Fear grows near another nuclear plant in Japan  

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The Globe and Mail has an interesting article on the Japanese reactor complex damaged in their last major earthquake - Fear grows near another nuclear plant in Japan.

When residents of this quiet rice-farming area on Japan’s west coast watch news of the unfolding nuclear disaster in Fukushima, they do so with an added level of fear that comes from living in the shadow of an even bigger nuclear plant, one that sits directly on a fault line.

The images of smoke rising from a nuclear reactor are chillingly familiar to the tens of thousands of people who live a short drive from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s largest in terms of output. A fire broke out in an electricity transformer following a 2007 earthquake here, sending black smoke billowing into the sky and sowing panic among residents who had to wait hours to hear any kind of explanation of what was going on.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, better known as TEPCO, operates both Kashiwazaki-Kariwa and the Fukushima Daiichi facilities damaged in the earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The company’s already battered reputation took another hit Sunday when it announced it had detected radiation levels 10 million times normal in the water inside Reactor No. 2 at Fukushima, only to sheepishly declare later in the day that the reading was “not credible” and that another measurement was required.

In the interim, the workers battling to bring Fukushima’s four damaged reactors under control were evacuated. It was not clear when they might be able to resume their daunting assignment.

Many of Kariwa’s 5,000 residents worry the fate that has befallen those who live around Fukushima – living in evacuation centres as radiation pollutes the region’s water and food – could easily be theirs. “We feel lucky that this reactor happened to cool down in 2007. Looking at Fukushima, we’re seeing what would have happened to us if it didn’t,” said Eiko Tamura, a 68-year-old retired high-school teacher who lives just 2.5 kilometres from Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, well within the 20-kilometre radius that has been evacuated around Fukushima.

All seven reactors at the plant were shut down following the 2007 quake and only four have since been allowed to resume operation. The quake caused a small amount of radioactive material from the spent-fuel storage pools in one of the reactors to leak into the sea.

Relief that the worst didn’t happen is heavily outweighed by fear of what might occur next time. In the aftermath of the 2007 quake, the Japan Meteorological Agency determined that Kashiwazaki-Kariwa sits directly on the fault that caused the quake.

TEPCO’s explanation for what is happening at Fukushima is the same one it offered four years ago: the earthquake was much larger than could have been anticipated. The tremor in July, 2007, that struck nine kilometres offshore in the Sea of Japan was a magnitude 6.8 (compared to the 9.0 quake that hit the northeast coast on March 11) and there was no subsequent tsunami. Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was built to safely withstand a quake of up to 6.5 magnitude, though its safety measures have since been upgraded.

“We would like to express our sincere apology to those who live near Fukushima plant [and] all the people who are concerned about radiation,” TEPCO spokesman Kiyoto Ishikawa wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “We will try our best to provide the necessary information as quickly as possible working closely with the government, so that the citizens will be able to live with sense of security.”

The Fukushima disaster has raised the volume of a decades-old debate over whether Japan, a country crisscrossed and surrounded by some 2,000 major and minor fault lines, should have 55 nuclear plants on its soil. Some 300 Japanese demonstrators – some of them wearing gas masks – marched past TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters on Sunday chanting “We don’t need nuclear plants!”

The Wall Street Journal reports things continue to get worse at the tsunami damaged plant - At Plant, Toxic Pools Threaten to Spill.
Workers at Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant battled Monday to keep radioactive water that has flooded one reactor building from spilling over into the ocean, while the operator said plutonium was detected in samples of soil taken from the compound.

The plutonium discovery, along with readings of the contaminated pool, offered the strongest signs yet that the reactor's core may have partially melted. The new reports "back up the view that there was a partial melting of the fuel rods,'' chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said at a press conference on Tuesday morning.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the plutonium was found at low levels that pose no risk to human health and are unlikely to affect the repair work. But the discovery is expected to add to the urgency of the task to bring the reactors under control.

Monday's events brought a new turn to the complex battle to stem disaster at the nuclear complex. Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the plant, the prime battle has been to bring overheating reactors down to safe temperatures. Last week, after crews doused reactors with salt- and freshwater, temperatures stopped rising.

Plant officials are now facing standing water in four of the complex's six reactor buildings, at least one of which is a pool of highly radioactive water. That poses dangers to personnel on the site and threatens to bedevil further work.

It also sets a new agenda for the company and government—finding and stopping the radiation's source, keeping the pools that carry the contamination from spilling into the nearby ocean, and grappling with how to dispose of what is still an unclear quantity of radioactive water. At the plant's reactor No. 2, standing water has reached a depth of about three feet, according to Tepco. Water in a trench that houses pipes in the reactor had a radioactivity level of 1,000 millisieverts per hour, officials said, four times the cumulative annual limit emergency workers at the facility are allowed to receive.

The Oil ConunDRUM  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Mobjectivist has a summary of his oil depletion modelling posts - The Oil ConunDRUM.

I synthesized the last several years of blog content and placed it into The Oil ConunDRUM. This document turned into a treatise of topics relating to the role of disorder and entropy in the applied sciences. Volume 1 is mainly on the analysis of the decline in global oil production, while Volume 2 uses often related analysis in studying renewable sources of energy and how entropy plays a role in our environment and everyday life.

TOC essentially draws a line in the sand and a virtual stake in the ground. Everything I have written about and all the original analyses I have worked out on the blog has not fundamentally changed as I aggregated the information. As far as I can tell, no one else has picked up on the direction that I have taken, and nothing has come out of the research literature that comes close to unifying the set of topics as well as this does.

A couple of commenters have said I should publish the research work through peer-reviewed channels. That won't happen because the project covers too much territory and compiling a massive tome such as this represented the best option I could think of. I invite all with an interest in the natural world to take a whack at digesting it.

This is a list of the novel areas of research, listed in what I consider a ranked order of originality:

1. The Oil Shock Model.

A data flow model of oil extraction and production which allows for perturbations.

2. The Dispersive Discovery Model.

A probabilistic model of resource discovery which accounts for technological advancement and a finite search volume.

3. The Reservoir Size Dispersive Aggregation Model.

A first-principles model that explains and describes the size distribution of oil reservoirs and fields around the world. ...

Cargill Propelling Meat Across the Ocean With Kites  

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Fast Company has an article on the use of SkySails kite technology for making shipping ore energy efficient - Cargill Propelling Meat Across the Ocean With Kites .

Your next beef patty may be propelled across the ocean by a kite-powered ship. Cargill, purveyor of grain, livestock, and fats for processed foods, signed an agreement this week with SkySails to install a giant kite on one of its long-term chartered ships.

Cargill's kite-powered vessel comes courtesy of SkySails's patented technology, which involves connecting giant parasail-like kites to ships via rope and allowing them to generate enough propulsion to cut down on fuel use (by 35%, in ideal conditions). The kites are controlled by computers that steer their flight path for maximum wind benefits.

In Cargill's case, a 320-square meter kite will be attached to a ship that carries a load of up to 30,000 deadweight tons. The kite-propelled ship will be the largest of its kind when it is ready to go in early 2012.

Cargill isn't the first major company to take advantage of SkySails's kite technology. Last year, GE chartered a SkySails-powered cargo vessel to transport power-generating equipment.

But now that GE and agricultural giant Cargill are both on board with kite-powered ships, SkySails's business will probably take off. And that's a good thing for the shipping industry, which is set to spew up to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if no action is taken.

Gigantic Offshore Wind-turbine Testing in Progress  

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Renewable Energy World has an update on efforts to encourage larger wind turbines for offshore wind power (and floating offshore wind power) - Gigantic Offshore Wind-turbine Testing in Progress.

In the course of the next five years, the HiPRWind (High Power, High Reliability Offshore Wind Technology) project will lay the foundations for delivery of a complete, fully functional offshore wind-turbine with a generating capacity of 10 – 20 MW. For comparison, modern wind–turbine capacities lie between 300 kW and 6 MW. ...

Plenty of Power

As well as developing a concept for a 10 – 20 MW turbine, the members of the project are also looking at how the units of a huge floating wind-farm far out to sea can be interconnected, and connected to the electricity grid ashore.

The advantages of locating wind-turbines offshore are well known. A better wind regime is the first of these; it simply blows harder out at sea. Next, larger schemes can be built; a single North Sea block of 60 x 60 km is capable of producing more electricity than all Norway’s hydropower plants combined, while ten blocks could supply enough electric power for the whole of Europe.

The problem is: how to do it? Wind-turbines are already standing in shallow water off the UK and Denmark. But in the future, coastal sites are going to become more crowded, and both environmental and resource considerations will mean that these installations will have to be located further from the coast. ...

Wind Energy in Norway -- Updates

Three potential concepts for wind energy generation are currently under development in Norway: Hywind and Sway are based on turbines mounted on monotowers moored to the seabed, while Wind-Sea has three rotors mounted on a floater in the form of an equilateral triangle. Hywind has been in operation since 2009, while the other two are still at the model stage. Hywind is moored off Karmøy in southwestern Norway, but as it is owned by Statoil it cannot be used for tests by research institutes.

SINTEF has a high level of expertise in wind-power, including offshore, and some ten researchers at SINTEF Energy Research work full-time in this field. When the Research Council of Norway set up eleven centres of research on environmentally friendly energy, SINTEF Energy Research was allocated the management of the Nowitech and Cedren centres. Nowitech focuses on offshore wind technology, while Cedren’s contribution is to the development and dissemination of environmentally friendly designs.

As a result, Nowitech in Trondheim and Norcowe in Bergen were given funding last year to build a floating test turbine that will gather data and test a number of different designs. They will also build a floating station for measurements of wind and waves.

Can Electric Vehicles Take Off? A Roadmap to Find the Answer  

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Yale Environment 360 has an article on how to ensure the success of electric vehicles - Can Electric Vehicles Take Off? A Roadmap to Find the Answer.

As instability in the Middle East pushes oil prices past $100 per barrel and gasoline prices toward $4 a gallon in the U.S., the need to find better ways to fuel our vehicles has never been more urgent. Some advocates see electric cars as the most promising solution and are urging policymakers to ensure their widespread use through federal subsidies or regulation, such as a requirement that all automakers offer a certain percentage of plug-in vehicles in their fleets. Skeptics argue that electric cars are too expensive, that taxpayer money should not be used to stimulate the purchase of luxury goods, and that market forces alone should determine the future of electric cars.

We believe that the right policy lies between these positions and that there is a clear path to test whether electric vehicles can be viable on a mass scale. The U.S. Department of Energy — in partnership with automakers, car dealers, electric utilities, universities, and local governments — should coordinate a national demonstration program of 500,000 to 1,000,000 electric vehicles in 10 to 20 designated communities from coast to coast. That was the chief recommendation of a recent in-depth study, in which we participated, that was conducted by a group of national experts on electric vehicles. These experts said that by concentrating the many pieces needed to create a viable market for electric vehicles — a variety of cars and trucks for lease and sale, a robust network of charging stations, state and local policies to make home recharging easy — these demonstration projects would give the country a clear sense of whether electric vehicles will play a significant role in the nation’s transportation future.

At first glance, the market outlook for electric vehicles seems bright; when compared on an energy-equivalent basis, electricity prices are 60 to 80 percent lower than gasoline prices. Yet the future of electric vehicles is far from assured. Will the high price of batteries come down sufficiently as economies of scale kick in? Will oil prices fall again as new reserves and drilling technologies are discovered, as has happened with natural gas? Will other technologies — such as hybrid cars or vehicles powered by natural gas, ethanol, or hydrogen — win the competition against electric cars?

Such questions may not be answered in the near future, but a well-planned national demonstration program for electric vehicles can help determine the promise, limitations, and costs of this technology. And once the demonstration is over and the facts gathered and disseminated, electric cars should be forced to compete in a technology-neutral marketplace where other promising alternatives are also considered.

How would a comprehensive EV demonstration program work?

The most cost-effective demonstration would stimulate sales or leasing of electric cars in a limited number of designated communities that have a range of weather patterns, commuting norms, electric utility systems, and mass transit policies. Nissan and GM currently are concentrating some of their early marketing for electric vehicles in selected states, including California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Given the current state of battery technology, demonstration projects should focus on commuter cars and delivery vehicles in urban areas because these vehicles typically make round trips within the range of a single charge.

The goal of the demonstration projects is to increase the number of electric cars and electric vehicle infrastructure in a community toward a tipping point. To reach that point, government and the private sector must take several key steps: municipalities and electric utilities should begin to modernize their practices, such as streamlining the permitting process for setting up home rechargers and implementing time-of-day pricing of electricity so recharging occurs primarily at night; more businesses to supply recharging stations for homes, workplaces, and shopping malls must be launched; and the development of a competent service and repair system for electric vehicles must emerge. Perhaps most importantly, as the infrastructure for electric vehicles grows, initial owners can be better assured that they will be able to re-sell their vehicles in the used-car market.

Without government leadership, no single company has adequate incentive to coordinate all of the stakeholders and agencies to bring a meaningful demonstration to fruition. The creation of 10 to 20 demonstration sites would not involve appropriating new public funds, but rather reallocating and focusing already-authorized government funding. If the demonstration sites are created in the near future, the results of this preliminary leap into the world of electric vehicles should be clear by 2020.

CleanTechies has an article on reducing "range anxiety" in electric vehicle owners - Electric Cars and the Kindness of Strangers.
As if we don’t have enough phobias already, now there is range anxiety, a malady brought on by the electric car. But it’s okay; there is a cure, or rather an app for that.

Studies indicate that many electric car drivers – and those considering joining the ranks – suffer the fear of running out of power and being stranded with a dead battery. A little planning ahead could take the pressure off; there are an estimated 1,400 vehicle charging stations in the United States today and the number is growing. Even though most people drive less than the 100 miles a day allowed by many EV’s, range anxiety remains a logistical – and largely psychological – impediment to widespread electric vehicle adoption by consumers. One 2010 study showed range anxiety even caused EV drivers to modify their driving behaviors, decreasing the travel range and limiting most trips to no more than 25 miles.

Several companies have stepped up to ease the pain. The navigation system in the new electric Ford Focus finds electrical charging stations nearby and can help the driver conserve power by suggesting turning off the A/C or taking a more leisurely route. Google Maps, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently added electric vehicle charging stations to its popular platform, allowing users to search for and pinpoint more than 600 charging stations.

PlugShare, a new free app from Xatori, goes one step further with a personal touch: users can find home charging stations close by, and even list their own as a safe-haven for range-anxious drivers. PlugShare works with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, and you don’t need an EV or a special outlet to join. Accounts are customizable; those who wish to share can list their name, number and address as well as what types of energy they have available and where to find it (like the garage). The integrated app uses handy icons to identify private and public standard outlets, EV plugs and charging stations. With just a few clicks, you can identify the nearest charging station, call or text the person who listed it, and get directions. PlugShare hopes to launch a study of the app’s impact on the environment so users can celebrate the positive impact they’re making, not unlike other resource-sharing models like Denver B-cycle (members can track their miles ridden, calories burned, carbon off-set and money saved – and compare their stats to other members of the B-cycle community).

PlugShare’s website even encourages those without EVs to join the community: “Sooner or later an EV owner may ask to charge at your outlet, and you’ll be able to talk to a real person (not a dealer or a salesman) to find out if an EV is right for you!”

Green Ships  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Climate Spectator reports that Maersk is looking to increase the energy efficiency of its shipping fleet - Green Ships.

Danish shipping company Maersk has signed an order for 10 new freighters from Daewoo Shipping that it expects will be the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly container ships in the world. The so called “Triple-E” vessels will cot $190 million, or which $30 million would be spent on cutting the vessel’s energy consumption and carbon output to around half of the industry average for vessels serving Asia-European trade. The company expects the investment to deliver significant long-term savings, given rising oil prices, and the possibility that shipping will be brought into the ET emissions trading scheme.

Maersk has committed to reducing its overall CO2 emissions per container moved by a quarter by 2020 from 2007 levels. "International trade will continue to play a key role in the development of the global economy, but, for the health of the planet, we must continue to reduce our CO2 emissions," said CEO Kolding. "It is not only a top priority for us, but also for our customers, who depend on us in their supply chain, and also for a growing number of consumers who base their purchasing decisions on this type of information."

The Nuclear Breakthrough That Wasn't  

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The Atlantic has an article on the history of nuclear power in the US - The Nuclear Breakthrough That Wasn't.

The New York Times ran a story about Johnson's speech on page one under the headline, "Johnson Reports a 'Breakthrough' in Atomic Power." They followed up with a series of stories, as did the other major newspapers. Word of a breakthrough in the cost of nuclear power was big news because everyone had been waiting for economically feasible nuclear power for a decade. After the heavy promotion of the early nuclear power days--exemplified by Walt Disney's classic nuclear cartoon, Our Friend the Atom--nuclear power had stalled out with just a few demonstration plants in operation. The coal lobby smelled blood. In March of 1964 the coal industry assailed nuclear power, saying Congress needed to remove "the sheltering umbrella of Government subsidies."

General Electric and Westinghouse, who had helped build America's military and civilian nuclear program, were getting antsy that their knowledge would go to waste. "Our people understood this was a game of massive stakes, and that if we didn't force the utility industry to put those stations on line, we'd end up with nothing," as John Gitterick, a GE vice president, later told Fortune. It was this corporate desire to capture rents on a technology that only a few companies could provide that generated the "economic breakthrough" of Johnson's speech.

As soon as the words left Johnson's mouth, scientists at national laboratories around the country knew what he was talking about, even though he was a few months late with the announcement. When a Chicago Tribune reporter called Stephen Lawrowski, associate director of Argonne National Laboratory, the scientist told him that the president must have been talking about the guaranteed price that General Electric had offered Jersey Central Light and Power for the Oyster Creek plant. That announcement had "caused a flurry" in scientific circles because the price GE was charging for the plant--$68 million for the 515-megawatt plant--made the plant economically competitive with fossil fuels. [Editor's note: Oyster Creek was a boiling water reactor with the same basic design and containment vessel as the Fukushima reactor in Japan.]

Yet the scientists knew from the available evidence that nuclear power was far from economically competitive in mid-1964. However, instead of setting the Tribune reporter straight, Lawrowski simply punted, saying "The New Jersey plant is a significant milestone in nuclear power progress because it has affected thinking not only in America but also in Europe."

The price was a door-buster, a loss-leader, an advertisement for a nuclear age that had not actually yet arrived. The so-called "turnkey" plants, as they later became known, probably cost Westinghouse and General Electric over $1 billion combine, though they did not say that at the time.

Coal officials told the Wall Street Journal that GE had "priced the Oyster Creek plant at less than cost." A GE executive denied that, claiming the company would "make a slight profit unless we run into some unforeseen difficulties." British and Russian engineers also called the estimates into question--and French officials unsuccessfully tried to get details out of GE. But American news accounts, though they reported those foreign doubts, always made sure to note the bias that national competition could introduce into other countries' expert opinion. None questioned the U.S. expert corps' own Cold War sympathies.

Newspaper reporters, with the help of sources within the nuclear industries, came up with stories to explain how prices could have fallen so far, so fast. But like a trend piece about raising chickens in Manhattan, they were little more than anecdotes strung together by plausibility and the public's desire to believe. Although they reported doubts about the breakthrough, they were often run deep inside the paper whereas the optimistic pieces led the sections of the paper. Even the most skeptical piece, a September 1964 article by Washington Post reporter Howard Simons, noting that "not all experts accept General Electric's figures," only questioned the figures within 12 percent. In reality, nuclear power would end up costing not $104 or $1,040 per kilowatt of capacity but more than $3,750 per kilowatt by the mid-1980s.

Perhaps Lewis Strauss, then-chairman of the AEC, overstated the case when he told a crowd of science writers in 1954 that "Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter," but his optimism was obviously widely shared within the nuclear establishment. The country's political leaders were more than willing to believe and promote these technical promises. It was a wonderfully convenient solution to an America battling Communist agitation across the world.

And besides, nuclear proponents said energy usage would soar and they had nice graphs to back it up. Their vision was expansive, expensive, and rather brilliant. Technical reports came out purporting to show energy "needs" for Americans in the future that were spectacularly high. In 1960 the AEC, which had as its mandate to promote the commercialization of nuclear power, projected that Americans would use 170 quadrillion BTUs in 2000. In reality, that year Americans used about 99 million quads of energy. And we still do. Imagine adding 70 percent more power plants, cars, and buildings to our current energy infrastructure. It's nearly unthinkable.

Yet from the early 1950s until the energy crises of the 1970s, politicians accepted as gospel truth nuclear proponents' overblown visions of America's energy needs emanating from the nation's national laboratories and the AEC. Legislators continually delivered high-levels of steady funding to nuclear research.

Of course, the political relationship ran both ways. The AEC knew what the government needed and the government knew what the AEC needed. In both cases, the answer was: Don't stop believing!

Despite the occasional call for the free market to work, the opposite happened. For example, nuclear power plant operators are indemnified by the U.S. government for catastrophic disasters (the Price-Anderson Act), thereby lowering their insurance rates. They were given preferential access to markets for borrowing money. There was plenty of informal and regulatory help to go with the R&D and commercialization boosts. In effect, the government socially engineered the cost structure of the industry so nuclear could compete with coal, which got to dump all its extra costs, such as air and water pollution, into the environment.

But even then, convincing utilities that they needed to go nuclear wasn't easy until General Electric hit on the genius idea of guaranteeing a fixed price to risk-averse utilities, effectively subsidizing the cost of the construction. And Oyster Creek was born. If they could just build a ton of plants, they could learn and scale and standardize: Costs would drop. Westinghouse matched GE's pricing, and what came to be known as the "turnkey" plants were built. In the bandwagon market that followed until 1973, utilities ordered more than two hundred nuclear reactors. Nuclear power had arrived.

But the turnkey plant prices did not reflect the actual costs of building a nuclear power plant. As the years wore on, that nuclear power was not as cheap as coal and other fossil fuels became increasingly clear: The prestige of the nuclear authorities began to fall; nuclear whistleblowers came forward; environmental risks were reassessed, perhaps too stringently; the protest movements of the 1960s turned their attention to nuclear power and all the centralization of power it represented. It turned out that Americans were ready to extend democracy to technocratic decision making, and they did not like what they saw from the nuclear industry.

Germany continues breaking clean energy records  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Grist has a post on the continued expansion of renewable energy capacity in Germany - Germany continues breaking clean energy records.

As the nuclear reactor accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to dominate the world's attention, Germany has quietly broken more renewable energy records.

The conservative government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, struggling to stay ahead of public attitudes toward nuclear power in the run-up to regional elections, issued its annual report on the contribution of renewable energy to the German energy market in 2010.

Wind turbines, hydroelectric plants, solar cells, and biogas digesters now provide nearly 17 percent of Germany's electricity.

Meanwhile, the German network agency Bundesnetzagentur issued its final update on the installation of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2010.

The results are nothing short of startling and will add fuel to the heated debate about how countries such as Japan can meet their electricity needs without reliance on nuclear power.

In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese nuclear accident, Germany's Merkel closed two reactors permanently, and another five temporarily. She also called on her government to revisit its controversial decision to extend the life of its aging reactors.

The reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are 40 years old and their license to operate had been extended by the Japanese government.

The reports on the rapid growth of renewable energy in Germany may give Merkel's government the cover it needs to reverse direction on nuclear power, and by doing so reverse its faltering political fortunes.

Germany uses an advanced system of feed-in tariffs to pay for renewable energy generation, and has an aggressive target of meeting 39 percent of its electricity supply with renewable energy by 2020. Its system of advanced renewable tariffs has enabled Germany to exceed its 2010 target of 12.5 percent by a wide margin.

Chart.New renewables near 17 percent of electricity supply in 2010: The German Ministry for the Environment and Reactor Safety reports [PDF] that in 2010, renewable energy generated more than 100 TWh (billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity, providing nearly 17 percent of the 600 TWh of supply.

Wind turbines and biomass plants delivered more than 70 percent of renewable generation.

Biogas plants powered with methane from manure alone generated nearly 13 TWh.

In 2010, renewables generated more electricity in Germany than gas-fired power plants -- nearly as much as hard coal -- and are fast approaching the contribution of nuclear power.

A New Way to Churn Out Cheap LED Lighting  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Technology Review has a look at ways to reduce the cost of manufacturing LED lighting - A New Way to Churn Out Cheap LED Lighting.

A startup in California has developed a manufacturing technique that could substantially cut the cost of LED lightbulbs—a more energy-efficient type of lighting.

LEDs are conventionally made on a relatively costly substrate of silicon carbide or sapphire. Bridgelux has come up a new process takes advantage of existing fabrication machines used to make silicon computer chips, potentially cutting LED production costs by 75 percent, according to the company.

Despite their higher efficiencies and longer life, few homes and businesses use LED lighting—largely because of the initial cost. An LED chip makes up 30 to 60 percent of a commercial LED lightbulb. Electronic control circuits and heat management components take up the rest. So for a 60-watt equivalent bulb that costs $40, Bridgelux's technology could bring the cost down by $9 to $18. Integrating the light chip with the electronics might further reduce costs.

LEDs made with the new technique produce 135 lumens for each watt of power. The U.S. Department of Energy's Lighting Technology Roadmap calls for an efficiency of 150 lumens per watt by 2012. Some LED makers, such as Cree, in Durham, North Carolina, already sell LED lamps with efficiencies in that range. In contrast, incandescent bulbs emit around 15 lumens per watt, and fluorescent lightbulbs emit 50 to 100 lumens per watt.

Tesla CEO: I’d Bet On Capacitors Over Batteries  

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Earth2Tech reports Tesla CEO Elon Musk is looking forward to a breakthrough in energy storage using capacitors - Tesla CEO: I’d Bet On Capacitors Over Batteries.

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk says he bets that it could be capacitors — rather than batteries — that deliver an important breakthrough for electric transportation. “If I were to make a prediction, I’d think there’s a good chance that it is not batteries. But capacitors,” said Musk at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Capacitors, or ultracapacitors, are energy storage devices that can deliver quick bursts of intense power and can withstand more charge and discharge cycles than batteries. They’re like batteries, and can be used in complement with batteries.

But it’s interesting that the CEO of a company that bases its technology around standardized, small format, lithium-ion batteries would make such a comment. Perhaps Tesla is doing some R&D on capacitor storage deep in its Palo Alto, Calif. labs?

The original reason Musk came out to California years ago was to do research on advanced, high energy density capacitors at Stanford, and to try to leverage what Musk said was tens of billions of dollars of R&D that’s been applied to capacitors for advanced ship making. But then, that whole Internet thing and PayPal happened. And then Tesla (and SolarCity and SpaceX).

Musk says he’s optimistic there will be a solution found by one or another companies in the capacitor space that “will supercede,” batteries. The capacitor companies I’ve written about include Ioxus, which makes ultracapacitors for transportation in complement with batteries; EEstor, which seems like it’s not ever going to deliver anything; Recapping, which is backed by Khosla Ventures and won an ARPA-E grant; and EnerG2, which makes materials for ultracapacitor makers.

A Nice bit of gas-powered churnalism  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

BG and QGC have had to suspend construction of the coal seam gas pipeline to their planned LNG plant due to some of their environmental management plans not being approved. The story has highlighted the sorry practice in some media outlets of simply reprinting company press releases - Nice bit of gas-powered churnalism.

There’s a new service over in the UK set up by the Media Standards Trust which allows the public to check for cases of “Churnalism”.

Churnalism, says the trust, is “a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added”.

Using the free Churnalism website, you can paste text from a press release into a box. The service then goes off and finds any news articles that resemble the text of the press release – articles suspected of being “churn”.

The site lets you see the press release placed side-by-side against the original and gives a percentage of how much of the release was cut-and-pasted and how many characters overlap.

In the last few days, they’ve added a service where you can do this exercise in reverse and search news outlets against press releases from some companies and government agencies.

For example, the site suspects that in the last three years 495 articles in The Guardian online may be churn. The Daily Mail online scores more than 700.

Now obviously, there are lots of occasions when there’s nothing at all wrong with a press release being churned. The trust points out that
“Some press releases are clearly in the public interest (medical breakthroughs, government announcements, school closures and so on). But even in these cases, it is better that people should know what press release the article is based on than for the source of the article to remain hidden.”

Unfortunately,the site is only available in the UK but you can rest assured there’s plenty of churnalism that goes on in Australia too (If in any doubt, go check out Crikey’s Spinning the Media series from last year, which found over half of the news in Australia came from public relations). Some of it is harmless, but some of it is clearly not.

Which brings me to a recent article which appeared online in the Gladstone Observer and an almost identical story which appeared online in the Toowoomba Chronicle – both news sites owned by APN News & Media.

The story reported how the Queensland Gas Company had stopped work on clearing land for a coal seam gas pipeline because “environmental plans for soil and species management have not been approved”, the report said. A serious issue no doubt and well worth the time of an APN journalist in reporting it. After all, QGC has reported it is spending $15 billion on the project which the delay was part of.

There were quotes from “QGC senior vice president Jim Knudsen” who explained the company didn’t believe their work so far had caused any ”adverse impact on protected plants and animals”.

I asked QGC if they had issued a press release into the incident. They said they had and they sent me a copy. It’s now here online. Well, you’ve guessed the rest.

The story on the Towoomba site was almost identical to the press release, with only 5 words of the original 251-word press release changed. They didn’t even bother to write their own headline. “QGC stops work on pipeline”.

The Gladstone Observer story was identical, except for the addition of a 13 word intro popped on the top of the text. The rest of the story was a complete and unchanged cut-and-paste from the QGC release.

Why am I worried about this? Because a news outlet should not be just a distribution service for a major corporation, especially one which is drilling 6000 wells and laying more than 700 kilometres of pipeline in the areas being served by the news outlet.

I know regional newspapers have resources issues but surely its online readers should have been made aware that the story printed on its website was just a cut-and-pasted press release?

Good on QGC for admitting the breach, but you can only hope that the print versions of the Gladstone Observer and the Toowoomba Chronicle do better.

200,000 in Germany protest nuclear power  

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MSNBC has a report on protests in Germany against retaining the country's aging nuclear power plants - 200,000 in Germany protest nuclear power.

Tens of thousands of people on Saturday turned out in Germany's largest cities to protest the use of nuclear power in the wake of Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster, police and organizers said.

In Berlin alone more than 100,000 took to the capital's streets to urge Germany's leaders to immediately abolish nuclear power, police spokesman Jens Berger said.

Organizers said some 250,000 people marched at the "Fukushima Warns: Pull the Plug on all Nuclear Power Plants" rallies in the country's four largest cities, making them the biggest anti-nuclear protest in the country's history.

"We can no longer afford bearing the risk of a nuclear catastrophe," Germany's environmental lobby group BUND said.

The disaster at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility triggered Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative government last week to order a temporary shut down of seven of the country's older reactors pending thorough safety investigations. Officials have since hinted several of them might never go back into service.

Protesters shouted "Fukushima, Chernobyl: Too much is too much!" or "Switch them off," urging the government to shut down the country's 17 reactors for good. They also held a minute of silence to remember the victims of Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Reuters has a report on the ongoing leackage of radioactive material from the damaged reactors in Japan - Workers try to pump radioactive water from Japan reactors.
Japanese engineers were frantically attempting on Saturday to pump out puddles of radioactive water at the earthquake-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant after it injured three workers and delayed efforts to cool reactors to safe levels.

Underscoring growing international qualms about nuclear power raised by the killer earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan two weeks ago, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was time to reassess the international atomic safety regime.

Radioactive water has been found in buildings of three of the six reactors at the power complex 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. On Thursday, three workers sustained burns at reactor No. 3 after being exposed to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than usually found in a reactor.

"Bailing out accumulated water from the turbine housing units before radiation levels rise further is becoming very important," said Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency senior official Hidehiko Nishiyama.

Euan Mearns at The Oil Drum has a look at the ongoing situation in Japan - Fukushima Dai-ichi status and slow burning issues. There is also an open thread for discussion - Fukushima Open Thread.
With no buildings blowing up at Fukushima for a couple of weeks now, global media attention has shifted back to Libya where there is lots of violence to watch. Does this mean that trouble at the 4 wrecked reactors on the East coast of Japan is over?

With the restoration of mains power to the site, there is talk in the media that the situation is now under control. The rate of deterioration has certainly slowed, but there are five slow-burning issues, one working in favor of the authorities and four working against, that will determine the eventual outcome:

1) Radioactive decay of fission products is steadily declining as they burn up, though the rate of decline is slowing as we burn through the short half lives into the intermediate and longer half life inventories of isotopes.

2) Heat accumulation will rise for so long as circulation cooling is absent until a steady state is reached between the reactors and spent fuel and the surrounding buildings.

3) Corrosion of the stainless steel reactor vessel, pipes and pumps in a salt water environment they are not designed to withstand.

4) Salt accumulation in the reactor cores.

5) Radioactive material spread and accumulation in the surrounding environment. ...

Summing up

Fukushima is like a cancer eating away at the habitat of the east coast of Japan. Whilst the situation appears to be stable, a number of slow burning processes must inevitably be eating away at the heart of these reactors. The solution to a number of these problems is to restore fresh water circulation to each of the cores and the spent fuel ponds. Whether or not the pumping systems work remains to be seen. Disposing of the salty radioactive sludge from inside the reactor vessels presents another major challenge.

It seems possible that the current meta stable condition may persist for many more weeks, and all the while the release and accumulation of radioactive isotopes in the environment will continue. And there is still risk of a catastrophic failure due to heat or corrosion that would result in the status degrading rapidly. It is too early to call this crisis over.

Pachube has a collection of feeds of radiation data being collected by people in Japan - Crowd-sourced realtime radiation monitoring in Japan.
There are now hundreds of radiation-related feeds from Japan on Pachube, monitoring conditions in realtime and underpinning more than half a dozen incredibly valuable applications built by people around the world. They combine 'official' data, 'unofficial' official data, and, most importantly to us, realtime networked geiger counter measurements contributed by concerned citizens. Now we're even seeing some tracking radiation measurements of tap water.

Some of the people to thank for this incredible effort are Shigeru Kobayashi, haiyan zhang, Motoi Shimizu, Takahiro Kakumaru, takashi kondo and Marian Steinbach. Big shout out to all of them!

We've started seeing more and more applications built on top of this incredibly valuable realtime data and so here we are listing all the resources related to this massive crowd-sourced initiative.

Saudi to boost crude burn for power generation in 2011  

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Arabian Business News has a report on the spiralling consumption of oil in Saudi Arabia for power generation - Saudi to boost crude burn for power generation in 2011 .

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, will step up its use of crude for power generation in 2011, Saleh Alawaji, the country's junior electricity minister, said on Thursday, as the nation balances use of a new oilfield against obligations to oil cartel OPEC.

Saudi oil industry figures showed the kingdom estimated direct use of fuel for power generation to rise to 540,000 bpd this year from 403,000 bpd last year.

"Our main sources are crude oil and natural gas, and the new expansion of power plants this year will use more crude oil," Alawaji told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Singapore.

Using more crude to generate electricity allows the kingdom to utilise fresh output from a major new oilfield while holding firm to its OPEC commitments to curb exports. ...

CRUDE BURN: Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, will step up its use of crude for power generation in 2011 (Getty Images)

CRUDE BURN: Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, will step up its use of crude for power generation in 2011 (Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, will step up its use of crude for power generation in 2011, Saleh Alawaji, the country's junior electricity minister, said on Thursday, as the nation balances use of a new oilfield against obligations to oil cartel OPEC.

Saudi oil industry figures showed the kingdom estimated direct use of fuel for power generation to rise to 540,000 bpd this year from 403,000 bpd last year.

"Our main sources are crude oil and natural gas, and the new expansion of power plants this year will use more crude oil," Alawaji told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Singapore.

Using more crude to generate electricity allows the kingdom to utilise fresh output from a major new oilfield while holding firm to its OPEC commitments to curb exports. It also helps the kingdom meet stricter environment rules.

Power generation capacity in the kingdom is likely to grow by about 6 to 10 percent this year, while installed power generation capacity, which now stands at 50 GW, would grow to 77 GW by 2020.

Peak power demand for the summer in 2010 was 45,000 megawatts (MW), he added, versus 41,000 MW in 2009.

Although sitting on the world's biggest oil and gas reserves, Saudi Arabia is struggling to keep pace with rapidly rising power demand as petrodollars have fueled a region-wide economic boom as well as rapid population growth.

Geothermal to the rescue in Japan ?  

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The Climate Spectator has an article pointing out the Japanese have a good alternative to their dangerous nuclear power facilities - geothermal power - Geothermal to the rescue in Japan?.

Japan is sitting on enough untapped geothermal power to replace all its planned nuclear stations over the next decade.

But, battling to control its crippled Fukushima nuclear complex, and planning to build 13 more nuclear power stations, Japan has no plans to harness its estimated 23.5 gigawatts (GW) in geothermal potential – other than to develop hot springs.

Geothermal energy, which in Asia struggles under limited government and funding support, is likely to attract interest as investors rethink the outlook for nuclear power following the crisis at Fukushima.

Straddled along the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of seismic activity, Asia's geothermal reservoirs are among the world's largest. Indonesia alone holds 40 per cent of the world's total reserves, but less than 4 per cent is being developed, leaving the sector wide open for growth.

Asia's leading, fast-growth economies have relied on nuclear power to feed their insatiable energy demands. About 112 nuclear power reactors run in six countries in Asia, and more than 264 are planned for construction, according to the London-headquartered World Nuclear Association.

As public scrutiny of the nuclear industry intensifies, Asian governments will come under pressure to reduce nuclear power's share in the energy mix, and allow for safer sources of clean energy to fill the gap.

"The Japanese will be reviewing their nuclear capacity and (so will) many other places in the world," said Jeffrey Higgs, managing director at Hong Kong-based asset management firm Environmental Investment Services Asia.

"This will refocus attention on alternative energy. Others will begin to look at geothermal as an alternative; the safest, cleanest of all energy sources," Higgs said.

And that could benefit Japanese manufacturers more than most.

Mitsubishi Corp, Toshiba Corp and Fuji Electric are leaders in the geothermal equipment industry, supplying nearly 70 per cent of all steam turbines and power gear at geothermal plants worldwide.

Other companies that could see a pick-up in business include Philippines' Energy Development Corp, a geothermal steamfield operator, and Australia's Panax Geothermal.

New Zealand's Contact Energy, Australia's Origin Energy and Japan's Idemitsu Kosan own assets in the sector.

Geothermal energy, which feeds on heat from the earth's core to release steam from underground reservoirs, could be a viable replacement for some of the world's nuclear power, experts said.

It's a steady source of power and, unlike solar or wind, is unaffected by unpredictable weather patterns.

The long-term cost of geothermal power, depending on geological conditions, could be less than coal. Once reserves are confirmed and a power plant built, the steam that fuels turbines at the plant is virtually free.

In Japan, which ranks third behind the United States and Indonesia in geothermal potential, according to a Citigroup report, the resource represents just a fraction of the country's energy mix.

Alex Steffen: Worldchanging II  

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WorldChanging is no more but the new WorldChanging book arrived in my letter box this week. It looks to be a substantial update to the first edition - well worth a read, particularly if you didn't get the first one.



Change Observer has an interview with Alex Steffen about the book - Alex Steffen: Worldchanging II.
Change Observer: How has the world changed in the five years since you published the first edition of Worldchanging?

Alex Steffen: The biggest change is that sustainability and the awareness of the need for sustainability are mainstream in ways they’re weren’t five years ago. Then, outside of specialized conversations, it was hard to find many ideas about sustainable design or green buildings or sustainable urbanism. In the intervening years, we have not only seen a lot of really dire news that convinced many mainstream, credible people that these were important issues that deserved attention, but also social and cultural movements that have really taken off: the food movement, the trend towards walkable neighborhoods. Green building has rapidly moved from a hot topic to the way things are done.

In trying to think through a new edition of Worldchanging, we had an opportunity to stop and consider, “What do people really need to know now that the basics are largely familiar? What couldn’t we have told them five years ago?” In this edition, we left out almost all of the small-scale personal incremental actions you could take precisely because they’re readily accessible; thousands of websites will tell you how to do these things [e.g., buy ecologically responsible clothing]. We tried to include more of the innovative approaches to sustainability that are involved in making leaps.

CO: Such as?

AS: A key message we tried to bring forward was that the degree of scope, scale and speed of these problems demands that we look at systemic answers: how an entire system works for everybody, not just what we could do for ourselves. Of course, individual actions that help us connect are important. But we need to look more deeply at how things are designed and built. What our role is. What the parts of a system are that we don’t see. How to live into our capacity to be citizen designers of those systems.

CO: Who is your reader? Has that person changed over time?

AS: There are two completely different groups of readers. Some start at the beginning of the book, and read through it cover to cover and take it as an overview of how people address problems. It’s used in college classrooms that way. A lot of other people consult it as an occasional spur for inspiration. They’ll pick it up, glance through it, find something interesting. We tried to make this edition accessible in both ways, so if you start at the beginning you’ll get a thought-out presentation of one way of looking at the world’s problems and how they interconnect, but you can also read a chapter and explore something when you have a question. It’s a really good book to have at hand. ...

CO: You sound more than cautiously optimistic.

AS: I think that the big open secret about sustainability work and innovation is not how bad things are. The real secret is how good things can get. There’s more and more evidence that many of the changes we need to make not only can be done but would vastly improve our lives. They would make us more money, provide us more jobs, make us healthier and happier. Our cities and energy would be cleaner and more affordable, our goods would be manufactured more sustainably. There’s still a bit of reticence to talk about how good things could get. It’s too bad. Buckminster Fuller had it right when he said people never leave a sinking ship until they see the lights of another ship approaching. Another ship is approaching, but we haven’t turned on the lights. If the book is doing a good thing it’s shining a light on what’s happening.

Andrew Revkin at "Dot Earth" also has a look at the book and an interview with Alex - Alex Steffen, a Designing Optimist.
Anyone following this blog is aware that there are smart, informed people in this world with completely divergent views of the sources of human progress and problems and the best route forward as populations and appetites crest in coming decades.

One nearly universal thread I’ve found, though, is a conviction that, without conscious attention, there will be substantial, avoidable and regrettable human and biological losses.

There’s no better introduction to the options for designing our way forward, as opposed to just letting business as usual unfold, than Worldchanging. This initiative, for lack of a better word, started as a Web site seven years ago but was crystallized in a book, Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, that was first published in 2006 and now is out in a substantially updated edition.

The Web effort, which ( sadly) ended recently, had two founding fathers, Alex Steffen and Jamais Cascio. Steffen is the editor of the new book (with Carissa Bluestone). ...

If I had to label Steffen, I’d call him the “designing optimist,” placing him somewhere in the general vicinity (but a bit to the left) of the “ despairing optimist,” René Dubos, and “ The Rational Optimist,” Matt Ridley. ...

As I said above, the book, despite being nearly 600 pages long, is unavoidably just a sketch of what could lie ahead. It’s the printed equivalent of a long hallway of marked doors, each giving an appealing glimpse of an issue — “density done right,” “ending violence,” “reinventing the workplace” — that is the equivalent of a trailer for a movie that’s still in production.

Steffen told me he sees that structure as useful in two ways:

The book is designed to be read either cover to cover, as an overview of efforts to tackle the planet’s most pressing problems, or consulted at random, as a way to find unexpected solutions and inspiration.

Company studying tidal power in Cook Inlet  

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The Kenai Peninsula Clarion has an article on interest in developing tidal power in Alaska - A new wave of energy: Company studying tidal power in Cook Inlet.

As the liquified natural gas plant in Nikiski prepares for its final shipments, a tidal power company is preparing to begin collecting environmental data in the same area.

Ocean Renewable Power Company received a permit to begin studying the area last week. Tuesday, it held a meeting at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association building to discuss its Cook Inlet projects with Kenai Peninsula residents. Eventually, the company wants to capture hydrokinetic energy for Alaskans to use.

Company President and CEO Christopher Sauer said hydrokinetic means using the motion of the water to create energy.

Just who would buy the power is still an unknown, although Sauer said it is likely that the company would sell some of their turbines and also deploy some to sell the resulting electricity. ORPC sees its potential buyers as railbelt utility companies or even oil platforms that are currently using diesel to generate electricity, Sauer said.

But that is a few years out. Right now, the company has a permit to establish baseline environmental data. Essentially, it wants to see how fish and whales use the area, said Monty Worthington, the company's project development director.

Ocean Renewable Power has three years to do that work -- and then they'll receive priority in applying for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit for a pilot project, Worthington said.

Bob Shavelson, from the Homer-based environmental organization Cook Inletkeeper, said the permitting process would likely be tough for the company.

Worthington said the company was trying to find the best location to get a project permitted. That project would be on a small-scale, to see if it's feasible to do a larger project in the area, Worthington said. If the company sees that beluga are incompatible with the technology, there's no project he said.

Last spring, the Maine-based company began similar work at a Fire Island site in the north Cook Inlet. Worthington said that bulk of that work is done. Now they're largely focused on the Nikiski site, called East Forelands.

The Cook Inlet is ideal for tidal power for a number of reasons, Worthington said. Most simply, there's a lot of power. More importantly, that power is close to the railbelt utility grid, where electricity is needed.

The Nikiski location has its own perks. In that area, the ocean has about the right amount of energy for the technology Ocean Renewable Power has developed.

The manipulative pro-war argument in Libya  

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Glenn Greenwald has a rare example of an intellectually honest article opposing the intervention in Libya (personally I still think the no-fly zone is a good thing, as long as we don't extend operations to actually occupying the country and attempting to control the oil, as the US did in Iraq) - The manipulative pro-war argument in Libya.

Advocating for the U.S.'s military action in Libya, The New Republic's John Judis lays out the argument which many of his fellow war advocates are making: that those who oppose the intervention are guilty of indifference to the plight of the rebels and to Gadaffi's tyranny:

So I ask myself, would these opponents of U.S. intervention (as part of U.N. Security Council approved action), have preferred:

(1) That gangs of mercenaries, financed by the country’s oil wealth, conduct a bloodbath against Muammar Qaddafi’s many opponents?

(2) That Qaddafi himself, wounded, enraged, embittered, and still in power, retain control of an important source of the world’s oil supply, particularly for Europe, and be able to spend the wealth he derives from it to sow discord in the region?

(3) And that the movement toward democratization in the Arab world -- which has spread from Tunisia to Bahrain, and now includes such unlikely locales as Syria -- be dealt an enormous setback through the survival of one of region's most notorious autocrats?

If you answer "Who cares?" to each of these, I have no counter-arguments to offer, but if you worry about two or three of these prospects, then I think you have to reconsider whether Barack Obama did the right thing in lending American support to this intervention.

Note how, in Judis' moral world, there are only two possibilities: one can either support the American military action in Libya or be guilty of a "who cares?" attitude toward Gadaffi's butchery. At least as far as this specific line of pro-war argumentation goes, this is just 2003 all over again. Back then, those opposed to the war in Iraq were deemed pro-Saddam: indifferent to the repression and brutalities suffered by the Iraqi people at his hands and willing to protect his power. Now, those opposed to U.S. involvement in the civil war in Libya are deemed indifferent to the repression and brutalities suffered by the Libyan people from Gadaffi and willing to protect his power. This rationale is as flawed logically as it is morally.

Why didn't this same moral calculus justify the attack on Iraq? Saddam Hussein really was a murderous, repressive monster: at least Gadaffi's equal when it came to psychotic blood-spilling. Those who favored regime change there made exactly the same arguments as Judis (and many others) make now for Libya: it's humane and noble to topple a brutal dictator; using force is the only way to protect parts of the population from slaughter (in Iraq, the Kurds and Shiites; in Libya, the rebels); it's not in America's interests to allow a deranged despot (or his deranged sons) to control a vital oil-rich nation; and removing the tyrant will aid the spread of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Why does that reasoning justify war in Libya but not Iraq?

In Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt argues that "liberal interventionists" and neocons share most of the same premises about America's foreign policy and its role in the world, with the sole exception being that the former seek to act through international institutions to legitimize their military actions while the latter don't. Strongly bolstering Walt's view is this morning's pro-war New York Times Editorial, which ends this way:
Libya is a specific case: Muammar el-Qaddafi is erratic, widely reviled, armed with mustard gas and has a history of supporting terrorism. If he is allowed to crush the opposition, it would chill pro-democracy movements across the Arab world.

Wasn't all of that at least as true of Saddam Hussein? Wasn't that exactly the "humanitarian" case made to justify that invasion? And wasn't that exactly the basis for the accusation against Iraq war opponents that they were indifferent to Saddam's tyranny -- i.e., if you oppose the war to remove Saddam, it means you are ensuring that he and his sons will stay in power, which in turn means you are indifferent to his rape rooms and mass graves and are willing to stand by while the Iraqi people suffer under his despotism? How can the "indifference-to-suffering" accusation be fair when made against opponents of the Libya war but not when made against Iraq war opponents?

But my real question for Judis (and those who voice the same accusations against Libya intervention opponents) is this: do you support military intervention to protect protesters in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies from suppression, or to stop the still-horrendous suffering in the Sudan, or to prevent the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast? Did you advocate military intervention to protect protesters in Iran and Egypt, or to stop the Israeli slaughter of hundreds of trapped innocent civilians in Gaza and Lebanon or its brutal and growing occupation of the West Bank?

If not, doesn't that necessarily mean -- using this same reasoning -- that you're indifferent to the suffering of all of those people, willing to stand idly by while innocents are slaughtered, to leave in place brutal tyrants who terrorize their own population or those in neighboring countries? Or, in those instances where you oppose military intervention despite widespread suffering, do you grant yourself the prerogative of weighing other factors: such as the finitude of resources, doubt about whether U.S. military action will hurt rather than help the situation, cynicism about the true motives of the U.S. government in intervening, how intervention will affect other priorities, the civilian deaths that will inevitably occur at our hands, the precedents that such intervention will set for future crises, and the moral justification of invading foreign countries? For those places where you know there is widespread violence and suffering yet do not advocate for U.S. military action to stop it, is it fair to assume that you are simply indifferent to the suffering you refuse to act to prevent, or do you recognize there might be other reasons why you oppose the intervention?

In the very same Editorial where it advocates for the Libya intervention on the grounds of stopping government violence and tyranny, The New York Times acknowledges about its pro-intervention view: "not in Bahrain or Yemen, even though we condemn the violence against protesters in both countries." Are those who merely "condemn" the violence by those two U.S. allies but who do not want to intervene to stop it guilty of indifference to the killings there? What rationale is there for intervening in Libya but not in those places? In a very well-argued column, The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson today provides the only plausible answer:
Anyone looking for principle and logic in the attack on Moammar Gaddafi's tyrannical regime will be disappointed. . . . Why is Libya so different? Basically, because the dictators of Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia -- also Jordan and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, for that matter -- are friendly, cooperative and useful. Gaddafi is not. . . .

Gaddafi is crazy and evil; obviously, he wasn’t going to listen to our advice about democracy. The world would be fortunate to be rid of him. But war in Libya is justifiable only if we are going to hold compliant dictators to the same standard we set for defiant ones. If not, then please spare us all the homilies about universal rights and freedoms. We'll know this isn’t about justice, it's about power.

I understand -- and absolutely believe -- that many people who support the intervention in Libya are doing so for good and noble reasons: disgust at standing by and watching Gadaffi murder hundreds or thousands of rebels. I also believe that some people who supported the attack on Iraq did so out of disgust for Saddam Hussein and a desire to see him removed from power. It's commendable to oppose that type of despotism, and I understand -- and share -- the impulse.

But what I cannot understand at all is how people are willing to believe that the U.S. Government is deploying its military and fighting this war because, out of abundant humanitarianism, it simply cannot abide internal repression, tyranny and violence against one's own citizens. This is the same government that enthusiastically supports and props up regimes around the world that do exactly that, and that have done exactly that for decades.

By all accounts, one of the prime administration advocates for this war was Hillary Clinton; she's the same person who, just two years ago, said this about the torture-loving Egyptian dictator: "I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family." They're the same people overseeing multiple wars that routinely result in all sorts of atrocities. They are winking and nodding to their Yemeni, Bahrani and Saudi friends who are doing very similar things to what Gadaffi is doing, albeit (for now) on a smaller scale. They just all suddenly woke up one day and decided to wage war in an oil-rich Muslim nation because they just can't stand idly by and tolerate internal repression and violence against civilians? Please.

For the reasons I identified the other day, there are major differences between the military actions in Iraq and Libya. But what is true of both -- as is true for most wars -- is that each will spawn suffering for some people even if they alleviate it for others. Dropping lots of American bombs on a country tends to kill a lot of innocent people. For that reason, indifference to suffering is often what war proponents -- not war opponents -- are guilty of. But whatever else is true, the notion that opposing a war is evidence of indifference to tyranny and suffering is equally simple-minded, propagandistic, manipulative and intellectually bankrupt in both the Iraq and Libya contexts. And, in particular, those who opposed or still oppose intervention in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, the Sudan, against Israel, in the Ivory Coast -- and/or any other similar places where there is widespread human-caused suffering -- have no business advancing that argument.

Calculating calamity: Japan's nuclear accident and the "antifragile" alternative  

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Kurt Cobb at Resource Insights has a look at the probability of nuclear accidents in light of the "black swan" view of statistical analysis - Calculating calamity: Japan's nuclear accident and the "antifragile" alternative.

Famed student of risk and probability and author of The Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb tells us that in 2003 Japan's nuclear safety agency set as a goal that fatalities resulting from radiation exposure to civilians living near any nuclear installation in Japan should be no more than one every million years. Eight years after that goal was adopted, it looks like it will be exceeded and perhaps by quite a bit, especially now that radiation is showing up in food and water near the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. (Keep in mind that "fatalities" refers not just to immediate deaths but also to excess cancer deaths due to radiation exposure which can take years and even decades to show up.)

Taleb writes that it is irresponsible to ask people to rely on the calculation of small probabilities for man-made systems since these probabilities are almost impossible to calculate with any accuracy. (To read his reasoning, see entry 142 on the notebook section of his website entitled "Time to understand a few facts about small probabilities [criminal stupidity of statistical science].") Natural systems that have operated for eons may more easily lend themselves to the calculation of such probabilities. But man-made systems have a relatively short history to draw from, especially the nuclear infrastructure which is no more than 60 years old. Calculations for man-made systems that result in incidents occurring every million years should be dismissed on their face as useless.

Furthermore, he notes, models used to calculate such risk tend to underestimate small probabilities. What's worse, the consequences are almost always wildly underestimated as well. Beyond this, if people are told that a harmful event has a small chance of happening, say, 1 in a 1,000, they tend to dismiss it, even if that event might have severe consequences. This is because they don't understand that risk is the product of probability times severity.

If the worst that walking across your room could do is cause a bruise from falling, you wouldn't think much about it. Even if the chance of getting a bruise were significant, you'd probably be careful and figure it's worth the risk. But if walking across your room subjected you to the possibility of losing your arm, you might contemplate your next move a bit more.

But, the point Taleb makes is that the people of Japan did not know they were subjecting themselves to this severe a risk. If they had, they might have prepared for it or they might have even rejected nuclear power altogether in favor of other energy sources. But, both the probability and severity of this event were outside the models the regulatory agencies used. This is one of the major reasons we often underestimate risk and severity. But even if such an event had been included, the consequences would most likely have been considerably underestimated.

Ecology and Commerce, Revisited  

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Paul Hawken has an interview in Metropolis magazine which is partly interesting and partly annoying (he seems to be confusing regular solar PV with thin film solar, which does use various poisonous minerals, however if the manufacturing process is sound they would hopefully all end up in the actual panels - though perhaps he is talking about improper disposal of silicon tetrachloride and the need to properly recycle used panels) - Ecology and Commerce, Revisited.

One of the trends that wasn’t apparent in 1993 was the emergence of China as the world’s next industrial power. Is China the key to the world’s ecological salvation or its destruction?

China is so complex that you almost need ten words for it instead of one. We are Asia-illiterate in America. You constantly hear catchphrases about China as if it were one thing. There is politburo China, entrepreneurial China, cultural China, peasant China, Western China, Hong Kong China, not to mention Mongol, Uighur, Tibetan, and Manchu China. I see America 50 years ago: on steroids, a country able to raise abundant capital, move quickly, expand its infrastructure, support research and science, study hard, work hard, take the world by economic storm, concentrate capital. In renewables they’re a juggernaut, but their goal is to be the leader in virtually every industry in the world, and anyone who doubts their capacity to do so might want to rethink that.

China is industrializing at warp speed, and in the process, it reveals how our governance system is broken. In America, we’re nearing the threshold of a failed state. We don’t fund our schools, don’t have an ethic of learning. We’re shockingly in debt. We’re a divided nation breathing its own exhaust. Although China’s form of governance is unacceptable and will bite it in the end, it can adapt faster to ecological exigencies than we can. They may be building coal-fired power plants at a blistering pace, but they do not have political leaders who are skeptical of science, deny climatology, or doubt evolution. I might add that it is not just China that is burgeoning. The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are all growing phenomenally.

The American era is over, which is fine, but it behooves us to do some soul-searching and seek a future that is not a Ronald Reagan parody of our putative past glory.

Does industry still hold the key to environmental progress?

Business is the hand of destruction and must become the guardian. It is one world, indisputably. What business does and doesn’t do determines the fate of the earth.

Do you think we have enough time to make the changes outlined in the book?
I do. Humanity is not stupid, but we’re some-times slow to evolve. There comes a time when we must change what it means to be humanity, and this is such a time. Regardless of our profession, predilections, or biases, when confronted with the real problem of what it means to live together here on earth—and I do mean together as one people, dependent on each other’s knowledge and goodwill for our own survival—we know what to do. That wisdom is innate. It has never gone away.

You’ve started a solar-power company called OneSun. How is it different from other companies?

I founded it with Janine Benyus, the biologist who coined the term biomimicry and wrote the book of the same name; and John Warner, the man who coined the term green chemistry and coauthored a book of the same name. We don’t talk about it in public or in the press for a couple of reasons. One, in the solar business there is a fair bit of exaggeration, with science projects masquerading as viable technologies. We will have a lot to say when and if we succeed, which we think we will. But if we fail, then at least we didn’t make fools of ourselves.

Is solar power the answer to our energy problems?

There needs to be more thought about the physics of renewables. Right now, we give solar PV a hall pass, as if it was the clean and green answer. I believe the denial seen on the right about climate change is matched by denial on the progressive side as to technical solutions. Solar PV is nearly the most toxic source of energy per kilowatt hour there is, save for the tar sands, including nuclear and coal. The concept of solar is certainly correct—harvesting streaming photons—but current execution involves a witch’s brew of toxins and greenhouse gases. Even if that were not true—were the world to ratchet up its solar production as proposed—it would require a very significant increase of fossil-fuel consumption because solar requires high inputs of intense energy for sintering, tempered glass, metals, etc. The energy return on energy invested for solar PV—the actual net energy, subtracting inputs—is between 3:1 and 10:1, with most silicon PV coming in at the lower end. This is abysmally low. If we became a solar world, it would mean 20 percent of our GDP would be spent on energy to make energy. With PV, we’re making low-intensity energy generators out of high-intensity energy sources (i.e., coal in China and Germany) and calling that renewable. It’s not remotely renewable. Until there is a solar-PV technology that can be made with minimal, nontoxic, abundantly available inputs and be made entirely with solar energy, incumbent solar does not move the ball down the field but diverts us from achieving the critical energy transformation required. ...

Can we innovate our way around the problem, or do we have to fundamentally change the ways we live?

I think that changing the ways we live is the heart of innovation. One of the keys to under-standing our current situation is to understand how 150 years of cheap energy has created the unsustainable dilemma we’re in. We occupy James Kunstler’s “geography of nowhere,” spending inordinate amounts of time and re-sources on roads and badly designed remote buildings in order to create lifestyles that are deeply dissatisfying. So when we think of innovation, the way we live and the technology we use are handmaidens to a better life with a radically reduced footprint. If we don’t do that, we are truly putting lipstick on a piggy lifestyle, and it won’t work. Nature favors those creatures that direct available energy most efficiently to channels that favor the species. That is not a description of our freeways, suburbs, or food system. We’re taking the rich inheritance of resources, the 100-million-year gift of biomass and living systems, and spending it on annihilation. Not a good strategy. For me, there is only one guiding principle for business, economics, design, community, education, government, and urban planning, and that is captured in Janine Benyus’s brilliant maxim: life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. Being conducive to life means to work toward the benefit of all beings. The one true creative response when every living system is in decline is to plan, design, and make every-thing on behalf of all living beings. This is not sentiment but biology, the famous John Muir statement about everything in the universe being hitched together, and that means we have to be hitched together.

Being conducive to life is what every religion has tried to teach us: the Golden Rule, the 99 Attributes of Allah, the Six Paramitas of Buddhism, the Sermon on the Mount. These teachings are religious, but they’re also pure biology. Nature is not about competition in the mistaken Darwinian sense. What holds the living world together are mutualisms, the innate altruism of life itself. In other words, altruism is lifestyle. It’s truly in our self-interest.

Libya’s Sea of Fresh Water Beneath the Desert  

Posted by Big Gav in

Cryptogon notes that Libya, besides having a lot of oil, has a lot of fresh water stored under the desert (not to mention great solar power generation potential) - Libya’s Sea of Fresh Water Beneath the Desert, But Wait, There’s More.

We all know about the obvious oil component to what is happening in Libya, but that’s definitely not he full story. Here are some other factors to keep in mind as the U.S. leads a war in Libya for “humanitarian” reasons.

Saudi Aramco, Seas Beneath the Sands:
Libya is already pumping water from the Kufra Oasis, in its southeast corner, through a four-meter-diameter pipeline to its thirsty coastal cities. When fully operational, that project will pump some 3.6 million cubic meters per day. Still, at current extraction rates, the aquifer is not likely to be depleted for a thousand years.

Christian Science Monitor, Libya’s Qaddafi Taps ‘Fossil Water’ to Irrigate Desert Farms:
While many countries in the Middle East and North Africa bicker over water rights, Libya has tapped into an aquifer of ‘fossil water’ to change its topography – turning sand into soil. The 26-year, $20 billion project is nearly finished.

As I was reading about how bone dry (on the surface) and sunny Libya is, I thought, “Wow, sounds great for solar power.” And then I found this, from the Tripoli Post:
Moreover, since this report came out, there has been some encouraging progress in Libya on the practical front regarding the issue of solar power. In October this year (as reported by the Tripoli Post in issue 171) the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was sending a team of experts from its National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado to collaborate on concentrating solar power in Libya. The DOE confirmed that Libya, with its low humidity and numerous sunny days, had the ideal conditions for the possible exploitation of solar power technologies.

This is indeed encouraging news. Libya has an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometres, 90% of which is hot sunny desert. Libya, through its proximity to mainland Europe, already supplies Europe energy by pipeline via the Greenstream pipeline – the longest sub-sea pipeline in the Mediterranean. If this new technology is realized, it would hopefully put Libya in the centre of any future post-oil era energy industry.

Rwanda to spend $935 mln on geothermal power  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Reuters has a report on plans to develop geothermal power in Rwanda - Rwanda to spend $935 mln on geothermal power.

Rwanda plans to spend $935 million on the development of 310 megawatts of electricity from geothermal sources in the next seven years to tackle severe electricity shortages, a government statement said on Tuesday.

Rwanda is one of East Africa's fastest growing economies, with an expansion rate of 7.5 percent in 2010, but faster growth is hampered by major energy challenges.

"Rwanda is targeting 310 MW in the next seven years and the estimated cost is $935 million," the energy ministry said in a statement.

"The geothermal sources have been identified between Gisenyi and Karisimbi Volcano and Bugarama. It will cost in total $30.2 million for drilling three exploration wells and doing the site preparation, which will include availing infrastructure on site."

Geothermal power is produced by tapping the steam created by water trapped near hot rocks in the earth.

Only 14 percent of the Rwandan population has access to electricity, the ministry said.

The country had an installed capacity of only 69 MW in 2009, but plans to increase this to 130 MW by the end of 2012 through investments in small hydropower and methane gas plants.

Rwanda is in a prime area of the East African Rift Valley, one of the world's hottest spots for geothermal activity.

The area with the most geothermal activity has been identified as the Virunga volcanic zones in the north and the area around hot springs in the west.

"Rwanda is also looking at developing hydropower, methane gas, solar, biogas, peat, with an ultimate goal to reach 1,000 MW of production capacity by 2017," the statement said.

Experts estimate the geothermal potential along the East African Rift Valley in excess of 15,000 MW, but the huge potential has remained largely untapped except in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Oil jumps after Western attacks on Libya  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The SMH notes that oil prices keep rising as Libyan hostilities continue - Oil jumps after Western attacks on Libya .

Oil has jumped by more than $US2, sending Brent to $US116 after Western forces launched a military campaign against Libya, raising the stakes in a civil war that has nearly paralysed crude exports from the north African nation.

Brent crude for May rose as much as $US2.26 to $US116.19 a barrel and was up almost 1.5 per cent at $US115.62. US crude for April rose as much as $US2.12 to $US103.19 and was up $US1.84 at $US102.91.

President Barack Obama has ordered US forces into the biggest military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed to fight to the death.

Unrest over the weekend also flared in Syria and Yemen in the wake of popular uprisings that toppled long-time leaders in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year. A crackdown on protests in Bahrain last week also had oil traders on edge.

"I can see uncertainty and fear driving the price of oil higher in the short term," said Matthew Lewis, an analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. "At this stage, it looks like Libya has further to play. Gaddafi still seems very defiant. We'll see further spikes and shocks in the oil market this week.’’

Military action on Libyan air defenses over the past two days, sanctioned by the United Nations in a Security Council resolution on Thursday, has crippled Gaddafi's capability to launch airstrikes and detect foreign aircraft, a senior US military official said on Sunday.

Crikey's Guy Rundle has been an enthusiastic backer of the no-fly zone over Libya and has spent quite a bit of time wondering the weird reaction across the left, with this being just one example - Libya … US move really a police intervention.
The Libyan revolution has been restarted by the support given to it by Western powers, and Libyan rebels have started to reverse the gains made by Gaddafi’s force in the past few days.

They have already retaken Ajdabiya and Zuwaytinah, two towns to the west of the rebel capital of Benghazi, and would appear to be on the march westward.

Though there is still a chance that the revolution will bog down into a protracted territorial civil war or stalemate, a more rapid victory may also be possible.

As Patrick Cockburn has noted, Gaddafi has only been able to call on a few thousand troops in his assaults — their lethality and power has been augmented by his forces’ continued reliance on firepower.

Should he be prevented from using them — which appears to be the case — a space may well open up whereby dissent within his western strongholds becomes possible.

Half the army or more has already deserted — there is no reason to believe that with some more pressure on the ground and from the air, it will dissolve altogether, and the revolution will be won.

Though they have launched attacks on his compound, the US and other forces claim they have no interest in a direct military assassination. It is hard to know whether to believe this.

Much of the anti-support sentiment wants to argue both sides of this; that the US is seeking to dismember Libya, and impose its will, to which end assassination is being employed — and that international forces are involved to stabilise the situation, to frustrate the revolution in its final victory.

Since the Libyan revolution appears to have come within 12 hours of breathing its last before international support came in, such assessments do not make a blind bit of sense.

But nothing has, in the concerted anti-imperialist opposition to the strategic imperatives of an actual revolution.

Indeed by Monday morning there was a wider question — had the survival of the Libyan revolution emboldened people elsewhere? Had it contributed to the progress of uprising in Yemen, following the killing of 40 protesters on Saturday?

With generals now defecting, and the army appearing to turn against President Ali Saleh, his regime would appear to be near collapse.

Whether that will result in anything more promising than a takeover by the army remains to be seen.

Quite possibly the process was entirely autonomous to the Libyan revolution — and quite possibly the rebel resurge in Libya was what was required as encouragement to push forward.

After all, Tunisia and Egypt were relatively non-violent revolutions — and the latter substantially involved a handover to the army.

Libya was the first uprising with met with concerted opposition — which in turn created a genuinely revolutionary situation, dissolving existing institutions, emboldening people to struggle for radical freedom.

It was thus pretty important that it survive by any means necessary. The alternative was that it be another valiant defeat, another “not-yet” — a situation that many who were opposed to foreign involvement half seemed to welcome.

As international military action intensified, notions of an “imperialist” takeover being spruiked became positively mystical, and increasingly conspiratorial.

Contrary to the likely scenario — that the US had been dragged into a conflict with a petro-dictator they had spent years cultivating — the “anti-imperialist” version has been that the US, broke and with two wars under way, had been desperately looking for a way to insert itself into the conflict.

The analysis stems from an archaic theory of imperialism, formed in the era of the Belgian Congo, and solidified, if not petrified during the decades of the Cold War.

It sees power as expressed only and always in military dominance, territorial occupation, and high capitalist exploitation.

Not only does it fail to consider the contradictions of different types of power — the rather desperate need for the US not to have further drains on its resources, for example — it also fails to consider any process by which ideological fantasies, obsessions, self-delusions might motivate action.

The result is to cede an awesome degree of power and knowingness to great powers that showed, in the Iraq war, that they were utterly incapable of imposing a desired monolithic order.

It would seem obvious that this is the case with the French today. It is also to deny subjectivity or knowingness to the people conducting the revolt, whose wishes those opposed to military support for the revolution have largely ignored — and projected onto them a simplistic anti-colonialism, which it is clear is far from uppermost in their minds.

It’s one reason why US acquiescence in the “assistance” — really a police intervention — by Saudi Arabia in Bahrain, has had such importance attached to it. If you believe imperialism to be a monolithic force — really an idea, rather than an ensemble of material practices — then the fact that it might be capable of having its actions split, set against each other and rendered contradictory, does not occur.

It’s the Libyan rebels who’ve shown a capacity to be reflexive, risk-taking, and radically oriented to the future and its possibilities — including the possibility that it may go terribly wrong.

Meanwhile, in Syria, protesters have torched the ruling party HQ … and Al Jazeera is keeping a keen eye on Algeria …

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