Silicon Solar Valley  

Posted by Big Gav

Business 2.0's Green Wombat has a look at Silicon Valley's Plan to Become Solar Valley.

Silicon Valley's nascent solar industry has formed an alliance called SolarTech that aims to make the San Francisco Bay Area the epicenter of alternative energy, much as it became the nation's high tech capital two decades ago. The goal is to turn a niche business into a mass market source of electricity by standardizing solar panel installation, permitting, grid connection, power measurement and financing. "California is the leading adopter of solar power in the United States by far, representing over 75 percent of that market, thus making California the third largest market for solar power worldwide," SolarTech states in a white paper released today. "These embedded economic drivers point to a substantial economic and job growth opportunity for Silicon Valley if we adopt a similar path as the high tech industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Silicon Valley is uniquely well positioned to help drive this growth through our abundant resources of engineering talent, world-class educational system, and financial capital."

SolarTech members include solar-cell makers SunPower (SPWR) and Sharp, thin-film solar startup Miasole, concentrator photovoltaic firm SolFocus, installation firm REGrid Power, Northern California utility PG&E (PCG) and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the de facto trade arm of the valley's tech industry.

The alliance's white paper discusses the hurdles to widespread adoption of solar power by California homeowners and businesses - from a mishmash of municipal permitting requirements that can delay and drive up the cost of installing solar panels to a lack of statewide standards for connecting solar systems to the grid. But one of the more innovative proposals from SolarTech involves financing solar energy systems. ...

Meanwhile Red Herring reports that Asia has taken the lead in cleantech investment.
Global spending on new energy and environmental technologies is slated to grow 14 percent this year to more than $55 billion with Asia maintaining its leading role, a research group said Thursday. A report by New York-based Lux Research also showed that Asian countries, particularly China, Japan, and South Korea, in 2006 slightly increased their lead over the U.S. and European nations when it came to cleantech R&D spending by governments and corporations.

“Unlike previous technology waves in information and biotech…the U.S. is not leading the world,” said Matthew Nordan, president of Lux Research, in a prepared statement. “The Asia/Pacific region takes first place in government funding, corporate R&D spending, and scientific publications while the U.S. only leads in deployment of venture capital and in patents issued.”

The U.S., however, remained the venture capital hotbed, accounting for about two-thirds of the world’s 1,500 cleantech startups last year. Venture spending in cleantech more than doubled last year to reach about $2 billion worldwide, Lux’s data shows. ...

PhysOrg has an article on SPectrolabs' 40% efficient solar cells.
Scientists from Spectrolab, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing, have recently published their research on the fabrication of solar cells that surpass the 40% efficiency milestone—the highest efficiency achieved for any photovoltaic device. Their results appear in a recent edition of Applied Physics Letters. ...

The Spectrolab group experimented with concentrator multijunction solar cells that use high intensities of sunlight, the equivalent of 100s of suns, concentrated by lenses or mirrors. Significantly, the multijunction cells can also use the broad range of wavelengths in sunlight much more efficiently than single-junction cells. ...

In the design, multijunction cells divide the broad solar spectrum into three smaller sections by using three subcell band gaps. Each of the subcells can capture a different wavelength range of light, enabling each subcell to efficiently convert that light into electricity. With their conversion efficiency measured at 40.7%, the metamorphic multijunction concentrator cells surpass the theoretical limit of 37% of single-junction cells at 1000 suns, due to their multijunction structure.

While Spectrolab's primary business is supplying PV cells and panels to the aerospace industry (many of their solar cells are used on satellites currently in orbit), the company envisions that this breakthrough will also have applications in commercial terrestrial solar electricity generation. ...

TreeHugger points to a post from The Oil Drum on one of the key components of our clean energy future - "Solar Thermal Power: Not Forgotten".
More energy from the sun hits the Earth in one hour than all of the energy consumed by humans in an entire year. According to the Department of Energy, in 2001 the world consumed at an average rate of more than 13 trillion watts ( 13 terawatts, TW), just a fraction of the 120,000 TW of energy available that falls to Earth- free. Life on Earth long ago realized that the sun was the best way to get free energy, just look around at all that green stuff growing outside. Today, solar energy accounts for only 0.1% of our energy portfolio. We will likely look back at the use of fossil fuels as an obvious misstep in technology development. A small blip on the radar of human technology, like a toddler testing the boundaries of what is possible. The Oil Drum's featured guest writer Gerry Wolff, coordinator of TREC-UK, describes a bold plan called DESERTEC that is centered around solar thermal.

As the story goes... in 212 BC, Archimedes used a solar thermal concentrator (made up of shiny shields) to focus the suns energy on any Roman ship that dared to sail close to the Syracuse shore. Later tests have confirmed you can set a boat on fire, and I'm sure make the sailors quite uncomfortable in the process.

Today solar thermal concentration is the same idea as burning those Roman ships. Except instead of wooden boats todays concentrators are focused on steam, or sterling engines. Some models have conversion efficiencies above 40%. With such simple construction, and high efficiency, solar thermal is already cheaper than the global price of oil - and prices for solar thermal, are expected to drop dramatically. This, I believe is one of those 'gold rush' moments for clean energy. As befitting a gold rush, some people are dreaming big. Gerry Wolff describes :

"An important part of the DESERTEC concept is the creation of a large-scale HVDC transmission grid, spanning the whole of EUMENA, and designed to work in conjunction with existing HVAC grids. This proposal chimes well with an independent proposal by Airtricity to create a Europe-wide HVDC grid"

While it is true that distributed systems make sense, this writer worries about transmission efficiencies. Wouldn't it make more sense for local grids to be connected, share various power resources, and have high efficiency storage systems? Regardless, I think it is valuable to see where solar thermal can play a more serious role in our energy mix. The majority of life on Earth is already solar powered- why aren't we?

TreeHugger also has a post on "Thomas Edison, Off-Grid and Solar", looking at Edison and Ford's dream of electric cars and clean energy fueling them. There are some great tinfoil tales about what happened to these two and their plans which I'll have to dredge out and brush off for display one day...
One does not think of Thomas Edison as a "green pioneer" but oil was expensive at the turn of the century, and he worried that it might be running out. According to Heather Rogers in the New York Times, Edison was also eager to sell his light bulbs and phonographs to people far away from the electrical grid, and developed alkaline batteries for electric cars.

"In 1912 Edison unveiled an energy-self-sufficient home in West Orange, N.J. Billed as an experimental “Twentieth Century Suburban Residence” and designed to showcase his batteries, it bulged with luxuries like air heating and cooling units, a clothes-washing machine, an electric cooking range and, of course, plenty of light bulbs. Completely off the grid, the house received its juice from a generator that charged a bank of 27 cells in the basement. For this first attempt, Edison used a gas-run motor, but evidence suggests that he hoped to hook up to a wind turbine. The system would allow the prospective homeowner to be, according to The New York Times, “utterly and for all time independent of the nearness or farness of the big electric companies.”

In 1931 he told Henry Ford: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

TreeHugger also reports that sales of Bosch Solar Thermal Systems are up 60% this year.
BBT Thermotechnology GmbH is the heating and hot water division of the Bosch Group with a turnover of over 2.5 billion euros and the largest supplier of heating products in Europe. Bosch's Thermotechnology Division expects sales of more than 150,000 solar collectors in 2007, 60 percent more than it sold in 2006, and is looking to more than double sales by 2009...Two collectors, each with a surface area of around two square meters, are required to heat water for a four-person household. The global market for solar thermal systems is growing strongly with sales expected to reach 2.6 billion euros ($3.26 b) within the next five years. 2006 sales totaled 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 b).

More solar news from TreeHugger (on a roll today), this one on some surprise users of solar power - the Amish - looks like they are bright green AND dark green...
You gotta hand it to the Amish: though they have yet to adopt modern conveniences like cars and electricity, they are way ahead of the curve when it comes to that new-fangled solar technology. Holmes County, Ohio, which is known for having the world's largest Amish population, is already a hot bed of solar power: an estimated 80% of Amish families have embraced the use of photovoltaic panels.

Solar power has become the de facto replacement for electricity in appliances that run the gamut from sewing machines to light batteries on their horse-drawn buggies. The Amish primarily decided to adopt solar technology for both safety concerns (gas lamps = fire hazard) and out of legal requirements (the law requires the presence of electric lights on horse-drawn buggies). It also allows them to continue living in isolation from the rest of American society by staying unplugged.

Until now, the Amish had relied on a mix of diesel generators and windmills to power their conventional utilities and appliances. The advent of photovoltaic panels provided a cheaper and more efficient alternative. In an interesting twist, modernist, environmentally-conscious advocacy groups like Green Energy Ohio have even begun turning to the Amish solar model for innovative alternative energy solutions.
"The Amish appear to have skipped the 20th century in a sense," said Bill Spratley, the executive director of Green Energy Ohio. "They are using technology most of us consider advanced -- and they're considered the plain people! I think we can always learn something from people who may not have all the high technology we're inundated with. It certainly shows energy independence can be done, and done in this climate."

While some more traditionalist Amish families refuse to use it, many have become avid solar energy adherents, arguing that it fits into their self-sufficiency model of life: it's cheap, convenient, safe and doesn't spew fumes. "There's so much free sun and free air, and if we could harness it, we wouldn't need any more power plants," said Andrew Hertzler, an Amish farmer selling flowers and plants and solar user.

One more from TreeHugger, this one on Tom Friedman who has realised coal isn't green.
When we last wrote about New York Times writer Thomas L Friedman he was calling coal green and we were calling him wrong. He must have noticed that graph in the Times last week demonstrating that even Coal-to-Liquid fuel where the carbon is sequestered is still a positive greenhouse gas contributor, for today he says:
Some lawmakers are pushing corn ethanol from Iowa, either because they hail from that area and are looking to give more welfare to farmers by wasting money on an alternative fuel that will never reach the scale of what is needed, or because they plan to run in the Iowa caucuses. Others are pushing huge subsidies to turn coal into gasoline, because they come from coal states. Those who don’t come from Michigan want higher mileage standards imposed on Detroit, while those who come from Michigan prefer to continue their assisted suicide of the U.S. auto industry by blocking tougher mileage requirements.

He then quotes energy expert Gal Luft of Set America Free Coalition:
“The only green that they are serious about in Congress right now is the one with Ben Franklin’s picture on it.

And a last post from TreeHugger, this one noting the Indian Ocean Is Showing Signs of Global Warming.
Gael Alory, an oceanographer at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), firmly believes that the changes in sea temperature he's witnessed over the past 40 years in the Indian Ocean are evidence that global warming is taking place.
“From ocean measurements and by analysing climate simulations we can see there are changes in features of the ocean that cannot be explained by natural variability,” says Alory. “These oceanic changes are almost certainly linked to changes in the heat structure of the atmosphere and have led to a rise in water temperatures in the sub-tropical Indian Ocean of around two degrees Celsius.

At the same time, we are seeing changes in ocean circulation in tropical regions as a result of a long-term weakening of the Pacific Ocean trade winds. This affects sea surface temperature in regions relevant to the source and distribution of rainfall across southern Australia,” he continued.

A study he carried out with several colleagues from CSIRO provided in the following key findings:

- general warming of the ocean surface demonstrating the effect of rising atmospheric temperatures

- strong warming (about 2°C over 40 years) between 40°S and 50°S down to a depth of 800 m

- sub-surface cooling in the tropics due to deep waters rising closer to the surface.

According to Alory, his research helped confirm the existence of the "Indonesian throughflow," a system of currents that transports water between the oceans through a series of passages in the Indonesian Archipelago. “The cooling is occurring between Australia and Indonesia where the Indonesian throughflow emerges into the Indian Ocean and is linked to the observed weakening of Pacific Ocean trade-winds,” he says. In addition, the study's results shined a light on the trends in temperatures and ocean features that characterize the subtropical Indian Ocean.

He attributes most of the changes in ocean circulation, temperatures and wind patterns that have occurred over the last few decades to anthropogenic activities, particularly the production of aerosols, greenhouse gas emissions and ozone depletion. Drawing from models used in the IPCC's most recent report, Alory predicts that further variations in the climate regime will be accentuated by global warming.

The Independent says that "Self-interest will do more to cut carbon emissions than all the low-energy light bulbs in the world".
The wind has shifted direction. The acknowledgement last week by President Bush that the world needed a new treaty to curb carbon emissions, and that the US would support this, is an important back-cloth to this week's G8 economic summit in Heiligendamm on Germany's Baltic coast.

Unsurprisingly there is some scepticism at the President's sudden conversion, and since he is at the tail-end of his presidency, you could say that it is not that significant. That is true in the sense that what matters is the shift of perception that has been taking place over the past three or four years within the US; the President is merely responding to that.

It is also true that by seeking to move the debate away from the United Nations towards some new forum, the President has annoyed a lot of people. But that may be no bad thing. In practice all that is needed is agreement between the 10 countries that produce 90 per cent of global emissions. Arguably the UN is an inappropriate body for this sort of task.

Of those 10 top energy users, the US is the world's largest. It is also the largest producer of carbon emissions, and will remain so for at least another 15 years. So what it does is of profound importance. If it has taken a threatened bust-up at the G8 to provoke such a change of heart, and a more nimble body than the UN is being sought to co-ordinate better global practice, then so be it.

Indeed, we should be sceptical of the effectiveness in such matters not just of international bodies but of governments too. As Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, once said: "We cannot wait for governments to do it all. Globalisation operates on internet time. Governments tend to be slow-moving by nature, because they have to build political support for every step."

If governments can't do it all, who will? In shorthand: technology responding to market signals. The official projections for global energy use show it rising inexorably for the next 20 years at least, with the three main fossil fuels - mineral oil, natural gas and coal - remaining the principal sources. If the more alarming projections for the supply of mineral oil prove true, peak oil production will be reached within the next 20 years.

That peak may come within the next five years if some of the more alarming estimates of future Middle East oil production prove true. Saudi Arabia seems to be cutting production at the moment: it is not clear whether this is from choice or through reaching production constraints.

If the oil supply becomes tighter, the price will rise further. There will be some substitution of other fossil fuels but there are practical limits to this, and making oil from coal is an inefficient process. There will also be some relief from biofuels but, as we have seen, using food crops to produce fuel pushes up the price of food for some of the world's poorest people. US subsidies for biofuels have been particularly ill-constructed, forcing up food prices in Mexico for little environmental gain. ...

The Independent also reports that Global warming 'is three times faster than worst predictions'.
Global warming is accelerating three times more quickly than feared, a series of startling, authoritative studies has revealed. They have found that emissions of carbon dioxide have been rising at thrice the rate in the 1990s. The Arctic ice cap is melting three times as fast - and the seas are rising twice as rapidly - as had been predicted.

News of the studies - which are bound to lead to calls for even tougher anti-pollution measures than have yet been contemplated - comes as the leaders of the world's most powerful nations prepare for the most crucial meeting yet on tackling climate change. The issue will be top of the agenda of the G8 summit which opens in the German Baltic resort of Heiligendamm on Wednesday, placing unprecedented pressure on President George Bush finally to agree to international measures.

Tony Blair flies to Berlin today to prepare for the summit with its host, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. They will discuss how to tackle President Bush, who last week called for action to deal with climate change, which his critics suggested was instead a way of delaying international agreements. Yesterday, there were violent clashes in the city harbour of Rostock between police and demonstrators, during a largely peaceful march of tens of thousands of people protesting against the summit.

The study, published by the US National Academy of Sciences, shows that carbon dioxide emissions have been increasing by about 3 per cent a year during this decade, compared with 1.1 per cent a year in the 1990s. The significance is that this is much faster than even the highest scenario outlined in this year's massive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - and suggests that their dire forecasts of devastating harvests, dwindling water supplies, melting ice and loss of species are likely to be understating the threat facing the world. ...

As noted above, the G8 meeting in Germany has seen rioting in the streets, with anarchists being blamed for attacks on police.
OVER 400 police and 520 demonstrators were injured when masked protesters showered officers with rocks and beer bottles during a rally against the Group of Eight summit. At least 25 police and 20 protesters were seriously injured.

Black smoke from burning cars mixed with the sting of tear gas in the harbour-front area of the northern German city of Rostock, where tens of thousands of people had gathered peacefully at the start of the day on Saturday. But heavily armoured officers eventually drove the protesters back with water cannon and tear gas as they clashed with hundreds anti-globalisation demonstrators. Police said 63 protesters remained in custody. It was a violent start to what is expected to be a week of rallies against the three-day G8 summit beginning on Wednesday in the fenced-off coastal resort of Heiligendamm, 22 kilometres from Rostock.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will host the leaders of Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Russia, Canada and the US for discussions on global warming, aid to Africa and the global economy. As in the past, the summit is attracting protesters opposed to capitalism, globalisation, the war in Iraq and the G8 itself. ...

Police put the size of the demonstration at 25,000, while organisers said it was 80,000. Werner Raetz, an anti-globalisation activist with Attac, one of the organising groups, distanced himself from the violence. "There is no justification for these attacks," he said. As for the demonstrations planned over the next few days, Mr Raetz said both sides should try to get the "emotional situation" under control.

There are several camps in the area for protesters, and marches and other events are planned. Some protesters say they intend to try to block roads leading to the summit site. Peter Mueller, who was among the demonstrators, had tears streaming from bloodshot eyes after the tear gas was released. "As long as the police were in the background it was OK, but as soon as one took a step closer, it went out of control," he said.

Organisers emphasised on their websites that they wanted a peaceful protest. "There is no reason to be afraid to come to the big demonstration in Rostock," they said. "We do not expect major problems with the police.

This peaceful protest suddenly turning violent reminded me of the recent G20 demonstrations in Melbourne, where the anarchists complained that violence flared unexpectedly sparked by unknown masked troublemakers. John Shirley, Jeff Diehl and RU Sirius made some interesting comments in a podcast I listened to today about another strange incident in Portland where masked protestors claiming to be against the Iraq war burnt the effigies of soldiers - prompting the guys to wonder who on earth would think this would have any positive effect and mutterly darkly about cointelpro. This does seem to fit a pattern, so maybe the paranoid left have some good grounds for their fears.

John Shirley also made the good point that the anonymity provided by the black masks is a weakness in this context - while it enables some extreme anti-globalisation groups to mask themselves from the gaze of the authorities, it also makes it impossible to determine if they are or aren't responsible for any violent incidents that occur during demonstrations...

The peaceful demonstrators in Germany obviously had some fun before things turned ugly, judging by the pictures.

Back to TreeHugger for a moment, they have a report on US moves to ban wind power. Those American politicians - always thinking about how to make the world a better place - in this case, making the world safe for birds, bats and coal miners.
We are positively touched by the new environmental concern shown by West Virginia Rep Nick Rahall. Why, he is just beside himself with concern that wind turbines might be hurting bats and birds, and is pushing for legislation that would more strictly regulate wind energy to protect birds, bats and other wildlife that might be killed by flying into the giant turbines. While there is a lot of evidence that this bird is a canard, Rahall says "I suspect that wind projects are on a regular basis in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act." The American Wind Energy Association says it would " “essentially outlaw the generation of electricity from new wind power plants in the United States and even phase out power production from existing wind turbines.”

We are certain that the fact that West Virginia is a major coal producing state has nothing to do with this, wind turbines would be effective clean producers of power even on West Virginia's mountaintops, if there were any left.

Grist reports that the aforesaid coal miners are busy levelling West Virginias mountains as fast as they can - I'm not sure where the concern for the birds and bats is in this case - perhaps Rep Rahall is busying himself as we speak with a plan to ban coal mining ?
Central Appalachia provides much of the country's coal, second only to Wyoming's Powder River Basin. In the United States, 100 tons of coal are extracted every two seconds. Around 70 percent of that coal comes from strip mines, and over the last 20 years, an increasing amount comes from mountaintop-removal sites.

In the name of corporate expedience, coal companies have turned from excavation to simply blasting away the tops of the mountains. To achieve this, they use the same mixture of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel that Timothy McVeigh employed to level the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City -- except each detonation is 10 times as powerful, and thousands of blasts go off each day across central Appalachia. Hundreds of feet of forest, topsoil, and sandstone -- the coal industry calls all of this "overburden" -- are unearthed so bulldozers and front-end loaders can more easily extract the thin seams of rich, bituminous coal that stretch in horizontal layers throughout these mountains. Almost everything that isn't coal is pushed down into the valleys below. As a result, 6,700 "valley fills" were approved in central Appalachia between 1985 and 2001. The U.S. EPA estimates that over 700 miles of healthy streams have been completely buried by mountaintop removal and thousands more have been damaged. Where there once flowed a highly braided system of headwater streams, now a vast circuitry of haul roads winds through the rubble. From the air, it looks like someone had tried to plot a highway system on the moon. ...

Meanwhile, as public concern about global warming mounts and government concern about protecting coal mining rises with it, the Rodent has gone back to some old staples - the politics of fear and the big lie. His latest laughable piece of fear-mongering is to claim that cutting emissions would mean "replacing all power stations and taking every car and truck off the roads" (wouldn't that mean a 100% cut in emissions ?) - back to year zero - and this would cause a recession. Does anyone take the little creep seriously these days ?
Labor's environment spokesman Peter Garrett has accused Prime Minister John Howard of scaremongering on climate change, denying that he favours a 20 per cent cut in emissions by 2020. Mr Howard yesterday told the Liberal Party's Federal Council in Sydney that Mr Garrett wanted a 20 per cent cut in emissions, a move he described as "the recipe for a Garrett recession". To meet that target, every coal and gas-fired power station would have to be replaced by a nuclear plant and every car, truck and motorbike would have to be removed from the roads, driving the economy into recession, Mr Howard said.

Mr Garrett hit back today, saying: "I don't think people will see this as a particularly credible comment, nor take it that seriously". ... "Labor's policy has always been crystal clear - a 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050. That is the policy that I support, that is the policy I have always supported and I think it is the right policy," he told ABC radio.

Mr Garrett said Labor's reduction target was totally justifiable. "The Prime Minister is now looking at this issue through the prism of politics and it is blatant scaremongering for him to come in front of his colleagues and start saying we are talking about a Garrett recession," he said. Mr Garrett said the longer action on climate change was delayed, the more likely costs would rise.

No one is taking Bush seriously either it seems, as Americans wake up to global warming.
Poor Bush, he just can't get a break. He announces a shiny new climate-change strategy, and what does he get? Nothing but grief.

Nancy Pelosi called it "the same stale proposals he has repeatedly put forward to the international community."

Al Gore called it "purely and simply smoke and mirrors [that] has the transparent purpose of delaying the efforts that could start now."

Dan Froomkin called it an "attempt to muddy the debate about the issue and derail European and U.N. plans for strict caps on emissions."

Britain and Germany are not amused:
Britain and Germany yesterday joined forces to warn President George Bush that talks on climate change must take place within a United Nations framework and not in an ad hoc process floated last week by Bush. ... 'For me, that is non-negotiable,' the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of the need to ensure that climate change negotiations take place within the existing UN framework.

BP looks like investing US$25 billion in developing oil and gas fields in the world's second largest hollow log for hydrocarbons - Libya.
BP signed a seven-year exploration and production agreement with Libya's state-owned National Oil Corporation. The deal includes an option for extension, calls for a minimum exploration commitment of $900 million, covering 17 exploration wells, and the acquisition of 30,000 square kilometers of 3-D seismic and 5,500 kilometers of 2-D seismic exploration "Our intention is to spend well over the minimum commitment," MEED reports, citing an unnamed BP executive. "We are planning a further 20 appraisal wells," he told MEED.

"If the project is as successful as we hope, we are looking at multiple LNG [liquefied natural gas] trains to supply clean energy to Europe," the executive said. "Based on present train sizes, we would be looking at about four trains," he added.
Options include a single LNG terminal at Marsa el-Brega or Ras Lanuf in the Northeast, or a terminal at Melitah in the Northwest, to process gas from Ghadames, and a second terminal for the liquefaction of Sirte gas, MEED reports.

Meanwhile BP looks like losing control of some Russian oil fields (though the decision has been delayed for now).
IN the summer of 2003 Vladimir Putin made the first state visit to Britain by a Russian leader since Tsar Alexander II came to see Queen Victoria in 1874.

Putin’s trip was as much about business as diplomacy. One of the highlights was the signing – in the gilded splendour of Lancaster House, a 19th-century mansion in St James’s, London – of an $8 billion (£4 billion) investment by BP in the Russian oil and gas industry. The deal had been brokered by Lord Browne, then BP’s chief executive, with extensive help from Tony Blair.

Four years on, Browne has gone, Blair is about to leave power and TNK-BP, the Anglo-Russian group the pair laboured to create, is under attack from the Kremlin. TNK-BP’s licence to exploit one of Russia’s largest gas fields is expected to be revoked – possibly as soon as this week. The move may, the gloomiest analysts and Russophiles suggest, be the precursor to the Russian state taking a major and perhaps, in effect, controlling stake in the group.

For western oil companies, BP’s Russian travails are a case of déjà vu. The campaign against TNK-BP has uncanny parallels with what happened earlier this year to Royal Dutch Shell, BP’s rival.

A few months before Putin, Blair and Brown shook hands on TNK-BP, Shell had signed a similar deal to develop Sakhalin 2, a huge gas field in Siberia. But earlier this year, after a prolonged campaign involving threats of censure from environmental watchdogs and tax authorities, Shell and its fellow foreign investors decided to sell a stake in the project to Gazprom, the giant gas group controlled by the Russian government.

The Sakhalin deal, and the pressure now being exerted on TNK-BP, are viewed as part of a deliberate plan to bring back under state control key “strategic” oil and gas assets that had been sold to private individuals and western groups during the hurly-burly privatisations of the postYeltsin years.

“Everybody talks about what Hugo Chavez is doing in Venezuela but nobody makes the comparision with Putin. It is basi-cally the same thing,” said Fadel Gheit, an analyst at Oppenheimer in New York. (Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has renationalised some of the South American state’s oil and gas fields, much to the chagrin of the companies developing them.) ...

On the subject of Chavez, his recent refusal to renew a TV station licence has been the subject of much debate recently. While Hugo is worth watching to see if he starts behaving anti-democractically, in this case its probably apropos to consider what would happen if a similar situation occurred in the US. As a hypothetical example, what if Fox News, with Chinese backing, backed a coup against the US government and was nearly succesful - would they be allowed to keep broadcasting for a few more years and then have their broadcasting licence renewal application declined, or would they be shut down immediately and all involved banged up in Gitmo ? I think the answer to this demonstrates which country is more totalitarian at this point...
Many of you wrote in to respond to yesterday's reader-submitted item about the closure of a television network in Venezuela. As a friendly reminder, whenever text is presented on BoingBoing in blockquotes, you're reading the quoted words of someone, and not the blog-voice of a BoingBoing editor. That said -- many BoingBoing readers shared opinions about the media turmoil in Venezuela:

Emil says,

While normally a station losing a license would be a sad thing, this is a TV station that actively supported a coup against Chavez in 2002, and was partially responsible for the violence and deaths that took place at this time. These events, including the role of RCTV and others are well documented in the (award-winning) film "The Revolution will not be televised".

I'd like to draw your attention to the following article by the "Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting" group: "Coup Co-Conspirators as Free-Speech Martyrs"

Craig Brozefsky says,

The article you quoted from Anonimo regarding the RCTV shutdown completely fails to provide any context for the shutdown (a refusal to renew their license), or the process by which it was carried out and why. RCTV was a major participant in the April 2002 coup, as detailed in these articles.

If you want to see footage of RCTV and the other channels who supported the coup and how they did so, please check out The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, an excellent documentary by an Irish documentary film maker who was in Caracas at the time of the coup.

Venezuelanalysis article: Link. ZNet article: Link.

Felipe Ledesma says,

The venezuelan situation is a very complex one. There is a lot of radicalization, so you will find very opposite POVs. But one small comment: Chavez rise to power came after a failed coup and the actual Ministry of Interior, Jesse Chacon, assasinated some workers when they assalted the goverment channel (the same one they have now under their control) during that coup attempt. This is a matter of free speech. Thanks for listening.

Carlos Martinez says,

While I too think it is a bad idea, it is a litle more complex than is being presented. I was in Venezuela during the coup of 2002 and watched the private media coverage daily. It was incendiary and flgrantly anti-democratic. That station is guilty of faking footage of violence in order to incite further violence, and guilty of hiding the truth about what was really happening from the electorate. I am no pro-Chavez partisan, but I was genuinely horrified by the coverage of the coup. Does this justify its closing? No, but their calls for press freedoms ring a bit hypocritical after their gross manipulations and lying.

Tyson Schwertner says,

Although I am not a Chavez worshiper nor do I live in Venezuela, the article concerning RCTV seems flawed.

Firstly, it is not being shut down. Chavez is not renewing the license for the use of the public airwaves.

The can still broadcast over cable, internet, and satellite. Secondly, the poster failed to mention that RCTV openly supported and helped a coup of his government that was partially successful. Chavez did not shut it down immediately but allowed the contract to expire 5 years later.

He also allows other networks that are openly critical of him to continue, just not the ones that tell people to overthrow a democratically elected government.

It seems plausible that the US would do the same if ABC openly supported and helped enact a coup of the government.

This article sums it up better than i can, if you are interested. (not intended to be a bb link suggestion) It includes a few examples of similar actions in the US and UK and interviews with those opposing Chavez's decision.

Again, I have a plenty of criticisms of Chavez but in this case I do not think he is impairing free speech, at least not in the way it was presented on boingboing. I am open to being completely wrong though.

protoRoB says,

First off all, not only the problem was the exit off the public signal from rctv, the thing is that the goverment is intimidating to the Cable television against the possibility to transmit via this way.

We know that is not the same but at least is something for us the venezuelans almost everybody have cable tv acces, the poor people too, believeme This is a very extrange country, i'm not saying it in the bad sense off the word we are a very wonderfull yet extrange society.

The second point is the potential expropiation of the MICROWAVE (microondas) transmition stations, the new channel Tves, wich is now in the old RCTV frequency (que cagada coño!) but is using a big part of the equipment of rctv wich they say is just a momentary resource untill they build their own structure for broadcasting the new channel. But here, in this wonderfull yet extrange country, we all know that there is nothing more permanent than the provisional. and that is a very sad thing in this case.

The new channel is not bad at all, sincerely, at least by now is very aceptable we aspect not anther channel like Venezolana de Television (the country's public tv channel) wich is almost "the Chavez´ propaganda channel" The new Tves is wat VTV is suposed to be.

This is a personal opinion Xeni, i know there are lots of things that i don´t know in that respect as many persons in venezuela, but this is an obvius violation to the freedom of speech.

Bernard says,

First point : Under what legal process was this TV shut down? Because its license to broadcast expired. It was granted in the 80's for 20 years and was subject to renewal. That TV channel was not shut down, its contract with the Venezuelan government expired. It may seems to be a non-significant point, but it is not. The question is WHY was the license not renewed ?

If I may, I would like to stress that NO license is FOREVER granted. If you does not like any provider, it's your right to change it at your contract expiration. May you be a government and your provider a TV. It's just a contract with a end-of-term.

Second point : WHY was the TV closed/not granted a license renewal ? Because its contract with the Venezuelan government included a couple legal clauses. One of them was that the TV had to respect the Venezuelan law. And among the numerous violations along the last years, this channel have been a key asset in the right-wing opposition to conduct a COUP against the legal, elected, president. And conducting a COUP is not a legal activity for a TV channel. If you didn't yet, you should see "The revolution will not be televised" documentary about this US-backed coup.

I agree that any government closing a "free" channel to replace it by a "government" TV should be, at first, suspected of wrongdoing. The fact is, to my understanding, this case deserve deeper investigation to be perfectly covered. And you can't rely on US media to tell this.

Rick Potthoff says,

The other side of this is that RCTV deserves to be shut down because they supported the coup against Chavez. Do you think that if, say, ABC had come out against Pres. Bush during a coup that failed they wouldn't end up in Gitmo? Revoking their broadcast license is still retaliation, but mild retaliation. Don't repeat the BS that because Chavez is trying to help the poor of Venezuela he is 'socialist.' All that means is that he doesn't toe the line of the WTO/FTA free trade agenda. He is as 'socialist' in the same sense FDR was.

Salon has a look at the Ron Paul juggernaut as it slowly gathers steam.
n a few hours, the Memorial Day recess will begin, but Paul is not in any rush. He appears, in fact, to be having the time of his life. If exercise is his principle obsession, then sharing his unorthodox theories of economics and foreign policy comes in a very close second. "I don't think we have a republic anymore," he tells me, sitting up in his chair. "I think we have a very domineering federal government, where we have a world empire we have to manage every single day."

This is why Paul is running. Though he has no real shot at winning, he has a lot to say. He's the only Republican candidate who wants to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and withdraw the U.S. Navy from the waters off the Iranian coast. He wants America to pull out of the United Nations, NATO, the International Criminal Court, and most international trade agreements. He wants to abolish FEMA, end the federal war on drugs, get rid of the Department of Homeland Security, send the U.S. military to guard the Mexican border, stop federal prosecutions of obscenity, eliminate the IRS, end most foreign aid, overturn the Patriot Act, phase out Social Security, revoke public services for illegal immigrants, repeal No Child Left Behind, and reestablish gold and silver as legal tender.

"To maintain our current account deficit we borrow almost $3 billion a day," he tells me. "It's unsustainable. It will end. And it's going to end in a worse fashion than it did in 1979 and 1980, when interest rates went to 21 percent." I must not have reacted as he expected, because he presses on. "Nobody seems to care," he says. "It will slip back into a government run by tyrants, where you can't go from one state to another -- you have to show your papers. It already exists on the airlines."

Paul has been speaking like this for years, but few ever really noticed. He often addressed an empty House chamber, boring the C-SPAN producers with his libertarian disquisitions on policy. But then he decided to run for president as a Republican, which gained him entry in the crowded Republican debates. And then former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani took a shot at him in South Carolina, demanding that Paul apologize for suggesting that the Sept. 11 attackers had been motivated by the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. "He really inadvertently gave us a boost that was unimaginable," Paul says of Giuliani.

Since then, Paul has been blowing up. The national interview requests keep coming, despite the fact that he is at the bottom of the bottom tier of Republican candidates. Last week, he flew to California to do HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher." "He's my new hero," gushed the liberal Maher to his viewers. CNN has made him a near-regular Sunday feature. "I'm more Republican than they are," Paul said of his fellow primary candidates in one appearance. This Monday, he will go to New York to sit with Jon Stewart on the "The Daily Show." Then it is on to Tuesday's Republican debate in New Hampshire, where Paul is sure to assume his role as the straight-talking foil to Bush-era Republican dogma.

"The big question is how many people out there are sympathetic to my views," Paul tells me. "We still don't know. But we are surprised to find out that it is more than anybody dreamed of." ...

Then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Two weeks later, Paul took to the House floor to advocate a complete reexamination of American foreign policy. "An economic issue does exist in this war," he told the House on Sept. 25. "Oil!" By Paul's reading of history, the rise of Islamic fundamentalists who targeted America resulted from U.S. interventionist policies in the Middle East. He was also one of the first to warn about expansions of federal power in the name of war. "The heat of the moment has prompted calls by some of our officials for great sacrifice of our liberties and privacy," he said. "This poses a great danger to our way of life." ...

Paul stuck to his guns as the debate turned to Iraq. Before the invasion, he raised questions about evidence that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction. He publicly mocked the idea of creating a functioning democracy in Iraq. He rejected the principle of preemptive war. He also opposed the Patriot Act. He attacked the Bush administration for abandoning habeas corpus, authorizing harsh interrogation and permitting warrantless wiretaps. He opposed federalizing Transportation Security Administration workers to guard air travel. He was blunt, forceful and not always politically sensitive. ...

Paul's role in the Republican field -- and much of his current appeal -- is focused squarely on the issue of war. He gives a voice to the protectionist conservative tradition that President Bush abandoned with the invasion of Iraq. He offers a chance for front-runners like Giuliani to burnish their tough-on-terrorist credentials by attacking him. And he brings to the Republican debate the mainstream frustration with America's foreign policy. It is a quirky role that a self-styled intellectual like Paul is only too happy to fill.

"I was always taught that I can't change your mind by grabbing you by the shirt collar and yelling at you," he says before getting up to vote on the House floor. "But if you try to understand the issues, learn how to present them, and make those ideas available, someday, somebody might listen. And now I am beginning to think they are listening a little bit more. And that might lead to much bigger things. Who knows what will happen in the campaign?"

For being such a cynic about government and America's economic future, Paul remains an unabashed optimist about his own political future. But perhaps that is because if you compare him to the rest of the Republican field, Paul has so little to lose.

Ron Paul on The Daily Show should be fun - ">The Daily Reckoning also points to a Paul interview on Fox. Also at the Daily Reckoning - Oil Collapse Could Expose Society’s Lack of Practical Knowledge, George Bush Discredits Climate Change Theory…By Endorsing It and General Motors’ Glory Days Have Gone, Detroit is Fading Quickly.
And continuing on the demise of the dollar topic, is our old friend (and United States presidential hopeful) Congressman Ron Paul.

"The dollar bubble is going to collapse," he told FOX News' Neil Cavuto. "I don't think this country can do well, borrowing nearly 3 billion dollars a day from places like Japan and China to service our account deficit. And we're leaving a 60 trillion dollar obligation to the next generation".

"My personal finances would be very good if I borrowed one million dollars every month, but some day the bills come due - and the bills will come due in this country, and we will have to pay for it."

You can see his entire FOX News interviewhere:

This next US presidential election is "a billion-dollar battle," says the Financial Times, the most expensive election contest in history.

Guess who's funding a lot of the action? The financial industry, of course...and hedge funds in particular. And guess what? Eliot Spitzer...formerly a tough cop on the financial now cosying up to the financiers. As governor of New York, is he "Now a friend of Wall Street?" asks today's International Herald Tribune.

Why would Spitzer lie down with the hounds of Wall Street? Why would the financial industry put so much money in politicians' hands?

One answer comes to us from the late Roman Empire.

"As Roman legions once sub-contracted crucifixion to private contractors and protection of the empire to barbarian clans, so the Pentagon now outsources interrogation, and calls on such companies as MPRI, AirScan and DynCorp to deploy troops, run military bases and launch coups, all in its name (and pay)," explains George Pendle, reviewing Cullen Murphy's book, "Are We Rome?"

"A form of corporate feudalism is rapidly approaching," Pendle continues, "in which Americans will become little more than serfs to private concerns. Civilian contractors are the barbarians of today."

Pendle doesn't mention public and private which Americans are also chained.

But while they drag along their heavy burdens, the elite know where the money is. The more decadent the empire becomes, the more "rents" or "spoils" are available to them through the political process - tax breaks, subsidies, contracts, tariffs, sinecures and so forth.

Every election is an "advance auction of stolen goods," as Ambrose Bierce put it. Now, with more goods stolen than ever before, auction prices are going up.


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