Posted by Big Gav
Grist reports on the new movie "Happy Feet" (noting its not a true story unfortunately). Once again I'm impressed at how books and movies about global warming (and those by its deniers) get released right on queue for various international conferences.
Warning: If you don't want to know the ending to Happy Feet, read no further.
On its opening weekend, the tap-dancing penguin raked in $42.3 million, topping the debut of the much-anticipated Bond flick Casino Royale. If you thought your eight dollars would buy an hour and a half of a warm and fuzzy penguin love story set to music, you'll be surprised by the realistic and serious tone of the film (as well as the penguins with Mexican accents ...).
There is singing, there is dancing, there is the light-hearted humor you would expect from a film starring Robin Williams. But all of this is secondary to the much bigger story line: the penguins are starving because humans are stealing all their fish.
"Mumble," the tap-dancing protagonist played by Elijah Wood, takes it upon himself to find the truth behind the declining fish supply. He and his friends embark on an adventure that includes industrial fishing vessels scooping outrageous amounts of fish out of the ocean and dialogue that could have been ripped from my organization's own press releases.
But like any animated children's film, this story has a happy ending. The writers could have taken the easy way out and fed the penguins from a genie's wish or a fairy godmother. Instead, they chose to bring back the fish the only way we're actually going to bring back the fish: by passing and enforcing smarter fishing laws. I daresay this is the first children's movie to end with a montage of political resolutions.
As luck would have it, the movie's release came just days before a crucial United Nations vote. For months, the UN has been debating a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling -- the most destructive form of industrial fishing. Even President Bush was in favor of this moratorium. But on Thursday, while most of us were feasting and watching football, U.N. negotiators failed to agree on the moratorium, proving we still have a long way to go to achieve our happy ending.
Grist also has a post on "Wind, sun, storage, and efficiency", which looks at the intermittency issue that needs to be considered for a lot of renewable energy generation, like wind.
Previously noted that efficiency is essential to eliminating fossil fuel use, because non-fossil sources have an overall market price cost higher than coal, natural gas, and even oil. This is not as obvious as it seems. Up to a point, renewable energy is competitive with fossil fuels; the problem is, that point is never a majority of consumption.
You can produce unsubsidized wind power at 4 cents per kWh -- cheaper than natural gas, cheaper even than "clean" coal. Unfortunately wind (like most renewables) provides variable power. It can be predicted to some extent, but comes on nature's schedule, not when wanted. That doesn't matter much as long as it supplies around 20% or less of total demand. Up to that point, the utility can treat it as negative load; added power when the wind slows or stops comes from existing operating and spinning reserves.
Beyond that point, wind energy without storage requires additional capital, additional reserve-generating capacity. That brings the price up steeply. There are regions that have more wind capacity than this, sometimes a great deal more. But they manage it by exporting electricity to other utilities. If you look at the grid as a whole, and not just local sub-grids, you will find no place where wind supplies much more than 20% of consumption in practice -- without storage.
There are non-fossil fuel sources that don't suffer from this problem, but they are limited. Geothermal electricity is reasonably priced and fully dispatchable, but cost-effective world resources are limited with current technology. (Yes, there are nations like Iceland where that is not a problem, but it is true for most of the world.) The same applies to hydroelectricity. Biomass energy is inexpensive when produced from waste, but still more costly than oil when purposely cultivated on energy farms -- with serious water consumption, land use, and net energy issues.
In short, you have to add storage, and storage is expensive.
Adam at Energy Bulletin comments:
Gar Lipow reviews the storage options and concludes that all have some problems, which is not to say useless -- but "efficiency is the key". One thing which could have been mentioned is dynamic demand control technologies. See Intermittency of Renewable Energy by Chris Vernon for a good intro.
Obviously storage is key to the clean energy / smart grid future that I like to bang on about - there is quite a wide range of options for storing energy, and I think we're going to see more and more applications for these appearing in the coming years.
Jim at The Energy Blog pointed to a great text called "Energy Storage: A Nontechnical Guide" a while back which looks at a lot of energy storage options, including:
# pumped hydroelectric storage (PHS)
# compressed air energy storage (CAES)
# flow batteries - vanadium redux, zinc bromine, polysulfide bromide and cerium zinc
# sodium sulfide battery
# lead-acid battery
# nickle cadmium battery
# electrochemical capacitors
# superconducting magnetic energy storage
# thermal energy storage
Each of these is applicable in different areas - for example, we're likely to see ultracapacitors and the various types of batteries being used in hybrid and electric vehicles (such as the Lithium Ion batteries in the Tesla Motors car) being used for in-house local storage (as per Richard Smalley's vision) and the V2G (vehicle to grid) idea that is becoming popular (and is most likely to appear in the wild first).
Jim also pointed to an article that listed some examples of energy storage being used to make wind power more effective in various situations (including on King Island in the Bass Strait).
Coupling energy storage technologies with wind turbines can solve many of wind power’s operational issues and support the continued expansion of wind energy production. It should be noted that many types of renewable energy production already benefits from energy storage technologies. By decoupling the production and delivery of energy from renewable resources, storage technologies can make the generated energy more useful and more valuable.
To date, the wind power industry has made great strides in enhancing the capability of wind turbines and how they are integrated into the overall power market. Although the direct production cost may now be competitive with other power generation resource at certain locations, its effective usage cost is sometimes still higher due to inherent qualities of the wind resource. Storage technologies can provide additional flexibility to mitigate these issues.
* Small Grids: Provide system stability (frequency and voltage).
* Large Grids: Provide local system stability and enhance transmission deliverability.
A number of energy storage technologies are currently in use or being evaluated for use in conjunction with renewable energy resources. Some of these technologies include:
* Flywheels: Flywheels store energy in a rotating mass of either steel of composite material. Through the use of a motor/generator, energy can be cycled (absorbed and then discharged) a great many times without reducing the life-span of the device. By increasing the surface speed of the flywheel, the energy storage capacity (kWh) of the unit can be increased; by increasing the size of the motor/generator, the power (kW) of the unit can be increased.
* Flow Batteries: Flow batteries store energy in charged electrolytes and utilize proton exchange membranes similar to fuel cells. By flowing the (charged or uncharged) electrolytes through the cell, energy can be cycled through the unit. By adding additional electrolyte, the energy storage capacity (kWh) of the unit can be increased; by increasing the number of cells, the power (kW) of the unit can be increased.
* Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES): CAES facilities store energy in compressed air held in underground chambers. These facilities charge (compress the air) the cavern at night with low cost system power; this air is then used as input for a gas turbine during peak price periods during the day, allowing all of the energy output to generate energy instead of compressing air in pre-combustion. By increasing the volume of air in the underground chamber, the energy storage capacity (kWh) of the unit can be increased; by increasing size of the compressor and turbine, the power (kW) of the unit can be increased.
Remote Power – Island Grids
Small, remote power grids, many times referred to as (or actually exist as) island grids rely heavily on diesel reciprocating engines for their power. Although reliable, these units must respond to significant changes in daily or hourly load, with peak power levels many times far above average load levels. For these reasons operating costs on these systems can be extremely high due to transportation cost of the fuel and mandatory minimum run-times of the diesel engines. In many locations, wind turbines are being added to compliment and hopefully supplement these power sources. To assist this wind energy to integrate further and in a more meaningful way, many developers are looking to energy storage facilities to balance out the constantly changing power supply and demand levels into a far more effective operating regime.
The benefits of using wind energy can be quite high. A number of studies by US Government Laboratories (NREL, LLNL, etc.) have shown that adding wind to a diesel-powered local grid can reduce fuel consumption by 40%-50% and total costs by 30% to 50% for areas with plentiful wind resources.(1) However, because of the small size of these power grids (lack of system inertia, etc.) simply adding wind turbines to small power grids cannot be done haphazardly—a systematic review of the load and potential additional wind turbines must be undertaken to ascertain potential benefits, and to determine what level of wind penetration is best. For many of these power grids, the opportunity exists to have wind resources well in excess of 50% of the peak load.
The same studies that showed that increasing the wind penetration can lower the diesel fuel costs on these systems also showed that adding a storage component can gain an additional 10%-20% in system cost reductions. Although wind turbines provide power with no fuel cost, they bring with them operational characteristics that cause the overall system to operate at sub-optimal conditions many times due to the variability of the wind energy, the non-dispatchability of the wind energy, and the additional system stabilization requirements (frequency and voltage) required. By alleviating some of the stress on the system by operating as a dynamic source and sink for power (a shock absorber), energy storage can be a beneficial additional to these island grids for three general reasons: reducing diesel starts/runtime, providing system stability, and improving the reliability of supply from increasing the level of wind penetration for the system.
The value of energy storage to the system increases as the wind penetration increases, as there will be an increasing amount of time that the available wind power exceeds the total system loads. According to one NREL study(2), at 50% wind penetration, storage can provide 20% greater fuel saving and 20% fewer diesel run-tine than non-storage wind/diesel systems alone.
The Engineer Poet also has some notes on batteries and energy storage in his mammoth post at The Oil Drum on energy options for North America in the post peak world.
If the fuel cell can't go on the vehicle, electricity has to be generated elsewhere and stored on the vehicle.
That means the possibilities are limited only by the capabilities of batteries. For over a century that capability was limited indeed, but that's changing with amazing speed. The drive to pack more energy into smaller cellphones and laptops has led to an explosion of new technology with performance once found only in science fiction. It used to be sized and priced like gemstones, but it's getting to be available in economy-size packages too.
I won't go too far into the details of these technologies, except to detail their breadth. Lithium-ion batteries are coming in at least two new flavors, one based on titanium oxide and the other on iron phosphate; these have already hit the market in high-performance cordless tools. Lead-acid batteries look to make a comeback, with carbon foam replacing bulk metal for electrical connections and mechanical strength (eliminating most of the corrosion which limited their lifespan and also slashing the weight). There's even a dark horse in the race, an ultracapacitor from EEStor. These batteries charge in minutes (Altair Nano claims 0-80% in 60 seconds flat or 0-100% in 6 minutes for 15,000 cycles; ultracaps are probably limited only by the wiring); it could make filling at a gas pump feel slow.
These technologies are hitting limited-production vehicles today. Tesla Motors has sold out its first run of electric roadsters, powered by off-the-shelf lithium-ion cells. 250 miles of range is enough for lots of driving, and a network of fast charging stations would make them suitable for most trips.
But most of us can't afford cars with $30,000 battery packs just to run on electrons. Fortunately, most driving is within a few tens of miles of home; some estimate that a car which can run its first 60 miles on electricity before switching on a conventional engine can eliminate 80% of liquid fuel demand. (Shorter ranges would probably be effective as well; 30 miles of electric range would probably suffice to replace well over half of that 80%, because shorter trips could still be all-electric.) This isn't science fiction; CalCars has already done this with the Prius+. The combination of hybrid efficiency and grid-power assist turns a sedan which might attain 35 MPG with a standard drivetrain into an economy monster which can average up to 180 MPG of gasoline, plus 200 watt-hours of grid juice per electric mile.
In a similar vein, Technology Review has an article today on making electric vehicles practical.
Today's battery technology is adequate for electric vehicles with a range of more than 200 miles, but the batteries are still very expensive and require elaborate safety mechanisms. There are also concerns that they won't last long enough to be attractive to most consumers.
But current research will double energy-storage capacity while also increasing the lifetime of batteries, improving safety, and cutting costs more than enough to make electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids practical for the mass market. At least these were the predictions of researchers presenting their latest work at the Materials Research Society (MRS) meeting in Boston this week. And although many significant challenges remain, an experimental type of rechargeable battery that's like a fuel cell could increase battery storage that much more.
Stanley Whittingham, inventor of the first commercial lithium-ion battery and professor of chemistry, materials science, and engineering at the State University of New York, at Binghamton, says current research should make electric vehicles practical--with the following caveat: they'll probably be used for trips of less than 100 miles. Those who want 300-to-400-mile ranges typical of gasoline-powered vehicles will need to turn to plug-in hybrids: vehicles much like today's gas-electric hybrids, but with a much larger battery pack that makes it possible to go longer on electric power, thereby saving gas. These batteries could be partly charged by an onboard gas engine, but also by electricity from a wall socket.
Whittingham says that while he expects battery capacity to double, it's not going to get much better than that. The real advances in batteries, he says, won't be in energy capacity, but in safety, longevity, and cost. If electric vehicles are to be widespread, one of the most important goals of battery research must be to replace the cobalt now used in the lithium-ion batteries found in cell phones and laptops. "There's just not enough [cobalt] in the world," says Whittingham, who is working on mixed-metal electrodes, which require little to no cobalt.
One promising new type of battery, which actually has lower storage capacity than today's lithium-ion batteries, could nevertheless prove a boon to plug-in hybrids. Lithium iron phosphate batteries use iron, a very cheap metal, instead of cobalt, and they have an inherently safe chemistry (see "Safer Lithium-Ion Batteries"). What's more, they operate at a lower voltage that will extend the life of the electrolyte, and therefore the battery.
South African efforts to commercialise biodiesel from algae production using the GreenFuels process seem to be proceeding rapidly.
South African fuels firm De Beers Fuel Limited plans to produce 16 to 24 billion litres of bio-diesel a year from algae within five years with an initial investment of 3.5 billion rand ($487.4 million), it said on yesterday.
The company has bought licenses for 100,000 acres to be developed into algae farms - for which the initial investment is targeted - and within five years from now the intention is to increase that land area to 800,000 acres.
De Beers Fuel, which is unrelated to the world's biggest diamond producer De Beers, said in a statement that South Africa uses about 8.1 billion litres of bio-diesel yearly.
De Beers Fuel already runs a plant which produces 144,000 litres of bio-diesel daily from sunflower seed oil, at Naboomspruit in the northern Limpopo province. A bio-diesel algae reactor installed at the plant will be showcased to investors, experts and the media later this week.
"The project is highly capital-intensive. The first 100 acres will require about 3.5 billion rand, this has been sourced mainly from foreign private equity groups," Hendy Schoombee, a senior official at De Beers Fuel said. "We had initially intended to list the company to raise the money. We might list at a future date to raise money for further expansion," he said.
One acre of algae can produce 92,000 litres of bio-diesel, compared to 350 litres produced from one acre of a sun-flower seed farm, he added.
The Energy Blog has some notes on the BBC article on increasing the energy efficiency of lighting (and slashing a significant amount of world power consumption in the process).
The BBC News website has an article "Lighting the key to energy saving" that quotes the IEA as saying a global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world's electricity bill by nearly one-tenth. Better building regulations would boost uptake of efficient lighting, it says. Nineteen percent of global electricity generation is taken for lighting - that's more than is produced by hydro or nuclear stations, and about the same that's produced from natural gas.
There is a strong case for introducing lighting measures into building codes. Currently codes have a lot of energy measures in them, but with few exceptions there aren't specific provisions for lighting.
A related article argues for banning the incandescent light bulb, which includes this quote: "They waste so much energy that if they were invented today, it is highly unlikely they would be allowed onto the market."
The Energy Blog has strongly argued for more energy efficient lighting since being enlightened while researching the post: "Wal-Mart's Bright Idea"
In local news, the head of AGL has declared "Natural gas is the future, not nuclear". The second half of that statement is certainly correct, though natural gas won't last forever (as per the dicussion in the comments recently, another 20 to 40 years would seem to be a reasonable timeframe for getting power from gas in eastern Australia - though I'm still uncertain how much coal seam methane we have and how long it would last).
AUSTRALIA would not need nuclear power to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets while satisfying increasing electricity demand, AGL Energy chief executive Paul Anthony says.
Rather, Australia's power industry would probably shift to natural gas-fired plants to meet energy demand and cut emissions, especially as companies took into account a likely price being placed on carbon emissions, Mr Anthony said yesterday at a conference in Sydney.
Last week, a draft government report suggested Australia could use nuclear power in 10 to 15 years, and that 25 reactors could be built by 2050, producing one-third of the nation's energy needs.
"While Australia has a huge abundance of uranium, I don't believe it needs to embark on a nuclear-build program," Mr Anthony said. "Importantly, Australia will continue to have a secure, competitively priced electricity supply even if emissions are to be reduced. Gas and renewables will play an increasingly important part in meeting electricity demand."
AGL assumes in its investment decisions a price of $11 a tonne of carbon emitted. Electricity prices would probably rise as natural gas and coal prices increased, Mr Anthony said.
No non-government-owned companies would build new coal-fired generators in Australia, because of the risk of regulations being introduced that would place a price on carbon emissions, he said.
"I don't believe there's a single private-sector company in Australia that would consider building a new coal-burn power station with the overhang of a potential carbon regime. Only government generators don't have to bear the full costs of that because the likes of me, the taxpayer, bear the brunt of it and, quite frankly, I think it's sinful."
China is still the focus for BHP and their mission of exporting as much Australian dirt as they can dig up. Chip Goodyear indirectly acknowledged peak oil while still insisting it will be part of the energy mix for a long time to come (well, thats what I remember when I first read The Age article, though its been rewritten during the day to delete any mention of future oil supply - curse you Winston Smith). BHP are pushing uranium and nuclear strongly (though their puppet in the Lodge has already indicated that anyway I guess).
We produce four of these energy sources - coal, gas, uranium and oil - and we see all of them playing an important role in meeting the world"s current and future energy needs.
If you look at the expected growth in energy consumption from 2001 to 2050, you can see that compared with Australia and the United States, the energy consumption of India and China is expected to increase dramatically.
That"s hardly surprising given the pace at which those economies are developing. China builds new power plants every year at a rate equal to Australia"s total electricity generation capacity.
But it means that access to a whole portfolio of energy sources, including nuclear, will become even more vital for the developing countries.
In fact two weeks ago, the International Energy Agency in its 2006 "World Energy Outlook" said - "Nuclear power remains a potentially attractive option for enhancing the security of electricity supply and mitigating carbon-dioxide emissions".
That of course is the real challenge for the world today. And that is why we advocate that no responsible company or government can ignore the full range of energy options.
Of course, programs to encourage energy efficiency are equally important. But even with strong energy efficiency initiatives there will continue to be a significant and growing requirement for additional sources of energy into the future.
I do not think that anyone will argue that access to affordable energy and development of minerals and metals is critical to taking people out of poverty and driving social and economic change.
One of our challenges as a member of the global society is to help meet the world"s minerals and energy needs, while mitigating the potential impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate.
Tinfoil time - given how enamoured I am with technological solutions to everything (though I freely admit they aren't the only solution and just using fewer resources is often the simplest and most effective way to go), maybe its time to visit Cryptogon looking at the "rise of the machines". I wonder which side Arnie will be on in real life ?
U.S. Army to Game Designers: Take Out Vulerabilities to Technology
They’re making warfighting doctrine internally consistant with the other fallacies of technological society. They’re not learning from Their mistakes in Iraq. The Myth of the Machine is so tantalizing, it blinds even the most power mad psychopaths, and opens them up to strategic defeat.
That’s good news.
In the early battles of the Rise of the Machines, victory will go to the side with the monkey wrenches, not the side with the terminator robots.
The bad news? The bad news will be the result of another couple of decades worth of autonomous weapons research and design. You won’t want that thing to knock on your door late at night:
“They didn’t ask for hole punchers,” says Mark Long, co-CEO of Zombie, where the game was built under contract. “High tech has all kinds of low-tech vulnerabilities and they didn’t want the vulnerabilities programmed in.”
There's also plenty of speculation about China and the US dollar in more recent Cryptogon posts.
Update: I see tonight's post on RI is about Mike Ruppert so I guess I should include it. I've always been dubious about Mr Ruppert for one reason or another (which I know makes me once again out of step with most of the peak oil world) but I am sorry to see him in ill health...
From the Wilderness was my first 9/11 looking glass. The writings of Ruppert and associates such as Peter Dale Scott and Daniel Hopsicker before they fell out (there seemed to be much falling out around Ruppert) helped contextualize the terror for me within the ongoing criminal enterprise of the National Security State, in which the Bush regime was not an aberration but its apotheosis.
But that was then. These days in the 9/11 Truth demimonde, early and clear-eyed researchers like Scott, Paul Thompson and Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed are rarely heard over the likes of Morgan Reynolds and the thermate/"mini-nukes" debate, and rather than contributions such as the discovery of 9/11's concurrent war games we have "scholars for 9/11 Truth" tearing one another new impact holes over speculation on space-based beam weaponry. If you think that indicates progress, and that we're closer to 9/11 justice than we were three years ago, I don't know what more to tell you.
So what happened to Ruppert and From the Wilderness, besides his own imperfect self? That Peak Oil idée fixe of his, for one. While I'm not of the It's all a Hoax! school, I do believe the issue is subject to grave manipulation, and may even have been solved, though not for us nor our children's benefit. There is also a peculiar fascist tug to some Peak Oilers propositions, which Ruppert either hasn't noticed or hasn't been concerned by.
Many have questioned Ruppert's motives, but I think that largely comes by providing a subscriber-based service. Investigative journalism, and keeping your client-base happy and thinking they're getting their money's worth, may not be concomitant after all. Such lines of inquiry are perhaps best pursued open source.
It was Ruppert's bizarre eulogy for Gary Webb, in which he patted his own back with Webb's dead hand by boasting "there would be no FTW with its 21,000 subscribers in 40 countries" without him and said "God took the gun from my mouth and placed it to Gary’s head," that made me think this man was on the clock. Seeing a braggart and a bully brought low by his own demons is one thing, but seeing the ruin of an investigative community that broke stories which could have broken governments is something else.