Geothermia  

Posted by Big Gav

Tim Flannery has been in the media a bit down here lately, with an excellent article in today's Sydney Morning Herald on a geothermal and solar power future for Australia (I'd go the whole hog and add in a large amount of wind and tidal power so we could be a big net contributor to a global energy grid) - "Burnt and hostile: just what we need".

This year there has been record-breaking weather on every continent, tens of thousands marching in the streets to protest government inaction on climate change, and the French talking of "carbon tariffs" on goods from countries that are not taxing carbon dioxide pollution. All of this should make it clear that the fossil fuel industry is on global notice: business cannot long continue as usual.

This situation presents a dilemma for Australians. Because of our failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, our coal exports and our per capita emissions of carbon dioxide (the highest in the world), we are seen by many as the rogues who threaten the planet. Yet our prosperity depends partly upon cheap electricity and minerals processing, which demands huge volumes of electricity. So what are we to do? Given the scale of the threat and the inevitability of change, political responses are pitifully inadequate. Instead of tinkering around the edges we need a new vision - one as grand and purposeful as the Snowy Mountains scheme - a vision that will polevault Australia from denying laggard to the forefront of innovation and best environmental practice.

That vision begins in the desert around the NSW-Queensland-South Australian border, for below this region lie fabulous riches - natural gas in abundance and the hottest non-volcanic rocks on Earth. Even the seemingly hostile surface presents another resource - 240 watts of sunlight falling on every square metre of gibber and sand almost every day of the year. Yet this is dwarfed by the potential of the region's geothermal resource, for it is estimated that the rocks lying four kilometres below the surface could yield enough electricity to power all of Australia for a century - at the price we now pay for electricity generated by burning brown coal. No mining is required, just boreholes to tap into the steam.

Imagine an Australia that decides to build on this natural wealth, creating a centre for minerals processing and natural gas conversion by using emissions-free power. Imagine linking the north-south railway with Queensland and Western Australia in order to bring bauxite and other minerals to the processors, and then to market them through the Port of Darwin. Imagine the exports of gas and of processed minerals from the mammoth Olympic Dam mine, which is nearby. And finally, imagine Australia with a fully linked and freight rail and electricity grid, all powered from zero-emissions sources. If you can do this, then you can imagine a nation transformed from climate-change pariah to leader in the fight for the survival of our planet.

All of this would require a new city in the desert - let's call it Geothermia. What might it look like? I imagine a solar collector towering over a low-rise city, providing shade and conserving soil moisture. Perhaps the infrastructure would be underground. Geothermia would be a city not of thousands but of hundreds of thousands - a place with its own critical mass. And most importantly it would be a fully sustainable city - Australia's very first.

Building it would teach us how to live in this harsh land, and in achieving that we would become, for the first time, real Australians, because by learning how to live sustainably we would finally have a long-term future on this continent. The building of Geothermia could itself become an industry, generating mountains of intellectual property applicable in desert cities round the world. ...

Key to the success of the enterprise would be to bring solar and geothermal technologies rapidly to maturity, and this might soon occur. China's investments in solar will see prices plummet. Australia possesses solar-thermal technologies - such as Solar Systems, which will build Victoria's new solar plant. And the geothermal energy has been tapped, though more work is required to exploit it. Should we succeed, the benefits would be enormous, for what Denmark is to wind so we would become to these most promising of new energy sources. Today, wind employs more Danes than fishing. In future, hot rocks and the sun may employ more Australians than coal ever did. And we would get the opportunity to build new plant - modern smelters and refineries whose aim should be zero pollution.

Tim is obviously interested in (and has an interest in) GeoDynamics who have been working to set up a geothermal power station for the past couple of years. GeoDynamics now has some company out in the desert with Petratherm joining in the search for commercialised HDR power.
Renewable energy company Petratherm Ltd is in negotiations with potential partners to develop its 'hot rocks' geothermal field in South Australia for commercialisation.

Managing director Terry Kallis was in Sydney this week to establish joint venture arrangements with targeted partners for the next stage of development of the company's Paralana project in South Australia. Mr Kallis says a geothermal power station to be set up at the Paralana site will eventually service some of the energy needs of South Australia and potentially other parts of the country within the next two to three years.

"We think we can do that economically and competitively," he told AAP in an interview. The potential is huge and it's a renewable energy source that could provide power 24 hours a day seven days a week, and eventually compete with the other power sources available."

The cost to consumers would be somewhere between $50 to $60 a megawatt hour or five to six cents per kilowatt hour, Mr Kallis said. "It's slightly more expensive than non-renewable resources in the short term but cheaper than other renewable resources now," Mr Kallis said. "In comparison, coal is about $40 per megawatt hour, gas $47 or other renewable resources like wind or nuclear at $75 to $80."

Mr Kallis said the company was poised to enter its next major stage of development with the creation of an underground heat exchanger at the Paralana site involved drilling wells of between 3.5 and four kilometres. Completion of this stage would allow the company to meet an agreement Petratherm signed with Heathgate Resources last month, he said.

The agreement will see a small-scale plant of around 7.5 megawatts created to meet local supply needs of Heathgate's Beverley Uranium Mine, located 11 kilometres away.

Tim Flannery had another excellent article this week, this one in The Age on making the polluters pay.
Peter Coates, chief executive of Xstrata Coal, will play an important role in the Howard Government's taskforce on carbon trading, so his views are worth listening to. Recently, he said that Australian industries would be at risk from introducing an emissions trading scheme unless it was part of "a level playing field on a worldwide basis". I don't think he's arguing about impacts on the economy overall. After all, Nicholas Stern's report, as well as Peter Cosier's projections on the likely economic impact on Australia, make it clear that it's highly cost-effective to tackle climate change now. And almost everyone agrees that carbon trading (or carbon taxes) is the best tool available to do that. Coates' concern, it seems to me, is about coal.

Given the divisions between governments worldwide, achieving Coates' goal of global unanimity on carbon trading in time to avert disastrous climate change is impossible. So in effect what he is saying is that the future of the Australian coal industry is more important than the fate of the planet. This philosophy of putting self-interest before overall human welfare reflects precisely the Howard Government's philosophy in regard to climate change: the Prime Minister has said on several occasions that he will do nothing that might hurt Australia's natural advantage in fossil fuels.

Were climate change a small and slow-moving threat, such a philosophy might be understandable, if not acceptable. But it's been apparent for several years now that the threat of climate change is enormous, and moving exceedingly swiftly. The world's foremost experts such as NASA's James Hanson, argue that we have only a decade to avert disaster. And that was a year ago.

Given the urgency of the challenge, where will Howard's and Coates' philosophy lead?

...

Failing to tackle climate change vigorously and immediately will do great damage to the Australian economy, and in the longer term to our fossil fuel-based industries. We tend to forget that Australia once had other natural advantages that had to be passed over for the national good. Among them was crocidolite, better known as blue asbestos. In the 1950s, Wittenoom was the largest town in Western Australia's Pilbara and it existed because of the region's enormous reserves of blue asbestos that outcropped in the Wittenoom Gorge. It once supplied all Australia's asbestos, but since the 1960s, when the industry lost its social licence to operate, Wittenoom has been a ghost town. And the repercussions won't go away. Just ask James Hardy.

It may seem fanciful to argue that the same thing could happen to coal. But it very much depends on how large and devastating the impacts of carbon dioxide are on Earth's climate. The projected disappearance of the north polar ice cap (by 2040), multiple droughts world-wide and rising seas all suggest that there's a significant chance of large-scale climatic disaster in our lifetime. And because of its decades-long campaign to mislead the public about the importance of climate change (especially in the US), the coal industry is widely blamed for allowing the problem to grow so threatening. Events such as the recent public demonstrations about climate change, and the decision of the NSW Land and Environment Court to insist that carbon dioxide emissions must be taken into account in developing mines for export coal, indicate that the public mood is shifting.

If companies dealing in Australian coal are to survive long-term, I think they need a new vision that includes an abrupt turn from the past. They are, after all, not just in the coal business, but in the power business. Given sufficient time to diversify they may become the future giants of geothermal, solar or tidal energy. But this will only happen if they see clearly the nature of the world they sell into. By pretending that it can protect coal from global changes in public opinion, that may well lead to a withdrawal of its social licence to operate, the Australian Government is helping the industry bury its head in the sand. Instead it should be encouraging the industry to think about its future, and that means getting the polluter to pay.

One last article from The Age - this one includes the best phrase of the week - the carbon dictatorship.
It's not happening, is it? Is anything of substance being done to fight climate change? Six weeks ago British Treasury adviser Sir Nicholas Stern released his landmark report on the economics of global warming. Stern matters because he turned old thinking on its head. It was not action, but inaction, on climate change that would devastate the world's economies, he wrote.

To act might cost only 1 per cent of world GDP, to do nothing, between 5 and 20 per cent. It was the old green creed - no environment, no economy - written in words that Wall Street bankers would understand.

At the United Nations summit in Nairobi last month, ministers from France to Denmark to Bangladesh lined up to praise Stern and pledge their commitment to the cause.

But in Britain this month, Chancellor Gordon Brown released his pre-budget report. The document would normally hold little interest, except that it was hyped in advance as a visionary statement of what Brown will do if and when he becomes prime minister next year.

The report was brown all right. Green was hard to find. It marginally increased taxes on airlines and fuel and introduced a stamp duty exemption on a minority of new homes that are carbon-neutral. But it adopted none of Stern's proposals, notably those for targeted green taxes and more money for research into clean technology - a change Stern says is critical.

The next day, Stern resigned as a Treasury adviser. He denied rumours of tension - both personal and over policy - with Brown, but the timing was telling, as Stern must have known. It was an ominous outcome. If the Blair Government, considered a leader on climate change, is ducking hard decisions, what will other governments do?

Let's not be too bleak. Tax is not the only way to address the issue. What's more, Stern's report is not two months old. But if he is right that only 10 to 15 years remain in which to act, six months is significant. He urged world leaders to move faster to strike a new global agreement on cutting global emissions after Kyoto expires in 2012. There is no sign that will happen.

Part of the problem is that no country is willing to act alone for fear of damaging its competitiveness. The European Union, probably the world's strongest supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, is now worried that its readiness to reduce emissions is hurting its economy.

Australia's refusal to cut its emissions or ratify Kyoto may have a global effect. When they push their governments to give them softer emissions targets, Europe's aluminium producers complain of the advantages their Australian rivals enjoy, says James Cameron, vice-chairman of Climate Change Capital, a bank that trades carbon credits in the European emissions trading scheme.

The European Commission's industry commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, is also unhappy. Last month he wrote to commission president Jose Manuel Barroso urging exemptions on emissions for Europe's energy-intensive industries. If Europe cut emissions on its own, companies might shift production to countries where standards were lax, he warned. Verheugen also backed France's plans for a levy on developed countries - namely the US and Australia - that have not ratified Kyoto, the Financial Times reported.

Barroso rejected Verheugen's plea, saying Europe should be proud to lead on climate change. The commission also stood firm against lobbying by member countries and last month imposed emissions targets 7 per cent lower than what the countries had asked for.

Another sign that hard thinking was still happening came from Britain last week, when Environment Secretary David Miliband said he was considering personal carbon allowances. Under such a scheme, each time people bought petrol, paid an electricity bill or booked an airline ticket, they would swipe a carbon credit card and spend some of their carbon allowance.

People who used more than their due would have to buy carbon credits, just as countries and companies will have to do after 2008 under the Kyoto Protocol. Those who used less carbon would be able to sell their credits. The scheme would almost certainly redistribute income, since the wealthy usually produce far more greenhouse gases than the poor. This makes it fairer than flat-rate carbon taxes, which fall equally on all.

Dismissed not long ago as the dream of the loony fringe, the idea has reached the centre with surprising speed. Miliband - a young and quietly charismatic politician touted as a future prime minister - told The Guardian last week the proposal had "beauty and simplicity because it would reward carbon thrift." Yes, it would be a difficult step, but "bold thinking is required because the world is in a dangerous place".

Cost and the risk of fraud are obstacles to implementation. Some people will see Big Brother in it, the rise of what scientist Tim Flannery calls "the carbon dictatorship". But the scheme doesn't ban people from emitting an excess of greenhouse gases, it just makes them pay for the privilege.

The more they emit, they more they pay, as the price of credits rises with scarcity. The market can be socially just.

Miliband's idea reinforces but also reinterprets the roles of government and the people. Governments have the primary duties: to tax, regulate, manage carbon markets and fund research. At the same time, never has an issue been so amenable to individual action as climate change. If people don't put their own houses in order, how can they demand that governments do the same?

I think the carbon dictatorship scenario is worth being concerned about - I have this vision of an increasingly dystopian future where the fossil fuel companies continue dominating the energy industry and governments enact draconian rules rationing energy consumption as a response to climate chaos, which gives us the worst of all worlds - a greenish totalitarianism (what Bruce calls the "khaki green" scenario). Just one more reason to start pumping as much money into renewable energy investments as possible right now...

The other thing we need to put in place along with renewable energy generation is electric transport - Cleantech blog has a post wondering "Will the Electric Car Kill General Motors ?".
A recent movie and several books asked the question “Who killed the electric car?” then answered GM. Indeed, the major auto makers successfully defeated California’s attempt to mandate that 10% of car sales be electric vehicles (EV). GM retrieved the EV1 at the end of their lease periods and crushed almost all. Yet, GM and other auto makers have continued to pour billions into electric motors, advanced batteries, hybrid-electric propulsion, and electric vehicles where hydrogen fuel cells supply electricity to electric motors.

The more relevant question is this, “Will electric vehicles kill General Motors?” Most people on the planet cannot afford gasoline powered cars. Increasingly they can save $200 for an electric scooter. Over 30 million people drive electric vehicles. Jonathan Weinert reports on the exploding popularity of e-bikes in China.

As incomes increase, early adopters in China, India and other emerging nations will upgrade to new generations of light electric vehicles (LEV). Most of these vehicles will have 3 or 4 wheels and carry increasing numbers of passengers and loads.

Established market leaders commonly ignore or sarcastically dismiss low-cost and under-powered alternatives to their market leading products. Initially downloaded music in MP3 players had poor sound quality and was illegal. Now the music industry is transformed as people listen to high-quality music downloaded to their iPods and smartphones.

IBM was so dominant with mainframe computers that it suffered years of anti-trust litigation. Digital Computers sold far less powerful, but cheaper, mini-computers to labs. IBM ignored the threat of the mini-computer until the information technology industry had shifted to networked minis. Continual innovation and dropping prices of chips and networking brought another revolution with PCs replacing mini-computers. Digital did not learn from its own disruptive success and dismissed PCs as useless. Digital was later bought by Compaq, the very company that disrupted the minicomputer success. PCs are now under attack by the Internet. Microsoft is watching Google very carefully.

Just as a body’s immune system will try to reject a newly transplanted heart, successful organizations reject disruptive change. The phenomenon is so common that business schools now require the reading of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma and Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. Let us hope that the executives of GM are reading these classics. Reading my book Revenue Rocket is also recommended.

The interiors of vehicles are becoming electronic in everything from displays to entertainment systems to GPS guidance. Under the hood, it is the same story. Mechanical parts are being replaced by electronic components. In hybrid vehicles, electric motors are doing more; the companion gasoline engines are getting smaller. In the future vehicles will be primarily electronic. Internal combustion engines will be retired. Small vehicles not requiring long-range will get their power from the electric grid. Vehicles requiring more range or carrying heavier loads will be electric vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells.

Technology Review has caught onto the Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) idea so beloved of Steve Gloor and combined it with the smart grids concept - declaring (probably correctly) that "Plug-In Hybrids Will Save the Grid".
Major automakers and the Department of Energy are pouring money into research on plug-in hybrid vehicles. These cars promise to cut petroleum consumption by allowing commuters to drive to work using primarily electricity--stored on board in batteries--rather than gas. Although critics have warned that the vehicles could put too much pressure on an already strained electrical grid, experts are now arguing that rather than being a strain on the grid, plug-in hybrids may actually help prevent brownouts, cut the cost of electricity, and increase the use of renewable energy.

Plug-in hybrids, like today's hybrid cars, can run on either an electric motor or an internal combustion engine. But plug-ins have much larger battery packs and can be recharged by being plugged into the wall, making it possible to rely much more on the electric motor. Although a handful of companies sell conversion kits to change conventional hybrids into plug-ins, the kits add thousands of dollars to the cost of the car (see "Plug-In Hybrids Are on the Way"). This additional cost, which is primarily from the batteries, is one of the reasons the major automakers haven't yet mass produced such vehicles, although they are now developing them. GM, for example, recently committed to making a plug-in version of a Saturn SUV (see "GM's Plug-In Hybrid").

The concern is that plug-ins are not a good way to reduce gasoline consumption, because if they become popular, and millions of car owners recharged their cars at three in the afternoon on a hot day, it would crash the grid. But plug-in hybrids could actually help stabilize the grid if owners charged their cars at times of low demand, and if the vehicles could return excess energy to the grid when it's needed--say while parked in the company lot at work during peak demand.

Since utilities have built enough power plants to provide electricity when people are operating their air conditioners at full blast, they have excess generating capacity during off-peak hours. As a result, according to an upcoming report from the Pacific Northwestern National Laboratory (PNNL), a Department of Energy lab, there is enough excess generating capacity during the night and morning to allow more than 80 percent of today's vehicles to make the average daily commute solely using this electricity. If plug-in-hybrid or all-electric-car owners charge their vehicles at these times, the power needed for about 180 million cars could be provided simply by running these plants at full capacity.

This could be a boon to utilities, because they'd be able to sell more power without the added cost of building more plants. Ideally, this will translate into lower electricity prices, says Robert Pratt, a scientist at PNNL. It might also help utilities justify the added capital costs of building cleaner coal-burning plants, because they'll be able to recover their investment faster by "selling more electricity with the same set of iron, steel, and concrete," Pratt says.

Such a system could be further optimized by using smart chargers and other electronics. This system would include a charger that runs on a timer, charging cars only during off-peak hours. Researchers at PNNL are taking this a step further with smart chargers that use the Internet to gather information about electricity demand. Utilities could then temporarily turn off chargers in thousands of homes or businesses to keep the grid from crashing after a spike in demand.

The next step would be to add smart meters that would track electricity use in real time and allow utilities to charge more for power used during times of peak demand, and less at off-peak hours. Coupled with such a system, the PNNL smart charger could ensure that the plug-in batteries are charged only when the electricity is at its cheapest, saving consumers money.

Jamais at Open The Future has posed the old "One-Sentence Challenge" to anyone who is interested.

I like the GBN motto "the future is uncertain, and yet we must act" and made my own "limits to growth" style offering in the comments - "You can't increase the rate of consumption of a finite resource forever".
Rebecca Blood listed me as one of the folks to take a shot at the One-Sentence Challenge, as offered by Paul Kedrosky:
Physicist Richard Feynman once said that if all knowledge about physics was about to expire the one sentence he would tell the future is that "Everything is made of atoms". What one sentence would you tell the future about your own area, whether it's entrepreneurship, hedge funds, venture capital, or something else?

Examples: An economist might say that "People respond to incentives". I had an engineering professor years ago who said all of that field could be reduced to "F=MA and you can't push on a rope".

A couple of good ones come immediately to mind: the GBN motto, "the future is uncertain, and yet we must act;" Bruce Sterling's "the future is a process, not a destination;" Yogi Berra's "prediction is very hard, especially about the future." But this really should be one of my own. So here's my try:

The future is built by the curious -- the people who take things apart and figure out how they work, figure out better ways of using a system, and explore how to make new things fit together in unexpected ways.

How's that?

Jamais also has a post on using fabbers to print meat (using inputs like mushrooms) as a way of alleviating the environmental burden caused by cattle farming. Jamais is also looking for pointers to help him calculate the carbon footprint of a hamburger and is pondering the list of licencing conditions that would come with a fully fledged fabber..
One of the odder manifestations of the fabrication future may well revolutionize the world of medicine -- and quite possibly change how we eat and offer a new way to fight global warming, too.

Bioprinters use ink-jet printer technology to lay down controlled layers of cells. Currently in development in a variety of locations (including the University of Manchester, the University of Utah, and Carnegie-Mellon), bioprinter systems will eventually be able to produce custom-made biological structures, including organs. This month, the Carnegie-Mellon group announced an important step towards that goal: a system able to print out biological patterns using muscle stem cells, which then differentiate into muscle and bone tissues. This kind of technology should one day be able to help treat people with degenerative and tissue-attacking autoimmune diseases, as well as people with damaged or failed organs.

We're still a ways away from being able to click "print" and have a heart pop out onto a holding tray, of course. And even when the technology is perfected, the applications will be limited (albeit life-saving). But the work done on this system may have a far larger benefit for those of us who love the taste and texture of meat, but hate what the livestock industries do to the planet.

It's hard to exaggerate just how destructive ranching -- cattle ranching, in particular -- is to the planet. Pasture and feed-producing land for livestock now account for 30% of the Earth's surface, according to a recent UN report, and is a major driver of deforestation. Moreover, the combined greenhouse gas emissions from cattle manure and the infrastructure around ranching (transport and the like) account for nearly 20% of our overall output -- higher than the transportation sector alone. Meat consumption is a major cause of ischemic heart disease, a top killer in the industrialized world. And the meat industry is, in a word, cruel, both to its workers and to the animals themselves. It's no exaggeration to say that a vegetarian planet would be a far healthier planet in nearly every respect -- environmentally, medically and ethically. Unfortunately, that's just not likely to happen any time soon.

Most of what we think of as "meat" is really just animal muscle tissue. In principle, there's no reason why a system that could print human muscle for medical use couldn't do the same for cattle muscle for food use. In reality, such a system would be highly inefficient -- at least alone.

But what if there was a source for animal muscle cells in great quantities, just waiting to be formed into meat-like structures?

New Harvest is a non-profit trying to develop what they call "cultured meat" -- cloned muscle tissue fed on a mushroom-based nutrient, with all of the taste and texture of "real" meat but without the environmental and ethical problems. Moreover, with the right bit of tweaking, the cultured meat could be healthier than animal meat, simply through the substitution of fats and various proteins. The cultured meat process is simple...

"Building Design and Construction" has an article on biomimetic architecture for buildings utilising distributed control systems called "Buildings with minds of their own".
Architecture: "Responsive" buildings, capable of changing shape and responding to their users' needs, are on the drawing board

WHAT if architects could build living systems rather than static buildings—dynamic structures that modify their internal and external forms in response to changes in their environment? This provocative idea is making waves in the field of architecture. Houses, for example, might shrink in the winter to reduce surface area and volume, thus cutting heating costs. They could cover themselves to escape the heat of the summer sun or shake snow off the roof in winter. Skyscrapers could alter their aerodynamic profiles, swaying slightly to distribute increased loads during hurricanes. Office buildings could reconfigure themselves to improve ventilation.

Such "responsive architecture" would depend on two sorts of technology: control systems capable of deciding what to do, and structural components able to change the building's shape as required. Architects have been working to improve the control systems in buildings for many years, but shape-shifting technology is at a much earlier stage of development.

One approach being pursued by researchers is to imitate nature. Many natural constructions, including spiders' webs and cell membranes, are "tensegrity systems"—robust structures made up of many interconnected elements which can be manipulated to change shape without losing their structural integrity. "These structures can bend and twist, but no element in the structure bends and twists," says Robert Skelton of the Structural Systems and Control Laboratory at the University of California in San Diego. "It's the architecture of life." ...

Anders Nereim, chairman of the department of architecture and designed objects at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is not convinced that a central brain is the best way to control a responsive building, however. He suggests that the building should instead resemble a decentralised ecological system and should be made up of many independent sensors and actuators. Some of his prototypes include shadow-seeking lights that move around, and curtains made of flexible solar panels that use the energy they collect to open and close themselves. "Distributed systems can recover from damage," says Mr Nereim.

Cars are already capable of monitoring their own performance and acting with a certain degree of autonomy, from cruise-control systems to airbag sensors. Such responsive behaviour is considered normal for a car; architects argue that the same sort of ideas should be incorporated into buildings, too. And just as the performance of a car can be simulated in advance to choose the best design for a range of driving conditions, the same should be done for buildings, argues Gian Carlo Magnoli, an architect and the co-director of the Kinetic Design Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is devising blueprints for responsive houses. "We need to evolve designs for the best performing responsive-building models," he says.

So will we end up with cities of skyscrapers that wave in the breeze? It sounds crazy. But, says Mr Sterk, many ideas that were once considered crazy are now commonplace. "Electricity was a batty idea, but now it's universal," he says. The same was true of suspension bridges and elevators. Dynamic, intelligent, adaptable buildings are "the logical next step", he claims.

McClatchy newspapers has an article on the "Green Revolution Sweeping the US Construction Industry"
Rows of little plastic domes dot the roof of the new Wal-Mart Supercenter here, looking like a marching band of "Star Wars" R2-D2s.

Inside each dome, a trio of computer-aimed mirrors tracks the sun and bounces its light down a reflective shaft and through a milky white lens, illuminating the stockroom below.

The skylight idea is centuries old. But the mirrors, the lenses and dozens of other energy- and environment-saving innovations are new, and they're showing up not just at Wal-Mart but at other companies, schools and public agencies.

In addition to the Wal-Mart's legion of skylights, for example, the store's foundation is made of ground-up chunks of runway recycled from Denver's old Stapleton International Airport. Porous paving in its parking lot soaks up and filters polluted storm-water runoff. Huge north-facing windows provide most of the store's interior light. Used motor oil from the tire and lube shop helps heat the store, as does old vegetable oil from the deli.

According to Don Moseley, senior Wal-Mart engineer for environmental innovation, these and other efforts "are good for the environment and good for our business."

That's the mantra of the so-called green building movement that's sweeping the nation. Among the adherents are financial institutions such as Citigroup, PNC and Bank of America; automakers such as Toyota, General Motors, Ford and Honda; and such retailers as Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe's, Chipotle and Patagonia.

The next two new Major League Baseball parks, in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., are poised to go green. So is the biggest privately financed development under way in the United States: MGM Mirage's $7 billion Las Vegas City Center, due in 2009.

Future federal buildings will be green, too. The General Services Administration, the nation's biggest landlord, announced last spring that it was applying stringent green-building standards to its $12 billion construction portfolio of courthouses, post offices, border stations and other buildings.

TreeHugger has a post on the Mainstreaming Of Roof-Top Solar Power (as well as a new look).
Beyond basics like remembering inspection dates, oil change, and tire-fill intervals, most of us don’t know, nor do we care, about how to fully maintain our own cars. Similarly, when the furnace needs a tune up, we rely on a contractor. Turnkey installation and service “bundling” is needed for residential solar power to become common and reliable, to become something we take for granted in other words. Here’s a current example of how such services are evolving. “BP and Old Country Roofing (OCR) have signed an agreement to offer turnkey solar roofing solutions to more than 100 homebuilding companies and homeowners”. OCR installed more than 12,000 roofs in 2005, and will work with BP Solar's EnergyTile product, a roof-tile design that blends seamlessly into the design of the roof (pictured). The new solar roofing package, which includes design, installation, warranty and customer service, will be available beginning in January 2007".

How often do you scrutinize your roof? Brag to your friends and neighbors about it?

Think about SPVs in the bundled service context: we should not care as much about who made the actual SPV modules as we do about how the system integrates into our home and lifestyle.



"PlanetSave.com" has an article on a Indian and Chinese expedition to chart effects of glacier melt in Tibet.
joint Indian-Chinese team plans to chart remote Himalayan glaciers that scientists fear are rapidly melting because of global warming, threatening the great rivers that give life to South Asia's fertile Gangetic Plain, organizers said Thursday.

The project is a crucial step in exploring how climate could effect the future of a handful of river networks that flow from the Tibetan plateau into India, providing water for vast agriculture regions that feed nearly a sixth of the world's population, the organizers said.

The two expeditions being planned as part of the project announced Thursday will take scientists into some of the most remote and isolated regions of Tibet to explore the sources of the Sutlej and Brahmaputra Rivers, said H.P.S. Ahluwalia, who runs the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.

``The melting of the ice sheets and the glaciers is a crisis in the Himalayas,'' he said at a news conference with colleagues from China's Institute of Geology and Geophysics, which is organizing the Chinese side of the project.

Both expeditions are to get under way in September 2007.

Scientists believe that increasing global temperatures are causing glaciers _ the planet's largest resource of fresh water after polar ice _ to melt.

Almost every one of more than 300 large glaciers studied worldwide _ from the Andes in South America to the Himalayas _ is in retreat, international glaciologists reported in October in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The dangers faced by Himalayan glaciers have been further exacerbated by India's and China's huge populations and fast growing economies _ the two main factors behind increasing pollution produced by both countries, said Syed Iqbal Husnain, a leading Indian expert on glaciers.

The short-term result has been swelling rivers and floods, but some fear that over the long term the glaciers will melt entirely and the rivers will run dry for months at a time, fed only by annual rains like the monsoon that sweeps across the subcontinent every summer.

``In three to four decades these rivers that feed more than a billion people in our society and adjoining countries will become seasonal rivers,'' Ahluwalia said.

WorldChanging has a post on Preparing for Life in a Warming World - hopefully the Chineses and Indians read it.
When the weather's changing on you, you need to think ahead. Climate foresight is a critical thinking tool in the 21st Century.

That's because the world we have come to take for granted is no longer the world in which we live. Climate change is upon us, and it's unfolding fast, and the signs point towards it being worse than we expected a decade ago. The changing weather will affect us all, in ways large and small. Any plan which fails now to take into account the possible impacts of climate change fails in fact to be a worthwhile plan at all.

Economic, environmental, social systems -- all will be strained. Left unaddressed, climate change may prove to be the worst economic disaster in history, says the British Government. Climate change has already begun to wreak havoc in the natural world, and most experts expect it to become a major driver of ecological collapses while limiting our ability to respond effectively to environmental decline caused by other factors. Meanwhile, scientists have begun to refer to the people living in particularly vulnerable places as Environmental Refugees-To-Be, and some people believe we can expect to see 200 million people driven from their homes by the middle of the century. Already, insurance companies are recognizing that buying beachfront property is a bad idea.

We need to start anticipating the kinds of stress a changing climate will put on our societies, rethink our approaches and begin building much greater resilience into the systems on which we depend, from our homes to our neighborhoods to our cities and regions.

This is not to say that we should stop battling to reduce our green house emissions (eventually to the point of climate neutrality): though we are already past the point of climate change commitment (that is, no matter what we do, trouble's on its way) we can still choose whether that climate change will be massive or totally catastrophic (we can choose how bad the trouble's going to be). We have to act. Furthermore, by launching a massive campaign to do the things we know how to do here in the developed world -- from embracing clean power and energy efficiency to building better cities and regulating carbon -- we create both frameworks and models which the developing world can use to develop in a less climatologically disastrous way. Our building a "carbon-free" industrial system greatly increases the chances that China and India will adopt it.

But even while work to stave off catastrophe, we need to start building systems that can survive in a rapidly and unpredictably changing planet. That means we need to start imagining what life might be like in the future that's on its way.

Distributing foresight resources to people in places which lack them, like the Sahel, is a needed step. Art projects can help us rethink our relationship to the atmosphere. Street campaigns, like the Future Sea Level project, can help us wrap our heads around the enormity of change. But when you want to seriously engage the imagined future, science fiction is the tool of choice.

Luckily, as SEED magazine reports, a growing number of science fiction writers are joining our allies Bruce Sterling and Kim Stanley Robinson in applying their story-telling skills to a warming future...

Joel Makower has a post on "Airlines' High-Flying Waste" on the problem of getting airlines to recycle all the rubbish they collect.
The environmental impacts of air travel have come into the spotlight in recent years, due in large part to airlines' significant fuel use and resulting emissions -- and the fact that for many business people, hopscotching from hither to yon represents their biggest climate footprint. Several airlines, travel agents, and others have attempted to mitigate these impacts through offsets and variations on the theme of "carbon-neutral" travel.

Maybe they should think about "trash-neutral" travel as well.

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that the amount of waste from airlines and airports is significant. One factoid: The U.S. airline industry discards enough aluminum cans each year to build 58 Boeing 747 jumbo jets.

Coke and Coors cans are just the beginning. Ponder the mountains of discarded newspaper, cardboard, magazines, plastic bottles, office memos, food waste, and other detritus on the last flight you took and you begin to get a picture. They're big numbers: According to NRDC, the airline industry discarded 9,000 tons of plastic in 2004 and enough newspapers and magazines to fill a football field to a depth of more than 230 feet.

Why, after all these years, are airlines still recycling at a rate below that of most households, businesses, and cities? Hasn't anyone told them that waste = inefficiency?

Truth be told, recycling isn't easy for airlines. It requires the coordination and cooperation of foodservice companies, grounds maintenance crews, airports, and flight attendants, among others. And with each airport managed by a different company, and operating under a different set of environmental commitments and regulations, the system represents the ultimate patchwork quilt. Creating consistent operating standards is all but impossible.

Some cities are stepping up to the challenge. I was pleased to see, in the NRDC report, my hometown Oakland International Airport singled out as a leader. Oakland is among a handful of airports that have found it cost-effective to change from a decentralized waste management system to a centralized system. The change was motivated by a need to enhance airfield safety, improve general sanitation, and reduce costs, but it has a significant environmental benefit.

TreeHugger notes that airlines Toss Enough Cans Each Year to Build Fleet of Airliners.
As if there weren't enough reasons to feel guilty about flying, a newly released NRDC study highlights airline industry and air port wastefulness. Some nuggets:
Airlines in the U.S. throw away enough aluminum cans every year to build 58 new 747s. The airline industry threw out 9,000 tons of plastic in 2004, and enough newspapers and magazines to bury a football field more than 230 feet deep.

Nationwide, U.S. airports generated 425,000 tons of waste in 2004 -- a figure expected to increase nearly 45 percent by 2015. Each passenger today leaves behind 1.3 pounds of trash. Seventy five percent of this waste is recyclable or compostable.

One of the people who has been constantly criticising the environmental impact of airlines (from a global warming point of view) is George Monbiot, who apparently has the airline industry and the UK government surrounded (either that or they're really paranoid).
The government knows that its airport plans will cancel out all its efforts to tackle climate change.

I suppose I should be flattered. In a speech to fellow airline bosses a few days ago, Martin Broughton, the chief executive of British Airways, announced that the primary challenge for the industry is to “isolate the George Monbiots of this world”(1). That shouldn’t be difficult. For a terrifying spectre, I’m feeling pretty lonely. Almost everyone in politics appears to want to forget about aviation’s impact on the environment.

On Wednesday the secretary of state for communities launched a bold plan to make new homes more energy efficient. She claims it will save 7 million tonnes of carbon(2). On Thursday Douglas Alexander, the transport secretary, announced that he would allow airports to keep growing: by 2030 the number of passengers will increase from 228 million to 465 million. As a result, according to a report commissioned by the department for environment, carbon emissions will rise by between 22 and 36 million tonnes. So much for joined-up government.

The government says it will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60% between 1990 and 2050. Last month it promised to introduce a climate change bill, which will make this target legally binding. Douglas Alexander’s decision ensures that the new law will be broken.

A 60% cut means that our emissions by 2050 must amount to no more than 65 million tonnes of carbon(MtC). The “best case” figures produced by the Department for Transport would see emissions from air transport rising from 4.6 to 15.7 MtC – or 24% of the target for the whole economy. According to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, “this is likely to be a very substantial understatement”.

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research estimates that the UK’s aeroplane emissions are more likely to amount to 32MtC by 2050, or 49% of the target. The report produced for the department for environment, by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, calculates that they will rise to between 29.8 and 44.4 MtC by 2050, or 46-68% of the target. This, they say, is an underestimate, as they don’t include non-scheduled flights.

None of these calculations takes into account the other greenhouse gases aircraft produce. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, these create a global warming effect 2.7 times as great as the carbon dioxide alone. Nor do they recognise the fact that 70% of people flying out of the United Kingdom live in this country: all the estimates give the UK a 50% share of the flights landing or taking off here, rather than 70%. Throw these numbers into the equation, and you discover that aviation will account for between 91% and 258% of all the greenhouse gases the United Kingdom will be permitted, under the new law, to produce in 2050.

So how does the government navigate this contradiction? It’s simple. It doesn’t include international aircraft emissions in its target. Whatever their impact on the world’s atmosphere might be, they don’t officially exist.

No one now pretends that the industry can design its way out of this. The department for transport’s wildly optimistic figure (a mere 91% of the UK’s target) assumes improvements in efficiency which most observers believe will be impossible to realise. After a 70% reduction in the fuel consumed by jet engines over the past 40 years, they have pretty well reached their limits, while radical new aircraft designs and new fuels are, at best, several decades away from commercialisation. Even Martin Broughton admits that the airlines’ fuel efficiency gains “are likely to be outweighed by future growth”. So the government relies on two other mechanisms, taxation and trading. It knows that neither of them will work.

Gordon Brown announced two weeks ago that he will double air passenger duty, from £5 to £10. This merely reverses the cut he made in 2001. In its white paper on aviation, the transport department investigated the effect of a bigger levy – a 100% fuel tax. This, it found, would increase the airlines’ prices by 10%. But the growth of the no-frills carriers would be sufficient to offset it, ensuring that there was no suppression of demand. Air passenger duty might begin to bite at 10 times its current level. Is there anyone in government who has the guts to make that happen?

Brown’s pathetic levy is counteracted by subsidies which he has managed, so far, to keep mostly hidden from public view. It turns out that the government has been authorising “route development funds” to establish “new links from regional airports”. European rules permit governments to provide up to 50% of the start-up costs for regional airports and their new connections(15). Last week, for example, the Guardian reported that Derry City Council has been secretly giving Ryanair £1.3m a year. Our money is being used to subsidise climate change.

Tomorrow, the European Union will wave its wand and make the airlines’ carbon emissions magically disappear. It will incorporate them into the European emissions trading scheme. According to Douglas Alexander this is “the most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure that the sector plays its part in tackling climate change.” The airlines can keep growing, he argues, as long as they buy carbon permits from other industries, who can cut their output more cheaply. All that counts is that the European economy as a whole is reducing its emissions – it doesn’t matter how they are distributed.

So how is this going to work if aviation accounts for 258% of all the greenhouse gases the target permits us to produce? Or even 91%? Again, there is sleight of hand involved. The other greenhouse gases don’t count – the trading scheme recognises only carbon. But even if we were to accept its restricted terms, why should aviation force the rest of the European economy to reduce its emissions much faster than the average? Is flying more important than heating and lighting?

You can shuffle carbon between different industries when the overall reduction you are trying to achieve is just 8%, and still stay within the cap. But when you go much beyond that point, as the EU must in 2012, almost every industry will have to start making cuts of its own. So what happens when the growth in flights outstrips the cuts the other industries can make? How will the airlines cut their emissions in order to stay within the scheme? If the government knows, it hasn’t told us.

Douglas Alexander knows as well as I do that emissions trading is a red herring. In his new report is a table showing what would happen if trading raised the price of carbon to the government’s upper estimate of £140 a tonne by 2030 (this is 32 times the current price). It would mean that instead of 465 million tickets sold in 2030, there would be 455 million. That sorts it out then.

The only certain means by which the growth of flights can be curtailed is by restricting the capacity of our airports. Aviation expands to fill the available landing space. Unless the government’s decision to double the size of the UK’s airports is reversed, the rest of its climate change programme is a waste of time.

Come on out British Airways, Virgin, Ryanair, easyJet, BMI, the British government, the opposition and most of Middle England. I’ve got you surrounded.

An air industry lobby group called "SPURT" has had enough of all this environmentalist doom-mongering and said "sod them - lets fly" - enough is enough - better brown than green.

The Oil Drum has a post from a British Airways pilot on Aviation and Oil Depletion.
Aviation is one of the fastest growing industry sectors in the world, growing at 2.4 times the rate of world GDP. The industry consumes over 5 million barrels of oil per day worldwide, almost one tenth of all the oil used for transportation. In the UK, according to the Department for Transport, the UK aviation industry is growing at approximately 5% per year while its fuel consumption is growing at 3% per year.

There is currently no alternative to the use of kerosene in aircraft engines. The hydrogen economy is still decades away and it will be decades after that before the majority of long haul transport aircraft are hydrogen powered. By that time there is likely to be serious supply problems with petroleum kerosene and fuel efficiency and fuel conservation strategies will continue to dominate airline fuel policy. These efficiency strategies are currently driven by high fuel costs but in the very near future these costs will be compounded by the cost of the fuel's associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The switch from petroleum to synthetic kerosene will be driven by availability and price. The lower switching costs in other industries may help aviation avoid a kerosene supply crisis but is unlikely to mitigate the rising cost. The increasing cost of fuel and associated emissions may mean some of today's flying will no longer be viable. A lot of short haul point to point flying could be pushed onto alternative transport systems that are better able to switch to cleaner fuels

Hydrogen powered aircraft in particular offer little hope until there is a world wide supply in a mature hydrogen economy. Global warming emissions will continue to be a problem whichever fuel is being used. Even ultra clean hydrogen has global warming issues and we can expect that aviation will eventually be called upon to account for all its climate change effects, not just carbon dioxide.

The cost of switching to non kerosene fuels is extremely high. The aviation industry is likely to accept very high fuel costs before any wholesale switch to an alternative.

For a change of pace, here's some news about a group of Lions that can't afford to fly, and would thus make an ideal study group for a modern day Charles Darwin.
Marooned on an island, this group of lions should have died out. Instead, in an evolutionary twist, they've learned to swim and become strong enough to tackle their only prey... giant buffalo

Fearless, ferocious and mightier than the world has ever seen, this is the new breed of super-lion.

Only one species of prey holds its attention: the buffalo — and in order to bring its powerful foe to the ground, it will take to deep water, use sophisticated hunting techniques and then silence the gigantic beast with a single swipe of a savage paw.

In a remote corner of Africa, an extraordinary evolutionary tale is unfolding, uncovered by the actor Jeremy Irons and an award-winning documentary team. A new film, Relentless Enemies, will tell the story of the emergence of a distinct subspecies of big cat on a tiny and isolated island in the Duba Plains of Botswana's Okavango Delta.

It also delves into a dark secret at the heart of this special community of lions. For during the investigation into the Duba lions, it emerged that a killer is embedded in their midst — a threat which might eventually spell the end of this incredible biological journey and the lion's quest for survival.

Irons, who most famously starred in the TV series Brideshead Revisited, describes the scene in this 'magical world', where two great warriors live side by side in the most beautiful terrain.

"There is an unusual pride of lions stalking these swamps," he says. "They are cats that live in water and hunt a single herd of Cape buffalo. Evolution favours predators that can hunt a range of prey. But these lions are defying that trend by becoming specialists. These huge lions are adapting and breeding in isolation on an island in a river that goes nowhere."

So how has this new strain of lion developed? To answer this question, the South African husband-and-wife film-makers Beverly and Dereck Joubert spent two years tracking their prey in order to capture evolution in the making.

"We discovered this tiny sandy island in the Okavango," says Dereck. "It is extraordinary because it became totally isolated from the mainland 15 years ago when the course of the river changed, and a huge herd of buffalo and lions were trapped on a piece of land measuring 200 square kilometres."

And to close, here's a nativity tale for reptiles, with the BBC reporting on some virgin lizard births in London Zoo. Hopefully these guys don't end up nailed to a piece of wood.
The largest lizards in the world are capable of "virgin births".

Scientists report of two cases where female Komodo dragons have produced offspring without male contact. Tests revealed their eggs had developed without being fertilised by sperm - a process called parthenogenesis, the team wrote in the journal Nature.

One of the reptiles, Flora, a resident of Chester Zoo in the UK, is awaiting her clutch of eight eggs to hatch, with a due-date estimated around Christmas.

Kevin Buley, a curator at Chester Zoo and a co-author on the paper, said: "Flora laid her eggs at the end of May and, given the incubation period of between seven and nine months, it is possible they could hatch around Christmas - which for a 'virgin birth' would finish the story off nicely. "We will be on the look-out for shepherds, wise men and an unusually bright star in the sky over Chester Zoo."

Flora, who has never been kept with a male Komodo dragon, produced 11 eggs earlier this year. Three died off, providing the material needed for genetic tests. These revealed the offspring were not exact genetic copies (clones) of their mother, but their genetic make-up was derived just from her.

The team concluded they were a result of asexual reproduction, and are waiting for the remaining eight eggs to hatch.

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