Gandhi, but with guns  

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Arundhati Roy has a column in The Guardian on the Avatar style Naxalite rebellion underway in India - Gandhi, but with guns.

There are many ways to describe Dantewara. It's an oxymoron. It's a border town smack in the heart of India. It's the epicentre of a war. It's an upside down, inside out town.

In Dantewara the police wear plain clothes and the rebels wear uniforms. The jail-superintendent is in jail. The prisoners are free (300 of them escaped from the old town jail two years ago). Women who have been raped are in police custody. The rapists give speeches in the bazaar.

Across the Indravati river, in the area controlled by the Maoists, is the place the police call 'Pakistan'. There the villages are empty, but the forest is full of people. Children who ought to be in school run wild. In the lovely forest villages, the concrete school buildings have either been blown up and lie in a heap, or they're full of policemen. The deadly war that's unfolding in the jungle is a war that the government of India is both proud and shy of. Operation Green Hunt has been proclaimed as well as denied. P. Chidambaram, India's home minister (and CEO of the war) says it does not exist, that it's a media creation. And yet substantial funds have been allocated to it and tens of thousands of troops are being mobilised. Though the theatre of war is in the jungles of Central India, it will have serious consequences for us all.

If ghosts are the lingering spirits of someone, or something that has ceased to exist, then perhaps the National Mineral Development Corporation's new four-lane highway crashing through the forest is the opposite of a ghost. Perhaps it is the harbinger of what is still to come.

The antagonists in the forest are disparate and unequal in almost every way. On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging superpower. On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organised, hugely motivated Maoist guerilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion. The Maoists and the paramilitary are old adversaries and have fought older avatars of each other several times before: Telengana in the 1950s, West Bengal, Bihar, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh in the late 60s and 70s, and then again in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra from the 80s all the way through to the present. They are familiar with each other's tactics, and have studied each other's combat manuals closely. Each time, it seemed as though the Maoists (or their previous avatars) had been not just defeated, but literally, physically exterminated. Each time, they have re-emerged, more organised, more determined and more influential than ever. Today once again the insurrection has spread through the mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal— homeland to millions of India's tribal people, dreamland to the corporate world.

It's easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, parliament a pigsty and who have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian state. It's convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that pre-dates Mao by centuries. (That's a truism of course. If they didn't, they wouldn't exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times – against the British, against zamindars and against moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered. Even after independence, tribal people were at the heart of the first uprising that could be described as Maoist, in Naxalbari village in West Bengal (where the word Naxalite – now used interchangeably with "Maoist" – originates). Since then Naxalite politics has been inextricably entwined with tribal uprisings, which says as much about the tribals as it does about Naxalites.

This legacy of rebellion has left behind a furious people who have been deliberately isolated and marginalised by the Indian government. The Indian constitution, the moral underpinning of Indian democracy, was adopted by parliament in 1950. It was a tragic day for tribal people. The constitution ratified colonial policy and made the state custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land. It denied them their traditional rights to forest produce. It criminalised a whole way of life. In exchange for the right to vote, it snatched away their right to livelihood and dignity.

Having dispossessed them and pushed them into a downward spiral of indigence, in a cruel sleight of hand the government began to use their own penury against them. Each time it needed to displace a large population – for dams, irrigation projects, mines – it talked of "bringing tribals into the mainstream" or of giving them "the fruits of modern development". Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone) – refugees of India's "progress" – the great majority are tribal people. When the government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it's time to worry. ...

When a country that calls itself a democracy openly declares war within its borders, what does that war look like? Does the resistance stand a chance? Should it? Who are the Maoists? Are they just violent nihilists foisting an outdated ideology on tribal people, goading them into a hopeless insurrection? What lessons have they learned from their past experience? Is armed struggle intrinsically undemocratic? Is the Sandwich Theory – of "ordinary" tribals being caught in the crossfire between the state and the Maoists – an accurate one? Are "Maoists" and "tribals" two entirely discrete categories, as is being made out? Do their interests converge? Have they learned anything from each other? Have they changed each other?

The day before I left, my mother called sounding sleepy. "I've been thinking," she said, with a mother's weird instinct. "What this country needs is revolution."

An article on the internet says that Israel's Mossad is training 30 high-ranking Indian police officers in the techniques of targeted assassinations, to render the Maoist organisation "headless". There's talk in the press about the new hardware that has been bought from Israel: laser range finders, thermal imaging equipment and the unmanned drones so popular with the US army. Perfect weapons to use against the poor.

Australian Government goes to war with Google over net censorship  

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The Age has a report on the Australian government's outrageous plans to introduce mandatory internet censoring, led by conrol freak communications minister Stephen Conroy - Government goes to war with Google over net censorship

The government intends to introduce legislation within weeks forcing all ISPs to block a blacklist of "refused classification" websites for all Australians ... a large and growing group of academics, technology companies and lobby groups say the scope of the filters is too broad and will not make a meaningful impact on internet safety for children. ..

Google, which has recently been involved in a censorship spat with China, has been one of the filtering policy's harshest critics. It has identified a range of politically sensitive and innocuous material, such as sexual health discussions and discussions on euthanasia, which could be blocked by the filters.

Last week, it said it had held discussions with users and parents around Australia and "the strong view from parents was that the government's proposal goes too far and would take away their freedom of choice around what information they and their children can access".

Google also said implementing mandatory filtering across Australia's millions of internet users could "negatively impact user access speeds", while filtering material from high-volume sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter "appears not to be technologically possible as it would have such a serious impact on internet access".

"We have a number of other concerns, including that filtering may give a false sense of security to parents, it could damage Australia's international reputation and it can be easily circumvented," Google wrote.

On ABC Radio last night, the majority of callers were opposed to the filters and right before the end of the segment, Senator Conroy attacked Google over its privacy credentials. ...

Senator Conroy also said he was not aware of the US State Department contacting his office or that of the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, over the internet filters. This contradicts a statement made by a US State Department spokesman yesterday.

"Our main message of course is that we remain committed to advancing the free flow of information which we view as vital to economic prosperity and preserving open societies globally," a U.S. State Department spokesman Michael Tran told The Associated Press. ...

Senator Conroy argues the he is only attempting to apply the same restrictions placed on the distribution of books, magazines, DVDs and other content to the internet.

But critics say this approach fails to consider that the internet is a vastly different, dynamic medium. They say Senator Conroy's proposal is a heavy-handed measure that is easily bypassed by criminals and could restrict access to legal information.

Senator Conroy has conceded that greater transparency is needed in terms of how content ends up on the blacklist, but last night he again refused to make the blacklist itself public, saying it would provide people instant access to the banned material.

Bringing cheap power to our shores  

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The Business Spectator has a look at the prospects for wave power in Australia - Bringing cheap power to our shores.

As guests and dignitaries gathered under a marquee to celebrate the launch of the third iteration of Oceanlinx’s wave technology – the MK3PC – the question of the barge-like structure was this: Yes, it looks great, but will it work? ...

Coastal wave power could, in theory, provide twice the world’s energy requirements. In reality, it will provide a good deal less than that, but will still be an important component of the global energy mix, particularly in wave rich regions such as England and Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and the coasts of Africa and much of the Americas. And, of course, Australia.

Right now, the problem is how best to harness that energy. The sector is unique in that there is no technology standard. The prototypes on offer range from machines that resemble giant sea-snakes to oysters, and upturned Apollo space capsules, to those – like Australia’s Carnegie and BioPower Systems – that seek to mimic the action of the sea by having forests of underwater buoys driven by the ocean’s movements.

Oceanlinx’ technology uses a series of oscillating chambers in a large structure that allows water to enter, compress the air and drive a turbine, and do the same as air is sucked back in as the water recedes. The 170-tonne demonstration model is 8m high, 12m wide and 30m long – the commercial model will be three times the size. A facility with numerous modules could create a 50MW power plant.

Baghaei, a former nuclear plant boss who was brought in to turn the ideas of a 'bunch of enthusiasts' into a viable commercial venture, expects his technology to be competitive with offshore wind by the middle of next year, and with onshore wind within three years. “This is a significant day,” he said. “It is actually doing what it is supposed to be doing.”

Oceanlinx is backed by Australian clean energy venture capital investor Cleantech Ventures, along with Espirito Santo, the largest private bank in Portugal, and the Swiss-based Emerald Technology Ventures.

The involvement of the European investors is crucial because the big leaps in wave energy will likely occur overseas, even if Australian technologies rank among the most advanced in the world. Earlier this month, the UK’s Crown Estate announced the successful tenders for a $6 billion program to trial 10 different wave technologies. The UK believes one quarter of its energy could be supplied from marine sources. Elsewhere in Europe, countries are offering significant feed-in-tariffs and other measures, such as multiple renewable energy certificates, to attract developers to their coastlines. Spain and Portugal are in the forefront, as are some US states on the western seaboard and countries like Chile.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said wave energy was an 'under-recognised' part of the renewable energy mix, both here and abroad, and seemed to admit, at least tacitly, that that could continue to remain the case in Australia, as he talked of the significant opportunities for development overseas.

But it is not the lack of R&D or wave energy resources that holds Australia’s wave energy producers back, or pushes them to find expansion projects overseas: quite the contrary, it’s the lack of government incentive, a legacy of the thrall that most politicians still have for the fossil fuel industry, and the lack of influential lobbying support for renewables – apart from wind – from Australia’s established industries.

There’s no reason why Australia could not do the same as the UK or the Iberian nations. But as we’ve seen in solar, and more recently in the allocation of the one commercial scale wave energy farm that the government has promised to back, this government much prefers to export the ideas, import the finished product back from what is now a foreign-owned entity and pay an Australian company to screw the thing together.

Rubber from Microbes  

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Technology Review has an article on "renewable rubber" - Rubber from Microbes.

Working with Goodyear, biotechnology company Genencor has been engineering bacteria that make isoprene--the chemical used to make tire rubber--from sugars derived from biomass. But ramping up microbial production of isoprene to such a scale that it can compete with petroleum-derived rubber has proven to be a major challenge.

Yesterday at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, researchers from a Palo Alto, CA-based research division of Genencor described further modifications to the metabolic pathways of the microbes that improve the yield of bioisoprene. The company will decide on plans for building a bioisoprene pilot plant next year.

Microbes including E. coli naturally make small amounts of isoprene as part of their metabolism, but not nearly enough to be used on an industrial scale. To improve the yield, bioengineers at Genencor, which began working on bacterial systems for producing isoprene in 2007, initially made changes to two metabolic pathways that converge to create an isoprene precursor. But yields were still low because the bacteria's existing genetic machinery takes a meandering path to create isoprene from this precursor. In the most recent results, the company added to the E. coli a plant gene coding for isoprene synthase, an enzyme that converts the precursor directly into isoprene.

Isoprene, which is a gas at room temperature, bubbles out of the cells without damaging them, then out of the fermentation broth. Genencor senior director of business development Rich Laduca says that with no refinement, this system can produce 99 percent pure isoprene gas. Purity is critical because trace contaminants can foul the catalysts used to polymerize isoprene to make synthetic rubber. Goodyear has used Genencor's bioisoprene to make synthetic rubber, which it then used to make several prototype tires.

"We're looking for renewable resources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," says Jesse Roeck, director of global materials science at Goodyear. Roeck says the isoprene work is still a research project, but that the chemical may be in tires on the market in three to five years.

Fiberforge Lightens Up Car Manufacturing  

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Fast Company has an discussion with Amory Lovins and FiberForge CEO Jon Fox-Rubin about the benefits of making cars using strong, lightweight materials - In an Intense Time for Hybrids and EVs, Fiberforge Lightens Up.

Amory Lovins: CEO & Co-Founder of Rocky Mountain Institute: A typical car today uses everyday a 100 times its weight in ancient plants inefficiently converted into gasoline. What happens to that fuel energy when it goes into your tank, 7/8th of it gets lost before it even gets to the wheels, of the 1/8th that gets to the wheels half of that either heats the air that your pushing aside or heats the tire and road. Only the last 6% of the fuel energy actually accelerates the car and then heats the breaks when you stop. And yet 95% of the mass you’re accelerating is the car not the driver, so 6% of 5%, that's about 0.3%, of the fuel energy ends up moving the driver. This is not very gratifying after 120 something years devoted to engineering effort.

Jon Fox-Rubin: President & CEO Fiberforge: Anything that needs to be moved from Point A to Point B would use less fuel and less energy to accelerate it, move it and decelerate it if it were lighter. And that’s really where the Fiberforge process is aimed at creating affordable structures that are lighter in weight.

Amory: We use carbon composites in military and aerospace where cost is almost no object, it's worth $700 present value to take a lb out of an airplane so they're willing to pay a lot to do that. But to move into automating you need to make these composite structures in a thousand times higher volume and lower cost then now.

Jon: Our main goal for any particular market is really affordability. And so the way we do that is we try to automate the process and turn the carbon fiber into a finished product that can be stamped, just like a steel part today. In an automobile you can stamp a thermoplastic tailored blank that’s made by the Fiberforge process.

The parts are typically designed in industry standard CAD tools, computer aided design tools designed for composites in the 3-D shape they're intended to be, and then we take that and flatten it into a 2-D shape and translate that into a Cad-Cam system. So computer aided design, computer aided manufacturing software system that makes the tool path for the tailored blank. That is the automatic layout system that makes the tailored blank. What you're seeing is a motion table that's moving XY, and rotates under a fixed head that’s part of our patented process. And it's laying up the tape a strip at a time next to one another. And we can layup a blank on the order of a few minutes.

Amory: This has 14 layers that are laid down kind of like plywood with carbon fibers pointing in different directions so you get the strength in the directions you want and not otherwise. And then since this is thermoplastic you can heat it up until it softens, stick it on a hot dye and mold it into the shape you want.

Jon: The heater heats the blank with infrared energy and once the resin is fully molded it shuttles it into the system and then essentially it gets compressed and frozen in place.

Amory: You end up with an amazingly strong material; this particular one is tougher than titanium, and really stiff as you can tell from the sound. So plastics have changed since The Graduate. And you can make this in thirty or sixty seconds and stamp out the parts just like steel, except you need about 10 or 20 times fewer parts to make the auto body, the parts snap precisely together for gluing, no hoist no jigs no robots no welders. And lay color in the mold you can make whatever color you want so you get rid of the paint shop, that's another half-billion dollar investment. So very different way to make cars, it's what's called a disruptive technology. Of course it's smart for automakers to adopt something like that right away before their competitors do and sell them their steel stamping equipment to slow them down.

Jon: I think the first automaker that really gets serious about light weighting and either licenses our technology or comes up with its own competitive technology will really own a key piece of the next generation of transportation.

Amory: An automaker will be smart to spend its own money making the cars lighter rather than try and make the fuel cells cheaper and tanks smaller. You'll get to the same place but with much less time, money and risk.

China takes lead in clean-power investment  

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The LA Times has a report on Chinese investment in clean energy is now double that of the United States - China takes lead in clean-power investment.

China overtook the United States for the first time last year in the race to invest in wind, solar and other sources of clean energy, according to a comprehensive new report that raises questions about American competitiveness in a booming global market.

U.S. clean energy investments hit $18.6 billion last year, a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts said, a little more than half the Chinese total of $34.6 billion. Five years ago, China's investments in clean energy totaled just $2.5 billion.

The United States also slipped behind 10 other countries, including Canada and Mexico, in clean energy investments as a share of the national economy.

Although part of the U.S. investment decline last year can be attributed to the deep recession, the Pew report pointed to another factor constraining U.S. competitiveness: a lack of national mandates for renewable energy production or a surcharge on greenhouse gas emissions that would make fossil fuels more expensive.

The report warned that the current U.S. approach, in which states make varied efforts and the federal government's efforts have been sporadic, has produced a "comparatively weak clean energy economy" -- and that the nation risks losing out on economic growth and job creation.

"It's certainly the case that the countries and areas with higher investment in clean energy will be able to produce more jobs," said Chris Lafakis, an economist at Moody's Economy.com, which is working with Pew in tracking the green economy and jobs. Lafakis said investment was the No. 1 factor in green job growth.

Worldwide, the report found clean energy investment more than doubling since 2005. Investment levels have already rebounded from the financial crisis and are projected to grow 25% this year, as nations increasingly seek energy sources that do not emit the heat-trapping gases produced by burning fossil fuels.

Ichthys Gas project on hold ... again ?  

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Crikey has a rumour that Inpex's proposed Ichthys LNG project has been delayed once again - Gas project on hold ... again.

For the second time six months the Japanese group, Inpex, has postponed a final decision on the huge Ichthys LNG project off the Northern Territory coast. Inpex announced Darwin as the base for the project in late 2008, a year later it delayed the final decision until late this year or early 2011. Now according to reports from the recent Australian Oil and Gas Conference, it is now delayed until late next year.

The first delay was ostensibly due to rising costs of construction, but oil industry analysts say it was more to do with the rapid emergence of an LNG glut in Asia thanks to the impact of the recession in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The Inpex project is huge, media estimates put it at $A20 to $A24 billion, which would be the size of the North West Shelf. An industry informant says announcement of the delay is being held back until May to coincide with the presentation of Inpex's 2009 results in Japan.

Is there really any need for baseload power ?  

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Tom Raftery has a post on the enduring "baseload fallacy" (pdf) beloved of the nuclear power zealots - Is there really any need for baseload power?.

The electricity grid may not need “baseload” generation sources like coal and nuclear to backup the variability of supply from renewables.

Jon Wellinghof is the Chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC is an independent agency that amongst other things, regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil – for more on FERC’s responsibilities see their About page. Chairman Wellinghoff has been involved in the energy industry for 30 years and appointed to the FERC as a commissioner by then president Bush in 2006.

Last year, shortly after being appointed as Chairman of the FERC, Mr Wellinghoff announced that:
No new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States….

Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.

“I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism,” he said. “Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind’s going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you’ll dispatch that first.”…

“What you have to do, is you have to be able to shape it,” he added. “And if you can shape wind and you can effectively get capacity available for you for all your loads.

“So if you can shape your renewables, you don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear plants to run all the time. And, in fact, most plants running all the time in your system are an impediment because they’re very inflexible. You can’t ramp up and ramp down a nuclear plant. And if you have instead the ability to ramp up and ramp down loads in ways that can shape the entire system, then the old concept of baseload becomes an anachronism.”

... However, a study published last week by the Maryland-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research backs Chairman Wellinghoff’s assertion. In a study of North Carolina’s electricity needs it concluded backup generation requirements would be modest for a system based largely on solar and wind power, combined with efficiency, hydroelectric power, and other renewable sources like landfill gas ...

With larger and more inter-connected electricity grids, the requirement for baseload falls even further because the greater the geographical spread of your grid, the greater the chances that the wind will be blowing or the sun shining in some parts of it.

So, is there really any need for baseload power any more, or is this now just a myth perpetuated by those with vested interests?

Chevron Testing Solar Technologies  

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The New York Times has a look at Chevron's interest in solar PV and their "Project Brightfield" test bed for powering an oil refinery (also referencing their involvement in Brightsource's solar thermal power project at Ivanpah and Chevron Mining's recent implementation of a CPV system at a molybdenum mine in New Mexico) - Chevron Testing Solar Technologies.

The oil giant Chevron has transformed an old refinery site in California into a test bed for seven advanced photovoltaic solar technologies, which the company is evaluating for use at its facilities worldwide.

On Monday, Chevron is unveiling 7,700 solar panels installed on 18 acres in Bakersfield, the capital of California’s oil patch. Called Project Brightfield, the plant will generate 740 kilowatts of electricity to power nearby oil operations.

Any excess electricity will be fed to the power grid.

“We were looking for the next-generation technology that we believe could well be the low-cost solution — not just in terms of panels but in total cost of ownership,” said Des King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, the company’s venture capital and technology development arm. “It’s one of most comprehensive side-by-side tests in shear numbers of panels.”

Mr. King said Chevron collected data on 180 solar companies, visited 38 of them and narrowed the list to 19 before choosing seven finalists.

Six of the companies make thin-film solar panels that deposit or print solar cells on glass or flexible metals. Though less efficient than traditional crystalline photovoltaic technology, thin-film solar panels typically do not use much expensive silicon and can be manufactured at a lower cost.

Chevron has installed panels from Abound Solar of Colorado; MiaSolé, a Silicon Valley start-up; Schüco, a German industrial company; Solar Frontier, a subsidiary of Japan’s Showa Shell Solar; Sharp; and Solibro, a division Q-Cells, a big German solar module maker.

Project Brightfield’s sole crystalline panel maker is Innovalight, a Silicon Valley start-up that has developed a “silicon ink” that it uses to make photovoltaic modules. “We hope this is a boost to new technology providers,” Mr. King said.

For MiaSolé, Brightfield is the start-up’s first commercial project and the company will supply solar panels that will generate about a third of the facility’s electricity.

On Italy, PV, and Overheated Markets  

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Greentech Media reports that Italy has taken over from Germany and Spain as the hot European solar power market - On Italy, PV, and Overheated Markets.

The Italian PV market has been exploding with project announcements over the past two weeks. Among them is a 25 MW project to be constructed by Prime Sun Power, a 5 MW project that is already the largest using Evergreen Solar modules, a 9.8 MW turnkey project to be developed by Siliken for Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, and a 72 MW project by SunEdison that will become the largest PV project in Europe. In February, SunPower acquired SunRay, a Malta-based project developer with a 75 MW+ Italian pipeline, in no small part to gain better access to the Italian market. And that is without mentioning the continuous stream of just-under-1 MW project announcements that arrive daily (more on that later). Most importantly, all of these projects are intended for completion this year.

If the market keeps up this pace throughout 2010, Italy will experience triple-digit growth and could install a gigawatt of new PV capacity. But in doing so, Italy risks becoming the next victim of the PV gold rush. Over the past two years, this has happened in Spain (2008), the Czech Republic (2009) and, to a lesser extent, Germany (2009). Each of these countries had a national feed-in tariff without a hard cap, which enabled demand to expand far beyond the government's expectations within a single year. And in each market, the government responded drastically, either by slashing rates (Germany), instituting a strict program cap (Spain), or placing the program entirely on hold (Czech Republic).

Beyond the Age of Innocence In Bioplastic  

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Greentech Media has a look at the emerging market for bioplastics - Beyond the Age of Innocence In Bioplastic.

Are bioplastics ready for their coming out party?

The potential and need for plastic alternatives has become more acute in the last decade. The SPI Bioplastic Council anticipates that the bioplastics market will exceed $1 billion by 2012. Today it is half that. BASF, the German chemical giant, estimates that bio-based products already account for some $470 million in sales of such things as 'chiral intermediates,' which give the kick to its pesticides.

Scientists have also devised novel techniques for cutting down the costs. Opxbio, for instance, has genetically engineered a microbe to secrete acrylic acid, a precursor to the absorbent polymer in baby diapers. Meanwhile, Cereplast produces more traditional bioplastics, but at relatively low temperatures to save energy. Then there are plastic recyclers like Axion International making railroad ties out of old milk jugs.

Still, bioplastic remains "a sector that is not yet mature but will be growing fast in the coming years," says Frederic Scheer, CEO of Cereplast and the so-called 'Godfather of Bioplastics.'

If anything, lawmakers are prodding the market. France, Germany and Italy are trying to phase out polyethylene bags and other regions are cracking down on styrofoam. Currently, the bioplastics sector is led by Europe, with Japan in second place (very active in packaging and bioplastics), followed by the U.S.

McKinsey, a consultancy firm, reckons industrial biotech's global sales will soar to $100 billion by 2011, by which time biofuels will have reached only $72 billion. Why has plastic not attracted as much attention? First, the price of oil was very low in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But even with the rise in prices, the incumbent technology is cheap.

"Bio-based plastics will not substitute for oil-based polymers in the near future for several reasons. These include low oil prices, high production cost and restricted production capacity of biomass-based polymers. These factors limit the technically possible growth of these plastics in the coming years." So wrote Patrick Navard, Chairman of the Governing Board of EPNOE (European Bioplastics and the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence) in a 2009 forecast that sees enormous potential for bio-based plastics.

Nonetheless, substituting and gaining a foothold in the market are two separate things. Based on recent announcements from Cereplast, the production capacity of bio-based plastics is projected to increase from 360,000 tons in 2007 to about 2.3 million tons by 2013, an annual growth rate of 37%.

All is not what it seems in being green  

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Michael Pascoe at the SMH has some notes on the case for taking real action on global warming instead vs staging publicity stunts or pretending there isn't a problem - All is not what it seems in being green.

As part of his presentation, Dornan showed a photograph of a fairly standard desk and asked the audience what was different about it. The answer was the power points on top of the desk instead of somewhere deep below it among the dust and cobwebs.

On Friday night, many city workers made a once-a-year effort to brave the dust and dirt by crawling under their desks to turn off their computers/mobile phone rechargers/electric nasal hair clippers/whatever at the wall.

IAG whacked power packs on top of the desks in one office and saved $10,000 on its electricity bill.

There also is the broader contrast between the enthusiastic Earth Hour hype and the general outrage that greeted the suggestion that electricity prices will soar under any rational sort of carbon reduction policy. If we decide carbon has a price, it will have to be paid. Besides, make electricity expensive enough and folks will tend to use less of it. We want to feel nicely green, but we like cheap power more.

The naiveté of much of the greenhouse noise, from both the alarmists and denialists, tends to distract from attempts to get serious about it. In its usual rational fashion, the lead editorial in last week's Economist magazine made the case for action on climate being justified not because the science is certain, but precisely because it is not. That's a concept the more simple-minded jumping on the sceptics bandwagon might find hard to grasp.

After dealing with several facets of the issue, including making some criticism of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Economist reminded its readers:

“The ambiguities of science sit uncomfortably with the demands of politics. Politicians, and the voters who elect them, are more comfortable with certainty. So 'six months to save the planet' is more likely to garner support than 'there is a high probability—though not by any means a certainty—that serious climate change could damage the biosphere, depending on levels of economic growth, population growth and innovation'. Politics, like journalism, tends to simplify and exaggerate.”

The magazine was scathing about a particularly alarmist UK government advertising campaign that seems more interested in scaring silly children than reducing carbon. The leader, perhaps with a view to being serious like IAG rather than jumping on any bandwagon, makes its case in the final two paragraphs:

“Plenty of uncertainty remains; but that argues for, not against, action. If it were known that global warming would be limited to 2°C, the world might decide to live with that. But the range of possible outcomes is huge, with catastrophe one possibility, and the costs of averting climate change are comparatively small. Just as a householder pays a small premium to protect himself against disaster, the world should do the same.

“This newspaper sees no reason to alter its views on that. Where there is plainly an urgent need for change is the way in which governments use science to make their case. The IPCC has suffered from the perception that it is a tool of politicians. The greater the distance that can be created between it and them, the better. And rather than feeding voters infantile advertisements peddling childish certainties, politicians should treat voters like grown-ups. With climate change you do not need to invent things; the truth, even with all those uncertainties and caveats, is scary enough.”

Fake Gasoline-Powered Alarm Clock Secures Energy Star Label  

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Inhabitat has a post on the seeming ease with which non-energy efficient products can get an energy star rating - Fake Gasoline-Powered Alarm Clock Secures Energy Star Label.

Apparently, it’s a piece of cake to get Energy Star-certified — just ask the Congressional auditors who received approval for a number of ridiculous fake products, including a gasoline-powered alarm clock and an air purifier consisting of a space heater with a feather duster on top. Other fake products, including a dehumidifier, dishwasher, and computer monitor, were accepted into the program with no questions asked about fake qualifications (i.e. energy efficiency data).

Does this mean we should question all Energy Star labels? No — most companies aren’t in the business of submitting fake products to the Energy Star program — but the auditing process does indicate that Energy Star officials accept qualifications without doing background research. The New York Times noted that the “ease with which the auditors had fooled the program suggested that consumers and agencies that rely on the logo were paying extra for products that might not actually save energy“.

FCC’s Broadband Plan Sets Groundwork for National Smart Grid To Transition To More Green Energy Use  

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CNSNews has an article on the National Broadband Plan in the US - FCC’s Broadband Plan Sets Groundwork for National Smart Grid To Transition To More Green Energy Use.

The National Broadband Plan, recently published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), would lay the groundwork for the federal government to establish a nationwide “smart” electrical grid that would change how Americans use and pay for electricity, affecting such things as homes and transportation with battery-powered cars.

The proposal, published March 16, outlines the federal government’s plan to use the nation’s broadband Internet infrastructure to further key national policy goals, including health care, education, and energy.

The intersection of federal energy policy and myriad private sector broadband and wireless Internet networks, which the government hopes to harness, is known as the smart grid, a high-tech linking of the country’s Byzantine electrical infrastructure centered around green energy production and Internet connectivity.

As the plan states, “Broadband and advanced communications infrastructure will play an important role in achieving national goals of energy independence and efficiency."

The proposal explains that to achieve this national goal, the government plans a “massive” build-out of information technology to construct a “smart grid” where government, industry, and individuals can monitor energy production and use in real time, allowing consumers to apparently better control their energy usage and public utilities to apparently better control the production and flow of energy.

“The United States is undertaking a massive communications and information technology buildout to produce the Smart Grid,” the plan says. “The vision is to build a modern grid that enables energy efficiency and the widespread use of both renewable power and plug-in electric vehicles." I.e., electric cars.

Potato or Tomato ?  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm not sure this could really be true, but if so its pretty alarming...

Jeremy Leggett: caught between low carbon and high-voltage rows  

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The Guardian has an article on Jeremey Leggett and the debate in the UK about the value of solar PV - Jeremy Leggett: caught between low carbon and high-voltage rows.

A tiny doorway next to a BetFair shop in south London is the unassuming headquarters of Solarcentury, a company that arguably stands to gain most on 1 April when the feed-in tariff – or "great green rip-off" as some call it – comes into force.

The company, or at least its founder, is at the heart of the next phase of Britain's low-carbon revolution by encouraging homeowners to fix panels on their roofs to generate renewable energy.

But while executive chairman Jeremy Leggett should have been devoting 24 hours a day preparing for the busiest period of his commercial life, he has been forced to spend some of his time fighting off an unexpected assault by environmentalists in the Guardian blogosphere. The irony is that Leggett is an ex-Greenpeace employee and, as a former Imperial College geologist, a powerful and knowledgeable ally to the environment campaigners on a range of issues, including "peak oil" – the point when global demand outstrips supply.

The debate over whether the feed-in tariff costs too much for the expected carbon reductions rumbles on but even this "social entrepreneur", who has always enjoyed a good tussle with more traditional foes, admits he has had enough of swapping increasingly fraught online words with George Monbiot, Chris Goodall and other notable greens.

"It certainly perplexed me," he said. "If I did not know the individuals involved, I'd have presumed that this is the nuclear industry pushing back at a time of imminent possible success for the renewables industries. They [atomic power firms] have declared a form of war, with EDF and E.ON having this line to government that says 'You can have nuclear or you can have renewables, but you can't have both', when previously they argued you could have both.

"But I know the actors [environmentalists] so I know it is not possible [for them to be nuclear lackeys], but George and Chris must know how damaging it is at this time. At the very minimum it is annoying that George has come out with this heady rhetoric, yet as far as I know did not actively engage in the government's long consultation on the issue." ...

Leggett has also crossed swords with Monbiot over the latter's claim that it is an "impossible dream" to build up a proper British renewables products industry given the competition from low-cost areas such as China: "I say that is needless defeatism because the global market is pitifully small. Seven gigawatts of solar was installed last year, the equivalent of seven nuclear power plants, and to think we cannot catch up and have a fully integrated national industry is needless defeatism."

And this is an area where Leggett's scary view about the world running out of oil much faster than anyone expects neatly gels with the need to promote a self-standing renewables sector.

"Security of energy supply is going to be a real issue so should we not be deliberately building a vertically integrated renewables industry on the British Isles? I think the world is going to change dramatically and globalisation, of necessity, is going to be massively set back by the unaffordability of oil, so trade routes are going to shrink and there is going to be an incredible explosion of independent thinking.

"Companies and governments are going to think much more than they do now about this. We need to be making much more stuff at home. We can't be dependent on markets far overseas."

Leggett has pushed the peak oil debate on to the political agenda by getting an increasingly broad church of industrialists – such as Sir Richard Branson, Brian Souter of Stagecoach, and Philip Dilley of Arup – to come on board. The bandwagon seems finally to have made its impact on the UK government, which is softening its former position that peak oil was being over-hyped.

They Don't Talk Trash, They Track It  

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The New York Times has an article on a baby step towards the "internet of things" (itself one component of a closed loop manufacturing system that we need to develop to kick our resource extraction habit) - They Don't Talk Trash, They Track It.

"Smart" phones offer the intelligence of a computer, with the convenience of a phone. "Smart" meters let homeowners choose between using cheap and expensive electricity.

A 5-year-old group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has spent the last year attaching thousands of tracking devices to pieces of garbage in Seattle and New York City. The devices send out pulses to signal where they are.

The signals go to MIT's SENSEable City Lab for analysis. Last year, they also went to art exhibits in both cities, where live maps revealed the many paths garbage takes.

For example, a plastic soap bottle tossed in a Manhattan recycling bin took several twists and turns around the city before crossing the river to Kearny, N.J.

Carlo Ratti, who directs the City Lab, said each city he's lived in -- Turin, Italy; Paris; Cambridge, England; Boston -- has suffered from congestion, pollution and inefficiency problems.

He believes new technologies, like iPhones, social networking and wireless communication, can inform city dwellers and make cities "smarter." "The only way we can actually solve some of the big problems, like climate change, is if we really coordinate and act together," Ratti said. "What, for the first time, is really bringing us together is the power of networks in general and the Internet." ...

The aim of project "Trash Track": to study where recyclables go. Dietmar Offenhuber, a doctoral student in the lab, said there's plenty of research on how things are made, but little is known about how they degrade and finally disappear. Among the questions here -- especially for cities paying millions for recycling programs -- are how much greenhouse gas is created and how much energy is wasted in the process. Another might be whether recycling really happens.

"Even the people working in waste removal don't really have a clear knowledge or picture of where the stuff goes," he said.

That's partly because trash goes through so many handoffs en route to its final destination, Offenhuber said. Trash companies follow their own haul, for example. But once they separate the aluminum and sell it to a collector, their records end. No single database tracks a soda can through its cycle. ...

But according to Offenhuber, telecom companies are watching Trash Track to see if it can be scaled up. By the end of this year, he said, the SENSEable City Lab wants to deploy thousands more trackers, and it wants to focus on e-waste.

That will help the companies develop a tracker that's cheaper and easier to use. Ultimately, the device may even come in a tracking "kit" that lets someone attach it to an item, then log on to a Web site that tells its whereabouts.

Bow Energy in 3 tcf coal seam gas find  

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The ABC has a report om the latest find of coal seam gas in Australia, with Bow Energy claiming a 3 tcf find and hoping to sell it for export as LNG as well as using it in a local power station - Energy firm finds 20yr gas reserve.

A Queensland energy company says it has found enormous reserves of coal seam gas in the Bowen Basin in the state's Central Highlands. Bow Energy says it has identified three trillion cubic feet of gas in the Blackwater area east of Emerald, enough for at least 20 years.

The company says it will start work later this year on a power station to feed electricity into the national grid. Chief executive John De Stefani says it is building a gas-fired power station at Blackwater that should start operating early next year. "There's sufficient capacity in that region for that power. It will go into the grid," he said. ...

Mr De Stefani says the company also hopes to sell gas to proposed LNG plants in Gladstone.

The Australian reports that rumours about a Woodside takeover of Santos are being downplayed by the companies involved -
Santos and Woodside deny takeover offer
.
SPECULATION that oil and gas giant Woodside Petroleum has made a $15 billion bid for gas firm Santos has been dismissed by both companies.

Shares in Santos spiked in early trading yesterday following rumours Woodside had approached it, but the stock stabilised after the pair denied the reports.

Analysts said investors had bought into the scuttlebutt because there was heightened interest in the coal-seam gas sector following the $3.44bn bid for Arrow Energy by BG Group and PetroChina.

Woodside chief executive Don Voelte yesterday said the company did not normally comment on market rumours but said there was "nothing to it" in relation to the takeover speculation.

Adelaide-based Santos was forced to deny the rumours after it received a "speeding ticket" from the Australian Securities Exchange, requesting an explanation for a run on its shares

Electric Vehicles Charge Ahead in US  

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Renewable Energy World has an article on the initial rollout of electric vehicle charging stations in the US - Electric Vehicles Charge Ahead in US.

Urban planners are deciding where to locate more than 11,000 charging stations in 11 major cities. They want those stations up and running when the first mass-market electric cars from Nissan and General Motors go on sale at the end of this year.

Last year, the Department of Energy awarded $100 million to eTec, an electric transportation research and development firm, to build electric vehicle charging networks in five states. Now is when the rubber meets the road, or more precisely, construction begins.

"You know, there's a lot of excitement over this," says Rich Feldman, a regional manager for eTec. "This is going to result in oil savings. There's going to be jobs that come out of this project in terms of people installing the equipment. We're obviously launching a whole new industry here. There's going to be other spinoffs and economic opportunity."

Feldman is supervising the installation of more than 2,000 electric car chargers in the greater Seattle area in western Washington, and another 2,000 at homes and public places in four Oregon cities. They'll be near shopping centers, fast food restaurants and movie theaters, "the variety of places that people think about when they're able to park and leave the vehicle for an hour or two."

Feldman's infrastructure company has partnered with Nissan. The car maker bought lots of ads during the Winter Olympics to promote its forthcoming all-electric model named the Leaf. Nissan is inviting drivers to sign up on its website to be among the first to buy one.

Feldman says eTec hopes to convince a subset of Nissan Leaf buyers to participate in a study. It wants 900 drivers in each state to let researchers from the Idaho National Lab monitor their driving and charging behaviors. "In exchange, they get a free, home-based charging station," he explains. Lessons learned about consumer preferences on placement, features and payment options could guide the eventual national rollout of charging infrastructure.

The Nissan Leaf and the plug-in Chevy Volt are supposed to hit U.S. dealerships late this year. They're the first wave of mass production electric cars. Mark Perry, who directs product planning for Nissan North America, says new owners will have no trouble finding a power station. "So the concern, 'If I use this vehicle or purchase this vehicle, can I get charging?' that's going to be a very easy answer here."

The price of the fully electric Nissan is being announced at the end of March. Then the company will start taking deposits from consumers, who likely will pay a substantial premium over a comparable gasoline powered compact. The four-door, five-passenger Leaf has a range of about 160 kilometers.

Perry says that Nissan will sell and lease the car and battery as a package. "There had been a lot of conversation about separation of car shell and battery and different approaches," he said. "Nissan is still going to explore different business models in other parts of the world. But here in the U.S., definitely an entire transaction.

Plug pulled on Victorian smart meter plan  

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The Age has an article on difficulties with Victoria's smart meter rollout leading the government to suspend it for the time being (not wanting any problematic issues during an election year it seems) - Plug pulled on smart meter plan.

THE state government has temporarily pulled the plug on Victoria's $2 billion smart energy meter program.

Energy Minister Peter Batchelor last night announced an indefinite moratorium on the rollout of the new technology to every home across the state - because of concerns pensioners and the poor would be hardest hit by higher electricity prices.

Mr Batchelor made the announcement, an election-year embarrassment for the government, after meeting representatives of the poor, including St Vincent de Paul and the Victorian Council of Social Service.

He made it clear the government intended to push ahead with the scheme, but gave no indication as to how long the moratorium might last.

The plan to install smart meters in all 2.5 million Victorian homes and small businesses over the next four years, and introduce a new time-of-use pricing regime, has been beset by controversy.

The government argues the new technology, which can read a household's energy use every 30 minutes, will enable people to monitor their use in peak periods and turn on high-energy appliances such as dishwashers during off-peak times. ...

VCOSS chief executive Cath Smith last night welcomed the moratorium, saying Mr Batchelor had recognised that people who spend a lot of time at home during the day or who could not shift their energy use to off-peak times could suffer. ...

Mr Batchelor said last night: ''We are committed to ensuring the transition to a new pricing structure is managed carefully and sensibly.'' He promised to regularly review the effect of time-of-use tariffs on families.

But he defended smart meters, saying they would help Victorians tackle climate change.

Earth2Tech reports that smart meters continue to get some mixed receptions in the US as well - It’s Come to This: Citizens Against Smart Meters.
The backlash against the smart meters installed in Texas by utility Oncor doesn’t seem to be dying down. Actually the protesters are getting more organized and turning to social media. A group called Smart UR Citizens — whose members describe themselves as “a group of Texas citizens that are fighting the unrealistic utility charges which we believe are caused by the Smart Meter” — has a new web site, an online petition, an intro video and an online survey, and is inviting community members to submit videos and comments about their experiences.

The small group is also holding rallies outside of Oncor’s headquarters and using social media to get the word out. Dallas Morning News reporter Elizabeth Souder reported in the newspaper’s blog Texas Energy and Environment yesterday that the group was supposed to hold a rally Thursday afternoon — as she put it: “The protesters will be the ones waving red shop flags.”

Oncor seems to have been making a variety of attempts to address the smart meter backlash. The utility has been releasing information about weekly tests in local areas, including OakCliff, Temple and Killeen.

But utilities are still trying to figure out the best way to communicate to these types of customers about transitioning to smart meters. As this IDC Energy Insight report say, utilities “have not thought through the implications of new technology and products on customer relationships or the business process.” In other words, utilities are not at all prepared for the increased amount of communication, education and interactivity that will be required from installing new smart grid technology.

S.Korea to invest $1 billion in tidal power plants  

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Reuters has a report on South Korean plans to build 520 MW of tidal power generation over the next 4 years - S.Korea to invest $1 billion in tidal power plants.

Korea Western Power Corp (WP) will invest a total of 1.22 trillion won ($1.07 billion) to build 20 tidal power plants likely from next year through 2014, the government and officials at the utility said on Thursday. The power plants, to be located in about 200 km southwest of Seoul, will have a total capacity of 520 megawatts (MW), the world's largest, they said. ...

Asia's fourth-largest economy, heavily dependent on oil and gas imports, set a voluntary 2020 emissions reduction target last year to a 30 percent reduction from its forecast under a business as usual scenario. Renewable energy accounted for 2.4 percent of South Korea's total energy consumption in 2008. The country aims to increase that to 11 percent by 2030.

Tasmania's lesson: when Labor attacks the Greens, it threatens itself  

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Richard Flanagan has an article in the SMH arguing that Labor should try to treat the Greens as partners rather than the enemy - Tasmania's lesson: when Labor attacks the Greens, it threatens itself.

For the best part of the past 12 years the ALP ran Tasmania as if it were a sub-branch of Norm Gallagher's Builders' Labourers Federation, in which Jim Bacon, the first of Labor's last three premiers, had once served as Gallagher's loyal lieutenant

And, like the old BLF, its working-class rhetoric of being one with the many workers hid secret deals with a few big-business mates in forestry and gaming.

Cronyism, bullying, purging, threats, lies, blacklists and intimidation were the order of the day. The perception became commonplace that the government was rotten.

Tasmanians let this pass for a very long time because they were frightened, because any who came between the ALP and its exercise of power had their lives made miserable.

But the greatest cost was in the end to the ALP itself, which ceased to become a force for any progressive politics. It lied, it deceived, it sold Tasmania's soul for a mess of pottage, all so it could keep itself in privilege.

So far to the right did the Tasmanian ALP move that Robin Gray, the former Liberal premier and board member of the timber company Gunns, last year proposed a Liberal-Labor coalition on the ground that nothing now divided the two major parties and it would keep the Greens out of power.

''No policy issue,'' Mark Latham has said, ''or set of relationships better demonstrates the ethical decline and political corruption of the Australian Labor movement than Tasmanian forestry.''

But that is only half the story: the other half is that its desire to destroy the Greens led the Tasmanian ALP to so many of the poisonous accommodations it made with the forestry industry.

And last Saturday Tasmanians made it clear they had had enough.

Lindsay Tanner wrote on this page yesterday that the high Green vote represented the defection of the educated and the affluent from Labor's ranks.

But this is a myth. The collapse of the Labor vote was about the many people who are neither educated nor affluent having had enough of what they perceived to be the collusion of Tasmanian Labor with corporations against their interests.

One Tasmanian Green MP, Kim Booth, is a sawmiller, more a lager guzzler than a cafe hopper. Another Green MP, Tim Morris, was the highest votegetter in the electorate of Lyons, which combines rural and forestry areas with some of the poorest public housing estates in Australia.

The former Liberal leader Rene Hidding put Morris's unprecedented vote down to the fact people in that electorate - which Gunns has papered with its highly unpopular plantations - were frightened their drinking water was poisoned by the plantations.

It was, then, not the latte sippers voting Green but the poison swillers frightened of what they believed the unholy union of corporate power and the ALP may have done to them.

Tanner is right to argue the ALP treats the rise of the Greens in Tasmania seriously as a national portent. But, in suggesting the ALP sees the Greens as a new enemy, he is repeating the terrible mistake made by the Tasmanian ALP that left it politically gangrenous and led it to its drubbing in the election. ...

Come the federal election, pundits are predicting the Greens gaining the balance of power in the Senate. The ALP can choose to treat this as an opportunity, as helping them to prosecute a more progressive agenda. Or it can make the mistake it made for too long in Tasmania and treat the Greens as its greatest enemy.

Through the 20th century, Big Brother was the state. In the 21st, it may well be the corporation, be it Gunns or Halliburton or the coal industry. We need corporations as we need states but, as the global financial crisis has shown, as climate change demands, we need checks upon their excessive powers.

In that battle the progressive forces could do worse than come together, recognising their differences, accepting their conflicts, but avoiding the unforgivable crime of fratricide. And who knows? In the mash-up there just might arise a better future.

Texas Pioneers Energy Storage in Giant Sodium Sulphur Battery  

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National Geographic has an article on a large scale sodium sulphur battery being built in Texas - Texas Pioneers Energy Storage in Giant Battery.

Presidio, Texas, has one link to U.S. electrical power, stretching some 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Marfa in the high desert to the banks of the Rio Grande.

Built in 1948, the transmission line was around when Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean walked Marfa’s streets while filming the epic movie Giant.

Electrical storms erupt frequently in the rugged expanse between Marfa, nearly one mile (1,600 meters) above sea level, and Presidio, on the Mexico border, “one of the hottest places in the nation,” in the words of city administrator Brad Newton. “It really creates a situation unique to our geographic area,” he says.

Reliance on a single aging, transmission line in this hostile terrain has made life in Presidio different than in most of the United States.

Chronic power outages and electrical fluctuations have been the norm.

And sweltering in the dark has been only part of the problem. The situation wreaks havoc with electrical devices, causing computer systems to reset frequently—an annoyance in homes and a constant worry for authorities.

“The area is a significant border crossing and for them to lose computers was not a good option,” said Calvin Crowder, president of Electric Transmission Texas, LLC, a joint venture between subsidiaries of American Electric Power and Warren Buffett’s electricity company, Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings.

ETT is just completing installation of a system designed to resolve Presidio’s power woes.

The hoped-for remedy is a battery, a Texas-size battery, which could eventually end up playing an important role in wider use of green power generation such as solar and wind. The U.S. $25 million system, which is now charging and is set to be dedicated April 8, will be the largest use of this energy storage technology in the United States.

The four-megawatt sodium-sulfur (NaS) battery system consists of 80 modules, 8,000 pounds (3,600 kilograms) each, constructed by the Japanese firm NGK-Locke. They were shipped to Long Beach, California, in December and transported to Texas aboard 24 trucks.

The cost of the battery system includes $10 million just to construct the building in which it will be housed and the new substation it requires.

Iberdrola To Build 400-MW Baltic Offshore Wind Farm  

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REW has an article on some large scale offshore win power developments in Europe - Iberdrola To Build 400-MW Baltic Offshore Wind Farm.

Iberdrola Renovables has bought 100% of the rights to build the Ventotec Ost 2 offshore wind complex in the German zone of the Baltic Sea. The rights were purchased from a German joint venture comprising Deutsche Erneuerbare Energien GmbH and Ventotec GmbH. They were awarded the permit in 2007.

The Ventotec Ost 2 offshore wind complex is far along in the permitting process and is expected to be commissioned by 2014. The wind farm’s 80 wind turbines, each with a capacity of of 5 megawatts (MW), are expected to generate a total of 1,200 gigawatt-hours (GWh).

The project is located in the northern part of the priority wind area known as Westlich Adlergrund, and will be built approximately 40 kilometers from shore. The average depth of the water is approximately 39 meters.

The German government has set a target of installing at least 10,000 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2020 and Iberdrola recently created an Offshore Wind Division designed to channel the development of this significant volume of offshore wind power.

Recently, Iberdrola and Vattenfall were awarded the construction rights to build one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world in the United Kingdom. The North Sea zone, known as East Anglia Array, has the potential to develop up to 7,200 MW, with construction is expected to begin in 2015.

The company is also involved in the development of several further offshore projects in Germany and has a pipeline of 2,300 MW in the United Kingdom, including the 500-MW West of Duddon Sands facilities, which it will start construction onin 2012, and Argyll Array, which will have an installed capacity of up to 1800 MW.

Wave Energy Scales Up Off Scotland  

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Technology Review has a look at the British surge towards harnessing wave and tidal power - Wave Energy Scales Up Off Scotland.

Scotland hopes to ride the next renewable energy wave. Site leases for several big wave and tidal power projects were awarded last week by the U.K. government, concluding a two-year bidding process that elicited strong interest from major utilities and energy entrepreneurs. The awards open the way for six wave energy projects and four tidal energy systems around Scotland's Orkney Islands that could collectively generate up to 1.2 gigawatts, exceeding the U.K.'s 700-megawatt target for the bidding round. This is an immense scale for an industry that so far has installed only pilot projects involving a handful of small devices. ...

Technical and environmental challenges could, of course, slow some marine energy technologies more than others. That is what McAdam is betting for Aquamarine's Oyster wave converter, a buoyant steel flap that uses wave power to drive a hydraulic piston and send high-pressure water to a turbine generator on the shore. The design puts no fast-moving parts or power generator in the water, and McAdam claims this will minimize both technical failures and threats to marine life. In contrast, the tidal devices selected by all of the Orkney site developers, made by OpenHydro, Marine Current Turbines, and Hammerfest Strøm, use underwater turbines.

McAdam says that Aquamarine has worked through minor valve and pipeline glitches since installing the first Oyster demonstrator, a 315-kilowatt device, at EMEC in October. Aquamarine is now building its commercial-scale device--a three-flap array feeding a single 2.5-megawatt turbine--which it plans to test at EMEC next year.

Building that device is expensive, and this is the biggest challenge of all facing the industry. Developers of the Orkney sites will benefit from marine energy's favorable treatment under the U.K.'s renewable energy mandates. However, that value only kicks in when the projects reach full scale, and developers say additional small-scale installations are needed.

"Where we're lacking at the moment is this capital intensive phase of installing equipment to prove that it's feasible," says McAdam. He notes that Alex Salmond, who leads Scotland's government, is planning a green energy conference later this year that will consider further incentives for marine energy.

A 2005 study by the Palo Alto, CA-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that wave energy could be generated at comparable cost to onshore wind power off Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Massachusetts. EPRI has previously said that wave and tidal energy could meet about 10 percent of U.S. electrical demand. Paul Jacobson, ocean energy leader for EPRI, says these first-pass estimates are now being updated by a comprehensive national wave energy assessment that EPRI will complete next year, and a national tidal assessment underway at Georgia Tech.

Santos in Woodside's crosshairs  

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The SMH has a report on rumours that Woodside is considering a bid for coal seam gas producer Santos - Santos in Woodside crosshairs .

The Santos share price has risen strongly in the past three weeks on the strength of rumours that Woodside has been sounding out industry personnel about their willingness to join a team for a major venture, now said to be a move on Santos.

Analysts described the Santos rumours as chatter and pointed out that Woodside has its own LNG growth plans to pursue without having to bother with the unknowns of LNG exports from coal seam gas resources. The chatter nevertheless persists.

The theory is that Woodside would sell Santos's non-export gas interests to defray the cost of the acquisition. A bid for Santos has been on the cards since the South Australian government lifted the 15 per cent shareholding restrictions in the company - a throwback to when Alan Bond was stalking the Adelaide company.

The Santos rumour comes as BG Group has jumped to the lead in the race to become the first of the Queensland gas exporters after formally signing a deal for the supply of $50 billion of gas to China.

The signing followed the May 2009 agreement with China National Offshore Oil Corp for gas sales from its proposed Curtis LNG project near Gladstone.

The agreement covers the supply of 3.6 million tonnes of LNG annually over 20 years. The value was not disclosed and is dependent on oil price assumptions. A range of $40 billion to $60 billion is expected.

It ranks as one of the biggest LNG contracts ever written and has particular importance because it is the first fully-termed sales and purchase agreements for the supply of LNG from coal seam methane, as distinct from an understanding to buy on terms yet to be decided.

Following its 2008 takeover of QGC, BG is laying claim to a resource base to underpin the Curtis LNG development of 13.5 trillion cubic feet. The deal with CNOOC also means that the project is now fully sold on its planned output of more than 8 million tonnes of LNG annually. Previous supply deals with Singapore and Chile have been struck.

BG plans to have the plant on Curtis Island come on stream in 2014.

You Can't Argue With Success  

Posted by Big Gav

The Business Spectator has a somewhat mystifying column arguing that Germany's economic model is flawed because it is so successful - The Flawed Giant Of Europe. The underlying cause of the unreasoning seems to be the cursed work ethic, equating unemployment with misery. This might be true if you can't afford a generous social welfare system - however the Germans can, as a result of their economic success - so the real objection here is basically a (demented) political one - which is what you'd expect from someone working for a conservative think tank I guess. If the worst a country has to worry about is that people might have to mow their own lawns, things are pretty good (unless your goal is to have plenty of poor people around to do your menial work for you I suppose)...

Although concerns over our own productivity are only natural, focusing on this measure alone is too narrow because it ignores labour cost and employment effects. A closer inspection of German productivity reveals that a nation’s high productivity can create an economy in which people find it hard to get their lawns mowed.

Germany’s productivity is as legendary as the ingenuity of its engineers. When the marketing executives at Audi AG realised they were being mistaken for an Italian car manufacturer, they were quick to use their domestic slogan Vorsprung durch Technik (advancement through technology) in international advertising campaigns.

The Audi catchphrase worked wonders in selling the company’s Germanness, but it describes more than just this single carmaker. It also sums up the business model of Germany Inc. No other country has based its economy on such a combination of high technology, extreme efficiency, and capital-intensive production. Unfortunately, this may have more to do with the country’s labour market and welfare state than with sophisticated German engineering.

The German language is productive indeed. It has forged a complicated word for this phenomenon: Entlassungsproduktivität – the productivity gains from lay-offs. Economists like Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the IFO research institute in Munich, have long argued that high labour costs are driving German companies to substitute capital for labour. This boosts labour productivity – and unemployment.

For many decades, German trade unions had successfully pushed for higher wages, particularly for low-income groups. Germany’s welfare state also contributed to increasing work costs. It is financed by payroll taxes, which means that employers have to pay roughly 25 percent in taxes on top of their gross wages bill. Add to that a well-developed – and costly – system of worker co-determination, whereby employees are involved in the management of a company, and it is not difficult to understand why German companies have been focusing their efforts on increasing efficiency and labour productivity. If it is costly and difficult to employ a worker, companies naturally start exploring other options – such as a new machine that could do the job just as well.

The German Federal Statistical Office provides good data to illustrate this. Between 1991 and 2009 capital intensity per worker, that is the private capital employed per job, rose substantially. In constant prices, it went up from €212,000 to €298,000 within this period – a cumulated increase of over 40 percent. This is not a new development, however. According to research by IWG Bonn, Germany’s capital intensity per hour worked has been higher than in any other industrialised country, except Japan, since the mid-1960s. This is even more remarkable considering the fact that working hours in Germany are among the lowest in OECD countries.

Although Germany’s productivity record may sound enviable, it has come at a huge price. It has triggered an enormous sectoral change and created a legacy of lasting unemployment. Jobs were cut in labour intensive industries where production was shifted to low-cost countries, mainly in Eastern Europe and Asia. Thus, in industries such as microchips, car components and textiles, Germany has lost employment thanks to a shift to increased capital intensity.

What this long process has brought about is an economy that is at the same time extremely productive and yet not very conducive to job creation. Workers lacking the qualifications necessary to be employed in high-productivity jobs are often relegated to a life on benefits. The jobless rate among them is much higher than in most other industrialised countries.

Martin Wolf at the FT is also having a go at the Germans (along with the Chinese), coining a new name for the 2 massive exporters, "Chermany" - China and Germany unite to impose global deflation. His arguments about the long term unsustainability of trade imbalances between nations make more sense than the nonsense peddled above at least.

Tri-generation plant to cut bank's energy bill  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Australian bank NAB has implemented a variant on a cogeneration system (apparently using traditional technology rather than a "Bloom Box" style fuel cell) within their main data centre in order to cut power bills and Tri-generation plant to cut bank's energy bill.

NATIONAL Australia Bank expects to save nearly $1 million in annual power costs by installing a tri-generation plant at its main data centre in Melbourne. Tri-gen plants produce electricity and use waste energy to produce heat and cooling. The resulting energy consumption is much lower than using a traditional electricity grid.

NAB embarked on the tri-gen path two years ago for sustainability purposes, as it was facing power consumption growth of 10 per cent annually.

ComputerWorld has more, noting that server virtualisation also helps save a lot of energy consumption - NAB data centre uses trigen, saves 20k tonnes of carbon.
Trigen technology introduces cooling processes into co-generation technology, which reuses heat from energy manufacture. Co-generation is the technology behind the famous New York stream system which transports heat for homes and office buildings.

The gas-powered data centre channels excess gas — heated to more than 300ºC — into the 2 megawatt trigen plant where it is sent into an absorption chiller that boils refrigerant liquid to produce cold water for cooling.

NAB data centre platform specialist, Glenn Allan, said the trigen plant was quietly switched on early this month. “We are farming a single energy expense for multiple re-use,” Allan said. “We are the first [to use trigen] in data centres, but you will be able to count the months until the next deployment.”

Allan said trigen power will gradually replace the data centres’ remaining energy grid dependence and will be considered for incorporation into all new NAB data centres. “These aren’t emergency stand-by technologies — they are running the baseload power every day of the week,” Allan said. ...

NAB’s primary Melbourne data centre has been a favourite of the banks’ carbon razor gang, as part of the carbon neutral initiative through which the bank has conducted efficiency assessments, bought a fleet of hybrid vehicles, switched to 10 per cent green power and slashed energy use in its 790 branches. ...

Power and cooling costs can also be significantly reduced by replacing ordinary servers with blades and using virtualisation, Allan said. Blade servers are the staple in NAB’s data centres and, while virtualisation has been deployed extensively, he warned that the enterprise consolidation ratios may not reach some of the more optimistic predictions. Allan said the most productive uses of virtualisation are only coming out now after the “toy factor” mentality has passed.

“There is a litany of inventions in history where the usefulness is only discovered later… virtualisation could be made more useful if I could create backup application on a server, inflate it for 90 minutes then remove it so it doesn’t take up resources,” he said.

“[Virtualisation] will lower the server-to-power ratio — NAB has 16 blades to six power supplies — and if you virtualise, the ratio becomes incredible,” he said. “The case for virtualisation is off the table; everyone should do it, if not for the power savings than for the improved change management capabilities.”

The data centre uses cold and hot isle systems and Allan, who is eagerly watching research in jet impingement chip cooling, said every data centre should operate advanced cooling management models.

Will Better Place Make It ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Greentech media has a look at the prospects for Shai Agassi's Better Place venture - Will Better Place Make It?.

Can three cents be transformed into billions of dollars?

That's the big question when it comes to Better Place, the well-funded start-up that wants to put people into electric cars. Driving a gas car costs about 12 cents a mile when gas costs $3 a gallon, says Jason Wolf, vice president the company's North American division.

Electricity, on the other hand, costs about 3 cents a mile: a kilowatt hour costs around 12 cents and a car can go around 4 miles on a kilowatt hour. A battery for an electric car, meanwhile, will cost around 6 cents a mile over a 200,000 mile lifetime.

Since Better Place says it will supply the electricity and batteries to consumers, the company has a margin of 3 cents per mile (12 cents minus 9) before potential customers complain about the higher cost of going electric. Granted, 3 cents doesn't sound like much: I harvest more loose change than that every time I do laundry. And Better Place proposes building thousands of charging stations, hundreds of battery swapping stations, and devising software so these cars won't crash the grid when charging.

But look at it from another perspective. There are around 200 million drivers and 254 million vehicles in the U.S. and insurance companies say the average person drives 12,000 miles a year. That comes to 2.4 trillion miles, or $72 billion of potential three-cent transactions per year. Even one percent of that would probably placate investors. And in Europe and Asia, higher gas prices boost that 3 cent margin to 9 or 12 cents. Additional revenue can come from selling semi-depleted batteries to utilities, which isn't part of the above calculations.

And with the battery separated from the car, the down payment and resistance toward going electric goes way down.

"When you buy a Toyota, you don't buy eight years of gasoline," Wolf said. "You take out the battery and now you have a much, much cheaper car."

Big math problems like that, along with their inherent uncertainties, make Better Place one of the more intriguing companies in greentech today, or in any market, for that matter. In a short period of time, the company has joined the ranks of Google, Apple, Microsoft and Tesla Motors as a subject of endless debate and speculation. How did they raise over $700 million? How much have they spent? Will car dealers and manufacturers work with them?

SXSW Dispatch: The Geek Triumphant  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Mother Jones has a brief article on the SXSW festival and Bruce Sterling's traditional closing rant - SXSW Dispatch: The Geek Triumphant.

For the first time since it was added to the festival's line-up in 1994, SXSW Interactive has outsold Music in paid passes. It's further proof of geek ascendancy in media, as well further proof that Interactive's tagline—The Future is Now—might not be an idle boast. As Bruce Sterling ranted in his annual address at a packed Convention Center ballroom last night, the momentum of the scientific innovation has slipped into hyperdrive, for better or for worse.

In Sterling's eye, of course, it's for worse. We're making a mess of things, with all the tweet-ups and meet-ups and downloads and bootlegs and status updates and blithe disregard for the impact on the world outside our sleekly designed bubble. Our combination of self-absorption and apathy in the face of war, recession and environmental collapse is going to earn us the disgust of the next generation, and we aren't doing enough, and even if we were, there's not much we could do anyway, and it's all going to hell, chaos, technofascism and waste. He's seen the future, baby, and it is Juarez.

Brian Fitzgerald has a rough transcript of the rant - SXSW: Eclectic rough notes, Bruce Sterling closing speech..
Growing old is pleasant in many ways, and beats the alternatives.

“Kids these days” is where I jump the shark. This is probably the best behaved generation in history. Depression, two land wars, zero in the way of predictable future and they’re still confident and cheerful, and kindly. By the standards to the 20th century we shouldn’t be surprised if they were settting fire to the core of every city on the planet.

Now to the complaints. Two big problems. A Finance crisis, and this long lasting greenhouse effect. We are networking while Rome Burns. ...

I was pleased and touched by the reception that the internet critics got. But they do a disservice to Kevin Kelley, to Tim O’Reilley when they calls them internet-promoting idealogues. They’re not. They’re deep thinkers and much more comples.

Your fate will be to be attacked by the digital natives who never knew the pre-digital times but become pre-digital nostalgists. The buzz words of today will be used as the whips and scorpions of their critique. Why did your “social media” rob us of the right to watch Gunsmoke?

Take Juarez. People talk about the extinction of the press, the demonetizing of reportage. In Juarez people are being shot. Twice the people we lost in 9/11. Why? Because the anti-terrorist anti-insurgency troops switched sides and decided to become a narco-terroritst regime. And something they were told was to ice the media. What conceivable moral leap is there between spectacular beheadings in Mexico and you guys? Because they are in the business of keeping Austin stoned. And this is because of American policy to criminalize drug use with a malfunctioning drug enforcement policy that has festered for a generation and become really severe. And that’s the situation that the internet will be in a couple generations down the pike. The problems that we see today, that we have not dealt with, are going to fester and we’re going to get excoriated for them.

You are going to have to find it in your heart to help these people. It will be your greatest moral test. Things that you didn’t plan, that you meant to plan, the tendency to treat everything as censorship and route around it, the rubber band and scotch tape mashup kluge of putting it together is going to come back to haunt you. But you have to put aside the inate conservativism about the things you did to overturn the existing order. You will say you didn’t intend it. You will say it wasn’t forseen. And that will be true. And it won’t matter. You have to be kind to your critics, and you have to help them. ...

If we had it to do over the first thing we would have demonitized food and shelter. Imagine if the world had open source food, and shelter.

neighborgoods.net check it out. It’s Socialist media. Why is there not a single startup whose business model is communist? From each according to their ability to each according to their need, Vanguard of the revolution… how much could it hurt?

It’s obvious what happens in a depression. Poverty! But still I hear pundits ask ”Gee what would an extended depression where the means of production collapsed look like?” Well it looks like Detroit.

Or “What would an envrionmental crisis in which extreme weather events were ravishing our cities due to global warming?” It looks like New Orleans!

Why is there so much febrile resignation about giving up? It’s arrogant to despair. We’ve multiplied so many options we can’t even name them. Anything is possible, and that’s what gets me out of bed. Telling the truth about the future is not hard. But why would people listen, and how would they respond?

Energy Storage's Quiet Revolution  

Posted by Big Gav in

Renewable Energy World has a look at developments in the world of energy storage - Energy Storage's Quiet Revolution.

When A123Systems saw its shares jump more than 50 percent in a successful Nasdaq debut back in September, some industry insiders expected it would be the first of a bevy of big energy-storage headlines. Instead, energy storage seems to have fallen out of the limelight, getting nothing near as much hype as Bloom Energy, a fuel-cell company focused on electricity generation instead of energy storage, generated when it launched last month.

But a series of recent small announcements suggest that energy-storage technologies are quietly making progress toward commercialization nonetheless. "There seems to be a lot more buzz in the last few months, and what's interesting is it's not all on the automotive side," said Sara Bradford, a principal consultant for global research firm Frost & Sullivan. While automobiles remain a key area for new energy-storage technologies, she's seeing a "spillover effect" as research and investment spreads into other areas, including grid applications for utilities and nonautomotive transportation.

Some examples? In February, Valence Technology signed a $45 million deal to supply its lithium-ion battery systems for a new line of hybrid-electric yachts, sailboats and motorboats from Beneteau Group. And International Battery, another lithium-ion rechargeable battery manufacturer, announced it was selected to supply battery systems for an American Electric Power smart-grid demonstration project in Ohio.

The community energy storage part of the project, which is being developed by S&C Electric Company, is intended help stabilize the grid and provide backup power, potentially enabling plug-in electric vehicles and a higher percentage of intermittent renewable-energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

In January, battery maker GS Battery teamed up with screen-printed solar-cell manufacturer Suniva to develop solar-power systems with batteries that can store the energy for times of peak demand. And Ice Energy — which reduces peak electricity demand from air conditioners in the middle of the day by making ice at night, when demand is low and surplus electricity is available, and using it to help cool air conditioning refrigerant when temperatures are high — signed a deal to sell its devices to the 11 municipal utilities represented by the Southern California Public Power Authority.

While many of the announcements have represented only small steps — such as pilot projects or an entrance into niche markets — they show that a number of technologies are on the right track, and some are ready to go, she said. "Exciting things are happening that set the stage to really make [commercialization] happen short-term," Bradford said. "These announcements are certainly steps in the right direction to get these technologies ready for electric vehicles and the grid."

Silver Spring, GridNet Rivalry Heats Up Down Under  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Greentech Media reports that US smart grid technology vendors Silver Spring and GridNet are competing to land Australian smart grid contracts - Silver Spring, GridNet Rivalry Heats Up Down Under.

Silver Spring Networks -- the people who want to hook your home's electricity meter to the grid with mesh radios -- will work with Australia's Western Power to link up one of the most isolated electricity networks in the world.

Western Power provides electricity to more than 850,000 homes and businesses but over a service territory covering 322,000 square kilometers. That's going to take some extra repeaters and infrastructure to make sure everyone is linked up. The contract will initially cover six service areas in the overall service territory.

Silver Spring has landed contracts to deploy its technology in California, Texas and Florida, among other places, arguably putting it at the top of the pack of smart grid network providers. This latest deal, however, brings an element of human drama.

GridNet, which proposes using more powerful broadband networks to link up consumers and utilities, and its partner General Electric last year signed a deal with Australian utility SP AusNet. The utility plans to use the next-generation wireless technology to link about 680,000 household customers with smart meters. Future uses of that grid could include linking distribution grid sensors and controls, rooftop solar panel monitors, "smart charging" systems for plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, and a host of other smart grid applications.

GridNet is also trying to seal up other Australian deals, vice president of marketing solutions Judith McGarry told us recently. GridNet hasn't landed as many deals in the U.S., McGarry said, because it got started later. Australia as a result has become something of the test case for the company. Although it plans to accommodate all sorts of broadband standards, GridNet is now mostly focused on WiMax.

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