WA government to prosecute Apache Energy  

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WA Today reports that the state government has decided to prosecute Apache Energy over the Varanus island explosion - WA government to prosecute Apache Energy.

The West Australian government will prosecute oil and gas producer Apache Energy for failing to maintain and repair a gas pipeline that exploded last year.

The blast in June last year at Apache's Varanus Island gas plant, off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia, cut the state's gas supply by one-third.

WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore on Thursday announced the government had started proceedings to prosecute Apache Energy's wholly owned subsidiary Apache Northwest and its co-licensees in relation to the Varanus Island incident.

A charge filed in the Federal Court on Wednesday alleged Apache Northwest and the co-licensees did not maintain the pipeline in good condition and repair as required under the petroleum pipelines act, Mr Moore said.

"It is alleged that the 12-inch sales gas pipeline was corroded in the area of the pipeline rupture which occurred at the pipeline beach crossing on Varanus Island on June 3 last year," Mr Moore said in a statement.

Mr Moore said the charge followed an investigation by the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum after the release of the initial investigation report by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority last year.

The NOPSA report into the blast found the US energy giant had failed to effectively maintain pipelines, which led to the explosion.

The ensuing gas shortage played havoc with Apache's industrial customers, cutting the state's business production forecast by about $6.7 billion during the September quarter alone, according to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Orphan Natural Gas In Africa  

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The New York Times has a post by Andy Revkin on natural gas in Africa - On CH4, Poverty and CO2.

At a meeting on population and resources early this year at the University of California in Berkeley, one session focused on global energy trends. Richard Nehring, a consultant tracking fossil fuels, noted that Africa (below and above the Sahara) has vast deposits of natural gas (CH4), many of which are suitable for extracting butane and propane, valuable household fuels. This leads to a glaring question.

We know there are orphan drugs — potential treatments for diseases in poor places that don’t get pursued because there’s scant profit. But is natural gas in Africa essentially an “orphan fuel”?

I’m going to send the following questions to a variety of energy experts and economists for their answers. What’s your view?

Sub-Saharan Africa has huge untapped reserves of natural gas. It also has a huge potential market, given that charcoal in African cities — the fuel of choice for hundreds of millions of people there — is often more expensive than gas. But the production of charcoal is destroying forests, and its use for cooking can destroy lungs in households choking on smoke. For the time being, promoting ways to use charcoal more cleanly and efficiently is a goal of many development specialists in Africa. But when will the jump to gas take place?

Q. Why isn’t development of this African gas resource, for both local and global markets, a priority for rich countries that claim they are committed to helping Africa break the bonds of persistent poverty? (Dysfunctional governments are surely an issue in some places, but not all.)

Q. Should projects that develop natural gas and related propane supplies in regions with few fuel choices get credit under proposed climate-treaty provisions?

On the climate front, discussions of ways to limit global warming seem more focused on capturing stray emissions of methane (more on that anon) than on pressing for ways to promote it as an alternative to coal, at least as a bridge to even less-polluting energy sources. For several decades, a cluster of scientists — in particular Jesse H. Ausubel, Arnulf Grübler, and Nebojsa “Naki” Nakicenovic — have pressed the case that methane is a vital ingredient for navigating toward a prosperous planet with a stable climate. It releases half the carbon dioxide per unit of energy that coal does. And if burned in certain ways, the resulting stream of CO2 is pure and easily captured for storage, Dr. Ausubel says.

It is also becoming ever clearer that the world has vast untapped stores of natural gas, everywhere from the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico to a wide swath of the Arctic.

The volatility of prices is clearly a problem, with low prices now likely to slow exploration and development of new sources, experts say. Another sign of the world’s enduring “ shock and trance” approach to energy policy, perhaps.

In Finland, Nuclear Renaissance Runs Into Trouble  

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The New York Times has a look at yet another nuclear power cost blowout - In Finland, Nuclear Renaissance Runs Into Trouble.

As the Obama administration tries to steer America toward cleaner sources of energy, it would do well to consider the cautionary tale of this new-generation nuclear reactor site.

After four years of construction and thousands of recorded defects and deficiencies, the price tag on the reactor in Olkiluoto, Finland, has climbed at least 50 percent.

The massive power plant under construction on muddy terrain on this Finnish island was supposed to be the showpiece of a nuclear renaissance. The most powerful reactor ever built, its modular design was supposed to make it faster and cheaper to build. And it was supposed to be safer, too.

But things have not gone as planned.

After four years of construction and thousands of defects and deficiencies, the reactor’s 3 billion euro price tag, about $4.2 billion, has climbed at least 50 percent. And while the reactor was originally meant to be completed this summer, Areva, the French company building it, and the utility that ordered it, are no longer willing to make certain predictions on when it will go online.

While the American nuclear industry has predicted clear sailing after its first plants are built, the problems in Europe suggest these obstacles may be hard to avoid.

A new fleet of reactors would be standardized down to “the carpeting and wallpaper,” as Michael J. Wallace, the chairman of UniStar Nuclear Energy — a joint venture between EDF Group and Constellation Energy, the Maryland-based utility — has said repeatedly.

In the end, he says, that standardization will lead to significant savings.

But early experience suggests these new reactors will be no easier or cheaper to build than the ones of a generation ago, when cost overruns — and then accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl — ended the last nuclear construction boom.

In Flamanville, France, a clone of the Finnish reactor now under construction is also behind schedule and overbudget.

In the United States, Florida and Georgia have changed state laws to raise electricity rates so that consumers will foot some of the bill for new nuclear plants in advance, before construction even begins.

“A number of U.S. companies have looked with trepidation on the situation in Finland and at the magnitude of the investment there,” said Paul L. Joskow, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a co-author of an influential report on the future of nuclear power in 2003. “The rollout of new nuclear reactors will be a good deal slower than a lot of people were assuming.”

For nuclear power to have a high impact on reducing greenhouse gases, an average of 12 reactors would have to be built worldwide each year until 2030, according to the Nuclear Energy Agency at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Right now, there are not even enough reactors under construction to replace those that are reaching the end of their lives.

And of the 45 reactors being built around the world, 22 have encountered construction delays, according to an analysis prepared this year for the German government by Mycle Schneider, an energy analyst and a critic of the nuclear industry. He added that nine do not have official start-up dates.

Obama touts solar power to break U.S. oil addiction  

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Talk about a green new deal seems to have waned this year, but Obama is still making the occasional speech promoting the need for the US to become independent of oil and to switch to clean energy sources. Reuters reports on his latest speech at a Nevada air force base - Obama touts solar power to break U.S. oil addiction.

President Barack Obama provided a spending boost to the solar and geothermal energy industries on Wednesday and said increased use of the fuels would make America more secure.

"We know the cost of our oil addiction all too well," Obama said in a speech at Nellis Air Force Base, which is home to the biggest solar electric plant in the Western Hemisphere.

"It's the cost measured by the billions of dollars we send to nations with unstable or unfriendly regimes. We help to fund both sides of the war on terror because of our addiction to oil," Obama said, one week before visiting Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, to discuss the nuclear standoff with Iran and reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Obama said the federal government would spend $467 million from the recent $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus package to expand and accelerate the development and use of solar and geothermal energy throughout the United States.

"More than 72,000 solar panels built on part of an old landfill provide 25 percent of the electricity for the 12,000 people who live and work here at Nellis. That's the equivalent of powering about 13,200 homes during the day," Obama said.

"We have to lay a new foundation for prosperity, a foundation constructed on the pillars that will grow our economy and help America compete in the 21st century. And a renewable energy revolution is one of those pillars.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid said the state's solar and geothermal resources gave it the potential to be the "Saudi Arabia ... for renewable energy."

The U.S. solar energy industry grew about 9 percent in 2008, but the recession cut demand for some solar installations.

Electric Cars For Le Mans ?  

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Inhabitat has a post on a Swiss made electric car intended for the le Mans 24 hour race - Green GT’s All-Electric Supercar Unveiled.

Up-and-coming Swiss auto company GreenGT recently unveiled plans for a fully-electric vehicle that is heralded to be the most powerful and cutting-edge electric race car ever built. Designed with the famous Le Mans race in mind, their Twenty-4 vehicle is currently undergoing development and will boast two 100-kw electric engines that provide 350-400 horsepower and a top speed of 171 mph.

The 24 hour Le Mans race may be one of the best known races in the world, although it’s definitely not one of the most environmentally friendly. We’re excited to see GreenGT upping the ante by developing a svelte green supercar to compete in the 2011 race.

The car was designed by five students from the CCi du Valenciennois school. It will feature a fiberglass body on a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis. The vehicle’s twin 100-kw electric motors will provide around 350 to 400hp of power that will push the vehicle from 0-60mph in around 4 seconds. GreenGT’s head engineer Christophe Schwartz has stated that “The GreenGT Twenty-4 design study could become our 2011 Le Mans Prototype electric racer or it could even become an electric road going supercar. There is a possibility to do both!”

Solar power should replace wind energy, says Jack Steinberger  

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The Times has an interesting article on a call for Europe to concentrate on solar thermal power for the majority of its energy needs (I still think wind has an important contribution to make, but CSP is likely to be the biggest component in our future energy mix) - Solar power should replace wind energy, says Jack Steinberger.

Europe should scrap its support for wind energy as soon as possible to focus on far more efficient emerging forms of clean power generation including solar thermal energy, one of the world’s most distinguished scientists said yesterday.

Professor Jack Steinberger, a Nobel prize-winning director of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, said that wind represented an illusory technology — a cul-de-sac that would prove uneconomic and a waste of resources in the battle against climate change.

“Wind is not the future,” he told the symposium of Nobel laureates at the Royal Society. Instead, he said, technologies such as solar thermal power — for which parabolic mirrors reflect the Sun’s rays to generate heat and electricity — represent a more promising way of supplanting fossil fuels. “I am certain that the energy of the future is going to be thermal solar,” he told The Times. “There is nothing comparable. The sooner we focus on it the better.”

Professor Steinberger said that all known reserves of fossil fuels would be depleted within 60 years and that a network of solar energy farms in the Sahara could reliably supply nearly 80 per cent of Europe’s energy needs by the middle of this century.

He called for European governments to fund a big pilot project in North Africa linked to Europe via high-voltage undersea cables. Solar thermal power was already economic and on the brink of big advances that would place it way ahead of rival forms of wind, geothermal, wave and tidal energy, he said. “Governments need to focus on this area right now.”

A 3-3.5 gigawatt solar thermal project in North Africa, which would generate enough electricity to supply two million homes, would cost £20 billion to build. “I am certain you could make electricity and ship it to Europe at a price equivalent to fossil fuels.”

He said that intermittent energy sources, such as wind, required back-up power generation, which undermined their contribution to emissions reductions. In contrast, solar thermal power could generate heat energy that could reliably generate 24-hour electricity.

Census of Marine Life brings hope of revival to the seas  

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The Times has a report on the decimation of the world's fish population and some signs of hope for the future - Census of Marine Life brings hope of revival to the seas. The photo that accompanies this article reminded me of photos of my grandfather catching fish bigger than him in Perth's Swan River 40 years ago - nowadays I suspect there isn't a fish a quarter of that size in the whole river system.

Three hundred years ago the view from the cliffs of Cornwall would have been very different. Rather than today’s lonely fishing trawlers, the scene was dominated by the glistening bulk of blue whales. Huge schools of harbour porpoise chased shoals of fish so thick they darkened the water, while common dolphins filled the inland waters. Eighteen-foot orca menaced the mammals, while schools of blue sharks harassed fishermen who ventured out to dip their nets.

The vision may seem like the stuff of legend, but by delving into ship’s logs, ancient manuscripts, tax records, legal documents and even the devoted labours of monks living in Russia’s frozen north, an international team of researchers — part of the ten-year Census of Marine Life — has revealed the teeming abundance of life that once filled the seas not just off Britain but around the world. “We hope to be able to use this data to reverse the trend that we’ve been seeing,” Poul Holm, global chairman of the History of Marine Animal Population project, told The Times. “Lots of fish management is done using only 25-30 years of data. Using the timescales gives a much more realistic picture.”

The project’s findings reveal not only how much has been lost, but how far the sea can be expected to rebound, if given a chance. It is hoped that, by providing an accurate vision of Cornwall’s past productivity, the public and policymakers can be motivated to help its recovery. “History is a powerful motivator,” Professor Holm said.

The results of other investigations — which will be shared at a conference in Vancouver this week — show that rampant whaling left the waters off New Zealand with an estimated 25 southern right whales by 1925.

Although populations have risen to more than 1,000 whales, in the early 1800s those waters supported about 27,000. “Eighty-five to ninety per cent of the biomass has been removed. These are significant changes with big implications for ecosystem functioning,” Professor Holm said.

Size as well as abundance has been affected. Using records of trophy catches in Key West, Florida, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography showed that between 1956 and 2007 the average weight of fish fell from about 20kg to 2.3kg and that their average length shrank from nearly 2m to 35cm.

“The worst part of these ‘shifting environmental baselines’ is that we have come to accept the degraded condition of the sea as normal,” Callum Roberts, author of The Unnatural History of the Sea, said. “We cannot return the oceans to some primordial condition absent of human influence, but it is in everyone’s interest to recover some of the lost abundance of creatures in the sea.”

Experts are encouraged by the knowledge that the sea can return to former levels of productivity. The connectivity of the oceans means that is difficult to drive marine animals to extinction. Several rebounds are recorded, most notably during the world wars when it was too dangerous for fishing fleets to operate in the North Sea. Between 1914 and 1918 stocks trebled. A similar rebound occurred after the Second World War, although the bounty was quickly retaken.

“We now have long-term evidence that catches can be three or four times their current level,” Ron O’Dor, chief scientist of the Census of Marine Life, said. “The oceans will sustain that.” The time that the ocean would require to recover depends on how much protection is afforded. “It’s not about shutting down fisheries but about letting the ecosystem, with its shelter, structure and nurseries, rebound,” Dr O’Dor said.

Revisiting Lithium-Sulfur Batteries  

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Technology Review reports that new advances may make high energy lithium-sulphur batteries practical at last - Revisiting Lithium-Sulfur Batteries.

Lithium-sulfur batteries, which can potentially store several times more energy than lithium-ion batteries, have historically been too costly, unsafe, and unreliable to make commercially. But they're getting a fresh look now, due to some recent advances. Improvements to the design of these batteries have led the chemical giant BASF of Ludwigshafen, Germany, to team up with Sion Power, a company in Tucson, AZ, that has already developed prototype lithium-sulfur battery cells.

"Compared to existing technologies used in electric vehicles, the plan is to increase driving distance at least 5 to 10 times," for a given-size battery, says Thomas Weber, CEO of a subsidiary of BASF called BASF Future Business. Other experts say that a threefold improvement is a more reasonable estimate, but that would still be an impressive jump in performance. Weber says that BASF's expertise in materials will help Sion Power further improve its technology and bring it to market faster. He declined to provide details of the arrangement, however, including how much money is involved and how the companies will share any profits.

Lithium-sulfur batteries have one electrode made of lithium and another made of sulfur that is typically paired with carbon. As with lithium-ion batteries, charging and discharging the battery involves the movement of lithium ions between the two electrodes. But the theoretical capacity of lithium-sulfur batteries is higher than that of lithium-ion batteries because of the way the ions are assimilated at the electrodes. For example, at the sulfur electrode, each sulfur atom can host two lithium ions. Typically, in lithium-ion batteries, for every host atom, only 0.5 to 0.7 lithium ions can be accommodated, says Linda Nazar, a professor of chemistry at the University of Waterloo.

Making materials that take advantage of this higher theoretical capacity has been a challenge. One big issue has been that sulfur is an insulating material, making it difficult for electrons and ions to move in and out. So while each sulfur atom may in theory be able to host two lithium ions, in fact often only those atoms of sulfur near the surface of the material accept lithium ions.

Newcastle Port in contention for new LNG complex ?  

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The Australian reports that NSW based coal seam gas producers are floating the idea of an LNG export terminal at Newcastle. Its hard to see, given the medium term gas glut developing, that all the LNG plants proposed for Australia are going to go ahead any time soon. The Australian reports - Port in equation for LNG complex.

NSW coal seam gas producers have held talks with Newcastle Port to build a liquefied natural gas plant, using the coal harbour as a second east coast export hub.

The Australian has learned that Santos, one of five proponents of CSG-to-LNG plants at Queensland's Gladstone port, has spoken to authorities about the possibility of using Newcastle as an export port for up to 40 petajoules of CSG it has in the Gunnedah Basin in the state's northeast.

A Newcastle Port Corporation spokesman confirmed there had been "very preliminary" discussions with more than one party about building LNG plants at the harbour, but would not name them.

Eastern Star Gas, which also has ground in the Gunnedah Basin, said it was one of the parties that approached the port.

"It is at a very, very preliminary stage, but we are looking at the possibilities of Newcastle Port," Eastern Star managing director David Casey said. He also said Eastern Star was looking at supplying the gas, which the company is still shoring up, to domestic industry in the Newcastle region, among other possibilities.

Most analysts are reluctant to put a price on potential exports from the NSW CSG fields, which are a long way behind the rapidly developing Queensland fields. "It is not something we've focused on, but it makes sense that they (Santos and Eastern Star) would be investigating the potential," Patersons Securities analyst Scott Simpson said. "You could make the same arguments for an LNG hub in Newcastle as you could for one in Queensland."

Santos says it has huge undefined gas resources in NSW and plans to drill 20 exploration wells over 20,000sqkm of ground this year. The company believes its NSW ground could hold twice that of its LNG partner Petronas's in Queensland.

Cisco chases billion-dollar smart grid dreams  

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Smart grids continue to be the main area of focus for cleantech lately - Cleantech.com has a report on Cisco's entry into the market - Cisco chases billion-dollar smart grid dreams.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) today announced what some in the industry might have already suspected: The company is seeking to sell its intelligent networking infrastructure into the smart grid.

The directive was secretly announced as an internal company priority for 2009, and again in recent weeks as the company made plans for 2010, said Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior director of network systems at Cisco, in an interview with the Cleantech Group.

But today’s public launch of a cleantech strategy aims to repackage and combine Cisco’s existing technologies to create an intelligent IT infrastructure embedded with sensors and security to serve the forthcoming wave of smart grid adoption around the globe.

The U.S. electric grid loses roughly 7 percent of energy production through faulty transmission lines, theft and mechanical problems. Government investment in the sector has typically not aimed to solve those problems, Lasser-Raab said.

“The grid has only changed to support increased demand; it hasn’t changed structurally,” Lasser-Raab said. “It’s a major industry effort in the initial planning stages.”

The industry has lobbied for the creation of standards for electric grids that would distribute and track energy flow using an Internet-based system capable of supporting a variety of applications developed by private companies (see IBM rides third wave of cleantech).

Cisco estimates the field at approximately $20 billion annually over the next five years, $1 billion of which Cisco thinks it can harness.

Cisco envisions its role as designing the intelligent network infrastructure, as well as bringing in other vendors to plug in components to report and analyze data from the grid. That includes working with systems integrators and companies that sell solutions such as smart meters.

Reuters has a related report on the Obama administration calling an expanded, smarter grid an "urgent national priority" - Federal Smart Grid Initiatives a Big Boost for IT.
Progress towards building a smart power grid took a leap forward this week with the release of grid interoperability standards and increases to grant awards to achieve this "urgent national priority."

As support from the Obama administration continues alongside growing demands for enhanced energy stability and reduced emissions, companies like Cisco are rushing to develop smart grid communications technology.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the 16 smart grid standards after serving as chairmen at an energy industry meeting, a gathering that was intended to foster standards adoption by key players. Together they emphasized the urgency of advancing the electric power grid, and echoed the industry need for open source that have been previously voiced by groups like the ZigBee Alliance.

"We took a significant step toward developing the open and transparent interoperability standards necessary to realize the Smart Grid vision," said Secretary Locke. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which has been working on smart grid standards since 2007 under the Energy Independence and Security Act, recognized the initial 16 standards, which will allow for compatibility between numerous competing technologies.

The two Secretaries announced that the Department if Energy would be increasing the smart grid program awards under the Recovery Act, raising the maximum Smart Grid Investment Grant Program award from $20 to $200 million and Smart Grid Demonstration Project awards from $40 to $100 million. In addition, $10 million in stimulus funds will be provided to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support standards development.

Asian LNG Supply May Exceed Demand by 57%, Wood Mackenzie Says  

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Bloomberg reports that Asia may be facing an LNG glut in the next few years - Asian LNG Supply May Exceed Demand by 57%, Wood Mackenzie Says .

Supplies of liquefied natural gas from proposed plants in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia may exceed demand in the Asian region by at least 57 percent, data from Wood Mackenzie Consultants Ltd. show.

The combined capacity of some LNG projects in Papua New Guinea, Australia and Indonesia is more than 44 million metric tons while the Asia-Pacific market, led by China, requires 28 million tons a year in 2015, Noel Tomnay, Wood Mackenzie’s head of global gas and power research, said in a report yesterday. The projects are seeking approvals in 18 months, he said.

“The Pacific offers a last bright spot for sellers as Wood Mackenzie forecasts China demand growth to retain a tight market in the 2013 to 2015 period which is currently propping up long- term contracts,” Tomnay said in the e-mailed report. “But the balance is a delicate one which may shift in just the next 18 months.”

Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Total SA and Mitsubishi Corp. are among those developing LNG ventures in Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. China is building more than 10 LNG terminals on its eastern coast to meet a target of doubling the use of the cleaner-burning fuel. ...

The new developments include the Papua New Guinea LNG project, Indonesia’s Donggi and Australia’s Gorgon LNG, Queensland Curtis, Gladstone LNG and Ichthys, Tomnay said.

Latest to Sound the Climate Alarm: Doctors, Lawyers, Generals, Bankers and Diplomats  

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Alex at WorldChanging has a look at some recent events in global warming politics - Latest to Sound the Climate Alarm: Doctors, Lawyers, Generals, Bankers and Diplomats.

Latest people freaking out about the steadily worsening news on climate change? Doctors, soldiers, diplomats, lawyers and insurance bankers.

A major study by the renowned British medical journal the Lancet and University College London calls on the world's medical and health professionals to mobilize, declaring, “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”
"Climate change will have devastating consequences for human health from: changing patterns of infections and insect-borne diseases, and increased deaths due to heat waves; reduced water and food security, leading to malnutrition and diarrhoeal disease; an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme climate events (hurricanes, cyclones, storm surges) causing flooding and direct injury; increasing vulnerability for those living in urban slums and where shelter and human settlements are poor; large scale population migration and the likelihood of civil unrest."

12 retired U.S. generals and admirals working together at the Center for Naval Analyses issue a major report calling on the U.S. and allied defense agencies to mobilize in preventing and adapting to climate change, saying "climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security."
“More poverty, more forced migrations, higher unemployment. Those conditions are ripe for extremists and terrorists ...the chaos that results can be an incubator of civil strife, genocide, and the growth of terrorism."

"Many governments in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are already on edge in terms of their ability to provide basic needs: food, water, shelter and stability. Projected climate change will exacerbate the problems in these regions and add to the problems of effective governance. Unlike most conventional security threats that involve a single entity acting in specific ways at different points in time, climate change has the potential to result in multiple chronic conditions, occurring globally within the same time frame. Economic and environmental conditions in these already fragile areas will further erode as food production declines, diseases increase, clean water becomes increasingly scarce, and populations migrate in search of resources. Weakened and failing governments, with an already thin margin for survival, foster the conditions for internal conflict, extremism, and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies. The U.S. may be drawn more frequently into these situations to help to provide relief, rescue, and logistics, or to stabilize conditions before conflicts arise.

Reinsurance giant Munich Re (the people who insure your insurance company) moves to reassure the insurance industry that insuring the world is still possible "at the right price" despite increasing natural catastrophes"
"So far, nowhere in the world is uninsurable," said Georg Daschner, member of the board of management at Munich Re. "It is a question of getting the right price and whether people are prepared to pay that price." Daschner said the company was getting "close to its limits" in Florida, but is seeking ways of passing on its risk exposure to the capital market. "At the right price there is always a way of insuring."

(I feel reassured, don't you?)

The Maldives prepares to become a refugee nation, as their government secures a new home for its 300,000 people now that sea level rise is making their home islands uninhabitable. Diplomats warn that this is just the first of many unprecedented international agreements driven by climate change emergencies.

Finally, an upcoming legal conference, Three Degrees: The Law of Climate Change and Human Rights Conference will explore the international law and human rights redresses available to those suffering from climate crisis disasters:
"Increasing drought, the spread of tropical disease, storm surges with rising duration and severity, and unprecedented human dislocation will reduce food security and access to freshwater, promote the spread of disease beyond normative ranges, and uproot millions of people who inhabit coastal regions. It is projected that the survival ability of many of the world’s indigenous and most disadvantaged peoples will be at stake. The application of both codified and customary international and national human rights law will be critical in addressing the massive humanitarian crises... Numerous scholars have suggested that human rights law may provide the most adequate and responsible remedy for climate-related impacts, and this conference will create an international forum to thoroughly test the available remedies, raise the legal issues associated with these remedies, and collaborate over necessary advancements in the law."

This all reinforces something I've been thinking more and more lately, which is that not only would addressing climate change yield more direct economic benefits than losses, but that the failure to do so will have societal costs orders of magnitude more costly. Given what we're learning, there is simply no credible position to be found in opposing climate action on economic terms.

Which is the basis of my problem with the whole debate around the Waxman-Markey bill (which would introduce a very limited cap-and-trade system to the U.S.): that debate is surreal. It bears no relationship to reality. At very least, we need a widespread recognition that the politically possible in D.C. is at odds with what is in the real world scientifically grounded and necessary in practical terms.

Being green and spending green - the trouble with rooftop solar  

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Kiashu has a post on the economics of rooftop solar PV for individuals in Australia - Being green and spending green - the trouble with rooftop solar.

This article looks at domestic solar power in Australia, asking: is it worth it?

It does not talk about large-scale solar systems, but focuses on grid-connected solar photovoltaic cells on a home's rooftop. The article looks at it from the perspective of the one who actually decides whether or not to install it: the homeowner. It may or may not be worthwhile from the point of view of society as a whole, but at present the decision is up to the person who owns the house. This article came about from my own research as my household, here in Melbourne, considered getting a rooftop solar photovoltaic system. In the end we've decided not to.

There are several things to consider: vanity, society, systemic, security, environmental, and financial. But first some background. ...

Alternative-Energy Markets Brighten  

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Technology Review report that VC firms are slowly venturing back in to renewable energy investment - Alternative-Energy Markets Brighten.

The sputtering alternative-energy market, which has been mired in a deep slump for at least the last six months, is showing some signs of recovery.

Groups that track investment in alternative energy note substantial declines in the first part of 2009. An Ernst and Young report says that investments in the clean-energy sector fell to $277 million in the first quarter, down from $715 million in the first quarter of 2008. Greentech Media reports $836 million in venture capital was invested in the entire green sector in the first quarter, equivalent to 2007 levels. And one of the largest energy deals in the first quarter was a relatively modest $40 million investment in Kosmos Energy, an oil exploration firm.

But these numbers reflect deals worked on in the fourth quarter of 2008, notes Erik Straser, a partner at venture capitalist Mohr Davidow in Menlo Park, CA. Straser says that now "the climate is gradually improving." Barring a worsening in the economy, such improvement should continue, he says.

Even in the first quarter, there were bright spots. The Ernst and Young report found that more than $100 million was invested in energy storage in the first quarter. Since then, two notable deals in battery companies include $30 million for Deeya Energy, which is developing low-cost, high-capacity batteries with no heavy metals for cellular towers, and a $69 million investment by General Electric in A123, a battery maker based in Watertown, MA. And SunPower, a maker of photovoltaics in San Jose, CA, raised $363 million by selling shares and issuing bonds.

Smart-grid and infrastructure services also did well. In April, EPS, which analyzes energy use and implements improvements for companies, received $30 million from investors. EPS's CEO Jay Zoellner acknowledges that his company's valuation was lower than after its first funding round, completed in 2007. But he says the market is "going to be turning around."

Taken together, the SunPower share sale and the improvement in funding for energy storage and infrastructure show that money is now going into markets with good long-term potential, says Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development. The market tends to "thaw at the least risky sectors and works its way to most risky," he suggests.

Harvesting the Wind  

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Metropolis Magazine has an article on a plan by some French designers to build wind turbines on power transmission pylons (something Bucky Fuller suggested decades ago, though he seems to have been forgotten) - Harvesting the Wind.

From the window of a TGV hurtling through France, the countryside flattens to a smudge—electrical towers rise and recede in clusters, and tall, lanky wind turbines seem to whip off pirouettes like a young Moira Shearer. Most passengers turn their heads, nodding off on a neighbor or burying their noses in Le Monde, but for a tri­umvirate of young designers, the sight is a view of the future. The passing turbines and pylons augur a new way to harness renewable energy in a country that relies almost entirely on nuclear power. “When we’re riding on the train, we al-ways see pylons, and some turbines too,” Nic­ola Delon says. “We say, ‘Both are here. Can’t we mix them together?’”

Delon, who is 31 and an architect, is the recip­ient of Metropolis’s 2009 Next Generation prize, along with Julien Choppin, also a 31-year-old architect, and Raphaël Ménard, a 34-year-old engineer. Their project, Wind-it, addresses this year’s theme—which beseeched entrants to “Fix Our Energy Addiction”—with the effortless simpli­city of a Pythagorean proof. The team proposes inserting wind turbines into existing electrical towers or, where infrastructure is broken or spare, building new towers that double as wind-power generators, thus introducing a fount of renewable energy into an aspect of civilization that’s as certain as taxes. With three potential sizes, the turbine towers could be integrated nearly anywhere: Lille, France, China’s Sichuan Province, or the streets of New York City.

It’s a pitch-perfect echo of the cultural moment. In the past decade, sustainability has become a moral imperative on the order of civil rights. Coun­tries across Europe, including France, are clambering to meet an EU-wide goal of drawing 20 per­cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, and the United States, after eight years of cowboy environmentalism, is finally catching up. President Obama’s stimulus package allocates almost $50 billion to energy, most of it renewable. At the same time, the global economic crisis has turned lavish building plans into symbols of excess and redirected shovels at the long overdue, if unglamorous, task of improving public infrastructure. As Valerie Fletcher, executive dir­ector of the Institute for Human Centered Design and one of the contest’s judges, tells it, this is not an era for designers to tinker at the edges. “Things that might’ve been dismissed as pie in the sky, suddenly we were looking at them for potential practical use,” she says. “This was a time we had to think big.” Plenty of runners-up did just that—one calls for new zoning laws to allow mixed-use development in suburban subdivisions; another hopes to curb driving commutes through a centralized bicycle-loan system—but Delon and his team went a step further. “If you can change how energy is generated,” Fletcher says, “then you really have something that can change how we think about energy and how we use it.”

With its vast stores of largely untapped wind power, France is in many ways the consummate lab­oratory. Gales spread south from the English Chan­nel into Normandy and gather at the shoals of the Mediterranean, where they spring upon the ancient Languedoc-Roussillon with rampart-jolting abandon. The most famous, the mistral (Provençal for “masterful”), is said to master everything in its path; last year, it helped the windsurfer Antoine Albeau capture the world speed record. It is also believed to drive residents to hair-pulling, eye-bulging, bats-in-the-belfry madness, not unlike California’s Santa Ana winds.

France expects to swell its wind-power capacity more than five times over by 2020, a plan that would require an army of new wind farms and has already inspired fierce opposition from the NIMBY brigades—fierce, even, for a country that considers protest a national sport. “There are a lot of people who are against wind turbines because they say it disfigures the landscape,” Delon says. “They say it’s awful and terrible and blah, blah, blah. We don’t agree, because we say, ‘We don’t have a choice. We prefer that instead of more nuclear plants.’”

Ménard has made a career out of marrying good motives to unlikely architecture. As director of Eli­oth, a 20-person conceptual- and experimental-research arm of the large French engineering firm Iosis Group, he has spent six years tackling complex engineering problems that often involve insin­uating sustainable features into structures that aren’t exactly gracious hosts. Among them: Jean Nouvel’s Tour Signal and Valode & Pistre’s Tour Generali, two vanity skyscrapers slated for Paris’s démodé business district. Ménard has been trying to green them with small wind turbines. “This is quite in fashion,” Ménard explains. “It gen­erates between two and five percent of the consumption of the building, but they are still little, tiny things. There is no reason they can’t be bigger.” Thinking about battles over new energy infrastructure, and mindful of the ubiquity of (and relative lack of controversy surrounding) existing infrastructure, Mén­ard started sketching wind turbines wedged into the landscape: on the side of a bridge, crowning an electricity pylon, filling a steel-mesh cone that looks like something out of Mad Max. He sketched the latter in 2006 while riding the TGV to Paris. ...

A group of Stateside experts, including electrical and environmental engineers, a public-utility company, a sustainability consultant, and a wind-turbine manufacturer, reviewed the proposal for technical considerations. The general consensus was that the adaptive-reuse model would be tricky to justify financially. Electricity towers aren’t built to accommodate wind turbines, so they would likely require structural reinforcement, which could be either simple or prohibitively complex. The turbines would generate nom-inal energy—enough to power anywhere from one room in a house to 20 houses a year depending on size and wind speeds. They’re also more expensive up-front than their propeller counterparts, in large part because there isn’t much of a market for them. An added question is whether stacking turbines on top of one another from the ground up, kebablike, as Wind-it does, is the most economical means of capturing scudding gusts. As a rule, the farther you rise into the atmosphere, the more vigorous the winds and the more energy you’re able to harness. “There’s a slight naïveté about wind power’s potential in the design,” says Chris Garvin, a partner with the environmental consultancy Terrapin Bright Green, “but it’s compelling nonetheless.”

A marriage of towers and turbines isn’t unheard of. Urban Green Energy, a wind-power start-up in New York, recently mounted turbines atop the French telecom company Alcatel-Lucent’s cellular-communication spires. The turbines are nearly identical to those detailed in Wind-it. The major difference is that the Alcatel-Lucent system exhausts its power on-site; Wind-it proposes tapping into the grid. Anyone who has listened to Al Gore or (God forbid) T. Boone Pickens on the hustings lately knows that the American power grid is a great big Rube Goldberg machine, and a not very effective one at that. The grid is so clogged, archaic, and small that the areas where Wind-it could be most effective—the windswept prairies of North and South Dakota and the parched plains of Wyoming—are unfit to relay electricity to the cities where it’s most needed. It’s an obstacle for any wind-power entrepreneur in the country. For a fresh enterprise that leans almost entirely on existing infrastructure, it could be the coup de grâce. “The most efficient way to go about this,” says Nick Blitterswyk, cofounder of Urban Green Energy, “would be to build new towers.” Many of the experts we consulted agree. Wind-it XL was designed as a two-in-one package. It minds several, if not all, the issues above and would be best suited to regions where the nuts and bolts of modern civilization remain unassembled.

China plastic bag ban 'has saved 1.6m tonnes of oil'  

Posted by Big Gav

According to The Guardian, China's plastic bag ban reduced oil consumption - China plastic bag ban 'has saved 1.6m tonnes of oil'.

Banning flimsy plastic bags has been dismissed as a drop in the ocean when it comes to dealing with the world's environment problems, but multiplied on a China scale, it appears to have made a big difference.

A new report suggests restrictions on bag usage in the world's most populous nation have saved the equivalent of 1.6 million tonnes of oil, in the year since it was introduced.

Just ahead of the first anniversary of the ban, the China Chain Store and Franchise Association estimated it had saved the country 40 billion plastic bags.

According to their survey, plastic bag use has fallen by two thirds as consumers grow accustomed to bringing their own reusable bags.

The ban was introduced on 1 June 2008 to reduce "white pollution" – the popular term for plastic bags and styrofoam packaging. Under the new rules, the state forbade production of ultra-thin bags under 0.025mm thick and ordered supermarkets to stop giving away free carriers.

Solar Plane Crossing the Alps  

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TreeHugger is pointing to this interesting video of a solar powered plane in action - Best Video You'll See Today: Solar Plane Crossing the Alps.

The Renewables Hump: Digging Out of a Hole  

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Jeff Vail has started a series looking at what I've long called the "EROEI hole" problem - making sure we don't leave the transition to renewables too late and find ourselves stuck in a situation where we have shrinking production of fossil fuels which are produced at ever lower EROEI values, thereby making constructing an alternative energy infrastructure a lot more problematic than it would be today - The Renewables Hump: Digging Out of a Hole.

In the first post in this series, I introduced the general notion that renewable energy requires an up-front investment of energy, and that this may dramatically impact our ability to transition to a renewable-energy economy because the transition effort will initially exacerbate the very energy scarcity that is its impetus. Beyond this general notion that the transition to renewables first requires exacerbating our current energy scarcity, the time that it takes a renewable source of energy to return the up-front energy invested in it becomes especially critical. Here’s a quick example (for the simplicity of these examples, I'm assuming that 100% of energy requirement is up-front with no maintenance requirement):

Let’s say you want to transition 1 million Barrels of Oil Equivalent per year (mBOE/y) of current global energy to a renewable source this year. If this renewable source (a concentrating solar power plant, for example), has an EROEI of 20:1, and will generate for the full-power equivalent of 40 years, then it will take roughly 2 years for the solar plant to return the energy invested in it. Over the course of 40 years it will generate 40 mBOE, and it will take the equivalent of 2 mBOE of energy invested up-front to enter operation. While this return-on-investment seems excellent, this up front investment of 2 mBOE is still very significant—it is an increase in global energy consumption roughly equal to the decrease caused by the current economic crisis—but the reward of a mBOE of renewable generation capacity every year for the next 40 years seem well worth the price. With this kind of EROEI, a transition to a renewable energy economy seems feasible, and it may be possible to affect such a transition quite quickly.

What happens if the EROEI of that renewable is actually only 4:1? Now it takes 10 mBOE to bring this renewable capacity into operation, and you won’t pay this back for ten years. In the meantime, where are we going to find an extra 10 mBOE beyond what we currently need to fuel our economy? The answer is that, of course, we won’t. We’ll instead reallocate our existing energy supply, displacing the most highly elastic 10 mBOE in demand. Prices will spike. And this is only to create 1 mBOE of renewable capacity each year. That’s enough to compensate for a decline rate of about 1.2% in global oil production—far lower than most post-peak projections, and less than ½ of 1% of total global energy use. Of course, renewables with an EROEI below 4:1 would present an even less feasible scenario.

This is an extremely simplistic example intended only to introduce the problem (more detailed examples will follow), but it highlights two issues:

First, the type of net-energy barriers illustrated by these examples only become an issue when significant amounts of renewable capacity are in the pipeline at once. If we continue to bring insignificant amounts of renewable energy online each year (compared to what will be needed to affect a transition within a few decades, or to keep pace with fossil-energy descent), then the impact of the up-front energy investment will be similarly insignificant. This may seem like a tautology, but it explains one important point: this “renewables hump” is a novel issue lurking below the surface of current discussion precisely because we have not yet encountered it with current renewable energy projects—and we won’t until we begin a serious effort to transition to renewables. At that point, failure to understand this problem may be catastrophic.

Second, EROEI--how we measure it, and what its true value is for a given technology--is critical to the feasibility of any transition to renewable energy. If EROEI is high enough, then it is possible to rapidly transition to renewable energy sources and get ahead of the peak oil (and peak fossil fuels in general) decline curve, especially because renewables will soon be able to provide enough energy to bootstrap their own production to a significant degree. However, lower EROEI values will make transition increasingly challenging, and below some threshold a low net-energy value will render transition entirely impracticable.

In order to facilitate a transition of our civilization to renewable energy, renewables must offer more than a high EROEI ratio alone. Time to pay back energy invested also becomes critical, as does generation/production life after payback—these figures must be considered separately and in unison. Consider, for example, the difference between two renewable sources, both with an EROEI of 5:1, but one with a lifespan of 10 years and another with a lifespan of 50 years. The 10-year option may appear inferior, but it represents a payback time of only 2 years—this means that the renewable can begin to bootstrap the energy for its replacement at a much more rapid pace, making it far more scaleable from a net-energy perspective. Conversely, the 50-year option won’t pay back its initial investment for 10 years, making it much more difficult to scale rapidly enough to address time-critical issues such as peak oil without an increased (and likely impractical) up-front investment of energy. To consider the mechanics of transitioning to renewable energy, we must be aware of all these measures: EROEI ratio, payback time, production/generation lifespan.

Now that the problem has been more clearly defined, the future course of this series will make more sense. In the next post I will look at problems in EROEI measurement methodology, and discuss both the potential to address system-boundary issues and the challenges posed by our inability to precisely measure EROEI. In the following two posts, I will analyze the possible EROEI measures for current renewable energy options presented by solar and wind energy. I will also discuss the transition potential presented by these technologies. If I have time, I will also look at the EROEI for geothermal, tidal, nuclear (with a discussion of the issue that fission reactors are non-renewable, and that so-called "fast-breeder" reactors have yet to be proven), and biofuels. More likely, however, I will skip these later renewable options for the moment to continue with this series as a whole, and revisit them individually at a later date...

A New Wave Farm For Portugal  

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While the last Portuguese wave power experiment wasn't exactly successful (see Pelamis' ill-fated experiment), people are still trying - Renewable Energy World reports - Orecon Signs Landmark Deal With Eneolica for 4.5-MW Wave Farm in Portugal

Orecon, the Cornish wave energy device developer, has signed an agreement with Portuguese developer Eneólica to establish a Joint Venture company to build and deploy Orecon's first full scale 1.5 MW MRC wave energy buoy. The site will be connected to the Portuguese electricity grid and deliver power for up to 1500 homes.

When the first unit has been connected, two further MRCs will be added to the site, increasing the power output to 4.5 MW making it the world's largest operating wave farm to date and providing power for nearly 5000 homes. The partners intend to develop further multi-megawatt sites in Portugal over the next 10 years.

Are we entering an age of reverse-globalization ?  

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Tyler Hailton at Clean Break has a review of Jeff Rubin's book "Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization" - Are we entering an age of reverse-globalization ?.

The International Energy Agency is getting a bit worried. It sees that low oil prices — or at least low compared to last summer — have led to under-investment in energy infrastructure, particularly exploration of oil and gas. It also knows that when the economy shifts into recovery mode demand will pick up fast and supply will be slow to respond. It predicts there will be a supply crunch by 2012, and of course that means oil prices will be rocketing back up.

This scenario, of course, may be understating the problem about to hit world economies, says former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin, whose new book Why Your World Is Going to Get a Whole Lot Smaller hit the market today. I’ve got a feature book review here, but in a nutshell Rubin believes conventional oil production has already peaked and unconventional production won’t be able to keep up with demand once global economies recover, and not just because of the incredible appetite the Chinese have for oil. Rubin argues that excessive consumption in the Middle East, massive local subsidies there for oil, and the use of oil-fired power plants to run energy-intensive desalination facilities will shrink the amount of oil supply that OPEC puts on the world market. Ultracheap cars to appear in India and likely to spread around the world, thanks to Tata Motors, will mean even more demand for oil products.

Oil prices are destined to once against skyrocket into triple-digit territory, and the impact will be inflation on everything, including our food and the fuel we use to drive our cars and heat/power our homes. In fact, gas prices will become so high that people will be forced to ditch their cars, housing prices in the suburbs will plunge, urban areas will grow more dense, and there will be a renaissance in local agriculture and urban farmers’ markets. The high cost of transporting goods from far-off markets will lead to the re-emergence of domestic manufacturing. High oil will override any labour-cost benefits that countries such as China can offer.

What Rubin is describing is essentially a deathblow to globalization and a return to regional economic trade, similar to what world trading patterns were like in the 1970s. And he’s not describing what the world will look like in 20, or even 10 years. I had a chance to meet Rubin for a quick coffee last week and he told me we’ll begin seeing the pattern emerge within the next 18 months, and that smart businesses and people should begin to adjust their lifestyle now if they hope to minimize the pain and discomfort of adapting to a new world. I told him I’m loving the fact I have a variable interest rate mortgage and am paying 1.35 per cent interest right now. His response: lock in now, cause it will be short-lived. It really got me thinking about my own situation.

Will we all be caught off guard by what’s to come if Rubin is right?

What’s interesting about Rubin is that he left a well-respected, high-paying job after 20 years at a major Canadian bank to focus exclusively on delivering the above message. And he’s not alone in trying to paint a picture of the smaller world to come. Christopher Steiner, a senior staff reporter at Forbes magazine, will be delivering a similar message when his new book, $20 Per Gallon, launches this July. Seems we’ve moved on from talk of reaching peak oil to discussion of how peak oil will impact us now that it’s here.

Rubin isn’t saying we’re going to have to stop using oil or that we’re going to run out. What he’s saying is that it’s going to become so expensive that it will cause inflation everywhere and will force many people, many businesses, to seek alternatives or simply get by with using less. With the exception of using less (i.e. conservation), all other options will be expensive. The oil companies don’t care, of course, because they’ll get top dollar for the barrels they do sell. The rest of us, we’ll just be screwed.

If you do get your hands on Rubin’s book I urge you to read Chapter 7 — “Just How Big Is Cleveland — in which he provides an excellent explanation of how high oil prices last summer caused the recession we are in right now. Rubin says high oil led to inflation, which equals higher interest rates, which caused many U.S. homeowners to default on their mortgages when they came up for renewal. When that started to happen the dominos began to fall and this exposed the underbelly of the mortgage-back securites fiasco that led to the crisis on Wall Street. High oil prices knocked down the house of cards that Wall Street had built over the years.

Chinese Oil: Google Images Show Growing Crude Storage in China  

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The WSJ reports that satellite images are being used to estimate the capacity of China's SPR - Chinese Oil: Google Images Show Growing Crude Storage in China.

The economic recovery may yet tarry, and oil demand is still anemic, but there might be a solid reason crude oil has perched above $60 a barrel. Energy analysts at Sanford Bernstein say eye-in-the-sky satellite images from Google show the Chinese are packing away a rising amount of crude in storage tanks.

“Our analysis confirms that tanker capacity arrivals into China have spiked up in recent months, in line with imports, but more importantly, tanker arrivals into Strategic Petroleum Reserve ports have increased materially,” Bernstein says Friday in a research report.

Just as satellite imaging has helped fuel debate over the true state of oil supplies—especially in Saudi Arabia—the new technology promises to give oil-market watchers a chance to crack the demand side of the puzzle too.

Bernstein estimates that the amount of crude entering the SPR ports in China—the world’s second biggest oil consumer after the U.S.–has increased by around 400,000 barrels a day since November, based on its assessment using the satellite imaging services of Google, the search engine company.

Those barrels are tiny in the overall scheme of the global oil market, but when crude consumption has gone negative in the U.S. and elsewhere, those added barrels do matter.

“While overall demand in China has slowed, the effort to increase crude storage levels, while oil prices are low, has added some incremental support to the global oil market,” Bernstein says. Crude traded Friday up around 50 cents at about $61.50 a barrel, near a six-month peak.

There’s likely more to come. Bernstein says satellite images show a marked increase in oil-storage construction over the past few years and estimates that China’s number of days of forward demand–a gauge of oil storage–amount to just 28 days of imports and 14 days of total demand.

Solar Carbon Payback  

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WorldChanging has a post on the net energy return of thin film solar - Solar Carbon Payback.

Some naysayers argue that solar panels don't make sense because it takes so much energy to make them--mining, smelting or refining, processing, etc. Do they really save fossil fuel energy and greenhouse gas emissions over the long run? The simple answer is yes. They save a whole lot. But then the question is: what kinds of solar panels are better than others?

A recent life-cycle analysis published at the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) showed that in a nice sunny place like Spain, PV panels reach energy payback (when they've saved as much fossil fuel as it took to make them) in about one to three years, depending on the type of panel. Interestingly, the new thin-film chemistry cadmium telluride (CdTe) fared best at 1.1 year despite having the lowest efficiency (9%), while monocrystalline silicon fared worst at 2.7 years despite having the highest efficiency (14%). This may seem counterintuitive, but the explanation is simple: it takes a lot less energy to make CdTe film. See the graph below, which shows greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacture of different kinds of PV panels (each kind scaled to the same lifetime power production). (The four bars on the right, "Case 3", is US data.)

If your climate is less sunny than Spain, there will obviously be a longer payback time; but most of the continental US gets as much solar radiation as the location in the study. (It got 1,700 kWh/m^2/year, which is 4.7 kWh/m^2/day. As the map below shows, basically everywhere in the continental US is this sunny or better, except for the Pacific Northwest, upper Midwest, and New England.) ...

Though thin-film PV panels have been in the market for more than a decade, the new chemistries that are coming to maturity (mostly CdTe and copper indium gallium selenide, "CIGS") are fundamentally changing the game. They are still not as efficient, but they are good enough, and they are far cheaper (up to 1/3 the cost per watt), even before reaching true economies of scale from mass-manufacturing. Now we see that they are environmentally preferable as well, since they have faster energy payback times. In the years ahead, crystalline silicon will become relegated to satellites, mobile systems, and other applications where compactness is king, while thin-film PV will be the default style. Crystalline prices will stay high, but thin-film prices will continue to drop steadily until they hit grid parity (arguably they have already), at which point they will plummet because manufacturing will ramp up massively. CdTe and CIGS will ultimately be price-limited by the rarity of their ingredients; the next wave after them will be dye-sensitized solar cells, made from common titanium dioxide and organic dyes. It'll be probably ten years or more before those dominate, though, and in that much time, who knows what other chemistries will come along? In any case, keep an eye out for it: the future of PV is thin.

Cheap Food  

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National Geographic has an article on the "global food crisis" and the "end of plenty" - Cheap Food.

It is the simplest, most natural of acts, akin to breathing and walking upright. We sit down at the dinner table, pick up a fork, and take a juicy bite, obliv­ious to the double helping of global ramifications on our plate. Our beef comes from Iowa, fed by Nebraska corn. Our grapes come from Chile, our bananas from Honduras, our olive oil from Sicily, our apple juice—not from Washington State but all the way from China. Modern society has relieved us of the burden of growing, harvesting, even preparing our daily bread, in exchange for the burden of simply paying for it. Only when prices rise do we take notice. And the consequences of our inattention are profound.

Last year the skyrocketing cost of food was a wake-up call for the planet. Between 2005 and the summer of 2008, the price of wheat and corn tripled, and the price of rice climbed fivefold, spurring food riots in nearly two dozen countries and pushing 75 million more people into poverty. But unlike previous shocks driven by short-term food shortages, this price spike came in a year when the world's farmers reaped a record grain crop. This time, the high prices were a symptom of a larger problem tugging at the strands of our worldwide food web, one that's not going away anytime soon. Simply put: For most of the past decade, the world has been consuming more food than it has been producing. After years of drawing down stockpiles, in 2007 the world saw global carryover stocks fall to 61 days of global consumption, the second lowest on record.

"Agricultural productivity growth is only one to two percent a year," warned Joachim von Braun, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., at the height of the crisis. "This is too low to meet population growth and increased demand."

High prices are the ultimate signal that demand is outstripping supply, that there is simply not enough food to go around. Such agflation hits the poorest billion people on the planet the hardest, since they typically spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food. Even though prices have fallen with the imploding world economy, they are still near record highs, and the underlying problems of low stockpiles, rising population, and flattening yield growth remain. Climate change—with its hotter growing seasons and increasing water scarcity—is projected to reduce future harvests in much of the world, raising the specter of what some scientists are now calling a perpetual food crisis.

So what is a hot, crowded, and hungry world to do? ...

Europe's Largest Onshore Wind Farm Switched on in Scotland  

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Renewable Energy World has a report on a new Scottish wind farm - Europe's Largest Onshore Wind Farm Is Switched on in Scotland.

Today, the final phase of Europe's largest onshore wind farm is being turned on in Scotland. The 322-megawatt (MW), 140-turbine Whitelee wind farm was built by ScottishPower Renewables, which is part of the Spanish power business Iberdrola.

In Spain and internationally, the Iberdrola Group, is the world’s largest developer of wind power, with nearly 9700 MW of installed capacity. The wind farm uses Siemens 2.3-MW machines.

Positioned 370 meters (1200 feet) above sea level, 15 kilometers (9 miles) outside of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, the new wind farm has over half a million people living within a 30-km radius of it. It’s one of the first large-scale wind farms to be constructed close to a large population center. The first phase of the wind farm started feeding power into the grid in January 2008.

Potentially, the wind farm could be extended to a massive 600 MW: this became more likely today when a proposal to extend the existing scheme by another 130 MW was been approved by the Scottish Government, thus powering an additional 70,000 homes.

But the company is also carrying out scoping work on a potential second extension, which could add a further 140 MW. It is anticipated that an official planning application will be submitted for this later in the summer.

New York City's Dragonfly A Locavore Wet Dream  

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TreeHugger has an Inhabitat style green building fantasy, this one a vertical farm proposed for New York - New York City's Dragonfly A Locavore Wet Dream.

Architect Vincent Callebaut will have locavores drooling if his 128-floor vertical farm concept is actually realized.

The Dubai-esque Dragonfly addresses issues like food production and agriculture in cities that are horizontally-challenged for space like New York City. The concept supports housing, offices, laboratories and twenty-eight different agricultural fields.

Set at the Southern bank of New York's Roosevelt Island, the Belgium-designed Dragonfly consists of two towers and is completely Hobbit free. It's a 2,000 foot tall structure that harnesses both solar and wind power. In fact, it's completely self-sufficient!

The exterior gardens are used for capturing and filtering rain water. Using the water, and domestic liquid waste, the water is recirculated and used for irrigation.

The greenhouse, which gives the structure its wing-like design, supports the load of the building and is inspired by the structural exoskeleton of dragonfly wings.

Taiwan’s Solar Stadium is 100% Powered by the Sun  

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Green building of the week from Inhabitat is this Taiwanese soccer stadium - Taiwan’s Solar Stadium is 100% Powered by the Sun. Check the link for some great photos. They've also got a post on an interesting office development in Spain - Madrid’s ‘Distrito C’ Self Shading Solar Office.

Taiwan recently finished construction on an incredible solar-powered stadium that will generate 100% of its electricity from photovoltaic technology! Designed by Toyo Ito, the dragon-shaped 50,000 seat arena is clad in 8,844 solar panels that illuminate the track and field with 3,300 lux. The project will officially open later this year to welcome the 2009 World Games.

Building a new stadium is always a massive undertaking that requires millions of dollars, substantial physical labor, and a vast amount of electricity to keep it operating. Toyo Ito’s design negates this energy drain with a stunning 14,155 sq meter solar roof that is able to provide enough energy to power the stadium’s 3,300 lights and two jumbo vision screens. To illustrate the incredible power of this system, officials ran a test this January and found that it took just six minutes to power up the stadium’s entire lighting system!

The stadium also integrates additional green features such as permeable paving and the extensive use of reusable, domestically made materials. Built upon a clear area of approximately 19 hectares, nearly 7 hectares has been reserved for the development of integrated public green spaces, bike paths, sports parks, and an ecological pond. Additionally, all of the plants occupying the area before construction were transplanted

Google's Got Goats  

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It seems to be Google night here tonight - here's another one, this time on their use of goats as lawnmowers from MNN - Google got goats.

As environmentalism hits the mainstream, gas-guzzling lawnmowers are giving way to -- goats. The latest goat-getter is Google, which decided to rent some goats from California Grazing to mow the fields at its Mountain View headquarters (via Treehugger). Dan Hoffman, director of Real Estate and Workplace Services, explains how the process works on the Official Google Blog:
A herder brings about 200 goats and they spend roughly a week with us at Google, eating the grass and fertilizing at the same time. The goats are herded with the help of Jen, a border collie. It costs us about the same as mowing, and goats are a lot cuter to watch than lawn mowers.

In fact, goats can serve as unusual live entertainment in urban areas. Last September, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency brought in goats to clean up a steep downtown area -- prompting passersby to stop and watch. "Some wondered whether the goats were part of a movie scene or some kind of performance art, while others made jokes about the approaching lunch hour and goat barbecue," reported the L.A. Times, which also noted that the goats' services were several thousand dollars cheaper -- and a lot more eco-friendly -- than a weed whacking crew.

Mesa, Ariz., also had goats clean up 30 acres earlier this year. In addition to saving money, the goats also just do a better job than polluting machines, according to the City of Mesa's website:
Goats possess a unique characteristic that separates them from almost all other types of livestock; they will eat just about anything resembling a plant. They can clear vegetation from hard-to-reach places, and they'll eat the seeds that pesticides and mowing leave behind, preventing vegetation from coming back next year.

Efficient! Got goats in your neighborhood?

South Korea completes Uldolmok tidal plant  

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International Water power magazine reports that the first phase of a South Korean tidal power plant has been completed - South Korea completes Uldolmok tidal plant.

South Korea has completed construction of the first tidal power plant, at Uldolmok, and the installed capacity is to be incrementally increased over the next four years.

Starting with 1MW of capacity the plant will be increased in size to 90MW by 2013. Construction of the Uldolmok plant began in 2005.

While the plant, located in the Jindo region, is a milestone for the country it is much smaller than the tidal scheme at Sihwa, which is currently being built. The Sihwa plant will have an installed capacity of 254MW. ...

In late 2006, Voith Hydro (then Voith Siemens Hydro) also became active in tidal developments in South Korea with plans for a joint venture agreed with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co, Posco, Renetex and the provicial government of Jeonnan. The JV was signed two years ago and has been looking at construction of a 600MW plant in Wando province.

Separately, Korean Midland Power Co and UK firm Lunar Energy are examining construction of a 300MW tidal scheme at Wando Hoenggan Water Way. The technology would be supplied by Rotech Engineering and Hyundai.

Google's Street View Tricycle  

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Daimler grabs Tesla stake in electric-car push  

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CNet reports that Daimler is climbing on the electric car bandwagon by grabbing on to Tesle Motors - Daimler grabs Tesla stake in electric-car push.

German automotive giant Daimler has invested in electric-car company Tesla Motors and plans to use Tesla's battery packs in its Smart electric car due later this year.

At a Tuesday press conference held at the Daimler museum in Stuttgart, Germany, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Daimler management board member Thomas Weber said the contract between the two companies calls for joint collaboration on the Smart electric car and future models.

Daimler has invested a "double-digit million-dollar sum" to acquire about a 10 percent stake in California-based Tesla, Weber said.

"We are about to combine the best of the old and new school," Weber said during a press conference, which was Webcast. "We are both deeply convinced that electric powertrains will play a major role in sustainability mobility."

The two companies last year announced that Tesla would supply the lithium ion battery for the Electric Smart EV, a small town car. Telsa designs and makes the packs using battery cells used in consumer electronics.

Daimler plans to test those cars this year and to mass-produce the Electric Smart EV in 2012, Weber said.

The company, which has been working on electric-vehicle technology since the 1970s, chose to partner and invest in Tesla to help Daimler bring cars to market quickly, Weber added. "The first priority was to find the quickest and most straightforward solution," he said.

Google Energized about first PowerMeter partners  

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Google has an update on the "Power Meter" program - Energized about our first Google PowerMeter partners.

Earlier this year I blogged about energy information and a tool our engineers developed called Google PowerMeter, a Google gadget that can show consumers their personal electricity consumption right on a home computer. Our software relies on "smart meters" (or other metering devices) as a data source. Over the past several months we've been looking to partner with utilities that are installing (or have already installed) this equipment in their customers' homes. We're energized by our very first Google PowerMeter partners:

* San Diego Gas & Electric® (California)
* TXU Energy (Texas)
* JEA (Florida)
* Reliance Energy (India)
* Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (Wisconsin)
* White River Valley Electric Cooperative (Missouri)
* Toronto Hydro–Electric System Limited (Canada)
* Glasgow EPB (Kentucky)

Our initial partners include utilities with millions of customers as well as smaller ones. They are rural and urban, privately held and municipally run. Some are in the United States, others in Canada and India. They all have one thing in common — a desire to serve their customers by providing access to detailed information that helps save energy and money. For now, Google PowerMeter is only available to a limited group of customers, but we plan to expand our roll out later this year. Our utility partners are leading the charge to make the electricity grid smarter and we look forward to working with them and others.

In addition to utilities, we're also seeking partnerships with companies that can enable the implementation of our software. Our first such partner is Itron, a leading meter and data management company that serves over 8,000 utilities and is helping some of their customers, including San Diego Gas & Electric, integrate with Google PowerMeter. If you're a utility or company with a smart meter project that might be interested in plugging in to our efforts, visit our website for more information.

Live Local  

Posted by Big Gav in

A new social media site for "experiments in local living" has been launched called "Live Local" which should be of interest to those of you interested in relocalisation and related ideas like the Transition Towns movement.

The site aims to be "a place to share stories and ideas about improving your community", with the user generated ideas and stories being dubbed "experiments".

live local is a project which we’ve developed as a joint social venture with Piers Dawson-Damer. The website is a place to share stories about improving our communities. It makes it easy for local residents to document their experiences and adventures meeting neighbours, discovering neighbourhoods, supporting local economies, saving energy, water and much more.

At its heart the project encourages people to take more time to connect and engage with their community. I think its clear the alternative; working crazy hours to earn more money to more buy ’stuff’ while leaving us little time to get to know our neighbours and spend time with family and friends, has spectacularly failed. Many of us crave a smarter way of living; one that makes us happier.

As part of the launch of the site, they have issued the "live local challenge", which encourages people to "live local" for a week.
In honour of [the launch] we have a few exciting things happening. Perhaps most exciting of all (next to the launch itself, which is of course hyperactively exciting) is the live local challenge. Two fantastic Sydney-area ladies, Kate Carruthers and Rebecca Varidel, will be living local for seven straight days starting next Wednesday, and blogging and Twittering about it all the while.

You can follow their progress here, and also in real time by following them: @kcarruthers and @frombecca. (You can follow us, too: @livelocal)

Better still, take the challenge yourself and compare notes and experiences. Here's the brief:

Your challenge is to live local for a week – seven days – and to document your efforts to do so. You can do this anytime.

What is living local?

To live local is to make the most of your community.

* meeting your neighbours and the people who work in your community
* eating delicious food grown as close to where you live as possible
* minimising use of fossil fuels, especially for transport*

* This will be the hardest one for a lot of people. Walking, bicycles and public transit are good ways to reduce (and to keep you closer to your own neighbourhood!). But this challenge is about experimenting and being creative, not about absolutes. See rules #2 and #3 below. ...

I was somewhat surprised to get invited to the launch of the site (apparently I now count as "media", at least in green circles), which was held at a great little bar and restaurant in Surry Hills called "Table For 20" (with organic beer coming from the guys around the corner at Single Origin).

Most of the attendees really were inner eastern suburbs locals, but the restaurant did struggle a little to create a truly local meal, with some ingredients coming from more than 500 km away (it was great food, but 500 km+ probably doesn't count as part of the local "foodshed"), and was a good example of the difficulty of trying to apply relocalisation ideas to large metropolises like Sydney.

I was lucky enough to be sitting with a good group of people - Guy Rundle from Crikey (whom I've quoted here from time to time), Peter from Transition Sydney, Rod from New Matilda, Mickie from Channel 10's Guerilla Gardeners show, Dan Cass and the lovely Jess from Digital Eskimo and Friends of the Earth.
The live local project officially greets the world today. To our pre-launch members, thanks for all your help and experimentation. To our new members: Hey, very glad you're here. Make yourself at home.

To kick things off, we had a few people over for dinner last night, and we've got some details and photos after the jump.

Our launch dinner was held at Table for 20 in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills. It's a wonderful space with a deliberately communal atmosphere and a commendable local focus. Everyone dines together at two long tables (each of which seats 20) and food is shared and passed around à la family dining table.

The dinner guests included gardeners, politicians, businesspeople, media personalities and behind-the-scenesters, sustainability experts, community organisers … and Chris Gaul and Jeremy Epstein, the designer and developer, respectively, of this site (who don't get nearly enough credit), and Kate Bedwell, who ran the event like a pro.

It all started with me doing my best impression of a talented MC. I then introduced Dave Gravina and Piers Dawson-Damer, who in turn introduced the project to the room.

Table for 20 owner Michael Fantuz then told us what we were eating. We had challenged him to make the meal as local as possible … which surely conflicted with his usual mandate to get the best food possible. So his description of the homemade food included the number of kilometres it had travelled to get to our tables. Michael wouldn't compromise on cheese – it travelled furthest, from Victoria (the closest place to get real buffalo mozzarella, it turns out); the tomatoes and basil came from Michael's father's garden, about 15 kilometres from Surry Hills. Not a bad effort, and a good learning experience.

The vibe in the room was superpositive, with 40 people who love communities sharing food and stories. Michael Mobbs, a sustainability consultant and (I'm assigning this title to him) community activist, gave a talk about his various projects in Chippendale; the rest of the room was wowed (and surely inspired) by his wry tales of local composting, stingless native bees, community gardening and more. The rest of the room was also probably scared by his contention that Australia will suffer food scarcity within the next 5 to 10 years.

After the most delicious pappardelle of my life (wow, there's some ironic distance between this paragraph and the previous one), I introduced Mickie Quick, an artist, designer and community activist who moonlights on Channel 10's Guerrilla Gardeners. He talked about the boundaries, both real and imagined, that hinder positive social change – communities have power to encourage creativity, but also to stifle it. Mickie's prescription for de-stifling, and for inspiring more vibrant communities in general, was to take risks. To try stuff. To experiment. Which is precisely what live local is about.

Finally, we introduced our first live local challengees, Rebecca Varidel and Kate Carruthers, who have embarked today on the first of seven straight days of trying to live locally.

Ultra-Efficient Organic LEDs  

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Technology Review has an update on cheap, energy efficient OLED lighting - Ultra-Efficient Organic LEDs.

An organic light-emitting diode (OLED) developed in Germany has the potential to produce the same quality of white light as incandescent bulbs but with power efficiencies considerably better than even fluorescent lighting.

The prototype OLED could emerge as an ultra-efficient light source for displays and general lighting, says Sebastian Reineke, who led the research at the Institute for Applied Photophysics, in Dresden, Germany. The long-term goal is to fabricate the device using conventional low-cost roll-to-roll printing.

In recent years, many countries have begun looking to switch from incandescent lighting to compact fluorescent bulbs because the latter are so much more energy efficient. There has also been a lot of interest in using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for displays and general lighting, again because of the potential energy savings they offer.

But with both fluorescent and LED lighting, the quality of white light produced has always left something to be desired. Fluorescent lighting can make people appear unhealthy because less red light is emitted, while most white LEDs on the market today have a bluish quality, making them appear cold.

In contrast, OLEDs can be made from a wide range of materials, so achieving good-quality white light is less challenging, says Reineke. It has not been the quality of light that has let OLEDs down but rather their efficiencies. Fluorescent lighting typically operates at around 60 to 70 lumens per watt, while incandescent bulbs operate at about 10 to 17 lumens per watt. In contrast, says Reineke, the best reported power efficiency of an OLED until now was 44 lumens per watt.

In this week's issue of the journal Nature, Reineke and his colleagues report a novel structural design for an OLED that exhibits efficiencies of 90 lumens per watt and shows potential to go up to 124 lumens per watt.

"These efficiencies are very compelling," says Peter Kazlas, director of device development for QD Vision, a company based in Cambridge, MA, that's developing quantum-dot-based LED lighting.

"OLEDs have the potential to grow into a really very energy-efficient light source," adds Kristin Knappstein, business-development manager at Philips Lighting, in Aachen, Germany. Her company already has an OLED lighting product on the market called Lumiblade. "In production, we achieve levels of between 15 and 20 lumens per watt," she says, adding that the ultimate potential is for the technology to reach efficiencies as high as 150 lumens per watt.

Also at Tech Review, an article on using quantum dots in LED lighting - Quantum Leap in Lighting.
Seth Coe-Sullivan flicks the switches on two desk lamps, and even from across the conference room, it's immediately obvious which light the chief technology officer of QD Vision is there to brag about. The light coming from the lamp on the left is a harsh bluish white. The lamp on the right casts a warmer, more yellow glow. Coe-Sullivan holds a hand under each lamp. The hand under the bluish light looks pale and sickly; the other looks darker and healthier. The harsher light lacks wavelengths in the red end of the spectrum, so there's no light to illuminate the reddish tinge that blood provides to human skin.

QD Vision, based in Watertown, MA, is promoting a new LED-based lamp that it made with Nexxus Lighting of Charlotte, NC. Nexxus makes a lamp designed to screw into standard sockets used in recessed ceiling lighting. It consists of an array of white-light LEDs encircled by fins that remove excess heat. QD Vision adds an optic--a plastic cover with a special coating that snaps into place over the LEDs.

It's that coating that makes the difference in the quality of the light. It consists of quantum dots--tiny bits of semiconductor material just a few nanometers in diameter. When excited by a light source--in this case, the LEDs--quantum dots radiate light in a wavelength that varies according to the size of the dot: a two-nanometer dot gives off blue light, a four-nanometer dot emits green, and a six-nanometer dot produces red. The company makes the dots in controlled sizes, then mixes them in the right ratio to get the desired color.

This color-tailoring ability solves one of the major problems with using LEDs for general lighting applications. LEDs are appealing because they last for years, use perhaps 20 percent of the electricity of a standard incandescent bulb, and are highly efficient at converting electricity into visible light instead of into heat. But to make white light, you either have to mix together LEDs of different colors or use a blue LED coated with a phosphor that emits yellow light to produce a whitish mix. The problem with the phosphors is that they don't emit evenly across the visible spectrum. They tend to have gaps in the green section and even more so in the red, leading to the harsher, bluish light. "You can't precisely tailor phosphors anywhere in the visible spectrum," says Dan Button, QD Vision's CEO.

PG&E and BrightSource Sign Contracts for Over 1,300 MW of Solar Thermal  

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Renewable Energy World reports that PG&E has increased the size of its contracts for solar thermal power from Brightsource Energy to 1300 MW - PG&E and BrightSource Sign Contracts for Over 1,300 MW of Solar Thermal.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced yesterday that it has entered into a series of contracts with BrightSource Energy, Inc. for a record total of 1,310 megawatts (MW) of solar thermal power. These power purchase agreements, covering seven projects, supersede the agreements PG&E executed with BrightSource in April 2008 for up to 900 MW of solar thermal power.

The first of these solar power plants, sized at 110 MW and located in Ivanpah, California, is contracted to begin operation in 2012. BrightSource says it will build andl operatate each of its plants as quickly as permitting and infrastructure allow.

More at Next 100 - The Solar Boom in Perspective.
Yesterday's announcement of the record solar deal between PG&E and BrightSource Energy was a major endorsement of the future of clean, renewable solar power in California. But it's important to remember that word "future." Solar is coming on so fast, we sometimes forget how small it still is.

The latest statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) show solar contributing just 0.08 percent of all energy (electric, thermal and other) consumed in the United States in 2007.

For 2008, EIA estimates the total amount of solar electricity generation capacity at 1,200 megawatts (MW), compared to 25,000 MW for wind and just under 1,000,000 MW from all sources. In other words, solar represents just 0.12% of U.S. generation capacity.

Finally, the contribution of solar to actual power output--taking into account that solar facilities don't create power at night--was only 2 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), compared to 53 billion kWh for wind. Total retail electricity sales in the United States were about 3,800 billion kWh. By my calculation, solar represented only 0.05 percent of the total.
sunpowerinstallationspain.jpg

So think of solar as a small acorn that's just sprouted. The Solar Electric Industries Association reports that the United States added 292 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity to the electric grid last year. That represents an 81 percent increase over the capacity added in 2007, an accelerating growth rate relative to previous years.

And there's lots more capacity in the pipeline. PG&E alone has contracts for more than 2,000 MW of solar power, nearly double the entire installed capacity of grid-connected solar in the United States today.

The trade journal PHOTON International reported in March that a staggering total of about 83,000 MW of new solar capacity is in "various stages of product development in North America . . . roughly equal to the current summer peak demand for electricity in California, Arizona and Nevada."

However, one of the unsettling facts the journal also noted was that the land requirements for all that capacity could be "nearly as large as the US state of Rhode Island."

You can bet that the future of the solar power industry will depend as much on its skill and wisdom in negotiating land-use agreements as it will on continuing to improve the price-performance of its technology.

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