A High-Risk Energy Boom Sweeps Across North America  

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Yale Environment 360 has a report on the unconventional oil and gas boom in North America - A High-Risk Energy Boom Sweeps Across North America.

The most direct path to America’s newest big oil and gas fields is U.S. Highway 12, two lanes of blacktop that unfold from Grays Harbor in Washington State and head east across the top of the country to Detroit.

The 2,500-mile route has quickly become an essential supply line for the energy industry. With astonishing speed, U.S. oil companies, Canadian pipeline builders, and investors from all over the globe are spending huge sums in an economically promising and ecologically risky race to open the next era of hydrocarbon development. As domestic U.S. pools of conventional oil and gas dwindle, energy companies are increasingly turning to “unconventional” fossil fuel reserves contained in the carbon rich-sands and deep shales of Canada, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountain West.

Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming hold oil shale reserves estimated to contain 1.2 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, half of which the department says is recoverable. Eastern Utah alone holds tar sands oil reserves estimated at 12 billion to 19 billion barrels. The tar sands region of northern Alberta, Canada contains recoverable oil reserves conservatively estimated at 175 billion barrels, and with new technology could reach 400 billion barrels. Deep gas-bearing shales of the Great Plains, Rocky Mountain West, Great Lakes, Northeast, and Gulf Coast contain countless trillions of feet of natural gas. If current projections turn out to be accurate, there would be enough oil and gas to power the United States for at least another century.

But even as one of the largest energy booms in history has erupted along a great arc of the continent, the consequences are prompting civic discontent, lawsuits, and political battles in state capitals. The boom is producing fresh scars on the land and new threats to scarce water supplies. Government studies show that exploiting unconventional fossil-fuel reserves generates more C02 emissions than drilling for conventional oil and gas and uses three to five times more water. “It’s a pact with the devil,” says Randy Udall, a consulting energy analyst from Colorado. “The tar sands and shale oil and shale gas require a lot of water. It sets up a collision course for the West.”

In communities from Wyoming to Texas, thousands of trucks now rumble down rural roads, carrying the huge amounts of water — 2 million to 4 million gallons per well — needed to free oil and natural gas from shales by blasting them with high-pressure fluids. In places such as North Dakota, which receives modest amounts of rainfall, local residents and conservationists worry that the energy boom will deplete aquifers.

And the explosion in development of these unconventional fossil fuels raises a troubling question at the national level: At a time when the country should be embracing a renewable energy revolution, it is hurtling in the opposite direction, developing on a massive scale sources of energy that cause considerably more environmental harm than conventional oil and gas drilling.

India's solar advantage  

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The Climate Spectator has a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance on Indian solar power projects - India's solar advantage.

The first set of projects under India's ambitious National Solar Mission went under the hammer last week. Initial trends show that the capacity bid is at least three times more than the 620MW that is to be awarded, though the final numbers could show a much higher multiple.

There are, however, no alarm bells going off in the Indian finance ministry. The government has what can be referred to as a late-mover advantage, which has allowed it to avoid the excesses seen in some European countries.

There are a few things which stand out in the auction of India's first batch of solar projects, to be set up by 2013, and involving an investment of over $US2 billion.

For starters, the auction is primarily about large solar thermal. Bids for 470MW of capacity have been invited. This is higher than the total commissioned capacity of 437MW of solar thermal in Spain, the world leader, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

On the PV side, there are just 150MW of capacity on offer in India's first round through 30 projects of 5MW each to be set up by 2013. That is a small blip in the capacity being added globally. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has projected a PV capacity addition of 14GW-to-19GW in 2010. Up to 1.2GW of new installations are expected in the Czech Republic alone this year. Germany has installed over 3GW of PV in the first half of 2010.

Secondly, there is an element of market price discovery built into the process. The attractive feed-in tariffs will now cease to matter since the 400-odd applicants will have to offer the largest discounts to get selected, a formula that India has emulated from other countries which have married feed-in tariffs with reverse bidding.

Thirdly, the government has limited its own, and the consumer's, bill for solar power by ensuring initial support for pre-defined solar capacity instead of the anyone-past-the-post kind of a scheme which has led to runaway growth of solar power in parts of Europe.

Fourthly, India has mandated the use of domestically made PV modules in this phase and domestically made cells and modules in the next phase. For solar thermal projects, the rules mandate a 30 per cent local content. Both moves reflect the worrying trend of increasing protectionism in the clean energy sector.

Wind will power fossil fuel-free Denmark in 2050, report predicts  

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The Guardian has a report on Denmark's plan to free itself from fossil fuels - Wind will power fossil fuel-free Denmark in 2050, report predicts. Scotland is pursuing a similar goal - Wind will power fossil fuel-free Denmark in 2050, report predicts.

The falling cost of renewable energy and rising cost of oil and gas will allow Denmark to develop an energy network entirely free of fossil fuels by 2050, according to a report published by the government's climate commission.

The committee predicted that wind and biomass energy could meet the bulk of the country's energy requirements.

It also argued that switching to renewables would be cheaper than continuing to use fossil fuels, particularly if predictions of soaring oil and gas prices are borne out.

The report was welcomed by Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, which said the research could help further bolster the country's position as a leading generator of onshore wind energy.

"The report will also send a very clear and important signal to other countries that wind is a sustainable source of energy for future development," said Vestas chief executive Ditlev Engel. "This is a great opportunity to solidify Denmark's reputation as a laboratory for green, CO2-free power technology solutions that are globally required."

The report recommended that the government immediately start devoting 0.5 per cent of the country's annual GDP to renewable energy investment in order to help achieve the 2050 target, resulting in a total spend of 17bn kroner (£1.9bn) by 2050.

South Africa Nearing Peak Coal ?  

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I tend to be dubious about stories of "peak coal" in the near term, but this report from South Africa is interesting - SA is nearing peak coal, say scientists.

Research by international and local scientists has shown that coal, like other resources, is finite and can be expected to comply with peak resources theory.

The theory shows that production in commodities such as oil grows until a peak is reached, whereafter production declines.

In the case of South African coal, the studies show production has already reached its peak, or soon will.

“It is commonly believed that South Africa has abundant coal reserves which will last 200 years or more,'' says Jeremy Wakeford, chair of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (Aspo) in South Africa, in the organisation's latest newsletter.

“But recent research [from] three scientific journals suggests that usable reserves are much smaller than previously thought, and that annual production could reach a peak and begin to decline within a decade -- or might even have peaked already.''

Wakeford says that “given the country's overwhelming dependence on coal, this issue has huge ramifications for our future development path''.

Coal provides 70% of the country's energy supply, supports 90% of electricity generation, is used to make a quarter of the country's liquid fuels using the Sasol process and is a big earner of foreign exchange through exports to foreign users.

Geologist Chris Hartnady, in a paper to be published in the SA Journal of Science, has forecast peak production in 2020 at about 285-million tonnes a year.

This compares with total production last year of 242-million tons. This was mostly used by Eskom (123-million tonnes), Sasol (40-million tonnes) and export (66-million tonnes).

Eskom's current expansion programme could use an additional 50-million tonnes, and if the Sasol Mafutha project goes ahead it will need another 20-million tonnes annually, says Wakeford.

David Rutledge, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, has meanwhile forecast South African production to peak in 2011 at about 253-million tonnes a year.

This is supported by research by two American professors, says Wakeford, Tadeusz Patzek and Gregory Croft, published this year in the journal Energy.

“They estimate that South Africa's coal production from existing coal fields, when measured in energy units, peaked in 2007.

“They further contend that future mines are unlikely to reverse the trend since the economics of mining dictates that most accessible reserves are mined earlier on, so that the net energy return from the coal mining declines while the production costs rise over time,'' says Wakeford.

Eskom chief executive Brian Dames bemoaned the poor quality of coal Eskom is receiving in a briefing to parliamentarians earlier this month. Dames said that Eskom was losing 1 000 megawatts of power each day because of the low quality of coal it was being supplied.

A ‘wetlab’ could put Mass. in the lead in ocean energy race  

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The Boston Globe has an article on the benefits of a "wetlab" for testing ocean energy - A ‘wetlab’ could put Mass. in the lead in ocean energy race.

If you want to build an iPhone app or develop a drug for Alzheimer’s disease, finding the place to do it isn’t a challenge. Massachusetts is dotted with incubators, accelerators, labs, and co-working spaces where you can rent a desk by the day. ...

But if you want to drop a tidal generator into the briny deep, or plunk a prototype wind turbine onto the continental shelf, you will inevitably face a few years of permit wrangling with a half-dozen federal and state agencies. Testing new renewable energy technologies isn’t cheap, fast, or easy.

John R. Miller would like to change that. As director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, he’s campaigning for the creation of a vast saltwater incubator in the channel between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and the ocean waters south of the islands.

Technically, the project is being called the National Renewable Energy Innovation Zone. I prefer to think of the rectangular area as the Big Wetlab: a place where entrepreneurs and big energy companies can beta test the energy technologies of the future, sooner and with fewer hassles than they’d face anywhere else. (In the world of drug development, wetlabs are where all the important experiments are done.)

If Miller is successful — and the project recently landed $1.5 million in new federal grants — the Big Wetlab could be among the first test areas in the United States, positioning Massachusetts at the center of the emerging clean-tech economy.

“Having an area like that, which has been pre-approved for wave, tidal, and offshore wind testing, would be a huge thing that this country needs,’’ says Bill Staby, cofounder of Resolute Marine Energy Inc. “If Massachusetts can grab the ring, you’ll see a greater number of marine energy technology companies locate here, because companies want to be closer to their test sites.’’

'Bloom Boxes' help power Adobe headquarters in San Jose  

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The San Jose Mercury has a report on Adobe's installation of a number of cogeneration devices from Bloom Energy - 'Bloom Boxes' help power Adobe headquarters in San Jose.

Sunnyvale startup Bloom Energy has maintained a low profile since it first raised the curtain on its fuel cell technology at a highly orchestrated news conference earlier this year. But Adobe Systems was set to announce late Monday that it has chosen Bloom Energy's technology to help power its corporate headquarters in downtown San Jose, making it Bloom's largest single-site installation to date.

Adobe installed 20 vertically shaped wind turbines, made by Windspire Energy of Reno, at its headquarters in January. But with 2,500 employees and about a million square feet of office space, Adobe is eager to do even more to reduce its energy footprint. ...

Twelve of the Bloom devices -- commonly known as "Bloom Boxes" -- were installed in late August and are now generating electricity from Adobe's roof. Each Bloom Box provides 100 kilowatts, enough power for about 100 U.S. homes. The 12 together generate about 1.2 megawatts, enough for about 30 percent of the Adobe Towers' electricity needs.

The fuel cell technology is not cheap: The commercial-scale boxes cost $700,000 to $800,000 each and come with a 10-year warranty on performance that includes any maintenance and replacement parts.

Adobe declined to discuss how much they paid Bloom, but Knox said Adobe expects the boxes to generate enough electricity for it to recoup its investment in four to six years.

Pebble Bed Reactor Funding Melts Down  

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The Smirking Chimp reports that the South African government is giving up funding pebble bed reactor research - Another feeble-headed nuke drops dead.

As the "reactor renaissance" desperately demands new billions from a lame duck Congress, one of its shining stars has dropped dead. Other much-hyped "new generation" plans may soon die with it.

For years "expert" reactor backers have touted the "Pebble Bed" design as an "inherently safe" alternative to traditional domed light water models. Now its South African developers say they're done pouring money into it.

The Pebble Bed's big idea was to create a critical mass of uranium particles coated with silicon carbide and encased in graphite. These intensely radioactive "pebbles" would seethe in a passive container, cooled by helium. Without the need for a containment dome, the super-heated mass would produce both heat and electricity. Touted as needing no back-up emergency systems to prevent a major disaster, the plan was to mass-produce these "smaller, simpler" reactors for use throughout the industrial world.

Pebble Bed technology originated in Germany. But it was adopted and developed by the government of South Africa. For some it was a source of pride that a "developing" nation had become a significant player in the so-called nuclear renaissance.

But the South African government has now cut off funding for the project. Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan has told the National Assembly that "sobering realities" included the lack of working demonstration model, the lack of customers, the lack of a major investment partner and the impending demand for $4.2 billion in new investment capital. As deadlines consistently slipped, Westinghouse withdrew from the project in May.

South African officials say the US and China are still working on the technology. But economic realities make any tangible future Pebble Bed as a major source of new energy largely imaginary. Critics also worry that without a containment dome, the pebble beds would be vulnerable to small groups of terrorists with simple shell-lobbing mortars. And that critical metal components would not perform as needed under the intense stresses of heat and radiation.

The death of the Pebble Bed has considerable significance. For nearly two decades reactor backers have counted it in the imaginary fleet of new generation reactors coming to save us. Its alleged bright future would make it just one of the many new nuclear technologies that would render solar and wind energy unnecessary.

High Speed Rail In Australia - Possible or Just A Mirage ?  

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The issue of a high speed rail line down the east coast of Australia has recently been raised by each of the 4 major political parties as a potential solution to Australia's need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce road congestion, promote regional development and cater for a population that is expected to increase to 36 million people by 2050. As a step towards an electrified transport system it would also help as a peak oil mitigation measure, though this aspect only tends to get mentioned by the Greens.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and AECOM recently released a report (pdf) urging the federal government to identity new rail routes and then buy land or put in place planning protections to ensure future land price rises don't make a high-speed rail network a prohibitive option in future (the study indicates the likely land corridor is valued at $13.7 billion at today's prices but will expand to $57 billion by 2030).

The report won praise in editorials in the Fairfax press, with The Age opining "Whenever the inaugural service glides along its 180-minute path from Melbourne to Sydney and on to Brisbane, it will be worth the time and investment. For too long, rail has been treated as a second-class method of passenger transport, with scant attention paid to its energy efficiency and seamless ability to link city centres. It is time to make it a reality.".

The report took eight months to produce and outlines an indicative corridor where the stations could be located (but suggests that engineering studies would be required to determine the exact location of new routes). It recommends the corridor be built incrementally and shared with different types of infrastructure such as water, electricity and the NBN (national broadband network) to make it financially viable.



The study notes a high-speed rail network allowing a 10-minute trip between Sydney and Campbelltown and a 50 minute trip from Sydney to Canberra would avoid the $15 billion cost of developing a second Sydney airport if construction begins within 5 years, helping the overall economics of the project, as traffic on the Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Brisbane routes could be offloaded. The report says "Travelling between Sydney and Melbourne - currently the third busiest air corridor in the world - could be reduced to less than three hours, showing the exciting capability of fast rail to relieve the pressure on this route".

High Speed Rail As An Election Issue

The recent federal election saw the campaign launch for The Greens party included a promise to use their likely balance of power in the Senate to urge the government to reconsider a high-speed rail link along Australia's east coast, pointing to a new poll showing 74 per cent of people favour the idea.

The Greens are demanding a new $10 million study into the feasibility of a high-speed rail link connecting Melbourne to Brisbane.

The Labor party followed up shortly afterwards with their own announcement of a feasibility study, promising $20 million for a study that primarily focuses on an initial link between Sydney and Newcastle.



There was some cynicism expressed about the Labor announcement, with commenters noting the endless link of announced but never built rail projects for NSW, and the fact that the Rudd government announced in 2008 that a Very Fast Train for the Sydney-Melbourne corridor, estimated to cost AUD$25 billion, was the government's highest infrastructure priority (only to fall silent on the subject for the rest of their term in office, up until this announcement).

Not to be outdone on the nation building front, the coalition decided to announce their own backflip on the issue, calling for a report into high speed rail in response to those of the Greens and Labor, with Nationals leader Warren Truss announcing in waishy-washy fashion "In government the coalition will build upon this study to consider the viability of possible passenger routes along Australia's east coast between Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane".

Benefits

The Greens are claiming the following benefits for high speed rail, noting it reduces both oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions :
1. Provides accessible fast, reliable, ecologically sustainable transport for the 75% of Australia’s population that live on or near the east coast

Travel between Melbourne or Brisbane and Sydney would take about four hours (with comfortable seats, phone and internet access).

2. Helps to reduce transport emissions and dependence on oil

HSR can and should be electric. This means much lower greenhouse gas emissions and unlike air travel, the cost of train travel would be immune from inevitable and inexorable increases in oil prices. It also means that as renewable electricity displaces coal and gas derived electricity, greenhouse gas emissions from transport can be further drastically reduced. To hasten this process the Greens support increasing the Renewable Energy Target by an amount equivalent to the HSR’s electricity demand.

3. Removes congestion and improves transport safety

The Melbourne-Sydney flight route is the fourth busiest in the world and business as usual projections anticipate high growth until at least 2020. The Pacific Highway between Brisbane and Sydney and the Hume and Princes Highways between Melbourne and Sydney have long standing reputations for being hazardous and accident prone, with heavy traffic congestion, which increases the risk of accidents.

4. Basis for future regional development

By reducing transport times relative to road-based transport, an HSR could open up new development opportunities along the route.

5. Opportunities for freight

In most instances traditional slower trains are likely to be the most cost-effective option for rail freight, however, there may be opportunities to use High Speed Rail for some urgent high value freight, such as mail.

6. Job creation

A High Speed Rail network would create a significant number of jobs during the construction phase as well as a smaller number of ongoing positions. During its peak construction period, the Adelaide to Darwin railway employed 1500 people. A larger number of people would likely be required for the construction of a HSR because there would be two tracks built to a much higher engineering standard.

Costs

The Greens are claiming the following costs for the proposal:
• For track work – a range of around $40 billion (inflated to 2008 figures) for a full double track the entire length. Savings could be made by partial use of single track – with variations in the range of -10% to +30%.The report noted that these estimates are in the lower half of international costs on a per kilometre basis.

• For rolling stock – estimate cost of a 400 seat train set around $50 to $120 million (2008 figures). These costs are for passenger stock, and not freight cars, which we could expect to be lower in costs.

• Operating costs assessed on average of about 7-9 cents (2008 figures) per passenger per kilometre.

The Department of Infrastructure and Transport notes that 2 previous studies (other than the recent AECOM/IPA report) have been conducted into high speed rail links for the east coast, however the earlier studies couldn't show the projects proposed to be "commercially viable" at the time (and continue to be used for ammunition by critics of high speed rail schemes).
The East Coast Very High Speed Train Scoping Study

A scoping study was commissioned by the Government in December 2000 to conduct a comprehensive examination of options for an East Coast very high speed train network connecting Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne with major regional centers along the way. The Study's Final Report was released in 2002 [PDFPDF: 41942 KB ].

Further information about this study can be found in the Executive Summary for the East Coast Very High Speed Train Scoping Study.

High Speed Rail: Strategic Information for an Australian Context

In 2009, the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Rail Innovation commissioned a study to synthesis the current knowledge of High Speed Rail in the Australian context and to provide directions for further investigation. This report was released on 13 January 2010, and can be accessed on the CRC for Rail Innovation's website.

Will solar rise in the west?  

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The Climate Spectator has an article on concern in WA that it is missing out on federally funded solar power projects - Will solar rise in the west?.

The solar energy industry has virtually given up on the federal government providing a mechanism for the roll-out of utility-scale solar installations across the country, and is instead focusing its efforts on individual states.

Buoyed by the recent decisions of Victoria and the ACT to offer large-scale feed-in tariffs (FiT), a new coalition of solar technology companies, renewable energy groups, engineering companies, universities and regional councils, is calling for WA to do the same. Other states are likely to be similarly lobbied.

The WA coalition argues that the state with the best solar radiation in Australia should be leading the country in solar generation and argues that a 5 per cent solar target for 2020, underpinned by an FiT set by auction, would unlock more than $4 billion of investment to install some 1060MW of capacity.

This particular group has been frustrated that none of the 10 WA-based proposals – many of them around 200MW each – made the federal government’s Solar Flagships shortlist, and it fears now that Victoria and the ACT will steal the initiative and projects will be forced to migrate to less ideal conditions in the eastern states.

The group, which comes under the folksy banner of “the sunniest state, the solar state,” is going public this week after failing to gather much traction in their private lobbying efforts with the WA government.

“If you are looking at the renewable technology that works best in WA, it has to be solar,” says Richard Harris, the head of Midwest Energy. “The south-west grid is very, very peaky. We don’t have as much heavy industry, it’s very much a summer oriented, day time peak that's geared for solar power.”

Harris says a solar-gas hybrid could be particularly effective in the state, including in the Pilbara for mining projects. In any case, he says, it’s embarrassing that the state with one of the best solar radiation levels in the world has just 10MW of installed solar capacity, when countries such as Germany have more than 8000MW.

Why potash is not at the top of China's national insecurities  

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John Garnaut at the SMH has some thoughts about China's reaction to BHP's takeover bid for Potash Corp - Why potash is not at the top of China's national insecurities.

In 2003 when the US invaded Iraq its net oil imports were 1 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. Last year, when China arrested Rio Tinto's Stern Hu for endangering China's national economic security, China's iron ore imports also added up to 1 per cent of China's GDP.

Resource insecurity can provide background encouragement for powerful nations to do stupid and counterproductive things. Invading Iraq destabilised the whole oil-producing region, while arresting Stern Hu exhausted China's political capital that might have been spent on resisting this year's move to quarterly benchmark pricing (Hu's subsequent conviction had only a tenuous link with the original framing of the case).

America's oil import dependency has crept up to 1.4 per cent of GDP. This year China's iron ore import dependency will hit 1.3 or 1.4 per cent of GDP if it keeps importing at something like the recent rate of US$6.5 billion ($6.9 billion) a month. ...

Yet anyone expecting China's nuclear submarines to stake out the Pilbara may be comforted by the fact that China's dependency on the Australian-Brazilian iron ore cartel looks insignificant when compared with its dependency on oil. China's oil imports stand at 2.4 per cent of GDP.

China's oil dependency explains why Chinese foreign policy has at times been hijacked - to use the words of Professor Zhu Feng at Peking University - by its oil companies. PetroChina and Sinopec have drawn China into risky investments that may one day cry out for military protection in Sudan, Angola, Nigeria and Iran. Similarly, the latest round of diplomatic hijinks between China and Japan at the Diaoyu (or Senkaku) Islands is closely connected with adjacent oilfields.

"CNOOC [China's offshore oil company] has played a major part in China's territorial disputes with south-east Asian states because of the Spratly Islands and with Japan over the East China Sea, in large part over the areas' untapped oil and gas reserves," write Linda Jakobson and Dean Knox of the Stockholm International Peace Institute, in their excellent paper, New Foreign Policy Actors in China.

And then there is potash.

In recent days there has been a flurry of excitement over Chinese media reports that Sinochem is or is not serious about competing with BHP Billiton's bid for Canada's Potash Corp. China takes its food security very seriously, potash is an ingredient in that, and the mere mention of "BHP " is enough to activate China's resource anxieties.

But no Chinese entity has the management or technical capacity to operate a huge potash mine in Canada, even if Canadian authorities would let them (which they won't). A blocking stake doesn't seem plausible, either, given that Canadian laws require a much larger proportion of shares than in Britain or Australia.

And when Sinochem looks over at Chinalco - the last company to take a hit for China's national interest - it sees a company laden with debt and a balance sheet dominated by shares in Rio Tinto valued well below the purchase price. Last year Chinalco posted a loss of 7.25 billion yuan, ranking it dead last of 108 centrally owned companies listed by the government's holding entity, SASAC.

Sinochem may feel obliged to go through the motions of protecting China's national interests and holding its hand out for tens of billions of dollars of virtually free state funding. It remains possible that Sinochem or another state-owned enterprise, such as CNOOC's fertiliser subsidiary Blue Chemical, would explore an elaborate joint venture arrangement with Potash Corp (or even BHP Billiton).

But China's leaders will have trouble mustering the motivation to approve any such scheme when they see that alongside iron ore (at 1.3 per cent of GDP) and oil (2.4 per cent) China's potash imports don't even round up to a decimal point.

California Licenses World’s Biggest Solar Thermal Plant  

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Todd Woody at The New York Times reports on progress for the Blythe solar thermal power plant in California - California Licenses World’s Biggest Solar Thermal Plant.

California regulators have licensed what is for the moment the world’s largest solar thermal power plant, a 1,000-megawatt complex called the Blythe Solar Power Project to be built in the Mojave Desert.

By contrast, a total of 481 megawatts of new solar capacity was installed in the United States last year, mostly from thousands of rooftop solar arrays, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

“Given the challenge of climate change at this time, it is very important to reduce fossil fuel use by moving forward with the largest solar project in California,” Robert Weisenmiller, a member of the California Energy Commission, said at a hearing Wednesday in Sacramento after a unanimous vote to approve the Blythe project.

“We’re taking a major step toward reducing the threat of future climate change impacts on the state, and at the same time the other real challenge for the state is the economy,” he added, referring to 604 construction jobs and 221 permanent jobs that the Blythe project would create in an area of California where the unemployment rate was 15 percent this summer.

After years of environmental reviews, the California Energy Commission has in the past three weeks licensed solar thermal farms that would generate 1,500 megawatts of electricity when completed.

A commission spokeswoman said the commissioners anticipated making licensing decisions by the end of 2010 on additional solar projects that would produce another 2,829 megawatts. At peak output, those solar farms would generate the equivalent electricity produced by several large nuclear power plants.

Generation from geothermal sources in NZ hits historical high  

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The Otago Daily Times reports geothermal power generation in New Zealand continues to expand - Generation from geothermal sources hits historical high.

More electricity was generated from geothermal sources in the three months to June than at any other time in New Zealand's history, Economic Development Ministry figures reveal.

The New Zealand Energy Quarterly shows 10,831GWh was generated from all sources over the period, about the same as during the corresponding period last year, but that geothermal generation increased by 23%.

The new Nga Awa Purua geothermal plant opened in May, helping the geothermal sector generate more than 1400GWh, or 13% of the country's total electricity output.

Releasing the report yesterday, Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee said geothermal generation was a significant source of electricity and, with a number of new geothermal projects in the pipeline, its influence would continue to grow.

Coal generation dropped 60%, and greenhouse-gas emissions dropped to their lowest level since the June 2000 quarter, as hydro, wind and gas generation increased.

Renewable generation accounted for 73% of the country's electricity generation, the seventh quarter in a row that production exceeded 70%.

Hydro accounted for 55%.

Geothermal production rose as coal production dropped.

Hydrogen's extreme makeover  

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Giles Parkinson at The Climate Spectator has a look at the evolving hydrogen economy - Hydrogen's extreme makeover.

Hydrogen fuel is one of those technologies that has always seemed to be at least a decade away from realisation, ever since the term hydrogen economy was first coined in the early 1970s.

Last year, it seemed even further away, after US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu slashed funding for hydrogen fuel cell research, complaining that “we don’t know how to make it, we don’t know how to store it, and we don’t know how to use it.”

But then something happened. Within months, Chu had restored at least past of the slashed funding, and nine global car manufacturers signed an memorandum of understanding to develop hydrogen-powered passenger cars. Germany then committed to having at least 100 hydrogen refueling stations by 2015 and at least 1,000 by 2020, Japan also has announced an ambitious program, and California predicts there could be 50,000 hydrogen powered cars on the state’s roads by 2018.

The hydrogen economy is suddenly back on the agenda – although it does appear to have had something of a sex change. The HE (hydrogen economy) has become a SHE (sustainable hydrogen economy), and the devilish problem of creating hydrogen by reforming natural gas (and releasing huge amounts of CO2) or by the energy-intensive process of electrolysing water (and so creating oxygen and hydrogen), is being addressed by trying to make it an integral part of the roll-out of renewable energy.

“There is a great lack of understanding of where hydrogen energy can fit in to sustainable energy economy, both in Australia and globally,” says John Andrew, a senior lecturer from the school of aerospace, mechanical and manufacturing engineering at RMIT University. “It’s time to take a look at that vision again."

Andrews says one of the new approaches to hydrogen as a “renewable fuel” is based around a decentralised model, rather than centralised system of production and distribution. Production of hydrogen would come exclusively from renewable sources such as wave and tidal, as well as solar and wind. And, because it can be easily stored, it could be used to either “smooth” the output of wind turbines, used as a long-term back-up source of power, and as a compliment to battery storage.

He even sees the potential for using bulk hydrogen as a strategic energy reserve. “Instead of putting carbon dioxide underground, we’d much prefer to make hydrogen from renewables and store that underground.”

Hydrogen is also making progress as a transport fuel, but it is very much a question of cost – not so much in its making but in its distribution. It lends itself more easily to use in “heavy vehicles” such as medium to long distance bus travel, and WalMart has successfully trialled 150 forklifts that use hydrogen fuel cells and found it to be cheaper and more efficient than rival technologies.

"Yellow Dirt": Radioactive reservation  

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Saslon has a review of Judy Pasternak's book """ which looks at the history of uranium mining in the south west of the US - "Yellow Dirt": Radioactive reservation.

In the summer of 1979, an earthen dam over the town of Church Rock, New Mexico, broke, flooding the arroyo below and then the bed of the Rio Puerco (an intermittent stream) on the southern border of the Navajo Nation. It was a small flood, but a dangerous one. It burned the feet of a boy who stepped into it, and caused sheep and crops along the banks to drop dead. That's because the pond it came from had been used by a nearby uranium mine to store the tailings (residue) of its excavations -- the water kept the radioactive dust from blowing away. The 93 million gallons of contaminated water that poured into the Rio Puerco remains the largest accidental release of radioactive material in U.S. history, bigger than the notorious Three Mile Island reactor meltdown that occurred 14 weeks later.

The Church Rock flood is only one incident among many in the "slow-motion disaster" investigative journalist Judy Pasternak comprehensively recounts in her chilling new book, "Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed." Based on a prize-winning four-part series she wrote for the Los Angeles Times, "Yellow Dirt" begins during World War II, when secretive government surveyors first appeared on the remote reservation, supposedly looking for deposits of an ore called vanadium, used to strengthen steel needed for the war effort. Uranium was the real prize, and after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the ramping up of the Cold War, the American demand for the radioactive substance boomed.

The Navajo Nation and the area around it contained some of the richest deposits of uranium ore in the world, and certainly the most conveniently located. For about a decade, various corporations and government agencies reaped 1.4 million tons of uranium ore from the Monument Valley region alone; Pasternak makes a single mine there, known as Monument No. 2, her primary focus. The mining operations were relatively rudimentary, and by ordination of the tribal government, worked almost entirely by Navajo men. Even the cheapest and most elementary safety practices, such as wetting down blast areas to keep the miners from breathing toxic dust, were neglected in the rush to satisfy the Atomic Energy Commission's insatiable appetite for uranium.

By the 1960s, the need tapered off, and the mining companies blithely abandoned the sites, leaving piles of radioactive tailings lying around for Navajo kids to play on and their parents to scavenge for conveniently sized rocks with which to build houses, ovens and cisterns. The dust and gravel made seemingly excellent concrete for floors. Monument No. 2, once a mesa, had been nearly leveled, its uranium-laced innards exposed to the open air, reduced to what Pasternak characterizes as a "radioactive pit." Old quarries filled up with rain- and groundwater, new "lakes" from which local residents watered their herds and gratefully drank.

The next boom, unsurprisingly, was in cancer rates (previously so low among the Navajo that they were thought to be miraculously immune to the disease), and in a birth defect, christened "Navajo neuropathy," that caused children's fingers to fuse together and curl into claws. Still, it took decades for the cause to be fully recognized and even longer for it to be addressed; it wasn't until 2008 and under the lashing of Rep. Henry Waxman, that the federal government made serious efforts to clean up the mine sites, purify water supplies and relocate families living in houses built from radioactive materials.

LNG demand worries for Australian Exporters  

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The Australian reports that Australian LNG exports (particularly from coal seam gas) may be under threat as China begins exploiting shale gas - LNG demand worries.

CONCERNS that Chinese domestic shale gas production will hit demand for Australian liquefied natural gas are growing.

Deutsche Bank is the latest group to warn that the Asian giant might not need to import as much gas as previously expected.

In a global review of its LNG supply and demand outlook, Deutsche said that while it was still bullish on Chinese demand, the prospect of shale gas production from China meant not as much gas was expected to be imported.

This was expected to impact Queensland's burgeoning coal-seam gas export industry more than the conventional LNG projects planned off the nation's northwest because Japanese and Korean users favour the tried and tested offshore methods of production and will continue to need more imports.

The Deutsche report comes a week after Macquarie released a report saying lower forecast Chinese demand growth for LNG after 2020 because of shale gas and Russian pipeline imports could hit Australian projects.

Peak oil and climate must be tackled in tandem  

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The SMH has a rare mainstream media article on peak oil (which has dropped off the charts since the oil price fell off its highs) - Peak oil and climate must be tackled in tandem.

PEAK oil and climate change are on parallel paths. Both are inextricably linked and can only be solved together, requiring a shift away from a reliance on fossil fuels into what is now called the "post-carbon economy". For Prime Minister Julia Gillard's climate change committee, peak oil is an inconvenient truth, and BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers's call for a carbon price and tax tells us something needs to be done soon.

As with climate change, the peak oil debate has been going on for years. The fundamental argument: how close are we to peak levels? International Energy Agency chief economist Faith Birol warns that the output of conventional oil will peak in 2020 if demand continues. Other specialists say oil will not so much peak as plateau, giving countries time to deal with the problem. It's all a question of timing.

These debates are a distraction from the real issues. Whether climate change is man-made or naturally occurring, we are seeing a change in weather patterns around the world. Similarly, governments, insurers and think tanks acknowledge that we face an energy supply crunch, suggesting peak oil is no longer the stuff of conspiracy theorists.

According to an article published in Der Spiegel magazine this month, a German military think tank report strategically leaked online warns that peak oil will occur soon "and that the impact on security is expected to be felt 15 to 30 years later". Peak oil, according to the report, could threaten democracy, creating "room for ideological and extremist alternatives to existing forms of government". It says this could "in extreme cases lead to open conflict".

It also warns of market failures, huge tax rises, food shortages and widespread rationing. Oil is used in producing 95 per cent of industrial goods, so the report predicts price shocks right through the supply chain. "In the medium term, the global economic system and every market-oriented national economy would collapse,'' it says.

The Germans also warn of a shift away from a market economy. It's back to central planning.

"A conceivable alternative would be government rationing and the allocation of important goods or the setting of production schedules and other short-term coercive measures to replace market-based mechanisms in times of crisis,'' the report says.

The climate change-peak oil link is also made in a new Australia Institute study, Running on Empty? The peak oil debate. It says tackling climate change and peak oil together is necessary but complicated. On the demand side, for example, China and India have turned global energy markets on their heads and will account for 70 per cent of new oil demand between now and 2030. More complications are added with technically feasible solutions that are climatically disastrous.

The first step is a carbon price. More to the point, we need a carbon tax. A trading system would not work as well because permit prices fluctuate, creating uncertainty and making it impossible to build a business case for investment in energy alternatives.

Polish nuclear project faces further delays  

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Reuters has an article on obstacles facing nuclear power enthusiasts in Poland - Polish nuclear project faces further delays.

Legal hurdles, funding problems and a lack of skilled workers will likely push Poland's plans to build the country's first nuclear power plant beyond 2022, further delaying the some 18-billion euro project.

The European Union's largest ex-communist state is pursuing nuclear energy to wean its economy from highly-polluting coal -- a source that currently generates more than 90 percent of the country's power needs.

"Poland's nuclear target sounds a little bit tough to me as there are few financing opportunities out there right now," Kaan Nazli, Director for Emerging Europe at the U.S.-based Medley Global Advisors, told Reuters.

The government, which is also seeking ways to ease the future impact of strict EU environmental regulations limiting carbon emissions, has tapped Poland's domiant utility PGE to lead the project.

Poland, which plans to build two nuclear plants with a total installed capacity of 6,000 megawatts, in August pushed back its original deadline for the first bloc to 2022 from 2020 due to technology constraints that surfaced after talks with three potential suppliers.

Officials at Areva, which is one of three companies seeking to help build the plant, told local media this week the original 2020 deadline was possible but analysts suggest even the 2022 target is likely overambitious.

"If you look around the region at the ongoing nuclear projects all of them suffer from delays, we are not going to be an exception," an energy market analyst at international consultancy said. ...

Safety concerns in a region where many people associate nuclear power with the 1986 Chernobyl accident which contaminated vast areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia could also slow the project.

Ontario: Replacing Coal with Biomass  

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Renewable Energy World has an article on converting coal fired power plants to biomass in Canada - Ontario: Replacing Coal with Biomass.

As part of an effort to phase out all coal plants in the Canadian province of Ontario by 2014, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) is working with power-plant owners to close facilities down or transition them to burn biomass.

One such facility, the 211-MW Atikokan Generating Station, will be the first to move entirely to biomass. This week, the government of Ontario directed the OPA to draft a power purchase agreement with the plant's owner, Ontario Power Generation.

Ontario Power Generation owns three other coal plants in the Province, and has said it wants to convert all three by 2014. According to Biomass Magazine, the coal plant will require about 99,000 tons of wood pellets year.

As part of its “Green Energy Act” passed last year, the Ontario government set an ambitious target to phase out coal plants in 5 years. Many people have criticized the target, saying that it's not realistic and will de-stabilize the grid.

However, according to figures from the OPA, generation from Ontario's coal plants is already down more than 70 percent from 2003 – the lowest level in 45 years. Publicly, officials from the OPA and Ontario government have said they think the phase-out target is realistic.

In Europe, the “re-powering” of coal facilities has been underway for some years. In the U.S., a number of other companies are also experimenting with using biomass in place of coal. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it would take about 1.6 billion tons of biomass to re-power all existing U.S. coal plants. The DOE reported that the U.S. could sustainably grow 1.3 billion tons of feedstock.

Of course, not every coal plant is going to convert to a biomass-burning facility. But theoretically, we have enough resources to transition a large portion of our coal fleet here in the U.S. The Wood Pellet Association of Canada has been trying to make a similar case.

South Africa Studying $21 Billion Solar Energy Park  

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Bloomberg has a report on interest in building a $21 billion, 5 GW solar power (presumably solar thermal power) plant in South Africa - South Africa Studying $21 Billion Solar Energy Park on Cape.

South Africa plans to complete a study into the viability of a 5,000 megawatt solar energy park, which will be the world’s largest if built, by the end of this month.

Initial estimates indicate that the plant, which may be built in Upington in the Northern Cape, could cost as much as 150 billion rand ($21.1 billion), government spokesman Themba Maseko told reporters in Cape Town today. The study is being conducted by South Africa’s Department of Energy with the Clinton Climate Initiative.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by South African Energy Minister Dipuo Peters and representatives from the Clinton Climate Initiative in October 2009 to develop the plant. South Africa is battling a power shortage after the government halted expansion plans by state-owned power producer Eskom Holdings Ltd. for four years until 2004 while it tried and failed to convince companies to build power plants.

Wave Power Potential In Australia  

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The CSIRO recently released a report on the potential for wave power in Australia. Australia's southern coastline has been identified by the World Energy Council as one of the world's best sites for generating wave power.

The report (pdf) shows that if 10 per cent of the energy available from waves was harnessed it would meet half of the nation's current electricity consumption. "Averaged over the whole year, Australia's southern coastline has a sustained wave energy resource of 146 gigawatts (1,329 terawatt-hours/year)" - three times Australia's total installed generation capacity.



The author of the study, Dr Mark Hemer, notes wave power is still a decade or two away from being a real force as an alternative energy. "Wave energy really is a baby at the moment - there's currently only about four megawatts of wave energy generating capacity installed globally. If you compare that to wind energy, there's about 200,000 megawatts of installed capacity, or 50,000 times more, so wave energy is a long way behind on the cost learning curve."

Australia's longest running pilot wave power program has been run by Oceanlinx in Wollongong for number of years, but the latest incarnation recently suffered a setback when it was damaged by a storm. Oceanlinx are also looking to participate in the UK's "wave hub" program in Cornwall.

The other company aggressively pursing wave power opportunities in Australia is Perth based Carnegie Wave Energy, which has a plant operating in WA and is looking to build another in Eden, NSW.

The other major source of ocean energy available to Australia is tidal power.

One major backer of tidal power in northern Australia was Wilson Tuckey (who lost his seat in the recent federal election. While Tuckey's dreams of tidal power in the Kimberly region remain unrealised, NT News has a report on a tidal power project proposed nearby in the northern territory by Tenax Energy in the Clarence Strait.

Another Australian tidal power hopeful, Atlantis Resources, seems to have shifted offshore entirely, recently unveiling the world's largest tidal turbine for testing in Scotland.

BHP Boss: Time For A Carbon Tax  

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The SMH has an article on a recent speech by BHP CEO Marius Kloppers, calling for a carbon tax to be introduced to Australia - BHP boss dumps on future of coal.

THE world's largest miner, BHP Billiton, has weighed into the climate change debate, warning that Australia should ''look beyond coal'' and towards other energy sources.

The chief executive of BHP, Marius Kloppers, said Australia's economy will suffer if it does not significantly reduce its carbon emissions in anticipation of a global carbon price. ''Failure to do so will place us at a competitive disadvantage in a future where carbon is priced globally,'' he said.

BHP is one of the world's largest producers of thermal coal, which made up about 8 per cent of its revenue last year. And while BHP and the broader mining industry have acknowledged the need for action on climate change, Mr Kloppers is now calling for Australia to take a lead on the issue. ...

Mr Kloppers stressed the need for a clear price signal on carbon emissions and recommended a combination of a carbon tax, land use actions and a limited emissions trading system, which could apply to electricity generators. He said Australia's energy production was particularly carbon intensive and the highest among OECD countries in terms of tonnes of carbon emitted per unit of energy. Coal-fired power stations account for almost half of the country's emissions.

''Australia will need to look beyond just coal towards the full spectrum of available energy solutions,'' he said.

The Business Spectator also has a look at the Kloppers speech - Kloppers' big call.
There can be no doubting now that a carbon price is back on the political agenda. Big business – or, more to the point, the biggest business – has spoken, and there is now no hiding from the issue.

BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers certainly made a dramatic intervention into the debate. He took three three pillars of the fossil fuel lobby’s defence of the status quo and threw them out the door. He didn’t just skirt around their Maginot Line, he ploughed straight through it. And he’s challenged the nation’s politicians to do something about it.

The three key elements from Kloppers speech was that it was clear that Australia did need to take strong action to reduce its emissions, it needed to look beyond coal and towards other energy sources, and it needed to do so to protect its international competitiveness.

The need for global action on climate change is not, apparently, just a left-wing conspiracy. And it is now, once again, a front page issue.

More from the Business Spectator - Kloppers outflanks the pollies on carbon.
News that BHP Billiton wants Australia to be a first-mover in imposing a carbon tax serves to underline the policy overlap that exists between the Greens, independents and a large part of corporate Australia – the desire to begin reducing carbon emissions sooner rather than later – but it also highlights the highly disparate levels of trust they have for market mechanisms to do the job. ...

Kloppers has outflanked both Labor and the Coalition with this announcement, pointing out that the major parties have been too timid on this issue: "If we get a global price for carbon and we have got a carbon-intensive generation centre, companies like BHP Billiton that consume the energy will eventually lose their competitiveness because it will pay a higher price for its energy.''

Origin resurrects plan for PNG hydro  

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The SMH has an article on plans to link a large scale hydro power project in Papua New Guinea to the Australian electricity grid - Origin resurrects plan for PNG hydro.

Origin Energy says it will sign an agreement with the governments of Papua New Guinea and Queensland to potentially support development of a large hydro-electricity project.

The 50:50 joint venture between Origin and PNG Sustainable Development Program Ltd could ultimately see the hydro plant built at PNG's Purari River, the nation's third largest waterway.

Under the plan, electricity from the project would be used to power villages in PNG and would be transmitted to Australia via Weipa to join the national electricity grid at Townsville.

Plans for such a project have been in existence since the 1970s, a company spokesman said, but have now been updated.

The governments of PNG and Queensland will on Wednesday sign a Memorandum of Cooperation with the joint venture company, PNG Energy Developments Ltd (PNG EDL) concerning the plans.

"Capturing the power of the existing river flows, the development under consideration would have the capacity to generate approximately 1800 MW (megawatts) of renewable baseload electricity," Origin said.

PNG EDL is currently evaluating the hydro-electric potential of Purari at Wabo, in the Gulf Province of PNG and about 350 km from Port Moresby.

By itself the run-off from the Wabo delta is about equal to one quarter of the run-off from all Australia’s waterways, and PNG’s highlands receive eight to 11 metres of rainfall each year, an Origin spokesman said.

If the project was completed it would supply into Queensland about five times more renewable power than currently generated in the state.Origin chief executive Grant King said in a statement that the ongoing assessment of the project was consistent with his company’s pursuit of renewable energy opportunities.

‘‘This would be the first project to deliver year-round baseload renewable energy into mainland Australia,’’ Mr King said in a statement.

Huge fish kill reported in Louisiana  

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The New Orleans Times Picayune has some amazing photos of a large fish kill in Louisiana - Huge fish kill reported in Plaquemines Parish .

Plaquemines Parish officials have asked state wildlife officials to investigate what they said is a massive fish kill at Bayou Chaland on the west side of the Mississippi River late Friday. Photographs the parish distributed of the area shows an enormous amount of dead fish floating atop the water.

The fish kill was reported to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries and the cause has not yet been determined, the parish said. The fish were found in an area that has been impacted by the oil from the BP oil spill, the parish said. ...

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said he has asked Wildlife & Fisheries for a quick determination of the cause. The parish has also requested testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We can't continue to see these fish kills,'' Nungesser said in a news release. "We need some additional tests to find out why these fish are dying in large numbers. If it is low oxygen, we need to identify the cause."

Bracing For Peak Oil Production By Decade's End  

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Forbes has an interview with Charles Maxwell, discussing where oil's production peak is and how that affects investments. Maxwell is a "senior energy analyst at Weeden & Co." - Bracing For Peak Oil Production By Decade's End.

Charles Maxwell: The use of petroleum in the world is now up to about 30 billion barrels per year. The rate at which we have found new supplies of petroleum over the last 10 years has fallen to an average, of only about 10 billion barrels per year.

We're obviously in an unsustainable situation. We are now using up a greater number of barrels that we have found in the recent past and that we have reserved in the ground. We are now beginning to use it up relatively quickly--with scary consequences for the future.

The peak of production usually comes sometime between 30 and 50 years after the peak of finding oil. "The peak of discovery," as they call it. For instance, in the North Sea, the peak of discovery was in the late 1960s, and the peak of production was in the late 1990s. So it was around 30 years between the peak of finding oil and the peak production of that oil.

Wallace Forbes: From those sources in the North Sea?

Maxwell: Yes. In the United States, the actual peak of discovery was 1931, quite a bit earlier. We were the first country to actually peak in the world of oil production. Our peak of production came in late in 1970. So that was a 39-year transition from the peak of finding the oil to the peak of producing it.

Now the question remains in front of us, has the world peaked in its level of discovery and if so, how long will it take the world, if it has peaked, to reach the peak of oil output? I believe that the peak of discovery fell in the five-year interval between 1965 and 1970. So if you took it at, say, 1968, and then you added 50 years, you would get to 2018.

Forbes: Is technology reducing the time between finding and producing oil?

Maxwell: Technology is trying to give us the ability to produce more out of a giant field. In the early days we only produced about 25%. Today we're producing about 40% of the oil in place when a field is found. These numbers are gaining rather slowly now. What's happening is that the increase in the world's population and greater use of oil in transportation, particularly in the emerging countries, is working to lift oil demand, and that spurs us to drain a field more quickly, but not necessarily to get a higher proportion of oil out of it. So we have technology improving production capability, but actually taking the oil out faster rather than getting much more out. I cannot tell you whether we are lengthening the life of a field very much in these times. It’s a slow process, at best.

Santos to share CSG to LNG plant with Total  

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The SMH has a report on total buying into a Queensland coal seam gas project - Santos shares slump on LNG stake sale.

French energy giant Total has emerged with a 20 per cent stake in the $7.7 billion Gladstone liquefied natural gas project (GLNG) after 60/40 joint venture partners Santos and Malaysia’s Petronas sold down part of their stakes.

Santos, which agreed to sell a 15 per cent stake for $650 million, said this was the first major investment by Total in an LNG project using unconventional gas - in this case coal seam gas. ...

IG Markets market strategist Ben Potter said the Total deal surprised investors. ‘‘Most were expecting Santos to sell a stake to Korea Gas ... amid widespread speculation it was poised to take a 10 per cent stake,’’ Mr Potter said. ‘‘It seems the market is worried that the rate was at a discount to what Petronas paid for its original stake in the JV two years ago.’’

Santos managing director David Knox the deal with Total was a landmark agreement for the Australian LNG industry. ‘‘We are pleased to welcome Total into the GLNG project as a fully integrated joint venture partner,’’ Mr Knox said in a statement.

Total is one of the world’s largest LNG producers with interests in eight producing LNG projects and one under construction. It also has an interest in the Inpex-led Icthys LNG project in Western Australia’s Browse Basin.

State-owned oil company Petronas said it had entered into an agreement to sell a 5 per cent interest in the GLNG project to Total, which is the world’s fourth largest listed natural gas producer.

Santos, which previously held 60 per cent of GLNG (and Petronas 40 per cent) on Thursday also flagged further deals related to the project with Asian parties.

Banksy Continues His Environmental Theme in Graffiti  

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Desertec Solar Hopes Cloud over as Support Starts To Waver  

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REW has an article on Algeria's decision not to support the DESERTEC solar thermal power project - Desertec Solar Hopes Cloud over as Support Starts To Waver.

A significant piece of good news for the ambitious €400 billion (Dh1.87 trillion, US $509 billion) scheme came in April, when one of its members, Germany's Solar Millennium, said its 150 MW Kuraymat project in Egypt was nearing completion and could serve as a template for other north African solar farms.

Then came the bad news with Algeria’s decision last month not to participate in the Desertec Industrial Initiative, which was formally launched last year by a group of 12 European companies, mostly from Germany. Last Monday (August 30), Paul van Son, the director of the group, said he was now also concerned about declining German government support for the project.

“We were surprised that after the project received strong support at the beginning, it wasn’t even mentioned in [Germany’s] energy concept draft,” he told Dow Jones on the sidelines of a renewable energy conference in Frankfurt. Mr. van Son said the Desertec partners needed subsidies, possibly through feed-in tariffs, to guarantee electricity prices that would cover the generation and transmission costs.

To push the project forward, Desertec was wooing potential investors from the Middle East and north Africa, he said.

“We are in intensive talks with companies in the MENA region, which we are trying to win as new shareholders,” Mr van Son told Reuters, without naming any candidates.

In March, the US company First Solar joined Desertec as its first member from outside Europe.

Earlier that month, Mr. van Son had said five companies from Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, France and Italy had agreed to join the consortium. But no confirmatory announcements have followed.

The group’s other existing partners include Munich Re, Deutsche Bank, RWE, E.ON, HSH Nordbank and Siemens from Germany, the Swiss ABB, Italy’s Enel, Spain’s Red Electrica and the French group Saint-Gobain.

Mr. van Son also said on Monday that a planned Moroccan pilot project still lacked investors.

“We’re in the very early stages, the letter-writing stage,” he told Bloomberg. In July, Desertec announced its plan for the small Moroccan solar facility as a way to test the feasibility of a large-scale concentrating solar-power project with a proposed capacity of up to 1,000mw. That would be 10 times the capacity of the US$600 million (Dh2.2bn) Shams-1 solar plant that Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government’s advanced energy company, is building in the emirate’s southern desert.

Taking stock of climate change — what now?  

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Bernard Keane from Crikey can sense a shift in momentum towards a carbon tax in Australia (something I've held for many years is a better option than an emissions trading scheme) - Taking stock of climate change — what now?.

The removal of Penny Wong from the climate change portfolio in favour of Greg Combet provides an opportunity to take stock of where we’re at on climate change and what should be the Government’s priority.

Opinion is undoubtedly swinging away from an emissions trading scheme toward a carbon tax, and it’s been happening both among progressive economists like John Quiggin and right-wing commentators like Michael Stutchbury. A similar change is going on within Cabinet, although the conversion isn’t yet complete. A carbon tax isn’t as elegant and economically pure as an emissions trading scheme, and not as efficient, but the original debate omitted the simple reality that politicians — or certainly the politicians we now have — can’t be relied upon to develop a complex policy without allowing every rentseeker in the country to defile it.

In short, a relatively simple carbon tax is superior to a badly designed ETS (exhibit #1, the CPRS), particularly if it applies to imports but not to exports, at a stroke removing much of the potential for whingeing from trade-exposed industries.

But where does a carbon tax — or even a revised CPRS stripped of its decades of handouts to polluters — fit within overall climate change policy?

The Rudd Government’s climate change policy was two-fold: implement its election commitment to establish an ETS (and increase the mandatory renewable energy target) and use climate change in the same way that Labor had used it before the 2007 election, to wedge the Coalition.

Its implementation of the ETS commitment was, initially, excellent — Ross Garnaut was engaged to prepare a comprehensive report on climate change, identify appropriate emissions targets and how best to achieve them. There was a Green Paper and White Paper process conducted by the Government to develop its ETS model. Wong’s technocratic air seemed to suit the process. But at that point, the interests of climate change action would have best been served by Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan being mysteriously replaced by John Howard and Peter Costello — specifically, the second-term versions of both.

It was Howard and Costello’s skill and patience in resisting demands from rentseekers and special interests in relation to the GST that was needed in the face of demands from whingeing industries like the miners. Instead, Rudd and his Cabinet caved in — pre-emptively caved in on some issues, then caved in again later as the rentseekers sniffed blood and came to Canberra for a killing.

The relentless use of climate change as a political weapon also went well, with Brendan Nelson and then Malcolm Turnbull having to deal with a hopelessly divided party on the issue. But that, too, ended up going poorly. Tony Abbott may be a global cooling advocate who can barely maintain the fiction of “giving the planet the benefit of the doubt” for more than five seconds, but there was great justice in how he turned climate change back on Kevin Rudd. Penny Wong’s complete lack of political touch and robotic adherence to the Government line and talking points didn’t help the Government’s apparent helplessness in the face of the bad man yelling “great big new tax.”

Now there’s no commitment to an ETS, just a vague, years-long commitment to a carbon price, with the hung Parliament having delivered, via Christine Milne, an intra-Parliamentary mechanism for developing a model, with external “expert” input, including potentially from business.

That mechanism could progress things by developing a wide-ranging consensus on a model across parts of the political spectrum, economists, business representatives and unions, which Greg Combet is well-credentialled to facilitate. But it may not deliver anything of the sort, and more to the point it won’t obviate the need, at some point, for a political leader to demonstrate something approaching courage.

It thus might serve to take a step back and understand exactly what it is Australia should do on climate change.

Much of the debate around climate change is still skewed by the assumption that what we do matters; that, faced with say the slow drying up of the Murray-Darling Basin, we can control our fate by cutting our own emissions.

As the recalcitrants like to note, we only account for a tiny part of the world’s emissions. In climate change terms, we are a mendicant state. Our future is heavily dependent on the actions of the world’s biggest economies. As a country that will be more exposed, and more quickly exposed, to the impacts of climate change the highest priority is any sort of effective international regime that will reduce the growth in emissions, with the aim of stabilising carbon levels. ...

Subway Trains to Generate Power for the Grid  

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Technology Review has an article on capturing power from braking trains - Subway Trains to Generate Power for the Grid.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which runs the transit system in Philadelphia, is piloting a smart electrical grid technology that could cut its electricity bills by up to 40 percent and generate millions of dollars a year.

A massive battery installed at one of the authority's substations will store electricity generated by the braking systems on trains (as the trains slow down the wheels drive generators). The battery will help trains accelerate, cutting power consumption, and will also provide extra power that can be sold back to the regional power grid. The pilot project, which involves one of 38 substations in the transit system, is expected to bring in $500,000 a year. This figure would multiply if the batteries are installed at other substations.

The project shows how cash-strapped public transit agencies that operate major subways and electric rail systems could find a new source of income by tapping into the smart grid. It also highlights one way that the smart grid could save energy, avoid blackouts, and incorporate more renewable power.

Several energy utilities are already experimenting with using large batteries to help smooth out fluctuations in electricity supply, keeping the grid operating at the correct frequency and preventing blackouts. In the new pilot project, this kind of battery technology will be paired with software from a Philadelphia-based smart grid company called Viridity Energy.

The software will decide how to allocate the power stored in the battery, using it to drive trains and smooth out spikes in SEPTA's power distribution network. SEPTA could also sell the excess power to various electricity markets, depending on a number of factors, including what's most profitable.

The pilot project, which Viridity expects to complete by next summer, will make use of the regenerative braking capabilities of Philadelphia's subway trains. These systems convert kinetic energy into electricity as the train slows down.

Reversal of fortune  

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Giles Parkinson at the Climate Spectator has a look at the Australian geothermal energy industry, looking offshore for easier opportunities than the local market is providing - Reversal of fortune.

Australian geothermal companies are making a beeline for Indonesia and other countries on the Pacific Rim, lured by reduced technology risk and the sort of incentives they could only dream of in their own country.

Australian companies such as Panax Geothermal, Greenearth Energy and Origin Energy have signed joint ventures in Indonesia to take advantage of that country’s determination to become the world leader in geothermal energy production.

For the smaller companies in particular, it’s an opportunity to develop an operating asset, generate much needed cash flow and hopefully enjoy a market re-rating that will make it easier to raise funds for their Australian projects, which have been all but impossible.

Which is kind of ironic, given that most market mechanisms are designed to encourage cash-rich investors from developed nations to invest in developing countries. Here, it is the Indonesian government that is providing the opportunity for Australian companies to become rich enough to invest in their own country.

The Indonesian government has announced plans to increase its current capacity of geothermal energy nearly three-fold in the next four years, and to more than 9,500MW by 2025. It is offering attractive tariffs – the US government has provided $US1 billion in credits to local banks to fund geothermal developments, and a host of companies from Europe, Asia, north America and Australia are competing for tenders.

Panax Geothermal appears to be the most active Australian company in Indonesia and has two projects in partnership with PT Bakrie Power it wants to bring on line within the next two years.

The first is a 30MW facility planned on the island of Flores, which will attract a tariff of $US125 per megawatt hour. This is significantly cheaper than the diesel that currently powers the island, and should deliver good returns for the developers. Geothermal resources in Indonesia are conventional volcanic resources, hotter and shallower than those in Australia, and easier and cheaper to exploit.

Panax has signed another deal with Bakrie to construct a 25MW facility for a lead/zinc mine in Sumatra, which will attract a tariff of $US150/MWh for the first eight years and $US125/MWh thereafter.

Interestingly, Australian energy giant Origin Energy has teamed up with Indian industrial giant Tata – a fellow investor in Australian geothermal play Geodynamics – and secured the Sorik Marapi geothermal concession in northern Sumatra, which it says has the potential of 200-300MW of geothermal generation capacity.

Origin expects to begin construction of the installation in 2012, well before any of its Australian geothermal plays come into production, and a spokesperson said the tariffs for the plant would be up to $US97/MWh. Origin and Tata are looking for other geothermal opportunities in the country.

Panax CEO Bertus de Graaf says he also hopes to bring his project into production within two years. “Australia is suffering from uncertainty from renewable energy policies, and the risks (in Australia) are higher than they are in Indonesia,” he says.

De Graaf expects the delivery of production assets will lead to a re-rating by investors. Like other geothermal companies in Australia, Panax shares have slumped sharply in recent months.

“Once they understand that we have less risk and access to a good tariffs, that will lead to a revaluation of the company. The projects will generate cash flows but the revaluation itself would make it easier to raise money.”

Greenearth Energy CEO Mark Miller, whose company is looking at a couple of project opportunities with a local partner, says Indonesia offers lower technical risk, hotter and shallower resources, substantial demand and a pretty good grid infrastructure.

“While there are great prospects here in Australia in terms of resources, the industry is still in its infancy. In Indonesia it is well established and well understood.”

Others are looking further afield. Kuth Energy, unable to get government or private financing for its geothermal plays in Tasmania, is looking to develop a shallow, hot volcanic resource in Vanuatu, and plans to begin drilling next year.

Hot Rock Ltd is looking at Chile, Green Rock is investigating opportunities in Hungary, while Petratherm has signed an agreement to pursue geothermal opportunities in Spain and the Canary Islands with Italy’s Enel Gren Power, has a district heating project in Madrid and is looking at other possibilities in Barcelona.

RIP Stephen Schneider  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Edge has a look at the influence of the late Stephen Schneider - STEPHEN H. SCHNEIDER : 1945 — 2010.

Warming is unequivocal, that's true. But that's not a sophisticated question. A much more sophisticated question is how much of the climate Ma Earth, a perverse lady, gives us is from her, and how much is caused by us. That's a much more sophisticated, and much more difficult question.

Stanford climate researcher Stephen H. Schneider, a long-time friend, colleague and Edge contributor, died last month at the age of 65 of a heart attack while on a flight to London.

To remember him, Edge asked Andrew Revkin and Stewart Brand to have an email conversation about his influence on their thinking. ...

Below, is a 20-minute EdgeVideo interview with Stephen Schneider from our April 2008 feature on his work, "Modeling the Future".

STEPHEN H. SCHNEIDER, a climatologist, was Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford University, a Co-Director at the Center for Environment Science and Policy of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Senior Fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. He was the author of Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can't Afford to Lose.

Natural gas from shale rock promises energy revolution in UK ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The BBC has a report on interest in shale gas in the UK - Natural gas from shale rock promises energy revolution.

BP's former chief executive Tony Hayward has described it as a "game changer" in energy supply, the major oil companies are betting millions on its success and it might just turn Blackpool into the new Dallas.

Shale gas seems to answer the oil industry's desire for an accessible energy source perfectly just as other sources are becoming more problematic.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrated the dangers of searching for oil and gas in ever more extreme environments.

Alaska, Greenland and the South Atlantic may have tempting oil reserves but when something goes wrong in deep water or in an isolated region it can be fearsomely difficult to fix. And this is what is spurring the search for land-based sources of hydrocarbons.

Shale gas exists in large quantities and promising sources lie close to many big energy-intensive cities. ...

In Britain, the shale gas revolution may be just beginning.The geology of Dorset and the Isle of Wight is said to bear comparison with the fruitful Barnett shale of Texas but it is Lancashire that has got the energy companies excited.

Four miles from Blackpool Tower, Cuadrilla Resources has built what looks almost like a replica to drill deep into Bowland shale, geological parent of some of the UK's offshore gas reserves.

It could be three or four years before gas is produced in significant quantities in the UK but the signs are promising. Mark Miller, the general manager of the operations group at Cuadrilla Resources said the gas was there, it was just

a question of whether his men could extract it economically.

The WikiLeaks / Assange plot thickens  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Crikey's Guy Rundle has a look at the campaign against Wikileaks' Julian Assange - The WikiLeaks / Assange plot thickens.

WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange, accused of harassment and facing a reopened investigation into rape charges, has sacked his lawyer Leif Silberksy, and hopes to be represented by Bjorn Hurtig, another high-profile defender.

Assange told Crikey he still has not been informed of alleged “new information” that the prosecution service claims led to the reopening of rape investigations. The prosecution service is due to make an announcement next week, and the court has to approve Assange’s change of legal team.

Assange’s move comes as fallout continues from a piece on US website The Daily Beast, alleging that the accusations against Assange are causing conflict within the WikiLeaks organisation, centred on Icelandic MP Birgit Jonsdottir’s statements that Assange should take a less-visible profile in the WikiLeaks organisation.

However, as reported by Luke Miller in Crikey yesterday, Jonsdottir alleges that she was selectively quoted to give the impression that she gave more credence to the allegations against Assange than is the case. Jonsdottir has also expressed doubts as to the veracity of the unnamed “insiders” quoted in the Daily Beast article, commenting: “I do not know who WikiLeaks insiders are but feel they should step forward and show some transparency themselves.”

Swedish director of prosecutions Marianne Ny has released no further information about the case. However, Assange told Crikey this week that he is still yet to be presented with any specific accusations about rape:
I have been asked nothing about [accusations of] “rapes” ever, at any stage. All this is running entirely without my input. I have not even seen the statements.

He also clarified his position on the involvement of other forces, in an interview with TV4 Sweden:
I said very clearly what we knew, which was that on the 11th we received a warning, and that this was a smear because it is not true … That doesn’t mean that intelligence agencies are behind this, nor does it mean they are not behind it, nor does it mean once this has happened, for other reasons, that they are not capitalising on it.

In the absence of any further statements by the prosecution service, the two women accusers, or their lawyer Claes Borgstrom, the rumours continue to swirl.

Increasingly, attention has been focused on the role of Anna Ardin, the more visible of the two complainants. Her apparent mix of establishment cred, together with her varied activist/political career radical feminist, Christian social democrat, ambitious political intern seems to flummox non-Swedish commentators, who don’t understand that that is an establishment career in Sweden.

Ardin has not only worked as an intern in the Swedish foreign affairs department, including a tour of DC and Cuba (from which she was allegedly deported), but has also interned on the op-ed page of the Gothenburg afternoon paper GT, part of the Expressen stable, owned by the right-wing Bonnier family (yep, Sweden has right-wingers).

It was to the relentlessly anti-left Expressen that the story of the initial charges of rape against Assange were released (a breach of Swedish law), in the small window of time before they were rescinded by a higher prosecutor. ...

So deep breath … if you were to set out to destabilise a Sweden-based global whistleblower organisation, one easy way would be to have someone set off a chain of sexual chaos that gets a high-profile uber-activist and one who’s previously written a guide to sexual revenge spinning like a top, and drawing in Sweden’s expansive sex-crime and harassment laws, marshalling the very scenario that would make it difficult for the left to throw in accusations of obvious manipulation and entrapment.

You’d then leak stories of internal dissent to a journalist with US intelligence connections, and widen any cracks of trust in the organisation, however small. Further internal dissent would be created by misapprehension created by the story of initial internal dissent, and recriminations about such. And round you go. It’s a well-worn tactic used by US agencies on “enemy” groups domestic and foreign.

Indeed it’s already been written down by the US Army Counterintelligence Centre, in its report on what to do about WikiLeaks:
Wikileaks.org uses trust as a centre of gravity by assuring insiders, leakers, and whistleblowers who pass information to Wikileaks.org personnel or who post information to the Web site that they will remain anonymous …

“The identification, exposure, or termination of employment of or legal actions against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could damage or destroy this center of gravity …”

Hmmmm.

China blacks out towns to meet energy goal  

Posted by Big Gav in

AP has a report on Chinese efforts to restrict energy consumption (which caused some angst in the local press here regarding the possible impact on iron ore prices) - China blacks out towns to meet energy goal.

Chinese steel mills and mobile phone factories are being idled and thousands of homes in one area are doing without electricity as local governments order power cuts to meet energy-saving targets set by Beijing.

Rolling blackouts and enforced power cuts are affecting key industrial areas. The prosperous eastern city of Taizhou turned off street lights and ordered hotels and shopping malls to cut power use. In Anping County southwest of Beijing, an area known as China's wire-manufacturing capital, thousands of factories and homes have endured daylong blackouts over the past two weeks.

"We can't meet deadlines for some orders and will have to pay penalties," said Han Hongmai, general manager of Anping's Jintai Metal Wire Co. "At home we can't use the toilet" on blackout days due to lack of power for water pumps, he said.

While the U.S. and Europe struggle with flagging economies, the power outages are symptomatic of China's torrid growth and officials' capricious use of their powers to meet the authoritarian government's goals.

China's economic expansion, which hit 10.3 percent in the latest quarter, blew holes in government efforts to curb surging energy demand, pollution and emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Beijing told local leaders to clamp down and stepped up pressure by sending inspectors to see the order was carried out. ...

In 2007, gasoline shortages disrupted the economy after refiners cut production in response to price controls. The next year, parts of China shivered through blackouts in bitter winter cold after the government froze power prices, prompting utilities to cut expenses by letting coal stockpiles run low.

This year's power cuts began after Beijing announced in August that an energy efficiency campaign suffered a setback as a stimulus-fueled building boom drove growth in steel, cement and other heavy industry.

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