Posted by Big Gav
Alan Kohler has an interesting article on Snowy Hydro as the date of its privatisation approaches. Well - I found it interesting, but I spent two and a half years putting together energy trading systems for a big generator, so I might not be the best judge of what is interesting...
At any moment Snowy Hydro can produce up to 3700 megawatts of electricity - as much as two Loy Yangs. If it ran all the time, like a normal power station, it could produce a colossal 32,412 gigawatt hours of power a year, yet in 2004-05 its output was just 4388 GWh - 13.5 per cent of capacity.
That fact is a clue to the real nature of this company, now being flogged by two Labor state governments and the Commonwealth Government against a background chorus of anguished wailing from water-worriers and nostalgics: Snowy Hydro is not really a power company. It is an insurance company that has water for capital instead of money.
Trying to understand Snowy Hydro, corporatised in 2002 and now about to float after a public issue, is a mind-bending experience and I don't envy investors who will be basing big decisions on understanding it. But I now know two things: water is money and Snowy Hydro's main product is not electricity, it's insurance.
The physical assets of the company are 16 dams, 31 power units, 80 aqueducts and 145 km of pipelines. It also possesses the right to "collect, divert, store and release" water from melted snow on the Snowy Mountains. The physical assets are in the company's books at $1.5 billion and at that, on a replacement cost basis, they are vastly undervalued . It is a truly, totally, irreplacable set of assets.
Snowy Hydro makes revenue in three ways: power generation (the least of the three), "insurance" contracts with power retailers, including guaranteed price caps and swaps, and thirdly, settlement residue auctions (SRAs), which involves collecting on the difference in price across a particular interconnection, say between NSW and Victoria (which may differ because of the weather).
The simplest type of insurance contract is where Snowy Hydro will do a 100MW swap with AGL at $50 per MW. If the price is below that, Snowy Hydro wins; if it's above that, AGL wins. It's a relatively straightforward derivative-based hedging business; banks like Westpac are active in it as well because it's just an extension of their commodity hedging operations.
But whereas Westpac is trading off the capital on its balance sheet, Snowy Hydro is trading off the water in its dams, especially the water above the TWL.
Snowy Hydro does not reveal the breakdown of its profits between selling electricity and selling insurance, beyond saying the "vast majority" of profit comes from insurance and hedging activities.
That's why, in case you were wondering, the company has to be forced to push at least 2068 GL of water through its turbines to generate electricity so down-river farmers can irrigate their crops; far better for profits to just let the snow-melt fill up the dams and then just write insurance contracts against the "liquid capital".
But why the gas-fired power stations in Victoria (and probably more later in NSW)? Because Snowy Hydro's only real risk is transmission failure - those generators near the market are its own insurance policy.
While hydroelectricity is generally considered clean and green (ignoring any environmental issues that might be created by dams themselves), as I recall it, Snowy Hydro uses its system of dams somewhat like a giant battery - when market prices are high, they release water (into holding dams lower down) and generate power. When market prices are low (in the early hours when there is lots of excess baseload capacity idling away), they pump the water back uphill again. Given that the whole process is probably quite lossy (in terms of energy), I always wondered if they were actually just a money making machine - and one that probably wasn't any cleaner than the power generation industry as a whole.
But maybe I'm just a cynic.
Crikey's leader yesterday was on the government's shameful avoidance of handling the world's number one problem - global warming. I think the Rodent's future legacy is assured...
Should we be standing by for a Revised Policy Statement from the federal government on the subject of climate change? Is the Prime Minister's sudden interest in the virtues of nuclear power part of a broader strategy for the government to reposition itself environmentally and get itself off the hook of being one of the world's leading sceptics on global warming? If yes, then that should be no cause for gloating by its opponents. Just a cause for relief.
In case the government still isn't convinced about the reality of global warming and its impact on the world's environment, we refer them to the front page stories of today's Sydney Morning Herald and London's Independent:Climate alert spurs nuclear debate
Global temperatures will rise by three times as much as many scientists had estimated, resulting in irrevocable changes for life on Earth, according to advice to the Howard Government – arming it with new ammunition to support a nuclear power industry for Australia.
Senior government ministers lined up yesterday to spruik the benefits of nuclear power as a solution to global warming, despite repeated denials from green groups and energy experts that it was a saviour.
The Australia Institute, a left-wing think tank, became the first group to speculate where nuclear power plants would be built, saying Port Stephens and Westernport Bay, in Victoria, were ideal.
Yesterday, the Federal Government released a report it commissioned from the Australian National University, showing global warming would push temperatures up by as much as 5.8 degrees by 2100. It was previously thought the rise would be at the lower end of a range between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees.
As a result of higher temperatures, the world can expect more extreme weather, which will have greater effects on human health, the destruction of plant and animal species, rising sea levels and increased episodes of coral bleaching, the report found.Attenborough: Climate change is the major challenge facing the world
By David Attenborough
I was sceptical about climate change. I was cautious about crying wolf. I am always cautious about crying wolf. I think conservationists have to be careful in saying things are catastrophic when, in fact, they are less than catastrophic.
I have seen my job at the BBC as a presenter to produce programmes about natural history, just as the Natural History Museum would be interested in showing a range of birds of paradise - that's the sort of thing I've been doing. And in almost every big series I've made, the most recent one being Planet Earth, I've ended up by talking about the future, and possible dangers. But, with climate change, I was sceptical. That is true.
Also, I'm not a chemist or a climatologist or a meteorologist; it isn't for me to suddenly stand up and say I have decided the climate is changing. That's not my expertise. The television gives you an unfair and unjustified prominence but just because your face is on the telly doesn't mean you're an expert on meteorology.
But I'm no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world. I have waited until the proof was conclusive that it was humanity changing the climate. The thing that really convinced me was the graphs connecting the increase of carbon dioxide in the environment and the rise in temperature, with the growth of human population and industrialisation. The coincidence of the curves made it perfectly clear we have left the period of natural climatic oscillation behind and have begun on a steep curve, in terms of temperature rise, beyond anything in terms of increases that we have seen over many thousands of years.
Are front pages like those still part of the international left-wing conspiracy to exaggerate the importance of climate change – or is it finally time for the Australian government to make a Big Statement and get on with addressing the most vexing challenge of our times?
New Scientist has an article on souped up solar, which looks interesting - but is unfortunately hidden behind their paywall.
If you want efficient solar power, Victor Klimov has a deal for you. Give him one photon of sunlight, and he'll give you two electrons' worth of electricity.
Not impressed? You should be. In all solar cells now in use - in everything from satellites to pocket calculators - each incoming photon contributes at most one energised electron to the electric current it generates. Now Klimov, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, has broken through this barrier. He has shown that by shrinking the elements of a solar cell down to a few nanometres, or millionths of a millimetre, each captured photon can be made to generate not one, but two or even more charge carriers.
Producing this multiplicity of electrons - an achievement that has been replicated by a group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado - is a remarkable piece ...
BP is predicting a surge in Asian demand for solar energy, as advanced countries like Japan seek to improve their energy security and developing countries diversify away from dirty and expensive fossil fuels.
BP, one of the largest makers of solar cells, expects Asian sales to accelerate as 1 billion people seek access to electricity and developed nations like Japan reduce fuel imports.
Sales in the Asian market could grow 50 percent a year by 2016, from a maximum of 30 percent now, driven by increased demand in China, South Korea and Japan, Mark Twidell, BP Solar's director for Asia, said. BP expects global solar manufacturing revenue to double by 2008 from almost $500 million in 2005.
Asia is poised to overtake Germany as the industry's main source of growth as rising prices for oil, natural gas and coal drive demand for renewable energy. The trend has prompted the emergence of specialized solar companies like the Chinese Suntech Power Holdings and the German Q-Cells and Conergy.
"Energy security, I think, is a huge driver" for solar energy demand, Twidell said recently. "There's a good school of thought that says just from a straight risk-portfolio perspective you need renewables in your portfolio in that they are not linked to the price of oil or the price of carbon."
BP in December formed a joint venture in China with China Xinjiang SunOasis, China's largest electrical transformer company, with the aim of tapping a market that is set to multiply 50-fold in the next 15 years.
Renewable Energy Access has an article on work at MIT on thermophotovoltaic devices.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are trying to unleash the promise of an old idea by converting light into electricity more efficiently than ever before. The research is applying new materials, new technologies and new ideas to radically improve an old concept -- thermophotovoltaic (TPV) conversion of light into electricity.
Rather than using the engine to turn a generator or alternator in a car, for example, the new TPV system would burn a little fuel to create super-bright light. Efficient photodiodes (which are similar to solar cells) would then harvest the energy and send the electricity off to run the various lighting, electrical and electronic systems in the car.
Such a light-based system would not replace the car's engine. Instead it would supply enough electricity to run subsystems, consuming far less fuel than is needed to keep a heavy, multi-cylinder engine running, even at low speed. Also, the TPV system would have no moving parts; no cams, no bearings, no spinning shafts, so no energy would be spent just to keep an engine turning over, even at idle.
Also at REA, news from an offshore wind farm in the UK.
Barrow is the UK's newest offshore wind farm and represents an investment of more than GBP100 million [USD$188 million] by its joint owners, British Gas parent company Centrica and Danish energy group DONG Energy. The project will supply electricity to British Gas customers and is capable of powering 65,000 homes with green energy, as well as saving 200,000 tons of CO2 annually.
The Barrow wind farm is the first of several large scale renewable energy projects planned for the Irish Sea, which is one of three strategic zones laid down by the government for offshore wind farm development. The rectangular wind farm site covers 10 square kilometers of the East Irish Sea, consisting of four rows of turbines spaced 500 meters (m) apart. The two-section turbine towers, blades and nacelles were transported to the site six at a time. Each turbine weighs 250 tons and stands 120 m above sea level when the blades are vertical.
And one last one from REA - on how to overcome one of the hurdles on the way to getting the distributed, renewable energy system of the future put into place - financing it.
Many small-scale renewable energy systems have pay-back times of ten years or less. Putting a solar hot water system on your rooftop should be a no-brainer in most geographic zones. So why don't more people invest in distributed energy? The answer: the lack of attractive financing options is the main reason why they are not yet mainstream, not the capital cost of renewable energy systems. The new concept of "distributed energy utilities" can overcome this hurdle, as several examples from around the world have shown.
Distributed renewable energy systems, in the sense of this essay, include all small-scale renewables, i.e. small wind turbines, solar PV, solar thermal, geothermal heat pumps, micro-hydro systems, biomass and possibly even energy efficiency measures - applications mainly used in the residential sector. Israel is the only country in the world that has mandated renewables - that is, solar thermal systems - in new construction, and California requires a certain percentage of solar PV. Similar policies were implemented by municipalities, such as Barcelona (Spain). This, of course, is a very efficient mechanism to further distributed renewable energy systems. However, so far we are not seeing this happen in most other countries.
Tax incentives and buy-downs or grants are the most popular policy tools used to further the adoption of such technologies. However, this still leaves the buyer with the task of financing the remaining capital cost. Grant programs therefore often only capture "early adopters" - as it seems, often the well-to-do that are very motivated to invest in renewables, but are not necessarily short of funds to do so. The assertion is that two types of incentives are required to achieve greater market penetration: a) awareness and education and b) financing.
I haven't been keeping much of an eye on the hard core doomer and doombat hangouts in recent months, so I'm somewhat late in reporting the final exit of the high priest of peak oil doomerism, Jay Hanson, from the online world.
Jay appears to have finally been overcome by his own vision of industrial collapse and human dieoff - which I can't say surprises me - 10 years of constantly pondering such a gloomy prospect would be enough to do anyone's head in.
Subject: the_dieoff_QA Reconsidered
> These lists have become toxic to me. I can't sleep. I feel
> ill. I am trying to break the addiction of these lists and
> move on to some other form of entertainment. If no one wants
> it, I will delete it so I can't go back.
While many peak oil observers now reject Jay's vision of the future (or at least the inevitability of it that true doomers insist upon), I've got to say that from an intellectual point of view, the whole dieoff thing is pretty impressive and does have a fair body of knowledge behind it - combining Peak Oil, William Catton's "Overshoot" concept, Garret Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons", "The Limits to Growth" and various other theories about human psychology and exponential growth into an apocalyptic view of the coming decades. Is Jay wrong ? I hope, and think, so...
Subject: NEW BOSS!!
Thanks Hamlet!!! I see my worst fears unfolding in front of my face. The world is headed to global nuclear war over energy resources. The animal didn't evolve to avoid war, it evolved to use war as a tactic to gain energy resources.
"Males typically obtain meat in human and nonhuman primate societies and then attempt to use it to manipulate or control females." -- Craig B. Stanford, 1999
War is inevitable because our are chemical-addictions -- an endless drive for more-and-more.
"In the first place, I put forth a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death." -- Thomas Hobbes
I need to refocus my life now or I will be doing this till I die. I just turned 63. I will make you owner now and you can do whatever you want with it. This is the last list that I am subscribed to. I am leaving it now.
Don't be too hard on the Chimp.
While the dieoff site should probably have a large sign on the front door saying "ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE !", the current label is quite encouraging (and not what I hazily remember from my long ago study of it) - and while only partially appropriate to the content within, it does actually sum up my vision of the peak oil worldview quite well - consider what is going wrong, then work out how to fix it.
"If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst."
-- Thomas Hardy
Another announced exit from the peak oil blogosphere is JD from Peak Oil "Debunked" - given that Jay's tribe of doomers vexes him so there may be a cause and effect relationship here, though JD has followed the example of many a politician or manager and declared "mission accomplished".
Kunstler's got it right calling peak oil the Long Emergency. It's going to take so long that it's not even worth paying attention to. Now I know what the doomers say: "You wait, man.. You just wait..."
My response: No, sorry, I'm tired of waiting. I'll be doing something more constructive with my time than playing we're-going-to-collapse/no-we-won't/yes-we-will with peak oil burnouts and neurotics. I'll start worrying when something worth worrying about actually happens.
I will be checking in from time-to-time, but with a frequency more attuned to the actual danger level of the peak oil phenomenon -- i.e. about once a year. ;-)
I will be maintaining the site as a resource for those just coming to peak oil, and will post important stats or information when appropriate. But this blog will not be the place to get a daily peak oil fix.
I have basically achieved all I set out to accomplish with this site. Thanks to all of you for your support, and keep debunking!!
I doubt JD's absence will be permanent though - I think he likes the attention he gets being the contrarian in the doomers den, and he's already showing signs of feeling left out...
At this point in time, I'm completely apathetic about peak oil, and I really wonder what keeps all you folks going. Energy topics are fun to learn about, but I'm not sure how you maintain interest after you've learned the important stuff.
What useful purpose is there in worrying about peak oil on forums like the Oil Drum? I could understand if you wanted some info to DO something practical like insulate your house, or build an electric car. But what's the point of just tuning in everyday to debate and worry? Debate and worry are just a waste of time.
I see Matt Savinar also linked up these two topics with a bluntly honest comment at TOD.
I agree with JD.
JD and Jay Hanson have something in common: once they had answered these questions sufficiently for themselves, they quit writing about them.
What keeps me going? Well, I make my living from these issues so I have an (obvious) financial incentive to continue discussing them.
Other folks may be hoping to score a book deal, a job as a policy analyst, or otherwise be a big shot among the blogging tribe. (gaining social capital)
JD and Jay Hanson had no such incentive (no $$$, no book deal, no desire to be a policy analyst) so they stoped discussing them.
As far as debate and worry: I do think there is something to be had (a form of "fun") to debating. Even if I wasn't gaining financial capital from discussing these issues I might log on to debate simply because I enjoy an intellectual battle. But in that case, I'd probably only be logging in 10% as much as I do currenlty.
In that regard, debating this topic is not all together different than debating other topics such as politcs, sports, etc. The dopamine rush is from the debate, not necessarily from the particular topic.
Moving on to the Viridian world, WorldChanging has posts on Al Gore writing the foreword to their new book, the CEI's "carbon dioxide is good for you" propaganda ads and a tale of sustainable agriculture in Ecuador (the quote below is a medley from these).
Today, An Inconvenient Truth, by far the most important film of the year, opens in Los Angeles and New York (it will be opening nationwide on a staggered schedule, and we urge everyone who reads this site to see it - find a theater). That's big news.
But we have some even bigger news: today, we can finally announce that former Vice President Al Gore is writing the foreword to Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century.
We are very excited about this. After all, Al Gore is one of the planet's unquestionable heroes. From his earliest days in public life he has fought to make us all aware not only of the threat of global warming, but of the power of citizen media, the importance of international cooperation (especially on issues like nuclear anti-proliferation and HIV/AIDS) and the need to design (and start building) a more sustainable future. We are profoundly honored to be working with him.
But wait, there's more! Bruce Sterling -- noted writer and futurist, visionary-in-residence, author of the now-legendary Viridian Design Speech (which launched the whole cultural shift towards bright green designs and sophisticated green lifestyles) -- has written an amazing introduction for the book.
Our allies over at Real Climate have posted a few worthy tidbits of climate-related parody playing off of Thank You for Smoking, and the mind-manipulation of advertising for questionable enterprises.
We've already discussed the carbon lobby's amusing - if utterly grim - ad campaign for the "benefits" of CO2 in the atmosphere. With slogans like "Carbon dioxide -- they call it pollution; we call it life" the parody almost writes itself, but it's great to see more creative minds engaging in the counter attack, using funny words and images to fight the cargon lobby's funny science.
One of our old favorites, for the sheer simplicity of the gag is the Onion's headline Ross Ice Shelf Embarks On World Tour.
In flower language, yellow roses symbolize dying or platonic love.
Reports from Latin flower plantations usually deliver new as bad as getting yellow roses delivered to your doorstep. In Ecuador, the largest exporter of roses in the world, the flower industry has a grim reputation for child labor, hazardous working conditions, and reckless use of toxic pesticides. But things are lightening up. The recent environmental concerns in the industry have led to change, and increased good will from the growers has been accompanied by sustainable financial growth.
This year, The World Economic Forum picked Ecuadorian-based rose farmer, John Nevado, to join their Young Global Leaders initiative for his work in sustainable agriculture. Young Global Leaders is a forum of thinkers and doers from all over the world, utilized in Davos to provide a wide spectrum of insights on various issues.
Nevado Roses, a 100-acre former cow farm located in a small village outside Quito, has transformed life for the locals by employing 500 people who were formerly season workers or unemployed. About 60 percent of the employees are women who have especially benefited from their newfound economic power. Nevado Roses provide them with three weeks of vacation and free day care for their children. 25 percent of their salary is automatically deposited to an account at the local food market to lessen the destructive impact of husbands spending the money drinking or gambling. John gives a tour of the remarkably clean and efficient looking farm, explaining how it took seven years to invent their tiger-striped rose, “Red Intuition,” while Ecuadorian women are picking flowers to the sound of classical music. Every part of the process, from planting to packing in cartons marked “Size Matters” (the roses are about 6 feet tall) is shown to visitors.
Q: Does the average consumer really see the point of buying organic flowers?
A: More in Europe than in America, but the more pressing issue from a business point of view, is to avoid oil dependency. In addition to the fact that our roses need to be transported all over the world, most fertilizers are made out of oil. We have now imposed a close to zero tolerance for toxic pesticides. The farm is a closed eco-system. Everything is recycled and we fertilize with chicken droppings.
I also noticed that Alex Steffen's call for "Bright Green Revolution" on Earth Day seems to have greatly offended the residents of The Monthly Review, which appears to be a journal for socialists (forgive me if I'm getting my leftist taxonomy incorrect here but I'm not very familiar with the traditional left).
I'm not quite sure how they think that socialism equals ecological paradise given the industrial wasteland that still blights much of eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union (unless that wasn't their vision of socialism - feel free to try and interpret for me if any of you readers understand what is going on here)...