From Solar Power To The Black Death  

Posted by Big Gav

CNet has an article on solar thermal power called "shrinking the cost for solar power".

One of the big problems with solar power has been that it costs more than electricity generated by conventional means. But some experts think that, under certain circumstances, the premium for solar power can be erased, without subsidies or dramatic technical breakthroughs. A sufficiently large solar thermal power plant (also called concentrated solar power, or CSP) could potentially generate electricity at about the same cost as electricity from a conventional gas-burning power plant, experts say.

It's not easy. The plant would also have to come with a large energy storage system, be built next to others and be located close to users. To date, no one has completed a facility that comports to all of these parameters, said Fred Morse, an energy analyst who has studied the issue. "Solar thermal is available at much more attractive prices than solar photovoltaic. The land mass isn't huge, but it does take a while to build these," said Stephan Dolezalek, a managing partner and co-head of the clean tech practice at venture firm Vantage Point Venture Partners, an investor in Bright Source Energy, which builds solar thermal plants and components.

Both Dolezalek and Jiang Lin, who heads up the China Energy Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said that solar thermal is likely the most promising technology in the entire alternative-energy field right now. When asked when solar thermal can hit parity, Lin responded "now." Conventionally generated electricity ranges between 5 and 18 cents per kilowatt hour (the amount of money to get a kilowatt of power for an hour) but in most places it's below 10 cents, according to the Energy Information Agency. Solar thermal costs around 15 to 17 cents a kilowatt hour, according to statistics from Schott, a German company that makes solar thermal equipment.

A solar thermal plant would need a facility to store the heat harvested in the day by its sunlight-concentrating mirrors so that the heat could be used to generate electricity at night. "You need the kind of system that can run in the evening," Morse said. At some sites, such as Nevada Solar One, excess heat is stored in molten salt and released at night to run the turbine. The plant, ideally, should be capable of generating about 300 megawatts of electricity. Those plants can churn out electricity at about 13 cents a kilowatt.

That's still a relatively high price, so utilities would need to group two, three or more 300-megawatt plants together to share operational resources, Morse said. "They could share control rooms or spare parts," he said. That would knock the price closer to 11 cents a kilowatt hour. "Under 10 cents is sort of the magic line," he said.

Dolezalek puts it another way: the plants need to be around 500 megawatts in size. Most solar thermal plants right now aren't that big. The 22-year-old thermal plant in California's Mojave Desert is 354 megawatts. Utility company Southern California Edison is erecting a 500-megawatt plant scheduled to open in 2009. By 2014, solar thermal plants located in the Southwest could crank out nearly 3 gigawatts of power, estimated Travis Bradford of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, a nonprofit based in Cambridge, Mass. That's enough for about 1 million homes.

Costs can then be reduced further by building the plants close to consumers. It costs about $1.5 million per mile for transmission lines, according to statistics from Acciona Solar Power, which owns solar thermal plants. Solar thermal plants work best in arid deserts that get little rainfall. Since some of the fastest-growing cities in the world are located in sun belts, that's less of a problem than it used to be. ...

Even if all of these factors could be completely optimized, solar thermal power plants would likely not produce electricity at a level that would compete with coal plants. Coal plants, however, will likely be hit with carbon taxes in the near future, which will make solar thermal more competitive. Still, at less than 10 cents a kilowatt, solar thermal would be competitive with electricity from gas-powered plants.

Utilities will also likely work hard to lower the costs of solar thermal in the coming decades, Morse added. Utilities are under mandates to increase their renewable energy sources. Citizen groups often complain about wind turbines and the wind doesn't blow at a constant, predictable rate. Several companies are intent on tapping heat from under the surface of the earth to generate power. Geothermal power, however, works best only in certain locations.

"There is an enough flat, unproductive land in the U.S. to power the U.S.," Morse said. "We just don't have the wires to get there. Eisenhower built the national highway system. Some president will build the national grid."

Technology Review reports IBM is investing in an effort to make its corporate data centers more energy efficient.
In a sign that environmental sensibilities are informing business strategies, IBM Corp. is spending $1 billion to spread technologies and services that could make corporate computing centers more energy efficient. Under an initiative that IBM executives intend to announce at an event Thursday in New York, the company will reoutfit the ''data centers'' it operates and help its customers redo their own with multiple power-saving approaches.

Data centers are huge, humming banks of servers that process transactions, serve up Web pages and store information. Because of all the electricity and air conditioning those computers need, data centers can be energy hogs. IBM -- which has pledged, like several other big companies, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions -- is a leading data center operator, with more than 8 million square feet of these computing warehouses worldwide.

Among the ways IBM expects to make data centers greener is through heavier use of ''virtualization'' technologies, which let one computer handle the operations of multiple machines. IBM also plans to deploy more ''provisioning software'' that increases the time that servers switch to power-saving standby mode. And it expects to launch new liquid-cooling systems that capture power in off-peak times and store it for peak use.

Nokia are about to start building "energy alerts" into their phones.
Your mobile phone could soon be prompting you to save energy by unplugging the phone's charger when the battery is full, an initiative Nokia said on Thursday it would roll out across its device range.

Mobile phones sounding a beep and displaying an alert - "Battery is full, please unplug the charger" - could save enough electricity to power 85,000 homes annually, Nokia said.

Der Spiegel has an article on a German architect designing buildings in the middle east that produce their own energy.
A German architect is pursuing an ambitious project in the Middle East. He wants to build office towers in Riyadh, Dubai and Bahrain that produce all their own energy. The zero emissions office building has arrived.

The Middle East is home to some of the most exciting architecture in the world today. Extravagant skyscrapers are going up in the region's major cities, such as booming Dubai and Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi has plans for an ambitious museum complex. Still, at least one sheikh was hoping for more. "Don't you have anything that is based on an interesting idea for a change?" Abdel Hadi Sadiq Pasha griped one day in a meeting. The head of the architectural unit in the general project department of Dubai municipality was complaining about brilliant architectural designs whose value is limited, at least in his view, to mere beauty.

As fate would have it, Eckhard Gerber, the man who could satisfy the sheikh's desire for innovation, was present to hear his words. Gerbel comes from Oespel-Kley, an obscure suburb of the German city of Dortmund, where he has an architecture office located in a 19th-century mansion that was once home to the area's top farming family.

A handful of architects in the old building recently dreamt up a state-of-the-art tower, a giant 68-story building projected to rise to a lofty height of 322 meters (1,056 feet), which would make it number 22 on the list of the world's tallest buildings. What is even more impressive is that not only will the Burj al-Taqa ("Energy Tower") consume very little energy -- but it will also produce all its energy itself.

"There's nothing like this in the whole world," Gerber says in praise of his own work. The architect suffers no false modesty when it comes to assessing his own project. "This kind of accomplishment is very rare," he says.

Municipalities and project developers in various Arab cities have already praised the self-sufficient eco-tower -- which exists only in digital form at present -- as "fantastic" and "brilliant," Gerber says. Gerber wants to reach an agreement with the Bahrain-based company Almoayed Holdings -- the investor that apparently wants to finance the €300 million ($406 million) project -- before the end of the year. The investor belongs to one of the five most powerful families on the island state. The German architect is also attracting the attention of financiers in Dubai and Riyadh, thanks to his high-tech tower, which is powered only by sunlight, wind and water. ...

The BBC reports that Brazil plans to capture and burn methane produced by dams.
Scientists in Brazil have claimed that a major source of greenhouse gas emissions could be curbed by capturing and burning methane given off by large hydro-electric dams.

The team at the country's National Space Research Institute (INPE) is developing prototype equipment designed to stop the greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. The technology will extract the methane from the water to supplement the energy produced by the dam turbines.

The scientists estimate that worldwide the technique could prevent emissions equivalent to more than the total annual burning of fossil fuels in the UK - and reduce the pressure to build new dams in sensitive areas such as the Amazon. The project follows a long-running controversy over how clean hydro-electric power really is.

Critics of the industry have claimed that in tropical areas of Brazil - which supplies more than 90% of its electricity from large dams - some reservoirs emit so much methane that their contribution to climate change is greater than an equivalent power station burning fossil fuels like coal or gas.

The Globe and Mail reports that water may be the limiting factor on oil production from tar sands.
The amount of water available in Northern Alberta isn't sufficient to accommodate both the needs of burgeoning oil sands development and preserve the Athabasca River, contends a study issued jointly yesterday by the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta.

The study, written in part by Dr. David Schindler, a University of Alberta biologist considered Canada's top water expert, suggests that the choke point for the province's oil sands expansion may not be the huge carbon dioxide emissions arising from mining and processing the sticky, bitumen containing tar sands, as is widely assumed, but a lack of water.

Oil sands plants typically use two to four barrels of water to extract a barrel of oil from the tar sands, a resource that has given the Northern Alberta region the world's largest petroleum reserves but made it a global centre of environmental controversy.

The problem of water availability is expected to become acute in the decades ahead because climate change is likely to cause much more arid conditions, reducing stream flows on the Athabasca River, the source of the industry's water, to critically low levels during parts of each year.

The Oil Drum has a guest post from "fireangel" on the biodiesel from algae process - particularly the GreenFuels process being trialled in South Africa by De Beers (not the diamonds people) - "Has the Algae Cavalry Arrived?".
During the oil crisis of the 1970s, Congress funded the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) within the Department of Energy to investigate alternative fuels and energy sources. The Aquatic Species Program (ASP) focused on the production of biodiesel from high lipid-content algae growing in outdoor ponds. These programs also used carbon-dioxide from coal fired plants to increase the growth rate and lipid content of algae. They estimated that under optimum growing conditions micro-algae will produce up to 4 lbs./sq. ft./year or 15,000 gallons of oil/acre/year. Micro-algae are the fastest growing photosynthesizing organisms. They can complete an entire growing cycle every few days. Based on this one can extrapolate that it would take about 10 million acres to produce 145 billion gallons of biodiesel which could supply the entire US gasoline requirements (assuming gasoline powered vehicles could be replaced over time). That is just 2.3% of total area used to grow crops in the US! So why isn’t someone doing something constructive in this field?

There are at least 4 different ventures in the works, including Aquaflow Bionomic, Solio Biofuels, GS Cleantech, and GreenFuel Technologies. GreenFuel seems to be the most advanced in mass commercialization of this technology. GreenFuel Technologies along with De Beers in South Africa (no relationship to the diamond miner) have been making some rather audacious claims on this front. As mentioned here they plan to single handedly make peakists shake in their boots. Greenfield/De Beers plan to produce about 391,000 barrels per day in 5 years. That is no chump change. There are just a couple of major oil fields coming online within the next 5 years which produce anywhere close to that. So Should Chris Skrewbowski start including De Beers in his mega projects list? Not so fast.

According to GreenFuel’s patent application a 1.3 sq. km. plant can generate 342,000 barrels of biodiesel per year. Now, I am not very familiar with km-acre relationship so I had to look it up. I got my wife to double check my numbers as I kept believing I screwed up somewhere. GreenFuel claims to be able to produce 45,000 gallons/ acre/ year. I have converted these to an easy to compare number to that of APS above. So GreenFuel is thus claiming to do 3 fold as well as, the highest estimate under super-optimistic conditions that has never been produced on a large scale. Also, ASP had dismissed closed photo bioreactors has prohibitively expensive but it was not clear what price of oil they were taking into their equation.

This last alliance of GreenFuel and De Beers which is making it’s stand against the dark forces of peak oil is even convincing the common public that it can do this. De Beer’s has sold shares to the common public (without a prospectus) and 29 franchises to build 91 plants (for 6 Million Rand each). Additionally they guarantee that each plant will produce more than 850 barrels of biodiesel per day.

Let’s examine their claims in light of (pun intended) how much lipid photosynthetic organisms can synthesize. ...

TreeHugger has a post quoting Popular Science from 1934 on solar power. Thankfully things have moved forward - a little...
I just love Modern Mechanix, finding gems like this from a 1934 Popular Science on solar power, as current as the next issue:

"SUNSHINE, our greatest source of potential power, is now largely wasted. It is highly probable, however, that a few years hence science will find a way to harness the mighty energy of the sun’s radiation. Solar engines and solar heating apparatus will then make it economically practicable for us to use at least a small portion of our now-wasted sunshine to run our factories, light our streets, cook our food, and warm our houses. In the United States we use, each year, something like a half billion tons of coal, a half billion barrels of oil, and fifty billion horsepower hours of water power for heat, light, and power.

If it were possible to convert all this energy into power—which of course it isn’t—it would produce seven trillion horsepower hours. If it were possible to convert completely into power all the solar energy that each year falls on the United States in the form of sunshine, it would amount to seven thousand trillion horsepower hours. Of course, some of the sunshine that comes to us through 93,000,000 miles of space is needed for the general heating of the earth and for the growing of plant life: but above those fundamental needs, solar radiation provides a potential supply of power many thousand times as great as the amount now supplied by other sources".

That the use of solar radiation for power is no vague dream of the far-distant future is shown by the fact that at present a solar power plant with a thermal efficiency of 4.32 per cent —over one third of the efficiency of the best steam engine—has been built and is being operated.

Dr. Charles Greeley Abbot, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the world’s leading authority on solar radiation, says that before long we shall find a commercially practicable method of harnessing sunshine. “Financial success probably awaits the solver of the problems of collecting solar heat for power purposes,” he says. “With our present outlook it seems to me likely that within another generation or two power demands will lead to the sun as the most available source of supply.”

IEEE Spectrum has an article on micro hydro power in Africa, asking "Can thousands of small dams solve Africa's power crunch?".
In the gorgeous Ruwenzori mountains of western Uganda, on a ridge above a fast-moving creek, a young man leans against a mango tree, a machete dangling from his arm. It is his job to guard one of the funkiest, tiniest dams in the world.

It's a hunk of concrete, about four meters across, that interrupts a natural waterfall, diverting water into a large reservoir. That pool drains into a rusted steel pipe that runs along the creek and then drops sharply into a white stucco-covered bungalow the size of a walk-in closet. Inside the bungalow, a turbine generator capable of producing 60 kilowatts churns out electricity, which is carried via underground wires to the Kagando Christian Hospital, 3 kilometers away.
Click Here!

The zany contraption is the hospital's chief source of electricity, and it is incredibly reliable—five years have gone by since a turbine blade needed replacing. The entire system cost less than US $15 000.

At a state-of-the-art hospital, 60 kilowatts would just barely keep an MRI facility going, but here in this rural corner of East Africa, it's enough to keep 100 nurses and doctors, and hundreds more patients, bathed in light, and to power their dental, surgical, and lab equipment, as well as their kitchen and laundry.

That explains the presence of the man with the machete: he works for the hospital, and he is protecting the dam from vandals. The little hydro facility has brought life and some semblance of order to a place where politics and official infrastructure have generally meant failure and disappointment.

"The government has promised and promised to bring electricity to this village and never has," says Sabuni Seezi, who maintains the hospital's microhydro. "So we did it ourselves."

And what works for Uganda has enormous promise all over sub-Saharan Africa, the most energy-poor region in the world. Excluding highly developed South Africa, the region has only about 30 gigawatts of installed capacity, about the same amount as Poland. But to spread the benefits of microhydro would take a seismic shift in the continent's usual electrification paradigms and—perhaps more ambitiously—a renunciation of the crippling mix of politics and patronage that have left the continent with some of the worst electrification rates in the world. And nowhere are the tensions over microhydro more apparent than in Uganda, with its many rivers, including the Nile. Here, the struggle to balance the potential for both large and small hydroelectric projects has already begun.

Big dams still dominate Africa's electricity scene. They have been at the center of infrastructure development on the continent for 50 years, ever since Egypt built the 2.1-gigawatt Aswan Dam on the Nile and Ghana built the 768-megawatt Akosombo Dam on the Volta River. Now in addition to its main dam on the Nile at Owen Falls near Jinja, the Ugandan government is planning to build two more large dams on different points of the Nile at an estimated cost of $750 million. The larger and more expensive, at Bujagali, was put on hold in 2002 and is now being revived.

Uganda is not alone among African countries in its reliance on big hydro; nine others receive at least 80 percent of their electricity from hydro, including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, and Zambia. Hydro contributes more than 60 percent of the electricity in Angola, Benin, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Tanzania.

Because large dams are so expensive, they carry great risks, especially in drought-prone areas, and require capable management by government. Microhydro systems such as the one at the Kagando hospital are appealing because they cost less, reach places far outside the national grid, and give local communities a direct stake in their power systems. They also don't require the involvement of national government agencies—which, in Africa, are often corrupt, incompetent, or both. ...

Nevertheless, large dams continue to dominate government agendas, not only in Uganda but throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Paul Mobiru, senior energy adviser to Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, says the dams are grabbing most of the public money available for electricity development [see map, "Africa's Big Dam Projects". That's a shame, many analysts say. The emphasis on large dams reinforces centralized power and invites corruption, because large dams bring big money into the hands of a few government officials and technocrats. By contrast, small dams capable of generating up to 15 MW are relatively inexpensive and require the hands-on involvement of villages and communities, thus potentially serving as a tool for local empowerment. Perhaps because small dams spread political and economic power, rather than concentrate it, African governments and the foreign donors who fund so much of Africa's infrastructure have generally ignored them.

Microhydro systems produce up to 100 kW of power and usually cost $200 to $500 per kilowatt of capacity to install. In a typical project, most of the expenditures go toward construction of channels, dams, and distribution networks as well as turbines and other basic equipment.

One of the great advantages of microhydros is that they can electrify remote communities far from the grid relatively quickly and economically. That's a huge potential benefit, because today in Africa the grid typically reaches less than 10 percent of the population. Half of black Africa's population will still be living without grid-supplied electricity some 25 years from now, according to a United Nations forecast. Many African countries are so large that plans to extend the grid beyond major cities might remain too costly for generations.

Microhydros are already popular in Vietnam and China. In China alone, an estimated 42 200 microhydros provide some 28 GW, according to the Chinese government. ...

The WSJ Energy Roundup has a post on an angry Shell service station owner (which reminded me of some of the events described in "The Control Of Oil").
You might think a gas station charging more than $4 for a gallon of gasoline is trying to gouge consumers. In fact, Bob Oyster’s Shell station at Sixth and Harrison in San Francisco, which charges $4.33 a gallon for regular unleaded, is trying to gouge a big oil company, according to a San Francisco Chronicle profile today.

Oyster is apparently angry with Royal Dutch Shell’s U.S. division for raising his rent and forcing him to jack up gas prices. To fight back, he jacked prices way up — the Chevron station down the street charges 70 cents per gallon less for regular — hoping to run the station out of business.

“I got fed up,'’ Oyster tells the paper. “It makes a statement, and I guess when people see that price they also see the Shell sign right next to it.'’

Oyster plans to hand the station over to Shell and walk away from it after 22 years. He and some other independent gas-station owners say the big oil companies are squeezing them out of business so they can cut out the middle men standing between them and profitable gas sales. “At a time when the oil companies are posting record profits, the little guys are struggling to stay in business,” the paper says. “And many, like Oyster, are giving up the fight.”

Shell says that’s not true and that its roster of independent gas-station owners is growing. Minus Bob Oyster. “I’m going out with a bang,'’ he told the paper. “And I don’t care if I don’t pump a gallon on the last day.'’

Richard Heinberg's latest essay outlines the case for the peak coal theory, claiming "coal's future is in doubt". I guess we can only hope he is correct.
MuseLetter #179 (March, 2007), “Burning the Furniture” consisted of a summary of the conclusions of a recent study by the Energy Watch Group (EWG) on future global coal supplies. That study, “Coal: Resources and Future Production [PDF] ,” published on April 5, found that global coal production could peak in as few as 15 years. This astonishing conclusion was based on a careful analysis of recent reserves revisions for several nations.

The EWG report has enormous implications for climate change, global energy, and particularly for future electricity supply and steel production in the US and China. Previously, virtually everyone in the fields of energy policy and energy analysis—as well as nearly everyone involved in discussions about climate change—had assumed that the world’s coal endowment was so enormous that no limits would be encountered anytime this century. The EWG’s conclusions turn this assumption on its head.

So far, there is little indication that the study has received even a small fraction of the attention it deserves.

...Therefore any new analysis of global coal supplies, following on the heels of the EWG report, warrants considerable interest.

We have not had to wait long. “The Future of Coal,” a study by B. Kavalov and S. D. Peteves of the Institute for Energy (IFE), prepared for European Commission Joint Research Centre, is ready in final draft and will be published within days.

Unlike the EWG panel, Kavalov and Peteves did not attempt to forecast a peak in global production. Future supply is discussed in terms of the familiar but often misleading reserves-to-production (R/P) ratio. Nevertheless, the IFG’s conclusions are broadly supportive of the EWG report.

The three primary take-away conclusions from the new coal study are as follows:

• “World proven reserves (i.e. the reserves that are economically recoverable at current economic and operating conditions) of coal are decreasing fast….
• “The bulk of coal production and exports is getting concentrated within a few countries and market players, which creates the risk of market imperfections.
• “Coal production costs are steadily rising all over the world, due to the need to develop new fields, increasingly difficult geological conditions and additional infrastructure costs associated with the exploitation of new fields.”

Early in their paper the authors ask, “Will coal be a fuel of the future?” Their disturbing conclusion, many pages later, is that “The analysis in the preceding chapters indicates that coal might not be so abundant, widely available and reliable as an energy source in the future.” Along the way, they state “the world could run out of economically recoverable (at current economic and operating conditions) reserves of coal much earlier than widely anticipated.” ...

UPI reports other regions are catching up to the EU in the harnessing of wind power.
If the wind industry will help meet the European Union's 20 percent renewable goal, it must overcome several key challenges.

The industry has seen an average of 25 percent growth annually over the last seven years, said Jos Beurskens of the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands. But it is no longer the only major producer of wind power. Wind used to be concentrated, with five European countries providing 80 percent. Now the United States, China, India and Australia are all beginning to compete. Besides industry competition, there is also a supply imbalance causing a long wait for parts and increased prices.

For wind to fulfill its role in the binding targets, there must be improvement in deregulation strategies, infrastructure and public attitude. Beurskens dismissed the reasons opponents give for their disapproval. "I've never seen anyone die from looking at something ugly, but I have seen people die from breathing poison," he said.

WorldChanging's latest "Principles" post on "Life Cycle Analysis, Embodied Energy and Virtual Water" points to an old article on Industrial Ecologies.
Modeled after the interconnection of ecological processes, industrial ecology redirects waste streams into usable materials by linking industries to one another, incorporating a spectrum of approaches such as dematerialization, life-cycle assessment, and product-oriented environmental policy.

Industrial ecology has also been applied to small-scale agricultural projects, such as Vermont's Intervale, and is occasionally associated with the appealing, if contentious, concept of 'zero emissions'. ZERI (Zero Emissions Research Initiative) has implemented community-scale projects in developing countries, aiming to increase communities' self-sufficiency, and setting examples for the developed world.

In order to find applications for (often toxic) waste materials, industrial ecology requires significant transparency betweeen industries; proprietary information and litigation are a couple of the major barriers to similar schemes in North America. The oft-cited success of Kalundborg - a Danish community with a tightly integrated industrial ecosystem - is due in no small part to the transparency and openness between the community's engineers:
"At the center of the Kalundborg industrial park is a large, coal-fired electrical power-generating station. Waste steam from the power plant runs a pharmaceutical plant and an oil refinery. Waste heat is piped to houses in the nearby town, replacing 3,500 household oil heaters. Waste water from the oil refinery goes back to the power plant, in place of fresh water that had previously been pumped from nearby Lake Tisso. Waste gas from the refinery runs a factory making gypsum wallboard, which also uses gypsum extracted from the power plant's wastes. Sulfur, a byproduct of the oil refinery, becomes sulfuric acid at yet another plant. Fly ash, left over from the power plant, is made into cement. The sludge from the pharmaceutical plant's yeast-based processes fertilizes farmers' fields. Like symbiosis between plants or animals, what one partner excretes the other needs."

These symbiotic relationships have drastically reduced Kalundborg's energy and water consumption, and output of greenhouse gases. What's interesting is that while it remains the favourite case study for industrial ecologies, most eco-industrial parks in development are planned from the bottom up, while Kalundborg self-organized to meet regulatory goals (and, if you like, evolved according to market forces):
"In some ways... government - or at least culture - does affect the level to which industries will act in symbiosis. "One of the unique aspects of culture in Denmark is that all the engineers in Kalundborg hung out together. They knew each other... Scandinavian economies have a somewhat different ethos in terms of their interface with the environment. It could be geography, it could be climate, it could be history, but for some reason they have more of a team attitude when it comes to dealing with environmental problems." "

The IHT has a report on South Korea seeking cleaner energy sources. "World's largest" acolades seem to be flowing fast and free lately - the solar plant isn't close to the world's largest (at least in terms of announced plants) and while the tidal energy project is impressively large, it still seems much smaller than some mooted Russian projects near Sakhalin island (although these could well be pipe dreams admittedly).
South Korea plans to break ground for the world's biggest solar power plant on Thursday as it tries to diversify its power sources and use cleaner energy.

The $170 million plant, along with the world's largest tidal power plant that is already under construction off the country's west coast, is part of an aggressive effort to seek new and renewable energy sources at a time when global concern about reducing the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is rising.

The nation is attempting to increase its use of renewable energy from its current 2.28 percent to 10 percent by 2020.

The solar plant, being built in Shinan, near the southwestern tip of South Korea, is scheduled to be completed by late 2008. It will feature 109,000 rectangular solar modules that will cover a seaside plot the size of 80 football fields, engineers said Wednesday. The modules tilt on a sun-tracking system to generate up to 20 megawatts of electricity.

"The plant will produce more than 27,000 megawatt-hours of environmentally friendly electricity a year," said Kim Ji Hun, president of the Korean subsidiary of SunTechnics, the German solar power company that will build the plant on a turnkey contract. "This will be enough to supply 6,000 to 7,000 households, and saves 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, or the amount of carbon dioxide 23,000 cars emit a year." ...

Like China, South Korea is aggressively exploring offshore gas reserves and new and renewable energy. The country spent $66.7 billion on importing energy in 2005, or 22.1 percent of its total import bill, making its economy vulnerable to high oil prices.

South Korea aims to reduce its dependency on oil to 35 percent of its energy needs by 2030, a drop from 44 percent in 2005.

Last week, the city of Incheon, west of Seoul, said it would build the world's biggest tidal energy plant by 2014. The plan calls for connecting four islands with a 7.8-kilometer, or 4.8-mile, barrier and installing dozens of turbines that will harness the energy of powerful tidal waves.

The $1.9 billion plant will have a capacity of 812 megawatts, exceeding that of the 240-megawatt La Rance project in France, currently the world's largest operating tidal plant. It will also surpass the 254-megawatt Sihwa tidal energy project under construction on the west coast of South Korea. When it is ready in 2009, the Sihwa plant will be the world's largest.

Increased concerns about global warming and air pollution have added urgency to efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The Australian has a report on the high environmental cost of bottled water. They also have a report on a Labor plan to fix Australia's leaky water infrastructure.
BOTTLED water, the world's fastest growing beverage, carries a heavy environmental cost, adding plastic to landfills and putting pressure on natural springs, the author of a new US report said today. "Bottled water is really expensive, in terms of environmental costs and economically," said Ling Li, who wrote the report for the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.

While many in developed countries thirst for safety, cleanliness, taste and social cachet when they buy bottled water, more than one billion of the world's poorest lack access to clean drinking water, bottled or not. And in developed countries, bottled water may be scrutinised using lower standards than plain tap water, the report said.

The environmental impact can start at the source, where some local streams and underground aquifers become depleted when there is "excessive withdrawal" for bottled water, according to the report.

In addition to the energy cost of producing, bottling, packaging, storing and shipping bottled water, there is also the environmental cost of the millions of tonnes of oil-derived plastic needed to make the bottles. "The beverage industry benefits the most from our bottled water obsession," Ms Ling said. "But this does nothing for the staggering number of the world's poor who see safe drinking water as at best a luxury and at worst an unattainable goal."

Worldwatch estimated 35 to 50 per cent of urban dwellers in Africa and Asia lack adequate access to safe potable water.

Most water is bottled in polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which requires less energy to recycle and does not release chlorine into the atmosphere when burned. But recycling rates have declined: about 23.1 per cent of PET water bottles were recycled in the United States in 2005, compared with 39.7 per cent 10 years earlier, the report said.

"Best life Magazine" has a demoralising article on the "Plastic ocean".
Returning to Southern California from Hawaii after a sailing race, Moore had altered Alguita’s course, veering slightly north. He had the time and the curiosity to try a new route, one that would lead the vessel through the eastern corner of a 10-million-square-mile oval known as the North Pacific subtropical gyre. This was an odd stretch of ocean, a place most boats purposely avoided. For one thing, it was becalmed. “The doldrums,” sailors called it, and they steered clear. So did the ocean’s top predators: the tuna, sharks, and other large fish that required livelier waters, flush with prey. The gyre was more like a desert—a slow, deep, clockwise-swirling vortex of air and water caused by a mountain of high-pressure air that lingered above it.

The area’s reputation didn’t deter Moore. He had grown up in Long Beach, 40 miles south of L.A., with the Pacific literally in his front yard, and he possessed an impressive aquatic résumé: deckhand, able seaman, sailor, scuba diver, surfer, and finally captain. Moore had spent countless hours in the ocean, fascinated by its vast trove of secrets and terrors. He’d seen a lot of things out there, things that were glorious and grand; things that were ferocious and humbling. But he had never seen anything nearly as chilling as what lay ahead of him in the gyre.

It began with a line of plastic bags ghosting the surface, followed by an ugly tangle of junk: nets and ropes and bottles, motor-oil jugs and cracked bath toys, a mangled tarp. Tires. A traffic cone. Moore could not believe his eyes. Out here in this desolate place, the water was a stew of plastic crap. It was as though someone had taken the pristine seascape of his youth and swapped it for a landfill. ...

Since his first encounter with the Garbage Patch nine years ago, Moore has been on a mission to learn exactly what’s going on out there. Leaving behind a 25-year career running a furniture-restoration business, he has created the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to spread the word of his findings. He has resumed his science studies, which he’d set aside when his attention swerved from pursuing a university degree to protesting the Vietnam War. His tireless effort has placed him on the front lines of this new, more abstract battle. After enlisting scientists such as Steven B. Weisberg, Ph.D. (executive director of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project and an expert in marine environmental monitoring), to develop methods for analyzing the gyre’s contents, Moore has sailed Alguita back to the Garbage Patch several times. On each trip, the volume of plastic has grown alarmingly. The area in which it accumulates is now twice the size of Texas.

At the same time, all over the globe, there are signs that plastic pollution is doing more than blighting the scenery; it is also making its way into the food chain. Some of the most obvious victims are the dead seabirds that have been washing ashore in startling numbers, their bodies packed with plastic: things like bottle caps, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, and colored scraps that, to a foraging bird, resemble baitfish. (One animal dissected by Dutch researchers contained 1,603 pieces of plastic.) And the birds aren’t alone. All sea creatures are threatened by floating plastic, from whales down to zooplankton. There’s a basic moral horror in seeing the pictures: a sea turtle with a plastic band strangling its shell into an hourglass shape; a humpback towing plastic nets that cut into its flesh and make it impossible for the animal to hunt. More than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and countless fish die in the North Pacific each year, either from mistakenly eating this junk or from being ensnared in it and drowning.

Bad enough. But Moore soon learned that the big, tentacled balls of trash were only the most visible signs of the problem; others were far less obvious, and far more evil. Dragging a fine-meshed net known as a manta trawl, he discovered minuscule pieces of plastic, some barely visible to the eye, swirling like fish food throughout the water. He and his researchers parsed, measured, and sorted their samples and arrived at the following conclusion: By weight, this swath of sea contains six times as much plastic as it does plankton. ...

“There’s no legal way to recycle a milk container into another milk container without adding a new virgin layer of plastic,” Moore says, pointing out that, because plastic melts at low temperatures, it retains pollutants and the tainted residue of its former contents. Turn up the heat to sear these off, and some plastics release deadly vapors. So the reclaimed stuff is mostly used to make entirely different products, things that don’t go anywhere near our mouths, such as fleece jackets and carpeting. Therefore, unlike recycling glass, metal, or paper, recycling plastic doesn’t always result in less use of virgin material. It also doesn’t help that fresh-made plastic is far cheaper.

Moore routinely finds half-melted blobs of plastic in the ocean, as though the person doing the burning realized partway through the process that this was a bad idea, and stopped (or passed out from the fumes). “That’s a concern as plastic proliferates worldwide, and people run out of room for trash and start burning plastic—you’re producing some of the most toxic gases known,” he says. The color-coded bin system may work in Marin County, but it is somewhat less effective in subequatorial Africa or rural Peru.

“Except for the small amount that’s been incinerated—and it’s a very small amount—every bit of plastic ever made still exists,” Moore says, describing how the material’s molecular structure resists biodegradation. Instead, plastic crumbles into ever-tinier fragments as it’s exposed to sunlight and the elements. And none of these untold gazillions of fragments is disappearing anytime soon: Even when plastic is broken down to a single molecule, it remains too tough for biodegradation.
Truth is, no one knows how long it will take for plastic to biodegrade, or return to its carbon and hydrogen elements. We only invented the stuff 144 years ago, and science’s best guess is that its natural disappearance will take several more centuries. Meanwhile, every year, we churn out about 60 billion tons of it, much of which becomes disposable products meant only for a single use. Set aside the question of why we’re creating ketchup bottles and six-pack rings that last for half a millennium, and consider the implications of it: Plastic never really goes away.

Ask a group of people to name an overwhelming global problem, and you’ll hear about climate change, the Middle East, or AIDS. No one, it is guaranteed, will cite the sloppy transport of nurdles as a concern. And
yet nurdles, lentil-size pellets of plastic in its rawest form, are especially effective couriers of waste chemicals called persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, which include known carcinogens such as DDT and PCBs.

The United States banned these poisons in the 1970s, but they remain stubbornly at large in the environment, where they latch on to plastic because of its molecular tendency to attract oils.

The word itself—nurdles—sounds cuddly and harmless, like a cartoon character or a pasta for kids, but what it refers to is most certainly not. Absorbing up to a million times the level of POP pollution in their surrounding waters, nurdles become supersaturated poison pills. They’re light enough to blow around like dust, to spill out of shipping containers, and to wash into harbors, storm drains, and creeks. In the ocean, nurdles are easily mistaken for fish eggs by creatures that would very much like to have such a snack. And once inside the body of a bigeye tuna or a king salmon, these tenacious chemicals are headed directly to your dinner table.

One study estimated that nurdles now account for 10 percent of plastic ocean debris. And once they’re scattered in the environment, they’re diabolically hard to clean up (think wayward confetti). At places as remote as Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, 2,100 miles northeast of New Zealand and a 12-hour flight from L.A., they’re commonly found mixed with beach sand. In 2004, Moore received a $500,000 grant from the state of California to investigate the myriad ways in which nurdles go astray during the plastic manufacturing process. On a visit to a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe factory, as he walked through an area where railcars unloaded ground-up nurdles, he noticed that his pant cuffs were filled with a fine plastic dust. Turning a corner, he saw windblown drifts of nurdles piled against a fence. Talking about the experience, Moore’s voice becomes strained and his words pour out in an urgent tumble: “It’s not the big trash on the beach. It’s the fact that the whole biosphere is becoming mixed with these plastic particles. What are they doing to us? We’re breathing them, the fish are eating them, they’re in our hair, they’re in our skin.” ...

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 1865, a few years after Alexander Parkes unveiled a precursor to man-made plastic called Parkesine, a scientist named John W. Hyatt set out to make a synthetic replacement for ivory billiard balls. He had the best of intentions: Save the elephants! After some tinkering, he created celluloid. From then on, each year brought a miraculous recipe: rayon in 1891, Teflon in 1938, polypropylene in 1954. Durable, cheap, versatile—plastic seemed like a revelation. And in many ways, it was. Plastic has given us bulletproof vests, credit cards, slinky spandex pants. It has led to breakthroughs in medicine, aerospace engineering, and computer science. And who among us doesn’t own a Frisbee?

Plastic has its benefits; no one would deny that. Few of us, however, are as enthusiastic as the American Plastics Council. One of its recent press releases, titled “Plastic Bags—A Family’s Trusted Companion,” reads: “Very few people remember what life was like before plastic bags became an icon of convenience and practicality—and now art. Remember the ‘beautiful’ [sic] swirling, floating bag in American Beauty?” ...

Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Ph.D., an expert on marine debris, agrees. “If you could fast-forward 10,000 years and do an archaeological dig…you’d find a little line of plastic,” he told The Seattle Times last April. “What happened to those people? Well, they ate their own plastic and disrupted their genetic structure and weren’t able to reproduce. They didn’t last very long because they killed themselves."

Wrist-slittingly depressing, yes, but there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. Green architect and designer William McDonough has become an influential voice, not only in environmental circles but among Fortune 500 CEOs. McDonough proposes a standard known as “cradle to cradle” in which all manufactured things must be reusable, poison-free, and beneficial over the long haul. His outrage is obvious when he holds up a rubber ducky, a common child’s bath toy. The duck is made of phthalate-laden PVC, which has been linked to cancer and reproductive harm. “What kind of people are we that we would design like this?” McDonough asks. In the United States, it’s commonly accepted that children’s teething rings, cosmetics, food wrappers, cars, and textiles will be made from toxic materials. Other countries—and many individual companies—seem to be reconsidering. Currently, McDonough is working with the Chinese government to build seven cities using “the building materials of the future,” including a fabric that is safe enough to eat and a new, nontoxic polystyrene.

None of plastic’s problems can be fixed overnight, but the more we learn, the more likely that, eventually, wisdom will trump convenience and cheap disposability. In the meantime, let the cleanup begin: The National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is aggressively using satellites to identify and remove “ghost nets,” abandoned plastic fishing gear that never stops killing. (A single net recently hauled up off the Florida coast contained more than 1,000 dead fish, sharks, and one loggerhead turtle.) New biodegradable starch- and corn-based plastics have arrived, and Wal-Mart has signed on as a customer. A consumer rebellion against dumb and excessive packaging is afoot. And in August 2006, Moore was invited to speak about “marine debris and hormone disruption” at a meeting in Sicily convened by the science advisor to the Vatican. This annual gathering, called the International Seminars on Planetary Emergencies, brings scientists together to discuss mankind’s worst threats.

Reuters reports that the US is trying to dilute a declaration on global warming at the upcoming G8 meeting. Hopefully this declaration won't be derailed by terrorist bombs going off somewhere and switching the focus away to security issues like the 2005 equivalent was.
THE US is trying to dilute a declaration on global warming to be made at next month's G8 summit, sources close to the talks said, putting it on a collision course with hosts Germany. In a draft of the declaration dated April 2007 seen by Reuters, the US objects to a pledge to limit global warming to 2C this century and cut world greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Washington also questions whether the UN is the best forum to tackle the climate crisis and rejects a section stating that carbon markets are a key means of developing and deploying climate-friendly technologies. “They have rejected any mention of targets and timetables, don't want the UN to get more involved and refuse to endorse carbon trading because it must by definition involve targets,” one well-placed source said on condition of anonymity.

The leaders of Britain, the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, Italy and France will attend the summit hosted by Germany in the Baltic resort town of Heligendamm from June 6-8.

Resource Investor is saying good riddance to Tony Blair and blaming him for wasting the UK's oil reserves.
The U.K. was one of the world’s biggest producers of crude oil. With the emphasis on ‘was’. It produced over 3 million barrels a day in 1999; compare this to Iran’s 4 million barrels a day, Kuwait’s 2 million barrels a day and so on. This is major league work. The U.K. left it to the market to decide what the output would be; it gave huge tax breaks to private companies and allowed its precious hydrocarbon resources to be governed by the ungovernable.

Now some eight years later, the U.K. produces around 1.3 million barrels a day and all of a sudden it has become a net importer of hydrocarbons. Oh dear, what happened? The market did what it does best, suck a resource dry and then move on. The U.K. government has responded with a record number of permits given out to smaller oil companies mopping up what was left. Even if decent sized fields like BG Group’s Jasmine and Buzzard can be punchy in themselves, the decline in the U.K. North Sea is unstoppable.

Having maintained such a stupidly thought out and poorly planned use of resources Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Blair then decided to go off to the Middle East to fight wars to control the supply of other people’s oil. Namely Iraq’s. Here they have been successful, unless you happen to be one of the millions who have died in the two wars and intervening sanctions.

In maybe 100 years or so, historians will look back at a politician who did a fantastic job at keeping his real motivations out of the public eye. Power is what Mr. Blair did best, getting it for himself that is. But wasting the resources of the U.K. will be his real legacy. He along with Mrs. Thatcher wasted that resource, oil, and wasted the human resources of the dead. Still, on to the lecture tour we go….

Dollars and Sense has an interview with Greg Palast which touches on a dew oil related subjects.
Dollars & Sense: Why the hell hasn’t the U.S. press covered the story of Bush’s vultures, election’s theft, Iraq’s oil or any of the other stories you’ve put on the front pages in Europe?

Palast: Robert Kennedy Jr. just complained to the head of ABC News about the blackout on my stories. (ABC has the right to take my stuff from BBC for free.) I’m not holding my breath for an answer. I call it, The Silence of the Media Lambs. We’ve got loads of terrific investigative reporters in America, but gutless editors. So the suck-ups to power get the choice posts in metropolitan dailies and on the networks.

Think of the punishment inflicted for the crime of investigative reporting. Seymour Hersh told me he was forced out of the New York Times and Bob Parry, the guy who busted open the Iran-Contra story, was pushed out of the Associated Press. On the other hand, Bob Woodward, who had his journalistic tongue up George Bush’s rectum, who went from writing ‘All the President’s Men’ to being one of the President’s men, is doing just fine.

Dollars & Sense: Many progressives are focused on privatization of the Iraqi economy, including its oil industry, as Bush’s real goal for the invasion. But you write about two radically different plans within the administration, the neo-cons’ versus Big Oil’s—and Big Oil’s plan was the one opposed to privatization. What’s going on here? Plus: any update on how privatization and the whole neo-liberal reshaping of the Iraqi economy are going?

Palast: A lot of intelligent folk believe Bush had a secret plan to grab the oil fields of Iraq before the tanks rolled. That’s wrong. He had TWO plans. In Armed Madhouse, I show you both — the result of two years undercover for BBC. The plans conflict. There’s the neo-con plan: Privatize — that is, sell off — everything, “especially the oil” industry. That’s a quote from the 101-page document which I learned was written by the neo-cons. That didn’t happen — because a Jim Baker team — he’s the lawyer for both Exxon and Saudi Arabia — secretly wrote a 323-page plan that called for CONTROLLING the oil flow, not owning it. The purpose was to LIMIT the supply of oil from Iraq and keep prices high. This would, “enhance [Iraq’s] relationship with OPEC” — the oil cartel. That’s a quote from the document you’re not supposed to see.

So here it is: the invasion was about LIMITING the flow of oil from Iraq, keeping prices high, not grabbing the oil to bring prices down for your SUV. The secret Baker plan is now the law in Iraq and prices are over $50 a barrel. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Dollars & Sense: We’ve covered some of the less-told stories of Venezuela under Chavez—for example, how he’s dramatically expanding the co-operative sector of the economy. Some progressives worry though: is he a populist demagogue, maybe in the Juan Peron mold, or is he really committed to worker autonomy, democracy, and all that good stuff? You’ve talked with Hugo Chavez. What’s your take?

Palast: Chavez recommends that everyone read my book, so obviously I think he’s the greatest statesman since Lincoln. But seriously, folks, what makes the guy an astonishing threat to the Bush World Order is that he insists on keeping the cash from the sale of Venezuela’s oil — shock of shocks! — in Venezuela! With some lent to the rest of Latin America. Up until now, Venezuela sold us oil then immediately shifted the funds back to the US Federal Reserve. Chavez withdrew the funds from the Fed and, Heaven help us, spent it on building his own nation’s economy. Is he a “demogogue”? The word means, spokesman for the people. That he is. Fun trivia: RFK Jr. reminded me that Chavez picked up the line, “Whiff of sulfur” in speaking of Bush from my last book which he had just read.

Dollars & Sense: You write about how, depending on the price of oil over time, Venezuela’s oil could turn out to be a pivot point of huge geopolitical change. Can you explain?

Palast: Internal US Department of Energy analysis (I got my hands on it for BBC; it’s in the book) shows that Venezuela, not Saudi Arabia, has the largest reserve of crude. That’s a geo-political earthquake.

The New York Times has caught up with the missing Iraqi oil story - "Billions in Oil Missing in Iraq, U.S. Study Says". At this stage, this is probably a distraction from the much larger attempted theft of most of Iraq's oil reserves via the new oil law the Iraqi parliament is resisting passing.
Between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels a day of Iraq’s declared oil production over the past four years is unaccounted for and could have been siphoned off through corruption or smuggling, according to a draft American government report. Using an average of $50 a barrel, the report said the discrepancy was valued at $5 million to $15 million daily.

The report does not give a final conclusion on what happened to the missing fraction of the roughly two million barrels pumped by Iraq each day, but the findings are sure to reinforce longstanding suspicions that smugglers, insurgents and corrupt officials control significant parts of the country’s oil industry.

The report also covered alternative explanations for the billions of dollars worth of discrepancies, including the possibility that Iraq has been consistently overstating its oil production.

Iraq and the State Department, which reports the numbers, have been under relentless pressure to show tangible progress in Iraq by raising production levels, which have languished well below the United States goal of three million barrels a day. Virtually the entire economy of Iraq is dependent on oil revenues.

The draft report, expected to be released within the next week, was prepared by the United States Government Accountability Office with the help of government energy analysts, and was provided to The New York Times by a separate government office that received a review copy.

For those of you in Denver, watch out for squirrels carrying bubonic plague
A rash of squirrel deaths from plague in the middle of Colorado's largest city has heightened surveillance for the deadly but curable disease. No humans here have been infected with plague, the "Black Death" disease that killed millions in 14th-century Europe. A state hotline gets 50-75 calls daily about dead rodents. Chris Urbina, Denver's health director, says the risk of catching it "is extremely low."

One human case has been reported in the USA this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 49-year-old man in San Juan County, N.M., was hospitalized last week and is recovering. A flu-like illness that occurs most often in lymph nodes or the blood, plague is treatable with antibiotics.

Denver's last outbreak in rodents was nearly 40 years ago. So far, 13 squirrels have been found dead in or near City Park, an urban playground 2 miles from the state Capitol. Two infected squirrels and an infected rabbit were found dead in Denver suburbs.

Plague bacteria are carried by fleas that infect wild rodents, rabbits and cats, usually in rural areas. Plague reached the USA in the 19th century in rats on ships. It exists today only in the West, mainly in four states: New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California.

4 comments

A couple of problems with CSP; first cities tend to be in good rainfall areas not deserts. Second to be a cornerstone energy source it may need days of storage, not hours, because of protracted overcast weather. If this is our best hope when everything from coal to uranium has run out then the future looks precarious.

Well - I think this is just another version of the "baseload fallacy" that I go on about from time to time.

Solar thermal could meet a large part of our energy needs right now - Australia is blessed with solar energy and has few areas that are frequently overcast - certainly Perth and Sydney, the 2 cities here I've lived in - are rarely overcast - and in nay case you can transmit power long distances with relatively small losses - I'd stick all the solar plants out past the ranges or in the desert and build a better grid.

Then I'd plug in a lot of widely dispersed wind farms and tidal projects, plus some geothermal outback South Australia if those projects work out.

I'd expect that by building a smartish grid with good demand management we'd be rid of coal and uranium long before they run out - and we'd be much better off for it.

When most people think about solar power powering everybody’s everyday needs (say that 10 times fast), they are imagining centuries in to the future. Many people believe solar power is unreasonable; it could be cloudy, it doesn’t produce enough energy, etc. But they’re wrong. In reality, solar power may not provide enough energy for ALL of our energy needs. But it could provide be a large percentage energy source. Coupled with nuclear power, wind power and water power, we could stop global warming. I think that this is a good start for the idea of a technology that can be improved with an excellent promising future. Because if we can use the sun as a source of energy for a cleaner and healthier environment why not use it. And by the way the entire earth will thank to those innovative people.

No argument from me - the more I look at it the more I'm convinced that solar could provide more than half of our power needs - in theory it could provide all our power needs if we built the global energy grid.

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