IBM smartphone app predicts traffic jams  

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The SMH has an article on a smartphone app that could help motorists reduce the amount of fuel wasted in traffic jams - IBM smartphone app predicts traffic jams.

IBM is testing smartphone software designed to predict traffic jams and warn motorists before they even take to the roads.

IBM said that its employees in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley areas of Northern California have been testing technology that "will ultimately help drivers around the world" avoid fouled traffic.

Those involved in the pilot project agree to have location-sensing capabilities in their smartphones automatically track where they drive and when, according to IBM Smarter Traveler program manager John Day.

The information is fed through the internet to computers that identify patterns such as commutes to and from work.

Meanwhile, data collected from roadway censors commonly used for online traffic maps is analysed to determine conditions that usually lead to trouble.

For example, congestion at a certain off-ramp or bridge entrance may consistently lead to traffic backing up in another area. The results are combined to form personalised predictions of when a motorist is apt to run into highway headaches.

"We wanted to take advantage of analytic tools to provide predictive capabilities; to get correlations with minor slowdowns and major ones that happen after that," Day told AFP. So you can run a query at any point for a journey and predict 35 or 40 minutes in advance what it will look like, then couple that with a personal approach for the individual traveler."

IBM researchers worked with California state highway authorities and a Mobile Millennium Team at the University of Berkeley, California, on the project.

The smartphone application lets people receive customized alerts warning of probable traffic trouble before they set out on commutes or other routine drives.



Cryptogon notes that while this sort of mass monitoring can serve useful purposes, it can also be put to more annoying uses - Data from TomTom Navigation Devices Used by Dutch Police to Set Speed Traps.
Dutch drivers might have wondered how it was that speed traps were always in just the right place to catch speeders. It turned out to be simple enough: if they owned a TomTom, their in-car satnav was spying on them, and the aggregated data about cars’ speed was being sold via the government to the police – who used it to set the traps.

The company, which is Europe’s largest satnav manufacturer, was forced this week into an embarrassing apology as the revelation emerged alongside its first-quarter financial earnings, which showed weak demand and let it to forecast growing sales from “service revenues” – including, it said, selling data to governments.

In a public apology (repeated in a video on YouTube), TomTom’s chief executive Harold Goddijn said the company sold the anonymous data believing it would be used to improve safety or relieve traffic bottlenecks.

“We never foresaw this kind of use and many of our clients are not happy about it,” he wrote, and promised licensing agreements would “prevent this type of use in the future.”

Normally the aggregated data would be used to tell subscribers to TomTom services how to route around traffic conditions and give improved estimates of journey time. The sale of data to the government was intended to help it understand causes of congestion and accidents.

But the police had a simpler idea for how to use the data to offset the cost of buying it, and followed that as well.

The timing of the admission comes just after a wave of concern over data collected by smartphones and passed back to the companies controlling them, such as Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Peak oil highlights need for a unified policy  

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The focus of this week's Catalyst program (both videos and transcripts are now available online) on peak oil has resulted in another mention in the mainstream press, with Paddy Manning from Fairfax writing a column on the topic in this weekend's papers - Peak oil highlights need for a unified policy.

Peak oil is forcing its way to the top of the agenda with stark warnings from the International Energy Agency and others repeated on ABC radio and television this week, after an investigation by the Catalyst program. ...

In the lucky country, of course, we'll be fine. Rising income from coal and gas exports will help us pay higher oil prices, even as our oil trade deficit blows out and oil hits $US200 ($A183) a barrel, as is forecast often enough. Can we go back to sleep now?

Not when the climate implications are taken into account, says Ian Dunlop, a former Shell executive and deputy convenor of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil.

Dunlop says the manifestations of peak oil were temporarily masked by the financial crisis - itself partly triggered by high oil prices which hurt struggling homeowners in the US subprime mortgage belts - but are now confronting us as the developed world increases consumption. The world faces a 20-30 per cent reduction in oil availability by 2020, he says.

The problem with future oil production, Dunlop says, is the amount of energy you get out for the energy you expend - your return on investment - is dropping.

''Cheap oil is disappearing. A lot of major exporting countries in the Middle East are now finding they need more for domestic markets, and there's not as much available for export.''

While Australia must keep drilling for oil, Dunlop says standards for deep-water exploration will have to be rethought following the Gulf of Mexico and the Timor Sea spills, adding delay and cost to production, just as the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in the 1980s, which killed 167 workers, led to a complete revamp of safety practices in the North Sea.

Alternatives such as conversion of gas or coal to liquids carry a huge penalty in terms of carbon emissions. Electrification of transport only works if there is a switch to clean energy.

Desperately needed, of course, is a policy to tackle both peak oil and climate change at the same time.

Last year, think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, with Melbourne University's Energy Research Institute, published its Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, which shook things up by calling for investment of $37 billion a year to switch the whole country over to 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade. The plan included enough installed energy capacity to power all our transport needs.

Beyond Zero has assembled a team of scientists, engineers and planners working pro-bono on a fully costed, national transport plan that will take in three streams: city passenger and public transport, freight, and intercity transport and high-speed rail. The report is due out by the end of the year.

Executive director Matthew Wright says the opportunity is there for Australia to invest in new, climate-friendly transport infrastructure and avoid spending on high-priced oil imports, which Beyond Zero estimates could exceed $50 billion a year by 2015. ''That's what I call a great big tax,'' says Wright.

The thrust of the plan is to electrify the country's road and rail transport systems as much as possible with a renewable-powered grid, and the use of liquid biofuels to replace oil for range-extending and some off-road and agricultural uses. Thousands of kilometres of new light and heavy rail would be laid across major cities. Auto manufacturers would retool to make electric cars locally.

Very fast trains would link the capital cities, excluding Darwin, and the major regional centres.

It's the infrastructure we're going to need. Unfortunately it's not the infrastructure we're building, which is heavily skewed towards roads and against rail.

And if it all sounds expensive consider that we are still subsidising oil at a rate of billions of dollars a year, whether through diesel fuel tax rebates or a fringe benefits tax regime that encourages private company car use. As peak oil bites, that's crazy.

Honeybees 'entomb' hives in failed attempt to protect against pesticides  

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The Guardian reports bees are unsuccessfully attempting to stave off colony collapse by sealing off cells with excessive levels of pesticide in the pollen- Honeybees 'entomb' hives to protect against pesticides, say scientists.

Honeybees are taking emergency measures to protect their hives from pesticides, in an extraordinary example of the natural world adapting swiftly to our depredations, according to a prominent bee expert.

Scientists have found numerous examples of a new phenomenon – bees "entombing" or sealing up hive cells full of pollen to put them out of use, and protect the rest of the hive from their contents. The pollen stored in the sealed-up cells has been found to contain dramatically higher levels of pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals than the pollen stored in neighbouring cells, which is used to feed growing young bees.

"This is a novel finding, and very striking. The implication is that the bees are sensing [pesticides] and actually sealing it off. They are recognising that something is wrong with the pollen and encapsulating it," said Jeff Pettis, an entomologist with the US Department of Agriculture. "Bees would not normally seal off pollen."

But the bees' last-ditch efforts to save themselves appear to be unsuccessful – the entombing behaviour is found in many hives that subsequently die off, according to Pettis. "The presence of entombing is the biggest single predictor of colony loss. It's a defence mechanism that has failed." These colonies were likely to already be in trouble, and their death could be attributed to a mix of factors in addition to pesticides, he added.

Bees are also sealing off pollen that contains substances used by beekeepers to control pests such as the varroa mite, another factor in the widespread decline of bee populations. These substances may also be harmful to bees, Pettis said. "Beekeepers - and I am one – need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what we are doing," he said. "Certainly [the products] have effects on bees. It's a balancing act – if you do not control the parasite, bees die. If you control the parasite, bees will live but there are side-effects. This has to be managed."

The decline of bee populations has become an increasing concern in recent years. "Colony collapse disorder", the name given to the unexplained death of bee colonies, is affecting hives around the world. Scientists say there are likely to be numerous reasons for the die-off, ranging from agricultural pesticides to bee pests and diseases, pollution, and intensive farming, which reduces bee habitat and replaces multiple food sources with single, less nutritious, sources. Globalisation may also be a factor, as it spreads bee diseases around the world, and some measures taken to halt the deaths – such as massing bees in huge super-hives – can actually contribute to the problem, according to a recent study by the United Nations.

The loss of pollinators could have severe effects on agriculture, scientists have warned.

How close is peak oil ?  

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Giles Parkinson at The Climate Spectator has an article wondering when the peak oil of oil production will be reached - How close is peak oil ?.

It seems politicians everywhere are suddenly waking up to the implications of peak oil. When will it arrive? Has it already passed? What does it mean for prices? And what do those prices mean for economic growth, and geopolitical risk? Most are finding that whatever action they are thinking of taking now, they should have been doing decades ago.

This week, US President Barack Obama has been pressuring Congressional leaders to remove $US40 billion of subsidies to the oil industry as he begins to rebuild the foundations of his clean energy policy that aims to rid the country of its dependence on foreign oil.

This has been a stated goal of every US President since Nixon, yet – as Ted Turner and T. Boone Pickens pointed out last week – the power and the influence of Big Oil has meant nothing has happened. Now, surprisingly, Obama appears to be gaining some sort of support from the Republicans.

Actually, it shouldn't surprise at all. As Pickens said last week, peak oil may have already passed. “Oil’s a finite resource and it’s running out,” he told a National Press Club luncheon in Washington. “In the fourth quarter of this year, demand is projected to be 90 million barrels a day and I don’t think the world can produce 90 million. If they can’t, the only way you can kill demand is with price.” He expects that price to soar to $US400 a barrel within a decade.

Not many people will argue against it. The world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, may quibble about the numbers, but the kingdom’s rulers are realistic enough to start planning massive investments in nuclear and renewable energy technologies that will wean their domestic energy requirements off a reliance on oil, and free up more reserves to sell into a depleted and price-inflated market in the future.

And the change in that market could be quite dramatic. The International Energy Agency, formed as a response to the oil crisis of the early 1970s, barely recognised the existence of peak oil until last November, when it declared it may already have passed – at least in terms of conventional supplies - in 2006!

This reappraisal, it says, was the result of the most detailed survey ever carried out of 800 oil fields, which concluded that the decline rate in existing fields is very, very deep. So sharp, says IEA chief economist Fatih Birol, that the world would need to develop four new Saudi Arabia’s over the next 25 years just to maintain current production levels. And there is considerable about whether deep lying and unconventional sources such as tar sands can provide that much oil.

“It is a huge, huge challenge that we continue to underline,” he told ABC Radio’s Science program last week. “And on top of that, this would mean that the world's reliance in terms of oil supply would be on a very few number of countries in the Middle East. So you have both the financial aspect, you have the geological aspect, and you have the geopolitical aspect of the growing reliance on oil. I am afraid that there will be more and more intersection between oil and geopolitics. This is the first worry. The second worry is the sudden increase in the oil prices. This is not good news for anybody."

On the same program, Jeremy Leggett, the author of "Half Gone," a book about peak oil, and head of a UK-based industry group that is trying to get its mind around the implications of peak oil, has an even more dispiriting message.

“We think that this problem is actually as bad, if not worse, than the credit crunch. It's going to come down on a world economy that is oil dependent, nay, oil addicted, as a great surprise when oil supply begins to descend, maybe even collapse. This is a huge whistle that we are trying to blow.

“There are so many problems with conventional oil and unconventional oil that on the massive balance of probabilities, by 2015 at the latest in the view of the industry task force, there will be a descent of global oil production. That will cause a crunch, it will cause the price to go through the roof, it will cause price volatility and all the downsides that come with a fabulously expensive and, in some cases, simply unavailable oil.”

Are our politicians worried? Yes. Prepared? No. Obama clearly sees the implications, but without Republican support cannot act. China is betting heavily on electric vehicles as part of it’s solution. Australia, which exports a heap of coal and gas, but imports most of its transport fuels, faces a similar challenge.

The Australian Conservation Foundation issued a report this week noting that state and federal governments are spending at least four times more on building roads and bridges than on public transport infrastructure. Its study found that while $11.3 billion was spent on road construction around the country in 2008-9, $5 billion was given away as subsidies by the Federal government through the Fuel Tax Credits program and another $1 billion was spent through the Fringe Benefits Tax to encourage the private use of company cars. Just $3.3 billion was spent on rail construction in 2008-9. The Greens have used this study to call for a national strategy that helps the country break its reliance on oil.

The only obvious winners are electric and hybrid car makers and EV network operators. Their business is almost entirely an arbitrage play on rising oil prices. Given the current forecasts – the IEA predicted itself that sales of conventional gasoline cars will be negligible by 2050 – it’s looking something like a sure bet.

BYD Announces EV Fleet Results at Anniversary of Green-Taxi Project  

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4 Traders has a report on the progress of a Chinese electric taxi fleet after one year of operation - BYD Announces EV Fleet Results at Anniversary of Green-Taxi Project.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the world's largest all-electric vehicle Taxi fleet, manufactured by BYD. In conjunction with this anniversary, BYD announced results of several of its electric vehicle pilots - the F3DM, e6 and eBUS-12 which are in fleet testing across the world. Fifty of BYD's e6, five-seat crossover vehicles, each with a range of over 160 miles (up to 300 Km) and a top speed of 88 mph (140km/h), have been in service at Shenzhen-based Pengcheng Electric Taxi Company since April 29, 2010. The Shenzhen e6 Taxi fleet has now accumulated ~1,730,000 all-electric miles (or 2.77 million kilometers). The distance traveled for single fleet vehicles has reached ~63,000 miles each (>100,000 km).

"This fleet of 50 e6 taxis has survived the very harsh operating conditions of hot Shenzhen summers and a very cold winter this year, and drivers and passengers alike have been extremely satisfied with their ride experience," according to Stella Li, Senior Vice President. 250 more eTaxis are being delivered to the International University in Shenzhen before August this year. According to collected data, the per-car-fuel-savings is over $1167 per-Taxi-per-month (driving an average of 400Km per day). ...

The most important finding in the e6 fleet testing was that there has been no noticeable energy drop - both driving range and battery performance has been stable in rapid-charging conditions over the 1.73M miles tested - a breakthrough in EV rapid-charging. BYD has been challenged by the media about its claims of long-range electric vehicles and superior battery longevity in rapid-charging regimes since launching its first dual-mode, electric and plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles in December 2008. With the results of the e6 fleet, which was continuously rapid charged in 20- 30 minutes, BYD now has a proven track record for its Iron-Phosphate battery technology. The data is there to show vehicle charging efficiencies, consumption efficiencies, and EV ranges over time-- all with rapid-charging regimes.

The Road To Serfdom  

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Well - its almost to impossible to escape this royal wedding nonsense tonight, so I may as well survey some well respected figures for their opinions of this over-the-top medieval pageantry.

Dan Rather wonders why the saturation media coverage of what isn't really a news event when lots of real news goes unreported in these days of declining newspaper circulation and splintering TV viewer populations - ...And in Other News.

The next time you hear about another round of layoffs at a TV news division, the closing of a bureau, the decision not to cover a foreign story with full force, remember this week of silliness in April.

Remember the millions of dollars, hundreds of staff and hours of coverage spent on a wedding in London when crises around the globe and here at home festered. Remember the unseemly pas de deux between the press and a reality TV show huckster peddling racially-fraught falsehoods, as both interviewers and the interviewee seek a bump in ratings.

And then please take a moment to remember the eight American soldiers and one contractor killed by an Afghan soldier at the Kabul airport in a war too easily forgotten. Remember the hundreds likely being killed in Syria and Libya, not to mention the death and unrest plaguing countries like the Ivory Coast, which almost never earn more than a mention on our most-watched newscasts.

Remember those who have the least amongst us, struggling after more than a year of unemployment, a long commute they can no longer afford, or the diagnosis of a medical condition that could kill them and bankrupt their family.

The networks couldn't ignore the devastating storms that killed hundreds in the South, but you had the odd juxtaposition of that news being delivered by anchors sitting in front of Buckingham Palace.

There's always the question, is the audience chasing the news or the news chasing an audience? I have nothing against the royals or their wedding. It is a legitimate news story, a big event for one of America's most stalwart allies. We have had a lot of bad news lately, and if you are someone who finds this diversion interesting and exciting, then I think that's great.

What bothers me is the hypocrisy. The idea that we can't afford to throw resources at an important foreign story, but can afford to spend this kind of money on a story like the royal wedding is just plain wrong. The idea that we can't break into regularly-scheduled programming for an address by the president is wrong as well. When the topic was the "Birther Story" (better referred from here on out by the first letters of those two words), the networks jumped right in.

As a journalist, you like to be the one asking the questions. But it's time that some of our news executives gave some answers of their own.

Guy Rundle at Crikey thinks the hoopla is a conservative reflex trying to cling to tradition in the face of of the erosion of collective spirit in recent decades - A boringly genuine marriage.
Down on the Mall – the tree-lined avenue that joins Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square – they’ve put out more flags: huge Union Jack banners on each pole, flapping in the coolish wind. Hundreds of metal safety barriers are up — a double layer of them, unlike 1981, when they did not believe that at least two metres of space were required between royals and commoners — and they’re lined with tents, small brightly coloured one- and two-person numbers.

There’s a touch of Scott’s last expedition about these strings of pods, with people huddled in, surviving on iron rations (shortbread and Earl Grey) and updating their blogs. There’s a lot of teenage girls here, hanging out in an ironic/unironic way, ribbons in their hair, and Wills ‘n’ Kate T-shirts ironically punked up. The occasional teenage boy hanger-on with them, hoping that some of the overflow of pagan fertility rite will slop his way.

But above all, it’s women of a certain age, tending the flame and putting on the kettle — cheerfully mad, decked out in red, white and blue plastic boaters, and wearing Wills ‘n’ Kate tea-towels like capes, conferring superpowers. In any tribe though, the father may well give away the bride, the means by which it is done is secret women’s business.

In the most patriarchal of countries, the personification of power and national being is a grey-haired 80-something matron, who may well have another 15 years on the clock, and these women, with their T-shirts and bye-byes, are her honour guard.

We walk slowly down the Mall, and at the entrance to Clarence House, we’re stopped to let someone swing into the drive:

“Someone’s coming in,” a woman says excitedly, her Wills ‘n’ Kate springy-head-antenna bobbling excitedly.

Yes they are. A truck of Portaloos parts the crowd. There’s hundreds of the things. They’ve really gone over the top with the poop coops — they run the whole length of the Mall, like a phalanx of horse guards standing at attention.

They really are scared of public pooping — not unreasonable given the British tendency to let it go anywhere (recently it was found that parts of the National Gallery stone were being worn away by people letting their small children take a leak against the side of it).

Me, I think a river of effluent down the Mall gutters would give the whole thing a delightfully medieval turn. Something has to. Our Kate is no Diana, although the eating disorder appears to be coming along nicely. The carriage (she was originally to arrive by car) will be less magical, the veil less diaphanous, and the marriage boringly genuine. How bourgeois can you get?

Indeed, that’s the whole problem. At the heart of this ceremony, which is meant to bind us together as one nation somehow represented, bodied forth, by the bodies of a young couple, it cannot help but be observed that the marriage is, well, more than a little yecch. The Middleton — Middleton! — family is from Bucklebury, a home counties town, 80 kilometres out of London, the haute-bourgeblah, living-death belt, neither city nor country, to which they retired after making a fortune from a business selling party supplies by mail order. Good God. How is it possible that Prince Philip is still alive after that news? Prince William could have married a shop assistant, a Hapsburg princess, a Glasgow crack whore, or a woman named Lurlene doing 30-to-life in Arkansas, and they all would have been more romantic matches than the girl from the big neo-Georgian house, who, even in real life, looks like she was drawn by an illustrator of chicklit novel covers.

The melancholy fact is that working with this sort of material, the wedding cannot be other than underwhelming. The overall effect is not to raise Kate up, but to draw William and the royals down. Wills himself hasn’t helped, losing his looks in his mid-20s.

He started that decade of his life as a Greek God; now, balding and with the in-breeding showing, he could be mistaken for the junior partner in a Jaguar dealership, having been invalided out of the Green Howards after getting fragged in Basra.

So there is the distinct feeling among many that we are not so much attending a fairytale wedding, as being dragged to the hitching of some cousins we never really knew, and who look like they’ll start talking about how great Andrew Bolt is, at the reception, shortly before the free piss runs out.

That feeling is spread pretty evenly across the country. Even on the afternoon before the event there were good possies to be got right up against the barrier on the Mall, a sign that there’s been a less-than-frantic rush to be part of it. The same is true of street parties, those gingham and teapot ceremonies in which tables are run down the middle of street, to be bombed by the Luftwaffe; this time around, there are only a fraction of these being planned, compared to 1981.

Tempting as it would be to blame this on the echtness of the wedding itself, it can’t be sustained. Nor is it the result of buyer’s remorse on the last wedding. Diana’s fairytale turned into a local production of Liaisons Dangereuses, in which the only one who wasn’t aware she was a patsy, was the patsy herself, subject to the tender mercies of the sort of dysfunctional German family clusterf-ck usually only found in late Fassbinder. The whole thing left a sour taste, and laid bare the process of monarchy, i.e. mostly as a racket. If the 1981 wedding gave monarchy a brief boost, the marriage was worth 100 republican conventions as a teachable experience.

So folks won’t get fooled again. But above and beyond all that, they can’t feel connected to it as they did 30 years ago, because they don’t feel as connected to each other. We have now had three decades of a single social-economic system, administered by Thatcher, Major and Blair, and only mildly mitigated by Gordon Brown, and that is one that put individualism at the heart of British life, a society in which collective being had hitherto been dominant.

Until 1980 the primary political struggle had been over the form collective life would take — socialist, elevating equality, or conservative, elevating tradition. Thatcher changed that, releasing energies good and bad, but above all dissolving the very society she thought she was defending — that of “Victorian values”. The great paradox of the last century was that UK Labour was the guardian of more of that than Thatcher was — just as the European “bicycle” monarchies have only been able to survive in social democracies.

Social democracy mirrors monarchy in affirming that there are social values and institutions that should remain outside the market maw — that having such “sacred” values is essential to having a society in which shared meaning is possible. Both stand against the neoliberalism of the last decades, which is a form of nihilism, dissolving not only meanings (because the market expresses everything in terms of everything else, quantitatively), but the capacity for connection in which self is dissolved.

The more you entrench a society like that, the more you entrench a permanent “solitude together”, in place of collective life, and a mild and persistent melancholy that goes with it — to be obliterated, when too much, by booze or Jesus.

By nationhood too, but where the atomisation process has gone too far, that sense of shared life cannot be retrieved, and many ceremonies become expressions of a rather forlorn yearning for what can no longer be felt (Anzac Day is a supreme example of this). The Brits are not yet at that point, but give them another 20 years, and such ceremonies may feel absurd rather than mysterious. Those flags on the Mall flap in the wind almost petulantly; those pod-tents are cocoons, woven to the barriers, shielding their charges from the harsh world until morning. When, with the clatter of hooves, and rain on the streets, the colony wakes once more.

How to make durable ocean-power equipment: Dive! Dive! Dive!  

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Dintz has a post on Australian wave power company Aquagen, who were recently featured at the Federal Government's Innovation Showcase - How to make durable ocean-power equipment: Dive! Dive! Dive!.

Oceans are a tough place for any technology, but Australia's AquaGen has plans to generate power beneath the waves even in the middle of the Perfect Storm.

The company's SurgeDrive equipment can be set up in "wave farms," a matrix of bobbing power-generating buoys connected to a very stripped-down version of an oil-drilling platform. The lines tying the buoys to the platforms also transport the generated electricity.

The buoys generate power while sitting on the energy-rich ocean surface and riding the waves, using the waves' energy to turn a turbine. In stormy conditions the buoys are simply pulled below the surface, where the more muted wave action will allow them to continue generating power without being damaged.

Since the buoys disassemble into smaller generating units, repairs are easy. Simply remove the broken SurgeDrive from its wave farm matrix to fix on land, while the rest of the farms continues generating power.

Donald Trump: US should take Iraq's oil  

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Donald Trump is nothing if not honest (as well as unpleasant), saying in a recent interview of Fox with the equally unpleasant Sean Hannity that the US should seize Iraq's oil - Donald Trump says Iraq has the second-biggest oilfields in the world.

During an April 14, 2011, interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, businessman and potential Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Iraq is strategically important to the United States because of its vast supply of oil.

Trump said the United States spent $1.5 trillion on the Iraq War, and it could all go down the drain because the nation is so unstable.

"Iraq has the second-largest oilfields in the world. Fifteen trillion dollars worth of oil, second to Saudi Arabia. We go over, we decapitate their armies. Their armies are wiped out. They have weak armies, it is a corrupt society anyway, I mean, it's totally corrupt what is going on over there. We then leave in Iran which has fought for years back and forth, back and forth, because they were basically of equal strength, well, now they are not. Iran will come in. And they will take over Iraq, within two seconds after we leave, forget it, it is not even a contest. ...

"So, they are going to have the second-best oilfields in the world, second-biggest oilfields in the world that we made possible with our soldiers, thousands of people dead, wounded and … less importantly, $1.5 trillion. So, I said very simply. That if it is me, we take the oil. You know, in the old days, when you win a country, you win a country. Now with our stupid people, we win a country, we lose money, we lose soldiers, we lose lives, and then we leave."

Ceramic Fuel Cells In Amsterdam  

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The Climate Spectator reports that Ceramic Fuel Cells have been chosen to power a showcase green building in Holland - Hard cell.

Ceramic Fuel Cells announced Tuesday that its BlueGen combined heat and power unit has been chosen to provide the energy requirements of De Groene Bocht, a canal-side townhouse in the heart of Amsterdam that showcases world-leading sustainable products, from furniture design and building materials to transport and electricity generation. BlueGen units operate around the clock, generating 1.5 kilowatts of electricity that can be used in the home, with surplus power fed back into the grid or used for such applications as EV charging. Each BlueGen unit can produce about 13,000kWh of electricity a year – more than twice the power needed for an average home. The heat by-product is enough to produce 200 litres of hot water a day.

Paddy Thompson, general manager business development at Ceramic Fuel Cells, said: “The integration of BlueGen into De Groene Bocht proves that the technology needed to create electricity and heat in a low-emission, highly efficient way exists today, and its use is a significant step towards achieving far-reaching cost and environmental benefits at home and in the workplace. This is an important first step into the heritage market for BlueGen which can help older buildings – which have notoriously poor carbon emission credentials due to their age – substantially improve their carbon footprint.” Matthijs Guichelaar from Cool Endeavour, said CFC's BlueGen technology was "likely to develop into a mass-market product and should make an important contribution to the transition to a more sustainable economy.

Making The Internet Greener, By Dunking Servers In Mineral Oil  

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FastCompany has an article on a new technique for reducing the energy required to cool servers in data centres - Making The Internet Greener, By Dunking Servers In Mineral Oil.

The cloud -- that ubiquitous, invisible home to our email, our photos, our Facebook "Likes" -- is an energy-sucking behemoth the likes of which Planet Earth has never seen. Last I checked, one Google data center in Oregon was expected to consume as much power as every home in a small city combined. And according to Grist, a full third of that juice isn't even used to make your LOLcats searches go faster: it's simply spent on keeping those endless, Matrix-like server racks cool enough not to melt down. What's an eco-conscious internet business to do? According to the geeks at Green Revolution Cooling, you should just plop those babies in a tank of mineral oil. Seriously -- watch:

The company's GreenDEF™ dielectric coolant is an "electrically nonconductive formulation of mineral oil that holds 1200 times more heat by volume than air." Sink your server racks into a bath of this goop, says Green Revolution, and you can radically reduce those cooling-energy margins -- up to 95% in some cases. Plus it'll make your server room look like something out of Battlestar Galactica.

After the mineral oil sops up all that waste heat, it's pumped away to a radiant cooling tower to disperse into the atmosphere. (You didn't think it was going to just magically disappear, did you?) But by slashing those cooling costs -- and the energy costs of running the servers overall -- your data server will be, ideally, less of a burden on Mother Nature.

Should we expect to see Facebook and Google getting on board with this "bobbing for servers" approach to sustainability? Probably not: while Green Revolution's idea and design are ingenious, the physical tradeoffs of cooling enormous distributed data centers this way are probably prohibitive. Then again, if we're going to haul ourselves into the exascale computing era without draining Earth's batteries for good, it might just require kooky-sounding ideas like this.

Smart Transformers  

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Technology Review has an article on one of the components required to build the smart grid - Smart Transformers.

In a lab wired up to simulate a residential neighborhood, Alex Huang is working to revamp aging power grids into something more like the Internet—a network that might direct energy not just from centralized power stations to consumers but from any source to any destination, by whatever route makes the most sense. To that end, Huang, a professor of electrical engineering at North Carolina State University, is reinventing the transformers that currently reduce the voltage of the electricity distributed to neighborhoods so that it’s suitable for use in homes and offices.

His new transformer will make it easier for the grid to cope with things it was never designed for, like charging large numbers of electric vehicles and tapping surplus electricity from residential solar panels. Smart meters in homes and offices can help by providing fine-grained information about the flow of electricity, but precise control over that flow is needed too. Not only would this stabilize the grid, but it would better balance supply and demand, reducing spikes so that fewer power plants would be needed to guarantee the electricity supply.

“We need a radically new device to sit between homes and grid to provide a buffer, so that the grid will remain stable no matter what is going on in the homes,” Huang says. Conventional transformers handle only AC power and require manual adjustment or bulky electromechanical switches to redirect energy. What he wants is a compact transformer that can handle DC as well as AC and can be electronically controlled so that it will respond almost instantaneously to fluctuations in supply and demand. If one neighbor plugged an electric car into an AC charger, for example, it could respond by tapping otherwise unneeded DC power from another neighbor’s solar panels.

To build such a transformer, Huang started developing transistors and other semiconductor-based devices that can handle thousands of volts, founding the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems Center at NC State in 2008. His first transformer had silicon-based components, but silicon is too unreliable for large-scale use at high voltages. So Huang has pioneered the development of transformers with semiconductors based on compounds of silicon and carbon or gallium and nitrogen, which are more reliable in high-power applications. He expects to have a test version of the silicon-carbon transformer ready in two years and to have a device that utilities can test in five years.

Huang’s transformers would make connecting a solar panel or electric car to the grid as simple as connecting a digital camera or printer to a computer. That would reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by making it easier for small-scale sources of cleaner energy to contribute to the grid. He says, “The real benefit to society will come when there’s an aggregate effect from many, many small generators, which we hope will be renewable and sustainable energy sources.”

Chart of the day: the U.S. energy mix in 2035  

Posted by Big Gav

Dave Roberts at Grist has a post showing one analyst's view of the coming changes in US energy consumption (grossly understating the likely future contribution of renewables) - Chart of the day: the U.S. energy mix in 2035.

It is important for everyone working or advocating around energy to understand how the power mix is expected to change in the next 20 years or so. To that end, I've pulled a chart out of the consulting firm Black & Veatch's "Energy Market Perspective," an analysis of U.S. energy markets that they update every six months. They bill it as "analytically neutral," neither conservative nor aggressive. There's an element of pretense to that, but I do think we can take this as something close to the average expectation of U.S. analysts.

It's entirely possible that this is wrong. In fact, it almost certainly is. B&V bases it on a series of assumptions about natural resources, regulations, and the economy that could turn out to be off in any number of ways. As B&V says, "uncertainties abound." All that caveating out of the way, here's the mainstream view on how the U.S. power sector will change:

From Protesting Chinese Truckers to Cash-Strapped US Voters, Not Mentioning Peak Oil Helps No One  

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TreeHugger has a post noting the silence about peak oil - From Protesting Chinese Truckers to Cash-Strapped US Voters, Not Mentioning Peak Oil Helps No One.

Apropos of the IEA's chief economist again pointing out that no nation is prepared for peak oil, which will be upon us soon if we're not a bit past it already: Over the weekend NPR ran two stories that though they weren't explicitly connected, ought to have been--one on how President Obama's approval ratings fluctuate with the price of gasoline and one on protests by Chinese truck drivers at the rising price of fuel there.

Last Friday approximately 2000 truck drivers blocked part of the port of Shanghai because diesel prices have risen precipitously. ...

And on Obama's approval ratings versus gasoline, the former have fallen to the mid-40% range: ...

Let's connect the dots.

The issue of whether or not the price at the pump accurately represents the true cost social and environmental costs of gasoline aside (hint, it doesn't, not by a long shot), people naturally get upset when price inflation of essential commodities rapidly outpaces their increases in wages. Protests in China and presidential approval ratings reflect this.

The part that goes unsaid in all this all too often is that the price of oil is on an upward trend that is likely irreversible. On one time scale speculation does matter, and is the focus of the President often when talking about gas prices, but the part that seemingly dares not speak its name here is peak oil.

Whether when talking about gas prices or energy policy, the very notion of peak oil or fossil fuel depletion doesn't enter into the US national debate and seldom into international discussion--even when there are serious doubts about the extent of Saudi oil reserves and their ability to expand produciton as they constantly tout.

This is a potentially deadly mistake. Whether it's the IEA, US government agencies, foreign government agencies, or independent researchers, the message is clear: We have ignored the impact that peak oil will have on our lives for too long, and continuing to ignore it will not make it any easier to deal with or to attempt to develop alternatives to oil.

While it won't help ease the financial burden on Chinese truckers nor US businesses and residents from rising fuel prices, not even publicly mentioning peak oil won't either. And it may provide a more logical backdrop, a more detailed picture, to the general public than just blaming speculators all the time and playing the nationalistic card of energy independence.

Oregon Wave Energy Test Site Selected  

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EarthTechling reports that a wave power test site has been selected off the US west coast - Oregon Wave Energy Test Site Selected.

Wave energy research is already an important part of the renewable energy efforts being made by universities in the Pacific Northwest but recent news issued by Oregon State University (OSU) indicates it could be headed to a whole new level. In the report, OSU says that the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC)-a collaboration between researchers at OSU and the University of Washington since 2008-has been working on securing an off-shore parcel of ocean that would facilitate needs for large scale wave energy research and testing purposes. OSU, for example, currently operates a small-scale wave power testing facility in the form of the Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, but the needs of its project partners like Texas-based Neptune Wave Power call for testing at a larger scale. That sort of full scale field testing could begin soon now that the NNMREC has officially selected a site for what is to become the first wave energy research program and facility of its type in the US.

Funded by the state of Oregon and the U.S. Department of Energy, the site would be about one square mile in size, two miles northwest of Yaquina Head on the central Oregon coast. The facility would be located in an area where water is about 150-180 feet deep, with a sandy seafloor. According to OSU, it is exposed to unobstructed waves that have traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.

Catalyst: The Oil Crunch  

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The ABC’s Catalyst program has a special edition on energy and peak oil this week - Catalyst: The Oil Crunch.

In just a century, we’ve become entirely dependent on cheap oil. We rely on oil for just about everything, from the food we eat, to our transport systems and even our economic stability. So what would happen if we ran out? There’s a growing fear amongst petroleum experts that it’s happening much sooner than previously thought – that we are hitting Peak Oil now. So how soon will demand outstrip supply, and will we be able to avoid the global economy collapsing when it does? How prepared are we for the Oil Crunch?

The Oil Crunch

Could global oil demand soon outstrip supply? Dr Jonica Newby follows up on 'Real Oil Crisis' from 2005 and discovers the 'Oil Crunch' is imminent.

Kenyan Hot Rocks

Kenya is harnessing geothermal resources to provide clean renewable base load energy which, as a bonus, is transforming the lives lof ocals.

Oil From Algae

Oil alternatives, particularly environmentally friendly sources, are in hot demand. Could algae help meet our needs?

Sustainable Houses

A 1950's weatherboard home transformed to be energy efficient and a modern home with unique technology to monitor energy consumption.

Time For An Australian Sovereign Wealth Fund ?  

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The topic of a sovereign wealth fund for Australia has cropped up a few times in the media lately, following a call by Malcolm Turnbull for one to be put in place (in contrast to the litany of idiocy coming from the rest of his party). The SMH has the latest example - Our pot of gold for when the mines run dry.

Norway's got one, so does Chile. For decades, the oil-rich Gulf states have also squirrelled away their export revenue into a public savings pool, known as a sovereign wealth fund.

Now, there are growing calls for Australia to develop a fund of its own to make the most of the resources bonanza.

Backing from the likes of Commonwealth Bank chief Ralph Norris and Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull has increased pressure to save more of the boom.
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For the most part though, debate has skirted around just how this might work in practice. For a government battling to convince the public of the need for a carbon tax, a savings fund probably falls in the too-hard basket.

This need not be the case. Commentary from a growing number of economists, business people and former officials suggests a fund is not only sensible for Australia, but doable.

So if we did choose to go down this path, what might an Australian sovereign fund look like?

As debate heats up over whether we should have a fund, overseas experience can shed valuable light on the role such a fund would play here.

Sovereign wealth funds have enjoyed a meteoric rise, shrugging off the global financial crisis on the back of soaring commodity prices.

The value of assets held by these government-controlled monoliths leapt 11 per cent to $US4.2 trillion last year - almost double all private equity holdings. The sector's value is tipped to hit $US5.5 trillion next year and $US10 trillion by 2015.

Among the countries that have gone down this path there is a recurring theme - commodity wealth. From the $US38.6 billion Kazakhstan National Fund to the $US627 billion Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the trend was led by oil-rich states from the 1950s.

Resource-poor countries such as Singapore and South Korea have also used sovereign funds to pool public pensions or save their foreign exchange reserves. But it is the commodity-rich states that are most relevant to Australia.

According to the International Monetary Fund, almost all of the sovereign funds established by commodity-rich countries have one of two objectives: saving the windfall from a boom or smoothing the bumpy ride of commodity cycles.

Australia's Future Fund is a public servants' pension fund that neither smooths the boom and bust cycle nor saves for the nation, and many economists say this is a big gap in our policy settings.

The former Reserve Bank governor and superannuation chief Bernie Fraser says we should be storing away the valuable ''nuts'' of the boom.

''We're just floating by on the commodity boom, giving most of the proceeds back to the mining companies, which are not going to provide the kind of social and economic infrastructure that will sustain this country over the next 30 to 40 years,'' he says.

''I despair about what happened with the resource rent tax - that should have been the big nut that was put away and used down the track when the mines are gone and we're looking for some way of maintaining activity and infrastructure.''

When the boom inevitably comes to a halt, Fraser says a fund could offset some of the pain by having ''social and infrastructure projects developed, on the shelf, ready to go''.

For others, stability should be a key objective of an Australian fund. Mining investment as a share of gross domestic product is already approaching 5 per cent - well above levels reached in the 1960s and 1970s - leaving us more exposed to a sudden slowdown in world demand.

Surprise, surprise! Iraq war was about oil  

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Energy Bulletin has an article by Ray McGovern looking at the Greg Muttitt's new book about the Iraq war - Surprise, surprise! Iraq war was about oil.

If you don’t tune in to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now or read the British press, you will have missed the latest documentary evidence showing that Great Britain’s Lords and Ladies lied about how big oil companies, like BP, lusted after Iraqi oil in the months leading up to the attack on Iraq.

Oil researcher Greg Muttitt’s new book Fuel on Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq presents that evidence, since Muttitt had better luck than American counterparts in getting responses to his Freedom of Information requests.

After a five-year struggle, he obtained more than 1,000 official documents which — how to say this — do not reflect well on the peerage, the captains of the oil industry, and the government of Tony Blair.

On April 19, the British Independent published a major story about these disclosures, which America’s FCM have avoided like the plague. ["Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq"]

Quoting the released British documents, the Independent showed BP salivating over an expected windfall of Iraqi oil, with the saliva politely sponged up by Foreign Office functionaries. From the Independent:

“The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq ‘post regime change.’ Its minutes state: ‘Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there.’ …

“Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had ‘no strategic interest’ in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was ‘more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time’ … it [BP] was willing to take ‘big risks’ to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.”

Of course, BP was singing a different tune for the average folks. Lord Browne, then-BP chief executive, insisted on March 12, 2003, a week before the invasion of Iraq: “It is not, in my or BP’s opinion, a war about oil.”

The official documents, however, offer a contradictory account. Gosh, would BP officials lie?

The minutes of a similar meeting with BP and Shell on Oct. 31, 2002, reinforce the point. They show then-British Trade Minister, Lady Symons, agreeing that British oil companies must not lose out in competing for Iraqi oil, particularly “if the U.K. had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the U.S. government throughout the crisis.”

Prime Minister Tony Blair was equally disingenuous in his public remarks. On April 19, Democracy Now ran a brief clip in which British author Muttitt called to mind Blair’s assurances to a TV audience on Feb. 6, 2003, six weeks before the war: “The idea that we’re interested in Iraq’s oil is absurd, it’s one of the most absurd conspiracy theories you can imagine.”

Muttitt pointed out that, as Blair was saying this, a secret (until now) Foreign Office document setting out British strategy toward Iraqi oil asserted, “Britain has an absolutely vital interest in Iraq’s oil.”

The London Mail Online on April 20 summed up the contradictions with classic English understatement. It noted that the flurry of meetings between oil executives and the Labour government in late 2002 “appear to be at odds with their insistence Iraq’s vast oil reserves were not a consideration ahead of the March 2003 invasion.”

The crises boosting Russia's coffers  

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The Business Spectator has an article from Stratfor on the good fortune middle east unrest and Japan's nuclear disaster is bringing to Russia - The crises boosting Russia's coffers.

Two unrelated global crises are benefiting one regional power: Russia. The rise in energy prices due to the Middle East unrest is obviously benefiting Russia as an oil exporter. Furthermore, as a primary natural gas exporter to Europe, Russia stands to benefit from the souring of nuclear power in Germany and Italy due to the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan.

The unrest in the Middle East is a very straightforward story for Russia. It has increased energy prices about 20 per cent, and because of the way that Moscow taxes oil profits, most of this increase in prices going straight into the government coffers. On March 18, the Russian government currency reserves have climbed over $500 billion for first time in two and half years.

Unrest in Libya is also allowing Russia to increase its natural gas exports to Italy, which is already its second-largest customer in Europe. The unrest in Libya has specifically impacted the 10 billion cubic meter natural gas pipeline Greenstream, which goes under the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. This pipeline is a vital component of Italy’s natural gas imports from North Africa.

Aside from giving Russia the extra income, the crisis in Libya is also changing the perceptions of North Africa as a potential alternative to Russian energy imports in Europe. Russia’s looking pretty geopolitically stable as an energy exporter compared to what is going on in Libya and across North Africa.

The other global crisis that is benefiting Russia is the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, in particular the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. Aside from again increasing Russian revenue stream by allowing it to export more natural gas to Japan, the real benefit to Moscow of the accident is the fact that Europeans are rethinking their nuclear renaissance.

2011 was shaping up to be a very important year for nuclear power in Europe. First, a centre-right government in Germany was supportive of continuing to use nuclear power as part of the German electricity component. Second, there was going to be a very key vote in Italy – a referendum on whether the country should reconsider its nuclear power plant. And finally, we had announcements in Poland, Sweden and also the United Kingdom – where nuclear power would become part of the component of switching from fossil fuels.

However, German and Italian populations have always been more sceptical of nuclear power than other Europeans, and the problem now is that, with the Fukushima nuclear accident, it is quite clear that Germany and Italy will not be part of a nuclear renaissance in Europe. The reason this is important is because there’s no real alternative for either other than Russian natural gas. In fact, over the last five years, 20 out of the 23 power plants that Germany built were natural gas, which means there’s already a commitment towards natural gas in Germany. The reason for this is because natural gas is a relatively cheap source of power. It is not as cheap as coal or nuclear power – nuclear actually being the cheapest – but it is three times cheaper than wind and over 10 times cheaper than solar. Therefore, as Germany reduces the amount of energy it derives from nuclear power – it’s slated to essentially stop using eight of its nuclear reactors for good – it will most definitely turn towards natural gas.

The other thing to consider is the upcoming Nord Stream natural gas pipeline. Nord Stream is really a pipeline between Russia and Germany that has strategic value. It goes under the Baltic Sea and its main purpose was to avoid shipping natural gas via Ukraine and Poland to Germany – to create a direct link between Moscow and Berlin, if you will. However, now its 55 billion cubic meters are looking like a very useful option for natural gas.

China risks cost of fracking to exploit shale gas  

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The SMH has an article on Chinese interest in shale gas - China risks cost of fracking to exploit shale gas.

CHINA has begun trials of the controversial drilling technique known as fracking to exploit the world's largest reserves of shale gas, as it tries to cope with the energy demands of a fast-growing economy while reducing its dependence on coal.

In the past two weeks, engineers have completed the country's first horizontal shale gas well in Sichuan and government officials have begun drafting a national strategy to identify 1000 billion cubic metres of exploitable resources by 2020.

Supporters say China has the potential to emulate the US, where extraction of shale gas has tripled the lifespan of gas reserves and offered a lower-carbon alternative to coal.
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''Shale gas is a game-changer for the US and should do the same for China,'' said Ming Sung, the Asia representative of the Clean Air Task Force in Boston and an advocate of closer energy links between the two nations.

''This should be one of the centrepieces for China's energy strategy. As with any new technology, we must balance benefits versus potential environmental impacts. The experiences of the US are valuable here.''

The extraction method is costly and controversial. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the injection of chemically treated water at high pressure through seams of rock, forcing the gas inside to seep out to where it can be captured. Environmentalists say it wastes and contaminates huge volumes of water.

For fuel-hungry, drought-plagued China, this poses a conundrum. The energy potential is enormous. The ministry of land and resources calculates the size of shale gas reserves at 26,000 billion cubic metres - more than 10 times the known holdings of conventional natural gas. This is a tempting alternative for a country eager to improve its energy security.

The SMH also has an article on the lobbying effort the gas industry is doing to try and stall the adoption of renewables - Oil giants play loose with facts on gas.
SENIOR executives in the fossil fuel industry have launched an all-out assault on renewable energy, lobbying governments and business groups to reject wind and solar power in favour of gas, in a move that could choke the green energy industry.

Multinational companies including Shell, GDF Suez and Statoil are promoting gas as an alternative green fuel. These firms are among dozens worldwide investing in new technologies to exploit shale gas, a controversial form of the fuel that has rejuvenated the gas industry because it is in plentiful supply and newly accessible because of technical advances in gas extraction that are known as fracking.

Burning gas in power stations releases about half the carbon emissions of coal, allowing gas companies to claim it is a green source of fuel.

For the past two months company lobbyists have been besieging governments in Europe, the US and elsewhere.

Central to the lobbying effort is a report saying that the European Union could meet its 2050 carbon targets more cheaply, avoiding costs of €990 billion ($1.3 trillion), by using gas rather than investing in renewables.

However, The Guardian has established that the analysis is based on a previous report that came to the opposite conclusion: that renewables should play a much larger role. The report being pushed by the fossil fuel industry has been disowned by its original authors, who referred to it as biased in favour of gas.

The new report relies on questionable assumptions about the future price of technology to capture and store carbon. The team at the European Climate Foundation that produced the original report described the new version, commissioned by the European Gas Advocacy Forum, as ''biased to one preferential outcome in support of gas advocacy''. It warn that adopting its conclusions would expose the European economy to volatile gas prices.

Further doubt has been thrown on the industry's claims by an academic study from Cornell University which found that generating electricity from shale gas produced at least as much carbon dioxide as coal-fired power, and perhaps more, because of the difficulty in extracting the gas.

Cloudcharging  

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Alex Steffen is an electric car skeptic who slowly seems to be seeing the light - Cloudcharging.

People who’ve followed my writing will know that I’m deeply skeptical of electric vehicles as a solution, not because I don’t think they lower emissions (they do), but because

a) so much of our lack of sustainability stems from the direct and indirect effects of auto-dependence as a system, from the roads and infrastructure to the sprawling land use to the health and ecological impacts; and EVs do little to fix any of that;

b) at current rates of adoption, there is simply no way to electrify the global car fleet in the scant two or three decades we have to create carbon zero societies.

That said, where we do have cars, they should clearly be EVs. And since a large barrier to wider adoption is EVs’ limited range, PlugShare is a pretty cool idea for an ap: a tool that maps available charging stations, shared private outlets and so on, helping drivers with vehicles that have limited ranges to plot out longer trips.

This might be, it seems to me, a step towards a more general availability of charging stations for EVs misted over the landscape, a sort of cloudcharging function.

Boehner willing to vote for cutting U.S. oil subsidies ?  

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Reuters reports the US Republicans may be interested in biting the hand that feeds them by reducing subsidies to the oil industry, following Obama's recent comments that cutting renewable energy programs while leaving oil subsidies intact makes no sense - Boehner opens door to cutting U.S. oil tax breaks. Don't hold your breath waiting for the subsidies to be cut.

The Congress should consider cutting multibillion-dollar subsidies to oil companies amid rising concern over skyrocketing gas prices, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said on Monday.

"It's certainly something we should be looking at," Boehner said in an ABC News interview. "We're in a time when the federal government's short on revenues. They ought to be paying their fair share."

"Everybody wants to go after the oil companies and frankly, they've got some part of this to blame," he said.

But Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he also wanted to "see all the facts" first.

Boehner's remarks echoed concerns expressed this month by President Barack Obama, who asked Congress to repeal $3.6 billion in annual oil, natural gas and coal subsidies, a move that would total $46.2 billion over a decade and help pay for clean energy initiatives.

But Boehner's comments go against Republican orthodoxy because the party traditionally is very supportive of the oil and gas industry.

Tokyo Electric admits fuel could be melting at Fukushima nuke plant  

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Kyodo News has a report on the ongoing mess at Fukushima - Tokyo Electric admits fuel could be melting at Fukushima nuke plant.

An official at Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, admitted Wednesday that fuel of the plant's No. 1 reactor could be melting.

Boing Boing has a roundup of other events at the plant - Japan: TEPCO floods containment vessels of 3 reactors at Fukushima No. 1.
In Japan, Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers have begun "the unprecedented and potentially risky measure" of flooding the containment vessels of three troubled Fukushima nuclear reactors with water. The Asahi Shimbun reports that this is the first known attempt ever in the world to saturate an entire containment vessel with water in order to cool the pressure vessels inside, and in turn, cool the reactor cores within.

In related news, TEPCO has released to the public for the first time a map of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant detailing radiation levels throughout the site.



Boing Boing also has a post marking the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster - Chernobyl disaster, 25 year later: commemoration around the world.
It's early morning on April 26 in Kiev, Ukraine, where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened exactly a quarter century ago. On this day in 1986, reactor number four at the plant exploded, setting off a catastrophe that still reverberates far beyond the 30-kilometer exclusion zone.

Demonstrations are taking place throughout Europe. In Tokyo, anti-TEPCO protests mark the occasion and its parallel to the still-unfolding disaster at Fukushima. The "liquidators" who were sent in to clean up the radioactive mess at Chernobyl back in 1986 received medals Monday from Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, but controversy still surrounds the health impact of the dangerous work they performed. The so-called "sarcophagus" surrounding the disaster site in Kiev is leaking, and world leaders have pledged "to provide $780 million for the construction of a shelter designed to house the toxic remains for another century." But even if and when that new container is finally in place, the radioactive mess will remain active—and hazardous—for many thousands of years more.



Magnum Photos has a disturbing photo collection lookingat the fallout in the years following Chernobyl in Belarus - Chernobyl's Legacy.

Russian Oil Production Update  

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Stuart at Early Warning has an update on Russian oil production - Russian Oil Production.

It's been a few months since we checked in on the stats for the world's largest oil producer. The graph above shows the latest. The basic story seems to be that production has stabilized at the higher level achieved in late 2009 and early 2010 when some East Siberian fields came on line.

OPEC expects production to continue at this level or slightly down for the remainder of the year:
Russian oil supply is expected to remain within the first quarter level until the second half of the year, where production is foreseen to slightly decrease. The current high price level is supporting companies to maintain the production levels in brown fields by controlling the decline in mature producing areas. Moreover, reports are suggesting that it is likely that the export duty for the Vankor field will rise in May to a standard level, a move that the field’s operator has voiced concerns, citing that it will affect field expansion to reach targeted output.

The IEA had similar expectations in the March OMR:
2010 Russian oil production averaged 10.45 mb/d, forecast to rise to an average 10.51 mb/d in 2011.

So, it seems that in the key timing questions for the second oil shock, we should not be looking to Russia to make a large difference in either direction.

Remote Data Centres and Renewable Energy  

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Technology Review has an article noting "Far-flung data centers could use otherwise unharvestable renewable energy for computation" - Really Remote Data.

Researchers at Cambridge University want to put data centers in places so remote they aren't on any power grid. Their models indicate that moving data-hungry computation to places such as scorching deserts, windswept peaks, and the middle of the Atlantic Ocean—all rich in sunlight and wind energy—could allow this otherwise unharvestable energy to do useful work.

In a paper to be delivered at the 13th annual HotOS conference in May, the authors offer an extreme model of how cloud services could incorporate remote data centers powered only by renewable energy. Their scenario sites one solar- and wind-powered data center in the desert of southwest Australia and a second one in Egypt, on other side of the planet. This placement is no accident: putting them in different hemispheres, on opposite sides of the earth, maximizes the solar and wind energy they can harvest.

One catalyst for such a radical rethinking of how data centers can be sited and powered is the increasing availability of advanced fiber-optic networks. Connecting a remote renewable-energy plant to a power grid remains prohibitively expensive, reasoned the researchers working on this project—Sherif Akoush, Ripduman Sohan, Andrew Rice, Andrew W. Moore, and Andy Hopper—but running fiber-optic cable to such a plant would be relatively easy and cheap.

"We envisage data centers being put in places where renewable energy is being produced and you could never economically bring it back to heat a house," says Andy Hopper, senior author on the paper and head of Cambridge University's computer science department. "But you could lay a fiber and use energy that is otherwise lost, in that it's not economically transportable." One way to think of the underlying principle, he notes, is that it's easier to move bits (made up of photons) than electrons. ...

Hopper, however, points out that the larger effort of which this paper is a part—the Computing for the Future of the Planet project—takes it as a given that more computing is always good, because the virtualization of goods and services displaces more energy-intensive activities in the physical world. He says that a system like the one he proposes would be implemented only at either "no cost to overall performance [of a cloud computing system] or at an attractive cost to performance."

Will Better Place's Electric Cars Change the World ?  

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Time has a look at the prospects for Better Place's electric vehicle rollout - Will Israel's Electric Cars Change the World?.

Shai Agassi, the founder of Better Place, the most sophisticated electric-car enterprise in the world, projects the ebullient confidence of a man facing a giant wave of money. "Within less than this decade the No. 1–selling car in the world will be the electric car," he says. "It's the biggest financial opportunity the world has ever seen. We're seeing a $10 trillion shift in an industry in less than a decade. It's the Internet, and add another zero."

In the introduction to Start-Up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer's best-selling paean to Israeli innovation, Agassi was the soft-spoken software wiz who had a brilliant idea and a terrible time locating a backer. That doesn't seem to be a problem anymore. "Not when you've digitized the most expensive molecule on the planet," he says. "We've digitized oil." He pauses. "I'll put it this way: We have people from China here." (Read about how China can take the wheel on electric cars.)

The People's Republic has been busy creating a bourgeoisie, and the middle class does like to drive. Beijing's next five-year plan foresees at least 170 million new vehicles, or perhaps twice that, according to Agassi. The lower estimate alone is as many cars as there are in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain combined. The 8 million barrels of oil that would be required every day to fuel them is about as much as the U.S. imports every day. "Do you know what the price of oil will be in five years if they're not using electric cars?" Agassi asks.

Enter Better Place, the start-up that makes more than electric cars. It also makes an entire infrastructure intended to free automobiles from the stubborn limits of battery life. When the enterprise launches in Israel later this year, drivers should be able to travel anywhere in the country in cars with a battery range of 100 miles (160 km). If they set off from Tel Aviv to the Red Sea, a journey of 200 miles (320 km), they will be able to pull into a Better Place station along the highway and exchange their low battery for a fully charged one. The process should take about five minutes. Otherwise, the car can recharge overnight via a plug that snaps into the little door above the rear wheel where gas would go if the car burned gas. The vehicles can also trickle charge in parking lots where the company's distinctive blue-topped posts are located.

Everything you need to know — the locations of switch stations and charging posts, the number of motorists already there, your own distance from each — is visible on a dashboard GPS screen. Employees have been testing the system for weeks, seeing, for instance, how much juice it takes to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with a car full of fat people, a carload of skinny people or just a car. By July, Better Place expects to begin taking individual orders for the Turkish-made Renault Fluence Z.E. (for Zero Emission), a four-door sedan that looks like any other car. Ordinary Israelis could be driving them as early as November.

Germany Explores Using Train Lines as a Power Grid  

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Der Spiegel has an article on interest by the German government in using Deutsche Bahn's power distribution network to make wind power from the north of the country available in the south - Germany Explores Using Train Lines as a Power Grid.

One of the biggest question marks surrounding Germany's now-accelerated plans to dramatically increase its reliance on renewable energies has been the need to modernize its energy grid. Plans call for much of the country's wind power is to come from offshore wind parks in the north in the future, but sufficient high-voltage power lines necessary to deliver that power to the south do not yet exist.

The German Energy Agency anticipates that fully 3,600 kilometers (2,237 miles) of such lines will be required by 2020. So far, a mere 100 kilometers have been installed.

Now, though, an attractive alternative appears to be in the making. According to German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer, the government in Berlin is looking into the possibility of using the already existing network belonging to Germany's federal railways. Deutsche Bahn's grid of high-voltage power lines, at 7,800 kilometers, is the second largest in the country behind that belonging to energy giant RWE. The network, the government hopes, could be modified to transport energy to the south and plug other holes in the grid.

"A close cooperation with Deutsche Bahn relating to the expansion of the power grid is something that I find attractive," said German Economics Minister Rainer Brüderle.

European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger likewise said that such a "pilot project" in Germany would be "very useful."

While Chancellor Angela Merkel announced an "energy revolution" last autumn, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Japan has resulted in a concerted push to accelerate the switch to renewable energies. Merkel's administration immediately shut down seven nuclear reactors just days after the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami fatally crippled the Fukushima plant. Those reactors may ultimately be taken permanently off the grid and Merkel's government is working on an accelerated phase out of nuclear energy in Germany.

Berlin has also recently announced the investment of billions in renewable energies and in the expansion of the country's energy grid. But plans for high-voltage lines have run up against resistance in many parts of the country as locals have protested the creation of what are being dubbed energy autobahns here through their backyards. Environmental concerns centering on animal habitat, ironically, have also emerged as a high hurdle.

Peak oil: just around the corner  

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The ABC's "Science Show" has a segment on peak oil featuring Jeremy Leggett, Fatih Birol and Chris Skrebowski - Peak oil: just around the corner.

Oil supplies are rapidly dwindling and demand is increasing leading analysts to warn of an impending oil crunch. The global oil supply has lost the equivalent of the volume of the North Sea oil reserve in 15 months. By 2014, supply is expected to fall short of demand. Other factors could bring that forward. Fatih Birol says the age of cheap oil is over and we all need to prepare ourselves for higher oil prices. Further he says no government is prepared for what lies ahead. Jeremy Leggett describes the oil crunch, when global supply fails to meet demand.

Transparent Solar Cells Can Turn Windows into Solar Panels  

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Yale E360 has a post on research into transparent solar cells - Transparent Solar Cells Can Turn Windows into Solar Panels.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have created a new class of transparent photovoltaic cells that can turn windows into solar panels.

Richard Lunt, a researcher at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, says the new photovoltaic cells have the potential to turn skyscrapers into enormous solar collectors that could supply much of the electricity needed in modern office buildings. Previous attempts to make transparent solar cells have either failed to achieve high efficiency or blocked too much light. But Lunt and his colleagues say the new transparent cells are built to absorb only the near-infrared spectrum and have the potential to transform light to electricity at relatively high efficiency.

The biggest challenge, said Lunt, is creating photovoltaic cells that would last as long as the windows themselves, since the best way to use the cells would be to package them in the middle of double-pane windows. But Lunt and his colleagues said that the solar cell longevity problem is a basic engineering challenge that can probably be solved within a decade.

Latest dump from Wikileaks looks at Guantanamo Bay  

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The Wikileaks Twitter feed notes that their latest set of cables is being interpreted rather differently by CNN than it is by other, more impartial, media outlets. The CNN spin - WikiLeaks reveals details about Guantanamo detainees.

The documents shed light on the way detainees behaved while at Guantanamo, and on how they were assessed in terms of their danger to the United States. They are intelligence assessments of nearly every one of the 779 individuals who have been held at Guantanamo since 2002, according to the Post.

The classified files described some of the detainees as being compliant while others threatened violence against guards. One stated he would fly planes into houses. They also paint in great detail a portrait of al Qaeda as it grew stronger in Afghanistan in the 1990s, prepared for the 9/11 attacks and scattered in their aftermath.

Versus the BBC's - Wikileaks: Many at Guantanamo 'not dangerous'.
Files obtained by the website Wikileaks have revealed that the US believed many of those held at Guantanamo Bay were innocent or only low-level operatives.

The files, published in US and European newspapers, are assessments of all 780 people ever held at the facility. They show that about 220 were classed as dangerous terrorists, but 150 were innocent Afghans and Pakistanis.

Glenn Greenwald has a post noting Obama has already decided the supposed source of the Wikileaks cables is guilty, before he even goes in front of a military court - What Obama's Reckless Treatment of Bradley Manning Reveals About Our "Nation of Laws".
Protesters Thursday interrupted President's Obama speech at a $5,000/ticket San Francisco fundraiser to demand improved treatment for Bradley Manning. After the speech, one of the protesters, Logan Price, approached Obama and questioned him. Obama's responses are revealing on multiple levels. First, Obama said this when justifying Manning's treatment (video and transcript are here):
We're a nation of laws. We don't let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.

The impropriety of Obama's public pre-trial declaration of Manning's guilt ("He broke the law") is both gross and manifest. How can Manning possibly expect to receive a fair hearing from military officers when their Commander-in-Chief has already decreed his guilt? Numerous commentators have noted how egregiously wrong was Obama's condemnation. Michael Whitney wrote: "the President of the United States of America and a self-described Constitutional scholar does not care that Manning has yet to be tried or convicted for any crime." BoingBoing's Rob Beschizza interpreted Obama's declaration of guilt this way: "Just so you know, subordinate judging officers!" And Politico quoted legal experts explaining why Obama's remarks are so obviously inappropriate. ....

But even more fascinating is Obama's invocation of America's status as a "nation of laws" to justify why Manning must be punished. That would be a very moving homage to the sanctity of the rule of law -- if not for the fact that the person invoking it is the same one who has repeatedly engaged in the most extraordinary efforts to shield Bush officials from judicial scrutiny, investigation, and prosecution of every kind for their war crimes and surveillance felonies. Indeed, the Orwellian platitude used by Obama to justify that immunity -- Look Forward, Not Backward -- is one of the greatest expressions of presidential lawlessness since Richard Nixon told David Frost that "it's not illegal if the President does it."

But it's long been clear that this is Obama's understanding of "a nation of laws": the most powerful political and financial elites who commit the most egregious crimes are to be shielded from the consequences of their lawbreaking -- see his vote in favor of retroactive telecom immunity, his protection of Bush war criminals, and the way in which Wall Street executives were permitted to plunder with impunity -- while the most powerless figures (such as a 23-year-old Army Private and a slew of other low-level whistleblowers) who expose the corruption and criminality of those elites are to be mercilessly punished. And, of course, our nation's lowest persona non grata group -- accused Muslim Terrorists -- are simply to be encaged for life without any charges. Merciless, due-process-free punishment is for the powerless; full-scale immunity is for the powerful. "Nation of laws" indeed.

Iraqi Oil: What is hidden inside the Oil Contracts from the 1st and 2nd Bid Rounds ?  

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ZNet has a look at the Iraq oil law - Iraqi Oil: What is hidden inside the Oil Contracts from the 1st and 2nd Bid Rounds ? (via Energy Bulletin). I found the point that the international oil companies will get additional payments for *not* producing oil kind of interesting, given their long history of suppressing Iraqi oil production.

Over eleven months have passed since the signing of the oil contracts between the Federal Ministry of Oil in Baghdad and the International oil companies (IOCs) resulting from the first and second bid rounds. However, to this date none of these contracts have been publicly released or published in any foreign language. Amazingly, all the contracts are written in English and none of them have even been translated into Arabic by the oil ministry in Baghdad, for the Iraqi people or even their representatives in the Federal parliament in Baghdad to look at and to see how their future is going to be shaped.

I have now obtained access to some of the contracts. My sources have specified that I cannot publish them in full, but I can discuss several aspects of them, which I shall do here.

My analyses will not cover the consequences of these contracts for the future of the Iraqi oil and gas industries or the future relations between Iraq and OPEC and its effect on international oil prices, as I already have covered these important topics in my previous articles [Iraqi Oil: The influence of the 1st Bid Round on the Future of Iraq's National Oil and Gas industries and [Iraqi Oil: Are the 1st and 2nd Bid Rounds Part of A Wise Resource Development Strategy Or Could They Turn Out To Be Steps in the Wilderness? ]

... Conclusions

1. Articles 12 and 37 explain the reasons for the secrecy surrounding the 1st and 2nd bid round oil contracts and the lack of real transparency by the Federal Ministry in Baghdad. Not only have the contracts not been made public, but they have not even been translated into Arabic, which should make every Iraqi suspicious of the motives behind all the secrecy covering the contracts to this date.

2. Article 12 shows that the margin of profits which were agreed on officially with the IOCs' contractors does not represent the only profit that the IOCs will receive from the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, as the Ministry of Oil will compensate the contractors for the quantity of oil that they do not produce, which will in itself represent a penalty on the Iraqi people, whilst the IOC will receive additional profits for doing nothing.

3. Article 37 is a very significant article in terms of setting up the economic future of the Iraqi people and their future sovereignty. Therefore it is not wise to leave these vital decisions in the hands of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Oil or, for that matter, in the hands of a very weak government, without allowing the Iraqi people to have their say on their future by ensuring that such laws can only turn into lawful contracts if they are at least passed by an elected parliament, as required by existing Law number 97 dated 1967 which is still in force, or by a public referendum.

4. There are some analysts who believe that the US oil companies lost out from the awarded contracts, since only two of them, Exxon Mobil and Occidental have been awarded contracts. In my judgment this was not the case, as today what we call the International Oil Companies are really no longer national oil companies operating in the international market, as was the case up to the 1970s. In today's market, what we call IOCs are in fact multinational oil companies (MOC), owned by the multinational financial institutions (mostly US), with share holders from around the globe, and not by one nation's share holders. It is more likely today that the external size of operations and profits of theses companies comes from projects from all over the globe rather than from one nation, as shown by the cases of BP, Shell and most others including CNPC.

5. The contracts awarded in the 1st and 2nd bid rounds confirm that the US occupation of Iraq which started in 2003 did achieve some of its targets. In particular the occupation succeeded in ensuring that the future control of Iraqi oil stayed in the hands of the multinational oil companies and not in the hands of the Iraqi people and their legislative body.

Electric (vehicle) dreams: the charge ahead  

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The weekend SMH had a prominent (and long) article on electric vehicles - Electric dreams: the charge ahead.

A social researcher, Mark McCrindle, of McCrindle Research, says his studies have shown while most people are concerned about the environment, they are not prepared to pay more to make a difference.

A recent survey found 96 per cent of respondents believed people have played some part in climate change but only 28 per cent directly intend to cut their carbon emissions.

That's a view backed up by Evan Thornley, the chief executive officer of BetterPlace Australia, who is trying to orchestrate a network of recharging points. He believes the electric car revolution is unstoppable but not for environmental concerns.

''The fundamental reason for that is simple,'' Thornley says. ''The cost of batteries is coming down and the cost of petrol is going up. That creates a pretty fundamental inevitability of driving moving from petrol to electric.

''It is a massive business opportunity … you've got $30 billion worth of petrol being sold to customers that hate the product. They love their car, they hate their petrol.''

BetterPlace has announced plans to begin a national network of charging points in Canberra next year, followed by a targeted introduction in Sydney and Melbourne in 2013, covering the other capitals in 2014 and a highway network in 2015.

Other companies including ChargePoint Australia are also looking to create a recharging network to cater for the growing EV fleet.

In addition to a public network - set up within car parks - companies will offer EV drivers in-house recharging points. Their systems will be able to take advantage of off-peak charging and even feed power back into the grid at peak times, giving EV drivers another financial benefit.

That potential financial boost will be helpful to consumers and car companies because the federal government has shown little interest in encouraging motorists into electric cars - despite propping up the local manufacturers with millions in funding.

While it is pushing ahead with its planned carbon tax the government has dropped the Green Car Innovation Fund and the proposed ''cash-for-clunkers'' scheme.

This is in contrast to other nations, where governments are offering a variety of incentives to get motorists to ditch petrol power for electric cars. Tax credits to reduce the purchase price, allowing EV drivers to use transit lanes, special EV parking spaces and free public charging infrastructure have all been used to make EVs more appealing to new car buyers. The European Union has even floated the idea of banning all petrol and diesel cars from city centres by 2050.

A spokeswoman for Senator Kim Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, acknowledged the incentives by other countries but questioned the true environmental value of electric cars.

''Electric vehicles are often referred to as a 'zero emissions technology', the uptake of which would reduce carbon emissions,'' the spokeswoman says. ''However, potential emissions reductions in Australia need to be viewed with caution because the carbon emissions intensity of Australia's electricity production is significantly higher than the world average. Thus a subsidy for electric vehicles in Australia may have limited benefits in terms of reducing emissions.''

The Greens' deputy leader, Senator Christine Milne, wants to see the government do more to get electric cars onto roads before we fall behind the rest of the world.

''Government also has a major role to play in driving renewable energy to support the best possible electric cars and facilitate their roll-out to the broadest possible market as fast as possible,'' Milne says. ''China has set an aggressive goal for expanding its electric car market and Australia is once again at risk of falling way behind.''

Milne also criticised the government's on-going support of the local manufacturing industry at the expense of electric vehicles.

The limited amount of financial support the government has offered has been targeted at local manufacturing jobs. It has invested less than $10 million on electric vehicle projects while handing over hundreds of millions to Holden, Ford and Toyota under the Green Car Innovation Fund for petrol-powered cars.

''Investment in truly innovative car manufacturing in Australia would also see a shift towards electric cars, instead of paying companies to make slightly less inefficient six-cylinder petrol cars,'' she says.

One car company executive revealed that during a meeting with the government it indicated it was only interested in supporting an electric car if it was made locally. Such a scenario seems some way off, even though Holden admits its new production line in South Australia has been ''future-proofed'' to build electric cars.

Before it becomes viable for a manufacturer to build an electric vehicle locally there needs to be more consumer demand, and that may not come for at least another decade. That's when today's tech-savvy youth of Generations Y and Z become major players in the new car market.

While baby boomers and Gen X might hesitate to move away from traditional petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, the younger generations are hungry to embrace technology.

''Over the next decade they'll be the ones getting their licences and reaching the stage in life where they buy a new car,'' McCrindle says. ''So this is the emerging market. This is a generation of early adopters of new technology. They want the latest technology and that extends to cars.''

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