Engineers race to design world's biggest offshore wind turbines  

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The Guardian has an article on a new British design for offshore wind turbines with a 275m wingspan that produce three times power of standard models - Engineers race to design world's biggest offshore wind turbines.

British, American and Norwegian engineers are in a race to design and build the holy grail of wind turbines – giant, 10MW offshore machines twice the size and power of anything seen before – that could transform the global energy market because of their economies of scale.

Today, a revolutionary British design that mimics a spinning sycamore leaf and which was inspired by floating oil platform technology, entered the race. Leading engineering firm Arup is to work with an academic consortium backed by blue-chip companies including Rolls Royce, Shell and BP to create detailed designs for the "Aerogenerator", a machine that rotates on its axis and would stretch nearly 275m from blade tip to tip. It is thought that the first machines will be built in 2013-14 following two years of testing.

But the all-British team of designers and engineers, which includes Eden project architects Grimshaw, is in stiff competition with other groups. Earlier this year US wind company Clipper, which has close ties with the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, announced plans to build 10MW "Britannia" turbines in north-east England.

Based on a scaled-up version of the conventional wind turbines now common in the British landscape, these giants would be fixed to the sea bed but would stand nearly 600ft high above the waves. If they prove technically and financially feasible, each turbine should be able to generate enough electricity to provide 5,000-10,000 homes and, says Clipper, should create energy equivalent to 2m barrels of oil in their 25-year lifetime.

Meanwhile, Norwegian firm Sway is planning to build massive floating turbines that would stick straight out of the sea from 100m-deep floating "masts" anchored to the sea bed. An EU-sponsored research project is also investigating 8–10MW turbines, and other American and Danish companies are planning 9MW machines. Full-scale prototyes of all three leading designs are expected to be complete within three years.

"There is a wonderful race on. It's very tight and the prize is domination of the global offshore wind energy market," said Feargal Brennan, head of offshore engineering at Cranfield University, where much of the Aerogenerator development work has been carried out.

"The UK has come late to the race, but with 40 years of oil and gas experience we have the chance to lead the world. The new [Aero-generator] turbine is based on semi-submersible oil platform technology and does not have the same weight constraints as a normal wind turbine. The radical new design is half the height of an equivalent [conventional] turbine," he said. He added that the design could be expanded to produce turbines that generated 20MW or more.

Smart Grid Meter Usage in Europe Growing 17.9 Percent Annually  

Posted by Big Gav

TMCNet has a post on smart meter market growth in Europe - Smart Grid Meter Usage in Europe Growing 17.9 Percent Annually.

There’s big news in the smart grid industry today. Analyst firm Berg Insight has released a report saying that the number of smart electricity meters in Europe will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17.9 percent between 2009 and 2015 to reach 111.4 million at the end of the period.

That’s a whole lot of smart electricity meters! The meters give customers a great variety of information about their energy consumption – and therefore, some control over their energy savings.

According to Tobias Ryberg, senior analyst at Berg Insight, “In the past year, EDF, Endesa and Iberdrola – three of the absolutely largest electricity network operators in Europe – have launched large-scale pilots in France and Spain, respectively. Next year, these deployments will evolve into nationwide rollouts in these countries.” He added, “On top of that, the UK’s largest electricity and gas retailer British Gas has launched the first major smart metering project for residential customers in the country. These developments in combination with rollouts in several other European countries will drive strong market growth over the next five years.”

Energy and Climate Policy A Low Priority Election Issue  

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Neither of the major parties are running an election campaign with climate change (let alone peak oil) as a major issue, with Labor handpassing the issue to a future "citizens assembly" (so much for the "greatest challenge of our generation" - now its "no carbon price until at least 2013 – if we have international consensus by then") and the Liberals hoping they can convince people that soil carbon and some other forms of government subsidy would be an acceptable form of action.

This regrettable state of affairs has lead observers like John Quiggin to note that the Greens are the only party advocating any sort of meaningful climate change policy (and thus being worth voting for).

One of the few positive announcements during the election campaign has been Labor's promise to spend $1 billion over 10 years to make it easier to connect renewable energy to the electricity grid (as well as making emissions standards for new coal fried power stations more stringent). The proposal was welcomed by SA Premier Mike Rann, noting it would help the development of wind, solar, geothermal and wave power projects in his state.

Cash For Clunkers Down Under

Besides the proposal to (slowly) improve the grid, Labor has also announced that it will promote a new "Cash for Clunkers" scheme to get more than 200,000 pre-1995 cars off the roads (stripping $220 million from the Solar Flagship program in order to do this, to the dismay of the solar energy sector). The scheme would provide owners of pre-1995 cars a rebate of $2,000 if they upgrade to a more fuel efficient model.

The head of the the Australian Solar Energy Society suggested the program should be funded by reducing the Fuel Tax Credits scheme, which subsidies diesel for mining companies, and costs $4.9 billion per year, instead of stripping money from solar power programs.

The Enhanced Renewable Energy Target

One brief glimpse of hope did emerge before the election campaign began in the form of the enhanced RET (renewable energy target), with the government mandating an increase requiring 20 per cent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020 (still a long way short of the 100% target being promoted by Melbourne University and Zero Carbon Australia).

The new the scheme will create two different market segments, the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) and the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET), so that large-scale investments such as wind farms are treated differently from residential-scale renewable energy infrastructure such as solar hot water heaters and solar panels.

The LRET target will be for 41,000 GW-hr per year, with a series of intermediate annual targets being set - 10,400 GW-hr for 2011, 18,000 GW-hr by 2015 and 41,000 GW-hr by 2020 (this target remains until the scheme ends in 2030).

After the scheme was passed AGL Energy announced the fast-tracking of its plans to build the $800 million Macarthur wind farm in Victoria.

Brumby's Solar Plan For Victoria

While federal politicians have been largely ignoring cleaning up our power generation, Victorian Premier John Brumby has announced a plan mandating that five per cent of the state’s electricity come from solar power by 2020, with incentives encouraging industrial solar power stations and medium-sized commercial installations in places such as the roofs of shopping centres.

Brumby set an interim target of 500 gigawatt hours by 2014 (equating to around 285MW of installed capacity). The Climate Spectator put this in a global context, noting Spain overtook the US as the largest market for solar recently with a capacity of 430MW (Australia currently has less than 1MW of installed large-scale solar).

The plan includes a feed-in tariff, however the details are yet to be finalised (however the feed-in tariff for large-scale solar is expected to be set at a considerable discount to that of roof-top solar). Brumby estimates the additional cost on the energy bill per family at around $15 per year (without providing any details to back this estimate).

Spanish solar company Acciona quickly announced interest in participating in the scheme.

The government will also set a target of a 5-star equivalent energy rating across existing homes by 2020 and offer more rebates for solar hot water installation, and will look at establishing up to 50MW of co-generation power plants in hospitals, increase the government’s greenpower commitment to 50 per cent by 2020 from 25 per cent now, and add $100 million to the green buildings program. The program will also support to the introduction of electric vehicles into the state and will aim to reduce government car fleet emissions by 20 per cent by 2015, starting with the purchase of 2000 Camry hybrid vehicles.

While Brumby got plenty of good press following his solar initiative, he has also come under fire for another plan to replace one-quarter of Hazelwood, Australia's dirtiest power station, by 2014 (though some have argued this plan would be better value than the "cash for clunkers" program).

The criticism of the plan is based largely on its excessive cost, along with the obvious unfairness of making taxpayers pay compensation to the owner of a plant that should have been closed 5 years ago (as Crikey put it "Cash for clunkers: $1b for clapped-out, world’s worst-polluting coal generator).

Abbott's plans don't stack up as power prices set to rise  

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The SMH has a look at the Federal opposition's bizarre subsidy based approach to (slightly) reducing carbon emissions - so much for the party of the free market ("no carbon price") - Abbott's plans don't stack up as prices set to rise .

A Coalition government could spend about $300 million a year for the next decade subsidising the overhaul of a single electricity generator in a bid to reduce greenhouse emissions without raising power prices.

But the electricity industry says prices could still rise because the plan offers no investment signal to any other power generators.

The Coalition's climate spokesman, Greg Hunt, told the Herald he expected big-emitting brown coal-fired power stations such as Hazelwood or Yallourn, both in Victoria, to lodge competing tenders for the Coalition's $3.2 billion emissions reduction fund, which was likely to pay for the gradual replacement of one of the generators with cleaner gas.

The chief executive of the Energy Supply Association, Brad Page, said the Coalition plan could start to get rid of the highest-emitting of Australia's 33 coal-fired power plants - but it had to be followed by a carbon price to prevent investments in inefficient and more expensive stop-gap technologies.

''Without a long-term carbon price the problem of inefficient investment has still not been addressed and electricity prices will still go up,'' Mr Page said.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has vowed there would be no carbon price for a long time under his government, if ever, and the Liberals are running advertisements warning of drastic price rises under Labor's emissions trading scheme. Mr Hunt said a Coalition government was prepared to pay about $25 for every tonne of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere under the scheme, which would be legislated early next year.

About half the amount would be paid to the operator of the new gas-fired station for ''at least a decade'' so the more expensive power could be sold into the market for the same price as power generated by black coal. This would make good Mr Abbott's pledge that his climate policy would directly result in ''no loss of jobs, no increased price to consumers''.

''You would agree with the operator they would sell the [gas-fired] power at the black coal dispatch price so there would be no impact on the overall electricity pricing … we would only be paying for one station but if we didn't do that, it would affect the overall price,'' Mr Hunt said.

Labor continues to support an emissions trading scheme in theory, but has been widely attacked for delaying its introduction until a ''citizens' assembly'' gauges public sentiment.

The chief executive of The Climate Institute, John Connor, said the Coalition policy to subsidise one or two power stations was ''just another type of carbon tax''.

''It is still taxpayers' money buying emission reductions. It's just instead of businesses taking responsibility for their own pollution, the taxpayer takes responsibility for it directly,'' he said. ''Without a price on carbon, it won't do anything to shift the rest of the economy.''

Australia's highest-emitting station, Hazelwood, run by International Power, puts out about 16 million tonnes of CO2 annually, at least 12 million tonnes more than a gas-fired replacement. At $25 a tonne, that abatement could cost about $300 million a year.

The emissions reduction fund - designed to buy emission reductions from farmers, forestry and buildings as well as power stations - has $3.2 billion to spend by 2014-15. More than 60 per cent of the abatement it will buy is supposed to come from soil carbon.

Afghanistan: U.S. Spends $20 Billion Per Year for Air Conditioning in Tents ?  

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Cryptogon has a startling figure for the cost of air conditioning tents used by the US military - Afghanistan: U.S. Spends $20 Billion Per Year for Air Conditioning in Tents.

This astonishing statistic is mentioned in the audio feature on the page linked below.

Via: PRI:

The term we were looking for is “Forward Operating Base” or FOB. The US has many FOBs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The large ones have many tents and other structures where personnel live and work. And all of them need to be heated in the winter, and cooled in the summer. That can take a lot of fuel.

Steve Anderson is a retired Brigadier General who was General David Petraeus’s chief logistician in Iraq. He says the Pentagon should find ways to make structures at FOBs and other military compounds more energy efficient, not only to save money and be greener, but also, to save lives.

Who Cooked the Planet ?  

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The NYT has a column from Paul Krugman on global warming politics in the US - Who Cooked the Planet?.

Never say that the gods lack a sense of humor. I bet they’re still chuckling on Olympus over the decision to make the first half of 2010 — the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died — the hottest such stretch on record.

Of course, you can’t infer trends in global temperatures from one year’s experience. But ignoring that fact has long been one of the favorite tricks of climate-change deniers: they point to an unusually warm year in the past, and say “See, the planet has been cooling, not warming, since 1998!” Actually, 2005, not 1998, was the warmest year to date — but the point is that the record-breaking temperatures we’re currently experiencing have made a nonsense argument even more nonsensical; at this point it doesn’t work even on its own terms.

But will any of the deniers say “O.K., I guess I was wrong,” and support climate action? No. And the planet will continue to cook.

So why didn’t climate-change legislation get through the Senate? Let’s talk first about what didn’t cause the failure, because there have been many attempts to blame the wrong people.

First of all, we didn’t fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science. Every piece of valid evidence — long-term temperature averages that smooth out year-to-year fluctuations, Arctic sea ice volume, melting of glaciers, the ratio of record highs to record lows — points to a continuing, and quite possibly accelerating, rise in global temperatures.

Nor is this evidence tainted by scientific misbehavior. You’ve probably heard about the accusations leveled against climate researchers — allegations of fabricated data, the supposedly damning e-mail messages of “Climategate,” and so on. What you may not have heard, because it has received much less publicity, is that every one of these supposed scandals was eventually unmasked as a fraud concocted by opponents of climate action, then bought into by many in the news media. You don’t believe such things can happen? Think Shirley Sherrod.

Did reasonable concerns about the economic impact of climate legislation block action? No. It has always been funny, in a gallows humor sort of way, to watch conservatives who laud the limitless power and flexibility of markets turn around and insist that the economy would collapse if we were to put a price on carbon. All serious estimates suggest that we could phase in limits on greenhouse gas emissions with at most a small impact on the economy’s growth rate.

So it wasn’t the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?

The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.

If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.

Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you’ll find that they’re on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades.

Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer.

By itself, however, greed wouldn’t have triumphed. It needed the aid of cowardice — above all, the cowardice of politicians who know how big a threat global warming poses, who supported action in the past, but who deserted their posts at the crucial moment.

First Solar Drops Cost to 76 Cents a Watt  

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Greentech Solar reports that manufacturing costs at thin film solar power company First Solar continue to drop - First Solar Drops Cost to 76 Cents a Watt.

First Solar offered a cautious outlook on sales this year, but said Thursday it cut manufacturing costs and promised a rapid expansion in utility-scale projects.

The thin-film giant reported second-quarter financial results with a 12 percent increase in sales. However, earnings were down primarily due to lower module selling prices.

The world's largest solar maker acknowledged replacing some modules made from June 2008 to June 2009 because of declines in power output. It said replacement costs would add up to slightly more than $23 million for an anticipated 30 megawatts of modules.

Perhaps most significantly, the company cut its 2010 sales expectation to $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion from the $2.6 billion to $2.7 billion it forecast in April.

On a conference call, it said:

*Module manufacturing costs fell to 76 cents a watt, down 5 cents from the first quarter. Annual throughput per line was up 6 percent to 59 megawatts and material costs were lower. The company's target is to reach 52 cents to 63 cents a watt in 2014.

*Utility-scale projects are expected to increase. First Solar said it anticipates building 500 to 700 megawatts of projects in North America during 2011, up from 175 megawatts this year.

*Demand is expected to exceed supply in 2010. First Solar expects production capacity to be 2.2 gigawatts by 2012, up from 1.4 gigawatts this year. Module conversion efficiency was 11.2 percent in the second quarter compared with 11.1 percent in the first quarter.

The Non-debate About Climate policy In Australia  

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Crikey's Bernard Keane has a look at the laughable state of climate policy from both major Australian political parties - Penny Wong and Greg Hunt on climate change? Give me a break.

In a national campaign devoid of much colour or movement, there was at least some comedic value last night in watching Penny Wong and Greg Hunt debate action on climate change on the 7.30 Report.

In the red corner: Wong, the Climate Change Minister who with Kevin Rudd worked assiduously and effectively to entirely wreck Labor’s political advantage on the issue by remorseless partisanship, refusal to negotiate and a communication style for which the terms 'tedious' and 'hectoring' just get you warmed up.

In the blue corner: Hunt, who abandoned decades of personal commitment to addressing climate change in order to save his political skin, and who now has to spruik soil carbon -- a technology that makes CCS look commercial-ready -- and taxpayer handouts to polluters as the magic solution to the diabolical policy problem.

Both are mooted to be dumped from their roles after the election. There are frequent suggestions Hunt will be dumped for Malcolm Turnbull in an Abbott government. The rumours are less clear about Wong, and perhaps just reflect the fact the media has grown tired of her.

And the venue? The ABC, which has proven a reliable and effective facilitator of climate denialism of the most extreme form with its obsession with he-said-she-said journalism.

The debate was accordingly like heading down to the local kindy to ask some four-year-olds about the chances of a double-dip recession. Kerry O’Brien cannily sensed this and spent the entire debate telling his interlocutors they didn’t have much time and had to hurry up.

Both sides have made rods for their own backs even in selling their own wholly useless policies. Having run hard on the impact of the CPRS on electricity prices, as part of a broader Coalition strategy of blaming the federal government for electricity prices rises at the state level, Hunt is stuck with the implacable logic that his 'direct action' policy will, electricity generators say, drive electricity prices up.

Wong, like Julia Gillard, can have thrown back in her face every single one of her statements about why climate action shouldn’t be delayed, when Labor’s entire policy is now based on delay.

The obvious question is, given they will hold the balance of power in the Senate from July next year and are the only party with a credible climate change policy, why the ABC did not have the Greens in the debate. As we get so often from the national broadcaster, balance without judgement.

Wikileaks In The Spotlight  

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Wikileaks has become increasingly adept at getting attention for its publication of information other people would prefer to remain secret, with julian Assange being all over the TV and newspapers this week after releasing a huge volume of classified US documents about the war in Afghanistan.

The BBC has a story on the event - 'Hidden US Afghan war details' revealed by Wikileaks.

More than 90,000 leaked US military records have been published on the website Wikileaks, reportedly revealing hidden details of the Afghanistan war.

Three major news publications which have been shown the documents say they include unreported killings of Afghan civilians.

The huge cache of classified papers is described as one of the biggest leaks in US military history.

The White House has condemned the leaks as "irresponsible".

Reports by the UK daily The Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel say the leaked papers reveal Nato concerns that neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are helping Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani ambassador in Washington said the "unprocessed" reports did "not reflect the current onground realities".

"The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan are strategic partners and are jointly endeavouring to defeat al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies militarily and politically," said Husain Haqqani.

The reports also suggest:

* The Taliban has had access to portable heat-seeking missiles to shoot at aircraft.
* A secret US unit of army and navy special forces has been engaged on missions to "capture or kill" top insurgents.
* Many civilian casualties have gone unreported, both as a result of Taliban roadside bombs and Nato missions that went wrong.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says that although the documents reveal no dramatic new insights, they show the difficulties of the war and the civilian death toll.

Dan Gillmor at Salon has a look at the implications for Wikileaks as the US Government tries to re-establish its control over who has access to information - The WikiLeaks war logs change everything.
It's hard to escape the sense that we've hit one of those historical pivot points in the wake of WikiLeaks' release of the Afghanistan war document trove. The conduct of politics, war and media -- so intertwined these days -- has changed irrevocably.

A few points seem clear:

First: Daniel Ellsberg said today this is comparable to the Pentagon Papers, which he leaked to the New York Times and others back in the 1970s. I'm old enough to remember that event, and it was a pivotal moment in its own right. (The Atlantic's Jim Fallows has valuable perspective on the larger meaning of both leaks, as well as their similarities in key ways, as they applied to American policy and war aims.)

If he was contemplating the same decision today, Ellsberg said in April, he'd just scan the documents and put them online. But just posting documents isn't enough. While media are becoming democratized, there's still the matter of getting people's attention beyond a small circle of those who care deeply about any given topic. You want the biggest bang for the buck, you still take your story to the media organizations that will give your story a ride.

So the fact that WikiLeaks'' Julian Assange gave an early look at the documents to three selected organizations -- the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel -- is proof of his incredible savvy at how traditional media actually operate. In a recent New Yorker profile, he lamented the general uninterest he perceived among journalists when it came to huge stories. When everybody has the story, he realized, they don't care much about it.

When a few selected journalists at major institutions get it first, that's how you create buzz. This says more about journalists' competitive instincts and their Pavlovian response to "exclusives" than it does about their willingness to actually do their jobs for their audiences.

Second: WikiLeaks' roles -- intermediary, publisher, P.R. agent and more -- is not utterly unprecedented, but the size and importance of this story takes the shifting changes in media to new levels. (Do read Jay Rosen's smart instant analysis on all of this.) What do we make of such a "stateless news organization," as Jay elegantly puts it, which works so hard to subvert so many media assumptions of the past?

Even though the New York Times took huge care in what it printed, and kept some of the material out of its own reports at the request of the Obama administration, a newspaper's redaction is not very important if WikiLeaks puts out everything on its own.

That's a big "if" -- because WikiLeaks hasn't put everything out. On its War Diary front page, here's this item:
We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source. After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually, in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.

We've become accustomed to seeing traditional news organizations delay publication or broadcasts at the request of governments. The New York Times, you'll recall, held off for more than a year when it came to telling the American people about the Bush administration's illegal surveillance of our communications -- a decision made in what the paper considered journalistic good faith but which to many of us was an outright betrayal of the craft.

Journalists also do what sources demand, if that's what it takes to get stories. This is why so many articles have so many unnamed sources.

In this instance, WikiLeaks is holding back, at least temporarily, to keep its source happy. You and I can't judge whether this is really about minimizing harm or something else. We have to take WikiLeaks at its word, for now. One reason we may be more inclined to do so is the promise that these new documents will be released in full at some point.

Third: A week ago -- seems longer, doesn't it? -- the Washington Post ran a superb series of articles on how America's national-security state is emerging from the 9/11 paranoia, a "Top Secret America" that is at once terrifying and expected given the public's twitchy fears and politicians' eagerness to cater to our worst instincts. We learned that almost 900,000 people holding "top-secret" clearance are part of an apparatus that almost certainly spies on everything and everyone it can identify as even remotely, potentially, possibly suspicious -- with no real oversight.

(This helps explain the White House's panicky response to the WikiLeaks war documents, including the spectacle of administration officials complaining that Assange is antiwar and therefore must not be trusted. What if he is? The documents speak for themselves. Or do they? It's an impressive number, 90,000 documents with the promise of 15,000 more, but do they provide full context? We don't know. I'll discuss this in an update later.)

Whatever our keepers of intelligence secrets do know, and whatever abuses they've done to our civil liberties to learn them, they must feel less sure today about keeping it all contained. When that many people have access to information, however compartmentalized their bosses may think they've made the system, some of it will get out, which leads to something else we should worry about.

Fourth: The WikiLeaks war diary will absolutely spur our powerful institutions to look for increasingly draconian ways to clamp down on how we share information. What WikiLeaks represents is what governments and corporations fear: a threat to their cultures of secrecy and dominance in their domains.

Look for Washington and our corporate media to call for new laws to stop this kind of thing. Politicians and bureaucrats who don't trust us to know what's really going on -- they are legion in both major parties -- have allies among the traditional media and the entertainment industry that would gain enormously if the Internet were to be turned into a slightly more interactive version of 20th century print and broadcast media.

If you think the rich and powerful people who run governments and corporate media aren't working every day to turn back the clock on information they can't control, you're not paying attention. WikiLeaks may well have given them new ammunition for pushing the harshest kinds of restrictions. Do we want to be like Saudi Arabia and China? We may find out one of these days, sooner rather than later.

Finally, this: I have donated money to WikiLeaks in the past. I plan to donate in the future. What Assange and his team are doing is an inevitable result of what technology has brought us in democratizing our media. Some of what they do troubles me. But the bottom line seems to be this: They are performing a public service.

Julian Assange recently did a TEDTalk on Wikileaks - Julian Assange: Why the world needs WikiLeaks .



The SMH reports that the source of the documents was anonymous WikiLeaks chief in the dark over who leaked data.
WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief claims his organisation doesn't know who sent it some 91,000 secret US military documents, telling journalists that the website was set up to hide the source of its data from those who receive it.

Julian Assange didn't say whether he meant he had no idea who leaked the documents or whether his organisation simply could not be sure.

But he did say the added layer of secrecy helps protect the site's sources from spy agencies and hostile corporations.

"We never know the source of the leak," he told journalists gathered at London's Frontline Club. "Our whole system is designed such that we don't have to keep that secret."

While Assange acknowledged that the site's anonymous submissions raised concerns about the authenticity of its material, he said WikiLeaks had yet to be fooled by a bogus document.

The 39-year-old Australian was at the Frontline Club, the hub of London's media set, for the second time in as many days to outline his site's mission and methods - and defend it from charges that it endangered lives by putting mountains of classified information in the public domain. ...

Assange agreed that the files offered insight into US tactics.

But he said that was none of his concern, and he noted that his website already carried a copy of the US Special Forces' 2006 Southern Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Manual, among other sensitive US military documents. "It is not our role to play sides for states. States have national security concerns, we do not have national security concerns," Assange said.

He said he wasn't interested in the safety of states, only the safety of individual human beings. "If we are talking a threat to individual soldiers... or citizens of the United States, then that is potentially a genuine concern," he said.

Assange also offered insight into his own motivation, referring to a statement he gave to German newspaper Der Spiegel in which he said he "loved crushing bastards."

He said the comment wasn't meant in jest, describing himself as a combative person who likes "stopping people who have created victims from creating any more."

Assange also expressed disdain for the military, alluding to a statement attributed to Albert Einstein, a noted pacifist, which describes soldiers as contemptible drones and attacks patriotism as a cover for brutality and war.

He scoffed when the Frontline's moderator spoke of teenage British soldiers "giving their lives" in Afghanistan. "To what?" he asked.



Technology Review has a look at how data sources could be marked to identify whistleblowers - The Hunt for the Wikileaks Whistle-blower.
Attorney General Eric Holder's new probe into Wikileaks's posting of 91,000 war documents will likely find that tracing the path of the documents back through the Internet is next to impossible. But watermarks--if they were embedded in the files--could reveal the whistle-blower.

Wikileaks relies on a networking technology called Tor, which obscures the source of uploaded data. While Tor doesn't encrypt the underlying data--that's up to the user--it does bounce the data through multiple nodes. At each step, it encrypts the network address. The source of data can be traced to the last node (the so-called "exit node"), but that node won't bear any relationship to the original sender.

Ethan Zuckerman, cofounder of the blogging advocacy organization Global Voices, says he doubts investigators can crack Tor to find the computer from which the documents were originally sent. "There's been an enormous amount of research done on the security of the Tor network and on the basic security of encryption protocols," he says. "There are theoretical attacks on Tor that have been demonstrated to work in the lab, but no credible field reports of Tor being broken."

And while Tor's profile has been raised by its association with Wikileaks, Andrew Lewman, Tor's executive director, says he has no insights into the source of the purloined documents. "I don't know how Wikileaks got any of the information," he says. While Wikileaks gets technical help from Tor staffers, "they don't tell us anything, other than 'Did we set up the hidden service correctly?' which we'd answer for anyone," Lewman adds.

"People assume that Wikileaks is a Tor project, but I can tell you definitely there is no official relationship."

Lewman points out that many law-enforcement agencies, such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, also use Tor to protect their operations.

One way the government could finger a leaker is through digital watermarking of the documents themselves. James Goldman, a cyber forensics expert at Purdue University, says it's not clear whether the government uses digital watermarking, "but it's certainly possible."

Kevin at Cryptogon has a little essay on the reliability of Wikileaks as an information source, noting it could genuinely be what it claims (a Shockwave Rider inspired entity dedicated to revealing government and corporate data) - or that it could be just another (well publicised) source of disinformation. An alternative explanation would be the data being fed to it is part of what William Gibson dubbed America's "cold civil war", with the liberal faction happy to have a way of discrediting their foes.

Cryptogon - WikiLeaks Founder, “Constantly Annoyed that People Are Distracted by False Conspiracies Such as 9/11″.
People often ask me if I think this source or that source is disinfo…

My response is always: TREAT EVERY SOURCE AS DISINFO.

You’ll avoid disappointment when the thing starts serving up rat poison—which, unfortunately, happens a lot.

I haven’t shared this before, but in early 2008, someone from WikiLeaks wrote to me. This person wondered why I hadn’t mentioned WikiLeaks on Cryptogon. He wondered if maybe I hadn’t heard of it, or had concerns that it was a front of some sort.

I simply wrote back that I was aware of WikiLeaks, and that I was hopeful and skeptical at the same time.

That remains my stance today; on WikiLeaks and every other source.

So, who knows… I’ve read interesting things on WikiLeaks, many of which I have linked to from here. Does that mean that I’m sure it’s not some kind of front or honeypot? Not at all. How could I know for sure, given what’s knowable in the public domain about WikiLeaks?

Julian Assange’s recent comment in the Belfast Telegraph about 9/11, however, may be a more tangible source of concern for me. I know Assange isn’t an idiot, so I see three other possibilities:

1. He is profoundly ignorant of the vast body of material that demonstrates that the 9/11 spectacle was a false flag operation.

2. He’s “picking his battles” and not wanting to have to deal with the inevitable conspiracy theory stigma that could threaten his media access

3. He’s running a limited hangout/honeypot

Of these three options, I doubt that it’s number two.

Also, I’m aware of all the stuff John Young has up over at Cryptome from some anonymous mole on a private WikiLeaks list. Again, who knows.

Vet the data as you would anything else from any source. Use your skills of discernment. For me, the most worrying thing about WikiLeaks is the promotion it receives from the corporate media. Even the trash talking Wired is promoting Wikileaks by constantly mentioning it.

In the end, though, obsessing about disinfo this and disinfo that is generally a waste of time. It’s safe to assume that damn near everything we come across contains disinfo.

There is the issue of stench, however. Sources that say, categorically, that there’s nothing to see here on 9/11 smell really bad to me. As bad as anything can smell. (See my maggot bucket if you think that I don’t know what smells bad.)

We just saw the WikiLeaks release of the Afghanistan information, does Assange forget the pretext that was used for the invasion?

9/11 remains the elephant in the room.

BP's other disaster  

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Giles Parkinson at The Climate Spectator has a look at BP's ventures into renewable energy over the years - BP's other disaster.

The headlines relating to BP today will no doubt be about the oil giant's record losses and the huge payout for its departing CEO. But there’s a fascinating story to be told about its flirtation with renewable technologies, and it’s a cautionary tale that has lessons for investors large and small, company boards and policy makers, as well as the PR industry.

London-based analysts at Citigroup have done a bit of research into BP and its experimentation with renewable energy and, in doing so, have contrasted the fortunes of one company that talked about doing something, and another company that did something.

Just over 10 years ago, both BP and its Spanish equivalent, Iberdrola were large energy companies with minimal exposure to the renewables market. This is what happened next.

After the merger with Amoco, and the purchases of Atlantic Richfield Corporation and Burmah Castrol in 1999, BP decided to invest $US200 million in a branding campaign called Beyond Petroleum managed by Ogilvy and Mather.

It was a stunning success. And O&M marveled at their own work: "Our Brand Champions implemented change internally with leadership communications, toolkits, chat room promotions, CEO satellite broadcasts, town hall meetings and celebrations." Hooray!

Shareholders must have thought it was money well spent. The campaign lifted BP’s “brand power” in the US among business decision makers from a score of 30 in 2000 to an all-time high of 50 in 2008. It was quickly adopted within the sustainable investment community as a champion of corporate responsibility, and was held up as an example to others of progressive management of environmental and social issues.

According to Citigroup, rating agencies comparing the sustainability performance of the energy sector routinely graded BP "best in class" on environmental issues, making the company eligible for inclusion in SRI and ethical funds run on this strategy.

But there was little substance to it. According to Citigroup’s analysis of BP’s 2009 results, after a decade of talk, the alternative energy business had grown into just 711MW of wind capacity, sales of 203MW of solar equipment, a 50 per cent joint venture with Rio Tinto to build and demonstrate a hydrogen-powered electricity generating facility with carbon capture and storage, and a CCS project in Abu Dhabi.

The revenue from these businesses are not disclosed separately in the company’s financial reporting, but included in the “other businesses division,” which Citigroup says is expected to contribute an annual loss of around $400 million in 2010.

Meanwhile, in Spain, Iberdrola over the same period lifted its renewables portfolio to 20 per cent from 3 per cent, floated its renewables division Iberdrola Renovalbles for a direct cash injection of €4.5 billion, and now has a renewable capacity of 10.8GW – about 13 times bigger than BP.

This includes 2.1GW of wind in the US, the market that BP described as its prime target. In 2010, according to Citigroup, Iberdrola will install 1.7GW of wind, twice as much as BP has installed in the last decade. Iberdrola Renovables had total sales of €2 billion in 2009 and a net income of €371 million.

Gulf of Mexico's Deepwater Oil Industry Is Built on Pillars of Salt  

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The NYT has an article on deepwater offshore oil, hidden under salt layers - Gulf of Mexico's Deepwater Oil Industry Is Built on Pillars of Salt.

Not so long ago -- at least, in geological time -- many in the oil game thought the Gulf of Mexico was tapped out.

Financiers called it "the Dead Sea." Nearly a century of production had run its course. Well after deeper well turned up dry, many drilling into thick layers of salt. And where there was salt, most believed, all hope of oil was lost.

Then, 25 years ago, it all began to change.

Exploration geologists discovered that, rather than signaling oil's end, underground salt -- leftovers of repeatedly evaporated seas -- could lead to a horde of new discoveries. And soon, the finds came, with names like Mahogany, Mickey and Tahiti, and the oil majors followed. The salt was obscuring oil, trapping oil or, through its inherently slippery nature, shifting and reordering the Gulf's sedimentary murk.

To understand nearly any deepwater oil find in the Gulf, including BP PLC's runaway Macondo well, requires understanding the salt that provides much of the region's deepest bedrock, geologists say. And, unlike the dull sand and dirt on top of it, carried by various ancestors of the Mississippi River, salt has proven a tricky foundation.

"Do you know the old Bible reference, don't build your house on sand?" said William Galloway, a geologist at the University of Texas at Austin. "Well, building your house on salt goes beyond anything in the biblical expression."

Gulf geology is not only about salt, of course, but scientists' improved take on the rock is one of the best examples of how, for 50 years, the Gulf has served as one of the world's foremost geology labs. Backed by society's endless thirst for oil, geologists have guided drillers to ever deeper and riskier oil reservoirs. But they have also put that money to work, filling in the empty sketch held by most of the vast underground world beneath the ocean floor.

Armed with improved, sonar-like imaging that has begun to reliably sound through salt's uncertain geometries, geologists are discovering oil reserves beneath even foundational salt sheets. (Large recent discoveries off Brazil offer prominent examples.) Not only have these sheets hidden oil, but they have also whisked away the earth's heat, allowing the crude to linger in formations once thought unsuitable.

The global push for salt-hidden oil is only gaining steam, geologists say.

"Salt over the decades has been a difficult rock to seismically image," said Clint Moore, a vice president at ION Geophysical Corp, a seismic technology company. "And we now seem to have solved that problem. And that opens up all kinds of abilities to see the geology of the earth more clearly."

Moore, while at Anadarko Petroleum Corp., was one of the earliest geologists to probe beneath the Gulf's salt, helping discover the Mahogany oil reservoir, the region's first producing subsalt field, after burrowing through 3,825 feet of salt in the early 1990s. The productivity of these salt-based fields could prompt a re-evaluation of peak oil's arrival, he said.

"If the volumes are there, this will be a significant addition to the world's resources," he said.

Of course, there are complications. Deeper wells sit at higher pressures, increasing the risk of blowout. The deepest exploration well, drilled by the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon, is 35,000 feet down, several times the depth of BP's Macondo well. And further oil production will only add to the greenhouse gases humans pour into the atmosphere each year, slowly increasing global temperatures.

Fiscal Localism On Rise In Germany  

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NPR has an article on local currencies in Germany - Fiscal Localism On Rise In Germany.

The Havelbluete, the Augusta and the Chiemgauer might sound like the names of locally brewed beers, but they are in fact micro-currencies which, like micro-breweries, are in abundance in Germany. There are more than two dozen local currencies in circulation, and 40 or so initiatives are about to start printing their own banknotes. These notes are not gimmicks. They're recognized legal tender -- at least within each local region. More than two dozen local currencies are in circulation.

NPR's Eric Westervelt went to southern Germany to try to find out why such monetary localism is on the rise in Europe's largest economy.

Microsoft Hohm connects to home power monitor  

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CNet has an article from Martin LaMonica on Microsoft's "Hohm" energy usage meter - Microsoft Hohm connects to home power monitor.

If you're cranking the air conditioner a lot this summer, a product bundle using Microsoft Hohm will tell you a lot about your upcoming energy bills--maybe even more than you want to know.

Microsoft on Tuesday announced that it has tied its Hohm Web home energy-efficiency application to an electricity monitor called PowerCost Monitor. The combination, which uses a home broadband connection, lets people view home electricity from the Web or from the tabletop electricity monitor.

Whole-home electricity monitors show you how much electricity a house is using at a given moment and how much it's costing you--sort of like a dashboard with a home speedometer and cost per mile.

Linking Hohm to the monitor allows people to see that same real-time information from a Web-enabled device, such as a PC or smartphone. Significantly, it lets people dig a little deeper in the data to track electricity use for the whole day, or compare one period to another.

For Microsoft, it's the first deal it has struck to bring energy data via an electricity monitor into Hohm, the company's foray into consumer energy efficiency. Microsoft hopes to have Hohm act as a software hub for managing everything from home efficiency improvements to scheduling electric-vehicle charging. Google, too, has already signed on a couple of device makers to connect its PowerMeter application to home electricity monitors.

For consumers eager to get more than just a monthly utility bill, it's a sign that some of the benefits touted by smart-grid advocates, namely more detailed information to drive efficiency, can be achieved without having utilities install smart meters.

Global Oil Supply Now Contracting?  

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Stuart at Early Warning has a post on global oil production numbers and their implications for global economic growth - Global Oil Supply Now Contracting?.

It's too soon to remove the question mark from the end of the post title, but not too soon to be talking about the subject.

For a number of months now, I've been tracking the fairly rapid recovery in global oil production, after the end of the great recession. I even pointed out that there was enough spare capacity in OPEC that it could potentially exceed the previous peak of monthly oil production back in July 2008. I was careful to add this caveat, however, complete with bold font on the "if":
Therefore, if the global economic recovery continues, and in particular if OPEC is willing to restore their production cuts at prices that don't derail that recovery, then it appears likely that the July 2008 liquid fuel production level will be exceeded.

The data for the last few months now have me wondering whether the global economic recovery is not in fact continuing. ...

As of today, we have data for June from two agencies (OPEC and the IEA), and data through April for the third (the EIA). OPEC and the IEA agree that production has been declining at least modestly since February (see blue circle), while the EIA currently shows the peak month in 2010 as March. Overall, the average is down about 600kbd, or around 0.7% from the February 2010 peak.

The all-time peak in global production (so far) is within the green circle. The fall due to the great recession corresponded to a 5% reduction in global production by the trough in May 2009. This is context for the current 0.7% contraction, which is much smaller at this time.

In the short term, global oil production is a sensitive indicator of the state of the global economy, and I'm not aware of any other publicly available proxies for the overall state of the world's economy that are as timely.

In this case, given that prices are falling rather than rising, and that OPEC undoubtedly has some spare capacity, the question becomes one not about whether supply is struggling to rise, but rather about whether demand is faltering or even declining.

Whether this presages a renewed contraction in the global economy, a stagnation, or just a transient hiccup in the ongoing recovery, I'm not certain of yet. But certainly each passing month of lower oil production will add to the concern.

NASA Map Illustrates Extent of the Planet’s Marine Dead Zones  

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Yeal Environment 360 has a post on a new NASA map of marine dead zones around the globe - Map Illustrates Extent of the Planet’s Marine Dead Zones.

A new NASA map illustrates the significant expansion of the world’s marine dead zones, deepwater regions where dissolved oxygen is so low marine species cannot survive. Many of these dead zones occur off densely populated coastlines, particularly along the eastern United States and in Northern Europe. Scientists produced the map using data from satellites that can detect high concentrations of particulate matter, an indicator of overly fertile waters that can create dead zones. The zones arise when fertilizers applied to crops wash into streams and rivers, eventually reaching coastal waters, where the excess nutrients trigger massive algae blooms. When the algae die, they sink to the ocean’s depths, where they essentially become fertilizer for microbes that decompose the organic matter and consume oxygen, suffocating marine life. In 2008, a study found that dead zones had spread exponentially since the 1960s, affecting more than 400 ecosystems and a total area of more than 152,000 square miles (245,000 square kilometers).

Indonesia Seeks to Tap Its Huge Geothermal Reserves  

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The NYT has an article on Indonesian interest in geothermal energy - Indonesia Seeks to Tap Its Huge Geothermal Reserves.

The 17,500 islands of the Indonesian archipelago, perched perilously on the arc of seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring, are plagued by unpredictable and often deadly volcanic eruptions. But there is an upside to living with fire: vast reservoirs of underground water, heated by the earth’s core, can be harnessed to generate electricity.

Indonesia has more than 40 percent of the world’s geothermal reserves, enough to produce 28,100 megawatts over 30 years, equivalent to the power generated from burning 12 billion barrels of oil, according to revised figures released by the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry in March.

Geothermal energy could conceivably power a significant part of this sprawling country of more than 227 million people. Currently Indonesia is turning out less than 1,200 megawatts from six geothermal fields scattered across Java, North Sumatra and North Sulawesi — a negligible percentage of its potential, putting it behind both the United States and the Philippines. But Indonesian officials have ambitious goals for geothermal generation.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said that by 2025 he would like geothermal generating capacity to rise to 9,500 megawatts, or about 5 percent of the country’s total requirements. And tapping into geothermal resources— a low-carbon, clean alternative to the oil and coal that dominate Indonesia’s energy consumption — could help him realize another stated objective: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 26 percent over the next decade.

To reach these goals, Indonesia will need an upsurge of foreign investment. In late April, Bali was the host of the 2010 World Geothermal Congress, which attracted technical experts, officials and investors from about 80 countries. “The Congress was a way of introducing Indonesia to the world and saying, ‘We’re open for business,”’ said Ted Saeger, energy and natural resources officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.

The conference opened with the signing of 12 geothermal-related contracts worth about $5 billion, ushering in the second phase of a fast-track government program to develop Indonesia’s power industry. This phase, estimated to cost $12 billion and scheduled for completion in 2014, calls for an increase in geothermal generating capacity to nearly 4,000 megawatts.

A month after the congress, the U.S. commerce secretary, Gary Locke, led a trade mission to Indonesia of representatives from 10 clean technology companies looking for opportunities in geothermal development, particularly in the outer islands. Addressing an American Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Jakarta, Mr. Locke spoke about the prospects. “We cannot be so concerned about the initial cost,” he said. “Ultimately, the cost will go down, the technology will improve.

“The benefit to the planet, and to our health, and to the quality of life of today’s people and future generations, is so critical,” he added.

Berman, Rapier and Staniford on Matt Simmons and BP Horizon  

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TOD's Arthur Berman had an interview on CNN last week about BP's oil spill in the gulf - Berman on CNN.



Robert Rapier has a fairly jaundiced look at some of Matt Simmons' claims about what is happening in the gulf - Is Matt Simmons Credible?.
I am going to address a touchy subject in this essay, but I simply can’t ignore it any longer. I have noticed that a lot of people are finding my blog through keyword searches of “Debunking Matt Simmons.” About two and a half years ago, I did write an essay called Debunking Matt Simmons. Because of Matt’s recent claims about the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there has been a spike in interest over whether his claims related to the disaster are actually credible. So now seems like a good time to revisit the subject.

The topic is touchy because Matt Simmons has long been revered in the energy business, and some of his fans will be upset with me for writing this.

But Simmons has lately been making what I feel are very irresponsible and sensational claims that don’t hold up to scrutiny. ...

Simmons’ Sensational Claims on the Gulf Spill

In these and various other interviews, Simmons claims:

1. Use of a small bore nuclear device is the “only option” to stop the flow of oil.

I don’t want a banker who doesn’t know what fuzzy logic is being taken seriously on the issue of using nukes in the Gulf of Mexico.

2. BP would be insolvent by July 8, 2010. He has also stated several times that the stock is going to zero.

While I have said that I don’t think the BP brand can continue in the long run, I wouldn’t call them insolvent and it will certainly take some time for the legal issues to play out. A prediction of insolvency by July 8th was ridiculous. Simmons has also shorted BP stock, so some of this may be wishful thinking on his part.

3. The “real, untold story” is another leak that is 5-7 miles away spewing 120,000 bbls/day.

I haven’t the faintest idea where he came up with this, but I have spoken to several experts who say the chance of that is zero.

4. That there is an underground lake of oil that is 500 feet thick, 100 miles wide, and may be covering 40% of the Gulf of Mexico.

As one person calculated, that would equate to 500 trillion barrels of oil; total global reserves are estimated in the region of 2 trillion barrels.

5. The leak could last 24 years.

He believes this, because short of the nuclear weapon idea he sees no other way to stop the leak and thinks we may have to wait for all of the oil to come out of the reservoir. Meanwhile, the news is that BP is starting to get the leak under control.

6. The gulf states need to be evacuated.

Simmons says “We’re going to have to evacuate the gulf states. Can you imagine evacuating 20 million people? . . . This story is 80 times worse than I thought.”

That last claim was in the Washington Post, leading one critic to ask of the story’s author:
Did he consider that Simmons is a financial analyst and may have an agenda in creating heightened hysteria surrounding the spill?

Did he consider the effect printing this claim could have on the people of the Gulf Coast?

Stuart Staniford has some additional commentary - Robert Rapier on Matt Simmons.
I am uncomfortable having to deal with this kind of thing: I have talked with Matt on several occasions, and emailed with him more often. He is a decent and well-intended man, has been helpful to me personally, and he has in the past had a track-record of good calls in the oil and gas industry, back before he got so famous. However, I'm afraid that Robert is now right: there is a history of sensationalistic overstatement in recent years, and since Matt is the premier peak oil spokesperson that can actually get attention from the mass media, that is a real problem. Robert shouldn't be the only voice to say so.

I think the most salient issue to me is the famous Tierney-Simmons bet, where Matt intentionally set the terms of the bet far out of the money. 2010 oil futures were $59/barrel back in 2005, so setting the terms at $200 was very disadvantageous to his chances of winning. It now looks extremely unlikely that oil will break the $200 level before the end of this year and so Matt will lose, and this does no good at all for the cause of getting people to do what is required to reduce their dependence on oil. It didn't have to be that way if Matt were a little less certain of his own rightness.

Brazil tribes seize hydro-electric plant  

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The Age has an article on an Avatar style confrontation between natives and an energy company in Brazil - Brazil tribes seize plant.

HUNDREDS of Amazon tribesmen in warpaint have taken over a hydroelectric power plant in Brazil with 100 employees inside, demanding more than $A6 million for the burial and hunting grounds they lost to the dam.

Talks between 300 members of at least six different Amazon tribes and the Aguas da Pedra power company broke down recently, triggering the takeover on Sunday of the Dardanelos power plant and 100 employees working there at the time, Brazil's Globo News television said.

The protesters want to talk with the company and representatives of the energy and environmental ministries, as well as the National Indian Foundation (Funai) and Brazil's Environmental Institute.

In full warpaint, tribal leaders demanded compensation for cultural and social losses stemming from the destruction of an indigenous burial ground and a tract of hunting grounds since the hydroelectric dam went up nearly three years ago.

The Best Peak Oil Investments: Ten Electric and Hybrid Car Stocks  

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Tom Konrad has another installment in his series on peak oil themed investing - The Best Peak Oil Investments: Ten Electric and Hybrid Car Stocks.

Tesla Motors (TSLA) is not the only electric vehicle (EV) stock. Here are nine other public companies helping to replace petroleum with electricity in our cars and trucks.

Early in this series on the Best Peak Oil Investments, I put together an in-depth comparison of alternative fuels. I concluded that the best prospect for displacing oil in the long term is electricity supplemented by biofuels. Vehicle Electrification is likely to come to dominate the transportation sector because only renewable electricity can supply energy on the scale that we currently use for transportation with limited use of land area. Biofuels require far more land area to propel a vehicle the same distance.

Many investors see the long term promise of Electric Vehicles (EVs) and think it means that the first EV stock to go public on a North American exchange, Tesla Motors, Inc. (TSLA), will inevitably take off. Similar thinking lead to the strong investor response to the A123 (AONE) IPO last year. Such investors should remind themselves that just because an industry has great long term prospects does not mean that the early IPOs are great investments. Solar energy also has great long term prospects, but investors who bought Sunpower (SPWRA) in the month after its IPO in 2006 for $26 to $32 would now only have half their initial investment after four years. Earlier solar IPOs were even worse. Does anyone remember Astropower? The company declared bankruptcy in 2004. I can't find the date that it went public, but I remember that it was public in 1999 when I attended an investor presentation by the company President Dr. Barnett. I bought and sold a small position in the stock shortly after for a nice profit, holding it less than a month. I believe the people who make the most money on Tesla will also be the traders, not the long term investors, at least in the next few years.

A great technology does not guarantee a great stock, and buying the high-profile leader in a hot sector does not make an investor's prospects any better. So if you still want to invest in vehicle electrification, here are nine other companies to consider. Most are dogs, but one or two will almost certainly do better than Tesla, and the fact that these stocks are getting so much less investor attention means that you have a much better chance finding a diamond in the rough.

Hacking the Electric Grid More Difficult Than Some Imagine  

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Wired has a look at efforts to prevent hacking of the electrical grid in the US - Hacking the Electric Grid? You and What Army ?.

Grid-hacking is back in the news, with the unveiling of “Perfect Citizen,” the National Security Agency’s creepily named effort to protect the networks of electrical companies and nuclear power plants.

People have claimed in the past to be able to turn off the internet, there are reports of foreign penetrations into government systems, “proof” of foreign interest in attacking U.S. critical infrastructure based on studies, and concerns about adversary capabilities based on allegations of successful critical infrastructure attacks. Which begs the question: If it’s so easy to turn off the lights using your laptop, how come it doesn’t happen more often?

The fact of the matter is that it isn’t easy to do any of these things. Your average power grid or drinking-water system isn’t analogous to a PC or even to a corporate network. The complexity of such systems, and the use of proprietary operating systems and applications that are not readily available for study by your average hacker, make the development of exploits for any uncovered vulnerabilities much more difficult than using Metasploit.

To start, these systems are rarely connected directly to the public internet. And that makes gaining access to grid-controlling networks a challenge for all but the most dedicated, motivated and skilled — nation-states, in other words.

Let’s pretend for a moment that hackers were planning to attack the United States. What would they need to do to gather enough information necessary to take out the electrical power in key parts of the country? They don’t want to fiddle at the edges, mind you. They want to have enough data to build the technical capability necessary to shut out the lights in Washington or New York or California at precisely the time and for exactly the duration they want.

For starters, they would need to know things like: Where are the power plants? What kind of plants are they? What sort of fuel do they use? Who built them and when? What sort of materials and technology were used when they were built? Who manufactured the generators, turbines and other key equipment? Whose SCADA software are they running? Who runs the plants? How does fuel, people, supplies get into or out of the plant? What sort of security do they have? And perhaps most importantly: Which plants supply power to which parts of the country?

Where to begin? Even in places like the United States, where there isn’t much you cannot find online, you’re not going to be able to get the depth and detail you need to turn off the lights with a simple network connection. You’re going to have to deploy national-level resources...

Bumpy Coatings for Better Solar Cells  

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Technology Review has an article on improving solar cell performance using "nanoscale texturing" - Bumpy Coatings for Better Solar Cells.

Nanoscale wires, pores, bumps, and other textures can dramatically improve the performance of solar cells, displays, and even self-cleaning coatings. Now researchers at Stanford University have developed a simpler, cheaper way to add these features to large surfaces.

Nanoscale structures offer particular advantages in devices that interact with light. For example, a thin-film solar cell carpeted with nano pillars is more efficient because the pillars absorb more light and convert more of it into electricity. Other nanoscale textures offer similar advantages in optical devices like display backlights.

The problem is scaling up to large areas, says Yi Cui, a Stanford professor of materials science and engineering who led the new work. "Many methods are really complex and don't solve the problem," says Cui. Lithography can be used to carve out nanoscale features with precise dimensions, but it's expensive and difficult. Simpler techniques, such as spin-coating a surface with nanoparticles or using acids to etch it with tiny holes, don't allow for much precision.

Cui's group adapted a process that's used commercially to manufacture flexible packaging. A rod wound with wires is used to evenly deposit a liquid coating containing silica nanospheres. The treated surface ends up with specific nanoscale structural properties.

Changing the size of the nanoparticles, using wires of different diameters, and applying subsequent chemical treatments can further modify the properties of the surface. The coating method is compatible with roll-to-roll processes used to print flexible devices on plastic, metal, and other materials, and it can also be used on rigid surfaces like glass.

In the journal Nano Letters, Cui reports that he and his group have made superhydrophobic surfaces and a proof-of-concept solar device. To make the solar cell, the researchers deposit metal and amorphous silicon on the bumpy surface. The result absorbs 42 percent more light than a flat surface that uses the same quantity of materials. Cui hopes the nanoscale texturing will make it possible to produce thin-film solar cells that use very little material but are still very efficient; he's made such devices in the past using photolithography and other complex manufacturing techniques.

The bust side of the coal seam gas boom  

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The Business Spectator has a column on some of the problems facing the coal seam gas boom in Queensland - The bust side of the gas boom.

Totally overrun by media attention on the federal election, one of the last gasps of Kevin Rudd’s administration nonetheless deserves attention because it underlines the importance of the mining and energy industries and highlights a key factor that could trip up the renewed boom in the next few years.

Spurred by the demands of the massive Gorgon LNG development in the west, Rudd set up a taskforce under Gary Gray, Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia, to look at skills issues for the resources sector. It reported just before Julia Gillard motored off to Yarralumla.

Gray’s committee received 97 submissions in March and April and held talks in all mainland capitals, Karratha, Gladstone, Cairns and Mackay. The resulting report is a serious piece of work that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Its bottom line is that “there is significant potential for skills gaps to emerge between 2011 and 2013”.

Taking in to account 75 resource projects under advanced planning, with a combined value of $110 billion, the taskforce predicts that construction job demand in the sector could peak at 45,000 in 2012 and 2013. Mining operations, it says, could require 61,500 new workers by 2015. LNG developments could require another 3200.

The big issues are where to find them and how to meet the pay and conditions required to attract and retain them – as well as the implications for the rest of the economy.

The taskforce foresees a shortage of 35,800 tradespeople over the next five years and problems for the industry in finding about 1700 mining engineers and 3000 geoscientists.

As it points out, the broad recovery of the Australian economy will add to the skills shortage facing the resources sector and, in the competition for workers, become a wider problem for business managers. It estimates that about $70 billion worth of non-resources infrastructure projects (development of rail, road, port and hospital infrastructure as well as sports complexes) will be in the mix over the next two years, chasing many of the same people.

Spain - A Solar Thermal Powerhouse  

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Energy Matters has a post on solar thermal power in Spain - Spain - A Solar Thermal Powerhouse.

Spain has become the world's largest producer of solar thermal energy after the connection of the La Florida solar farm in Alvarado; and also now boasts the world's biggest solar power plant.

The 50 MW La Florida solar farm uses parabolic trough technology and a thermal storage system using molten salt "batteries" - meaning the solar farm can now provide baseload power. The facility covers a massive 550,000 m2, consisting of consists of 11 plants in operation and 20 at an advanced stage of construction.

According to Protermosolar, the association that represents the Spanish solar energy sector, Spain already has 432 MW of installed solar thermal power, compared to 422 MW in the U.S. Protermosolar says taking into account those projects under construction, Spain may add additional capacity of around 600MW in under a year and by 2013, 2500MW.

Investment in solar thermal power plants in Spain currently comes to around EUR 2.5 billion and will reach EUR 15 billion by 2013. By that year, a total of 60 solar thermal power plants are expected to be operating in Spain.

According to Wikipedia, the Spanish government is committed achieving 12 percent of its primary energy coming from renewable sources by the end of this year, with an installed solar generating capacity of 3000 megawatts; including all solar technologies. Spain is the fourth largest manufacturer in the world of solar power technology and exports 80 percent of its production to Germany.

Google Energy’s big green power purchase  

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Grist has a look at Google Energy's large purchase of wind power - Google Energy’s big green power purchase.

Google is officially in the green energy business. The search giant announced on Tuesday that its Google Energy subsidiary signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with NextEra Energy. Google will begin buying 114 megawatts of electricity from an Iowa wind farm on July 30.

Google, of course, cannot directly use the clean green energy generated by the wind farm; that power goes into the local grid. So Google Energy will sell the power on the regional spot market, where utilities and electricity retailers go to buy power when demand spikes and they have a shortfall. Google will use the revenue from spot market sales to buy renewable energy certificates (RECs) which will offset its greenhouse gas emissions.

Many companies buy RECs in an attempt to be carbon neutral, obtaining them from third-party brokers. But by purchasing RECs directly tied to the renewable energy it is also buying, Google is getting a bigger bang for its buck.

"By contracting to purchase so much energy for so long, we're giving the developer of the wind farm financial certainty to build additional clean energy projects," Urs Hoelzle, Google's senior vice president for operations, wrote on a blog post Tuesday.

"The inability of renewable energy developers to obtain financing has been a significant inhibitor to the expansion of renewable energy," he added. "We've been excited about this deal because taking 114 megawatts of wind power off the market for so long means producers have the incentive and means to build more renewable energy capacity for other customers."

In a statement on its site, Google also noted that its motivations for signing long-term renewable energy contracts are not entirely altruistic.

"Through the long term purchase of renewable energy at a predetermined price, we're partially protecting ourselves against future increases in power prices," the company stated. "This is a case where buying green makes business sense."

Blimps could replace aircraft in freight transport ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Guardian has a somewhat far-fetched article on the prospects for airships replacing planes - Blimps could replace aircraft in freight transport, say scientists.

Fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and other foreign luxuries could be part of a global revolution by carrying cargo around the world in airships instead of planes, one of the UK's leading scientists has predicted.

The government's former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, told a conference that massive helium balloons – or blimps – would replace aircraft as a key part of the global trade network as a way of cutting global warming emissions.

Despite languishing in sci-fi B-movies for most of the last 70 years, King said several major air and defence companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, were working on designs, and the US defence department had recently made a large grant to help develop the technology.

As a result, the helium-powered ships could be carrying freight – and even passengers – in as little as a decade's time, King told the Guardian. "There are an awful lot of people we talk to who say this is going to happen," said King. "This is something I believe is going to happen."

King was speaking this week at the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford, which has made transport a major focus of debate about global efforts to cut the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, which are a major contributor to global warming and climate change. In Europe 22% of greenhouse gases are from transport, compared with 28 from heat and electricity, 21% from industry and construction and 9% each from agriculture and homes, according to the European Environment Agency.

Australian Election On The Way  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Michael Pascoe at the SMH has a look at the start of the Australian election campaign and the focus on population and immigration - Puppetry of the population.

Nevertheless, we can dither for a bit longer on the big issue of taxation and ageing before a crisis becomes obvious, but right now there's appalling dissembling by both sides on population myths and prejudices – puppetry of the population, you might say.

Gillard was at it again yesterday, not believing in a Big Australia – but being very careful not to define what a Big Australia might be. Ditto Abbott.

If a Big Australia is supposed to be the mooted 36 million by 2050, Julia and Tony might not believe in it, but it's still going to be true. For quite a while various rulers didn't believe in a round earth – but that didn't make it flat.

Quite simply, we're pretty much locked into the 36, give or take a million, and that's assuming our population growth rate eases further from its recent peak. Or maybe our leaders are planning plague, financial collapse or total war – they'll all reduce population quite effectively.

More to the point is that 36 million people in 40 years' time isn't a Big Australia anyway – it's just bigger than the present one, just as the present 22 million is a great deal bigger than the 12 million of 40 years ago. As long as we decentralise more and plan and build for it, living standards could rise with growth of that proportion, not fall.

But that would take a better class of Federal and State politician, plus an electorate prepared to both hear and consider the truth. Oh dear.

The Business Spectator reports that opposition leader Tony Abbott remains determined to do nothing about global warming (other than tell some people he doesn't believe in it and other people he does) - Abbott vows no carbon price.
The coalition has upped the ante in its opposition to imposing a carbon price on Australians.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott strengthened his resolve on the issue on Sunday. "There will be no carbon price on consumers under a coalition government, none whatsoever," Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has yet to announce her climate change policy but Mr Abbott is certain it will include a price on carbon. "Julia Gillard says she wants a carbon price, she supports a carbon price and she will bring in a carbon price," Mr Abbott said. ...

But Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said Mr Abbott was misguided on a number of fronts.

"It's either a misunderstanding or misleading at worst to interpret the work that we've done to say the coalition are on track for their targets or somehow has a credible or acceptable plan on pollution and climate change," Mr Connor told AAP.

The institute had been explicit in saying neither of the major parties had credible policies for the targets in terms of pollution levels, Mr Connor said.

China has been closing down pollution intensive steel mills and power plants, setting pollution standards and has renewable energy targets. "They have got a number of policies which amount to a carbon price," Mr Connor said. "They are certainly taking action and they understand that taking action on pollution and climate change is part of a better standard of living."

Mr Abbott's comments were contradictory because by supporting renewable energy the coalition would essentially support a carbon price, Mr Connor said.

His comments also showed cracks in the Liberal policy on the issue because Joe Hockey had spoken about the need for a price on carbon in May. "To me it's the most extreme anyone from the coalition has been about that saying there will never be a price on carbon."

Greens senator Christine Milne said it was clear Mr Abbott had no idea about climate change. "While both Labor and Liberals dig us deeper and deeper into coal, China and India are leaving us behind," Senator Milne said.

John Quiggin says you should vote Green (and I'll second this, now the Australian Democrats are gone they are the only option left) - The case for the Greens.
As I said last time, I’ll be advocating a vote for the Greens. Unlike some commenters here, I plan to give my second preference to Labor. To justify my second preference first, I regard the Liberals under Abbott as utterly unfit for government. Abbott has behaved as an unprincipled opportunist throughout his period as opposition leader, denouncing “great big new taxes”, then proposing taxes of his own with no regard for consistency or good public policy. In office, I expect he would discover that he had a mandate for the hardline rightwing policies he has always favored.

Coming to the choice between Labor and the Greens, this isn’t the first time I have given a first preference to the Greens, but it’s the first in some years. The main substantive issues that concern me are economic management and climate change, but these issues (and particularly climate change) can’t be separate from questions about process and principle. The government has done a good job on economic management, while the opposition has been consistent only in error. On the other hand, the government has made a terrible mess of climate change policy, almost entirely because of its reluctance to deal with the Greens and to confront the opposition and the lobby groups that back them. In the long run, the only way they will be able to govern effectively is through co-operation with the Greens, and the sooner they are forced to realise this the better.

It’s obvious at this point that the CPRS proposed last year is dead, and that a new ETS will have to be developed, hopefully when we have seen some more progress in other countries. For that reason, I think a carbon tax, with few exemptions and a tight cap on compensation to emitters is the best way to go. The Greens idea of a two-year interim carbon tax would be a good starting point for discussion and there is still time for Labor to announce in-principle support for a deal of this kind.

The ABC has a column from Ben Eltham on the lack of interest the major parties have in energy related issues - The perils of policy pragmatism.
Comparing the two sets of policies at the start of the campaign, one is struck by the similarities of the two major parties', not the differences. As Lenore Taylor pointed out today, both major parties are committed to relatively stringent fiscal policies in order to return the budget to surplus by 2013. Both major parties are committed to absurdly punitive anti-asylum seeker policies. Neither major party will promise a price on carbon.

One useful exercise in comparing the party policy platforms is to ask yourself what the real problems facing Australia in 2010 really are, and whether either party addresses them. If you think unauthorised arrivals by seaborne asylum seekers are the most pressing problem, then you can be satisfied that the major parties are taking your concerns seriously. The same can be said for those worried about Australia's government debt and budget deficit: both parties have realistic plans to return to surplus and eventually pay down that debt.

I don't happen to share those concerns, and I wonder how many other Australians really do either. The latest Essential Research poll asks respondents what they thought were the most important issues; treatment of asylum seekers polled down the bottom of the list. Only 7 per cent of those polled thought the issue was the most or second-most important issue. In contrast, "management of the economy" was a clear winner, with 38 per cent rating it the single most important issue. "Ensuring the quality of Australia's health system" came second. "Addressing climate change", which I think is the biggest long-term issue facing the nation as a whole, ranked well down the list.

And here is where the polls can be a political curse, as well as a blessing. What does "managing the economy" mean, anyway? Low unemployment and a cheap cost of living? Economic growth? Or a more personal definition, along the lines of "a steady job at a decent wage for myself and my family members"? Polls can be difficult to interpret, even for those who know the difference between a statistical blip and an election-winning bounce.

It's also worth thinking about what issues are not on that list, or on any of the major party platforms. Petrol prices, for example, are likely to re-emerge as a key issue in the electorate in the next term of government, as a global economic recovery pushes the price of oil back over $100 a barrel.

Internationally, many experts and analysts are warning of the medium-term risk of another oil crunch, as expanding demand in Asia and India rapidly outstrips a global oil supply that may now have peaked. In the UK, industry there is taking the issue very seriously indeed, as a recent report backed by multinational giant Arup and the Virgin Group demonstrates. In Australia, we remain blissfully ignorant of the likely consequences, despite the serious pain awaiting airlines, resource companies and ordinary commuters should petrol shoot over $2 a litre. In the longer term, the CSIRO has forecast that petrol will reach $8 a litre by 2018.

Neither major party has a viable policy for preparing Australia for peak oil, or even for much more expensive fossil fuels. A price on carbon would go some way to addressing the situation, but massive government investment in renewable energy and transport infrastructure will also be required. But, in the wake of the Coalition's successful campaign against the CPRS and Labor's insulation programs, it may be a long time before a Liberal or Labor government will be prepared to promise another ambitious infrastructure program for renewable energy.

Its a little hard to get as interested in this election cycle (unlike the last round, where it was far easier to get motivated to continuously criticise the evils being perpetrated by the Bush and Howard governments). The Huffington Post has a nostalgia inducing article, discussing why Bush and Cheney should have been put on trial - Andrew Napolitano, Fox Contributor: Bush And Cheney 'Absolutely Should Have Been Indicted'.
Fox News contributor and host of Fox Business' new libertarian show Judge Andrew Napolitano said over the weekend that President Bush and Vice President Cheney should have been indicted over their administration's conduct around Guantánamo Bay.

In an interview with Ralph Nader on C-SPAN, Napolitano blasted the former administration for suspending habeas corpus.

"What President Bush did with the suspension of habeas corpus, with the whole concept of Guantánamo Bay, with the whole idea that he could avoid and evade federal laws, treaties, federal judges and the constitution was blatantly unconstitutional — and in some cases criminal," Napolitano said. "They should have been indicted. They absolutely should have been indicted. For torturing, for spying, for arresting without warrants. I'd like to say they should be indicted for lying but believe it or not, unless you're under oath, lying is not a crime."

Napolitano added that "the evidence...is overwhelming...that George W. Bush as President and Dick Cheney as Vice President participated in criminal conspiracies to violate the federal law and the guaranteed civil liberties of hundreds, maybe thousands, of human beings."

The Miami Herald has a look at one of the Bush regime's enduring Orwellian legacies - the "no fly list" - `No-fly' list often snares wrong persons.
On the face of it, they'd seem to have little in common.

One is a disabled former Marine, born in Miami and living in Egypt. Another is a 28-year-old student from Corona, Calif., a German citizen and permanent resident of the U.S. Another is a refugee from Guinea who works as a caregiver for a family in New York. Another is an Air Force veteran and retired fireman, originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

There are 10 of them in all, 10 individuals from 10 walks of life who it turns out do have something in common not only with one another, but also with several toddlers, nuns and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Namely, they've all been refused permission to board planes bound for, or traveling within, the United States, because their names showed up on a terrorist ``no-fly'' list.

As of last week, the 10 have something else in common. They are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Timothy Healy, director of the Terrorist Screening Center. The ACLU is seeking an injunction on behalf of individuals who, as the suit puts it, ``the government deems too dangerous to fly, but too harmless to arrest.''

It's more than a clever turn of phrase. It is also an apt description of the legal limbo to which the the government has consigned an untold number of innocent people in the name of fighting terror.

Here's how it is when your name is on the no-fly list:

They won't let you fly.
They won't tell you why.
They won't show you the list.
They won't take your name off the list.
They won't give you any way to appeal.

The list, then, is a purgatory to which one can be consigned in perpetuity with neither due process nor judicial review, because one's name happened to be similar to that of some bad person. And there is no form you fill out or person you can talk to to have the error corrected. You've simply got to live with it.

Of all the insults to personal liberty imposed by George W. Bush's War on Civil Rights, this is in some ways the most profound. And it is fitting, as we mark the 234th anniversary of American freedom, that the ACLU lawsuit forces us to ponder a fundamental question: What sort of freedom is this?

It calls to mind a poignant scene from history. When the Civil War ended 145 years ago and slaves were told they were free, many struggled to define the word. In candlelit meetings in barns and bogs, they debated it. What does freedom mean? How do you know you are free?

And many decided that if freedom meant anything, it meant they could move around without permission or pass. So they tested it. They walked away. They walked across towns, across states, across country. That was, they decided, the fundamental definition of freedom: It meant that you could go.

The stakes in the ACLU lawsuit, then, are higher than just an annoyance or an inconvenience. The suit is also about, perhaps mostly about, the abrogation of an inalienable and indispensable right -- the right to go -- from people who have been accused of no crime.

No one disputes the need for tight airline security. If there are certain individuals who should not fly because the government reasonably believes their associations or activities suggest a threat to a jetliner, so be it. Those are sensible precautions.

But the federal no-fly list is an overly-broad caricature of sensible precautions. It is hard to imagine anything more un-American than the idea one could wind up on a secret watch list with no explanation or recourse in the event of mistaken identity.

What kind of freedom is that? It's simple, really.

That's not freedom at all.

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