What Next For Google.org ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , , ,

Looking at where Google's clean energy investment efforts are going is quite encouraging, based on this week's announcements. So far we've seen initiatives and/or investments in the following areas:

* Energy efficient server farms
* Plug-in hybrid vehicles (ie. V2G)
* Solar
* Wind
* Geothermal

The main gaps still left to fill out would seem to me to be:

* Ocean (wave / tidal) energy
* Next generation biofuels
* Energy storage (especially large scale storage)
* Smart grids (both transmission and demand management)
* Cradle to cradle design and manufacturing (and the associated "internet of things" to track all the stuff, which should be right down their alley)

Cleantech.com has a report on Google's "Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal" initiative - "Google creates renewable R&D group".

Google has an ambitious target to produce a gigawatt of renewable energy that is cheaper than coal within the next few years. "Our own consumption is likely to be a big part of that," said Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president of products, in a conference call. The company does not disclose how much power it uses, but it's estimated to have over 450,000 servers in locations around the world.

Google has put out the call for engineers and energy experts to lead its new RE less than C division, which it said will probably start out with 20 or 30 employees and focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power and enhanced geothermal systems. "The goal is not to have huge margins here, the goal is to really replace the dirty energy that is out there," said Sergey Brin, Google's other co-founder and president of technology.

Already on the inside track are Pasadena, Calif., solar thermal startup eSolar, and Alameda, Calif.'s Makani Power, which is developing high-altitude wind energy technologies. "We're working very closely with both those companies," said Page. He wouldn't disclose how much, if anything, Google has invested in the two startups, but they're likely to get a piece of the Google.org investment windfall.

Google.org was initially funded by one percent of Google's outstanding shares after its initial public offering, and one percent of its profit. That amounts to 3 million shares, valued at $2 billion dollars based on Monday's close, plus $265 million in cash so far to establish the Google Foundation and for grants and investments.

For 2008, Google said it expects to spend tens of millions on research and development at its new RE less than C group and on related investments in that year alone.

Google's green energy czar, Bill Weihl, said they want to accelerate the pace of technology development to drive down the costs. "We think we need to get in the range of 1 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour for solar or other renewables to be really competitive with coal." It's possible there could be Gwindmills or Gsolar panels, or even Ggeothermal power in the future, but more than likely the group's research will be licensed out to others.

"In cases, for example, where it's been created as the result of an investment in a renewable energy company, it would be somewhat up to them, though I think we would encourage them to license it on fairly favorable terms to get it widely out there and perhaps on somewhat lower margins as a consequence," said Brin. He said the group could also send people to build the technology and take a profit on setting up the infrastructure, or take some percentage of the cash pulled in by companies that sell the power.

The company has already developed energy efficiency technology to power and cool its data centers, and it generates electricity for its Mountain View campus from a 1.6 megawatt solar panel installation, one of the largest in the U.S., but that's not always enough. "It's very hard for us to find places to locate that aren't, say, coal-based or other dirty technologies, and we don't feel good about being in that situation as a company, we feel hypocritical," said Page.

He said the company wants to make the investments happen so that there will be alternatives for Google to use down the road. "We see investments that would pay back money on reasonable timescales that we can make now for our own datacenter use and to put onto the grid," said Page.

Google is likely to get flooded with interest from startups eager for some cash, as it did with its much smaller $10 million plug-in hybrid request for proposals in September (see Plug-in hybrids can Google for cash). Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google.org, said, "I think we thought we'd get 20 or 30 responses — we got over 300. And some of them are quite innovative. I think it speaks to the, really the dearth of capital for some of these innovative ideas."

The Independent has an intriguing albeit vapourous article on some elite gathering in London to look at some "breakthrough in micro-technology" related to clean energy - "The rich, famous and influential prepare to hear the secret to climate-safe energy". My hopeful guess - some material that can be used to create ultracapacitors.
A discovery that could give the world access to vast quantities of energy with minimal damage to the climate will be shown off for the first time at a glittering gathering of the famous, rich and influential next Friday night.

Al Gore is to be the star turn at a dinner where guests have paid at least £1,000 a head, and some will have parted with £50,000 for their share of the Aberdeen Angus steak and pink champagne, under the high ornate ceilings of London's Royal Courts of Justice. The combined wealth of the diners has been estimated at £100bn. But the most unusual aspect of the evening is not the price of the tickets but the nature of the floor show. In place of professional performers, the guests will be regaled by people who are not always thought of as entertainers, though some think they are all mad. They are inventive British boffins who care about climate change.

They are hoping that the showcase dinner will knock years off the time it can take for industry to see the mass marketing potential of a new discovery. And the one that will be shown to Mr Gore and fellow guests is highly marketable and could revolutionise the market in clean technology, according to the founder of the British Inventors' Society, Kane Kramer.

Mr Kramer, who was 23 in 1979 when he conceptualised the technology that led to the creation of the first MP3 player, refused to give specific details of the new discovery, or to name the inventor, so as to maintain the element of surprise for Friday. But he indicated that it is a breakthrough in micro-technology, and that British scientists who have tested it are convinced that it will work.

"This is something ... that's the accumulation of almost a decade of work," he said. "It's a new science, a Super Material. It would be 80 per cent cheaper than any alternative means of production, and it will contribute in a major way to reducing climate change. "I like it because it's kind of lateral. It will make possible things that weren't possible before. We have put it through severe 'due diligence', with quite a team of people, not just in the UK, and we're completely 100 per cent sure that this is the way forward."

There is an old saying that if you invent a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door, but he says the adage is true only for inventions that improve gadgets that are already known to work. Big corporations can be very coy about putting money into something genuinely new. "Business wants to jump on a bandwagon, not build the bandwagon," he said. It is also widely suspected that a lot of energy saving ideas have been bought out by the energy companies precisely to keep them off the market.

But the dinner, organised by a foundation called Fortune Forum, will also be used to launch a new campaigning group called the ICE Circle, whose mission is to put inventors of clean energy technologies in touch with investors to market them. The combination of British inventors and mega-rich philanthropists will be a "marriage made in heaven", Mr Kramer reckons

The driving force behind it is Renu Mehta, theEssex-born daughter of a wealthy textiles importer turned peace campaigner, Vijay Mehda. A year ago, she organised the first Fortune Forum dinner, where Bill Clinton spoke, Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, gave his first public performance for more than 20 years, and Michael Douglas and the steel magnate Lashmi Mittal mingled with other guests. The evening raised £1.1m gross, and the net proceeds were distributed to charity.

Last week, she was in Downing Street for talks with Gordon Brown. The dinner should be seen as a campaigning event first, and only second as a fundraiser, Ms Mehda said.

One clean energy area is interested in is wind power - Reuters reports on "Energy-hungry India eying a role as a "wind superpower"".
India might be painted as a pollution-spewing, global-warming economy of 1 billion people but it is also one of the world's biggest wind power users, part of a focus on renewable energy mostly unnoticed in the West. Years of tax incentives have helped make India one of the fastest-growing markets for wind power, a major component of renewable energy that will be high on the agenda of the Dec. 3-14 UN climate change meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

The Bali conference comes as international pressure mounts on India to ensure its growth gets cleaner. The International Energy Agency (IEA) warned this month of the climatic dangers of "unfettered" energy demand growth in India. "When it comes to renewable energy and wind power, India can look the West in the eye and say -- look at our years of progressive policies," said Santosh Kamath, a wind power specialist and associate director at KPMG consultants.

Wind power in India is still a minority sector compared with the Asian giant's overall energy needs that are dependent on coal and oil. With its reliance on dirty fuels, India will become the world's number three carbon emitter by 2015, the IEA says.

But renewable energy, of which the vast majority is wind power, accounts for more than 7 percent of India's installed generation capacity -- a rate that compares favourably with much of the rest of the world. India is the world's fourth largest wind-power market.

"Wind power is growing tremendously. If you want a wind plant you'll have to book a year in advance," said Chandra Bhushan, associate director at the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. "There's been years of progressive policies and recognition for a long time that India will face a shortage of fossil fuels."

India, with its thousands of miles of coastline, is suited to wind power. Its wind power potential is estimated at 45,000 megawatts (MW) -- about a third of total energy consumption. ... KPMG estimates that wind power costs around 3.5 rupees a kilowatt hour, compared with 2.5-3 rupees for imported coal. "Wind energy is almost price competitive in many places," T.L. Sankar, senior energy adviser at the Administrative Staff College of India, told a renewable energy conference.

And global warming might only add to its attraction. "It can only gain in importance because of concerns about climate change," added Kamath.

AP has a report on algae based biofuels - "There's Oil in That Slime".
Driven by renewed investment as oil prices push $100 a barrel, Ruan and scores of scientists around the world are racing to turn algae into a commercially viable energy source. Some varieties of algae are as much as 50 percent oil, and that oil can be converted into biodiesel or jet fuel. The biggest challenge is slashing the cost of production, which by one Defense Department estimate is running more than $20 a gallon.

"If you can get algae oils down below $2 a gallon, then you'll be where you need to be. And there's a lot of people who think you can," said Jennifer Holmgren, director of the renewable fuels unit of UOP LLC, an energy subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc.

Researchers are trying to figure out how to grow enough of the right strains of algae and how to extract the oil most efficiently. Over the past two years they've enjoyed an upsurge in funding from governments, the Pentagon, big oil companies, utilities and venture capital firms. The federal government halted its main algae research program nearly a decade ago, but technology has advanced and oil prices have climbed since then, and an Energy Department lab announced in late October that it was partnering with Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. oil company, in the hunt for better strains of algae.

"It's not backyard inventors at this point at all," said George Douglas, a spokesman for the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "It's folks with experience to move it forward."

A New Zealand company demonstrated a Range Rover powered by an algae biodiesel blend last year, but experts say it will be many years before algae is commercially viable. Ruan expects some demonstration plants to be built within a few years.

Converting algae oil into biodiesel uses the same process that turns vegetable oils into biodiesel. But the cost of producing algae oil is hard to pin down because nobody's running the process start to finish other than in a laboratory, Douglas said. One Pentagon estimate puts it at more than $20 per gallon, but other experts say it's not clear cut. If it can be brought down, algae's advantages include growing much faster and in less space than conventional energy crops. An acre of corn can produce about 20 gallons of oil per year, Ruan said, compared with a possible 15,000 gallons of oil per acre of algae.

An algae farm could be located almost anywhere. It wouldn't require converting cropland from food production to energy production. It could use sea water. And algae can gobble up pollutants from sewage and power plants.

The Pentagon's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is funding research into producing jet fuel from plants, including algae. DARPA is already working with Honeywell's UOP, General Electric Inc. and the University of North Dakota. In November, it requested additional research proposals. As the single largest energy consumer in the world, the Defense Department needs new, affordable sources of jet fuel, said Douglas Kirkpatrick, DARPA's biofuels program manager. "Our definition of affordable is less than $5 per gallon, and what we're really looking for is less than $3 per gallon, and we believe that can be done," he said.

Des Plaines, Ill.-based UOP — which has developed a "green diesel" process that converts vegetable oils into fuels that are more like conventional petroleum products than standard biodiesel — already has successfully converted soybean oil into jet fuel, Holmgren said. And the company has partnered with Arizona State University to obtain algae oil to test for the DARPA project, she said.

At the University of Minnesota, Ruan and his colleagues are developing ways to grow mass quantities of algae, identifying promising strains and figuring out what they can make from the residue that remains after the oil is removed.

Because sunlight doesn't penetrate more than a few inches into water that's thick with algae, it doesn't grow well in deep tanks or open ponds. So researchers are designing systems called "photobioreactors" to provide the right mix of light and nutrients while keeping out wild algae strains.

Ruan's researchers grow their algae in sewage plant discharge because it contains phosphates and nitrates — chemicals that pollute rivers but can be fertilizer for algae farms. So Ruan envisions building algae farms next to treatment plants, where they could consume yet another pollutant, the carbon dioxide produced when sewage sludge is burned.

Jim Sears of A2BE Carbon Capture LLC, of Boulder, Colo., a startup company that's developing fuel-from-algae technologies that tap carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, compared the challenges to achieving space flight. "It's complex, it's difficult and it's going to take a lot of players," Sears said.



Links:

* Wall Street Journal - Ethanol craze cools as doubts multiply
* Technology Review - Harnessing Kinetic Energy
* The Energy Blog - Sharp to Up Thin-film Solar Cell Capacity
* The Energy Blog - Supergrid to Supply Europe with Wind Power
* TreeHugger - Hewlett-Packard Installing Solar Systems At Operating Sites
* New York Times - Google’s Next Frontier: Renewable Energy
* Cleantech.com - Forget the Gphone, here comes Gsolar
* Christian Science Monitor - Plugging the Internet into clean power
* WorldChanging - Green Computing Is Not An Oxymoron
* Cleantech.com - OPEC putting up $750M for cleantech fund
* After Gutenberg - Australia: Don’t Write Us Off Quite Yet
* REA - What To Do With All This Waste?
* The Energy Blog - Exxon: Film May Lead to Car Battery that is Lighter and Safer
* Cryptogon - Exxon's New Battery For Electric Vehicle Applications
* Cryptogon - Explosion on Strategic Canadian Pipelines that Supply 1.5 Million Barrels of Oil Per Day to U.S.
* Cryptogon - Domestic Spying, Inc.

Australia just the spot for solar energy projects  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The SMH has an article on a recent NASA survey of the world's best solar energy locations - "Red-hot Australia just the spot for solar energy projects"

AUSTRALIA gleams a bright red in a map that paints a vibrant picture of how solar energy reaches different parts of the world. America's space agency, NASA, has pinpointed the world's sunniest spots by studying maps compiled by US and European satellites.

Red shows the regions that receive the most sun, such as the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the Sahara Desert in Niger, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and pink.

One sun-baked desert landmark in south-east Niger got a searing average of 6.78 kilowatt hours of solar energy per square metre per day from 1983-2005, roughly the amount of electricity used by a typical US home in a day to heat water.

The maps have already been used to help businesses site solar panels in Morocco, or send text messages to tell sunbathers in Italy to put on more sunscreen. The maps could also help guide billions of dollars in solar investments for a world worried by climate change.

University of NSW renewable energy expert Dr Mark Diesendorf said maps such as this not only helped companies interested in building solar power stations but illustrated the energy possibilities of the sun. "Australia has got lots of solar energy potential, and it's not doing enough to tap into that."

Dr Wes Stein, manager of the CSIRO's National Solar Energy Centre, said a 2001 study showed Australia had the highest average solar radiation of any continent. "We are a very good country to do solar energy projects."

The CSIRO hopes to start its own project, incorporating satellite data, to model in detail the spread of solar radiation across the country. "That would give us a very good idea of solar power available in Australia," Dr Stein said.



The Guardian also has a variation on the story - "World's sunniest spots hint at energy bonanza".
Southern California is sunny, the French Riviera is sunny, but NASA says the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the Sahara Desert in Niger are the sunniest -- and the information could be worth money.

America's space exploration agency has located the world's sunniest spots by studying maps compiled by U.S. and European satellites.

The maps can also gauge solar energy at every other spot on the planet, and have already been used to help businesses to site solar panels in Morocco, for instance, or send text messages to tell sunbathers in Italy to put on more cream.

"We are trying to link up observations of the earth to benefit society," said Jose Achache, head of the 72-nation Group on Earth Observations (GEO) which seeks practical spinoffs from scientific data, ranging from deep-ocean probes to satellites.

GEO member states will hold ministerial talks on Nov. 30 in Cape Town to review a 10-year project launched in 2005 which aims to join up the dots between research in areas such as climate change, health, agriculture and energy.

From satellite data collected over 22 years, NASA says the sun blazes down most fiercely on a patch of the Pacific Ocean on the equator south of Hawaii and east of Kiribati.

More practically for solar generation, on land the Sahara Desert region soaks up most energy with the very sunniest spot in southeast Niger, where one sun-baked landmark amid sand dunes is a ruined fort at Agadem.

"For some reason there are fewer clouds just there than elsewhere," in the Sahara, Paul Stackhouse, a senior scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, told Reuters.
The area got a searing average of 6.78 kilowatt hours of solar energy per square metre per day from 1983-2005 -- roughly the amount of electricity used by a typical U.S. home in a day to heat water. The patch in the Pacific got 6.92 kilowatt hours.

The maps could help guide billions of dollars in solar investments for a world worried by climate change, widely blamed on burning fossil fuels that could mean more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising seas.

Satellite pictures could also help site offshore wind farms -- wind speeds can be inferred from wave heights and direction. Farmers might also be able to pick new crops, or estimate fertiliser demand, by knowing more about how much solar energy is reaching their land. ...

"In some parts of Africa it could be economically interesting to use solar power rather than connect to a grid because of the lack of infrastructure," said Thierry Ranchin of the Ecole des Mines de Paris in France which leads the solar project with NASA (http://www.soda-is.com/eng/index.html).

"If you want to bring electricity to a small village in Africa it's often easier to do it with a standalone system than a grid with power lines," he said.

Links:

* The Oil Drum (ANZ) - Food Miles in Australia
* The Oil Drum (ANZ) - The Bullroarer - Thursday 29th November 2007

The party's over and Liberals will soon be history  

Posted by Big Gav

Author Steve Biddulph has an article in today's SMH that will warm the cockles of the hearts of even the most hardened doomers - "The party's over and Liberals will soon be history".

The Liberal Party is in trauma. The corporate sector is attempting to calm its nerves, and even the victors in the Labor Party cannot quite believe the seismic change in the landscape of power. But the ramifications of last Saturday may be much greater than just one election won or lost. In a way that seems unthinkable to us now, 2007 may mark the end of the Liberal Party itself. It won't happen overnight, but just watch it happen.

We are so conditioned to the idea that two main parties define politics, we even call them left and right as if they were parts of our body. But parties spring up in response to the primary tensions in a certain time and place. In the 20th century that polarisation was capital versus labour. A century earlier, before even the idea of power among the working poor, politics was aristocrats versus tradesmen, the growing middle class of shopkeepers and artisans that formed the basis of the Tories.

This is no longer the central tension in modern democracies. Centrist governments cover all the bases, and conservative politics has begun to wither away. This is a change that has come late to Australia. But social evolution is now speeding up and even this alignment is becoming dated.

The issue of the future, coming down on us now like a steam train, is of course the environment, the double hammer blows of climate change and peak oil. Energy, weather and human misery are the factors that will define our lives for decades to come. You can cancel your newspaper, those are the only four words you need to know.

Linked to this, but compounding it in frightening ways, is the imminent demise of the United States economy. In fact the whisper, the subplot in economist circles, was that this election was one to lose. That whoever inherited Australia in 2007 inherited a coming economic collapse in globalised trade that would suck Australia and much of the rest of the world down with it. For two years now the best predictions have been that the subprime meltdown would act as merely the detonator of a much larger explosive charge created long ago by US consumer debt, concealed by Chinese and Arab investment in keeping that great hungry maw that is America sucking in what it could not begin to pay for. The avalanche-like fall of US house prices will be closely followed by the same in linked economies worldwide, and presage a harsh and very different world than the one we have lived in. In short, the party is over. We are a civilisation in collapse.

Labor is the right party to manage this. Despite the widespread belief after years of cynical politics that politicians are all the same, Rudd and Gillard are not in power for power's sake. I am willing to stake my 30 years as a psychologist on this, but I think many observers have also come to this conclusion. Kevin and Julia, as Australia already calls them, want to make this country a better place for the people in it. In the coming times of deprivation, they have the value systems that will be needed to care for the sudden rise in poverty, stress, and need. They also have the unity.

So what will be the new polarity in future elections? It's the ecology, stupid. The Greens will emerge as the new opposition, though this will take probably two election cycles. By the 2010 election, 20 per cent will vote Green, simply because peak oil and climate catastrophe will have proven them right, and thinking people will see the need for austerity now for our children's tomorrow. The Liberal Party will be lucky to attract 30 per cent, which is the habitual, rusted-on portion of the community that thinks greed is good.

By 2014, we will have a struggle between a new left and right - Labor and Green - and the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now. This issue will continue to define life for the rest of this century.

Climate change will bring horrific costs this century unless a global effort is rallied in a way that has never been done before to regulate our gluttonous use of the air and water. Perhaps a billion lives are at risk, let alone 2 to 3 billion refugees, as agriculture and water supplies collapse across southern Asia and elsewhere, and producer countries, like Australia, find they can barely feed themselves.

The big lie of Liberal supremacy was economic management. In fact, they knew how to generate income, but not how to spend it. We could have been building what Europe built in this past decade - superb hospitals, bullet trains, schools and training centres, low cost public transport of luxurious quality, magnificent public housing. We pissed it all away on tax giveaways and consumer goods. On bloated homes that we will not be able to cool or heat, or sell, and cars we won't be able to afford to drive. A party based on self interest may evaporate along with our rivers and lakes, and have no role to play in a world where we co-operate or die.

RE < C  

Posted by Big Gav

Ars Technica has a look at Google's new clean energy initiative - "RE < C (Renewable Energy is cheaper than coal)".

By now, everyone is familiar with Google's corporate motto, "Don't be evil." In an effort to spread that message of not-being-evil, the search engine behemoth has announced a plan to develop sources of renewable energy that will be cheaper than coal. The new initiative, RE [is less than] C, (renewable energy is cheaper than coal) will begin by focusing on solar power technology, and will also encompass geothermal energy production.

RE [is less than] C's plan, in conjunction with Google's philanthropic Google.org, is to drive the development of cheaper alternative energy through the use of grants and investments. According to Dr. Larry Brilliant, head of Google.org, the "hope is that by funding research on promising technologies, investing in promising new companies, and doing a lot of R&D ourselves, we may help spark a green electricity revolution that will deliver breakthrough technologies priced lower than coal."

The company itself is also trying hard to reduce its drain on the environment. Google is working to reduce the energy expenditure of its data centers across the world, all of which need power and cooling for the servers, and plans to be carbon neutral by the end of the current year. It has also been developing an array of solar cells to power its California headquarters, the Googleplex, and is involved in an initiative to arrive at more energy-efficient computers.

With all signs pointing to an increased scarcity of resources in an world growing ever more crowded, philanthropic efforts such as this one by Google are very much needed. Although energy produced by burning fossil fuels has a high social cost when climate change and pollution are taken into account, those costs are not borne upfront. When short-term shareholder value and the need to maximize profit remains the number one priority for corporations, those businesses have no reason to not use the cheapest energy source they can, regardless of its effect on everyone else.

Presumably, the idea behind this move is as follows: if you can't persuade people that burning coal is a bad idea ecologically, providing them with a cheaper, cleaner alternative makes it more expensive to pollute than not, and even if shareholders don't care about the trees, they'll care about the bottom line. At a time when report after report highlights the growing damage done to the planet through the use of fossil fuels, this move by Google to spur renewable energy uptake ought to be applauded.

Technology Review has an article on "Focusing Light on Silicon Beads" - noting that "placing tiny spheres of silicon in reflective trays could be the key to cheap, efficient solar cells". A "mini concentrator" approach.
A company in Japan has developed a novel way of making solar cells that cuts production costs by as much as 50 percent. The photovoltaic (PV) cells are made up of arrays of thousands of tiny silicon spheres surrounded by hexagonal reflectors.

The key advantage of the system is that it reduces the total amount of silicon required, says Mikio Murozono, president of Clean Venture 21 (CV21), based in Kyoto, Japan. "We use one-fifth of the raw silicon material compared with traditional PV cells," he says.

This can make a huge difference to the overall cost of producing solar cells, says Howard Branz, principal scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's National Center for Photovoltaics, in Golden, CO. "About 20 to 30 percent of the cost of a solar-cell module is in the cost of the raw silicon," he says.

CV21 started production of its cells in October; the first of its 10-kilowatt modules go on sale this month. While these modules will initially cost about the same as the traditional variety, the price is set to drop by 30 percent in 2008, as production increases in May from 1,000 cells a day to 60,000 cells a day, says Murozono. The ultimate goal is to make them 50 percent cheaper than existing cells by 2010, he says.

Spherical solar cells were originally proposed by Texas Instruments about 30 years ago, says Branz. But while they had the potential to reduce the amount of silicon used, they brought with them a host of new problems. Their curved surfaces, for example, can cause more light to be reflected, which reduces their efficiency. What's more, only half of the sphere ends up actually being exposed to light. Significant gaps also tend to form between the spheres when arranged in arrays, which can further reduce the efficiency of the solar cell.

CV21's solution was to place each of the one-millimeter-diameter silicon spheres in its own hexagonal aluminium reflector. These work like car headlights but in reverse, ensuring that any light hitting the reflector is directed toward the sphere. When this approach is used, even the underside of the sphere is utilized. The hexagonal shape of the reflectors allows them to be slotted together without dead space between them. "Effectively, these are mini-concentrators," says Branz.

Mobjectivist has a mammoth peak oil modelling post up at The Oil Drum - "Application of the Dispersive Discovery Model".
The Dispersive Discovery model shows promise at describing:

1. Oil and NG discoveries as a function of cumulative depth.
2. Oil discoveries as a function of time through a power-law growth term.
3. Together with a Log-Normal size distribution, the statistical fluctuations in discoveries. We can easily represent the closed-form solution in terms of a Monte Carlo algorithm.
4. Together with the Oil Shock Model, global crude oil production.
5. Over a wide dynamic range, the overall production shape. Look at USA production in historical terms for a good example.
6. Reserve growth of individual reservoirs.



Crikey has a report on the recently unelected Mal Brough - the ex-minister who implemented the Rodent's uranium grab in the Northern Territory. It seems he was pretty much unanimously rejected by the aboriginal voters he was "helping". Maybe they are as cynical as I am. In related news, the SMH reports that One of the "brains" behind the NT intervention has retired. Maybe he didn't have much of a future.
I never quite understood how Mal Brough managed to escape genuine mainstream media scrutiny so often during his brief but, shall we say, "exciting" time in Indigenous affairs. I always just put it down to the "conga line of suckholes" phenomena identified by Mark Latham (albeit as a "Liberal" inclination in dealings with Americans... but as we all know a trait which also besets some in the media when confronted with a "Minister").

The media liked Brough – known as "Sideshow Mal" within Indigenous affairs - because he was always prepared to "say anything, do anything" to get a headline. That makes for great copy. Unfortunately for Brough, however, the media didn’t get to decide the outcome of the contest for his parliamentary seat.

That privilege was afforded the fine residents of the federal electorate of Longman who, it turns out, decided that Mal Brough was even more odious than the "average" Queensland Coalition member... which is quite something. ...

I accept that opposition to the NT intervention did not translate to any significant swing against the Coalition at a national level. But given the huge swing against Brough personally, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that his boy’s own adventure in the NT didn’t play a part, albeit a relatively small one.

Perhaps, when it came time to vote, at least some of the good people of Longman stopped to think about the NT intervention and decided that using the s-xual abuse of children for your own personal/political gain was really quite... well... disgusting. Either that or the Longman punters decided that Mal Brough was just a really sh-t local member.

As for the Aboriginal vote in the Northern Territory, well they also got to cast judgement on Brough (and Howard). And what a judgement they delivered! Conveniently, one federal seat – Lingiari – encompasses all of the 73 Aboriginal communities affected by the NT intervention.

Media have correctly noted that "Aboriginal booths" in Lingiari delivered votes to the ALP in the 90 percentile range. True enough, but once again the reporting has been sub-par. Just quoting the percentages from a few booths doesn’t come close to telling the real story.

It’s correct to say that at the Wadeye booth, for example, the ALP collected about 95 percent of the vote. But what does that actually mean in real numbers? Of the 723 people who cast a ballot, just 26 of them voted for the CLP. 26! And doubtless almost every one of those was white.

In Angkarripa, in central Australia, the CLP managed just five primary votes out of a potential 503. That’s 0.99 percent of the total vote.

But the really big story – one which went begging for the media - was from a small booth in Arnhem Land. Yirrikala is home to Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the prominent Aboriginal leader who outraged colleagues by reversing his opposition to the NT intervention on the eve of the official start to the election campaign. Brough, no doubt, thought he had an ally in Yunupingu, but the electoral returns reveal otherwise. Of the 266 votes up for grabs, the CLP secured just two of them - 0.75 percent of the primary vote.

And what of the other great story that went begging? The vote for the ALP in the booth of Hopevale – Noel Pearson’s hometown. 75%.

One of the great hypocrisies not just of media coverage of Indigenous issues, but of Australian thinking generally is our inability to apply the "good for the goose, good for the gander" principle when it comes to black issues.

For example, WorkChoices. The Australian public rejected it. No one’s debating the mandate to wind it back. Yet the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory overwhelmingly, comprehensively, spectacularly reject the NT intervention, and we’re all still arguing about whether it too should be scaled back.

The fact is, Aboriginal people still want the $1.3 billion spent in their communities, plus a lot more to make up the massive gaps in health, housing and education that have grown amid decades of appalling government neglect. They just don’t see why they have to give up their basic human rights in the process.

Aboriginal people rejected the methods of the intervention. They want consultation, not confrontation. They want assistance, not insistence. And they want to be heard. As usual, Aboriginal Territorians have spoken loud and clear at this federal election, but I fear that as usual, not enough people are listening.

Crikey also has one from Mungo MacCallum on "The dubious legacy of John Winston Howard" (sorry - I'll stop kicking the dead Rodent soon, I promise).
Howard’s other claim is that he leaves Australia a stronger, prouder and more prosperous country than he found it.

Stronger? Well, that it depends how you measure it. Howard huggers have always claimed that in international affairs, Australia now punches above its weight. What they actually mean is that Howard was duchessed by George W Bush, who found him a very amenable acolyte. The rest of the world saw us in that light. Stronger should mean more independent, and self-confident. The only bit of Australia in which those qualities are more obvious is the Australian cricket team.

Prouder, then? Certainly more arrogant, less tolerant – the pride that is counted among the seven deadly sins. But prouder of real and lasting achievement? What achievement?

And more prosperous – some people certainly are, much; and the country’s overall wealth has grown, although Howard has had very little to do with that. But we are also far, far deeper in debt, and less secure as a result. By an economist’s measure, our material wealth has grown; but if prosperity is seen as a wider indicator of quality of life, as genuine happiness, Howard failed us badly.

And if we are wealthier, at what cost? We are certainly not the people we were in 1996 when the government last changed.

For more than eleven years, John Howard led us on a voyage driven by greed and fear, into parochialism and paranoia, selfishness and racism, bigotry and corruption, and other dark places in the Australian psyche where we never should have gone. It was a mean and ugly trip, and it will take us all a long time to recover.

Ross Gittens at the SMH says the election result was "A vote for honesty and decency".
Wouldn't it be great if the defeat of the Howard Government and the election of fresh-faced Kevin Rudd proved to be a turning point, a swing back to moderation in public policy and decency in public life? I am not at all sure it will - politicians tend to ape the ethical standards of their competitors - but it sure would be nice.

The lawyer and academic Greg Craven says the Australian people are radical about only one thing: that their politicians must be moderate. The radical policy in this campaign - at least in its initial form - was Work Choices. By favouring individual contracts it shifted the balance of bargaining power heavily in favour of employers at the expense of less-skilled workers, who were able to lose penalty payments and conditions without reasonable compensation.

The belated restoration of a fairness test did much to correct this injustice, but it came too late. As Liberal insiders are admitting, Work Choices was the greatest single reason for John Howard's defeat. Inexplicably, it harmed the very working-class battlers whose support had kept him in power for so long.

Work Choices was extreme in another respect: by permitting the removal of penalty rates for overtime and work on weekends and public holidays, it advanced the seven-day working week and the demise of the weekend. Nothing could have been more calculated to damage family life and make social relations more difficult. How this would leave us better off was never explained.

I do not believe the motivation for Work Choices was to promote employment and advance economic efficiency. Rather it was to strike the final blow against the hated unions.

Howard sought to delegitimise the union movement from his first moment in office, removing unionists from government boards and declining to consult the unions about legislation that affected them. Contrast that with Rudd's concern in just his first few days to establish good relations with business.

Other things suggest this election result represented a rejection of the extreme and a search for greater balance. One is that, much to the Howard Government's astonishment, the voters were perfectly prepared to toss out a government that had presided over more than a decade of strong growth in the economy, rising wages, low inflation, moderate interest rates and low unemployment.

Perhaps reflecting their own values, the Libs assumed the goal of material comfort reigned supreme in the electorate's mind - that, when you got right down to it, nothing was more important than keeping the good times rolling. They discovered to their surprise that we do care about fairness, for others as well as ourselves; we do care about achieving a reasonable balance between work and life; and we do want our leaders to uphold reasonable standards of honesty and decency in public life.

This election revealed a desire to restore balance in another respect: the checks and balances of politics, under which many, probably most, Australians prefer their federal government not to also have control of the Upper House. Having the balance of power in the Senate held by third parties has restored its intended role as a house of review and made it a rare brake on the ever-growing power of executive government.

Over the years, a divided Senate has saved us from the worst extremes of both sides' policies. And saved the major parties from themselves. It is a safe assertion that Howard gained control of the Senate in his last term only by electoral accident. The sudden decline of the Australian Democrats caught voters off guard. What were the consequences of that miscalculation?

One was that the Senate was immediately cut back to a rubber stamp. Another was the rush of blood to Howard's head that produced Work Choices. He and his party must now privately curse the day they gained control of the Senate. It was the beginning of their end.

On the face of it, the voters' decision to install Labor federally as well as in every state and territory across the land hardly represents a vote for moderation and balance. We are now a one-party state. Not to worry. I think what we are seeing is just the first stage in an inevitable changing of the guard. Many voters are attracted to the idea of the each-way bet: governments of opposing colours at federal and state levels. Labor gained its stranglehold over state and territory governments while Howard's Liberals were entrenching themselves federally. Labor's ascension to power federally makes it only a matter of time before state Labor governments start falling - which will be no bad thing.

I believe standards of honesty and decency fell under Howard. They were hardly very high under his Labor predecessors, but they declined further under a man who, to all outward appearance, radiated respectability. He was a tricky man, leaving you with a certain impression but then later protesting that you had failed to read his lawyerly words carefully enough.

How many times were we misled? There were the non-core promises, the children overboard, the Tampa, the weapons of mass destruction and the probably illegal invasion of Iraq, the AWB scandal and the promise to keep interest rates at record lows.

Howard was never told and so was never responsible. The buck always stopped elsewhere. As to decency, we had the brutal treatment of asylum seekers, the trampling of the legal rights of David Hicks and others, the shameful treatment of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

The Howard Government ruled by fear and behind-the-scenes bullying of bureaucrats, journalists, business economists and business people. It raised the abuse of incumbency to new heights, especially taxpayer-funded market research and political advertising.

In all these things, it had two standard defences: first, you may care but the electorate does not and, second, our Labor predecessors did it, too.

I would like to believe this election shows that, in the end, the electorate does care about declining standards of public morality.

As for Rudd, some friendly advice: the first time I hear "but Howard did it, too" I will take it as an admission of moral bankruptcy. It will be red rag to a bull.

Ditto.



Links:

* WorldChanging - Kevin Rudd, Australia's New Prime Minister
* Mises.org - The Future of the Commodity Price Boom
* TreeHugger - China's Biggest Solar Geek
* Technology Review - Cleaner Nuclear Power? Congress pushes for another look at thorium fuel
* Energy Bulletin - Peak oil activists gather, plan for hard times, will lead the way
* Energy Bulletin - Where the wild things are
* POD - Peak Oil And Fertilizer: No Problem

Massive Biomass ?  

Posted by Big Gav

PhysOrg has an article on British plans to build the biggest biomass plant in the world. Somewhat bizarrely, the wood chip fuel for it is expected to come from the US and Canada.

The 350-megawatt wood chip-fuelled electricity generating plant will be sited in the industrial town of Port Talbot on the south Wales coast. It will cost 400 million pounds (830 million dollars, 560 million euros) to construct.

"This will be the biggest biomass plant in the world, generating enough clean energy to power half the homes in Wales," Hutton said in a statement. "It joins eight major renewables projects already given the green light in the past 12 months alone and is another important step towards the low carbon economy envisaged by the Prime Minister (Gordon Brown)."

The plant is expected to contribute about 70 percent of the Welsh Assembly's 2010 renewable energy target, and have a 25-year lifetime. It will create around 150 new jobs. The wood chip fuel, to be burnt around the clock, is expected to come from sustainable sources in the United States and Canada. The station will burn around three million tonnes per year.

There has been a local campaign against the proposal, with 7,000 people signing a petition. Neil Crumpton, energy spokesman for Friends of the Earth, told AFP the group was in favour of biomass projects but did not support this one due to its location. Even if there was little pollution, the area around the site already suffered from above average levels, he said, adding that the plant would only produce electricity, while similar stations produce heating as well.

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK's science spokesman, also lamented the fact it would not produce heating too and expressed concerns about the wood being transported over the Atlantic Ocean.

The Swedish town of Vaxjo is also using biomass / wood chips as the primary mechanism for reducing emissions. In their case, the wood chips and waste are locally produced and the ash is returned to the forests, which makes the process sound a lot more sustainable.
When this quiet city in southern Sweden decided in 1996 to wean itself off fossil fuels, many people doubted the ambitious goal would have any impact beyond the town limits. Today, however, Vaxjo is attracting a green pilgrimage of politicians, scientists and business leaders from as far away as the United States and North Korea seeking inspiration from a city program that has allowed it to cut CO2 emissions 30 percent since 1993.

Vaxjo is a pioneer in a growing movement in dozens of European cities, large and small, that aren't waiting for national or international measures aimed at curbing climate change.

From London's congestion charge to Paris' city bike program and Barcelona's solar power campaign, initiatives taken at the local level are being introduced across the continent — often influencing national policies instead of the other way around.

"People used to ask: Isn't it better to do this at a national or international level?" said Henrik Johansson, environmental controller in Vaxjo, a city of 78,000 on the shores of Lake Helga, surrounded by thick pine forest in the heart of Smaland province. "We want to show everyone else that you can accomplish a lot at the local level." ...

In Vaxjo, (pronounced VECK-shur), the vast majority of emissions cuts have been achieved at the city's heating and power plant, which replaced oil with wood chips from local sawmills as its main source of fuel. Ashes from the furnace are returned to the forest as nutrients.

"This is the best fir in Sweden," said plant manager Ulf Johnsson, scooping up a fistful of wood chips from a giant heap outside the factory.

He had just led Michael Wood, the U.S. ambassador to Sweden, on a guided tour of the facility, which is considered state of the art. Not only does it generate electricity, but the water that is warmed up in the process of cooling the plant is used to heat homes and offices in Vaxjo.

A similar but much larger system is in place in Copenhagen, Denmark's capital, where waste heat from incineration and combined heat and power plants is pumped through a purpose-built 800-mile network of pipes to 97 percent of city.

Copenhagen is often cited as a climate pioneer among European cities. It cut CO2 emissions by 187,600 tons annually in the late 1990s by switching from coal to natural gas and biofuels at its energy plants. Its goal is to reduce emissions by 35 percent by 2010, compared to 1990 levels, even more ambitious than Denmark's national target of 21 percent cuts under the Kyoto accord.

In 1995, Copenhagen became one of the first European capitals to introduce a public bicycle service that lets people pick up and return bikes at dozens of stations citywide for a small fee. Similar initiatives have since taken root in Paris and several other European cities. Next, Copenhagen plans to spend about $38 million on various initiatives to get more residents to use bicycles instead of cars.

Transport is one of the hardest areas for local leaders to control since traffic is not confined to a single city. Without stronger national policies promoting biofuels over gasoline, Vaxjo, for one, will never reach its long-term target of becoming free of fossil fuels. But it's doing what it can locally. So-called green cars running on biofuels park for free anywhere in the city. About one-fifth of the city's own fleet runs on biogas produced at the local sewage treatment plant.

Vaxjo has also invested in energy efficiency, from the light bulbs used in street lights to a new residential area with Europe's tallest all-wood apartment buildings. Wood requires less energy to produce than steel or concrete, and also less transportation since Vaxjo is in the middle of forests.

Although Vaxjo is tiny by comparison, the C40 group, including major metropolitan centers such as New York, Mexico City and Tokyo, has been impressed by the city's progress and uses it as an example of "best practices" around the world.

While the UK plant mentioned earlier seems to be a mixed blessing, it appears to be part of Gordon Brown's plans to get the UK ready to make deeper carbon emissions cuts.
Gordon Brown today promised to make Britain a world leader in the new "technological revolution" required to beat global warming as he pledged to raise the bar on cutting carbon emissions by 2050.

The prime minister used his first major speech on the environment to make clear he is ready to consider increasing the government's target of a 60% cut in Britain's carbon emissions by 2050 to 80%, if recommended by the new independent committee on climate change. "Tackling climate change represents the greatest of challenges to the world; it is also the greatest of opportunities for Britain," Brown said. "We now have the opportunity to play a leading role in taking the world towards a low-carbon future."

Addressing an audience at the Foreign Press Association, the prime minister went on to set out the economic case for urgent action to tackle climate change both domestically and internationally, with the aim of holding the rise in the average global temperature to no more than 2C.

He referred to apocalyptic predictions in the latest report from the International Energy Agency, which show that on current trends world energy demand will be 50% higher and global emissions 60% higher in 2030 than today.

This would lead to temperature increases of four degrees by the end of the century and sea levels rising by 60cm, with catastrophic consequences, particularly for least developed countries that have so far done little to contribute to climate change.

The prime minister, therefore, demanded action on an international front, appealing to all nations to agree on a post-2012 framework at December's UN climate change conference in Bali, which would include binding emissions caps for all developed countries. "I know this means facing up to hard choices and taking tough decisions," he said. "That means governing, not gimmickry."

The Guardian has another look at Brown's plans, asking "Has Brown finally become a bright-green revolutionary?".
So here is Gordon Brown's greatest change yet - from brown Gordon to bright-green Gordon. Yesterday's speech heralded a seismic change of attitude. If Britain hits these targets for renewable energy and CO2 emissions, it will be a near miracle.

"This time he really gets it," said Greenpeace executive director John Sauven, who was there to hear the speech. "But can he deliver?" Others, too, ask if he understands that a new dirigiste industrial strategy needs to match his high rhetoric about a "fourth technological revolution". Brown promised change on an epic scale, to match the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe after the second world war. The Stern report warned the economic impact of climate change would be like world war and the Depression rolled into one. Does Brown realise this can't be done by consulting committees or just by markets and trading systems? He promised thousands of green jobs and environmental apprenticeships to upskill the workforce, but Germany only achieved 10 times our windpower and 300 times our solar power by direct intervention, including guaranteeing electricity prices for secure investment in new technologies. Brown resists intervention in markets, but industry needs a kickstart.

So far Labour's record has been dismal, letting carbon emissions rise by 2%. Renewable energy reached just a pathetic 2%: in the EU, only Malta has less. Imminent planet meltdown never seemed to excite Tony Blair as much as reorganising schools out of local authorities or hospitals out of the NHS. That was odd, considering his other messianic, big-picture tendencies. Brown always seemed cool on global warming - politically, it was an obstacle to his social and economic priorities.

So what's the change? At first glance, it might not look much. He is "only" re-committing to targets agreed in March by the EU. But just look at that extra-ordinary agreement. By 2020, Europe must cut carbon emissions by 20%, generate 20% of its energy from renewables and improve energy efficiency by 20%. That is a mammoth task.

A document leaked to the Guardian showed officials cunningly sliding out of Britain's share in all this, weaselling on the statistics. Why would they do that? Because, they say, the 20% renewable target was plucked out of the air by Angela Merkel, due to internal angst over nuclear power. Blair signed up to it in demob mode. Whitehall officials were bound to send up alarm signals: there had been no feasibility study, no cost benefit analysis, no one knows if it can be done. In January, each country will be told what their share of the target is - Britain must produce between 10% and 15% of its energy from renewables by 2020. If it doesn't sound much, that's up to a 7.5-fold increase in a short time. "Superhuman" effort will be required, said one adviser: it means 40% of our electricity must come from renewables.

Foreign Policy has an interesting interview with the managing director of oil and gas resources from Oppenheimer & Co, Fedel Gheit - "Seven Questions: The Price of Fear" - in his version of events, the oil price is being manipulated by the large financial players, rather than being a symptom of peak oil.
Foreign Policy: So, in other words, our own fear is driving up the price of oil?

FG: Well, if you are a commodity trader, you want to do your best to push the commodity price in the direction that you forecast. And obviously, when you have a lot of financial players making bets on much higher oil prices, they would like to see a self-fulfilling prophecy. They want to see oil prices reach the level that they put the bet on. So, they can spread rumors. And if the glass is half empty or half full, they will say it's empty.

To my knowledge, there is no oil shortage. Any willing buyers will not have a problem finding oil. Global inventories are over 4 billion barrels. In simple math, that is the equivalent of all the oil produced in the Middle East for six months. So, the fear premium, in my view, is totally exaggerated; it's not justified by logic or market fundamentals. Again, it's very difficult to quantify fear. But that is the psychological factor, in my view, that is bringing oil prices to these unprecedented levels. For instance, I don't believe that Iran is going to cut oil exports, because Iran needs the revenue more than the world needs Iran's oil. We have to be logical in assessing the risk. And obviously, financial players want to exaggerate the situation so that the risk premium increases and they make more money. ...

Foregin Policy: Everyone is talking about increased demand from India and China, but the United States remains by far the world's biggest oil importer. How big a factor in the price of oil is U.S . demand going forward, in light of recent talk of a coming slowdown in the U.S. economy from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others?

FG: It's very hard for me or anybody to think that we can maintain our level of growth with zero or a low level of inflation and have $100 oil. People who think this way are really daydreaming. It doesn't happen. By excluding food and energy [from core inflation figures], we are really misleading people. From the gas pump to the supermarket to the department store, everything that you bought a year ago would cost you more today. I'm not saying it's only energy that is causing this, but energy is a major component of the cost increase because it impacts everything we do. High oil prices will eventually slow down economic growth, if they haven't already, and I believe they will start pushing inflation higher.

I do believe that there is a role for the U.S. government to play here, and that the government should be able to correct wrongdoing. The oil markets have been left almost unguarded. And I do believe that the financial institutions, while making billions of dollars in profits, are wrecking global economic growth. The same bubble that happened in housing and tech stocks will come back and haunt us. The U.S. government has an obligation to reign in some of this excessive speculation. Otherwise, there's going to be a very bad ending.

Gilles at Swans has some thoughts about the Iranian Conundrum.
WANT TO SOLVE THE IRANIAN CONUNDRUM? I'm no energy specialist and my decade-long foray in the oil & gas industry certainly does not an expert make. There are many sites that present serious information on energy issues ... and thanks to them I've learned enough to debunk the so-called Iranian Crisis, and found out that there are ample solutions to it, besides bombing yet another country to smithereens. Of course, a positive approach would entail that the US Establishment and its European cousins refrain from their favorite strategic tool -- regime change -- and learn to respect the sacrosanct property rights (how more capitalist could I be!?!) of the Iranian nation -- their oil and gas, which is what this sorry story of "bomb, bomb, bomb," is once again all about. There are several carrots, just on the energy side, that could be offered to the Iranian government.

BEFORE REVIEWING THEM QUICKLY (they'd deserve much deeper analysis), let's clear one misconception. People who assail the bad imperialists (I am one of those people) that all over the world, through their governments and their docile propagandists and gatekeepers (aka, MSM and think tanks), accuse Iran of wanting to develop nuclear power in order to build a nuclear bomb program, do not get it. Iranian leaders may or may not wish to have their own nuclear deterrent, and they certainly are entitled to peaceful nuclear energy, but these are moot and incorrect lines of reasoning. First, Iran ought not to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program because nuclear energy, of which I am a strong proponent (but of a different sort -- see below), is an energy whose radioactive waste we do not know how to handle and is perilously dangerous to the survival of the commons in the long term. Second, if the past is any indication of the present or the future, there is a sound basis to believe -- again correctly or not -- that Iran will want a nuclear deterrent and in so doing will launch a race among other countries in the region to develop their own nuclear capabilities (cf. Egypt's recent decision to develop "nuclear energy"). We do not need more nuclear powers. We need fewer. We need none; and that includes Israel, of course, and the U.S., and France, et al.

THE BASIS for believing that Iran's goal is indeed about acquiring nuclear weapons rests in the past. Electrical nuclear energy is a byproduct of the fission process, whose only ambition has always been the creation of that most awful tool of destruction, even annihilation, ever devised. With the only exception of Japan, which could produce these weapons at a moment notice, all the countries that developed that technology had first and foremost nuclear weapons in mind. Take a look at the list of states with nuclear weapons. Peaceful nuclear energy was not on the designing table ever. Even Canada, which has no nuclear weapons arsenal as she has made the choice to depend upon the US nuclear umbrella, was party to the Manhattan Project, and is a strong proponent of nuclear energy. Canada is the largest producer of uranium in the world and detains about one-third of worldwide uranium deposits. Canada is shamefully responsible for the Indian nuclear program that led to "Smiling Buddha" in 1974 and "Operation Shakti" in 1998, which in turn led Pakistan to her first nuclear tests, and to further proliferation. Once the genie is out of the bottle we seem incapable of locking it back in and we cannot imagine that a country whose leaders are deemed irrational and fanatics is actually wanting to honestly harness nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The simplistic thinking becomes: Hey, since we've done it, they'll do it too.

WHETHER IRAN DOES GET THE BOMB or not is another false choice. Iran ought not develop a nuclear energy program, whether it's a peaceful one or not, because it's the wrong path for the commons; not because we happen not to like their leaders. Iran should be assured that besides abandoning our dreams of regime change and our relentless saber-rattling, we are willing to work earnestly to abolish these terrible weapons (instead of creating a new generation of them), and to develop new sources of energy within an international framework in and from which all countries would be able to participate and to benefit. Absent this kind of fundamental change in approach, not just vis-à-vis Iran, but the entire nuclear energy challenge, the path ahead will lie into radioactive wastes of our own making and ultimately demise. Iran is not the problem. Nuclear energy as conceived to be a destroyer of life is.

KEEP IN MIND that when you create an enemy, you also become his enemy -- a lose-lose proposition, which in the nuclear age may well result with catastrophic consequences. We have to embrace a paradigm shift. Forget about the fabricated demons and focus on the real demons -- things like resource depletion, pollution, global warming, poverty, etc., and whether some like it or not the growing demand of energy will last for decades. If the overuse of fossil fuels is a climate killer, nuclear energy a radioactive killer, competition for depleting resources a war killer, what are we left with, at least rationally?

I KNOW OF NO MAGIC POTION to change societal behaviors, but from an energy perspective the prospects are not as gloomy as the prophets of doom and the profiteers would want us to believe. Several old and new technologies are in the pipeline, from nuclear energy based on thorium rather than uranium, geothermal power, wind, and solar thermal energy. Look at the work done by The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation that wants to harness the sun in the Sahara desert and create a super electrical grid between Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Similar projects are being studied and developed in the U.S. Geothermal power provides about 26% of energy consumption in Iceland. The largest geothermal field in the world, located in Lake County, north of San Francisco, supplies almost 800,000 homes with their energy needs.

BUT, TO STAY WITHIN THE IRANIAN QUESTION, thorium could be used as an alternative to uranium to feed nuclear reactors. Thorium is three times as abundant on earth than uranium and far less radioactive. It cannot be used for the production of nuclear weapons. It can produce 250 times more energy than uranium per unit of weight, according to Professor Egil Lillestol of the Institute of Physics and Technology at the University of Bergen. The U.S. experimented with thorium at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s, but abandoned the research for lack of funding in 1976. In 2004, the U.S. buried its thorium reserves in the Nevada desert -- over 3,200 metric tones. According to some reports, that amount would cover America's energy needs for two years. France is working on developing a nuclear plant fueled with thorium. India hopes to phase out her civilian nuclear energy based on uranium and replace it with thorium. Problem is Mr. Bush cannot pronounce "nuclear" and Th is not part of his vocabulary.

SERIOUSLY AND SADLY, the made-up Iranian Crisis has more to do with once again control of oil and greed than with the nuclear issue. Any rational participant to the blinded debate would offer Iran the incentive to be a part of an international consortium -- assuming we wanted to build one -- that would research and develop alternative sources of renewal energies. It's there for the taking, but we will keep using the violent means that never work and carry on creating chaos for the much-heralded profits of the happy few. Lead goes up. Another war on the horizon, more speculation in the making, the Forbes 400 will get beefier, the Death Tax will remain on the agenda... Meanwhile, working people do keep sending their hard-earned money up the top of the food chain and their sons and daughters to the meat grinder. Since no one cares, why should I?

Links:

* MSNBC - Rockefeller Christmas tree gets green makeover
* Physorg - The power of multiples: Connecting wind farms can make a more reliable - and cheaper - power source
* After Gutenberg - ProBioGas
* Technology Review - Making Hydrogen from Leftovers
* SMH - Britain opens first bioethanol plant. Sugar beet based.
* Celsias - Nanosolar’s Thin Film Breakthrough - Solar Now Cheaper than Coal
* Energy Current - Petratherm awarded geothermal leases in Spain
* The Hindu - Glitnir, Bhilwara to set up geothermal plants in India, Nepal
* Upstream Online - Russians plan to use nuclear to power Shtokman
* The Australian - Shell eyes huge Siberian gas fields
* Tom Paine - Shall We Help Big Oil Get Bigger?
* Time - So maybe those peak oil people weren't crazy after all
* Time - New Oil Crisis: An Engineer Shortage. Thankfully engineers are a renewable resource.
* Dallas Morning News - Reaching our peak oil supply
* David Strahan - $100 oil: the terrible truth
* Peak Oil Passnotes - Peak Oil Passnotes: Here's My Tupi's Worth
* NPR - Military's Oil Needs Not Deterred by Price Spike
* Greg Palast - War Paint and Lawyers: Rainforest Indians versus Big Oil
* Daily Telegraph - Apocalyptic vision of a post-fossil fuel world
* Grist - Environmentalism and the future of coal, part one
* AFP - Indonesia's forests, a precious resource in climate change fight?
* Grist - Kucinich, Clinton, and Edwards on climate and energy
* Nashua Telegraph - Dennis Kucinich blasts Democratic leadership, says the vow from his party's leadership is "total fraud"
* Huffington Post - Elizabeth Kucinich: My Husband Would "Absolutely" Consider Running With Ron Paul
* Washinton Post - lib•er•tar•ian
* Milk And Cookies - Kucinich, Dean, and Biden: Peak Oil, Ron Paul, and 9/11
* Past Peak - What Kucinich Should Do
* Past Peak - "We Have To Get Smart Fast"
* Cryptogon - Mobile Phone Companies Provide Real Time Tracking Information to Feds; Probable Cause Optional
* RI - America Ate My Brain (Part One). I hope he's not going to trash Kucinich as well as Ron Paul...

Green Tomorrows: Four Scenarios  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Jamais Cascio at Open The Future has an interesting look at 4 green future scenarios (with one of his customary nifty graphics from his Flickr account) - looking at a set of options similar to the usual 2/2 political map and considering what the green version of each of the quadrants would look like.


... The Drivers

The two critical uncertainties used as scenario axes aren't meant to cover every possible force driving change; rather, they're what I've come to see as issues that are fundamental to how the next few decades play out. ...

The first driver is Who Makes the Rules?, with end-points of Centralized and Distributed. This driver looks at the locus of authority regarding the subject (in this case, climate responses) -- are outcomes dependent upon choices made by top-down, centralized leadership, or made by uncoordinated, distributed decision-making? ...

Although my bias tends towards distributed/collaborative, top-down models are often better-able to respond quickly to rapid developments, and can also offer a more predictable environment for business and organizational planning.

The second driver is How Do We Use Technology?, with end-points of Precautionary and Proactionary. ...

My bias here is towards a limited precautionary approach, but the need for rapid response may end up pushing towards a proactionary world.

The Scenarios

The combination of these two drivers give us four distinct worlds.

"Power Green" -- Centralized and Proactionary: a world where government and corporate entities tend to exert most authority, and where new technologies, systems and response models tend to be tried first and evaluated afterwards. This world is most conducive to geoengineering, but is also one in which we might see environmental militarization (i.e., the use of military power to enforce global environmental regulations) and aggressive government environmental controls. "Green Fascism" is one form of this scenario; "Geoengineering 101" from my Earth Day Essay is another.

"Functional Green" -- Centralized and Precautionary: a world in which top-down efforts emphasize regulation and mandates, while the deployment of new technologies emphasizes improving our capacities to limit disastrous results. Energy efficiency dominates here, along with economic and social innovations like tradable emissions quotas and re-imagined urban designs. The future as envisioned by Shellenberger and Nordhaus could be one form of this scenario; the future as envisioned by folks like Bill McDonough or Amory Lovins could be another. Arguably, this is the default scenario for Europe and Japan.

"We Green" -- Distributed and Precautionary: a world in which collaboration and bottom-up efforts prove decisive, and technological deployments emphasize strengthening local communities, enhancing communication, and improving transparency. This is a world of micro-models and open source platforms, "Earth Witness" environmental sousveillance and locavorous diets. Rainwater capture, energy networks, and carbon labeling all show up here. This world (along with a few elements from the "Functional Green" scenario) is the baseline "bright green" future.

"Hyper Green" -- Distributed and Proactionary: a world in which things get weird. Distributed decisions and ad-hoc collaboration dominate, largely in the development and deployment of potentially transformative technologies and models. This world embraces experimentation and iterated design, albeit not universally; this scenario is likely to include communities and nations that see themselves as disenfranchised and angry. Micro-models and open source platforms thrive here, too, but are as likely to be micro-ecosystem engineering and open source nanotechnology as micro-finance and open source architecture. States and large corporations aren't gone, but find it increasingly hard to keep up. One form of this scenario would end with an open source guerilla movement getting its hands on a knowledge-enabled weapon of mass destruction; another form of this scenario is the "Teaching the World to Sing" story from my Earth Day Essay.

The Choice

Which scenario is most likely? It depends a bit on how fast the truly disastrous manifestations of climate change hit. Climate catastrophe happening earlier than currently projected would push towards the more proactionary worlds. It also depends a bit on whether governments and corporate leaders continue to lag community and activist groups in terms of willingness to embrace big changes to fight environmental risks. Centralized responses may end up being too little, too late if wide-spread bottom-up models take root.

Ultimately, which one of these scenarios comes to dominate depends on the choices we make today. We simply can't go on pretending that we don't have to deal with this problem for awhile yet, that "the market" or "the government" or "new technologies" will fix everything in time, that we aren't responsible. The more we abandon our responsibilities, our agency, the more likely it is that the world that emerges will not pay attention to our interests. Acting now is no guarantee that we'll get the world we want -- but not acting is as close as you'll get to a guarantee that we won't.

RIP Ali Samsam Bakhtiari  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Demonstrating once again just how not up-to-date I am with the leatest news, I just noticed that respected Iranian peak oil commentator Dr Ali Samsam Bakhtiari passed away last month.

From his Wikipedia profile

Bakhtiari (1946 - October 2007) was a senior expert employed by the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). He held a number of senior positions with this organisation since 1971. He was also an advisor to the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre.

He held a PhD in chemical engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. He had been a part-time lecturer for the Technical Faculty at Tehran University for many years. Bakhtiari wrote a number of short essays and is the author of Peaks and Troughs which is about the modern history of Iran.

Dr Bakhtiari suggested that it would require an act of god for the world to avoid warring over depleting energy resources. He also believed that a peak in natural gas would be more shocking than peak oil because natural gas is less fluid and requires pipelines and LNG facilities to export overseas.

Dr Bakhtiari's last post on his web site was rather intriguing if you have an eye for tinfoil. Apparently he cut all ties with the peak oil world after a mysterious incident at the ASPO conference in Florence in March - exactly what happened and why he reacted this way isn't at all clear to me, but there are a number of possible conspiracy theories that come to mind. Anyone out there know what happened ?
You certainly know the 'Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas' ['ASPO'] -- the organization created by Dr. Colin Campbell in 2001 -- and which has now grown to some thirty national chapters established in most countries of the developed word -- ranging from Australia to the USA…

In some circles and publications, they have gotten used to affiliate me to either 'ASPO' or 'ASPO International'. I need to clarify that I am NOT a member of 'ASPO' or any of its subsidiaries; and have never been a member and probably will never be -- as I happen not to hold membership in any organization, service or group worldwide…

My participation as a guest speaker at 'ASPO' conferences began with the marvelous 'Historical Premiere' at Uppsala University (Sweden) in May 2002, and it all came to a rather bitter end in March 2007 at the Florence Convegno (in Italy) -- from which I was very lucky to get away with my life. Not surprisingly, I feel rather content NOT to be going to Ireland this coming September to partake in the 'ASPO-6' conference…

Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful to major 'ASPO' personalities such as Dr. Colin Campbell and Prof. Kjell Aleklett, as well as my dear friends Prof. Rui Rosa (ASPO-Portugal) and Convenor Bruce Robinson (ASPO-Australia), for having always assisted me in my research and for sponsoring my participation at key 'ASPO' conferences and seminars. On the other hand, I will NOT easily forget the couple of very dishonest experts who hoodwinked me repeatedly (even adding insult to injury), notwithstanding the trust I had placed in them…

Moreover, I used to be on the 'Board of International Advisers' to the ' Oil Depletion Analysis Center ' ['ODAC'] in London -- which I am no more…

Thus, another small chapter of my humble life has come to an end. It is full of very good memories and a few bad ones. Had I known, I would have quit after Uppsala . It might have been better for all concerned. But decisions are so much easier when taken with hindsight…

Links:

* Energy Bulletin - Q&A: Ali Samsam Bakhtiari
* Byron King - Ali Samsam Bakhtiari and peak oil

RIP Rodent  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

I figure I may as well enjoy the Rodent's demise for one more day, as both Alan Ramsay and Paul Keating have some entertaining parting shots at our worst PM in modern history.

Alan Ramsay rightly points out that Howard's evil cronies should join him in the wilderness - Downer, Ruddock and Abbott are just as much to blame for the sins of the government this decade.

We have our country back. John Howard's Australia died with his government on Saturday night. So did the political careers of a whole raft of Coalition MPs. The final casualty list depends on how the count concludes in a few undecided seats, Howard's among them. It couldn't be more exquisite than that the Labor iceberg should take our outgoing prime minister down, too. Nobody is more deserving of oblivion.

And where was the carnage greatest, despite all that blarney from Howard in the campaign's dying days that "I can still win"?

Labor made gains everywhere, but the Liberal bloodbath in NSW and Queensland alone gave Kevin Rudd the 16 Coalition seats (and more) he needed to put Labor into office federally and complete the Labor sweep in every state and territory. Nine Labor governments in total.

We've not seen its like before.

There was a lot of confected guff yesterday from some of his colleagues who survived about what a "great" prime minister Howard had been, even the "greatest" after Menzies, the Liberals' deified founder.

Yet the reality is Howard's enduring legacy is the utter destruction of the party to which he professed, in his election night concession of defeat, to "owe" everything. All those state and territory Labor governments now in office, with the exception of NSW, came to power under Howard's watch as prime minister.

Think about that.

Howard saw the demise of every Liberal or Coalition government in every Australian capital except Sydney as he plunged onwards through four Coalition victories federally across the better part of 12 years. Now his government joins them all in the cemetery. Yet this, we're told, is a "great" prime minister, the national head of the Liberal Party and the senior partner for almost 60 years in what remains of the non-Labor Coalition. Such is the reality of Howard's "greatness".

As for this last election, the one that kills Howard off politically, along with the nastiest, meanest, most miserable, self-absorbed Commonwealth government to blight Australia in living memory, Rudd out-campaigned him, with discipline and immense energy, like Howard has never previously been thrashed in his 33 years in political life.

And for many of us, as Howard and his strategists pulled on every ugly negative they could come up with, not just in these past six weeks but over the past year, it was a delight to see him flounder so badly and fail so completely. All that remains to sweep him out of sight is to get rid of the more obscene remnants of his governance in the months ahead.

Peter Costello, one of those who went through the ritual yesterday of "talking up" the selfish little man who never understood when it was the right time to get out, has been smart enough to understand he is not going to hang about and try and resurrect the wreck that Howard leaves behind.

Who could blame him?

Now, while Costello sits on the backbench for three years, honouring his commitment to his voters in his Melbourne seat, what should happen is those other political misfits like Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock and Tony Abbott should think about another life outside politics. None are part of the Liberals' future.

For God's sake, go and make our Christmas complete.

Paul Keating has a less inspiring follow up to his pre-election barbs, calling Howard a divisive leader who squandered Australia's hopes.
On Saturday night, when it was clear the Howard Government had been defeated, many Labor supporters around me said: "You must be so happy." But my emotion was not happiness; rather, it was relief.

Relief that the nation had put itself back on course. Relief that the toxicity of the Liberal social agenda - the active disparagement of particular classes and groups, that feeling of alienation in your own country - was over. And over in the only way that could be final: with a resounding electoral instruction of "No more".

In The Sun-Herald on November 18, John Howard nominated the putting asunder of political correctness and the celebration of our Anglo-Celtic past as the pinnacle of his social, indeed national, achievement. He was nominating as a virtue political incorrectness of a kind that gave some the right to speak and behave towards others in terms disparaging of their colour, religion, class or social standing. In a country of immigrants, such a view emanating from the Prime Minister is social poison.

Saturday night's victory was not just a victory for the Labor Party; it was also a victory for those Liberals like Malcolm Fraser, Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan, who stood against the pernicious erosion of decent standards in our public affairs.

The Liberal Party of John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Alexander Downer and Peter Costello is now a party of privilege and punishments. One that lacks that most basic of wellsprings: charity.

The French philosophers had it pretty right with the Enlightenment catchcry of liberty, fraternity and equality. There was not much liberty for the boat people, or fraternity for the Aborigines or the Muslims, or equality for the unionists who believed in nothing more revolutionary than the right to collectively bargain.

Howard says he was the progenitor, the giver, of 11 years of economic growth and, without him or Costello, the growth will evaporate. This result means the public didn't believe him; otherwise they would not have repudiated him. They knew it took more than simply being around and spending up big to create the conditions that have underwritten the longest economic expansion in our history.

Joseph Romm at Grist also has a few word's about the Rodent's demise - "Denier bites the dust".
Global warming takes down its first major political victim:
Conservative Prime Minister John Howard suffered a humiliating defeat Saturday at the hands of the left-leaning opposition, whose leader has promised to immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Why the stunning loss? A key reason was Howard's "head in the sand dust" response to the country's brutal once-in-a-thousand year drought. As the UK's Independent reported in April:
... few scientists dispute the part played by climate change, which is making Australia hotter and drier ... Until a few months ago, Mr Howard and his ministers pooh-poohed the climate-change doomsayers.

You can read about Howard's lame attempt to change his position rhetoric on global warming here.

Now we are the last industrialized nation with a leader who refuses to take any serious action. Hopefully that dubious distinction will be corrected in next year's presidential election.

For Australians, the drought, called "the first climate change-driven disaster to strike a developed nation," was enough to change their views on global warming dramatically. Of course, Katrina could have been the first -- but we have no way of knowing for certain if climate change caused that hurricane to become so deadly. Let's hope we don't need to suffer anything as brutal as what Australia is going through before we commit to serious action.

Links:

* SMH - Australians wake up to new era after Rudd crushes Howard
* New York Times - Rudd's first acts as prime minister will include pushing for the ratification of the Kyoto climate agreement and to negotiate the withdrawal of Australian combat troops from Iraq
* Mother Jones - Lets Talk Iraq. "Now is a good time to look back at something little-noticed in America: Howard's shameless lying on Iraq".
* John Cole's Balloon Juice - Is that all there is?. "Is this what the Bush dead-enders are left with - clinging to the rhetoric of a foreign leader?"

The Week in Coal  

Posted by Big Gav

Good Riddance To The Rodent  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

I'm glad to report that the Rodent has admitted defeat and his government has been swept away in a well deserved landslide defeat.

The little critter may even lose his own seat - only the second time a sitting PM has ever done so and unheard of in times of economic prosperity.

So I guess John Howard will go down in history as one of the great losers of Australian politics.

Paul Keating had a few words to say about a number of the deficiencies of the Rodent and his minions that didn't get much of a mention in my pre-election diatribe, so I'll let him describe the Howard legacy - "A Decade Of Moral Erosion".

The principal reason the public should take the opportunity to kill off the Howard Government has less to do with broken promises on interest rates or even its draconian Work Choices industrial laws, and everything to do with restoring a moral basis to our public life.

Without this, the nation has no standard to rely upon, no claim that can be believed, not even when the grave step of going to war is being considered. When truth is up for grabs, everything is up for grabs.

Cynicism and deceitfulness have been the defining characteristics of John Howard and his Government. They were even brazen enough to oversee the corruption of a United Nations welfare program. And when they were found out, not one of them accepted ministerial responsibility. Not Alexander Downer, not Mark Vaile and certainly not Howard. What they were doing was letting the cockies get their wheat sold through the AWB, while turning a blind eye to the AWB's unscrupulous behaviour - illegally funding a regime Howard was arguing was so bad it had to be changed by force.

Howard took us into the disastrous Gulf War on the back of two lies. One, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, capable of threatening the Middle East and Western Europe; the other, that Howard was judiciously weighing whether to commit Australian forces against an evolving situation. We now know he had committed our forces to the Americans all along.

If the Prime Minister cannot be believed, who in the political system is to be believed?

When Opposition leader in 1995, Howard told us he would restore trust in government, when at that time trust in government was not in question. He also told us he would make us more "relaxed and comfortable". Well, some relaxation and some comfort. These days, there are many parts of the world where Australians dare not go. Something new for all of us.

But bad as all this is, how much worse was it for Howard to begin the fracturing of his own community?

His tacit endorsement of Pauline Hanson's racism during his first government, his WASP-divined jihad against refugees; those wretched individuals who had enough faith in us to try and reach us in old tubs, while his wicked detention policy was presided over by that other psalm singer, Philip Ruddock. ...

During the 1996 election campaign, a number of people I regard well said to me "Oh, I think Howard will be all right"; meaning, while not progressive, he would not be reactionary or socially divisive, or opportunistically amoral.

Well Howard wasn't "all right". He has turned out to be the most divisive prime minister in our history. Not simply a conservative maintaining the status quo, but a militant reactionary bent upon turning the clock back. Turning it back against social inclusion, cooperation at the workplace, the alignment of our foreign policies towards Asia, providing a truthful and honourable basis for our reconciliation, accepting the notion that all prime ministers since Menzies had: Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and me: that our ethnic diversity had made us better and stronger and the nation's leitmotif was tolerance. Howard has trodden those values into the ground.

He also trod on the reasonable constitutional progression to an Australian republic, even when the proposal I championed had everything about it that the Liberal Party could accept. A president appointed by both houses of Parliament; meaning by both major parties, while leaving the reserve powers with the new head of state as the Liberals had always wanted. The price of Howard conniving in its defeat probably means we will ultimately end up with an elected head of state, completely changing the representative nature of power and of the prime ministership and of the cabinet.

To compound Howard's transgressions, he has run dead on the continuing obligation of structural economic change, just like he did as treasurer in the 1970s.

He and Costello have simply made hay while the sun has shone from the great structural reforms introduced by the Hawke and Keating governments. Those changes: open financial and product markets, the new decentralised wages system of 1993, were married up with a trillion dollars in superannuation savings, to underwrite the country's prosperity and renew its economic base.

Howard's sole example of reform is his GST. The one he told us in 1996 he would not give us. A regressive tax on all spending regardless of income.

Nations get a chance to change course every now and then. When things become errant, a wise country adjusts its direction. It understands that it is being granted an appointment with history. On this coming Saturday, this country should take that opportunity by driving a stake through the dark heart of Howard's reactionary government.

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