "We actually need to start to stand on our own two feet. The government is way out of touch on this."

Mr Beazley's "blueprint speech" to the Institute of Company Directors would outline Labor's alternative fuels plan which it would take to the next election, he said. "In it is a plan for self sufficiency, by going to alternative fuels and establishing a regime that encourages them to be developed here," Mr Beazley said. "In particular ... taking advantage of massive technological advances in gas to liquid fuel conversion and ensuring that we have that industry here."

"We've got to start standing on our own two feet, we've got to be self reliant and we've got to definitely not allow ourselves to be hostage to what is inevitably going to be massive price hikes over time in the cost of Middle East oil."

Heading to the far north, there are reports from Alaska about plastics shortages caused by the effects of the Hurricanes - it will be interesting to see how much flow on effect these sorts of shortages have on the overall economy.

Meanwhile, the god of inflation and debased currencies, Alan Greenspan, is opining that the current energy situation is "milder than the '70s oil shock". Hidden amongst the fedspeak is
Dr Greenspan noted distant oil futures prices had moved up close to current spot prices and suggested markets did not expect oil production outside of oil-producing OPEC countries to be adequate to meet rising world demand. The Fed chief said OPEC and developing nations appeared to see little benefit in investing in additional production capacity, citing the "significant proportion" of oil revenue invested in financial assets as evidence.

On the Viridian front, WorldChanging has a short note on "plug and play off-grid power systems".
One of the big obstacles to going off-grid is the expertise required to set up a solar, wind, or other self-contained power system--this expertise translates to high installation costs and potential maintenance problems down the line. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just plop down a box and flip the "on" switch?
We're not quite at that point yet, but there's a new player in town that's made big strides towards that: SkyBuilt Power. From their website:

The [mobile power system] sets up in hours and is a complete power system prepackaged in a standard freight container that can be shipped easily worldwide by sea, air, truck and rail. The MPS operates in any climate, needs no fuel, is very low maintenance, rugged, and can be remotely controlled. It can provide power from 3.5kW to 150kW or more for backup or base load power to pump water, provide emergency power for disaster relief and any long-term power needs. It can use any combination of off the shelf components such as solar power, wind, batteries, and micro hydro power, and can work with diesel or other fuel-based systems.

Speculation about an impending attack on Iran seems to be increasing again, after a few months of relative silence. Is it going to happen ? Who knows - I had begun to think that the possibility of this was now remote, but maybe an outbreak of hostilities would divert the attention of the horde currently lathered up over the possibility of some heads rolling over the Plame affair. So we might be in for some dog wagging. Putting a tinfoil hat on for the moment, this would also explain the rush to implement the new wartime style sedition laws here as well.

The End of the Oil Age  

Posted by Big Gav

Christopher Lydon's "Open Source Radio" at the University of Massachusetts has done a show (mp3) on the end of the oil age, with James Kunstler telling the peak oil story and Michael Lynch attempting the rebuttal (thanks to Leslie for the tip).

We may remember the Age of Oil, when it’s over, as a century or so of miracles: not just the new landscape of highways and suburbs with two cars in every driveway; we’ll remember the petroleum-fertilizers that grew farm products almost without farmers, and jet fuels that delivered fresh grapes from Chile to Chicago every day and carried the average Caesar salad 2500 miles from lettuce field to supper table. It’s been oil-charged agriculture that just in this century grew the world’s population five-fold. It’s been cheap plentiful oil that underwrote the idea that everything in the way of travel and trade was easy. Now James Howard Kunstler is here to tell you the rest of the story: half of all the oil on the planet is gone while our consumption is spiking; the miracles are about to run dry. The Stone Age came to end not for want of stones; but what are we of the Oil Age going to do when the oil runs out, as it must?

The Treasure, the Strongbox, and the Crowbar  

Posted by Big Gav

TomDispatch interviews Juan Cole on Iraq. He doesn't seem aware of peak oil, but oil is still the subject of discussion.

TD: You wrote in April 2002, considering American dreams of a post-Saddam Iraq, "A democratically elected government and a friendly government are not necessarily going to be the same thing, at least in the long run." This is where we are now and it was obviously very knowable a year before the invasion.

JC: The International Institute at the University of Michigan asked me to write a pro-and-con piece about an Iraq war in January of 2003. Among the reasons I gave for not going to war were: a) if you overthrow the Baath regime and discredit secular Arab nationalism in Iraq, the Sunni Arab community may well gravitate toward more al-Qaeda types of identity; and b) if you invade Iraq and let loose popular politics, the Shiite Iraqis may well hook up with the Ayatollahs in Iran. These things were perfectly foreseeable. I think if you went back to the early 1990s and took a look at Dick Cheney's speeches, he voiced similar analyses.

TD: So what happened between then and March 2003, for Dick Cheney at least?

JC: I think Dick must have found motives for an Iraq war that overrode his earlier concerns. We don't have transparent governance and therefore we're not in a position to know exactly what our Vice President's motives were, but clearly he became convinced that, whatever the validity of his earlier concerns, they were outweighed by other considerations.

TD: And your guess on those considerations?

JC: My guess with regard to Cheney is that his experience in the energy sector and with Halliburton as CEO must have been influential in his thinking. For the corporate energy sector in the United States, Iraq must have been maddening. It was under those United Nations sanctions. It's a country that, with significant investment, might be able to rival Saudi Arabia as a producer of petroleum. Saudi Arabia can produce around 11 million barrels a day, if it really tries. Iraq before the war was producing almost 3 million barrels a day and, if its fields were explored and opened and exploited, it might be up to the Saudi level in twenty years. This could bring a lot of petroleum on the market. There would be opportunities for making money from refining. There might even be an opportunity, if you had a free-market regime in Iraq, for Western petroleum companies to go back to owning oil fields -- something they haven't been able to do since the 1970s in the Middle East when most of these fields were nationalized. All that potential in Iraq was locked up.

The petroleum industry, structurally, is a horrible industry because it depends on constantly making good finds and being able to get favorable contracts for developing them, so that one is constantly scrambling for the next field. To have an obvious source of petroleum and energy in Iraq locked up under sanctions, and this Arab socialist regime with the government controlling everything, it must have just driven people crazy.

And you never knew when the sanctions might slip and Iraq might crank back up its production. If you're in the petroleum industry, what you'd like is have a ten-year timeline for what the future's going to look like. What if Iraq was able to produce 5 million barrels a day? That would have an impact on prices. It would have an impact on the plans you might like to make. But you couldn't predict that. It was completely unknowable.

So Iraq was like a treasure in a strongbox. You knew exactly where it was; you knew what the treasure was; but you couldn't get at it. The obvious thing to do was to take a crowbar and strike off the strongbox lock.

A 30 000 MW Wind Farm in Canada ?  

Posted by Big Gav

WorldChanging has an article on a plan to build a 30 GW wind farm in Canada - which is the sort of thing we need to see more of. Will the Canadians soon be the major suppliers of oil, uranium and electricity to the US ? If they aren't careful they'll end up on some sort of Axis of Evil list...

Gilbert Parent, recently retired from political life in Canada, has proposed building a 30 GW wind farm in the country's northern regions. That's roughly the current power generation capacity of Ontario (home to about 40% of Canada's population of 32 million).

Although Canada has benefited from abundant hydroelectric resources, it is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels and nuclear energy for electricity generation. And yet it has many areas with respectable wind velocities, as shown in Canada's Wind Atlas.

As with Germany and Denmark, the potential exists to meet a large proportion of energy needs from wind power, and to serve as a positive example to others by scaling up wind farms. Of course, small-scale and community-owned wind projects may be just as important as megaprojects in the future smart grid energy mix, particularly in developing solutions suitable for use in isolated places and harsh climates such as circumpolar Arctic regions. But there's nothing like some good old-fashioned macro-engineering to fire up the imagination, especially when it's clean and green.



Continuing on matters atmospheric, RealClimate looks at a Q&A on global warming in the Seattle Times.
There was an interesting piece that appeared in the October 12 edition of the Seattle Times, "Q&A: Global warming — a world of evidence". This follows up on a previous article by journalist Sandi Doughton in the October 9 issue of the Times, "The Truth About Global Warming".

In the Q&A, a group of University of Washington scientists, including atmospheric scientist and climate researcher J. Mike Wallace, weigh in with answers to questions fielded from the paper's readers. Many of the questions, such as "Isn't it true that scientists in the 1970s said the earth was cooling?" are quite similar to those we've addressed here at RealClimate (see "The Global Cooling Myth").

Wallace's perspectives are particularly interesting because he is both a highly respected climate researcher (and National Academy of Sciences member) and, like a number of other long-time researchers in the field, was once a "skeptic" (in the best sense of the word) regarding the evidence for anthropogenic climate change. However, like many other such researchers, he has become convinced by the compelling weight of evidence indicating human influence on climate that has unfolded over the past decade, remarking that "with each passing year the evidence has gotten stronger — and is getting stronger still."

Back at WorldChanging, they note that as climate modelling improves in precision and maturity, things are looking worse rather than better.
A new set of model results from Purdue University give us a foreshadowing of what the effects of global warming-induced climate disruption will be on the nation that currently puts the most greenhouse gases into the air: the United States.

In an article to be published later this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, geophysicist Noah Diffenbaugh and colleagues Jeremy S. Pal, Robert J. Trapp and Filippo Giorgi discuss the results of a five-month supercomputer simulation of global warming across North America over this century. This simulation exercise ranks as one of the most sophisticated ever run; the model was able to consider effects on individual regions 25 kilometers square, down from 50 square kilometers used in previous models.

It's something of an article of faith among the remaining holdouts denying the existence of global warming that computerized climate models, as they abstract aspects of the climate, are essentially useless -- and (implicitly) if they had more details, they'd show that all was right with the world. Unfortunately, as our modeling methods and technologies have gotten better, quite the opposite has occurred. These days, reports from computer models are apt to show that things are worse than we thought, climate-wise.

Climate news is all the rage at WorldChanging this week - they also have a short note on an ABC radio show on "Australian Business and Climate Change".
ABC's running a pretty good radio bit on climate change and how Australia's businesses are grappling with its impacts. It's not as wide-ranging as Businesses Take on Climate Change or some of our other previous coverage on business and global warming, for that matter, but it's still a really good round-up on the issue. If you're following the ways in which the business repsonse to climate is unfolding, this is well worth your time:

"In what to me is an astonishingly short time, five years or less, climate change has morphed from what was seen to be the province of pointy-headed scientists and environmental Cassandras to the point where ... in the Carbon Disclosure Project we have over $21 trillion worth of investors at least paying lip service to being concerned about the phenomenon..."

One last post from WorldChanging, this time on African efforts to adapt their farming practices to cope with global warming and soil erosion.
It reads like a story from decades past: experts are trying to get African farmers to change their farming practices. But this time, the experts are also from Africa, and the modest changes they suggest are to encourage the conservation of quality soil and water. But while the changes may be modest, they hint at a much more dramatic question: how long can traditional farming methods withstand an era of climate disruption?

The African Conservation Tillage Network, based in Zimbabwe, is assembling a manual on "conservation agriculture," a set of agricultural practices based on the specific needs of farmers in Africa, intended to reduce erosion and to save water. ACTN has pilot projects underway in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ghana and Zambia, all trying to implement conservation and sustainability-focused agricultural practices. In each location, the overall model of "conservation tillage" is adapted to particular regional needs. The manual, which is still in preparation, provides an overview of the desired practices...

Finally, MIT Technology Review has a look at the latest advances in polymer photovoltaics (which WorldChanging has posted on frequently, but its nice to have some diversity in commentary).
Plastic solar cells can't yet compete with conventional silicon photovoltaics for efficiently producing large-scale power. But they've become good enough that at least one company, Lowell, MA-based Konarka, has moved past the proof-of-concept phase and is putting them into products.

The Army, Air Force, and Textronics, a company based in Wilmington, DE, are now incorporating Konarka's cells into the structures of tents for powering computers and the fabric of handbags for charging cell-phone and laptop batteries.

Konarka's solar cells are printed or coated on rolls of plastic -- much like photographic film. Tiny particles embedded in the film then absorb light and spit out electrons, which are transported by an electrolyte and harvested by electrodes.

So far, the company has demonstrated that its cells can charge cell-phone batteries, extending talking time, or even eliminating the need to plug into an outlet -- assuming one lives somewhere like Phoenix and isn't addicted to the device.

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