Severn Tidal Power Project Update  

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The Economist has an update on plans for the Severn tidal power project in the UK, spinning it as a battle between different groups of environmentalists but also noting that it would be highly beneficial in terms of jobs created - Green on green.

FOR all its stirring rhetoric, the government’s record on renewable energy is poor. Geographically, Britain is ideally placed, enjoying (or enduring) some of the windiest weather and heaviest seas of any European country. Yet in 2005 (believe it or not, the most recent year for which comparable figures are available) Britain got less than 2% of its energy from renewable sources (mostly wind). This was considerably below the European average of 6.7% and far behind countries such as Denmark (16.2%) or Sweden (29.8%).

One single project could provide an enormous boost. The river Severn, Britain’s longest, which flows from Wales to the Bristol Channel, has a tidal range of 15 metres, the second highest in the world. Engineers have long fantasised about harnessing all that energy, and with climate change and energy security now pressing political problems, ministers are taking them seriously. On January 26th the government published a shortlist of possible projects, including three barrages (essentially gigantic dams) and two tidal lagoons (man-made tanks in the sea which fill up and empty with the tide).

It is easy to see the attraction of such schemes. Tidal energy is the best-behaved of renewable sources. Unlike wind or wave power (or even hydroelectricity, which depends on the rain), tides—governed by the immutable laws of celestial mechanics—are predictable. The sheer size of some of the plans are impressive too. When the tide is flowing fastest, the biggest option—a ten-mile, £22 billion barrage running from Weston-super-Mare to Cardiff (see map)—could generate 8.6 gigawatts, around a seventh of Britain’s peak consumption and more than every other renewable-electricity source combined. Although its average output would be far below its peak, it could still supply around 5% of Britain’s electricity every year. ...

But there are other reasons too for politicians to support the project. Like the Hoover Dam, built at the height of the Great Depression in America, a Severn barrage, the British government claims, could create tens of thousands of jobs and lots of work for firms. And as one of the world’s largest engineering projects, it would, of course, be a long-lasting monument to whichever politician approved it.

Bloomberg reports that interest in tidal power worldwide is rising - Investors May Pour Billions Into Tide Power on Obama, EU Push .
Three decades ago, engineer Peter Fraenkel created an underwater turbine to use river power to pump water in Sudan, where he worked for a charity. Civil war and a lack of funding stymied his plans. Now, his modified design generates electricity from tides off Northern Ireland.

“In the 1970s, the big snag was the market for that technology consisted of people with no money,” said Fraenkel, the 67-year-old co-founder of closely held Marine Current Turbines. “Now it’s clear governments are gagging for new renewable energy technology.”

MCT last year installed the world’s biggest grid-connected tidal power station in Strangford Lough, an Irish Sea inlet southeast of Belfast. The SeaGen project’s two turbines, which cost 2.5 million pounds ($3.6 million), can produce as much as 1.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,140 homes.

The company is one of more than 30 trying to tap tidal currents around the world, six years after the first project sent power to the grid. Investors may pump 2.5 billion pounds into similar plants in Europe by 2020 as the European Union offers incentives for projects that don’t release carbon dioxide, the gas primarily blamed for global warming. In the U.S., President Barack Obama plans to increase tax breaks for renewable energy.

“Tidal energy has an enormous future, and the U.K. has a great resource” if construction costs come down, said Hugo Chandler, renewable energy analyst at the Paris-based International Energy Agency, which advises 28 nations. “Its time may be just around the corner.” ...

Positioned between the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean, the British Isles have about 15 percent of the world’s usable tidal current resources, which could generate 5 percent of domestic electricity demand, the Carbon Trust estimates. Including wave power, the ocean may eventually meet 20 percent of the U.K.’s energy needs, the government said in June.

Grid-connected tidal power moved from theory to reality in the past decade, with the construction of smaller, test projects.

OpenHydro, a closely held Dublin company, linked a donut- shaped device with less than a quarter of the capacity of SeaGen to the grid at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scotland, last May. Hammerfest Strom AS, whose owners include StatoilHydro ASA, in 2003 made the first tidal turbine connection with a 300-kilowatt project near Hammerfest, Norway. ...

“Fossil fuel represents burning off the Earth’s capital, and now we’re going back to the energy that’s available to the planet in the course of the day,” Wright said. “Tidal stream energy is no longer a nice-to-have. It is a must-have.

The Rise of Urban Farming Worldwide  

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PSFK has a post on increasing interest in urban farming - The Rise of Urban Farming Worldwide.

There’s something poignant about this photo of a former bank vault in Tokyo that’s been converted into a semi-automated urban farm. In Japan, urban agriculture is not only making good use of spaces where money used to be, it’s also compensating for the traditional farmers that its shrinking population is shedding.

From Mumbai to Manila, cities in emerging economies are looking to urban farming to bolster job growth, improve food security and make more productive use of organic waste. The surprising role model for off-farm farming is Havana, Cuba where 90% of fresh produce supply is grown in the city. Nationwide, urban farming has created 350,000 jobs for Cubans and has boosted the average caloric intake from 2,323 per Cuban per day in 1993 to 3,547 today. Apparently, one main cause of this shift in food sourcing is the inefficiency of state-owned farms.

China is also exhibiting how to industrialize the trend on a massive scale. The Modern Agricultual Science Demonstration Park in Beijing shows how a farm in the city can provide vegetation as well as aquaculture and livestock. Don’t expect an organic meal to come from here though. An entire section is dedicated to plant cloning and seed hacking.

PG&E Pushing Wave Power Projects  

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Next100 blog reports that PG&E is pushing wave power demonstration projects in California - PG&E Connects with Wave Power.

California's renewable energy outlook caught a rising tide today as the California Public Utilities Commission approved $4.8 million in funding for a major program to develop and demonstrate emerging wave power technology.

The study, called WaveConnect, will be led by PG&E off the coast of Mendocino and Humboldt counties. The program will receive an additional $1.2 million from the Department of Energy.

PG&E's first step will be to conduct meetings with local stakeholders and agencies to learn about their issues and concerns. After completing appropriate environmental reviews and permit applications, which could take a couple of years, PG&E then plans to build an undersea infrastructure, including power transmission cables, to support wave energy demonstration projects. The utility will then invite manufacturers of wave energy devices to install them offshore for testing and comparison.

Ultimately, the demonstration will help promising technology companies find funding and guide PG&E (and other utilities) in choosing which wave power developers to partner with.

There are many different approaches to choose from. Some systems take their power from surface waves, others from pressure changes below the surface. Some bob up and down with the waves, others let waves wash over them. Some even rest on the sea floor. WaveConnect will help sort out the technology whales from the minnows.

"The anticipated cost of wave power compares favorably to the early days of solar and wind," says William Toman, a renewable energy project manager at PG&E. "It will take several stages of design evolution to lower costs and increase reliability."

Last October, the CPUC rejected a 15-year contract signed by PG&E to purchase 2 megawatts of wave power from Finavera Renewables. The commission said the power was too expensive and the technology too experimental for prime time. (Finavera has since refocused on the development of wind energy in Canada and Ireland.)

But many experts believe wave power remains a highly promising new source of energy for California. Our 745-mile coastline could produce more than a fifth of the state's energy needs if--admittedly a big if--economic, environmental, land use and grid connection issues don't stand in the way, according to the California Energy Commission.

Making ocean power technology work reliably and at a competitive price will be the first big challenge. Serving offshore installations with power transmission lines will be another economic and engineering hurdle. Finally, ocean power developers must also convince local communities and government regulators that their installations will not destroy marine life, cause boating collisions or navigational hazards, or degrade ocean views.

Melbourne Meltdown  

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The Age reports that Melbourne has been quite warm this week (though not as warm as Adelaide) - As train tracks melted and trees wilted, we all went a little bit troppo.

SO, HOW'S your week been? Hot enough? The ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun, but Melbourne, and beyond, this week was like some kind of mad punishment from above.

Cold showers, suddenly, were good, not evil. At suburban public pools those arriving after work — or after dinner — tended to wander dumbstruck and zombied to plop in feet-first like lemmings.

Lifesavers were on duty at beaches after dark. By Wednesday night the crowded St Kilda foreshore resembled the Ganges at Varanasi. Overnight on Thursday a small tent city sprang up just past Brighton.

It was the intense heat that did it. People found all sorts of ways to cope. Yesterday it reached 45 degrees about 4pm — before quickly cooling down within an hour, the heatwave over. But last night the chaos continued, with further power cuts and train cancellations.

The week has been our hottest known. It was the first time since records began in 1855 that there had been three consecutive days above 43 degrees.

The extreme heat has caused bushfires, chaos on the trains, power outages and possibly contributed to a particularly horrible crime.
Power outages caused by an explosion at an electrical substation wreaked havoc across heatwave-stricken Victoria last night.

All Melbourne train services were cancelled and about 500,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity in the city's west, some parts of the CBD and western Victoria.

Full power with back-up services won't be restored until the end of the weekend, when two transmission lines are repaired, although most people affected had power again by midnight.

Victorians should brace themselves for more power blackouts as bushfires and the worst heatwave in recorded history threaten power supplies and equipment, a state government spokesman told AAP. ...

CHAOS descended on the rail network last night, capping one of the most disastrous weeks on Melbourne's trains in decades. The rail system's operator, Connex, cancelled more than a quarter of all services, with at least 500 of the day's 2000 scheduled services not running.

Many lines — and, at one point, the City Loop — were shut down mid-afternoon because of train breakdowns, lines buckling in the blistering heat, or power blackouts. Buses were not provided in some cases, leaving people without any means of getting home.

The Opposition demanded that Premier John Brumby explain why at least 1300 train services were cancelled this week.

While its tempting to blame the latest heat wave in southern Australia on global warming, it doesn't make sense to point to individual weather events as evidence of long term trends - however we could look at the chaos caused and realise that this type of event will become more frequent as the planet warms (due partially to the Victorians' bad habit of burning brown coal - the worst emitter of all).
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the record heat is yet another sign of global climate change scientists have forecasted.

"Eleven of the hottest years in history have been in the last 12, and we also note, particularly in the southern part of Australia, we're seeing less rainfall," Wong told reporters.

"All of this is consistent with climate change, and all of this is consistent with what scientists told us would happen."

The heat wave began on Wednesday, but the Bureau of Meteorology expects the region will see six days of record temperatures, making this the worst heat wave in a century.

Australia is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change due to its hot, dry climate and is already gripped by drought. Fire bans have been declared in southern Australia to prevent major bushfires but small fires are already burning, according to Reuters.

Australia’s larger cities were among the most burdened regions, Melbourne, for instance recorded its hottest day in 70 years at 111 on Thursday. Robert Doyle, the city’s mayor called for an increase in water due to a 40 percent drop in soil moisture.

"The signs are there that our precious trees are struggling in this brutal weather," Doyle told Reuters. "Our parks staff have indicated a number of trees are defoliating and canopies are thinning. Once defoliation takes place it is very hard to save the tree," he said.

Ormat In Costa Rican Geothermal Deal  

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Cleantech.com reports that Ormat has signed up to build another geothermal power station in Central America - Costa Rica taps Ormat for $65M geothermal deal

Reno, Nev.-based Ormat Technologies (NYSE: ORA) is preparing to start its second geothermal project in Costa Rica after being chosen for a $65 million contract with Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica.

Ormat plans to build, test and commission the Las Pailas Geothermal Plant, which is planned for construction in Las Pailas Field, Costa Rica, for the country's national electricity and telecommunications company, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE).

Under the agreement, Ormat is expected to complete the plant in 18 months. The capacity of the geothermal facility was not disclosed. Ormat says the new plant will use water-cooled condensers and its proprietary high-performance, high-efficiency organic turbine.

Ormat previously built an 18-megawatt binary geothermal power station for ICE in 2004. Ormat has developed four other geothermal projects in Central America since 1999. The projects are expected to totaling 150 MW when the Pailas plant is commissioned.

The US Stimulus Bill  

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Greentech Media has a report on Obama's stimulus bill, noting the version the Senate is considering isn't as clean energy friendly as the one passed by the House of Reps - House Passes Stimulus Bill.

The Senate bill did contain some good renewable energy provisions, O'Brien said. Chief among them was a 30 percent manufacturing tax credit available to companies that make solar panels, wind turbines and other equipment for renewable energy projects - something he said will be key to getting manufacturers to build factories in the United States. That credit has a $2 billion cap, he said.

But the Senate bill lacked a provision contained in the House bill that would allow wind power projects to convert the production tax credits they can now get for the energy they produce into investment tax credits like those enjoyed by solar power projects, O'Brien said (see More Stimulus For Renewables?). The U.S. House of Representatives passed an $819 billion stimulus bill Wednesday that contains some key aid for the ailing renewable energy industry – but a Senate version of the same bill might not be as welcome to the industry.

Along with a host of plums for renewable energy – $8 billion in loans for renewable energy power generation and transmission projects and $2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research – the House version of the stimulus bill contained a provision to convert investment tax credits that solar power developers rely on into direct payments to investors for the next two years (see Tax Credit for Solar in the Works).

Under the provision, the Department of Energy would pay grants equal to the amount of tax credits – 30 percent of qualifying costs of a project – directly to renewable power developers. The problem with using tax credits to lure investors today is that Wall Street banks and other renewable energy investors that saw big losses last year don't have taxable income to offset, and thus no appetite for them.

Adding the DOE program would be a huge boon to a renewable energy sector that's seen both debt and equity financing for projects dry up in the past few months, industry leaders say. Last year saw about $5.5 billion in tax equity deals, but without changes to the way the credit works, that could fall to $2 billion to $4 billion – and that for a solar industry expected to need more than $10 billion for projects in 2009.

Tom Whipple also has a look at the stimulus bill through his darkened peak oil lenses - The Peak Oil Crisis: The Stimulus.
As the economy spirals deeper and deeper into an economic morass, Washington's attention this week is focused on the $900 billion economic stimulus package that is making its way through the Congress.
Opinions as to the efficacy of this effort are all over the map. The President, his allies and advisors knowing they cannot just sit by hoping for better times, have put together a package that is intended to do something for nearly everybody - tax cuts for the middle class, aid to state and local governments to sustain essential services, and above all, funding for projects that it is hoped will create or at least save jobs. They firmly believe that to do anything else would be irresponsible governance.

Critics of the stimulus plan abound. Republicans, who are no longer in charge of much, but can still filibuster the Senate, are calling the stimulus a big Democratic giveaway of borrowed dollars that will bankrupt the government. They, as usual, favor more and bigger tax cuts to deal with the problem. Others, who believe the era of economic growth and prosperity is over, see the plan as a futile effort to revive an un-revivable way of life. They see this plan as a holding action that will spend what may be the last money America can borrow on trying to turn back the clock.

So where does peak oil fit into all this? Let's start with the words of our new President earlier this week. "At a time of such great challenge for America, no single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy. America's dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete. These urgent dangers to our national and economic security are compounded by the long-term threat of climate change, which, if left unchecked, could result in violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines, and irreversible catastrophe."

This would seem to leave little doubt that the President understands what could turn out to be the two biggest problems of coming decades - dependence on oil and global warming. There is much in the current stimulus plan and other administration initiatives that seem to make sense - increasing renewable fuels, $31 billion towards improving the electric grid, $37 billion to weatherize government buildings and low-income homes, $10 billion to improve public transit and railroads. All this of course is only a small fraction of the $900 billion proposal. The rest seems to be directed towards offsetting the effects of the economic down turn, helping the unemployed and hopefully stimulating what some believe will be an economic rebound. Some parts of the bill, however, such as the $31 billion for repairing and building roads seem downright wasteful given that vehicular traffic has no place to go but down.

We are back to the old conundrum of the urgent and the important. While it is clear that oil depletion will overwhelm our economies and global warming may overwhelm much more, for people who are newly unemployed, impoverished, homeless and don't have enough to eat, the President and Congress must hold out the promise of near-term help. A great irony in all this is that the Congressional Budget office is saying only about $25 billion of the $900 billion is likely to be spent in this fiscal year and only $110 billion by the end of 2010. If these numbers are close to reality, it is clear that we are going to have to endure the trials of the next two years with very little aid from the proposed stimulus. If the stimulus passes, at least Congress and the President will be given credit for having tried to do all they can.

It is unfortunate, but a fact of life that the economic downturn of the last two years sent oil prices tumbling by an unexpectedly large amount. If we have learned nothing else in the last six months, it is that prices are highly susceptible to what seem to be relatively small changes in demand.

US Wind Power Growth to Fall This Year  

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Jerome a Paris at The Oil Drum has a post noting the likely impact of the late renewal of tax credits on the US wind power industry this year - Wind power set to decline under Obama?.

As the above graph shows, the lack of consistency in the regulatory framework in the US has already killed the industry 3 times over the past decade: the PTC (production tax credit), the main federal scheme to support wind, has been mishandled to a criminal extent - by being renewed much too late each time it was due to lapse.

This happened once again this year, with the PTC for projects built in 2009 becoming law only in November (as part of the Paulson TARP). Given that you need a number of months to build a windfarm, all projects that could not be completed before the end of 2008 - ie basically all projects for which construction could not start before last summer, were stopped until investors were sure that the PTC would be in place at the time of completion (because the PTC drives the level of revenues for the first 10 years of production of a windfarm). Construction decisions taken after the November resinstatement will only lead to projects being put in line much later in 2009.

But, in addition to this instability, the credit crisis is creating additional difficulties, in two ways.

* The first one is that the PTC was turned into money to build the wind farm thanks to investors willing to provide future tax payments from which the PTC could be deducted; the most active investors in that market were the big invesmtent banks like Lehman or Morgan Stanley, who have either disappeared or have seen their profits (and thus their ability to cash in PTCs) disappear. This has been solved to some extent by allowing utilities to get the PTCs, something they were prevented to do until now, but it requires tweaking to investment structures that had been put in place.

* The second issue is, of course, that the credit crisis has made lending a lot scarcer. Wind, where most of the costs are upfront, in the initial construction investment, relies to a large extent on debt financing to make it possible to spread that investment cost over very long term power production volumes. Such debt is a lot harder to find, and when available, is more expensive than it used to be. There is no easy solution to that, although the proposal in the current stimulus plan to authorise projects to convert the PTC into an "ITC" (ie a direct investment subsidy paid upfront) will be a major help.

So the situation now is that we have an industrial activity which provides a lot of good things, but is handicapped in the short term by the consequences of past bad government and the credit crunch. 2009 will be a mediocre year, that much is pretty much certain by now, given that minimal lag time for projects, but it would be rather incomprehensible if 2010 did not show a massive turnaround.

This does not require massive subsidies, but a few small things:

* an acknowledgement that wind is a large-scale solution (not a silver bullet, not the only solution, but a good part of the solution to a number of problems) that needs to be taken seriously and not just as a bone given to green groups to appease them;

* in turn, all that wind needs is a stable regulatory framework. The PTC works, but it needs to remain in place for more than a year or two at a time. State RPS (renewable portfolio standards, ie obligations for utilities to produce a given % of their power from renewables within agreed timeframes) work, but they create a patchwork of different rules across the country. There is a need to provide a simple, consistent and permanent set of federal rules. Personally, I think that a feed-in tariff (ie a fixed price guaranteed to reneable energy producers) would be best: it works, as demonstrated in Europe, and it actually reduces electricity costs for consumers when wind penetration gets high enough (in the 5-10% range);

* the main flank of federal action will be a long term plan to reinforce the power grid in a coherent and systematic way, in order for wind to be better absorbed into the system: this fits perfectly well with Obama's discourse to invest in infrastructure. But it needs to be done on a scale that makes sense - not just a few billion sprinkled here or there.

Google's Goal: More computing, less power  

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The Google Blog has some notes on their ongoing efforts to increase the energy efficiency of data centrres, as part of their "Green IT" theme this year - More computing, less power.

In the fall we posted information about the efficiency of Google data centers and promised to update this information every quarter. We've now collected data for the fourth quarter of 2008 and published them to our sustainable computing website. Specifically, we're keeping track of the efficiency of any Google-designed data center with an IT load of at least 5 MW and a time-in-operation of at least 6 months. In Q4 our average power and cooling overhead in these facilities was 16%, bringing the overhead for the trailing 12 months to 19% (down from 21% a quarter earlier). For comparison, a recent EPA report put the overhead of the average enterprise data center at 100% or higher. We're very happy to have further improved our efficiency, and a number of factors contributed to that result.

First, efficiency is affected by seasonal weather patterns — cooler weather is better than hot weather, and several of our facilities benefited from that in Q4. Also, we continually review our efficiency metrics so that we notice, for example, that one of our data centers is not performing consistently with others of similar size and locale. So we'll take a closer look at optimizing that facility. Are we using fans to cool spaces that don't need to be cooled? Is the thermostat at the right set-point? Can we reduce the time the chillers need to run while keeping the machines operational? So we apply lessons we've learned from better-performing data centers to other facilities, and several such improvements took place in Q4. For the nitty-gritty technical details, visit our data center efficiency page.

While we've made a lot of progress in data center efficiency, we're still learning. As we continue to explore ways to use the least amount of power to do the most amount of computing, we'll continue to share our data and best practices with you. In early March we will participate in the CeBIT conference where we plan to disclose more details on our sustainability efforts as part of this year's theme of "Green IT." Stay tuned.

US Navy looks to tap into Puget Sound tidal energy  

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The Seattle PI reports that the US Navy is looking to harness local tidal power resources - Navy looks to tap into Puget Sound tidal energy.

The Navy is considering testing whether tidal energy could be used to produce electricity for its base at Indian Island near Port Townsend, a spokeswoman says.

Depending on funding, the one-year pilot project would involve submerging two to six turbines next year off Marrowstone Island, southeast of Port Townsend, the same area where the Snohomish County Public Utility District is looking into a similar installation of equipment in 2011.

The Navy turbines would be removed in the fall of 2011 and sold following the $2 million pilot project, an effort to determine how tidal power might be harnessed in the future, spokeswoman Sheila Murray said. In the National Defense Act of 2007, Congress directed the Defense Department to generate 25 percent of the power it uses from renewable sources by 2025.

The Navy is in the early stages of designing the tidal energy project and is working with regulatory agencies and Native American tribes, officials said. "The Navy's focus for the existing project is to demonstrate the technology as part of research and development," Murray said.

UCG Hopeful secures Surat Basin exploration rights  

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The ABC reports that one UCG hopeful has apparently prevailed over the coal seam gas juggernaut and won some acreage in Queensland - Metrocoal secures Surat Basin exploration rights.

Energy company Metrocoal says it has secured exclusive exploration rights over a coal seam deposit in the Surat Basin.

There have been disputes between companies that conduct underground coal gasification (UCG) and those that build coal seam gas fields, because their mining permits often overlap each other.

Metrocoal says a coal seam gas company has withdrawn its application over the 60 square kilometre site, which will allow it to test whether the coal deposit is suitable for the UCG process.

Airlines report ‘shocking’ plunge in traffic  

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The FT has a report on the massive decline in air freight volumes - Airlines report ‘shocking’ plunge in traffic. So far recession seems to have had a much bigger impact on a lot of vulnerable industries than high oil prices did.

The airline industry reported on Thursday an “unprecedented and shocking” plunge in global air cargo traffic.

Air freight accounts for 35 per cent of the value of goods traded internationally and the International Air Transport Association said traffic volumes had fallen by 22.6 per cent year-on-year in December.

Giovanni Bisignani, Iata director general, said, “there is no clearer description of the slowdown in world trade. Even in September 2001 (after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US), when much of the global fleet was grounded, the decline was only 13.9 per cent.”

International passenger traffic fell in December by 4.6 per cent. Iata said the drop was less dramatic than in cargo, as volumes had been supported by year-end leisure travel that had been booked in advance.

New Wind Farm For Kenya  

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ENN has a report on a new wind farm planned for Kenya that would provide up to 20% of the nation's power supply -Kenya firm plans 300 MW wind farm by 2012.

A Kenyan firm plans to produce 300 MW of electricity by 2012 by harnessing renewable wind power in the north of the country, its director told Reuters.

Turkana Wind Power has been studying the viability of wind power projects in the barren, inhospitable region for the last four years, Chris Staubo said. "Full production will be in June 2012 but we should start production in June 2011," he told Reuters late on Thursday.

Once completed, the project could meet about a quarter of Kenya's total energy demand, which stands at some 1,200 MW, just slightly below the installed capacity.

The government is looking at developing "green" energy sources, such as wind and geothermal, to meet demand that is growing at around 8 percent a year.

Staubo said the total project cost would be about $760 million and that the African Development Bank (AfDB) had indicated it would finance 30 percent of that.

Atlantis' Blue Data Centre  

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Business Green reports that plans to build a tidal powered data centre in Scotland continue to progress - Plans for tidal-powered "Blue Data Centre" flow forward.

Innovative plans for what promises to be the world's first tidal-powered datacentre moved a step closer to reality today with the news that the company behind the tidal turbine technology, Atlantis Resources Corporation, has signed a development partnership with datacentre developer Internet Villages International (IVI).

Under the terms of the alliance, IVI is expected to build an energy-efficient "Blue Data Centre" that will be connected to Atlantis' planned tidal power arrays in the Pentland Firth off the north coast of Scotland.

Atlantis plans to install two 10MW tidal current turbines and will also seek to exploit a planning loophole that allows fast connection of demonstration tidal turbines generating 10MW or less to the grid by inviting a third-party tidal energy firm to also install another 10MW system at the site.

"This project is so exciting because it allows us to sidestep the GB queue for connection to the grid; something which has traditionally held back remote renewable energy projects", explained Dr James Mitchell, head of business development at Atlantis.

IVI, which describes itself as a sustainable property company specialising in energy-efficient datacentres, is to build a datacentre requiring 150MW with the three turbine systems initially expected to provide 30MW of power. Should they prove successful, Atlantis hopes to gain planning permission for further tidal arrays that would not only allow all the energy needs of the datacentre to be met using tidal power, but also enable unused energy to be sold to the grid.

Dubai In The Poo  

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The Times reports that something is rotten in the state of Dubai - Sun, sea and sewage in the playground of the rich in Dubai.

A noxious tide of toilet paper, raw sewage and chemical waste has transformed Dubai’s most prestigious stretch of shoreline into a foul-smelling health hazard.

A stretch of the exclusive Jumeirah Beach — a magnet for Western tourists and home to a string of hotels — has been closed. “It’s a cesspool. Our tests show too many E. coli to count. It’s like swimming in a toilet,” said Keith Mutch, the manager of the Offshore Sailing Club, which has posted warnings and been forced to cancel regattas.The pollution is a blow to Dubai’s reputation as an international holiday destination offering almost guaranteed sunshine and clear seas.

The debate over who is to blame is also turning toxic, pitting the city’s wealthy expatriates against local authorities, who have been criticised for failing to stop lorry drivers dumping human and industrial waste into the ocean.

The row also illustrates how Dubai’s rapid development threatens to outpace the Emirates’ ability to enforce environmental standards, angering the foreigners that the boom town seeks to attract. Mr Mutch first detected trouble during a walk on the beach last summer. “The stench was unbearable and the water was a muddy brown. There was toilet paper in the sand,” he recalled.

Who supports compulsory Internet filtering, exactly?  

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Crikey has an update on Australia's farcical plans to filter the internet, noting that Senator Conroy is now trying to frame the widespread opposition to his totalitarian plan the work of "extreme libertarians" - Who supports compulsory Internet filtering, exactly?. What a schmuck - and shame on Clive Hamilton too.

The field trials of the Rudd government's compulsory Internet filters, which were completed just before Christmas... no, they started before Christmas... no, that's not right either... when do they start? Senator Conroy? Anyone? Can't say? Fat kid on the far right? Okay, The Australian says they're "imminent". So another Christmas then.

The Oz "understands" that one cause of delay is that ISPs taking part want more money. My understanding is that their understanding is understandable. Of the $44.2 million for the filter project, $300,000 is for field tests. A mere 0.7% -- under $20,000 per participating ISP -- seems remarkably little for trialling a major cross-organisational IT project -- especially given the need to properly evaluate this controversial technology.

Anyway, while the government's sorting out the trials, let's reflect on where the support comes from.

Senator Conroy tries to portray the filter-fighters as "extreme libertarians". But with GetUp!'s "Save The Net" campaign having already gathered 95,000 signatures and $50,000, it's starting to look pretty mainstream. That, plus a new survey by middle-rank ISP Netspace, starts to paint the supporters of compulsory filtering as the minority.

Netspace isn't taking part in the trials because the Expression of Interest contained "insufficient detail, unrealistic timeframes and unclear funding arrangements".

"We considered these barriers to participating in any meaningful way," said Matthew Phillips, Netspace's Regulatory and Carrier Affairs Manager. "Instead we are contributing... in another way, by engaging our customers to find out what they want and how they feel about the government's ISP filtering policy."

Some 9,700+ responded, roughly 10% of Netspace's customer base plus a few outsiders. The results are clear. When asked "Do you agree with the Federal Government's policy to make ISP level filtering mandatory for all Australians?" 79% either disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Mandatory Internet filtering is presented as core ALP policy. Yet it dates back to 2006, when Kim Beazley was leader. His other policies, like a department of homeland security and a coast guard, are long dead.

But the current push for censorship really started with Clive Hamilton and his 2003 report, co-authored with Michael Flood, Youth and Pornography in Australia: Evidence on the extent of exposure and likely effects. As watchdog group Electronic Frontiers Australia documents, 2003 was when Hamilton was quoted as saying "the information superhighway is principally a conduit for pornography".

The petitions started the following year.

"Since Nov 2004, there have been at least 35 petitions tabled calling for mandatory ISP-level filtering," writes that tireless documenter of censorship, Irene Graham.

"24 of them are a petition form published by the Australian Family Association (which is actually a religious right organization). Those petitions also want ISPs to be subject to 'liability for harm caused to children by inadequate efforts to protect minors from exposure'."

In 2006, Senator Conroy presented the key petition supporting the current policy, with 20,646 signatures, the bulk of which were gathered through churches. The remaining 11 petitions are copies of that, with from 18 to 145 signatures each.

The Christian Right continues to be Conroy's main supporter. Only last weekend the Fairfax news sites carried the Australian Christian Lobby's Jim Wallace's argument for compulsory filtering, which I have deconstructed elsewhere.

Curiously, Wallace uses exactly the same two examples of over-the-top p-rnography, r-pe and b-stiality, that Hamilton used in his polemic for the ABC News website in November. Who's coordinating whose talking points here?

Oil speculator debate resurfaces  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

FT Alphaville has an article looking at the influence speculators have on the oil price and arguing that only a limited subset of players have the ability to strongly influence the oil price - Oil speculator debate resurfaces.

So, as Chris Cook goes on to say, he believes the problem of “manipulation” (if there is any) does not lie with the passive speculators, the hedge funds or even Opec, rather with the cartel that both producers and consumers are exposed to via the effective duopoly of NYMEX and ICE Futures. ...

But Cook’s point is apt - unless you’re a speculator who can physically move barrels around yourself (by operating in the OTC markets), your position is unlikely to influence the price very much. ...

To to really get a grip of the market Cook advises oil consuming nations to create a global “market transaction registry” to be held in the neutral hands of a “Custodian”. He says the outcome of this would enable regulators globally to access the data they require to enforce agreed market standards both on and off-exchange. Perhaps this is the sort of thing Messrs. el-Badri, Hayward and Aliyev should really address when they discuss the subject at Davos?

Licking Lizards Into Line  

Posted by Big Gav

London Mayor Boris Johnson is the weirdest conservative I've ever come across - while I frequently disagree with his views, I usually enjoy his bizarre writing - and on this occasion, I agree with his point as well (though why he's quoting David Icke is beyond me - I don't mind a bit of tinfoil but lizard people are going too far) - Obama could have those lizards licked in no time

Way to go, Mr President. I think we can all agree that it has been a cracking first week. Apart from the swearing-in glitch - which was entirely the fault of that judge - I have supported just about everything that Barack Obama has done.

But before we all get too misty-eyed about the new era, there is one more thing in his diplomatic in-tray. There is one last piece of neocon lunacy that needs to be addressed, and Obama could sort it out at the stroke of a pen.

In a legal nightmare that has lasted seven years, and cost untold millions to taxpayers in Britain and America, the US Justice Department is persisting in its demented quest to extradite Gary McKinnon, 43, of London.

To listen to the ravings of the US military you would think McKinnon is a threat to national security on a par with Osama bin Laden. According to the Americans, this mild-mannered computer programmer has done more damage to their war-fighting capabilities than all the orange-pyjama-clad suspects of Guantanamo combined.

And how? He is a hacker. He hacked into the Pentagon, he hacked into the army, the navy and the air force, and the Americans say he temporarily paralysed the US naval weapons station Earle, by deleting some files.

In their continuing rage at this electronic lese-majeste the Americans want him sent over there to face trial, and the possibility of a 70-year jail sentence. It is a comment on US bullying and British spinelessness that this farce is continuing, because McKinnon is not and never has been any kind of threat to US security. He had only one reason for fossicking around in the data banks of Pentagon computers, and it had nothing to do with the fight against terrorism.

McKinnon believes in UFOs, and he is one of the large number of people who think there is a gigantic conspiracy to conceal their existence and that this conspiracy is organised by the US Government.

I am not so brave as to claim that UFOs do not exist. The astronomer royal, Sir Martin Rees, has said he believes in life forms on other planets, and no decent empiricist could rule out the possibility.

It may be that the former footballer David Icke is right, and that the world is run by giant lizards in disguise. Perhaps Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are supersized saurians who have been sent on a 10-year mission to wreck the British economy, in preparation for the great lizard takeover. Maybe the whole plot will climax in Davos this week as all 2500 leading economic and political lizards meet in the Swiss alps - having done untold damage to global finances - and hail the arrival of the lizard mother ship as it perches on the mountain top.

All this is theoretically possible, just as it is possible that there really was an accident involving an alien spacecraft at Roswell, and that there is an extra large teapot in orbit around Mars. It is just that I happen to think it vanishingly unlikely.

We have a word for people who persist in believing in alien abduction. They are cranks, and they do not deserve to be persecuted.

They do not deserve to be arrested and have their lives ruined by the agonising delays of the law, unable to work, a drain on the resources of the state and of their families.

McKinnon was not even a proper hacker. He did something called "blank password scanning", and because these military computers were so dumb as to lack proper passwords, he was able to roam around their intestines in search of evidence of little green men. He was so innocent and unfurtive in his investigations that he left his own email address, and messages such as "Your security is crap". ...

To persist with this extradition is so cruel and so irrational that the only plausible explanation is that beneath their suits the US Justice Department and the British Home Office are occupied by a conspiracy of great green gibbering geckos from outer space.

Global warming 'irreversible' for next 1000 years: study  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The ABC has a report on a gloomy assessment of global warming from the NOAA - Global warming 'irreversible' for next 1000 years: study.

Climate change is "largely irreversible" for the next 1,000 years even if carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could be abruptly halted, according to a new study led by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The study's authors said there was "no going back" after the report showed that changes in surface temperature, rainfall and sea level are "largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after CO2 emissions are completely stopped."

NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon said the study, published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, showed that current human choices on carbon dioxide emissions are set to "irreversibly change the planet."

Researchers examined the consequences of CO2 building up beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million, and then completely stopping emissions after the peak. Before the industrial age CO2 in Earth's atmosphere amounted to only 280 parts per million.

The study found that CO2 levels are irreversibly impacting climate change, which will contribute to global sea level rise and rainfall changes in certain regions. The authors emphasised that increases in CO2 that occur from 2000 to 2100 are set to "lock in" a sea level rise over the next 1,000 years.

Rising sea levels would cause "irreversible commitments to future changes in the geography of the Earth, since many coastal and island features would ultimately become submerged," the study said.

Decreases in rainfall that last for centuries can be expected to have a range of impacts, said the authors. Regional impacts include - but are not limited to - decreased human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts.

Joe Romm at Grist says maybe we should do some geoengineering research just incase, even if its not the right way to solve the problem - Collecting Dust.
Heck, I say, let's do some geo-engineering research, but let's not be deluded into thinking that pursuing research is the same thing as having any reason to believe that research will lead to anything practical or affordable -- or any more successful than the billions we have flushed down the toilet trying to build a practical and affordable hydrogen car.

If geo-engineering CO2 out of the air is plausible and affordable at a large scale, it is only after serious mitigation, to go from, say, a brief peak at 450 ppm, back to 400 ppm or lower. Going from 1,000 ppm down to below 400 ppm is not only a staggering task to imagine -- where the heck would you put the hundreds of billions of tons of carbon? -- but it would also be too late to save the ocean from becoming one large, acidic dead zone, and, in any case, we probably would have crossed carbon cycle tipping points that unleash the methane in the peatlands and permafrost.

Bottom line: A few decades of prevention is worth 1,000 years of cure misery.

Grist also has a post on another report advocating geoengineering - Sci-Fi Dreamin'?. Playing with fire if you ask me...
Massive, futuristic schemes to spur land and sea into sucking up greenhouse gases may help the fight against global warming but are no substitute for reducing the pollution itself, scientists said Wednesday.

Once dismissed as daft or dangerous, some of these "geoengineering" projects can be of use in fending off the juggernaut of climate change, but only if they go hand-in-hand with cuts in carbon emissions, they warned.

"Geoengineering" describes large-scale schemes such as erecting sunshades or mirrors in space, sowing the stratosphere with white particles or whitewashing building roofs to reflect sunlight, or scattering iron filings in the ocean to promote carbon-gobbling algae. None of these projects has been launched on any significant scale.

Green groups are deeply suspicious of them, saying the most ambitious ventures could wreck ecosystems, carry an astronomical price and postpone tough decisions on reducing emissions of fossil-fuel gases that cause the problem.

But promoters of geoengineering are now getting a closer hearing as political efforts to resolve climate change remain bogged down. They argue that geoengineering, by slightly cooling the planet, would buy time for humans to get their carbon pollution under control.

In a paper published on Wednesday in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, researchers at Britain's University of East Anglia make the first attempt at calculating the effectiveness of these schemes. They do not analyze environmental impact, nor do they estimate the cost.

"We found that some geoengineering options could usefully complement mitigation [of emissions], and together they could cool the climate," said Tim Lenton, a professor of environmental sciences. "But geoengineering alone cannot solve the problem."

The report said:

-- To gain a quick cool by 2050, building a deflector in orbit and sowing the stratosphere with fine sulfur particles are the best bet. But they also carry "a heavy burden of risk." The particles have to be replenished, and the sunshade would need maintenance. Any breakdown would cause temperatures to rise at a stroke.

-- "Fertilizing" the ocean to boost plankton growth has chiefly long-term potential, as it would take centuries or millennia to really get up to speed.

-- Over the shorter term, it makes more sense to plant trees to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide, and to use energy by burning biomass by pyrolysis so that its residues are returned to the soil as charcoal, a form of carbon that remains stable for centuries or millennia.

-- Painting roofs and roads white and other actions to help land surfaces reflect solar rays is of limited and local value. It could cool cities a little, but globally would be of little effect.

-- The benefits of some geoengineering schemes have been in exaggerated in the past, and calculations about their effectiveness are fraught with errors.

The study comes amid an intensifying debate among climate experts about geoengineering. In its landmark report in 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) blasted geoengineering options as "largely speculative and unproven, and with the risk of unknown side-effects."

In the most controversial experiment to date, scientists aboard a German research vessel, the Polarstern, are in the Southern Ocean where they plan to carry out what they describe as a small-scale test in iron fertilization.

Germany's environment ministry has spoken out against the experiment, but the research ministry has stood by it.

Nate Hagens On The BBC  

Posted by Big Gav

TOD Editor Nate Hagens made it onto the BBC to talk about Obama's energy policy, giving it a partial thumbs up - Nate Hagens on BBC Regarding Obama Energy Policy.

Nate was on BBC-World regarding Obama's energy policy yesterday (which was likely heard by millions). You can listen at this link. Nate is on, immediately after a recording of President Obama starting at about 2:25 into the show, and ending at about 5:53.

In the interview, Nate says what President Obama said was good, but it didn't go far enough. He eventually needs to get across the idea that we cannot continue to grow facing multiple resource constraints, and that that our current conspicuous consumption paradigm needs to be changed. He reiterated that energy is what we have to spend, not money.

Nate suggests we need people to demonstrate by example what changes are needed. The interviewer asks if that means celebrities should buy electric cars. Nate says they should go even further.

Jeff Vail On 2009  

Posted by Big Gav

Jeff Vail didn't have a great deal of success with his predictions for 2008 (I imagine not many people did), but that (thankfully) hasn't prevented him trying his luck again in 2009 - 2009 - Selfishness Disguised.

1. The economy will muddle along. We won't clearly "emerge" from our economic troubles, and we won't enter a true "crash" or depression either. There will be good signs (revival in the real estate market in some areas) and bad signs (unemployment will keep rising, it will become increasingly clear that some regions of the US will never regain their former glory). My overall prediction is based on my belief that our economy is facing two sets of challenges. The first set are truly fundamental: diminishing energy availability and the fact that our economy is predicated on an assumption of perpetual growth despite our residence on a finite planet. These, however, are not the source of our current troubles. The second set is the result of short-sighted hubris and greed: sub-prime mortgages, the belief that housing prices can perpetually rise faster than the general rate of economic growth, the belief that we can create real wealth out of thin air through the "magic" of complex financial derivatives, etc. These second set of mistakes created a bubble that popped (or, more accurately, is still rapidly deflating), and we're riding it on the way down. There is a critical distinction between these two sets of problems, however. Our economic engine, our fundamental blend of capitalism and fascism (what else do you call a controlling government-industrial interface?), will continue to grow and generate wealth (at least for some) until it collides with the fundamental problems in "Set 1." That means that it will deal with, and overcome, the problems presented by the second set. We'll realize the sources of our short-term problems and we'll fix the system. Then we'll get back to business and growth. Bottom line: the economic problems we're currently facing can and will be fixed. We probably won't turn things around in 2009, but we'll lay the groundwork for a recovery in 2010.

2. This 2010 recovery will, however, come just in time to collide with the more fundamental problems in "Set 1" that will have been gathering steam while we focus on fixing our short-term problems. This is the larger theme of 2009: we will be so focused on fixing our immediate problems that we will fail to effectively address our true, long-term problems. To make things worse, we'll be squandering our last, best opportunity to effectively, proactively deal with these fundamentals. We'll be squandering arguably an amount of surplus energy that simply won't be available in the future, energy that we could use now to build a truly sustainable infrastructure to provide energy and food for our planet. Instead, we'll use this energy to try to make sure we can keep driving our SUVs, keep moving up into larger houses filled with more trinkets, etc. I'm calling this "selfishness" because I can think of no more accurate term. Many people will argue that most people aren't aware of our long-term problems, so they can't be blamed for not acting to solve them. I think this is, at most, conscious ignorance. It's so much more fun, at least in the short-term, to squander our inheritance. This won't be a function of Obama and the Democrats or the Republicans--it is far more fundamental than that. It is far more ingrained than that--in the stories we tell ourselves about progress and in our faith in the continuation of the recent past perpetually into the future. I think we'll see just enough success in the short run--an economic recovery in 2010, a return to global growth and wealth, to destroy any chance (small to being with) that we may have had to make fundamental changes.

3. Oil prices. Most of my recent predictions have addressed the issue of oil prices, and this post won't disappoint. I don't think we'll regain the highs seen in 2008, but I think we'll spend a few months in the $30s and $40s and then end the year between $60 and $70/barrel. This will not be because of any recovery in demand, but rather because of a much more troubling decline in production caused by decreased investment due to low oil prices. We'll see many of the megaprojects, scheduled to come online over the next few years to stave off serious production declines, delayed indefinitely. While it won't make many (any) headlines in 2009, we'll lay the groundwork for precipitous production declines to hit just about the time we experience a last-gasp economic recovery in 2010-2013 (so, while it's far into the future, my prediction will be for a true spike in prices in the area of 2012).

4. Geopolitics: we'll continue a similarly selfish course of action in 2009. While I'd like to think the Obama administration will take a bit more far-sighted tack than his predecessor(s), I think Obama will be too fixated on trying to create an immediate economic recovery to expend any political capital on diplomacy. Hopefully I'll be wrong here, as well. What will this look like? It will mean continuing to support dictators, strong-men, and corrupt regimes in the name of near-term stability and security, and at the long-term expense of continually grieving the world's poor and oppressed. As I noted a few weeks ago, people don't hate America "because of our freedom," rather they hate us because we support their oppression in our own self-interest. We'll continue that trend in 2009. I'll go out on a limb and make at least one bold prediction here: Pakistan will succumb to another military coup, and Obama will take sides with the new military ruler in the name of expediency in the "War on Terror."

In addition, here are a few responses to an e-mail interview I gave last week that are essentially predictions for 2009 and beyond:

Q: According to you is the problem of Peak Oil (and the likely impacts of a decline in oil production) a top-priority for the US Department of Defence or is it just seen as an important issue but equal to others?

A: I don't think Peak Oil is really on the DoD's radar, especially not at the highest levels. I know that, within the DoD, there is widespread understanding of the problems that rising (and, more recently, volatile) oil prices create for budgeting, logistics, acquisitions, pre-positioning, etc. There is a lesser understanding of how and where Peak Oil will drive conflict--in my experience, most senior leadership understand that competition for energy resources will make oil exporting regions into conflict areas, but I think there is minimal awareness (at best) of the extent of these conflicts, of the positive feedback loops between geology and geopolitics, and about how declining oil revenues will weaken nation-state structures just as many export-reliant states are facing the peak of their domestic demographic crises.

Q: - As they say in the recent JOE 2008 report "The implications for future conflict are ominous", in this context, do you think the Department of Defence is preparing/planning (e.g. ways to secure oil transport, invasions of producing countries) for the crisis?

A: I think this quote from the JOE demonstrates that, at least within the think-tank side of the DoD, there is some understanding of the scope and scale of problems that Peak Oil will bring. However, there seems to be a widening gulf between this understanding (often isolated in policy and research organizations) and the operational and developmental policies being implemented on the operational side of the DoD. We seem to be stuck, operationally, in a Catch-22 situation. We're preparing to defend regimes against insurgencies and we're increasingly willing to compromise our proclaimed policy of "we support democracies" to achieve the ends of securing energy supplies; we're lamenting our inability to diffuse, at its most basic level, the motivation among "terrorist" groups to attack the US and the West in general; yet we seem incapable of understanding--at least at the senior operational and policy level--that it is our very policy of supporting exploitative regimes (to secure our energy supplies and economic hegemony) that drives the threat against those regimes, ad infinitum.

One Nation Under CCTV  

Posted by Big Gav in

Boondoggles to the rescue!  

Posted by Big Gav

Alpha doomer Dmitry Orlov has one of his usual entertaining posts bemoaning the state of the US and comparing it the the Soviet Union, taken from his book "Reinventing Collapse" - Boondoggles to the rescue!.

Economic collapse has a way of turning economic negatives into positives. It is not necessary for the United States to embrace the tenets of command economy and central planning to match the Soviet lackluster performance in this area. We have our own methods that are working almost as well. I call them “boondoggles.” They are solutions to problems that result in more severe problems than those they attempt to solve.

Just look around and you will see boondoggles sprouting up everywhere, in every field of endeavor: we have military boondoggles like Iraq, financial boondoggles like the doomed retirement system, medical boondoggles like private health insurance and legal boondoggles like the intellectual property system. At some point, creating another boondoggle becomes the preferred course of action: since the outcome can be predicted with complete accuracy, there is little risk. Proposing a solution that might work runs the risk of it not working.

So why not, as a matter of policy, only propose solutions that are guaranteed to simply create more problems, for which further solutions can then be proposed? At some point, a boondoggle event horizon is reached, like the light event horizon that exists at the surface of a black hole. Beyond that horizon, the only possible course of action is to create more boondoggles.

The combined weight of all these boondoggles is slowly but surely pushing us all down. If it pushes us down far enough, then economic collapse, when it arrives, will be like falling out of a ground-floor window. We just have to help this process along, or at least not interfere with it. So if somebody comes to you and says, “I want to make a boondoggle that runs on hydrogen” — by all means encourage him! It’s not as good as a boondoggle that burns money directly, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Once you understand the principles involved, boondoggling will come naturally. Let us work through a sample problem: there is no longer enough gasoline to go around. A simple but effective solution is to ban the sale of new cars, with the exception of certain fleet vehicles used by public services. First, older cars are overall more energy-efficient than new cars, because the massive amount of energy that went into manufacturing them is more highly amortized. Second, large energy savings accrue from the shutdown of an entire industry devoted to designing, building, marketing and financing new cars. Third, older cars require more maintenance, reinvigorating the local economy at the expense of mainly foreign car manufacturers, and helping reduce the trade deficit. Fourth, this will create a shortage of cars, translating automatically into fewer, shorter car trips, a higher passenger occupancy per trip and more bicycling and use of public transportation, saving even more energy. Lastly, this would allow the car to be made obsolete on about the same time line as the oil industry that made it possible.

Of course, this solution does not qualify as a boondoggle, so it will not be seriously considered. The problems it creates are too small, and they offer too little scope for creating further boondoggles. Moreover, if this solution worked, then everyone would be happily driving their slightly older cars, completely unprepared for some inevitable, cataclysmic, economy-collapsing event. It is better to introduce some boondoggles, such as corn-based ethanol and coal-to-liquids conversion. Ethanol production creates very little additional energy but it does create some fantastic problems for further boondoggling: a shortage of food and higher food prices, malnutrition among the poor and inflation. It also reinforces a large existing boondoggle: by funneling resources to petrochemical-based agribusiness, which depletes and poisons the soil and has no future in an age when petrochemicals are scarce, it helps undermine future food security. Coal-to-liquids conversion offers similarly excellent opportunities. By attempting to alleviate a shortage of gasoline, it will cause a shortage of coal, resulting in power outages and dramatically higher electricity rates. It will add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. It will probably call for some coal imports, inefficiently moving a very bulky fuel from far away, and fostering energy dependence on suppliers such as China and Russia, further enhancing the trade deficit. Along with corn-based ethanol, this excellent boondoggle reinforces the erroneous notion that Americans will be able to continue to drive cars into the indefinite future, conditioning them to clamor for more boondoggles in place of any real solutions.

With a bit of practice, you should be able to come up with some excellent boondoggles of your own in your own field of endeavor. If your boondoggle works, it will create more problems for you to solve in the next round, as long as there is time for one more round. And if there is not, then you will be where you want to be: at a ground-floor window, staring into an abyss of only a couple of feet. Although by then it may feel unnatural, at that point you must resist the temptation to create yet another boondoggle by jumping down head-first.

Abu Dhabi Sets 7 Percent Renewables Target  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Renewable Energy World has an article on Abu Dhabi's new renewable energy (basically solar power) target - Abu Dhabi Sets 7 Percent Renewables Target.

The second World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi opened on January 19. An estimated 15,000 delegates are expected at what the German State Secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Matthias Machning, referred to as "the Davos of the Energy World," a reference to the annual, highly influential economic summit held in Davos, Switzerland.

The Government of Abu Dhabi announced on the eve of the conference that it is setting a goal of 7 percent of the country's power to come from renewable energy by 2020. Much of this will be created by the flagship Masdar initiative. As well as responsibility for the construction of Masdar, a large, carbon-neutral city being developed in the Emirate, the Masdar Initiative is investing large sums of money in other renewable energy initiatives.

So far, the Masdar city project has procured US $300 million of equipment and services, and expects to procure over US $1 billion by the end of the year. The project has also invested funds in other renewable energy projects, such as the London Array of offshore wind in the UK, and Finnish wind energy company WinWind.

Speaking at a press conference Ziad Tassabehji, director of asset management and Utilities for the Masdar Initiative, a Government-funded project, confirmed that almost all of this 7 percent target will come from solar energy. The Emirate expects power demand to be between 20 and 22 gigawatts by 2020, and with a maximum wind resource in the region of 100 megawatts, that will leave well over 1 gigawatt to come from solar power.

Madrid's Cylindrical Green Building  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Green building of the week is this unusual, solar panel encrusted design proposed for Madrid - Madrid Breaks Ground on a Cylindrical Green Superstructure.

Recently Mansilla + Tunon Architects broke ground on a stunning new project that will introduce an iconic green superstructure to Madrid’s skyline. The International Convention Center (CICCM) features a unique cylindrical building facade lined with solar panels and concave curves that suffuse its interiors with daylight. The plan will also introduce 80,000 square meters of green space to the city and will house an extensive rainwater catchment system.

The CICCM was designed by Mansilla + Tunon Architects in collaboration with Matilde Peralta. It will be 110 meters tall and will comprise around 100,000 aquare meters worth of built space in addition to an extensive expanse of green areas. The building is particularly striking due to its radical shape - it is essentially a cylinder that has been stood on its side and partially buried on the ground. The entire building is lined with photovoltaic panels and covered in glass, which will significantly improve the daylight access to each floor.

Solar industry cash dries up  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Age reports that solar manufacturers are shunning Australia due to lack of government support for renewable energy - Solar industry cash dries up.

AUSTRALIA is forfeiting billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs through its lack of support for solar energy, according to European companies that have shunned the sunburnt country.

An Age investigation has found that potential investors courted by federal and state governments have rejected Australia, the world's sunniest continent, citing a lack of business incentives such as tax breaks and the nation's unwillingness to regulate in favour of renewable energy.

Victorian cabinet committee documents obtained by The Age include a "commercial-in-confidence" list of predominantly European solar firms supposedly interested in Victoria. The 2008 cabinet submission says that with appropriate support, Victoria alone could attract solar investment worth $2.5 billion along with 2500 new jobs. The companies listed have since rejected advances from both the federal and state governments.

Norwegian solar cell manufacturer UMOE tops the confidential list. Last year it combed the world in search of a home for an $800 million solar cell plant that would eventually employ 1300. Drawn to Australia by its natural solar strengths, UMOE talked to a number of states and the federal investment arm Austrade about a location for its poly-silicon plant.

But this month UMOE opted instead for cloudy Canada. Its renewables chief, Oystein Oyehaug, said: "In the 10 to 15 countries we visited we got substantially better packages than from Australia, whether it was tax or investment incentives or bank underwriting." He said the solar industry had been hopeful the Federal Government would embrace renewable energy. But the "key problem" for solar energy in Australia was the Government's "lack of a policy"

Obama Orders Fuel Efficiency  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology review reports on another positive move from Obama, "clearing away obstacles to reducing U.S. gasoline consumption" - Obama Orders Fuel Efficiency

On Monday morning, President Barack Obama signed executive orders that could speed the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles by improving fuel economy and setting stricter emissions standards. While the technology exists to reach the stricter standards, it's not clear that automakers can implement them fast enough. What's more, additional policy measures may be needed to reduce overall fuel consumption.

Obama signed two orders on Monday. One required the Department of Transportation (DOT) to enforce a law that will increase fuel-economy standards to a minimum of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The law was passed in 2007, but detailed rules telling automakers how to comply were never implemented by the Bush administration. The second order signed by the president calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revisit a request from the state government of California asking for permission to implement emissions standards that are more strict than federal rules. Those standards call for decreasing carbon-dioxide emissions from new vehicles by 30 percent by 2016; 13 other states have since followed California's example. Under President Bush, that request was denied, but experts say it's likely that the EPA will now approve it.

The orders are meant to reduce both carbon emissions and gasoline consumption, Obama said on Monday. They will help on the country's "journey toward energy independence" and will "spark the innovation needed to ensure that our auto industry keeps pace with competitors around the world," he added.

The technology does exist to make it possible, and much of it is simple. For example, low-rolling resistance tires can help make cars more efficient by reducing the amount of energy lost through waste heat. Reducing the weight of vehicles by using lightweight steels and aluminum can also boost fuel efficiency. And automakers can use smaller engines to improve efficiency, making up for lost power by turbo-charging them. Greater improvements can come from advanced technologies such as plug-in hybrids, which run electricity part of the time. But there may not be enough time "to get the technology out there in the volumes needed," says John Heywood, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

Verenium to start building first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Cleantech.com reports that construction of the first cellulosic ethanol plant will start later this year - Verenium to start building first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Verenium announced today that it plans to begin building the world's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the second half of the year.

Florida plans to give Verenium a $7 million grant toward the estimated price tag of $250 million to $300 million for the facility to be built in Highlands County. Verenium said construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months.

Once commissioned, the plant is expected to have an annual capacity of 36 million gallons of ethanol a year produced from biomass, such as grass. The company estimated the facility will create 140 jobs.

Cleantech.com also has a post on competitor Range Fuels - Range Fuels secures $80M for cellulosic ethanol plant.
Broomfield, Colo.'s Range Fuels said it has secured a conditional commitment for an $80 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CEO David Aldous told the Cleantech Group that the money is the final, critical step needed to complete the plant in Soperton, Georgia, which is already under construction (see Range Fuels' Mitch Mandich breaks ground). The plant is expected to be mechanically ready in the first quarter of 2010, with volume production to begin in the second quarter.

The initial phase of the Soperton facility is expected to produce less than 10 million gallons of ethanol and methanol a year using 125 dry tons a day of biomass feedstock from the nearby timber industry.

The first phase was scaled back from the original projections of 20 million gallons of production by late 2009 (see Range Fuels gets cellulosic production plant go-ahead). It was expected to be the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility. ...

Other startups might beat Range Fuels to market with commercial cellulosic ethanol facilities, including Montreal, Canada-based biofuel and biochemical maker Enerkem, which plans to start production of 1.3 million gallons a year at its biomass-to-ethanol facility within the next month (see Utility poles make cheap ethanol feedstock for Enerkem).

Aldous said Range Fuel's goal is now to be the first cellulosic ethanol facility to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol and methanol a year. He declined to say when that would be, noting that the time frame for the two final phases depends completely on the company's access to capital through traditional fund-raising or strategic partners.

V2G: Recharging the Grid with Electric Cars  

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Technology Review has a post on a V2G pilot program in Newark - Recharging the Grid with Electric Cars.

A utility in Delaware has taken a step toward a future in which electric cars store renewable energy to help make its use more widespread. The city of Newark has approved a system called vehicle-to-grid (V2G), in which the battery pack in a car serves as a place to temporarily store energy from the power grid.

A big problem with renewable sources of power like solar or wind is that they only operate intermittently. For now, renewables provide such a small part of the total electricity supply that other sources can easily make up for the hours, minutes, or days when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. But if we're ever to rely on them for a large part of our power, we'll need a cheap way to store the energy that they produce for when it's needed most.

The vehicle-to-grid concept suggests a way to store energy cheaply, since the batteries in electric cars have already been paid for. Most of the time, a car is just sitting around doing nothing. For short-term storage--needed to smooth out fluctuations in power from a wind turbine, for example--a utility could quickly charge a car (or, ideally, distribute a little charge to hundreds or thousands of cars) when the wind is blowing and then take that electricity back a few minutes later when the wind dies down. The more cars that are available, the more energy can be stored. Longer-term storage might also be possible: a car owner could charge up for a discount at night, provided she agreed to keep the car plugged in at work to supply extra power during peak power demand in the afternoon.

Of course, there would have to be some sort of agreement so that energy companies couldn't take so much that the driver ends up stranded, and they'd have to recharge a car before the evening commute. But there are even bigger challenges. There simply aren't many electric cars out there right now. Two-way hookups to the grid would also need to be installed, and the grid may have to be upgraded in other ways. And lastly, all the charging and discharging could shorten the lifetime of the battery (not to mention void the warranty from automakers).

Tech Review also has an article on combining different battery technologies in order to improve vehicle performance and reduce costs - A Blended Battery Pack for Cars.
The race is on to find the ideal battery chemistry for plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles, but a startup in Indiana believes that a combination of different storage technologies might be the best way to improve vehicle performance and reduce cost. The company's technology allows vehicles to run on a combination of fuel cells, ultracapacitors, and old-fashioned lead-acid batteries.

Noblesville-based Indy Power Systems has developed an energy management system for vehicles that can quickly switch between two or more energy sources, even when their voltages are different. "It's basically a switch that directs energy in any amount and any direction," says Steve Tolen, chief executive officer and founder of Indy Power, which operates out of Purdue Research Park. "The hardware handles the switching, and the software handles the timing and amounts."

Tolen says that the power electronics package--called the Multi-Flex Energy Management System--is only slightly larger than a laptop computer. He describes it as a custom, software-controlled, DC-to-DC converter that's bidirectional and variable.

"Imagine adding hot and cold water to a tub. We can add a variable amount of hot and a variable amount of cold in different volumes to match the outflow of the drain, which can also be variable," Tolen explains. "In other words, the motor can ask for different amounts of current, and we can provide that, and in different ratios from the two (or more) power sources, regardless of the voltage of the power sources."

For example, an electric vehicle could have both lead-acid and lithium-ion battery packs. Advanced lead-acid batteries may be cheaper, but they are also heavier and deteriorate more quickly if subjected to regular depletion and recharging. Lithium-ion batteries are generally more robust and lighter but are far more expensive. Combining the two means that you can use less of each. And just as important, says Tolen, the two chemistries can be balanced against each other to optimize performance. For example, the lithium-ion battery can be used to relieve stress on the lead-acid battery and extend its life, and vice versa.

Reza Iravani, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, says that Indy Power's system is part of a trend toward greater emphasis on hybrid storage. For example, he says, Researchers in Australia have designed a car-battery system that combines lead-acid technology with supercapacitors, resulting in a fourfold increase in the life of the lead-acid batteries.

Malcolm Turnbull Backing Biochar  

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Malcolm Turnbull has released the opposition's response (dubbed the "Green Carbon Initiative") to the Labor government's proposed ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme), with the plan promising extra spending on alternative energy sources, more money for "clean coal" (cough), tax breaks for green buildings and retrofitting existing building to make them more energy efficient, mass forestry plantings and, most interestingly, research into storing carbon in soil via biochar (also known as terra preta).

The measures include creation of the Green Carbon Initiative to offset greenhouse gases by capturing carbon and storing it in the soil by using improved farming practices.

He will argue that large quantities of soil carbon are lost to the atmosphere because of conventional cropping methods that leave soil exposed for long periods, and that the opportunities for carbon abatement through changes in agricultural practices are gigantic.

The Opposition Leader also wants to fast-track the development of "biochar" technology, under which green farm waste is heated in the absence of oxygen in a process called pyrolysis.

It turns half of the material into bio-fuels that can be used to generate clean electricity, and the remainder into charcoal called biochar.

"Biochar is then returned to the soil, which dramatically increases agricultural productivity," he will say. "We will invest in our own land and at the same time offer the world an example of how real, practical action can be taken in the battle against global warming in the here and now. ...

Mr Turnbull also proposes mass tree-planting to absorb emissions.

The move could upset the Nationals, who last year split with the Liberals in the Senate to oppose the creation of tax breaks for investment in forestry carbon sinks, arguing forests would consume prime agricultural land. But Mr Turnbull will assert that planting trees can assist agricultural production.

"Every wind break, tree lot or hedge planted by farmers to protect pastures, crops and livestock is both sequestering CO2 and increasing agricultural production - as (wife) Lucy and I know very well from our experience over 26 years of farming in the Hunter Valley." ...

"Carbon capture and storage is a vital technology for our nation," the speech says. "I commit that a coalition government will ensure that at least two industrial-scale CCS power stations projects will be built. We will ensure the financial support is there to make this happen.

"It will be a key objective of the Coalition government that I lead that Australia successfully deploys industrial-scale demonstration projects in solar energy, in geo-thermal energy and harnessing the energy of the ocean through tidal and wave power."

Turnbull toured Newcastle biochar company Crucible Carbon's facility before making the announcement. The announcement didn't get met with much enthusiasm from the Cattlemen's association or from coalition partners in the National party, while the government is calling the technology "unproven", which seems ridiculous given the $500 million they are spending on clean coal research (though to be fair, so is a CSIRO researcher).
THE enormous potential of biochar to capture and store carbon is being overlooked by the Federal Government, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull says. Mr Turnbull yesterday toured Crucible Carbon, which is developing technology for the mass production of biochar, at Newcastle in NSW.

Biochar, a charcoal produced from biomass, has the potential to provide long-term carbon storage in soil with the offset of improving soil quality and increasing agricultural productivity.

Mr Turnbull said biochar had the potential to absorb up to 100 million tonnes of CO2 each year, close to 20 per cent of Australia's emissions. "Globally, this could be the single biggest opportunity, new opportunity, for biosequestration of CO2 after forestry, and of course, organic soil carbon," he told reporters.

"We have an enormous opportunity here in Australia to absorb millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, store it safely as carbon, and put it back into the soil and increase the productivity and the health of our own landscape. "A win-win. A win for jobs, a win for the environment, a win for agriculture." ...

He said the Crucible Carbon technology had been estimated to be able to capture and store carbon for $20 a tonne or less, but companies which wanted to use biochar to offset emissions would not get a credit for it under the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme.

October delivery date for Aptera electric vehicle  

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VentureBeat reports the Aptera electric car will be released later this year - Aptera sets October delivery date for three-wheeled electric vehicle.

One of the stranger-looking representatives of the electric car revolution is approaching its public debut. The Aptera 2e, an all-electric car that the company calls an “aerodynamic marvel,” has reached pre-production and is scheduled to start being manufactured in October of this year.

Aptera’s real claim to fame, aside from building electric vehicles in the first place, is its three-wheeled design that places two wheels at the front of the car and one in the back. This arrangement confers some steering and efficiency advantages, but is unknown in modern cars, which has prompted some (including me) to suggest that Aptera will have difficulty breaking into the market.

But Aptera has two things today that it didn’t have when it started: The backing of Google.org, and 4,000 deposits on the 2e. Aptera’s original design, the 1e, was supposed to launch at the end of last year, but most new car manufacturers to date have had trouble delivering on time.

Deposits are not guaranteed sales, of course. Placing a deposit on the 2e requires only $500, but Aptera has yet to put a firm price on the vehicle, giving instead the rather wide range of $25,000 to $45,000. It’s reasonable to assume that if the price is closer to the higher end of that spectrum, many of those orders will get canceled.

There’s also the recession to worry about. But as Tesla Motors has shown, there’s still strong interest in the high-end market in electric cars, so initial production runs will likely sell out quickly. The real question is what will happen in the months and years after the initial hype has died down.

Dennis Meadows Wins Japan Prize  

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Energy Bulletin reports that Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of The Limits to Growth has won this year's Japan prize - 2009 Japan prize honors lead author of ‘"The Limits to Growth".

Dr. Dennis Meadows, lead scientist and co-author of The Limits to Growth (1972) and its subsequent updates, is the winner of this year’s Japan Prize from the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan for “Transformation towards a sustainable society in harmony with nature.” This prestigious award is given once a year to people from all parts of the world whose original and outstanding achievements in science and technology are recognized as having advanced the frontiers of knowledge and served the cause of peace and prosperity for humankind. It carries a cash award of 50 million yen (about $500,000) and will be awarded during a Japan Prize Awards week in April 2009.

In 1972, three young scientists from MIT used systems dynamic theory to create a computer model (“World3”) that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their report, funded by the Club of Rome and published as The Limits to Growth, created an international sensation and acquainted millions with the fact that large-scale industrial activities and population growth could destroy their own foundations—confronting global society with the very real prospects of self-inflicted collapse. It was an international bestseller, with over 30 million copies sold worldwide.

Later voted to be one of the 20th century’s ten most-influential environmental books, the text was the object of intense criticism by economists of the time. They dismissed it as Malthusian hyperbole. But events over the past three decades have generally been consistent with the book’s scenarios. The Limits to Growth later served as the foundation for “The Global 2000 Report to the President” as well as UN’s Brundlandt Commission.

Matthew Simmons, economist and founder of the world’s largest private energy investment banking practice, recently wrote, “The most amazing aspect of the book is how accurate many of the basic trend extrapolations . . . still are some 30 years later.”

Since its initial publication, Meadows, along with the late Dr. Donella Meadows and Dr. Jorgen Randers, has twice authored updates published by Chelsea Green: Beyond the Limits in 1992, and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update in 2004. In these updates, an improved world model was used to point out that the limiting features of the earth’s physical capacity, about which The Limits to Growth had sounded a warning, have continued to deteriorate, and that the time left for solving the problem is growing short; the authors urged that mankind not delay in taking the measures necessary to address the situation.

At the time of publication of Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Lester Brown, Director of the Earth Policy Institute said, “Reading the 30th-year update reminds me of why the systems approach to thinking about our future is not only valuable, but indispensable. Thirty years ago, it was easy for the critics to dismiss the limits to growth. But in today’s world, with its collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, falling water tables, dying coral reefs, expanding deserts, eroding soils, rising temperatures, and disappearing species, it is not so easy to do so. We are all indebted to the ‘Limits’ team for reminding us again that time is running out.”

Since the initial publication of The Limits to Growth, Dr. Meadows has continued to study the causes and consequences of physical growth on a finite planet. Among his numerous endeavors, he co-founded the Balaton Group, a famous environmental research network, and he has published many educational games and books about sustainable development that are used around the world.

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