Tesla Road Test  

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Chris from "Revenge Of the Electric Car" has a report on his experiences driving a Tesla Roadster around - First week with a Tesla.

My first electric car, twelve years ago, turned me from a car-hater into a car-lover, and the Tesla only heats this up more. The Roadster is faster then anything on the road, including the young guy in a fuel cell SUV who improbably challenged me to a Saturday night race on Hollywood Blvd. Yes he was joking.

The Roadster is definitely a sports car - low to the ground, tight handling, and quick. You’ve got to pay attention to avoid SUVs, spine crunching pot holes, and drivers who let their cars drift into you as they stare.

One thing easy to avoid is the gas station. The flashing charger port on the car (insert phallic symbol here) makes the Star Wars light sabre look dull. And early results suggest a range of 175 to 200 miles, although I’ve never gotten close to running out of power. Specs are 4 hours for a “complete charge” but I’ve been getting what I need in about 45 minutes. Night time grid charging is cheapest (”$1 a gallon”) and the whole process will be even greener come the end of January when our roof (finally) gets solar panels.

The last two weeks have flown by in a second. Highlights have included giving the visionary LA Councilman Eric Garcetti a ride. Eric cameoed in Who Killed the Electric Car and has driven EVs for years so I let him drive it himself. His verdict: Awesome.

I’ve also had a bunch of great interviews including Croatian TV (Yes, Nicola Tesla would be proud.), and French journalists doing a story about “Revenge of the Electric Car.” Midlife crisis be damned, I’d rather have this Tesla than any Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus or Porsche. Those cars are just as expensive and far far more polluting. Complaints? None. I just wish everyone could have this experience for themselves and more plug-in cars start filling the roads everywhere.

Who Was Responsible For The Mumbai Terror Attacks ?  

Posted by Big Gav

The Mumbai terrorist attacks have dominated the media in recent days, so I feel bound to throw in a few links on the topic.

As the mainstream press is busy parading security experts telling us it is yet more Islamic terrorism I won't repeat what you've read plenty of times elsewhere, but instead head straight for the fringes.

Larvatus Prodeo is wondering if the media is being too hasty in automatically laying the blame at the feet of Islamic militants wanting to strike at the West, noting that Hindu radicals have caused plenty of havoc in the country as well and it could also be viewed as a continuation of internal strife - Mumbai terror attacks: an anti-Hindutva motivation?.

The Mumbai terror attacks are horrendous and to be roundly and loudly condemned. But, as with all events of this nature (particularly those which involve attacks on Westerners), inevitably there’s been a rush to inscribe their significance within a political frame - the prime candidate being the war on terror. Andrew Bolt can stand as representative here:
THE slaughter in Mumbai was a barbaric attack not just on India, but on us. On the West.

Now, I don’t think that the reflex response to the desire to prematurely ascribe blame to Al-Qaeda before the facts are known should be to rush off in the opposite direction. But it did interest me that many of the television reports a few nights ago sought commentary from experts in terror studies, rather than sourcing those who have a deep knowledge of Indian and subcontinental politics and history per se. This in itself ties in with the desire to write one single narrative of international terrorism, as the terrorism experts in question are usually best informed about Middle Eastern and South East Asian affairs. This in turn both ascribes more unity to international terror networks than actually exists, and turns them into an immediate and default suspected cause, no matter what the specificities of the political and social environment in which attacks actually occur.

Anyone with anything more than a passing acquaintance with Indian politics, society and history, though, would know that it’s quite possible, even probable, that the attacks’ causes lie in factors such as the increasingly weak Indian central government’s inability to control its territory and monopolise the use of violence, and the inability of either the justice system or the state (even after the Congress-led coalition defeated the BJP) to prevent inter-communal violence and massacres such as those in Gujarat in 2002 or hold anyone to account for them. Political violence in India recently, it’s also worthy of note, has often been directed as much against Christians as Muslims, and what we may be seeing is the emergence of what are basically pogroms on a much bigger and more organised scale. The role of the Shiv Sena Party in the governance of Mumbai itself, a party which has called for the formation of Hindutva suicide squads and an ethno-religious sectarian neighbourhood cleansing program in the city, may additionally be a factor.

One shouldn’t rush to judgement. And one shouldn’t do that also for reasons of preserving an awareness of the horror of the deaths and injuries that have been inflicted in Mumbai and some more respect and dignity for the victims than instantly transforming them into political footballs. But if causes are to be sought, and they should be, both the Pakistani connections to violence and the emergence of terrorist movements pushing back against the nationalist pogroms may well be found in time - after the facts are in - to have been at work in these tragic events.

As usual, the tinfoil world is pretty cynical about "India's 9/11", with Cryptogon outlining the usual "who benefits" line of reasoning - India: Coordinated Terrorist Attacks.
See, this is why the U.S. needs to attack Pakistan… *wink* *wink* Get it?

Of course, it’s possible that this is some sort of organic insurgency. (Anything is possible, right?) I doubt it, though, because no critical economic infrastructure was hit. When the attackers start popping Internet and electrical infrastructure, shutting down the operations of transnational corporations, then the CIA and its clients might not be behind it.

I’ve read several accounts of what happened, and it’s just absurd, from a military perspective. If the coordinators of this outrage are not false flag CIA/ISI shills, they’re complete idiots.

As usual, ask yourself, who benefits from this?

Break For News (which I first came across a few years ago when it declared peak oil to be a myth spread by the CIA - and more recently, when it declared Obama a closet communist, prompting some mockery at Rigorous Intuition) has some interesting questions about the Indian counter-terrorism leader who died early on in the violence, suggesting Hindu radicals may be behind this - The Man Who Knew Too Much: Who Killed Indian Anti-Terror Chief ?.
ATS chief Hemant Karkare, two senior police officers and 80 others were killed when terrorists struck with impunity in Mumbai on Wednesday night in coordinated multiple blasts and gunfire in a dozen areas including at iconic landmarks CST railway station and two five star hotels--Oberoi and Taj.

Karkare (54), who was probing the Malegaon blasts case, was gunned down when he was leading an operation at Hotel Taj against terrorists who had taken 15 people, including seven foreigners, as hostages. He was hit by three bullets in his chest.

Coal Seam Gas In The Hunter Valley  

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While most of the coal seam gas action is taking place up in Queensland it is likely that there are significant amounts in NSW as well. Quoll Tracks points to a local media report about Sydney Gas' exploration success - Poor fellow my valley!.

As mentioned previously Sydney Gas has been drilling around the Paynes Crossing area, between Broke and Wollombi for coal seam gas. Of course at the time they were telling people not to worry as they were only "exploring". Now that they've announced finding enough gas to keep Sydney going for the next 150 years I'm presuming we can start worrying now? Apart from the environmental concerns yet again resources are taken from the Hunter to feed Sydney.

And of course if there is that much gas there does that mean the Queensland Hunter Gas Pipeline has just become a massive white elephant?


Valley's $10bn methane gas find - BY MATTHEW KELLY

AN estimated $10 billion worth of coal-seam methane gas or enough gas to supply Sydney for the next 150 years has been found beneath the Hunter.

The discovery of the untapped resource, which has the potential to generate hundreds of jobs, was announced at the Sydney Gas annual general meeting this week. The find has exceeded the company's expectation and is seen as one of the most significant Australian gas discoveries in recent years. It follows 12 months of core hole drilling in the region by Sydney Gas and its partner, AGL Energy.

The company believes 708 billion cubic metres of gas, or 25,000 petajoules, are contained in coal within an area from Paynes Crossing to Scone.

It estimates 10,000 petajoules can potentially be extracted from the area. By comparison, Western Australia's North West shelf contains an estimated 33,000 petajoules of extractable gas. "We've broken the exploration area into 10-kilometre by 10-kilometre grids and we've looked at the geology in each of those grids," Sydney Gas chief executive Andy Lukas said. "We've estimated how much gas we expect is in the coal, the quality of the gas and whether there are any faults nearby."

Mr Lukas said the company was aiming to supply 50 per cent of gas to the NSW market beyond 2015. "The 30-year contract to supply Sydney is about 2000 petajoules," he said. "On that basis we will certainly be able to supply Sydney and have some left over for power stations and export. Having a gas resource so close to the Sydney and Newcastle markets provides an excellent opportunity for the company."

Coded maps indicating the "sweet spots", or the areas believed to contain the richest resources, were presented at the meeting.

The company will establish production pilot plants across the region to demonstrate the viability of the resource. "Provided the permeability is such that the gas will flow, we would normally expect to get about half out," Mr Lukas said. "Our first aim is to get 500 petajoules of reserves then do it in 500-petajoule steps."

Gas energy is seen within the energy sector as a transition fuel between coal and renewable energy such as solar. When burnt, gas produces half the emissions coal produces.

The AgBot: Solar Powered Farm Machinery  

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GoodCleanTech has a post on experiments in creating solar powered farm machinery - AgBot Multi-Function Robot Is Powered by the Sun.

Louisiana State University (LSU) developed a multi-function robot called AgBot that's powered by solar energy. As of current, AgBot's functionality are still limited - during daytime, it makes the perfect autonomous garden bot, while at night it's a security machine. AgBot reportedly has the capability to both fertilize soil and plant seeds. It uses its built-in GPS system to plot a map of the land, utilizing high-tech sensory identification system to mark structures so it won't bump into them later.

For its function as a security bot, it uses a night-vision camera mounted atop a 360 degree swivel, an advanced motion detector, and a frequency alarm system. Unfortunately, its four hour battery life span doesn't make it an ideal security device for now. Nevertheless, the current model is just a prototype and the designers expect the final product to have stronger motors, and perhaps, a longer running time. Ultimately, the goal is to have as many functions for the AgBot as possible, making the machine customizable "as if buying a computer and selecting the only desired components versus a package that includes unnecessary options."

The 1872 Energy Crisis  

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The New York Times has a review of a book on the history of horse power (Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America), including a segment describing an energy crisis caused by an outbreak of horse flu in the 1870's - A World of a Different Color.

Once upon a time, America derived most of its power from a natural, renewable resource that was roughly as efficient as an automobile engine but did not pollute the air with nitrogen dioxide or suspended particulate matter or carcinogenic hydrocarbons. This power source was versatile. Hooked up to the right devices, it could thresh wheat or saw wood. It was also highly portable — in fact, it propelled itself — and could move either along railroad tracks or independently of them. Each unit came with a useful, nonthreatening amount of programmable memory preinstalled, including software that prompted forgetful users once it had learned a routine, and each possessed a character so distinctive that most users gave theirs a name. As a bonus feature, the power source neighed.

But in the fall of 1872, almost all these power units, better known as horses, came down with the flu, and America faced an energy crisis. In what became known as the Great Epizootic, horse influenza spread from Ontario down the East Coast of the United States, across the South and into the West, eventually reaching as far as California and Nicaragua. Forty-eight hours after it hit Boston, seven out of every eight of the city’s horses were feverish and coughing. In “Horses at Work,” Ann Norton Greene describes Philadelphia at a standstill: “Streetcar companies suspended service; undelivered freight accumulated at wharves and railroad depots; consumers lacked milk, ice and groceries; saloons lacked beer; work halted at construction sites, brickyards and factories; and city governments curtailed fire protection and garbage collection.” The disaster ­prompted an appreciation of the work done by horses, which had been somewhat overshadowed by the more voguish pursuit of steam power, and The Nation went so far as to publish an essay with the Matthew Arnoldian title “The Position of the Horse in Modern Society.” Then as now, many had the idea that over the course of the 19th century the steam engine was fated to replace the horse. To the contrary, the Nation essayist asserted, “our dependence on the horse has grown almost pari passu with our dependence on steam.”

Tide turns for ocean energy  

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The SMH has a report on Australian tidal power company Atlantis and their ambition to be part of developments in Pentland Firth - Tide turns for ocean energy.

AN AUSTRALIAN company, using technology that a young Queensland engineer designed, is expected this week to announce a string of international contracts.

Atlantis Resources Corporation has developed turbines that can generate electricity from the sea's movement. It has begun trials at San Remo in Victoria. The company is confident it will win a contract to build 500 underwater turbines in the sea off Scotland. The tidal farm will have capacity to power a million homes.

"This is a story of a group of young Australians doing wonderful things on a global scale," Atlantis chief executive Timothy Cornelius said. He said the deep-water Solon turbine that 28-year-old Dr John Keir had designed was considered the world's most efficient underwater generator.

"This young guy from Townsville, in 12 months, has gone from concept to building this turbine," Mr Cornelius said. "The company is hopefully about to make some significant announcements on new projects with the potential to generate hundreds of megawatts of power in the United States, Canadian and Asian markets."

Mr Cornelius said the area that the company hoped to develop in Scotland - the Pentland Firth in the country's north - had been described as the Saudi Arabia of marine power. ...

Mr Cornelius said: "The tides are completely reliable, so much so that you can predict them 20 years in advance. That is exactly the kind of information energy companies are looking for. We can be highly accurate on our outputs to the electricity grid."

He said the Solon turbine worked best when submerged more than 40 metres and could generate two megawatts of power. "When you consider water covers 75 per cent of the world's surface, it is a wonderful opportunity because so much of that power is underdeveloped."

The company began in northern NSW, developing the shallow-water Nereus turbine, which can generate power from rivers. It has since moved to Singapore, nearer its Asian markets.

Mr Cornelius said the company was lobbying state governments in Australia for support to build fields of underwater turbines off the coast of Western Australia and Victoria.

Research Into Offshore LNG Production  

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The ABC has a report on research into floating LNG plants that could enable the exploitation of stranded gas reserves far offshore - Researchers develop method to store gas at sea.

The simple idea of joining two tankers like a catamaran could be the future of energy storage, researchers say.

The researchers have come up with a way to store liquefied gas at sea. Engineers from the Tasmanian-based Australian Maritime College and the Western Australia Research Energy Alliance have designed an offshore storage facility that can hold 660,000 tonnes of liquefied gas.

The project, the researchers say, could revolutionise Australia's energy industry by allowing energy companies to tap into massive but remote reserves under the ocean.

"Everyone knows that with all the various changes, economically and climatically, you might have a situation where you can't get oil imports, so it's a question of energy security," Dr Ian Finnie, chief executive of the Western Australia Energy Research Alliance, said. "We've got 200 years worth of natural gas that was hard to get at, it's a long way offshore, it's in deep water," he added.

Usually gas is piped from undersea to a fixed platform. Another pipeline takes the gas ashore where it is loaded onto tankers and shipped around the world.

A four-metre model is testing whether the stationary storage tanker would work. "With our facilities we're able to replicate the wave conditions and wind conditions that such a concept would actually see in reality," Dr Giles Thomas, of the Australia Maritime College, said.

The offshore storage would mean big savings. "It could be used for other things like converting that natural gas into other transport fuels like petrol and diesel and aviation fuel," Dr Finnie said.

The concept is expected to be ready within a decade.

Energy security vital for Australia: Alcoa head  

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The Age has an article on some interesting comments by Aloca Australia chief Al Cransberg about national energy security - Energy security vital: Alcoa head.

AUSTRALIA must implement a long-term energy strategy or risk dire environmental and economic consequences, Alcoa chairman Alan Cransberg has warned. Mr Cransberg yesterday called for a national security strategy to guarantee the nation's energy requirements for the next 50 to 100 years.

"Energy security is absolutely critical in the issue of climate change and our capacity to meet the greenhouse challenge," he told yesterday's meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia. "For too long we have been focused on expanding and maximising energy exports, without proper protection for our own future generations."

Long-term energy contracts of more than 20 years were to the detriment of Australia's energy needs, Mr Cransberg said, because it meant the energy was no longer available for the local economy. "Those foreign-contract prices have been regularly spiralling upward with telling consequences for local users."

Securing sufficient energy stores was a key national security consideration, he said, because of the growing dependence on "supplies from politically unstable regions" and the growing demand for oil and gas.

Crude Mathematics  

Posted by Big Gav

The Guardian has an article by Michael Meacher, noting falling oil prices are destroying investment in new supply - Crude Mathematics.

A plunging oil price means cheaper petrol now – and no fuel later as industry investment shrivels,

A snip at $48.50. Now that the price of a barrel of benchmark Brent crude continues to fall like a stone in the global recession, a drop of no less than two-thirds since the high point of $147.50 just four months ago, the relief is huge among motorists and hard-pressed consumers.

Conversely, for the oil-producing countries (especially Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Venezuela) it is potentially cataclysmic, though some, such as the US, may rejoice at that. But there is another dimension to this oil-price slide which has been little noticed, but which long-term is extremely serious.

If oil prices remain well below a certain critical level for any significant period of time, large amounts of investment in expected oil production capacity will simply be written off, and the consequence could then be a recovery-stopping supply-side crunch within little more than two years.

That critical level is widely reckoned within the oil industry to be $90 a barrel. A current price as low as half that critical level is already forcing many companies to drop oil projects, and the banking crisis is also squeezing project financing for foreign oil companies operating in OPEC and outside.

Russia's four major energy companies – Gazprom, LUKoil, Rosneft, and TNK-BP – depend heavily on debt to finance operations, and are scaling down their investments. They have already been forced to seek an allocation of more credit to refinance their external debts. But with Russia now facing a $150bn shortfall in its spending plans for 2009 and where Russian markets have lost 70% of their value in just six months since May, it is all too likely they will be forced to slash their investments further.

The consequences of this for the EU and the UK are very serious. Since the EU gets 40% of its gas from Russia, where 70% of the gas fields are already in decline, any further major cutting-back in future oil and gas investments could act as a pincer on EU and UK energy supply. Indeed, the Russian energy industry has warned that if the decline continues, Russia may not be able to service even its own domestic gas needs by 2010 – this from a country where Gazprom is the largest extractor of gas in the world.

A prolonged slump in the oil price at below $50 a barrel will thus inevitably lead to another cycle of shortages and soaring prices. This intense price volatility is the first stage of the devil's see-saw that is likely to accompany the coming of Peak Oil, which is widely expected within the next five years.

Making The Internet Illegal In Italy  

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The Register reports that nitwits trying to strangle free communication over the internet can be found everywhere, including the home of fascism, Italy - How an Italian judge made the internet illegal.

Italian bloggers are up in arms at a court ruling early this year that suggests almost all Italian blogs are illegal. This month, a senior Italian politician went one step further, warning that most web activity is likely to be against the law.

The story begins back in May, when a judge in Modica (in Sicily) found local historian and author Carlo Ruta guilty of the crime of "stampa clandestina" – or publishing a "clandestine" newspaper – in respect of his blog. The judge ruled that since the blog had a headline, that made it an online newspaper, and brought it within the law’s remit.

The penalties for this crime are not onerous: A fine of 250 Euros or a prison sentence of up to two years. Carlo Ruta was fined and ordered to take down his site, which has now been replaced by a blank page, headed "Site under construction", and a link directing surfers to his new site. Hardly serious stuff – except that he now has a criminal record, and his original site has disappeared.

The offence has its origins in 1948, when in apparent contradiction of Article 21 of the Italian Constitution guaranteeing the right to free expression, a law was passed requiring publishers to register officially before setting up a new publication. The intention, in the immediate aftermath of Fascism, may have been to regulate partisan and extremist publications. The effect was to introduce into Italian society a highly centrist and bureaucratic approach to freedom of the Press.

A further twist to this tale took place in 2001, with the realisation that existing laws were inadequate to deal with the internet. Instead of liberalising, the Italian Government sought to bring the internet into the same framework as traditional print media. Law 62, passed in March 2001, introduces the concept of "stampa clandestina" to the internet.

The suspicion expressed by a number of commentators is that this extension of the law suited government and publishers alike. The state was able to maintain its benevolent stranglehold on the media, whilst publishers could use the system of authorisation and regulation as a means to extend state subsidies to their ventures on the internet.

What few noticed at the time was that this law had the capacity to place blogs on a par with full-blown journalism. It would only take a judge to decide that something as simple as a headline was what defined a "newspaper".

Energy Bills On The Rise  

Posted by Big Gav

The SMH reports that electricity price rises will be even steeper next year, jumping from 7.5% to 19% - Energy bills rising to help us keep our cool. On the plus side, every time the price rises all forms of clean energy supply become more competitive.

THE average household electricity bill may be 15 per cent bigger next year, after the Australian Energy Regulator gave preliminary approval yesterday to another round of price rises.

NSW electricity retailers had already received permission to raise prices by as much as 10 per cent next July. In a draft decision yesterday, the regulator said they could raise fees for the network component of the bill too.

Under the change, EnergyAustralia, which mostly supplies households in central Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hunter, said the average bill would rise $2 a week. Integral Energy, which services western Sydney, the Southern Highlands and the Illawarra, could charge an additional $1.70 a week, and customers of Country Energy, in rural NSW, would pay an extra $1.96 a week on average.

The rises come on top of increases of almost 10 per cent for 2009-10 already granted by the state's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal for the retail portion of electricity bills.

A Breath Of Fresh Air For Shipping  

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The NY Times' "Green Inc" blog has a post on one boom area for shipping - moving wind turbines around - Ports Welcome Wind Shipments.

Ports, like most businesses, have suffered badly in the recent downturn. At the Port of Long Beach, shipping volume is off 10 percent from last year – and unwanted cars are stacking up on the docks, as my colleague Matt Richtel reported last week.

For some ports, there is a bright spot: wind turbines. The wind business, although slowed by the credit crisis and economic gloom, is continuing to expand. That guarantees a steady stream of imports, since many wind-turbine parts are still manufactured abroad, despite the recent proliferation of factories here.

The Port of Duluth has had nearly a ninefold increase in wind-related freight shipments (by weight) since 2005, according to a story from The Star Tribune in Minneapolis. The Sacramento Bee notes that the Port of Sacramento, too, experienced a wind boom this summer. The port manager says that some visitors mistake the turbines for missiles.

Which are the luckiest ports? According to a wind industry newsletter published in March, ports at Longview and Vancouver in Washington, as well as in Stockton, Calif., are among the “busiest with importing wind industry products” on the West Coast.

On the Gulf, Corpus Christi and Beaumont, Tex., are seeing a good deal of activity, as are ports along the Great Lakes.

Ask Nature  

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Inhabitat reports that the Biomimicry Institute has teamed up with Autodesk to creeate AskNature.org - Ask Nature: Using Biomimicry to Solve Design Problems.

The Biomimicry Institute recently teamed up with Autodesk to launch AskNature.org, an incredible source of information for the growing community of professionals researching and applying the principles of biomimicry. The solutions that animals and nature have come up with have been tried and tested for millions of years (certainly longer than humans have been designing), so why reinvent the wheel? Why not learn from nature to make our designs more efficient, elegant, and sustainable? ...

Although AskNature is still in beta, the site has caught the eye of many designers, sustainability experts and news sites, and many people are quickly working to add more information, ideas and data. Researchers and biologists with information on how nature works are encouraged to share their findings, and designers, architects, and inventors can freely use this site to search for ideas and solutions, and even connect to the original researchers for collaboration.

The Severn Reef Plan  

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Discussions over plans for a tidal power project in the Severn estuary are continuing, with environmental groups pushing for a tidal reef instead of a barrage. The BBC reports - Severn reef plan is 'more green'.

Conservationists claim building a reef across the Severn Estuary would be cheaper, less damaging and generate more power than a proposed barrage. A study for the RSPB found a reef would hold back about 2m (6ft 6in) of water and not alter tidal patterns as much.

A feasibility study for the Welsh Assembly Government and the UK government on harnessing the estuary's tidal power started in January. A consultation on which projects to shortlist is expected to begin in 2009.

Supporters of a proposal for a 10 mile (16km) barrage between Cardiff and Weston-super-Mare argue it could generate some 17,000 gigawatt hours (gwh) of electricity each year, the equivalent of almost 5% of the UK's needs. The River Severn's tidal power can be seen by surfers taking on the Severn bore

The RSPB asked engineers Atkins to examine the feasibility of a "greener" alternative to a barrage. The research concluded a 12 mile (19 km) reef would cost about £2bn less and produce 20,000 gwh.

This proposal would see a reef built across the Severn between Aberthaw in the Vale of Glamorgan and Minehead in Somerset, making it the most westerly option. Like the Cardiff-Weston barrage, it would generate electricity as water flowed through turbines but it would not hold back the full height of the tide.

The study found that a reef could generate electricity for longer periods than the barrage, and therefore be more be able to meet power needs at peak demand times


What the pirates say  

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The Boston Globe has an interesting take on the Somali piracy industry - What the pirates say.

THE WORD "pirate" has come into the news for the first time in memory, as raiders armed with grenade launchers and grappling hooks take over vessels headed through waters off Somalia for the Suez Canal. Last week, four ships were captured, including a massive Saudi oil tanker, the Sirius Star. More than 3 million barrels of oil pass through those waters every day en route to markets in Europe and the United States. On Thursday, the pirates announced that they wanted $25 million for ransom for the Saudi tanker. For more than a month, pirates have held a Ukrainian freighter, the cargo of which is a vast store of weapons, including tanks and artillery. The arms were headed for Kenya or Sudan.

Oil and weapons. The pirates have enriched themselves and now build villas on the Somali coast, but the high-seas drama moves away from mundane thievery to take on the character of a morality tale. A legion of impoverished people were castaways of the world economy, condemned to stand on their forlorn shore and watch passing ships loaded with fuel that creates wealth and arms that protect it. They decided to stop being mere spectators of their own desperation, and became desperados instead. The invisible poor are being seen, and their complaint is heard. Consider:

# The anarchy that permits piracy dates to the collapse of the Somali government in 1991. In 1992, the United States led the infamous "humanitarian intervention" that ended in the American humiliation at Mogadishu. Somalia has been a failed state ever since. According to UN figures, of the $2 billion spent in that intervention, 90 percent went to a military effort, with the paltry rest going to economic reconstruction. Imported weapons empower the warlords to this day.

America's continuing overreliance on weapons is one of the pillars of the problem. Last month, the US Africa Command became fully operational, headquartered in Germany, in part because no African nation wants to be host. The United States no longer pretends that its main way of relating to the continent is through the State Department or the Agency of International Development, and not through the Pentagon - through force of arms instead of foreign aid. It figures. As the captured Ukrainian freighter makes clear, Africa is the world's weapons dump. The pirates, in effect, protest.

Somali piracy began when the nation's failed government lost the ability to protect the rights of fishermen. Tuna abound in Somali waters, and in the 1990s vessels from other countries illegally moved in, prompting Somali fishermen to arm themselves and confront the poachers. Soon they confronted everyone.

Piracy is not justifiable, but it did not begin as such, and that matters.

There is more than one kind of piracy. Drug companies, marketing cures from the flora of the tropical world, including Africa, engage in what the Nobel economist Joseph E. Stiglitz calls "bio-piracy." While the developed world exploits African resources, including oil; while government subsidies for US farmers destroy the ability of African farmers to compete; while high-tech and green revolutions pass by; while their continent is looted, the extreme poverty of Africans only grows.

Due east of Somalia, in the far Indian Ocean, are the Maldives, an island nation of more than 300,000 people. As I learned reading Stiglitz, the Maldives will be underwater in 50 years because of rising sea levels due to global warming. Who speaks for those people? Or the billions of others in vulnerable coastal regions - the soon-to-be victims of all those oil tankers, which might as well be warships. Pirates may not consciously be mounting protests to the coming catastrophe, but their actions are not unconnected to it.

Oiligarchy  

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The Guardian has a post on a new game where you get to play at being an oil mogul called "oiligarchy" - Oiligarchy: A game with a message.

it's been something of a trial to me this week to discover a link that I really do want to send to at least half the people I know: the wonderfully simple, sublimely intelligent little online game Oiligarchy, which I discovered via Metafilter. It combines so many fascinating elements: it's part strategy game, part political statement, part chilling near-future narrative. It's charmingly designed, and yet so slyly educational that I've been thinking a little differently about the world ever since I played it.

The game begins with a familiar-seeming business strategy scenario. It's 1945. You the player are CEO of a large oil company in the US. Your job is to make money, keep the shareholders happy. So you start to drill. First in Texas, that's pretty easy, no one's trying to stop you and the black gold starts flowing. But soon the Texas wells aren't enough to meet consumer demand. So you need to look further afield. But where? If you drill in Nigeria, you might find protesters blowing up your rigs. So you'll probably have to employ local militia to defend them. If you try Alaska, you'll have those pesky environmentalists on your back. And of course Iraq is unstable: to drill there you'll really need the support of US soldiers. But to get that you'd have to have a president sympathetic to your cause. Time to start funding political parties, then.

Oiligarchy makes no claims to be an impartial guide to the oil industry. As the designers say in their fascinating postmortem document, "Software does not constitute … documentary footage or a journalistic report." Instead, their manifesto is to "free videogames from the 'dictatorship of entertainment', using them instead to describe pressing social needs, and to express our feelings or ideas". As the game goes on, past 2008, the future it imagines is increasingly unsettling.

GetUp: Save The Net  

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GetUp is running a campaign against internet censorship in Australia - if you are a local, head across and sign the petition and send the government a message voicing your displeasure - Save The Net.

The Federal Government is planning to force all Australian servers to filter internet traffic and block any material the Government deems ‘inappropriate’. Under the plan, the Government can add any ‘unwanted’ site to a secret blacklist.

Testing has already begun on systems that will slow our internet by up to 87%, make it more expensive, miss the vast majority of inappropriate content and accidentally block up to 1 in 12 legitimate sites. Our children deserve better protection - and that won't be achieved by wasting millions on this deeply flawed system.

Sign the petition below...

Smart meters: are they the answer to big bills?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Independent has a look at smart meters in the UK and how they can help people cut down on their energy bills - Smart meters: are they the answer to big bills?.

With energy bills at a record high, millions of Britons may be worrying about how they are going to pay to heat and power their homes this winter. Cutting back on energy use is one way to limit the financial damage of wintertime, but so few of us know where to start. This is where the new generation of "smart meters" can come in.

A smart meter is a small wireless transmitter that receives signals from your gas and electricity meter about your energy use. This information is then forwarded to a portable display that can be prominently placed in the home, which can be read by the customer. The idea is that if you can clearly and easily see how much energy you are using and how much it is costing then it should prompt a change of behaviour. In other words, customers will become more energy-conscious and this in turn will see them take steps to reduce their power bills. "Smart meters will help people understand energy better. Standard meters were hidden away in a cupboard not telling you much, but smart meters can show you how much you are saving by turning down the thermostat in an instant. In addition, smart meters make deals more transparent – if you can see your pattern of energy use, you can see what tariff suits your needs," said Marian Spain, director of strategy at the Energy Saving Trust.

A trial of smart metering is being conducted by EDF, E.ON, Scottish and Southern Energy and ScottishPower, with 23,000 homes involved, said Ofgem, the energy market regulator. The trial lasts until August 2010 and a nationwide roll out is then on the cards, as the Government has said that it would like to see smart meters in all homes by 2020. "This is an ambitious target as it will be a big job to get these meters in 27 million homes," said Scott Byrom, a spokesman for the price-comparison website Moneysupermarket.com. "One major point in its favour is that it's actually cheaper for the providers long-term as they can read these smart meters remotely, which means they won't have to pay someone to go to their customers' homes."

However, one energy provider, First Utility, has struck out on its own and started installing the meters in homes and businesses of all new customers. And in these recession-haunted, financially stretched times the idea of being able to take more control over energy bills obviously appeals. First Utility says that it has installed 5,000 smart meters since September, and the pace of installation is quickening as winter approaches.

A one-off £49 installation fee is charged, but savings soon start to be made.

The Energy Saving Trust reckons that the gadget can help knock 5 per cent off the average household energy bill. That equates to an annual savings of between £50 and £70. The theory is that those who use a smart meter would be more inclined to make energy saving decisions such as insulating their lofts, turning down their thermostats and switching appliances off rather than leaving them on standby. The meters can also help reduce inaccurate billing – a big bugbear among consumers. This is because, since the meters can be read remotely by providers, bill accuracy is assured.

Terrapass has more on smart meters, noting that measuring your home energy usage can save all kinds of things - Is everything off ?.
There’s a lot written these days about the coming boom in home energy monitoring devices and systems. Eventually, we hope to see smart meters that dynamically adjust home energy use to conditions within the home and on the grid.

Nobody in the room? Turn off the lights. Too much demand on the grid? Turn down the AC.

But there’s a more basic step, which is simply letting people know how much their home is using at any given time. We’ve all heard of the way real-time feedback on miles per gallon can affect driving habits. I’m becoming convinced that the same will shortly be true of how we use energy at home.

We installed a home Power Cost Monitor about a month ago. This isn’t a perfect read on home energy use, because it only monitors our electricity usage, but it’s been a great first step. Installation takes only a few minutes (basically you just strap the sensor onto the standard meter used by the local utility take a reading, then calibrate the sensor to the handheld wireless device). Then the fun starts.

Another way of reducing fuel bills and increasing energy efficiency is cogeneration - Marketing Week reports that British Gas has released a consumer grade combined heat and power (CHP) unit - British Gas boosts micro-energy strategy with eco boiler launch.
Utility giant British Gas is launching the UK's first micro-combined heat (micro-CHP) boiler in the consumer market. The utility company will market it as a unit that can generate electricity and as a result heat, therefore helping to make savings on energy bills and cut CO2 emissions by 20%.

The boiler will be available from 2009, and will join a portfolio of "microgeneration" products that the company plans to market next year. British Gas has signed a distribution deal with its maker, Baxi Group.

British Gas launched a range of wind turbines and solar panels to allow consumers to generate their own energy in March this year. The products can now be installed without planning permission after changes in legislation that came into force on April 6. The company is also launching smart meters, which tell consumers how much energy they are using.

The utility giant says about 1.5 million boilers are replaced every year in the UK. It forecasts the new boiler could take up to 30% of the market.

The BBC reports on a group calling for both smart meters and decentralised generation, though one of their tactics is a bit on the "big brother" end of the spectrum, calling for mandatory energy efficiency inspections of dwellings - Think tank calls for 'home MOTs'.
The government's science think tank has proposed that homes in the UK should have regular MOT-type energy check ups. The think tank, Foresight, is to release a report suggesting a number of radical ways to meet the UK's green goals over the next 50 years.

The report calls for less centralised, more small-scale energy production. It will also suggests using "intelligent metering" in homes and businesses, to show the real-time costs of different types of energy.

Energy efficiency assessments of buildings - which account for half of all energy use - would also help meet the targets for CO2 emissions.

The report says that the UK is "locked-in" to using certain forms of energy, and leading energy experts say that radical solutions are needed if the UK is to diversify its energy use, to meet its target of reducing CO2 emissions by 2020.

Buildings account for about half the country's energy use - and so should be the government's main focus in trying to reduce CO2 emissions. But it has had limited success in persuading businesses and home owners to become more energy efficient.

The Foresight report says this is down to inertia. Customers and suppliers they say are locked in to centralised energy production and inefficient consumption.

The report calls for incentives to encourage greener local energy production and more effective measures to get consumers to use less energy.

Options put forward include intelligent metering which show the true cost of gas and electricity and more regular energy efficiency assessments of homes and businesses, which the report describes as "an MOT for buildings".

One last article from the UK, The Guardian reporting on plans to build wind farms on top of old coal mines - UK Coal to build wind farms on old collieries.
Over a dozen of the UK's former coalmining sites are to be redeveloped as wind farms under a revolutionary energy scheme to turn old energy into new.

UK Coal, once the main part of the National Coal Board, has unveiled a joint venture with Peel Energy that would see 14 old colliery locations used to erect 54 turbines generating around 133MW of electric power.

The company, which has already moved into renewables through the harnessing of methane gas for power, was unwilling to say which of the 14 sites are currently earmarked for early submission for planning permission but says it hopes to have some approved within three months.

Peel Energy already boasts an onshore wind portfolio in excess of 450MW already and is involved in England's largest scheme at Scout Moor in Lancashire which has 26 turbines.

Black Swans and Greenwashing  

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Greentech Media has an interesting column on Vinod Khosla and his evolving view of the clean energy technology field - Black Swans and Greenwashing. I'm not sure why Vinod thinks wind power isn't a large scale solution (given its significant and growing scale in Europe) or why he thinks that solar PV will remain small scale (Germany might not be the best place for it, but a large percentage of the globe is), let alone his opposition to energy efficiency and zero emission buildings.

According to this Khosla guy (if you have any background on him, let me know) many of the market sectors that Greentech Media covers are essentially greenwashing and certainly not a solution to our climate issues.

* Photovoltaic panels in the booming $20 billion PV market? Not scalable and not sustainable without subsidies. PV panels on roofs in Germany or San Francisco? No way. Not when Germany has the same solar resources as Alaska. “Rich San Franciscans and Germans putting PV on their roofs only delays the problem and diverts money from where it’s needed,” he says.
* Those wind turbines from GE and Vestas? They’re good but there’s little upside for innovation, the Betz limit is being approached, and the available good sites are declining. And without storage, they don’t provide spinning reserve.
* Those Prius hybrids driven by Bay Area liberal socialists? Not a solution to the climate or energy problem. Better to take that money and paint your roof white to improve the earth’s albedo. And they certainly don’t meet the Chindia test. To meet the Chindia test they have to compete with the $2,500 Tata Nano. “Hybrids are an inefficient carbon solution.”
* Biodiesel? Nope, not a great idea.
* Zero emission buildings? Fashion and fad.
* Clean Coal? “FutureGen” is more like “NeverGen”
* Carbon Capture and Sequestration? VK says, “I do not believe carbon sequestration can work economically.”
* T. Boone Pickens’ plan for LNG and wind? “A dead-end street.”
* New battery technology for EVs? It’s unlikely that Li-ion or Ni mH chemistries will yield significant breakthroughs according to The Vinod.
* Certainly, Energy Efficiency is a good thing? Sorry. According to Vinod “The Buzzkill” Khosla, “Too many people in the environmental movement think that efficiency is the answer. Efficiency is valuable but not sufficient.”

According to Mr. Sunshine, we need “relevant scale” solutions attacking oil, coal, cement and steel. “500 million people on earth enjoy a lifestyle that 9 billion people will want in 2050.”

Second only to the greenwashed concepts mentioned above, Mr. Khosla’s pet peeve is bad forecasting based of extrapolating the past when we should be “inventing the future.”

Khosla is looking for “black swan solutions” that cause “technology shock” and cites a few startups both in and out of his large cleantech portfolio that might provide the technology shock we need.

Kior’s biocrude replaces crude by utilizing thermal cracking — simulating the millions of years that turns trees and dinosaurs into oil. According to Khosla, “They are making amazing progress [and are] producing a barrel of oil a day.”

Transonic makes a “third type of engine” with an injector ignition technology that can create 100 mpg diesel Priuses.

Calera is another potential black swan that can create cement that, “sequesters carbon dioxide rather than emitting it.” Khosla said that, ”We’ll know in the next six months [if it’s for real].”

EEStor is not a Khosla portfolio company (it’s funded by KPCB, et al.) but not by choice. “We didn’t get a chance to invest.” “I can’t tell you if it will work, but if it does it completely changes the economics of hybrids.”

Other black swans to look for are in algenol and in energy storage.

Solar PV, Wind and biofuels are “little markets” according to Mr. Khosla’s audacious presentation and worldview.

A North Sea Supergrid  

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Earth2Tech reports that England may be left out of Scottish plans to join a European supergrid crossing the north sea - Scotland Snubbing England in Supergrid Plans?.

The Scottish government believes the North Sea could become host to an underwater renewable energy grid, supplying power from wind, wave and tidal power across Europe, but England could be left out in the cold. A new study from Scotland looks at the possibility of a supergrid between Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, but doesn’t mention Scotland’s big neighbor to the south.

Yes, Scotland is still part of the UK, and most of England’s east coast is also on the North Sea, but the word “England” doesn’t even show up once in the 21-page study and “UK” is only used in a couple of footnotes. It might just be an oversight, but the possible snub comes during the same week in which the UK government made a filing with the Commission on Scottish Devolution questioning the Scottish government’s powers covering energy.

Political wrangling aside, there’s a big push for wind and marine power in the UK, not just in Scotland, so the area could become a hub for renewable energy in the region. In October, the UK government said it surpassed Denmark to take the top spot in offshore wind power in the world, boasting 590 megawatts of offshore wind vs. Denmark’s 423 megawatts.

Sweden’s Vattenfall just announced plans to invest in wind power in the UK, teaming up with ScottishPower Renewables to make joint bids on offshore wind development, including areas in the North Sea. The two plan to build 6,000 megawatts of installed wind power capacity.

ScottishPower, part of Spain’s Iberdrola, is also looking at marine power, releasing plans in September to build up to 60 megawatts of tidal power capacity in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The UK’s Crown Estate, which owns the seabed around the country, recently opened up the Pentland Firth off of northern Scotland for commercial wave and tidal projects, aiming to generate more than 700 MW of power by 2020.

There are already big projects going on in England and if there was Scottish-only supergrid, it would lose out on connecting to the planned 1-gigawatt London Array offshore wind farm as well as the Wave Hub project.

A recent plan from Greenpeace for a €20 billion ($25.032 billion) renewable energy grid in the area was much more inclusive, with both England and Scotland making the list, as well as France. However, the environmental group did neglect Sweden, which only has access to the North Sea through the Skagerrak strait.

The Scottish government is still working on its plans for a North Sea supergrid and estimated that it would need £409,200 ($606,475) and about 17 months to do a full study on the project.

Solar Powered Alpine Capsules  

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Green building of the week from Inhabitat (getting more and more utopian as time passes) is this solar powered alpine retreat - Ross Lovegrove’s Solar-Powered Alpine Capsule. Resident ET optional.



Another visually stunning but probably impractical device is this kite powered bike - The Kite Powered Car.

Hubbert: King Of The Technocrats  

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In the wake of the recent interview with Jay Hanson posted at The Oil Drum, there was some discussion of Hubbert's role in the Technocracy movement.

I hadn't been aware that Hubbert was a Technocrat (or that the technocrats were an organised grouping, for that matter), so in this post I'll explore the Technocracy movement and Hubbert's role in it.

The knowledge essential to competent intellectual leadership in this situation is preeminently geological - a knowledge of the earth's mineral and energy resources. The importance of any science, socially, is its effect on what people think and what they do. It is time earth scientists again become a major force in how people think rather than how they live. - M King Hubbert

Genesis of the Technocrats

M. King Hubbert joined the staff of Columbia University in 1931 and met Howard Scott, who had earlier founded a short-lived group of engineers and scientists called "The Technical Alliance". Hubbert and Scott co-founded Technocracy Incorporated in 1933, with Scott as leader and Hubbert as Secretary.

The Technocrats were influenced by figures such as Thorsten Veblen, author of "Engineers and the price system", and Frederick Soddy, winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1921 and author of "Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt" which looked at the role of energy in economic systems. Soddy criticized the focus on monetary flows in economics, arguing that “real” wealth was derived from the use of energy to transform materials into physical goods and services.

The world's present industrial civilization is handicapped by the coexistence of two universal, overlapping, and incompatible intellectual systems: the accumulated knowledge of the last four centuries of the properties and interrelationships of matter and energy; and the associated monetary culture which has evolved from folkways of prehistoric origin. Despite their inherent incompatibilities, these two systems during the last two centuries have had one fundamental characteristic in common, namely, exponential growth, which has made a reasonably stable coexistence possible. But, for various reasons, it is impossible for the matter-energy system to sustain exponential growth for more than a few tens of doublings, and this phase is by now almost over. The monetary system has no such constraints, and, according to one of its most fundamental rules, it must continue to grow by compound interest. This disparity between a monetary system which continues to grow exponentially and a physical system which is unable to do so leads to an increase with time in the ratio of money to the output of the physical system. This manifests itself as price inflation. A monetary alternative corresponding to a zero physical growth rate would be a zero interest rate. The result in either case would be large-scale financial instability. - M King Hubbert



Technocracy

Technocracy is form of government which is administered by scientists and technical experts administer, resulting in a form of planned economy.

The Technocracy movement aimed to establish a zero growth, science based socio-economic system, based on ideas of conservation and abundance as opposed to the usual scarcity-based economic systems.

In a technocratic system, money is replaced with energy acounting, which records the amount of energy used to produce and distribute goods and services consumed by citizens in a Technate (Technocracy based society). The units of this accounting system are known as Energy Certificates.

Energy certificates are not saved or earned, but periodically distributed among the populace, with the number calculated by determining the total productive capacity of the technate and dividing it equally after infrastructure requirements are met. Certificates not used during a period expire.

The Technocracy movement flourished for a while in the 1930's but became steadily less influential over time in broader society (writer Charlie Stross dubbing science fiction "the fictional agitprop arm of the Technocrat movement" which "carried on marching in lockstep into the radiant future even after Technocracy withered in the 1930s").

Hubbert's membership of the Technocracy movement was investigated in 1943 by his employers, the Board of Economic Warfare, who may have regarded it (not entirely unreasonably) as a form of communism - though engineers desiring political control didn't seem to do much better in the Soviet Union either.

Technocracy Inc. lists the following papers as Hubbert's contributions to Technocracy:

* Professor Hubbert was the primary author of the Technocracy Study Course.
* Man-Hours and Distribution which was derived from an earlier article, Man-Hours -- A Declining Quantity in Technocracy, Series A, No. 8, August 1936.
* Determining the Most Probable in Technocracy, Series A, No. 12, June 1938
* Some Facts of Life in Technocracy, Series A, No. 5, December, 1935.
* The ``Spirit of the Constitution'' in Technocracy, Series A, No. 6, March 1936.
* Book review: The Tools of Tomorrow in Technocracy, Series A, No. 3, Aug 1935
* Book Review: Reshaping Agriculture and Nations Can Live at Home. Technocracy, Series A, Number 7, May 1936
* Book review: An Orientation in Science in Technocracy, Series A, No. 16, July, 1939.

Technocracy Inc also has a tract on Technocracy and peak oil, which outlines a fairly utopian vision of abundant energy for all if we are willingly to become sufficiently efficient in our energy usage.
So why does Technocracy think that its proposal can "save" us from Peak Oil? Quite simply Technocracy's plan knows how to do more with less. Technocracy's design will allow all North Americans to live with a standard of living many times greater than is the average even today. Not only this, but is does so by using far less, both in terms of resources and labour. The calculations done as part of the initial study performed by Technocracy's scientists back in 1930 showed that at that time it would be possible for every citizen to have a standard of living the equivalent of a lower-upper class income, and only have to work for 16 hours per week, with 2 and a half months vacation per year, at a job that they have both chosen and were well trained for. Also included were things such as free, high-quality education and health care, indefinite maternity rights, and retirement at age 45 with no loss of income or benefits. How they could achieve this was through an ingenious reorganization of continent-wide industry, that would unleash its potential to produce this "abundance" for all. They showed conclusively how business, politics, and money were all holding back this production, and causing ever-greater need of waste of resources. The key was automation, which allows us to produce more while requiring less resources to do it, as well as less labour to operate these machines.

Today it is obvious that automation has improved many thousands of times, with the advent of the computer and industrial robotics. There in no longer any need whatsoever for anyone to have to work at a menial labor or unskilled service-industry job because it can all be performed by machines. By harnessing automation like this, we consume far less resources, including energy, and can still increase our overall standard of living. One estimate shows how by simply reworking the continental transportation system, we could operate our entire society on as little as 5% of the energy we consume today, with no corresponding drop in standard of living! Adjustments in other areas would allow us to decrease even this number, but it should be obvious that with so little energy consumption, and the enhanced abilities of scientific research allowed by a society of abundance, we would have plenty of time to devise alternative and sustainable sources of energy that would also be non-polluting.


Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know. We are not starting from zero, wWe have an enormous amount of existing technical knowledge. It's just a matter of putting it all together. We still have great flexibility but our maneuverability will diminish with time. - M King Hubbert

China confirms 23 billion ton coal deposit  

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"The Energy Roadmap" reports that China's large coal reserves are still increasing - with ominous implications for the climate - Reality check for future of coal, China confirms massive 23 billion ton coal deposit.

While US activists prepare for a battle against the notion of ‘clean coal’, China’s coal industry continues to boom. A recent MIT report estimates that China’s power sector has been expanding at a rate roughly equivalent to three to four new coal-fired, 500 megawatt plants coming on line every week.

The real danger is not just the carbon emissions, but the wrong assumptions and perception that incremental solutions, protests, or stricter carbon regulations can somehow shift China’s current direction. Why worry?

The gap continues to widen between what activists want to happen with the global coal industry, versus the reality of coal’s expanding role as the world’s fastest growing source of energy.

Worse, is the misguided hope that cheap solar (which is coming 2015-2025!) can magically counter the existing growth trend lines for coal. Most of that solar power generation will just go to satisfy new demand, not take away from coal’s market share and prime access to national energy grids. If there is a viable solution for this reality, it must be algae or advanced bioenergy solutions that can scale and eat the emissions from the combustion of coal. We need carbon solutions, not just alternatives to coal.

The People’s Daily Online reports that geologists have confirmed a massive 23 billion ton coal reserve deposit in the country’s Turfan Basin. ‘The coal mine occupies an area of over 300 square kilometers with a thickness of 169.69 meters, and a coal bearing ratio of 29%’. This is the second major reserve confirmed in the last six months.

That’s only the beginning! China does not appear to be limiting its reliance to coal on its own domestic supplies. Last week Reuters reported that China’s largest coal miner Shenhua Energy Co Ltd paid $187.4 million for a coal exploration license in Australia.

Another brutal fact? China now has the busiest coal port in the world.

While oil geopolitics seem to gather most media attention, coal is an even more complicated piece of the energy puzzle – especially when it comes to climate change and carbon emissions.

China is hungry for energy. Oil, yes. But mostly electricity. And despite its potential to become a cleantech manufacturing hub, it is likely to rely primarily on coal for the next thirty years.

Sending The Solar Industry To The Graveyard  

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One of the benefits of solar PV is that you can find convenient locations to install panels throughout urban areas. While most people tend to think of the tops of buildings as the obvious location, those sun loving Spaniards have come up with a new idea - using the roof's of mausoleums in graveyards - Solar panels on graves give power to Spanish town.

A new kind of silent hero has joined the fight against climate change.

Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a gritty, working-class town outside Barcelona, has placed a sea of solar panels atop mausoleums at its cemetery, transforming a place of perpetual rest into one buzzing with renewable energy.

Flat, open and sun-drenched land is so scarce in Santa Coloma that the graveyard was just about the only viable spot to move ahead with its solar energy program.

The power the 462 panels produces - equivalent to the yearly use by 60 homes - flows into the local energy grid for normal consumption and is one community's odd nod to the fight against global warming.

"The best tribute we can pay to our ancestors, whatever your religion may be, is to generate clean energy for new generations. That is our leitmotif," said Esteve Serret, director Conste-Live Energy, a Spanish company that runs the cemetery in Santa Coloma and also works in renewable energy.

In row after row of gleaming, blue-gray, the panels rest on mausoleums holding five layers of coffins, many of them marked with bouquets of fake flowers. The panels face almost due south, which is good for soaking up sunshine, and started working on Wednesday - the culmination of a project that began three years ago.

The concept emerged as a way to utilize an ideal stretch of land in a town that wants solar energy but is so densely built-up - Santa Coloma's population of 124,000 is crammed into four square kilometers (1.5 square miles) - it had virtually no place to generate it.

Ocean acidification increasing faster than previously thought  

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Climate skeptics usually ignore one of the other major problems with carbon dioxide emissions - the oceans are growing more acidic as they absorb more CO2 - Ocean growing more acidic faster than once thought.

University of Chicago scientists have documented that the ocean is growing more acidic faster than previously thought. In addition, they have found that the increasing acidity correlates with increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a paper published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Nov. 24.

"Of the variables the study examined that are linked to changes in ocean acidity, only atmospheric carbon dioxide exhibited a corresponding steady change," said J. Timothy Wootton, the lead author of the study and Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.

The increasingly acidic water harms certain sea animals and could reduce the ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide, the authors said. Scientists have long predicted that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide would make the ocean more acidic. Nevertheless, empirical evidence of growing acidity has been limited.

The new study is based on 24,519 measurements of ocean pH spanning eight years, which represents the first detailed dataset on variations of coastal pH at a temperate latitude—where the world's most productive fisheries live.

"The acidity increased more than 10 times faster than had been predicted by climate change models and other studies," Wootton said. "This increase will have a severe impact on marine food webs and suggests that ocean acidification may be a more urgent issue than previously thought, at least in some areas of the ocean."

The ocean plays a significant role in global carbon cycles. When atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in water it forms carbonic acid, increasing the acidity of the ocean. During the day, carbon dioxide levels in the ocean fall because photosynthesis takes it out of the water, but at night, levels increase again. The study documented this daily pattern, as well as a steady increase in acidity over time.

"Many sea creatures have shells or skeletons made of calcium carbonate, which the acid can dissolve," said Catherine Pfister, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the study. "Therefore, the increased acidity of the ocean could interfere with many critical ocean processes such as coral reef building or shellfish harvesting."

LA: Solar City  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The LA Times has an article on a new plan to draw 10% of Los Angeles' power from solar power by 2020 - Villaraigosa unveils solar plan for Los Angeles.


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled an ambitious long-range plan Monday for securing enough solar power to meet one-tenth of the city's energy needs by 2020, a move aimed at making L.A. a hub of the solar-energy industry.

Appearing at a South Los Angeles manufacturing plant where solar panels are made, Villaraigosa said the initiative will help the Department of Water and Power wean itself off of fossil fuels -- natural gas and coal -- as part of the effort to address global warming.

The plan calls for enough solar panels to produce 1,280 megawatts of power, a goal that would be reached through a combination of private and public generating facilities and the installation of solar panels on homes.

"Nobody's contemplated that many megawatts for one city," said Rhonda Mills, Southern California director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies and a solar power advocate.

The announcement Monday is the latest in a series of renewable energy initiatives touted by the mayor in recent weeks, including using redevelopment funds to lure "clean" technology companies and investing city pension dollars in environmentally friendly companies.

Bailout Nation  

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Boing Boing reports that, historically speaking, the banking bailout is quite expensive - Bailout costs more than Marshall Plan, Louisiana Purchase, moonshot, S&L bailout, Korean War, New Deal, Iraq war, Vietnam war, and NASA's lifetime budget -- *combined*!.

In doing the research for the "Bailout Nation" book, I needed a way to put the dollar amounts into proper historical perspective.

If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars.

People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.

Crunching the inflation adjusted numbers, we find the bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

Vivace: More Biomimicry For Tidal Power  

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Cleantechnica has a post on a new tidal / current power device being developed in Michigan using biomimicry - “Fish” Machine Turns Ocean Vibrations into Energy.

Tidal power is already on its way to becoming a viable energy source, but a University of Michigan engineer believes that slow-moving ocean and river currents could also be renewable energy providers.

The VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy) machine is the first device that can harness water moving slower than 2 knots — a notable ability since most water currents move slower than 3 knots. In contrast, turbines and water mills need 5 to 6 knots to operate.

VIVACE relies on vortex induced vibrations, or undulations that a rounded object makes in a flow of fluid. The kinks in the current’s speed caused by the object’s presence causes eddies (vortices) to form on the opposite side of the object. The vortices then push or pull the object perpendicular to the current.

According to developer Michael Bernitsas, VIVACE copies the natural movements of fish, which curve their bodies to glide between vortices created by the fish in front of them. While the current version of VIVACE is a cylinder attached to springs, future versions will have a fish-like tail and scales.

Bernitsas believes that the machine’s energy will cost about 5.5 cents per KWh—less than both wind and solar power. The VIVACE pilot project will be deployed in the Detroit River within the next 18 months, and hopefully we’ll see a commercialized version of the machine soon after.

The Clean Energy Economy  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology Review has a post on the benefits and challenges facing a new clean energy economy - The Clean Energy Economy: A New Industrial Revolution Rising From Challenging Times.

In the last five years, many venture capitalists (myself included) have committed to backing entrepreneurs who aspire to build the next generation of clean energy companies that will endure. Thousands of companies have formed to harness alternative forms of energy like wind, solar and biofuels; and to reduce man's carbon footprint. Billions of dollars have been poured into this fledgling entrepreneurial ecosystem with the vision of creating significant wealth, millions of jobs, and energy security for our nation.

When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, entrepreneurs focused on the communications sector, and within a decade companies like Google, Yahoo and EBay became household names and changes heretofore unseen since the Industrial Revolution occurred. It's time for another Industrial Revolution, fueled by clean energy.

Despite the capital-intensive nature of clean energy companies, the nation's entrepreneurial ecosystem is committed to building a clean energy economy for three primary reasons:

1) a strong and growing belief that concern over climate change and increasing energy demand from emerging economies have created a long term opportunity for clean energy innovation;

2) a conviction that technology and business innovation can reduce our carbon footprint and produce viable alternative energy sources at scale; and

3) the development of a favorable U.S. policy framework at the federal and state level, that has attracted large scale private funding to build the next generation of infrastructure.

However, I submit that the continued development of our clean energy economy is now at risk with the advent of the economic crisis. Large financial institutions that had begun to finance the commercialization of clean energy technologies have suddenly lost their capacity to do so. Chief executive officers of emerging clean energy companies now have genuine fears as to whether enough capital will be available to fuel their growth. Furthermore, the slowdown of emerging economies as well as a dramatic reduction in the price of oil further hinders the situation. Investors and entrepreneurs alike are forced to reconsider funding this sector, worried that this may lead to another false start akin to the setback in the early 1980s.

The newly elected administration must show its full resolve and partner with the entrepreneurial ecosystem by reinforcing our national commitment to achieve energy independence and curb global warming. Swift and comprehensive action is required.

First, the incoming administration must make a significant financial commitment towards research and development of clean energy technologies. ...

Second, the Obama administration must develop a comprehensive national policy framework to build and adopt alternative energy solutions. We need a national cap and trade legislation; an aggressive renewable portfolio standard to reduce our dependence on oil and drive the adoption of all forms of clean alternative energy; and energy efficiency programs through regulations and incentives for utilities that can increase the energy productivity of our nation. ...

Finally, the administration needs to have an unbiased strategy for lending its financial support to this sector. The federal government shouldn't be in the business of picking technology winners. Instead, it should lend support to all sustainable clean alternative technologies that have a roadmap to economic viability without any subsidies.

Squid Spotting With Shell  

Posted by Big Gav

National Geographic has some interesting footage of a giant squid hanging out near an offshore oil field being developed by Shell - Alien-like Squid Filmed at Ultra-Deep Oil-Drilling Site.

In a brief video from the dive recently obtained by National Geographic News, one of the rarely seen squid loiters above the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico on November 11, 2007.

The clip—from a Shell oil company ROV (remotely operated vehicle)—arrived after a long, circuitous trip through oil-industry in-boxes and other email accounts.

"Perdido ROV Visitor, What Is It?" the email's subject line read—Perdido being the name of a Shell-owned drilling site. Located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) off Houston, Texas (Gulf of Mexico map), Perdido is one of the world's deepest oil and gas developments.

The Brown Cloud Haunting Asia  

Posted by Big Gav in

Another article from a week or so ago, this one from The Independent - Haunting Asia, a brown cloud blots out sun.

A noxious cocktail of soot, smog and toxic chemicals is blotting out the sun, fouling the lungs of millions of people and altering weather patterns in large parts of Asia, according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations.

The byproduct of automobiles, slash-and-burn agriculture, wood-burning kitchen stoves and coal-fired power plants, these plumes of carbon dust rise over southern Africa, the Amazon basin and North America but are most pronounced in Asia, where so-called atmospheric brown clouds are dramatically reducing sunlight in many Chinese cities and leading to decreased crop yields in swaths of rural India, says a team of more than a dozen scientists who have been studying the problem since 2002.

Combined with evidence that greenhouse gases are leading to a rise in global temperatures, the report's authors called on governments rich and poor to address carbon emissions.

"The imperative to act has never been clearer," Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said in Beijing, where the report, "Atmospheric Brown Clouds: Regional Assessment Report With Focus on Asia," was released.

The brownish haze, sometimes more than a mile, or 1.6 kilometers, thick and clearly visible from airplanes, stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea.

In the spring it sweeps past North and South Korea and Japan. Sometimes the cloud drifts as far west as California. The report identifies 13 cities as brown-cloud hotspots, among them Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, Seoul and Tehran. In some Chinese cities, the smog has reduced sunlight by as much as 20 percent since the 1970s, the report says.

Rain can cleanse the skies, but some of the black grime that falls to earth ends up on the surface of the Himalayan glaciers that are the source of water for billions of people in China, India and Pakistan.

The result: The glaciers that feed into the Yangtze, Ganges, Indus and Yellow rivers are absorbing more sunlight and melting quicker, researchers say.

According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, those glaciers have shrunk 5 percent since the 1950s and at the current rate of retreat could shrink by an additional 75 percent by 2050.

Google Joins Smart Meter Coalition  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

A story I missed a week or two ago from Greentech Media, on Google joining a smart meters industry organisation - Google Joins Smart Meter Coalition.

The Demand Response and Advanced Metering Coalition (which likes to call itself DRAM) welcomed a famous new member today — Google — as part of its quest to promote technology that will let utilities curb power remotely.

The search giant spends a significant amount of time on energy matters. For one thing, it has become one of the largest individual consumers of electric power in the country. When plotting out new datacenters, Google examines the cost of power in the area as well as the potential availability of things like ambient air cooling which can cut down air conditioning and power consumption. Additionally, the company tends to be an early adopter of energy efficient components, such as efficient power supplies, because these parts can cut expenses.

Conceivably, smart metering could help Google cut down on the power going into lights, air conditioners and other appliances on its campus.

There is also a personal angle too. Founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have both often talked openly about their own desires to see the world move away from coal and oil. Both have invested individually in companies like Nanosolar and Tesla Motors. (Brin also owns a bunch of electric cars, like the Tango featured in this here video.) Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, invests in clean startups. Meanwhile CEO Eric Schmidt goes around the country giving speeches about how the U.S. can wean itself from fossil fuels.

Tidal Turbines plan for Pentland Firth  

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Plans to generate tidal power in Scotland continue to gather strength, with the BBC reporting that Marine Current Turbines are looking at building a 300 MW plant in Pentland Firth - Turbines plan for Pentland Firth

An energy company has announced it wants to deploy underwater electricity turbines in the Pentland Firth. Marine Current Turbines confirmed it intends to apply for a lease from the Crown Estate allowing it to install 300 megawatts (MW) of capacity by 2020. The firm has already deployed a similar tidal energy system in Northern Ireland's Strangford Lough.

The Crown Estate announced in September it was to lease the bed of the firth to developers who want to generate power. The firth, between the Scottish mainland and Orkney, contains six of the top 10 sites in the UK for tidal energy.

It is hoped its power could be harnessed to generate 700MW of electricity by 2020 - enough for about 400,000 homes. Marine Current Turbines said it believed its SeaGen technology could generate up to 300MW or more by 2020 if the local grid could take it.

Low Temperature Geothermal Power  

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The ABC recently had a report on plans to power north-west Queensland with low temperature geothermal power using hot water from the Great Artesian Basin.

A Brisbane-based company says it could supply geothermal power to all of north-west Queensland. Clean Energy Australasia wants to build a $50 million geothermal power station near Longreach. But it has now also revealed plans to build a pilot geothermal project near BHP's Cannington mine at McKinlay, south of Cloncurry. The company's Joe Reichman says the Mount Isa region needs about 500 megawatts of power a year and geothermal resources could easily provide that. "It'll change the region into a powerhouse," he said. Mr Reichman says the company has applied for federal and state government grants and has support from the major mining companies in the region. If the projects proceed they would be the first geothermal power plants in Australia.

Low temperature geothermal power is a relatively new (and very low profile) form of extracting energy from geothermal sources that provides yet another option for meeting our energy needs cleanly and sustainably.

Low Temperature Geothermal Power

When geothermal power is mentioned, people usually think of traditional high temperature geothermal power stations using water from volcanic areas, such as those found in Iceland, New Zealand, the US and elsewhere around the ring of fire.

More recently, interest in enhanced / engineered geothermal systems (EGS) - also known as hot dry rock (HDR) or hot fractured rock (HFR) geothermal power - has been high, with a number of experimental projects underway in Australia and Europe.

Low temperature geothermal power is also starting to attract significant interest, as lower temperature water resources are common in many countries (for example, waste hot water produced by oil and gas wells - in Texas alone, more than 12 billon barrels are produced, with oil companies usually re-injecting the waste water into the earth) and new technologies are beginning to appear that allow these resources to be developed commercially.

UTC Power has developed a low-cost Rankine cycle system that can convert temperatures as low as 195 °F (91 °C) into electricity. The technology is similar to a steam engine, with steam or hot water vaporizes a hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant that drives the turbine (it has been compared to a "refrigerator compressor running backwards").

Geothermal Power In The Great Artesian Basin

The Great Artesian Basin provides the only reliable source of water through much of inland Australia. The basin is the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world, covering a total of 1,711,000 square km. It underlies 23% of the continent, including most of Queensland, the south-east corner of the Northern Territory, the north-east part of South Australia, and northern New South Wales. The basin is 3000 metres (10,000 ft) deep in places and is estimated to contain 64,900 cubic kilometres of groundwater.

Most recharge water enters the rock formations from relatively high ground near the eastern edge of the basin (in Queensland and New South Wales) and very gradually flows towards the south and west. Because the sandstones are permeable, water gradually makes its way through the pores between the sand grains, flowing at a rate of one to five metres per year. Discharge water eventually exits through a number of springs and seeps, mostly in the southern part of the basin. It takes up to two million years for water to travel to the springs in the Lake Eyre area.



Temperatures of the artesian groundwater (which is generally of a very good quality) range from 30o to 100o C at the well heads. As the groundwater is too hot for town water supply and for stock to drink, it needs to be cooled down before consumption. That is why cooling towers can be seen throughout the region.

The ABC report's claim that the Longreach plant would be Australia's first geothermal power plant is incorrect.

A small (120 kW) power station (pdf) has been in operation at Birdsville in western Queensland since the early 1990's - one of the few low-temperature geothermal power stations in the world. The plant derives its energy from the near-boiling (98 degrees C) water taken from the Great Artesian Basin (at a depth of 1230m) that provides a water supply for the town. Operation of this geothermal power station reduced the town's diesel consumption by about 160,000 litres per year.



The Victorian town of Portland (in the Otway Basin) also operated a district heating scheme using water from geothermal sources for about 20 years, though this did not generate power.

Geothermal Power In The United States

The UTC plant has been trialled at the Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, with the first plant going online in July 2006. A second unit began operating later that year. Together, the two power units are contributing to the resort owner's goal of making Chena the first totally renewably powered and fueled community in the United States. The Chena experience is motivating other cities in Alaska, including Anchorage to investigate setting up larger scale geothermal plants.

UTC installed more production systems at another location in New Mexico in August this year.

Utah company Raser Technologies is looking to build a range of geothermal power plants throughout the western United States using Rankine cycle systems, with their first plant going live in Utah earlier this month.

Some oil fields also produce hot water which can be used to drive Rankine cycle power plants, with trials being performed in Wyoming.

Geothermal Power In Germany

Germany is interested in deriving significant amounts of energy from both EGS / HFR and low temperature geothermal sources. There are already four small geothermal power plants successfully operating in Germany, albeit supplying only a tiny amount of electricity.

The first geothermal plant to start operating in Germany is situated in Neustadt-Glewe in the north-eastern part of the country. The 230-kW combined electricity and heat power plant started up in 2003 and extracts water with a temperature of 97 °C from a well 2250 meters under the ground. It supplies 1,300 households with heat and a further 500 households with electricity.

Other plants now operating are the 3.5-MW plant at Unterhaching close to Munich, in Bavaria which is the first geothermal plant in Germany to use Kalina cycle technology. At that plant water is extracted at a temperature of 122 °C from a well 3,500 meters deep. Another 2.5-MW plant in Landau taps water of 150°C that is located 3,000 meters beneath the ground. Another 550-kW plant is due to go into operation in Bruchsal shortly, extracting water at temperatures of 128°C from a well 2500 meters deep.

More plants (as big as 8-10 MW) are due to go into operation in 2009-2010 in Sauerlach, D├╝rrnhaar, Riedstadt, Speyer, Gross Schoenebeck and Mauerstetten. By 2015 there could be more than a hundred plants operating - around 150 geothermal power plant projects are in the pipeline according to the German government. One major constraint on expanding the program has been shortages of drilling equipment.

Geothermal Power In New Zealand

While New Zealand already generates a significant portion of its power using traditional geothermal sources, the country is also conducting a NZ$2.6 million research program into low temperature geothermal power.

Conclusion

Low temperature geothermal power has the advantage of being clean, continuously available energy that can be generated in a wide variety of locations.

Plants will likely to continue to be relatively small-scale, making it a classic distributed energy generation alternative (like biogas and solar PV), with growth probably remaining low profile for some time.

In the long run, I expect we'll see a useful and significant amount of our energy needs being produced using this technology.

Cross posted from Our Clean Energy Future.

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