Was Moore's Law Inevitable?  

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Kevin Kelly has an interesting (and long) article on the history of Moore's Law and exponential growth in technological capability, including some notes on its relevance for solar PV production - Was Moore's Law Inevitable?.

Finally, in a another reference, Mead adds : "Permission to believe that [the Law] will keep going," is what keeps the Law going. Moore agrees in a 1996 article: "More than anything, once something like this gets established, it becomes more or less a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Semiconductor Industry Association puts out a technology road map, which continues this [generational improvement] every three years. Everyone in the industry recognizes that if you don't stay on essentially that curve they will fall behind. So it sort of drives itself."

The " technology road map" produced by Semiconductor Industry Association in the 1990s was a major tool in cementing the role of Moore's law in chips and society. According to David Brock, author of Understanding Moore's Law, the SIA road map "transformed Moore's law from a prediction to a self-fulfilling prophecy. It spelled out what needed to be accomplished, and when." A major factor in semiconductor manufacturing process are the photoresist masks which craft the thin etched conducting wires on a chip. The masks have to get smaller in order for the chip to get smaller. Elsa Reichmanis is the foremost photoresist technical guru in Silicon Valley. She says, "Advances in the [process] technology today are largely driven by the Semiconductor Industry Association." Raj Gupta, a materials scientist and CEO of Rohm and Haas, declares "They" -- the SIA road map -- "say what performance they need [for new electronic materials], and by which date." Andrew Odlyzko from AT&T Bell Laboratories concurs: "Management is *not* telling a researcher, 'You are the best we could find, here are the tools, please go off and find something that will let us leapfrog the competition.' Instead, the attitude is, 'Either you and your 999 colleagues double the performance of our microprocessors in the next 18 months, to keep up with the competition, or you are fired.'" Gordon Moore reiterated the importance of SIA in a 2005 interview with Charlie Rose: "the Semiconductor Industry Association put out a roadmap for the technology for the industry that took into account these exponential growths to see what research had to be done to make sure we could stay on that curve. So it's kind of become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Clearly, expectations of future progress guide current investments. The inexorable curve of Moore's Law helps focus money and intelligence on very specific goals -- keeping up with the Law. The only problem with accepting these self-constructed goals as the source of such regular progress is that other technologies which might benefit from the same belief do not show the same zooming curve. We witness steady, quantifiable progress in other solid state technologies such as solar photovoltaic panels -- which are also made of silicon. These have been sinking in performance price for two decades, but not exponentially. Likewise the power density of batteries has been increasing steadily for two decades, not again, no where near the rate of computer chips.

Why don't we see Moore's Law type of growth in the performance of solar cells if this is simply a matter of believing in a self-fulfilling prophecy? Surely, such an acceleration would be ideal for investors and consumers. Why doesn't everybody simply clap for Tinkerbelle to live, to *really* believe, and then the hoped for self-made fairy will kick in, and solar cells will double in efficiency and halve in cost every two years? That kind of consensual faith would generate billions of dollars. It would easy to find entrepreneurs eager to genuinely believe in the prophecy. The usual argument applied against this challenge is that solar chips and batteries are governed primarily by chemical processes, which chips are not. As one expert put the failure of exponential growth in batteries: "This is because battery technology is a prisoner of physics, the periodic table, manufacturing technology and economics." That's plain wrong. Manufacturing silicon integrated chips is an intensely chemical achievement, as much a prisoner of physics, the periodic table and manufacturing as batteries. Mead admits this: "It's a chemical process that makes integrated circuits, through and through." In fact the main technical innovation of Silicon Valley chip fabrication was to employ the chemical industry to make electronics instead of chemicals. Solar and batteries share the same chemical science as chips.

So what is the curve of Moore's law telling us that expert insiders don't see? That this steady acceleration is more than an agreement. It originates within the technology. There are other technologies, also solid state material science, that exhibit a steady curve of progress, and just like Moore's Law, their progress *is* exponential. They too seem to obey a rough law of remarkably steady exponential improvement. ...

If you scour the technium for examples of enduring exponential progress, you'll find most candidates within fields related to material science. For instance the maximum rotational speed of an electric motor is not following an exponential curve. Nor is the maximum miles-per-gallon performance of an automobile engine. In fact most technical progress is not exponential, nor steady. Even most progress in material science is not exponential. We are not exponentially increasing the hardness of steel. Nor are we exponentially increasing the percentage yield of say, sulfuric acid, or petroleum distillates, from their precursors.

I gathered as many examples of current exponential progress as I could find. I was not seeking examples where the total quantity produced (watts, kilometers, bits, basepairs, traffic, etc) were rising exponentially since these quantities are skewed by our rising populations. More people use more stuff, even if it is not improving. Rather I looked for examples that showed performance ratios (such as pounds per inch, illumination per dollar) steadily increasing if not accelerating. Here is a set of quickly found examples, and the rate at which their performance is doubling. (This will display as halving the time.)

Doubling Times of Various Technological Performance in Months



The first thing to notice is that all these examples demonstrate the effects of scaling down, or working with the small. In this microcosmic realm energy is not very important. We don't see exponential improvement in efforts to scale up, to keep getting bigger, skyscrapers and space stations. Airplanes aren't getting bigger, flying faster, and more fuel efficient at an exponential rate. Gordon Moore jokes that if the technology of air travel experienced the same kind of progress as Intel chips, a modern day commercial aircraft would cost $500, circle the earth in 20 minutes, and only use five gallons of fuel for the trip. However, the plane would only be the size of a shoebox! We don't see a Moore's Law-type of progress at work while scaling up because energy needs scale up just as fast, and energy is a major limited constraint, unlike information. So our entire new economy is built around technologies that scale down well -- photons, electrons, bits, pixels, frequencies, and genes. As these inventions miniaturize, they reach closer to bare atoms, raw bits, and the essence of matter and information. And so the fixed and inevitable path of their progress derives from this elemental essence.

A Solar Forest Charging System for Parking Lots  

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Inhabitat has a post on solar parking lots - Solar Forest Charging System for Parking Lots.

Although electric vehicle use is on the rise, we’re certainly not out of the woods yet in terms of providing them with a steady supply of clean energy - that’s why designer Neville Mars has conceived of an incredible EV charging station that takes the form of an evergreen glade of solar trees. His photovoltaic grove serves a dual function, acting as a go-to source for clean renewable energy while providing a shady spot for cars to park as they charge.

Each of the trees in Neville Mars’s solar forest is composed of a set of photovoltaic leaves mounted on an elegantly branching pole. The base of each trunk features an power outlet that can be used to juice up your eco ride as you run errands.

Neville told Inhabitat that the tree and leaf design wasn’t a goal but came naturally as they tried to maximize the shaded surface that the structures provide. Although the efficiency of overlapping photovoltaic panels initially raised some concerns, Neville went on to explain that the leaves rotate with the sun to ensure maximum efficiency. The solar forest is certainly an aesthetic step up from your standard sun-baked concrete parking lot, and serves as great inspiration for integrating solar technology with natural forms.

IBM and Internet of Things  

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Bruce has a post on IBM's efforts to get into the "internet of things" market - Spime Watch: IBM and Internet of Things. As usual, Bruce's interjections are marked with ((( ))) pairings.

((( The thing that’s endearing about IBM is their deployment of real money. Like, megatons of money. Plus swarms of real-world machinery and thousands of actual engineers. )))

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/ibm_internet_of_things.php

(…)

“I recently spoke to Andy Stanford-Clark, a Master Inventor and Distinguished Engineer at IBM. Yesterday we wrote about how Stanford-Clark has hooked his house up to Twitter. Today we delve more into what his employer, IBM, is doing with the Internet of Things.

“IBM is involved in some very interesting projects at the intersection of two big trends we’ve been tracking in 2009: The Real-time Web and Internet of Things. They have a website devoted to this topic, called A Smarter Planet. As the name implies, it focuses on environmental matters such as energy and food systems. Sensors, RFID tags and real-time messaging software are major parts of IBM’s smarter planet strategy.

(((I like the idea of a multinational corporation with a “smarter planet strategy.” Decent of them to realize they don’t get an extra planet after dominating one of them.)))

“The catchcry for the site - Instrumented, Interconnected, and Intelligent - is about outfitting the world with sensors and hooking them to the Internet to apply the ’smarts.’

“IBM has a whole set of RFID and sensor technology solutions. But more importantly it has been busy working with various manufacturers and goods suppliers in recent months, to introduce those solutions to the world.

“This month IBM made an agreement with Matiq, an IT subsidiary of Norway’s largest food supplier Nortura. The project involves using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to track and trace poultry and meat products “from the farm, through the supply chain, to supermarket shelves.” This food tracking solution will help ensure that meat and chicken are “kept in optimal condition throughout the supply chain.” The system uses IBM’s WebSphere RFID Information Center, together with IBM’s sensor and actuator solutions.

“A similar project is one that IBM announced at the end of June with Danish transportation company Container Centralen. By February 2010, Container Centralen undertakes to use IBM sensor technology “to allow participants in the horticultural supply chain to track the progress of shipments as they move from growers to wholesalers and retailers across 40 countries in Europe.”

“Specifically this refers to transportation of things like flowers and pot plants, (((no, no, not actual “pot plants,” that’s more of a Californian cottage-industry thing))) which are very sensitive to the environment they travel in. Having sensors as part of the entire travel chain will allow participants to monitor conditions and climate during travel. Essentially it makes the travel process very transparent… (((etc etc etc)))

Bruce also has a look at the emerging market for tinfoil hats for passports - Arphid Watch: Passport Sleeves.
((( Haven’t had any arphid news on BEYOND THE BEYOND in a while. Not because we lost interest in RFID, but because the technology itself looks snafu’d. As the technology ages, its original headlong tech impetus is unable to overcome its many poorly-designed deployments. )))

((( Here’s the Obama State Department shrugging about their RFID train wreck, and hoping nobody notices that the previous Administration installed zillions of terror-friendly radio beacons in the purses and pockets of the American civil population. )))

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/11/AR2009071101929_pf.html

“…when the sleeves come off, “you’re essentially saying to the world, ‘Come and read what’s in my wallet,’” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.

“By obliging Americans to use these sleeves, he says, the government has, in effect, shifted the burden of privacy protection to the citizen. (…)”

((( Well, yeah; the State Department installed the arphids in there, and if you’re worried about that, they don’t mind if you now go buy and install your own tinfoil hat. Up to you. Pal, voter.)))

((( Given their mournful fait accompli on the ground, they probably lack any rational alternative, except to INSIST that everybody go buy some tinfoil hat for their passport, in which case the Global War on Terror situation looks even more aggressively crazy than it was before. Not to mention the tremendous publicity boon for RFID hackers seeking employment with terrorist hotel-bomber types, who’d no doubt love to bug any doorway anywhere on earth, and automatically count the vulnerable foreigners walking through it. )))

((( Also, according to the original genius plan, you were supposed to be using these safe-and-secure arphid beacons to merrily zip through airports, en-masse, subway-style, like with Oyster cards. Seen any of that jolly high-tech activity anywhere lately? Me neither. Instead we’ve created a huge, botched superpower effort that is paranoid, semi-secret, global in scale, leaky in security and at best semi-functional. “Gothic High-Tech.” )))

(((Later: George Mokray write in:)))

“I’ve been making my own duct tape wallets (and notebook covers) for years. My most recent credit card came with an RFID chip so I decided to make my next wallet with an aluminized mylar substrate from a potato chip bag rather than the paper I used to use. My assumption is that the aluminized mylar will dampen the RFID signal. My passport was renewed just before RFID chips became standard issue, thanks to your head’s up. The wallet is wearing well, better than the old paper and duct tape ones.

“Doing a Tuvan throat singing workshop at NE Conservatory the next couple of days with actual Tuvan artists, Allash. South African choral music all day Saturday. Ain’t globalization grand.

“Solar IS Civil Defense,
George Mokray”

(((Great job with the duct tape potato chip bag Tuvan throat-singing solar arphid wallet, George. Always great hearing from you; you are our kind of people.)))

And one last item from Bruce - The Gothic “Ghost Properties” of the London Rich.
At an abandoned home with yellowing newspapers on its front stoop, Paul Palmer peeks through a mail slot to find letters and leaves carpeting the entryway. The house next door has a dead plant chained to its porch, which is covered in faded utility bills.

Mr. Palmer investigates abandoned homes for a living. But his turf isn’t a poverty-stricken corner of this financial capital. It’s the Mayfair district, home to wealthy financiers, celebrities, the U.S. Embassy — and a few squatters. (((<— Is it necessary for me to point this little arrow at the “squatters,” or are you catching on yet?)))

In the city of Westminster, where Mayfair is located, homes can cost up to £50 million ($81 million). Yet Westminster is fifth among London’s 33 boroughs in the number of unoccupied properties. In 2008, 1,737 homes had been vacant six months or more, the third highest number among all London boroughs, according to the Empty Homes Agency, a nonprofit group that seeks to put empty homes back into use. (((I wonder where the Empty Homes Agency gets their NGO funding, because they’re gonna be busy guys.)))

Unlike people facing foreclosures in other neighborhoods around the world, Mayfair’s homeowners aren’t down on their luck. Rather, the properties serve as investments for owners who pay the bills to keep them empty — something the neighbors and city object to when the homes fall into disrepair. (((It’s hard to conceive of a practice more Gothic than this — it’s a financial practice for human shelter that evicts human beings and then destroys the homes through entropy. Wait, I can think of one financial practice even more spooky and extreme: profitably burning dead fossil fuels so that the *entire planet* becomes humanly uninhabitable.)))

Many owners decline to rent the homes due to local council tax rules, which tax properties at a lower rate if they are empty and unfurnished. That loophole frustrates Mr. Palmer. “We shouldn’t be rewarding these people,” he says. (((Can’t blame capitalism all the time, especially in the Wall Street Journal. Posh neighborhoods inhumanly determined to keep up property values can also regulate themselves right out of human existence.)))

As the Westminster City Council’s empty-property officer, Mr. Palmer strolls the area’s streets six hours each day to identify vacant homes and track down their owners. Under British law, local authorities have the power to seek an order to claim ownership of the ghost properties and put them up for sale….

Geoengineering Gets A Boost  

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Next100 has a look at recent events in the world of geoengineering politics - GEOENGINEERING GETS A BOOST.

Geoengineering--the planned alteration of planetary-scale systems--is a highly controversial approach to solving an increasingly desperate problem: global warming. Critics have condemned it "somewhere between a dead end and a hoax," while White House science adviser John Holdren said, "It's got to be looked at." The credibility of this outsized concept got a big boost this week from a major policy pronouncement by the American Meteorological Society.

As covered extensively in NEXT100, geoengineering proposals run the gamut from fostering the growth of carbon-absorbing plankton by fertilizing the oceans, to reflecting more sunlight by seeding clouds, to locking up carbon in the form of biochar.

The AMS notes the wide range of possible risks, including adverse local climate changes that might disrupt some countries and peoples even if geoengineering stabilized the global temperature. And some measures that address symptoms--for example, by increasing solar reflection--"would not diminish the direct effects of elevated CO2 concentrations such as ocean acidification or changes to the structure and function of biological systems."

All that said, given that past greenhouse gas emissions are almost certain to cause "dangerous climate changes," the society recommended stepping up research on climate geoengineering, including the environmental ethical, legal and social implications.

While reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a top priority, geoengineering "could contribute to a comprehensive risk management strategy to slow climate change and alleviate some of its negative impacts," the society declared. "The potential to help society cope with climate change and the risks of adverse consequences imply a need for adequate research, appropriate regulation, and transparent deliberation."

A Biofuel Process to Replace All Fossil Fuels  

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Technology Review has an article on a new process for creating biofuel using genetically engineered algae - A Biofuel Process to Replace All Fossil Fuels.

A startup based in Cambridge, MA--Joule Biotechnologies--today revealed details of a process that it says can make 20,000 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. If this yield proves realistic, it could make it practical to replace all fossil fuels used for transportation with biofuels. The company also claims that the fuel can be sold for prices competitive with fossil fuels.

Joule Biotechnologies grows genetically engineered microorganisms in specially designed photobioreactors. The microorganisms use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into ethanol or hydrocarbon fuels (such as diesel or components of gasoline). The organisms excrete the fuel, which can then be collected using conventional chemical-separation technologies.

If the new process, which has been demonstrated in the laboratory, works as well on a large scale as Joule Biotechnologies expects, it would be a marked change for the biofuel industry. Conventional, corn-grain-based biofuels can supply only a small fraction of the United States' fuel because of the amount of land, water, and energy needed to grow the grain. But the new process, because of its high yields, could supply all of the country's transportation fuel from an area the size of the Texas panhandle. "We think this is the first company that's had a real solution to the concept of energy independence," says Bill Sims, CEO and president of Joule Biotechnologies. "And it's ready comparatively soon."

The company plans to build a pilot-scale plant in the southwestern U.S. early next year, and it expects to produce ethanol on a commercial scale by the end of 2010. Large-scale demonstration of hydrocarbon-fuels production would follow in 2011.

So far, the company has raised "substantially less than $50 million," Sims says, from Flagship Ventures and other investors, including company employees. The firm is about to start a new round of financing to scale up the technology.

The new approach would also be a big improvement over cellulose-based biofuels. Cellulosic materials, such as grass and wood chips, could yield far more fuel per acre than corn, and recent studies suggest these fuel sources could replace about one-third of the fossil fuels currently used for transportation in the United States. But replacing all fossil fuels with cellulose-based biofuels could be a stretch, requiring improved growing practices and a vast improvement in fuel economy.

Algae-based biofuels come closest to Joule's technology, with potential yields of 2,000 to 6,000 gallons per acre; yet even so, the new process would represent an order of magnitude improvement. What's more, for the best current algae fuels technologies to be competitive with fossil fuels, crude oil would have to cost over $800 a barrel says Philip Pienkos, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. Joule claims that its process will be competitive with crude oil at $50 a barrel. In recent weeks, oil has sold for $60 to $70 a barrel.

We are stewing in our own oven  

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The SMH has an article on reducing the urban heat island effect via smarter design of roads and buildings - We are stewing in our own oven.

You, reader, live in a primitive city. In a hundred years from now, the society we are building will look back and marvel at how little we really understood about the world we have constructed for ourselves.

We are stewing in our own juices.

Last Wednesday, a night of driving rain, I attended a seminar where more than 100 professionals, a standing room-only crowd, had gathered to learn about practical, cheap, achievable ways of stopping Sydney's pot from simmering. These were not wide-eyed utopians. In purely parochial terms, the heating of our biggest cities is even bigger than the global warming debate. Because the rise in temperature is mostly and demonstrably caused by outdated thinking.

The story starts on Observatory Hill, at the southern end of the Harbour Bridge, where weather records have been kept daily since 1860. What the observatory has recorded is a rise in the average temperature at the centre of Sydney from 20.5 degrees to 22 degrees. As Sydney grows, Sydney slowly heats.

At last Wednesday's seminar we learnt why - 27 per cent of the surface of the metropolitan area is covered by bitumen, the black tar which soaks and retains heat and thus changes the city's climate.

Nearly all the rainwater run-off on this 27 per cent of the city is lost to productive use, flowing into Sydney Harbour because it is designed that way. The city's rooftops also gather heat. Roads and pavements maximise the waste of arable land. Tree-planting is stunted for legal reasons. Topsoil is "scalped" by roadworks. The increasing use of air-conditioners is creating more energy. More heat begets more heat.

It is not just a Sydney story. The most telling detail lost amid all that was written and broadcast about the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, which killed 173 people, was that more people died from heat stress in Melbourne than in the fires. During the oven-like temperature peak (three consecutive days above 43 degrees) Melbourne saw a spike of 1400 emergencies requiring an ambulance.

An extra 374 people died in Victoria that week compared to the average week. Most were heat stress related.

"To break this heating cycle we don't need more money, we need more intelligent use of what we already have," says the person who organised Wednesday's seminar, Michael Mobbs, the creator of Sydney's most famous experiment in sustainable housing. He was stunned by the size and quality of the turnout. The room was full of planners from councils across Sydney. He was especially pleased that the gathering was addressed by Arjan Rensen, a senior executive from ARRB, the company which writes the specification guidelines for all the road agencies in Australia.

"It was hugely symbolic having him there, willing to be associated with what we're trying to do," Mobbs told me. "It means the road authorities are at last starting to deal with the impact their roads are having on our cities."

The roads are Mobbs's starting point for reform, because they take up so much room and are so taken for granted. "We should just use existing bitumen and gravel but choose pale gravel, and mix it so that the gravel shows through the bitumen," Mobbs says. "We could also use dyes like those used in bus lanes, but paler than green or red. These were first used in the Harbour Tunnel, which was privately owned, because the owners wanted to cut the cost of their electricity bill. On streets with low traffic volume, these dyed surfaces will last 15 to 20 years."

Then there is the overlooked space, the humble pavements. They should be planted and widened where possible because of the cooling powers of plants and trees. Fruit trees and vegetable gardens should also be grown in public space such as roadsides. The practice is common in Germany.



The SMH also has an article on Obama's call for the US to embrace clean energy technology and act on global warming - Act now on climate: Obama.
THE Obama Administration's climate change negotiator has warned that any country that delays enacting laws will miss out on a huge wave of investment waiting for the regulatory dam to break.

Indicating the US was ready to act without India or China, Todd Stern said the Obama Administration was determined to lead on this issue. "In our view, you can become an economic winner by acting," he said in an interview with the Herald.

"Some say we should wait in terms of our domestic legislation to see what others do. The President doesn't accept that. Our Administration doesn't accept that. We totally think that the Chinese and Indians and others need to act. But it's not our view that our decision to act ought to be made contingent on them."

With the global negotiations on carbon emissions set for Copenhagen in December, the US hopes to have new carbon emissions laws in place by the end of the year.

Mr Stern, the special envoy for climate change, said laws to tackle carbon emissions would deliver the certainty investors needed, unlocking enormous sums to go into energy industries.

Last year the International Energy Agency estimated investment of $US26,000 billion would go into new energy infrastructure worldwide by 2030, with $1500 billion of that destined for the US.

As in Australia, the US House of Representatives has passed a bill to create a carbon emissions trading system, but in both countries the bill has yet to win Senate approval.

The Australian has an article on Chinese clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives - Chinese energy is greener than ours.
T'S hard to comprehend, Martin Ferguson said last week. The federal Minister for Resources and Energy was referring to the fact that, in the next decade, China will bring on line about 1000 average-sized coal-fired power stations, equivalent to 34 times Australia's present coal-burning generation capacity.

Ferguson's government and others in the developed world are being asked to comprehend even more than that, however. They have been repeatedly warned by the International Energy Agency that, even if the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries collectively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030, they cannot put the world on track to achieve stablisation of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million.

When the IEA delivers its new world energy outlook in September, ahead of the Copenhagen global warming treaty summit in December, this gobsmacking message can only be reinforced. Non-OECD countries are heading towards a collective volume of emissions of more than 25 billion tonnes a year by 2030, compared by then with less than 15 billion tonnes for the OECD nations.

In the vanguard, of course, is China, but not because it is ignoring the issue.

Ferguson could have also cited a set of startling Chinese green power statistics in his mid-July speech to the Queensland Resources Council.

By 2020 China aims to have installed 300,000MW of hydro power (equal to 80 Snowy Mountains schemes), 30,000MW of plants fuelled by agricultural waste, 1800MW of solar power and more than 50,000MW of wind farms (about four times what will be needed here to meet the Rudd renewable energy target).

This will involve spending $US33billion ($40.3bn) a year on renewable energy.

Everything about the Chinese effort is mindboggling. For example, it now employs 600,000 people (twice the population of Canberra) installing solar hot-water heaters in a $US2bn a year business. Its electric bicycle business is worth more than $US6bn a year.

Nor are its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its coal-burning generators to be underestimated. Since 2005 China has required all new large power plants to use at least high-efficiency, super-critical technology and since 2007 it has shut down smaller, inefficient plants with a capacity of 14,380MW (more generation capacity than in NSW).

This is allowing China to leapfrog the less efficient coal technology that is dominant in the developed world, including Australia.

At Yuhuan, it has commissioned 4000MW, almost as much capacity as the largest generating complex in Australia, Bayswater-Liddell, of ultra-super-critical generation, the largest operation of its kind in the world, providing power to 10 million households, with a thermal conversion efficiency of 45 per cent, about one-quarter better than conventional coal-burning generators.

Cheaper Low Temperature Geothermal Power  

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Technology Review has an article on improving Low Temperature Geothermal Power generation using a "superior type of heat-extracting fluid " - Cheaper Geothermal.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA, say they've developed a superior type of heat-extracting fluid that could dramatically improve the economics of producing renewable power from low-temperature geothermal resources.

Lab fellow Pete McGrail says the liquid is used to absorb the heat from hot water that's been pumped from underground into a geothermal plant's heat exchanger. The liquid can potentially boost the rate of heat capture by 20 to 30 percent. Researchers engineered proprietary nanomaterials made up of metals linked by organic molecules. They found that adding the nanomaterials to a fluid such as hexane or pentane significantly enhanced the heat-trapping properties of the liquid.

"The hope here is that by improving the efficiency as much as we think we can, a project can become economic at much shallower depths," says McGrail. "You'd be able to deploy in what would now be considered marginal or uneconomic areas."

There's no shortage of geothermal energy under our feet. Drill deep enough and the heat is there. An MIT-led study from 2006 concluded that geothermal power systems have the potential to supply 100 gigawatts of power to the United States by 2050, but only if new drilling and rock-fracturing technologies and advanced plant designs emerge that could lower development costs.

Story continues below


Improved technologies are required because most economical geothermal plants today generate electricity by using steam or hot water directly from naturally formed high-temperature reservoirs, such as the Geysers field in California. The wells are relatively shallow, the water is 360 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, and the rock is porous enough to sufficiently circulate water. Tapping geothermal resources in less-ideal locations requires drilling deeper and forcing fractures in rock, both of which add immense cost. It also means making the most of lower-temperature heat resources, which is accomplished using binary-cycle plants that extract and repurpose the heat from underground hot water rather than using the hot water directly to spin a turbine.

In these plants, water pumped into an injection well absorbs heat from hot rock and is pumped back up through a separate extraction well at temperatures ranging from 150 degrees Fahrenheit to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water is then passed through a heat exchanger, along with a fluid with a low boiling point. This fluid, which flows in its own closed loop within the plant, absorbs the heat from the water and flashes into vapor under high pressure. The vapor passes through a turbine, generating power, and is then condensed and recycled back through the loop.

McGrail and his research team stumbled on a way to boost the energy-conversion rate as the two loops pass through a heat exchanger. Initially, they had developed proprietary materials for another project to improve the capture of carbon dioxide emitted from a fossil-fuel plant. They realized that the materials had remarkable thermodynamic qualities when added to an organic fluid. The new fluid has the potential to capture up to 30 percent more heat from a closed water loop, and, because of its rapid expansion and contraction capabilities, it can achieve higher pressures for driving the turbine.

"It's one of those moments in the lab where you look at the data and say, 'Wow!'" says McGrail. His group has received a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Energy's geothermal technologies program to build a benchtop prototype that shows the properties of the fluid in action.

Why people don't act on climate change  

Posted by Big Gav in

New Scientist has an article on global warming awareness raising - Why people don't act on climate change.

AT A recent dinner at the University of Oxford, a senior researcher in atmospheric physics was telling me about his coming holiday in Thailand. I asked him whether he was concerned that his trip would make a contribution to climate change - we had, after all, just sat through a two-hour presentation on the topic. "Of course," he said blithely. "And I'm sure the government will make long-haul flights illegal at some point."

I had deliberately steered our conversation this way as part of an informal research project that I am conducting - one you are welcome to join. My participants so far include a senior adviser to a leading UK climate policy expert who flies regularly to South Africa ("my offsets help set a price in the carbon market"), a member of the British Antarctic Survey who makes several long-haul skiing trips a year ("my job is stressful"), a national media environment correspondent who took his family to Sri Lanka ("I can't see much hope") and a Greenpeace climate campaigner just back from scuba diving in the Pacific ("it was a great trip!").

Intriguing as their dissonance may be, what is especially revealing is that each has a career predicated on the assumption that information is sufficient to generate change. It is an assumption that a moment's introspection would show them was deeply flawed.

It is now 44 years since US president Lyndon Johnson's scientific advisory council warned that our greenhouse gas emissions could generate "marked changes in climate". That's 44 years of research costing, by one estimate, $3 billion per year, symposia, conferences, documentaries, articles and now 80 million references on the internet. Despite all this information, opinion polls over the years have shown that 40 per cent of people in the UK and over 50 per cent in the US resolutely refuse to accept that our emissions are changing the climate. Scarcely 10 per cent of Britons regard climate change as a major problem.

I do not accept that this continuing rejection of the science is a reflection of media distortion or scientific illiteracy. Rather, I see it as proof of our society's failure to construct a shared belief in climate change.

I use the word "belief" in full knowledge that climate scientists dislike it. Vicky Pope, head of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change in Exeter, UK, wrote in The Guardian earlier this year: "We are increasingly asked whether we 'believe in climate change'. Quite simply it is not a matter of belief. Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence."

I could not disagree more. People's attitudes towards climate change, even Pope's, are belief systems constructed through social interactions within peer groups. People then select the storylines that accord best with their personal world view. In Pope's case and in my own this is a world view that respects scientists and empirical evidence.

But listen to what others say. Most regard climate change as an unsettled technical issue still hotly debated by eggheads. Many reject personal responsibility by shifting blame elsewhere - the rich, the poor, the Americans, the Chinese - or they suspect the issue is a Trojan horse built by hair-shirted environmentalists who want to spoil their fun.

The climate specialists in my informal experiment are no less immune to the power of their belief systems. They may be immersed in the scientific evidence, yet they have nonetheless developed ingenious storylines to justify their long-haul holidays.

How, then, should we go about generating a shared belief in the reality of climate change? What should change about the way we present the evidence for climate change?

For one thing, we should become far more concerned about the communicators and how trustworthy they appear. Trustworthiness is a complex bundle of qualities: authority and expertise are among them, but so too are honesty, confidence, charm, humour and outspokenness.

Many of the maverick, self-promoting climate sceptics play this game well, which is one reason they exercise such disproportionate influence over public opinion. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on the other hand, plays it badly. Rather than let loose its most presentable participants to tell the world how it achieves consensus on an unprecedented scale, it fails even to provide a list of the people involved in the process. It has no human face at all: the only images on its website are the palace or beach resort where it will hold its next meeting.

Since people tend to put most trust in those who appear to share their values and understand their needs, it is crucial we widen the range of voices speaking on climate change - even if this means climate experts relinquishing some control and encouraging others who are better communicators to speak for them.

Politics and Climate Change  

Posted by Big Gav in

John Lebkowsky has apost on the strange state of climate politics - Politics and Climate Change.

I like to think climate change is settled - we have scientific consensus, we know it’s happening, we generally understand the human actions that have accelerated climate change since the dawn of the industrial era. Many of us are feeling energy about reducing our carbon footprint and our overall planetary impact and concern that it’s too late for mitigation, time for adaptation. I personally have been involved with projects like Austin350, Worldchanging, and Powersmack, and I’ve blogged about global warming at Change.org. I’ve been thinking and writing about global warming since Bruce Sterling made me aware of it in the late 1990s. I worked with him on the Viridian Design Movement and wrote an article on climate change for the issue of Whole Earth Magazine he edited. In researching the article, “Being Green in 2001,” I learned that scientists were concerned that their commitment to scientific method - to hypotheses rather than certainties - was misinterpreted as uncertainty about the anthropogenic drivers of climate change. Since then broad scientific consensus has developed, especially via the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.

I was surprised, then, to have a conversation recently with an intelligent, articulate local businessman who told me that this scientific consensus doesn’t exist, and while he could acknowledge that the climate is changing, it’s a natural cycle associated with solar activity. He’s sent me various charts and links. He’s just forwarded an email that mentions Ian Plimer and his book Heaven and Earth, Bjorn Lomborg, and Kimberley Strassel’s Wall Street Journal op ed piece, “The Climate Change Climate Change,” which says that “the number of skeptics is swelling everywhere.” Among other things, she mentions a list that Senator Jim Inhofe has assembled of scientists who supposedly deny that human action is associated with global warming, and says that the earth’s temperature “has flatlined since 2001.” (Has it?) If you read the comments on the op-ed piece, you see that the question of human action and climate change has been politicized - challenged by the right as a left-wing scam. This is really unfortunate - the science is lost in a fog of political wrangling.

European gas firms turn to shale to drill for gas  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The WSJ (via The Australian) has a report on interest in unconventional gas in Europe - European gas firms turn to shale to drill for gas.

ENERY companies operating in Europe are turning to more unorthodox sources of natural gas to get around maturing gasfields and the European Union's worries about its dependence on Russian fuel.

Unconventional gas, as it is known, is trapped in different types of rock formations - much of it in shale - and can be freed through drilling horizontally, fracturing the rocks or injecting water into spaces.

While unconventional sources usually have a longer lifespan than normal gas reservoirs, getting at the gas inside them is more expensive.

In recent years Europe has made up for its maturing natural gas fields by tapping pipelines from Russia and Norway, and is also now looking to the Middle East and North Africa. But a series of spats between Russia and Ukraine that curtailed gas-flow to Europe has reinvigorated the search for more secure sources of the fuel.

"All the European utilities are interested in indigenous gas supplies," said Christopher Wheaton, manager of Allianz RCM Energy Fund. "With technology, the application of cash, brute force and the best ingenuity, we've the potential to unlock a previously unusable resource."

Recent technological advances have made it more cost-effective to get at the gas, so much so that in the US, production of unconventional gases in 2008 helped drive the highest-ever annual increase in gas output. It rose 7.5 per cent over the last year, 10 times the 10-year average growth rate, according to BP’s 2009 statistical review.

Exxon Mobil is now exporting expertise and technology it developed in North America to gas markets in Europe. In Germany, for example, drilling and testing activity on licences covering 1.3 million acres of the Lower Saxony Basin started in 2008.

The company also has a joint exploration program with MOL Hungarian Oil & Gas, in the Mako Trough of southeast Hungary. It will evaluate its findings for two to three years before deciding whether production would be commercially viable, the company said.

Pickens Walks Away from World's Largest Wind Farm  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

EcoGeek reports that T Boone Pickens' wind power project has been abandoned - Pickens Walks Away from World's Largest Wind Farm.

After months of delays due to financing difficulties, T. Boone Pickens is walking away from a plan to build the world's largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle. While money played a large part in the decision, the nail in the coffin came from an announcement that $5 million worth of new transmission lines for wind energy in Texas were not going to be built anywhere near the planned site of the wind farm.

Pickens originally planned to build his own transmission lines as well, but tough economic times have scaled back his ambition.

The good news is that Pickens and his team still plan to develop smaller wind farms around the Midwest, including spots in Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Kansas, and Texas.

While Pickens is an unlikely eco-hero, we've been rooting for him to get these big projects up and running. We can only hope that these setbacks aren't permanent and we'll see the return of his large-scale wind energy plans in the near future.

Tidal plant to power Incheon  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The JoongAng Daily has an article on another tidal power plant for Korea - Tidal plant to power Incheon.

Four years ago, the Korean government said it would launch a feasibility study on a plan to build one of the world’s largest tidal power plants in Incheon Bay, west of Seoul.

Yesterday, the JoongAng Ilbo obtained an interim plan for the plant from the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, along with the results of that feasibility study. According to the plan, a 1,320-megawatt power plant will be built on a 157.45-square-kilometer area of sea near the islands of Ganghwa, Jangbong and Yeongjong. The government will build it by 2017 at a cost of 3.92 trillion won ($3.0 billion), the report said.

Currently, the world’s largest tidal power plant is located in Lance, France, and is capable of generating 240 megawatts of electricity, less than one-fifth of the Incheon plant’s projected capacity. The Korean government also hopes to build a tidal power plant with a capacity of 254 megawatts on Sihwa Lake in Gyeonggi Province next year.

In May, Korea built its first tidal power plant, capable of generating 1 megawatt, in Uldolmok on Jindo, an island off South Jeolla Province. The ministry said given that the capacity of a nuclear power plant is approximately 1,000 megawatts on average, the construction of a tidal power plant in Incheon on that scale will equip Korea with massive new reserves of electricity.

The report said the Incheon tidal power plant would meet 4.5 percent of national household demand for electricity and power 60 percent of Incheon’s homes.

A monumental failing  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Alan Kohler has a look at the dismal state of global warming politics at The Business Spectator - A monumental failing.

ditor's note: two follow-up commentaries have been published since this article appeared on Business Spectator. See: Monumental progress and New energy can't wait, both published July 15.

The 10-year old international project to stop global warming has descended into a complete shambles; we can now only hope that it’s not true, and that the skeptics are right.

But no matter who is right, we can be sure of one thing – there is little hope that an agreement to replace the failed 1997 Kyoto Protocols can be forged in Copenhagen in December. That’s despite the fact that the two Kyoto holdouts – America and Australia – are now on board, at least in principle.

Essentially the world’s politicians have given up on doing something during their lifetimes. They gave up on doing something while they are in power long ago.

All meaningful action has been put off for between 10 and 20 years, by which time the 2009 class of politicians will be safely tucked up in their pensions, living on high ground. Furthermore, the final goal has been pushed out to 2050, by which time they will all be dead.

Like everyone else at the G8 summit in L’Aquila last week, Kevin Rudd joined in the spin that progress had been made and that agreement in Copenhagen remains possible. Unfortunately he was overheard privately telling the truth – it’s actually very unlikely.

At least he got some nice airplay and polite applause by re-announcing an old carbon capture and storage research proposal.

But on the 7.30 Report last night, Al Gore stuck a pin that particular balloon, saying: “I have some scepticism about how big a role that particular technology is going to play…”

Carbon capture and storage is simply one of the phrases used to put off genuine action now, like the emissions trading scheme as currently proposed.

The problem is that the great majority of the world’s political, business and scientific leaders have accepted the Al Gore proposition that there is a climate change crisis, and that if we don’t do something we’ll all be rooned, yet they have reacted indecisively. Far better to disagree and then do nothing, than to agree and then fiddle around.

The result, as revealed on the ABC’s Inside Business on Sunday, is that coal-fired power generators have stopped spending money on maintenance.

I interviewed the managing director of TRUenergy, Richard McIndoe, whose company produces 10 per cent of Australia’s electricity in the LaTrobe Valley. He said: “Without the certainty of how long we're actually going to be able to operate down there, it's very difficult to justify spending $150 million this year on long-term maintenance plans.”

The problem for McIndoe and other coal-fired power generators is the transition over the next 15-20 years.

At the moment there is no certainty, which means not only are the power stations not being maintained properly, but there is no investment in general and the banks are unwilling to refinance debts. That’s a special problem for the debt-laden generators of the LaTrobe Valley like TRUenergy.

Clearly gas is part of the answer, especially during a transition to fully clean electricity, but if carbon capture and storage is Australia’s answer for long-term base-load power…we’re in trouble.

We are just beginning to research it and no one knows if it will work. Nuclear power has been ruled out (read more on this in the KGB TV interview with Ziggy Switkowski, to be published tomorrow) and there is no concerted effort in Australia to find something else.

Last night a group of European firms led by Siemens, Munich Re and Deutsche Bank, announced plans for $US555 billion solar power project in the Sahara desert to supply 15 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs. The business plan will take three years and the project itself decades to build.

Meanwhile China has announced plans for seven mega wind farms and a 2020 target for wind power of 100 gigawatts. The first is a 10GW generator in Gansu province, where construction began over the weekend. The Yallourn power station, by the way, produces 1.5GW.

But China is still building one or two coal-fired power plants every week as well.

And there is little hope that China, or any other developing nation, will sign up to new binding commitments at Copenhagen without a massive cash transfer from the developed world, which of course became developed by burning oil and coal.

The developed world, however, is now financially challenged, having borrowed too much from the future, while simultaneously polluting the present.

Meanwhile, in the American digital favela  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Bruce has a typically cynical take on a recent John Robb post at Global Guerrillas (as per usual, Bruce's intervjections are marked ((())) ) at Beyond The Beyond - Meanwhile, in the American digital favela.

“There are growing signs — from a black swan in savings/debt reduction to massive debt loads to quarterly trillion dollar losses in personal wealth to stagnant/falling consumer purchases to persistently low consumer confidence — that the parasite ridden American “consumer” is finally dead. (((Okay, maybe so, but if any other non-American consumer is still alive, aren’t they going to use their brilliant capitalism to simply *buy* American consumers? Consumer society is vastly more productive than any rival form of economics.)))

“If this is true, the economic model of the latter half of the last Century is likely dead too, and that will mean wrenching change. It’s my belief that the dominant solution is to prepare for a local future to ride out this storm. Here are some of my random (more random than I would like) thoughts on what you should do to prepare:

(((Check out how much like a favela this is.)))

“Ruthlessly reduce debt. Nothing on credit. Pay off every loan. Strategically walk away from underwater assets (like homes that are worth less than the mortgage). This will allow you to stay one step ahead of the death throes of the old economy. (((Not to mention that this activity, carried out on any large scale, would *murder* the old economy. It’s called “capitalism” because people borrow “capital,” am I right?)))

“Turn your hollow home into a productive asset. Most homes are devoid of any productive capacity. Adding energy, food, etc production to them turns them into real, productive assets. Get your assets out of financial derivatives (stocks, bonds, etc.) as fast as you can and put them into productive assets (not commodities) you can touch. (((The busy workshop slums of Dharavi, biggest favela in Asia. After leaving your underwater home, sleep in the sweatshop.)))

“Make everything you can yourself. Grow your own food. Produce your own energy. Make/repair your own clothes. Turn costs into savings. Reskill to do this. The new “fashionable trend” isn’t what you can buy, it’s what you can make. Anyone that buys “designer or branded” anything is a fool. (((Okay, but suppose you start making stuff so good that people actually want to buy it. Wouldn’t you need a brand at that point? If not a “brand,” at least some kind of recognizable ID like a big Arduino Italian logo.)))

(((Also, isn’t a division of labor proven to be more productively efficient than this primitive autarky? I seem to recall something cogent about Adam Smith explaining how to make pins with assembly lines.)))

“Work online. Convert your skills into something that can be sold electronically (most of my complex work is done this way). Develop the skills necessary to work as part of a virtual team. Telecommute whenever possible (and push to do this, even if it means less money), reduce the number of cars/dress clothes/etc you own in synch with this conversion (and move to a less expensive locale when possible!). Always have two jobs going at the same time. (((This is the really interesting part. I mean, to accomplish this you’ve gotta have some financially bomb-proof homemade Internet equipment that you made in your favela out of bark and twine. Otherwise your pretense of sturdy urban yeomanry is ludicrous, because you’ve just traded in the Constitution, US Treasury and the Justice Department for your new feudal overlords, Microsoft and Google. )))

(((Now, a grown-up Favela Chic would in fact run the means of Internet production out of the favela, presumably with open-source, free hardware and instructables. They’d also use community banking and cellphone micropayments on their own equipment. This wouldn’t be survivalism though, it would be some variety of Kevin Kelly Digital Socialism. If the upshot was a stable middle-class of petty and haute bourgeoisie, as opposed to the buccaneers who wrecked everything, you’d be back to a workable economy, except they wouldn’t be “consumers,” they’d be “sharers” (or whatever). )))

“Build a local business. Own assets that produce and sell that production locally. Even if it is small, it will help down the line via contact networks/experience (a new spin on modern “networking”). Develop the niche skills that sell locally. Group/tribe up when possible to tackle larger opportunities. (((Why not group/tribe up from the beginning? Presumably that would be called something like a “labor union” or maybe a “political party.” Or who knows, if they were superambitious and had lots of solidarity and social cohesion, they might call themselves a “state” or “nation.” Sounds great, eh? However, since this is the “Global Guerrillas” site, presumably these hapless national entities get torn shreds between the global guerrillas with money and the global guerrillas with guns.)))

“Barter. Cashless trades. Convert what you have to what you need. Skill set bartering is amazingly effective. Become part of a local barter network (the backchannel). (((”The favela black market.”)))

“Bring your family home. (((You know those right-wing horror stories of entire Mexican immigrant families crammed into a single room? This is like that, except in a solarized McMansion.))) Grow your home to accommodate more people. Bring back parents and grown kids (with their families). This will allow you to pool incomes and radically reduce workload/costs. It’s also beneficial for security. NOTE: I’ve found that consideration/compromise is the best way to handle an expansive family home environment.

Suggestions welcome!! (((I think I’ve got the ideal post-national guerrilla leader for a family-centric, moose-skinning scheme of this sort: Sarah Palin. “Prayer-Time and Barter With Sarah.” Neato!)))

This change doesn’t require cute and crunchy notions about “lifestyle” environmentalism. (((I agree, but unless it finds some cuteness and crunchiness, its inhabitants will swiftly die of despair.)))

Also at BTB, some cold civil war style analysis of some recent conservative political meltdowns - American centipedes.
*Happy 5th of July! Let’s study recent political meltdowns in the USA and examine their electronic elements!

*First, Senator John Ensign of Nevada. Senator Ensign ruefully announced that he had an affair with a staff member — not because of sudden remorse for his affair, but because the offended husband, also a member of the Ensign staff, compiled a damning dossier about Ensign’s activities and leaked it to the right-wing press.

*Partisanship is now so toxic in the US that rightwing leakers feel compelled to leak sex scandals to their own pet press, rather than leak it to what they consider the entirely savage “main stream media.” They consider this a mercy, the classy way to handle a sex leak.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jun/19/we-have-suffered-indescribable-pain/

Near the end of the two-page, single-spaced document, he (((the injured husband/leaker))) noted: “I could have sought the most liberal, Republican hating media to expose this story, but there are people’s lives at stake and justice is about proper process as well as outcome. Senator Ensign has no business serving in the US Senate anymore!” (((I want you to imagine a future America where “proper process” involves the proper crafting of mini-Lewinsky scandals rather than any proper processes of actual law or governance.)))

(…)

In his letter, Hampton (((the husband))) said he sought Fox News’ help out of desperation.

“It appears there may be nothing the law can do to correct and bring justice and restitution to this terrible wrong that has been done us,” he wrote. “I have sought a number of lawyers who are having difficulty finding charges that may hold up in court.”

Hampton said he understood the story was difficult to believe, but he added that there was a paper trail, phone records and witnesses to corroborate the allegations.

(((Mr Hampton carefully collated all this evidence for the use of Fox media.)))

“It is my belief we are dealing with a very powerful person and institution in the U.S. Senate that only the media can pierce to expose the wrong and bring light and focus to what needs to be done.

“Please help me! This should not be how the leadership of our country should be allowed to behave. I need justice, help and restitution for what Senator Ensign has done to me and my family.” (…)

Ensign’s sudden acknowledgment of the affair continues to create fallout in the nation’s capital and Nevada.

(…)

The affair with Cynthia Hampton occurred while she, her husband and their adult son were all on the senator’s payroll. (((One has to wonder about the psychological dynamics of this feudal entourage.))) She was Ensign’s onetime campaign treasurer and the former treasurer of the senator’s Battle Born Political Action Committee.

Unnamed sources cited in various media reports (((centipede/bimbo-eruption brigade))) initially raised the specter of extortion as the reason for Ensign’s news conference, but Metro Police and the FBI said they were not investigating. Ensign’s office on Thursday declined to say today whether the Hamptons sought any money to keep quiet. (((Hampton wasn’t asking anybody for yet more money, he’s an upset insider who probably believes in Ensign’s Christian rightist “Promise Keeper” rhetoric. But why didn’t he confront the Senator privately, and resign on principle (along with his son)? Why fight this out in front of cameras in a massive rupture of privacy? Because that’s contemporary politics; that’s how he was trained as a modern Senate staffer.)))

(((Meanwhile, Governor Sanford of South Carolina gets outed for having a South American mistress. Somebody hacked her email account and passed their correspondence to the political press in the South Carolina state capital. A classic centipede tactic: but who did it? Sanford didn’t out himself; he was mousetrapped. How? Why? Rumor said a jealous South American boyfriend, but Maria Belen Chapur apparently says otherwise.)))

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/70932.html

Here’s what Sanford’s lover wrote to Argentine journalist

This is the e-mail sent by Maria Belen Chapur to Eduardo Feinmann, a journalist with Argentina’s C5N television, as published on the television station’s Web site. It was translated from Spanish by McClatchy’s Mark Seibel.

Dear Eduardo:

I’ve decided to send you this communication, which will be the only one, to clarify certain incorrect things that are being said and in that way put an end to the subject that, as you can imagine, is a huge source of pain for me, my two children, my whole family and the good friends, men and women, whom I’ve gathered throughout my life and who have always been with me.

1. Of my private life I won’t say anything, now or in the future. It’s been made public enough already, a fact that causes me terrible discomfort.

2. I deny categorically that the person who hacked my “Hotmail” was the friend with whom I shared some days in Brazil during the Rolex Regatta. This friend, as everyone can read in my emails, is a most excellent, respectable and honorable man incapable of doing such a thing. Not only is he not the author of this perverse act, but he also was a victim. In December 2008, the e-mails were sent to him as well as to The State newspaper, anonymously by whoever hacked them.

3. My Hotmail account was hacked around the 24th of November through an old e-mail account provided by an Argentine company. I filed a complaint then with both the Argentine company that was still hosting my old account, and Hotmail.

I was able to shut down this old account and recover my hacked Hotmail on Dec. 8, after answering a long questionnaire sent by Microsoft. All this is on file with Microsoft as well as the Argentine company. I have in my possession all the complaints I sent to Microsoft and all the responses; Microsoft responded to my problem quickly and efficiently. Due to the seriousness of my complaint, the Argentine company, by phone, made an exception and immediately shut down this account, even though it wasn’t in my home.

3. (sic) Finally, I have a firm suspicion of who did this great act of damage, which was aimed at me specifically but at the same time destroyed the lives of so many others. Since I don’t have sufficient proof and live in a country of laws, I’m obligated to keep their identity anonymous. I’m no one’s judge; I leave all that in the hands of God.

María Belén Chapur

(((Ms Belen Chapur may have her firm suspicion about her own enemies, but I kinda wonder why the enemies of some minor Argentinian businesswoman would want to methodically destroy the Presidential aspirations of the Governor of some remote American state. And do that so swiftly and effectively, too. It’s not like this lovelorn Argentinian has been the guy’s mistress for 15 years. Sanford engaged in some weird machinations to get down there, spent three nights in a hotel and got hammered immediately on his return. My suspicion? Somebody was watching the Governor’s computer for quite a while now. They didn’t release its hacked contents, because that’s 87 kinds of GWOT cyberwar. However, they cracked open the girlfriend’s account using the good old Palin method, and had that wrapped up with a ribbon for domestic consumption as soon as the guy committed his blunder.)))

(((Anybody gonna bother to investigate that? Or are they content to leave vengeance in the hands of God (while the next victim Governor awaits the same tactic)?)))

Michael Klare, Peak Oil and the Remaking of Iraq  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Michael Klare has an article in TomDispatch on "The (Re)Making of a Petro-State", asking if Iraq will become "a Global Gas Pump" ? - Michael Klare, Peak Oil and the Remaking of Iraq. Klare has picked up on the idea (well - fact, in my opinion) that people have under-estimated Iraq oil reserves and the country could "add as much as six to eight million barrels per day to international output, postponing the inevitable arrival of peak oil and a contraction in global energy supplies", and has a good little summary of the country's history and the historic urge to suppress Iraqi oil production. He does seem to be putting a little bit of a positive spin on efforts to try and let foreign oil companies take an active role in exploiting Iraq's oil once again though, thus justifying the point of the invasion at last.

Has it all come to this? The wars and invasions, the death and destruction, the exile and torture, the resistance and collapse? In a world of shrinking energy reserves, is Iraq finally fated to become what it was going to be anyway, even before the chaos and catastrophe set in: a giant gas pump for an energy-starved planet? Will it all end not with a bang, but with a gusher? The latest oil news out of that country offers at least a hint of Iraq's fate.

For modern Iraq, oil has always been at the heart of everything. Its very existence as a unified state is largely the product of oil.

In 1920, under the aegis of the League of Nations, Britain cobbled together the Kingdom of Iraq from the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul in order to better exploit the holdings of the Turkish Petroleum Company, forerunner of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Later, Iraqi nationalists and the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein nationalized the IPC, provoking unrelenting British and American hostility. Hussein rewarded his Sunni allies in the Baath Party by giving them lucrative positions in the state company, part of a process that produced a dangerous rift with the country's Shiite majority. And these are but a few of the ways in which modern Iraqi history has been governed by oil.

Iraq is, of course, one of the world's great hydrocarbon preserves. According to oil giant BP, it harbors proven oil reserves of 115 billion barrels -- more than any country except Saudi Arabia (with 264 billion barrels) and Iran (with 138 billion). Many analysts, however, believe that Iraq has been inadequately explored, and that the utilization of modern search technologies will yield additional reserves in the range of 45 to 100 billion barrels. If all its reserves, known and suspected, were developed to their full potential, Iraq could add as much as six to eight million barrels per day to international output, postponing the inevitable arrival of peak oil and a contraction in global energy supplies.

Nailing Down the Energy Heartland of the Planet

Iraq's great hydrocarbon promise has been continually thwarted by war, foreign intervention, sanctions, internal disorder, corruption, and plain old ineptitude. Saddam Hussein did succeed for a time in elevating oil output, in the process raising national income and creating a well-educated middle class. However, his ill-conceived invasions of Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 led to devastating attacks on Iraqi oil facilities, as well as trade embargoes and crippling debt, erasing much of his country's previous economic gains. The trade sanctions imposed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the wake of the First Gulf War only further eroded the country's oil-production capacity.

When President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, his overarching goals all revolved around the geopolitics of oil. He and his top officials were intent on replacing Saddam Hussein's regime with one that would prove friendly to American oil interests. They also imagined that, greeted as liberators by a grateful population, they would preside over a radical upgrading of Iraq's petroleum capacity, thereby ensuring adequate supplies for American consumers at an affordable price. Finally, by building and manning a constellation of major military bases in a grateful Iraq, they saw themselves ensuring continued American dominance over the oil-soaked Persian Gulf region, and so the energy heartland of the planet.

All of this, of course, proved to be a mirage. The U.S. invasion and ensuing occupation policies provoked a bitter Sunni insurgency that quickly overshadowed all other American concerns, including oil. As a result, no matter how much money they poured into the task, the Bush administration and its Baghdad agents found themselves incapable of boosting petroleum output even to the levels of the worst days of Saddam Hussein's regime -- and so their plans to use oil revenues to pay for the war, the occupation, and the reconstruction of the country all vanished into thin air.

The data provided by BP on yearly production tallies cannot be starker when it comes to the impact on oil output of the insurgency, rampant corruption, the loss of the nation's oil professionals (many of whom fled into exile amid sectarian warfare), and other related factors. Prior to the American invasion, Iraq was pumping 2.6 million barrels of oil per day, already significantly below its pre-invasion peak of 3.5 million barrels per day. In the first year of the ill-starred U.S. occupation, production quickly plunged to a paltry 1.3 million barrels per day. Only in 2007 did it finally top the two million mark and, with improved security, 2.4 million in 2008. Assuming conditions continue to improve, Iraqi output could, for the first time, exceed pre-invasion levels, though barely, in 2009 or 2010 -- six years or more after Baghdad fell to American forces.

A Sea Change in Iraqi Oil Production?

Until recently, most analysts assumed that Iraq would continue, at best, to make modest progress in its efforts to increase daily output. There were too many obstacles, it was argued, to achieve dramatic breakthroughs. These included continued insurgent attacks on pipelines and production facilities; corruption in the Oil Ministry and major energy production enterprises; the failure of parliament to adopt a national hydrocarbons law; differences between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the central government over who has the right to award what sort of oil contracts in Kurdish-controlled territories; and the reluctance of major foreign oil firms to venture into, or invest in a major way in such a dangerous and unstable place.

Recently, however, the Oil Ministry has made noticeable progress in overcoming at least some of these obstacles. Under the leadership of Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist who was jailed and tortured by Saddam Hussein for refusing to assist in the development of nuclear weapons, corruption has been substantially reduced and various production bottlenecks eliminated. Shahristani has also won support from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for the participation of foreign firms in the development of Iraqi oil fields, even though this has alienated many in Iraq who oppose any such involvement. Once derided for ineptitude, the Oil Ministry is beginning to be viewed as a functioning, professional operation. ...

* In June, the Oil Ministry conducted its first auction of rights to operate existing fields in the country's major producing areas. This represented a major -- even staggering -- shift in policy, opening the door for the first time in three decades to the participation of major international oil companies in the operation -- if not the ownership -- of the country's nationalized oil fields. Although opposed by many key groups in Iraq, ranging from the oil workers' union to significant factions in parliament, the move was taken to secure outside expertise in modernizing and upgrading the country's crumbling oil infrastructure, thereby boosting output in a country that still relies on oil for more than 75% of its gross domestic product and about 95% of its revenues. In fact, many foreign companies chose not to bid in the auction's opening round, finding the returns being offered insufficiently attractive. Nevertheless, one Western firm, BP, won the right (in partnership with CNPC) to operate the giant Rumaila field, Iraq's largest. The Oil Ministry has since indicated that it will conduct additional auctions, including one for the right to explore for oil, on terms as yet unrevealed, in the country's undeveloped south and west -- possibly laying the groundwork for significantly more intrusive participation by foreign firms.

Taken together, these steps -- aimed at securing the necessary external financing and expertise to achieve a significant boost in production -- represent a genuine sea change in the way the Oil Ministry has been overseeing the country's hydrocarbons industry. If all goes as planned, it intends to increase output by 1.5 million barrels per day, and another four to five million barrels by 2017. These efforts, if successful (and given recent history, that remains a big "if"), would place Iraq among the world's top four or five oil producers, along with Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States. ...

Nevertheless, it appears that, for the first time since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, the stars in the energy firmament are aligning in ways that may favor Iraq's reemergence as a major oil producer. Whereas the major powers once competed among themselves for influence in Iraq or backed one or another of Iraq's local rivals in efforts to weaken or contain that country, all now seem inclined to invest in, and benefit from, the reconstruction of its energy infrastructure. The Bush administration, which looked with alarm at Saddam Hussein's growing ties to Russia and China, invaded the country in part to reassert American dominance in the Persian Gulf region and diminish the role played by Moscow and Beijing. Today, Washington appears to welcome the growing role of Chinese and Russian firms in the rehabilitation of Iraq's dilapidated energy infrastructure.

It's a reasonable assumption that behind this unprecedented shift lies an acknowledgement of the inescapable reality of peak oil. As things stand now, the world will soon reach a maximum level of sustainable daily oil output, followed by an inevitable contraction in available supplies. Many experts believe that the peak in conventional (liquid) oil output is likely to occur in the very near future, perhaps in the 2010-2015 timeframe, with global output topping out about 5 to 10 million barrels per day higher than today's 85 million barrels.

Hitting the peak moment in that timeframe, and at that level, would prove devastating to the world economy, as global energy demand is expected to climb far higher, thanks to rising consumption patterns in China, India, and other dynamos of the developing world. It's not hard, then, to do the math. An addition of perhaps six million supplemental barrels per day from Iraq would make a striking difference in the energy equation. In fact, it might prove the difference between squeaking by and a catastrophic worldwide shortage. Under such circumstances, it is understandable that -- no matter what their governments felt about the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq -- the major powers now share a common interest in facilitating that country's recovery as a major oil exporter.

For devastated Iraq, of course, these last years were a disaster and real reconstruction of the country still remains a long way off. For the United States, gone are expectations of converting Iraq into a model Middle Eastern democracy, or of inserting a Western-trained, pro-U.S. regime in Baghdad. Nor is there any expectation that the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company will be completely privatized -- once the dream of Bush-era neocons. Nonetheless, the (re)emergence of a functioning Iraqi petro-state working closely with foreign energy firms to boost global oil supplies (with American troops, whether based in Iraq or neighboring countries, providing ultimate security) would be an outcome that could be sold to Congress and, presumably, a majority of the American public. ...

So it has finally come to this dismal possible end point: after all the blood and tears, all the death and destruction, almost all interested parties seem to be returning to the only vision of the country, however depressing, that has demonstrated any viability. In the future, Iraq is likely to be an oil-fueled petro-state with no function other than to service global markets and enrich local elites as well as the technocrats that assist them. This may be not be an inspiring vision -- especially for Iraqis who have suffered so much -- but it might possibly be the only reality available that will circumvent the horrific bloodletting of the past 30 years.

Study Suggests Wind Power Potential Is Much Higher Than Current Estimates  

Posted by Big Gav in

The NYT's Green Inc blog has a post on a new report on global wind resources - Study Suggests Wind Power Potential Is Much Higher Than Current Estimates.

Global wind energy potential is considerably higher than previous estimates by both wind industry groups and government agencies, according to a Harvard University study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

The new research surfaced just weeks after T. Boone Pickens, citing rising financing costs, scaled back his plans for the world’s largest wind farm in west Texas.

Using data from thousands of meteorological stations, the Harvard team estimated the world wind power potential to be 40 times greater than total current power consumption. A previous study cited in the paper put that multiple at about 7 times.

In the lower 48 states, the potential from wind power is 16 times more than total electricity demand in the United States, the researchers suggested – significantly greater than a 2008 Department of Energy study that projected wind could supply a fifth of all electricity in the country by 2030.


While remote regions of Russia and Canada have the greatest theoretical potential, the Harvard study pointed out that there are real gains to be made in high-emission nations, especially China, which has been rapidly constructing coal plants. “Large-scale development of wind power in China could allow for an 18-fold increase in electricity supply relative to consumption reported for 2005,” the Harvard study said.

The findings are “further validation of what we’ve been saying – that the United States is the Saudi Arabia of wind,” said Michael Goggin, an electricity industry analyst for the American Wind Energy Association.

The authors based their calculations on the deployment of 2.5- to 3-megawatt wind turbines situated either in accessible rural areas that are neither frozen nor forested, or relatively shallow offshore locations. They also used a conservative 20 percent estimate for capacity factor, a measure of how much energy a given turbine actually produces.

In an example of how renewable energy potential can be a moving target, Mr. Goggin explained that the growth in the forecasts can be attributed to the increasingly common use of very large turbines that rise to almost 100 meters.

Wind speeds are greater at higher elevations. Previous wind studies were based on the deployment of 50- to 80-meter turbines.

“As turbines start to get taller,” predicts Mr. Goggin, “we’ll see a lot more capitalization of the resource.”

Biogas from Onions  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The LA Times has an article on an onion waste to biogas plant in California - Onions produce tears and energy at an Oxnard plant.

After more than 20 years farming onions, Steve Gill still breaks out in tears at his processing facility. Only now he's crying all the way to the bank. ¶ He recently began using juice from his pungent crop to create energy to run his refrigerators and lighting. That's slicing $700,000 annually off the electric bill at his 14-acre plant in Oxnard. He's also saving $400,000 a year on disposal costs. And he has secured more than $3 million in government and power company incentives to do it.

Gill figures the $9.5-million system will pay for itself in less than six years while eliminating up to 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions a year. ¶ "It's a great sustainability story, but it was first a business decision to solve a waste problem," said Gill, 59, who co-owns the company with his brother David. "But in doing so, we solved a lot of environmental problems too."

Gills Onions is one of a small but growing cadre of U.S. companies generating their own electricity on site with waste from their production processes. In addition to plant material, firms are using a variety of feedstocks, including animal manure, vegetable oil, whey -- even beer.

The massive upfront costs limit the appeal of these so-called closed-loop systems. But volatile energy prices and the rising cost of waste disposal are compelling more firms to take a look.

Farmers and processors in California's $37-billion agricultural industry in particular are looking for ways to save money and reduce their environmental footprint, said Sonia Salas, science and technology manager for the Western Growers Assn.

"Many growers want technology that helps them handle waste," she said. "This is a concept that other operations can definitely use."

The system at Gills Onions, which will be unveiled to the public today, converts methane from fermented onion juice into energy burned in two on-site fuel cells.

The company has farms throughout California that send onions year-round to the Oxnard plant, where they are skinned, diced, sliced or packaged whole in a numbingly frigid facility by 400 employees. The vegetables are then shipped all over the country to wholesalers and retailers such as Ralphs.

Machines slice off about 40% of each onion. That leaves 150 tons of waste a day. For years, the Gills spread these leavings as fertilizer over their fields or sold them as cattle feed. But the refuse was expensive to handle, and it posed a hazard to the atmosphere and groundwater.

So the brothers decided to turn it into energy instead.

Machines extract about 30,000 gallons of onion juice that is then sent to a 145,000-gallon holding tank kept at a toasty 95 degrees. Inside, bacteria purchased from an Anheuser-Busch beer brewery produce methane gas by feasting on the carbohydrates in the fermenting juice.

"It's like a big stomach," said project manager Bill Deaton.

The gas is purified, dehumidified and compressed, then burned in the fuel cells at temperatures that exceed 1,000 degrees. The 600-kilowatt system produces enough power to operate the plant's refrigeration units and lighting.

The Gills are also looking into installing a battery at the plant that can store excess electricity from the fuel cells. Reserve energy could be used during peak hours in the summer, when electricity is more expensive.

"I didn't want to depend on anyone taking my waste for me," Gill said. "It was my problem, and I had to solve it. It's a relief to find a solution."

Producing biofuel for a single company's closed-loop system is one thing, but integrating the energy into the public grid is still a prohibitively expensive and difficult endeavor.

For Cheap Clean Energy, Go Geothermal, Study Says  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

GreenTechMedia has an article on a report from NYU Stern study which says geothermal energy is the cheapest renewable energy out there - For Cheap Clean Energy, Go Geothermal, Study Says.

Geothermal energy is the cheapest form of clean energy out there, with wind energy a close second - and both could become cheaper than fossil fuel-fired energy if governments will direct more research funding to them.

That's according to a new report from New York University Stern, which calls for governments to start putting more money into geothermal and wind power research to yield faster and more dramatic improvements than money put into solar research.

Geothermal energy was singled out as the cheapest renewable energy source out there, and could become competitive with coal and gas-fired power with about $3.3 billion in research and development spending, the report said.

The United States got about 2800 megawatts of geothermal energy in 2006, or 0.3 percent of the total. But it only costs 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour to make on average, according to DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division - close to the ultra-cheap price of energy made from coal, but without coal power's massive carbon emissions.

Specifically, research into "hot, dry rock" geothermal technology could yield big increases in geothermal energy's potential, the report stated.

Most geothermal energy today comes from capturing hot water and steam already underground. Hot dry rock systems, also known as enhanced geothermal systems, seek to inject water from aboveground into wells that reach deep hot, dry rock formations to make steam to drive a turbine and generate power.

That's an area that Google and General Electric have agreed to work on together (see Google and GE Gang Up For Green Energy).

Google.org has put money into geothermal company Potter Drilling, and it and Kleiner Perking Caufield and Byers have invested in AltaRock Energy, which promises breakthroughs in hot rock technology (see AltaRock Breaks New Ground With Geothermal Power).

Geothermal energy hasn't gotten a lot of attention from venture capital investors to date, given that it's seen as a limited market with very high entry costs. And geothermal companies have long complained that they don't get the government support they deserve (see Money Remains the Barrier to Geothermal Power).

That may be changing. The Department of Energy, after years of spending little on geothermal, has aimed $400 million in stimulus funding at the technology (see Green Light post).

Geothermal players such as Ormat Technologies and SPX have been moving ahead with projects despite the complaints (see Ormat Technologies Seeks $1.5B and SPX Makes $100M Geothermal Deal).

And in Japan, a consortium including Mitsubishi Materials Corp. and Kyushu Electric Power Co. plan to invest 40 billion yen ($433.9 million) to build a geothermal power plant (see Japan Renews Drive to Tap Geothermal).

While the NYU Stern report ranked energy technologies in terms of costs, another report in December from Stanford professor Mark Jacobson ranked technologies according to their environmental impact. His study put wind power in the number one slot, followed by solar-thermal technology and geothermal in third place (see Report: Wind the Best Energy; Nuclear, Coal and Ethanol the Worst).

Underground is also a cheap place to store energy, by the way. A study by the Electric Power Research Institute says compressed air energy storage - pumping air into natural caverns, old mines or depleted oil fields and then releasing it to help run gas-fired turbines more efficiently - is the cheapest form of energy storage, although its use is limited to having such underground storage areas nearby (see What is the Cheapest Energy Storage Idea of Them All?).

Google Data Centres: Following The Moon On The Way To Energy Efficiency  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

TreeHugger has a post on a cool new technique from Google to minimise energy used to cool data centres - Google Data Center Uses No Chillers - Will It Soon Follow the Moon?.

A Google data center in Belgium is taking a cool, new approach to keeping from over-heating on hot days. The facility has electricity-sucking chillers to support its cooling systems, relying instead on air from outside. Google anticipates this so-called "free cooling" for about seven days per year, but what's really fascinating is what happens when the weather gets hot.

Quest for Energy Efficiency Back-Story

Chillers used to refrigerate water to cool data centers require, no-duh, a large amount of electricity to operate. This has led to the approach “free cooling:” air from outside the data center is used when the temperature is cool, while falling back on chillers on warmer days. Google's data center near Saint-Ghislain, Belgium completely eliminates chillers altogether. Bonus: an on-site water purification facility allows for the use of water from a nearby industrial canal rather than a municipal water utility.

So what happens on hot weather days?

Google will turn off equipment as needed in Belgium and shift computing load to other data centers.

The end-game of this approach is what cloud technologists refer to as “Follow the Moon” energy management. Were large-scale networks such as Google to implement this concept, workloads would be seamlessly shifted between data centers to take advantage of lower costs for power and cooling during overnight hours. Virtualized workloads would be shifted across data centers in different time zones to capture savings from off-peak utility rates. Cool!

Why the Microgrid Could Be the Answer to Our Energy Crisis  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Fast Company has an article pitting large scale renewable power (and the associated transmission infrastructure) against small scale distributed generation - Why the Microgrid Could Be the Answer to Our Energy Crisis. This sort of comparison seems unhelpful - both options are better than coal or nuclear power, so why not compare the 2 new waves of the future against the relics of the past ?

In April 2007, a helicopter landed in a backyard in Johnson Valley, California, a desert hamlet of 440 residents on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park. "One of the neighbors went out and asked them what they were doing just a few hundred feet from his house," Jim Harvey, a local landowner, recalls. "They said, 'We're the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and congratulations! You're the lucky lottery winners of a brand new power line that's going to come right through the middle of your town.' "

That power line is called Green Path North -- an 85-mile-long high-voltage transmission wire from Los Angeles through public and private lands, connecting the city to potential geothermal and solar-thermal resources, with the whole shebang to be owned by the LADWP and paid for over the next decade by ratepayers. The cost: up to $1 billion just for the transmission line, plus untold billions for the not-yet-planned power plants themselves. Some 2,000 acres of desert would be sacrificed for a project that would, if it ever gets built, carry about 800 megawatts of renewable electricity -- enough for 600,000 homes.

Green Path North is pretty typical of the renewables push in the United States: big, expensive, slow, and spectacularly uncertain. Twenty-eight states have pledged to shift their energy mix to at least 10% renewables, and at press time, Congress was considering a national target of 15% by 2020. But if many of us see this moment as a defining one, a key opportunity to reassess how we create and use energy across the country, the federal government seems content to leave the owners of the old energy world in charge of designing the new one. Big utilities are pushing hard to do what they do best -- getting the government to subsidize construction of multi-billion-dollar, far-flung, supersize solar and wind farms covering millions of acres, all connected via outsize transmission lines. Nevada senator Harry Reid has introduced legislation to speed the way for a national "electric superhighway." (Former Vice President Al Gore is another champion.) "We need to have an efficient way to take energy created in often remote areas and move it to where it is needed," Reid said this spring on the Senate floor. "A cleaner, greener national transmission system -- an electric superhighway -- must be a top national priority."

But the men appear to be victims of a bad metaphor. There's nothing especially efficient or high tech about heavy-duty aluminum-steel cables; "line loss" -- the power lost during transmission -- runs as high as 10% on our overloaded grid. The power lines take years to propose, approve, and complete; Green Path North alone has gone through seven potential routes since 2006. And the LADWP is taking a flyer that the remote, large geothermal and solar power plants it's supposed to connect with will even be built. In all, the federal Bureau of Land Management has to date received almost 400 applications for large solar and wind plants covering 2.3 million rural acres. Only a few of those have undergone environmental assessments -- and that's only the first step in a multiyear planning, permitting, and building process. Meanwhile, utilities are making plenty of money off their existing investments in fossil-fuel power. It often seems that according to utilities, renewables are the power resource of the next decade, and always will be.

Harvey says he has a better idea. The founder of the Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy, he's no NIMBY complainer. "We're just the opposite; we want it in our backyard," he says. "We want to put solar panels on our roofs and our neighbors' roofs." The nearby city of Palm Desert rolled out a program last August funding fixed-rate loans to private homeowners for rooftop solar, and within weeks, the money had been spent and panels were up on roofs. "The choice is clear," says Harvey. "If you want renewables, you want 'em clean and you want 'em fast, and the best way to do that is [rooftops]. But the utilities have been so adamant about thwarting these programs. They are the ones that are standing in our way."

The evidence is growing that privately owned, consumer-driven, small-scale, geographically distributed renewables could deliver a 100% green-energy future faster and cheaper than big power projects alone. Companies like GE and IBM are talking in terms of up to half of American homes generating their own electricity, renewably, within a decade. But distributed power -- call it the "microgrid" -- poses an existential threat to the business model the utilities have happily depended on for more than a century. No wonder so many of them are fighting the microgrid every step of the way.

Theoretically, the microgrid is simple. Imagine you could go to Home Depot and pick out a wind or solar appliance that's as easy to install as a washer/dryer. It makes all the electricity your home needs and pays for itself in just a few years. Your home still connects to the existing wires and power plants, but it is a two-way connection: You're just as likely to be uploading power to the grid as downloading from it. Your power supply communicates with the rest of the system via a two-way digital smart meter, and you can view your energy use and generation in real time on your iPhone. Maybe you also have an electric car in the garage; the battery serves as backup storage for your house as well. And the best part: Assuming you produce more than you draw, instead of a monthly bill, you get a check.

A half-block from City Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sits an unofficial prototype of this microgrid model. In 1983, when Sue Butler first bought her home, it was a condemned burned-out shell where police sent vagrants to crash. Today, the historic Italianate house built in 1858 has a comfortable artsy grace that matches the owner's; a cello and violin wait for a duet among a jungle of plants by the bay window. An elderly dog wheezes in the kitchen. On the roof, powering this cozy scene, sits a half-kilowatt microwind turbine and 5.5 kilowatts' worth of solar panels. The system was roughly half paid for by a $25,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which administers a fund collected from a surcharge on every electric bill in the state. The solar installation can produce two to three times as much energy as Butler's home needs, meaning she can run her meter backward and sell a surplus back to the grid, a procedure called "net metering."
Sue Butler's house can generate juice for two others. Put one on every block and soon you have a renewable-power plant.

A neat addition to Butler's system is the standard commercial meter that she finagled from NSTAR, the local utility. Unlike flat-rate residential electric meters, commercial meters show the price of power varying with usage over the course of the day. Butler can bank power in the batteries in her basement -- they hold enough to run her house for a week -- and sell it back to the grid at times of peak use. "It's a low-tech smart grid," says Jonah DeCola, the soft-spoken self-taught engineer and union carpenter who put together her system as proof of concept. DeCola is building a career cobbling together systems like this and teaching community college kids, new immigrants, and ex-cons the trade as well. He calculates the payback on Butler's $60,000 system at four-and-a-half years or less. "She's getting premium for her juice," he says.

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