Santos expands CSG interest by buying Eastern Star Gas  

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The ABC reports on some more consolidation of he Australian coal seam gas industry - Santos expands by buying another CSG company.

Coal seam gas company Eastern Star Gas has been sold to resources firm Santos, the same company that's currently being blockaded by farmers on the NSW Liverpool Plains. Former Deputy Prime Minister and Eastern Star Gas chairman, John Anderson, was previously the Federal Member for Gwydir, which covers the Liverpool Plains region.

He says coal seam gas is essential to solving a looming energy crisis. "No one has contradicted me on this yet, but gas is actually going to be very important for agriculture, because it's the obvious extender of hydrocarbons, i.e. oil, as we run out of oil and as oil becomes incredibly expensive," he said. "We've got to find a sensible way to do this in the very interest of food security."

Mr Anderson says there needs to be a rational debate, and that mining and agriculture can co-exist. "I'm not confident as a farmer that there are no risks in some things that farmers do," he said.

About that Iraq withdrawal  

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Glenn Greenwald has a cynical look at the announcement that US troops will be out of Iraq by year end (if you don't count a division of mercenaries operated by the state department that is) - About that Iraq withdrawal.

President Obama announced today that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year, and this announcement is being seized upon exactly the way you would predict: by the Right to argue that Obama is a weak, appeasing Chamberlain and by Democrats to hail his greatness for keeping his promise and (yet again) Ending the War. It’s obviously a good thing that these troops are leaving Iraq, but let’s note three clear facts before either of these absurd narratives ossify:

First, the troop withdrawal is required by an agreement which George W. Bush negotiated and entered into with Iraq and which was ratified by the Iraqi Parliament prior to Obama’s inauguration. Let’s listen to the White House itself today: “’This deal was cut by the Bush administration, the agreement was always that at end of the year we would leave. . . .’ an administration official said.” As I said, it’s a good thing that this agreement is being adhered to, and one can reasonably argue that Obama’s campaign advocacy for the war’s end influenced the making of that agreement, but the Year End 2011 withdrawal date was agreed to by the Bush administration and codified by them in a binding agreement.

Second, the Obama administration has been working for months to persuade, pressure and cajole Iraq to allow U.S. troops to remain in that country beyond the deadline. The reason they’re being withdrawn isn’t because Obama insisted on this, but because he tried — but failed — to get out of this obligation. Again, listen to the White House itself:
The Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Iraq expires at the end of the year. Officials had been discussing the possibility of maintaining several thousand U.S. troops to train Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqis wanted troops to stay but would not give them immunity, a key demand of the administration. . . .

“The Iraqis wanted additional troops to stay,” an administration official said. “We said here are the conditions, including immunities. But the Iraqis because of a variety of reasons wanted the troops and didn’t want to give immunity.”

The Obama administration — as it’s telling you itself — was willing to keep troops in Iraq after the 2011 deadline (indeed, they weren’t just willing, but eager). The only reason they aren’t is because the Iraqi Government refused to agree that U.S. soldiers would be immunized if they commit serious crimes, such as gunning down Iraqis without cause . As we know, the U.S. is not and must never be subject to the rule of law when operating on foreign soil (and its government and owners must never be subject to the rule of law in any context). So Obama was willing (even desirous) to keep troops there, but the Iraqis refused to meet his demands (more on that fact from Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin).

Third, there will still be a very substantial presence in that country, including what McClatchy called a “small army” under the control of the State Department. They will remain indefinitely, and that includes a large number of private contractors.

None of this is to say that this is bad news (it isn’t: it’s good news), nor is it to say that Obama deserves criticism for adhering to the withdrawal plan (he doesn’t). It would just be nice if these central facts — painfully at odds with the two self-serving narratives that started being churned out before the President even spoke — were acknowledged.

I believe the country has not even gotten close to coming to terms with the magnitude of the national crime that was the attack on Iraq (I think that’s why we’re so eager to find pride and purpose in the ocean of Bad Guy corpses our military generates: tellingly, the only type of event that generates collective national celebrations these days). Needless to say, none of the responsible leaders for that attack have been punished; many continue to serve right this very minute in key positions (such as Vice President and Secretary of State); and (other than scapegoated Judy Miller) none of the media stars and think-tank “scholars” who cheered it on and enabled it have suffered an iota of stigma or loss of credibility. The aggressive war waged on Iraq began by virtue of a huge cloud of deceit and propaganda; perhaps it could end without that.

Enhanced Geothermal Systems in Google Earth  

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Google Earth has announced an improved data set for geothermal energy in the US, also pointing to this article in Forbes - Enhanced Geothermal Systems in Google Earth.

Back in 2008, Frank wrote about how Google.org was using Google Earth to visualize Geothermal Data in the United States.

Google has continued to increase the amount of data behind the map, making it a more and more powerful tool as times goes on. ...

To see this data for yourself in Google Earth, simply load this KMZ file (which was last updated just a few days ago). Also worth your time is this short article in Forbes that talks a bit more about how EGS could benefit all of us.

Danny Macaskills's Ride  

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DANNY MACASKILL'S RIDE.

Every time I see another video of Scottish trials phenom Danny MacAskill pogoing his bike off two-story buildings, I marvel not only at his skills but also at his bike. I mean, what kind of bike can stand up to that sort of abuse without quickly being reduced to a pile of bent rims, broken hubs, and cracked metal?

UK bike manufacturer Inspired Bicycles, which has sponsored MacAskill since 2007, answered that question last week with the public release of the Skye, the 24-inch-wheeled bike that the 25-year-old rode in both his Way Back Home and Industrial Revolutions videos. Named after the small island in Scotland from which MacAskill hales, the Skye is a burly aluminum frame that features a one-piece bottom bracket and chainstay yoke and through axles both front (20mm) and rear (12mm). It comes equipped with MacAskill's component picks, including custom Hope Pro 2 Evo and Pro 2 Trials hubs, a Hope stem, and Atomlab rims. It tips the scales at 26.3 pounds, which might seem hefty but I suppose that's partly what makes it so durable.

A Better World ?  

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How solar can save Gulf oil exports  

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Some peak oil observers view the "export land model" as a harbinger of doom, but it appears that some oil exporters would rather have income than consume all their oil internally. Giles Parkinson has a look at the adoption of renewable energy in the gulf states - How solar can save Gulf oil exports.

Something rather unexpected is happening in the Middle East. The oil-rich Gulf states, which have earned trillions of dollars in the past few decades exporting crude to the east and west, find they can no longer afford to consume their own oil. They are consuming ever increasing amounts at home, at a huge cost to exports, and are being forced to turn to renewables as a cheaper source of energy.

The Gulf state of Kuwait, the fifth biggest producer in OPEC, has announced it aims to supply 10 per cent of its electricity supply with renewables by 2020 – double what it contemplated less than a year ago. It may not seem a high percentage, but considering that the entirety of its renewable energy generation consists of a single 50kW turbine operated by an environmentally-minded former army engineer, and its energy demands will more than double over the period, this would be quite a feat.

It is a decision driven by necessity. Kuwait's domestic energy consumption has already more than doubled in the past 10 years – compared to a mere 14 per cent growth in production over the same period. It now consumes nearly one fifth of its production and, with consumption predicted to continue at 10 per cent a year, it could be consuming nearly half its production by the end of the decade. The increased domestic consumption has already cut its export income by around $4 billion a year, and that could rise to $20 billion by the end of the decade – at current prices – unless action is taken.

Kuwait is not the only OPEC nation in the Gulf region thinking along these lines: The figures on consumption growth and production growth are nearly the same for Saudi Arabia, which is estimated to be losing more than $7 billion a year in lost export income due to increased domestic consumption. It has announced its intention to spend big on both solar and nuclear for the same reason, to protect its export income, and has set a 10 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, or around 20 gigawatts of installed capacity.

Abu Dhabi has set a 7 per cent target and hosts the low-carbon, experimental Masdar City, and has implemented plans for a series of utility scale solar projects; Qatar has said it could construct up to 5GW of solar by the end of the decade, while Oman has established a tender for a 250MW solar plant, and Dubai is about to do the same.

The Gulf is shaping up to become one of the biggest growth areas for solar in the coming decade, driven not so much by its concern about climate change, by a fundamental economic rationale that the states will no longer be able to afford to subsidise oil-based consumption and will want to use cheaper renewables to free up more oil production for export. Gas is also proving hard to come by and more energy is needed to desalinate water and meet soaring peak demand. Nuclear is another option, considered by Saudi Arabia in particular.

Trouble in the algae lab for Craig Venter and Exxon  

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Steve LeVine has an article on Exxon and Craig Venter's efforts to commercialise biofuel production from algae - Trouble in the algae lab for Craig Venter and Exxon.

A much-trumpeted partnership of one of today's most celebrated scientists and the world's largest publicly traded oil company seems stalled in its aim of creating mass-market biofuel from algae, and may require a new agreement to go forward. The disappointment experienced thus far by scientist J. Craig Venter and ExxonMobil is notable not only because of their stature, but that many experts think that, at least in the medium term, algae is the sole realistically commercial source of biofuel that can significantly reduce U.S. and global oil demand.

Venter, the first mapper of the human genome and creator of the first synthetic cell, said his scientific team and ExxonMobil have failed to find naturally occurring algae strains that can be converted into a commercial-scale biofuel. ExxonMobil and Venter's San Diego-based Synthetic Genomics Inc., or SGI, continue to attempt to manipulate natural algae, but he said he already sees the answer elsewhere -- in the creation of a man-made strain. "I believe that a fully synthetic cell approach will be the best way to get to a truly disruptive change," Venter told me in an email exchange.

Venter made his remarks before a conference this week on the future of energy at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., and in subsequent emailed replies to questions.

A drive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels -- because of vulnerability to the volatile Middle East, concern about global warming, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on oil imports -- lies behind such efforts to create a scaled-up biofuel. Since up to half of algae is already oil in its natural state, many experts say it is a superior alternative to biofuels created from agricultural products such as corn, palm and switchgrass, which contain much smaller percentages of oil.

When announced in July 2009, the Venter-ExxonMobil alliance of colossals attracted wide publicity. It called for ExxonMobil to spend up to $600 million if publicly undisclosed milestones were reached in the lab. The Wall Street Journal said the partnership might signal "a coming of age" for algae biofuel. Greenbang fretted that the alliance might actually prove "unholy," but not Gigaom, which said it could be "algae's big break."

The terms of the alliance omit the fully synthetic approach that Venter is now advocating, so he is conducting "an ongoing dialog" with Exxon about a new agreement, he said. He appeared to suggest that such a new compact would require more Exxon investment.

ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers suggested that the company has a different assessment of the alliance's state of play. "The ExxonMobil-SGI algae project is ongoing and has reached no such conclusions as characterized in your note," Jeffers told me in an email. (I had asked whether it is true that the alliance had failed to find a suitable strain of natural algae, and that Venter was seeking to shift to a new stage of research.).

What we may be witnessing is simple friction between the well-known conservative ways of Exxon and the free-wheeling, iconoclastic Venter. In this case, Venter from the outset may have wanted to move directly to the test-tube and create his own algae, while Exxon -- holding the purse-strings -- advocated a less-expensive, step-by-step approach starting with existing strains. There is no sign of anything approaching a rupture. But if the alliance does eventually fail, it would be a serious blow for Venter, who has said that to succeed he needs access to the deep pockets of a Big Oil company, and to a significant but lesser degree for ExxonMobil, which has widely promoted the partnership as evidence that it is a forward-looking company

Surfing China's tidal bore the "Silver Dragon"  

Posted by Big Gav

I always like these videos of people surfing tidal bores...

The Strandbeest - Wind Powered Kinetic Art  

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Paul Hawken Visiting Australia  

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I’m a bit late mentioning this (as half the dates have already passed by) but Paul Hawken is in the country and has been doing a few speaking engagements - Paul Hawken.

10.18.11 Perth, Australia City of Canning Community Lecture

10.19.11 Adelaide, AU Ridley Center 6th Annual Australian Wine Industry Environment Conference, Speech

10.20.11 Adelaide, AU Palace Cinema Thinkers in Residence, Zero Waste Public Lecture

10.21.11 Melbourne, Australia Melbourne Town Hall City of Melbourne Public Lecture

10.21.11 Mornington, Australia Mornington Peninsula Theater Public Lecture

10.22.11 Melbourne, Australia Wheeler Centre Australian Conservation Foundation Public Lecture

10.23.11 Melbourne, Australia University of Melbourne, Buzzard Theater ACF's The Climate Project Weekend Forum, Keynote

10.24.11 Melbourne, Australia Marriott Hotel Australian Conservation Foundation Business Lunch

10.25.11 Victoria, Australia St. Kilda Town Hall Thriving Neighborhoods Conference, Keynote

10.26.11 Mackay, Australia Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre Minerals Council of Australia SD 2011 Sustainable Development Conference, Keynote

10.27.11 Melbourne, Australia GHD Masterclass

10.28.11 Bendigo, Australia Bendigo Town Hall Bendigo Sustainability Group Business Lunch

10.28.11 Bendigo, Australia Bendigo Town Hall Bendigo Sustainability Group Awards Dinner

10.31.11 Sydney, Australia KPMG Masterclass

10.31.11 Sydney, Australia KPMG Public Lecture

11.1.11 Brisbane, Australia Queensland University of Technology Public Lecture

11.2.11 Brisbane, Australia Bond University Public Lecture

Harnessing The Power Of The Thames  

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ReCharge News has an article on efforts to harness tidal power (and/or river current power) from the River Thames - CoRMaT moves a step closer to taking the plunge in the Thames.

Nautricity’s 3kW Contra Rotating Marine Turbine (CoRMaT) may be small but the company has big plans for the concept. In the grandest version of its vision, hundreds of differently sized models of the turbine — rated up to 500kW — would be sited in clusters along the river from Westminster, in Central London, to Margate, where the Thames Estuary meets the North Sea, as part of a 50MW development.

The project is being developed by the Glasgow-based company with financier Energy Invest under the Thames Tidal banner. The goal is to prove the viability of a “free-floating" turbine in the currents of the longest river in England, and a gigabyte of data has been collected in the first phase.

“This first stage of this project aims to glean an understanding of how a device of this nature — which is unique insofar as it does not have a rigid supporting system holding it to the seabed — would perform in the river environment," says Nautricity chief executive Cameron Johnstone.
The turbine, unlike the majority of its seabed-mounted brethren, is designed to be anchored in place by a single-point mooring line, steering nose-first into the current, guided by its two contra-rotating rotors.

“The Thames is an ideal testing ground because of the intense river use and the wakes and washes generated by vessels that use it, which create a range of cross-dynamics. Early indications from our data are that cross-waves have very little impact on the device’s performance," says Johnstone.

The CoRMaT evolved from a decision by its designer to buck the trend among first-generation tidal turbines to “marinise wind turbines", building broad-bladed machines mounted on heavyweight foundations.

“We wanted to start with a clean sheet in devising a hydrokinetic device purely for a tidal stream,’’ says Johnstone. ‘‘At the same time, we wanted to keep costs down and found that one of the biggest is accounted for by the structural support system, which can be 40% of the total."

Both objectives were met by the contra-rotating rotors concept. The rotors — one of which has three blades, the other four — turn in opposite directions, using the “natural physics" of the flow to balance the turbine in the tidal stream by having the reactive forces of the first rotor countered by the reactive forces in the second. The different numbers of blades on the two rotors prevents one from eclipsing the other in operation, ensuring there is never a “lull" during power delivery, and smoothing output.

Renewable Energy Focus has a look at efforts to quantify the tidal power potential of the UK - ETI models the UK’s tidal energy resources.
The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) will model the UK's tidal energy resources to improve understanding of the possible interactions between tidal energy extraction systems as they are deployed between now and 2050. ...

The tidal resource project aims to develop models of the whole UK continental shelf that will be used to investigate how energy extraction at one site may affect the energy available elsewhere.
A wide range of possible future tidal stream and tidal range sites, with differing technology possibilities will be represented in the models.

The project will identify how the interactions between different sites around the UK combine to form an overall effect, and what constraints these interactions could place on the design, development and location of future systems.

The models will be made available through a service provided by HR Wallingford to the wider marine industry to help inform future plans and strategies for tidal power.

The John O’Groats Journal has an update on interest in tidal power in northern Scotland - Pentland Firth energy pledge hailed as 'good news’
HOPES have been raised for the future development of marine energy in the Pentland Firth following a multi-million-pound Scottish Government pledge – but questions remain over how exactly it will work.

First Minister Alex Salmond announced on Monday an £18 million commitment to help develop the country’s first commercial wave and tidal power arrays in the firth, Orkney and other Scottish waters.

The money is to be used to take developers from single-test machines to the stage where they have multiple machines in the water.

Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership programme manager Eann Sinclair welcomed the news but warned details are sketchy at best. “Any money that goes into the wave and tidal industry at the moment is good news and the fact that the overwhelming focus for the whole of Scotland – if not the whole of the UK – is the Pentland Firth means that we should all be welcoming it," he said.

Unravelling the Greek basket case  

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While I don't normally quote ideologoues from conservative thinktanks, this bit of history highlighted in The Business Spectator caught my eye - it seems the Greeks quite enjoy milking a monetary union - Unravelling the Greek basket case.

You may agree or disagree with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s deterministic world view, but it is hard to argue with the philosopher’s grim assessment of governments’ ability to learn: “What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.”

Since these words were written 180 years ago Europe’s dealings with Greece have proved Hegel right time and again. Greece is not a country with temporary economic, fiscal and monetary problems. It is a permanent basket case. Despite this, Europe has never found a way to deal with it.

Since Greece gained independence from Turkey after its war of independence (1821-29), the country has been plagued by recurrent budget crises, frequent state defaults and long periods of being cut off from international capital markets. There was no shortage of attempts to put Greece on a more stable trajectory by integrating it into international monetary arrangements. And yet they all failed eventually.

The first attempt to give modern Greece a convertible silver currency was in 1828. It was suspended only four years later when the budget deficit was so high that the government resorted to printing paper money to pay for the ongoing conflict with Turkey. A return to the silver standard began a few years later but the Greek government continued to borrow heavily from the central bank for its expenditure – hardly a sustainable fiscal arrangement.

After more tumultuous years with yet another departure from silver to paper and back, Greece in 1867 sought refuge in the Latin Monetary Union, one of the forerunners of today’s euro currency.

Effectively, LMU was a gold and silver-backed monetary union with the French franc at the centre, and Greece hoped to benefit from the monetary stability it offered. Being part of a big monetary union with many other European nations also gave it access to deeper capital markets.

From a Greek point of view, it was perfectly understandable why they were so keen to join the club. The only question is why the other members of LMU admitted Greece despite its poor economic structures.

Not even observers closer to the historic events could see the point of Greek membership. In his ‘History of the Latin Monetary Union’ report, University of Chicago economist Henry Parker Willis summed it up nicely, and it is worth quoting at length:

“It is hard to see why the admission of Greece to the Latin Union should have been desired or allowed by that body. In no sense was she a desirable member of the league. Economically unsound, convulsed by political struggles, and financially rotten, her condition was pitiable. Struggling with a burden of debt, Greece was also endeavouring to maintain in circulation a large amount of inconvertible paper. She was not territorially a desirable adjunct to the Latin Union, and her commercial and financial importance was small. Nevertheless her nominal admission was secured, and we may credit the obscure political influences … with being able to effect what economic and financial considerations could not. Certainly it would be hard to understand on what other grounds her membership was attained.”

Replace ‘Latin Union’ with ‘European Monetary Union’ and the paragraph quoted above could have been published today. In fact, it was published in 1901. Already back then, Willis came to the conclusion that monetary union in Europe did not work, which again sounds like a prophecy of things to come:

“The Latin Union as an experiment in international monetary action has proved a failure. Its history serves merely to throw some light upon the difficulties which are likely to be encountered in any international attempt to regulate monetary systems in common. From whatever point of view the Latin Union is studied, it will be seen that it has resulted only in loss to the countries involved.”

One of LMU’s problems was Greece. The country had introduced paper money that was only valid domestically and it also reduced the gold and silver content of its coins in violation of international agreements. No wonder that other LMU members became increasingly frustrated by Greece’s refusal to play by the rules.

The Swiss ambassador to Paris allegedly once complained that monetary union with Greece was an ‘unhappy marriage’ from which there was no easy escape. Eventually, however, the other LMU countries lost patience and ordered Greek coins retired in 1908. Effectively, they kicked Greece out of the union because they were fed up with it.

Greece then had to readjust its monetary policy and managed to return to LMU in 1910 under a gold standard, but by then the LMU was already fragile. Four years later, the union was effectively abandoned at the start of World War I and formally dissolved in 1927.

After LMU, Greece’s monetary history remained a roller-coaster. The drachma devalued and became pegged to the sterling in 1928. It devalued again before being pegged to the US dollar in 1953. In 1975 it was floated and devalued immediately, followed by big devaluations in 1983 and 1985. Only in preparation for the euro did the Bank of Greece eventually announce a ‘hard drachma’ policy in 1995, but its entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism required yet another devaluation.

A cheaper path to 100% renewables  

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The Climate Spectator has an article from UNSW’s Mark Diesendorf looking at an alternative to the Zero Carbon Australia plan to switch Australia to 100% renewable energy - A cheaper path to 100% renewables.

Australia has enormous renewable energy resources in the form of sunshine, wind, biomass (organic) residues, hot rocks and waves. But is a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy technologically and economically feasible here?

Last year, a ground-breaking study, "Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan," claimed that 100 per cent renewable energy is technically possible and would cost about $370 billion.

The core of the ZCA study was an hour-by-hour computer simulation, by Jack Actuarial Consulting, of Australian electricity demand in 2008 and 2009, supplied mostly by concentrated solar thermal power (CST) with thermal storage, and by wind power.

As is inevitable in a first-of-a-kind study of a revolutionary new energy system, some simplifying assumptions were made:

– Western Australia was connected ... to the eastern states with new transmission lines;
– Second-generation CST power stations … were chosen as the principal energy source. These solar stations were given thermal storage equivalent to 17 hours of full power output and so can, in theory, run through the night;
– A daily average was taken for solar energy inputs, although hourly data are much more accurate;
– To compensate for the reduction in sunshine in winter, a vast excess of CST generating capacity was introduced;
– Also for winter, biomass residues were shipped out to the solar power stations to be burned under the thermal storages when necessary.

At the University of New South Wales, PhD candidate Ben Elliston, Associate Professor Iain MacGill and I initiated an independent research project based around some different assumptions, to remove the above assumptions of the ZCA study.

We performed a series of hour-by-hour computer simulations of the 2010 electricity demand in the five Australian states covered by the National Electricity Market. We chose a broader energy mix than ZCA: first-generation CST with thermal storage, wind, solar PV, gas turbines and existing hydro – all commercially available technologies. Gas turbines, which are like jet engines, are highly flexible generating plants ideally suited to supporting fluctuating renewable generation. Some are already being deployed in Australia. They could initially be fuelled on natural gas, however this could be replaced with liquid biofuels produced sustainably from the residues of existing crops.

We found that it is, indeed, technically feasible to supply current electricity demand by 100 per cent renewable energy with the same reliability as the existing fossil fuelled system.
The key challenge is meeting demand on winter evenings. At sunset on overcast days, the thermal energy storages are not full and sometimes wind speeds are low. In our initial simulations, to be presented in a peer-reviewed paper at the forthcoming Australian Solar Energy Society’s annual conference, we used biofuelled gas turbines to fill the gap. This is likely to be lower cost than ZCA’s solution of choosing a vast excess of CST power stations, which would not be used in summer.

However, the UNSW study proposes an even cheaper solution than lots of gas turbines or CST: namely a revitalised energy efficiency program to reduce electricity demand on winter evenings. Furthermore, in a ‘smart’ electricity system it will be easier to reduce demand quickly during periods of low supply.

Both the ZCA and UNSW studies refute the claims by renewable energy sceptics that renewable energy cannot replace baseload (24-hour) coal-fired power. ZCA interprets its results by concluding that CST with thermal storage is baseload.

We interpret the simulation results differently, concluding that although CST can perform in a similar manner to baseload in summer, it does not in winter. However, we maintain that it doesn’t matter. The important result is that our renewable energy mix gives the same reliability of the whole generating system in meeting demand as the existing polluting system.

Although the UNSW study has not yet performed an economic analysis, our scenarios have the potential economic advantage over ZCA’s that they don’t require transmission links between WA and the eastern states and they have a smaller percentage contribution from CST, currently the most expensive component of the energy mix.

It should be emphasised that neither the modelling of ZCA nor UNSW establishes a timescale for the transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity. However, the ZCA study claims that the transition could be made in a decade. That claim is an assumption based on the observations that Australia could supply the raw materials for manufacturing the systems and that solar and wind technologies are suitable for rapid manufacture.

Peak Oil for Economists  

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Stuart at Early Warning points to a recent paper from James Hamilton (PDF) on peak oil - Peak Oil for Economists.

A few quick thoughts on Jim Hamilton's new magnum opus. The paper is essentially a summation of Jim's current thinking on the evidence that peak oil is near enough to care about and that it's likely to be quite economically disruptive. It is thoroughly researched, superbly argued, and very clearly written, as one would expect from this author. I hope and expect that it will be quite influential in getting economists to take the whole subject more seriously.

In terms of the content, long-time readers of mine will probably find a limited amount they didn't already know and little to disagree with. Six years ago, when I first began exploring and blogging about peak oil, Jim and I had some spirited debates on his blog as well as at The Oil Drum (see here for a flavor). However, I like to think that we are both empirical and pragmatic and six years of additional data have been enough to cause our views to increasingly converge.

The one thing that I think is sad (though perhaps understandable) is that one will search the references in vain for names like Hubbert, Campbell, Laherrere, Hirsch, Hall, etc. The argument is couched completely without reference to the line of thinkers about peak oil that stretches back over the last fifty years. Given the enormous walls of incredibility that prevent diffusion of thought between academic disciplines, that is arguably necessary to make a persuasive case to macroeconomists. However, from the standpoint of giving intellectual credit where it is due, it's unfortunate that it's not possible to recognize that a number of thinkers had earlier come to quite similar conclusions using their own methods (even where one might disagree with aspects of those methods - disagreements one is free to note).

Leaderless, consensus-based participatory democracy and its discontents  

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By and large I don't see the Occupy Wall Street crowd are likely to have much success (not unless the US economy really collapses anyway) but its intersting to see how activism is evolving - and they may manage to avoid get co-opted for longer than the tea party crowd did. The Economist has some thoughts on what is going on - Leaderless, consensus-based participatory democracy and its discontents.

OCCUPY WALL STREET is not only a mass protest movement intended to draw attention to economic injustice and political corruption. It seeks to embody and thereby to demonstrate the feasibility of certain ideals of participatory democracy. This is, to my mind, what makes OWS so interesting, and so unlike a tea-party protest.

OWS is not simply a group of like-minded people gathered together to make a point with a show of collective force, though it is that. The difference is that it has developed into an ongoing micro-society with a micro-government that directly exemplifies a principled alternative to the prevailing American order. The complaint that OWS has failed to produce a coherent list of demands seems to me to miss much of the point of the encampment in Zuccotti Park. The demand is a society more like the little one OWS protestors have mocked up in the park. The mode of governance is the message.

... It is hard to deny the romance of this, and part of me would like to camp out in Zuccotti Park and pitch in. But I wouldn't expect it to last. Not only is it hard to see how this worthwhile little experiment in leaderless, consensus-based decision-making is a realistic means to the end of a whole society governed by leaderless, consensus-based decision-making, it's hard see why this is a desirable end.

Because the participatory democracy of OWS is an ideological endeavour, it can avoid the hard problem of liberal society: the ineradicable diversity of moral belief and the impossibility of consensus. Consensus-based communes composed of individuals who opt in specifically because they already agree with the commune's founding values can work precisely because the people who would make consensus impossible—people with very different opinions and values—stay away. But not only does the OWS experiment skirt the problem of pluralism through self-selection, the ideological homogeneity of self-selection may make deliberation tend toward extremism



Matt Taibii at Rolling Stone has some advice for the protestors - My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters.
I've been down to "Occupy Wall Street" twice now, and I love it. The protests building at Liberty Square and spreading over Lower Manhattan are a great thing, the logical answer to the Tea Party and a long-overdue middle finger to the financial elite. The protesters picked the right target and, through their refusal to disband after just one day, the right tactic, showing the public at large that the movement against Wall Street has stamina, resolve and growing popular appeal.

But... there's a but. And for me this is a deeply personal thing, because this issue of how to combat Wall Street corruption has consumed my life for years now, and it's hard for me not to see where Occupy Wall Street could be better and more dangerous. I'm guessing, for instance, that the banks were secretly thrilled in the early going of the protests, sure they'd won round one of the messaging war.

Why? Because after a decade of unparalleled thievery and corruption, with tens of millions entering the ranks of the hungry thanks to artificially inflated commodity prices, and millions more displaced from their homes by corruption in the mortgage markets, the headline from the first week of protests against the financial-services sector was an old cop macing a quartet of college girls.

That, to me, speaks volumes about the primary challenge of opposing the 50-headed hydra of Wall Street corruption, which is that it's extremely difficult to explain the crimes of the modern financial elite in a simple visual. The essence of this particular sort of oligarchic power is its complexity and day-to-day invisibility: Its worst crimes, from bribery and insider trading and market manipulation, to backroom dominance of government and the usurping of the regulatory structure from within, simply can't be seen by the public or put on TV. There just isn't going to be an iconic "Running Girl" photo with Goldman Sachs, Citigroup or Bank of America – just 62 million Americans with zero or negative net worth, scratching their heads and wondering where the hell all their money went and why their votes seem to count less and less each and every year.

No matter what, I'll be supporting Occupy Wall Street. And I think the movement's basic strategy – to build numbers and stay in the fight, rather than tying itself to any particular set of principles – makes a lot of sense early on. But the time is rapidly approaching when the movement is going to have to offer concrete solutions to the problems posed by Wall Street. To do that, it will need a short but powerful list of demands. There are thousands one could make, but I'd suggest focusing on five:

1. Break up the monopolies. The so-called "Too Big to Fail" financial companies – now sometimes called by the more accurate term "Systemically Dangerous Institutions" – are a direct threat to national security. They are above the law and above market consequence, making them more dangerous and unaccountable than a thousand mafias combined. There are about 20 such firms in America, and they need to be dismantled; a good start would be to repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and mandate the separation of insurance companies, investment banks and commercial banks.

2. Pay for your own bailouts. A tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about. It would also deter the endless chase for instant profits through computerized insider-trading schemes like High Frequency Trading, and force Wall Street to go back to the job it's supposed to be doing, i.e., making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow.

3. No public money for private lobbying. A company that receives a public bailout should not be allowed to use the taxpayer's own money to lobby against him. You can either suck on the public teat or influence the next presidential race, but you can't do both. Butt out for once and let the people choose the next president and Congress.

4. Tax hedge-fund gamblers. For starters, we need an immediate repeal of the preposterous and indefensible carried-interest tax break, which allows hedge-fund titans like Stevie Cohen and John Paulson to pay taxes of only 15 percent on their billions in gambling income, while ordinary Americans pay twice that for teaching kids and putting out fires. I defy any politician to stand up and defend that loophole during an election year.

5. Change the way bankers get paid. We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later. It should be: You make a deal today, you get company stock you can redeem two or three years from now. That forces everyone to be invested in his own company's long-term health – no more Joe Cassanos pocketing multimillion-dollar bonuses for destroying the AIGs of the world.

Crikey's Guy Rundle has a look at the London equivalent - Occupy’s big no was a big yes to something else.
Down on the steps of St Paul’s, they’re preparing for a third night of the occupation. The tents are up, the perimeter secured, the food bank and free library established. The canon of St Paul’s has given the movement his blessing. There was a violent gang hanging around, but he persuaded them to leave, and they took their horses and batons with them. In New York’s Zuccotti Park it continues. In Italy more than 150,000 turned out. In Madrid, in Canada, in dozens of other cities around the globe, they are occupying, and hunkering down where they can.

After the longish lead to the Wall Street occupation, the process of expansion was instantaneous, travelling at the speed of the global social network, currently branded and enclosed under various names — Facebook, Twitter, etc — mimicking a process that occurred over months and years during the period of the global anti-capitalist movement around the turn of the millennium. Indeed the process has speeded up within the “Occupy” movement.

OWS took a week or so to morph from a continuous process into an occupation, replete with infrastructure; at OccupyLSX (the London stock exchange), it has happened in three days. The movement, which began with relatively small cores of activists, has built to larger numbers. In places such as Italy, also engaged in specific national crises, it joins to existing local movements. Movements of resistance will, and should, take on the form of what is oppressing them — after all, the oppressors must be doing something right — and turn it around, whether that repression be military, industrial or whatever.

Thus in this era, the occupy movement has taken on that ultimate reality of our time — the franchise, the brand, the chain, in order to extend and energise itself across vastly different situations. The whole point of a franchise is to crush locality, down to zero; that of the occupy movement is to fuse with it, and create something universal and local.

That has, as they say, its costs and benefits. The global anti-capitalist movement was criticised for being a catch-all for various causes, but in terms of explicit program and credo, it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses compared to “Occupy”. In the late ’90s, when the neoliberal order had been consolidated via the WTO and GATT, the abolition of Glass-Steagall in the US, and the like, the demands were clear — a global trade order that did not blackmail societies into surrendering all local autonomy to larger groups, a development ideal based on a genuinely sustainable plan, and a set of social rights and protections established within those.

The obvious contradictions could be contained within that. The adversary defined the movement, not merely because it was so clear, but because it was so exultant in its triumph. Those who criticised the movement for its purely oppositional nature misunderstood. The big “no” was an enormous “yes” to something else.

Now, as the protests and meetings spring up at the end of a wire, or around each hot spot, the thing they’re opposing is not characterised by certainty but by quivering doubt. There has been no recovery, either under the tepid pump priming of the US, or the bracing semi-austerity of Britain. No major economy is willing to try either a full Keynesian reboot, or a genuine austerity package, and the only country that has done so — Greece — has become a cautionary tale, contracting to a point where the choices appear to be either paralysis or upheaval. The banks are awash with money coming in the bank, and refuse to lend it out, the degree zero of socialising losses and privatising profits. The result in Britain is an inflation rate that is officially 5%, but is 10% on staples, and the latest scheme to restart growth — credit easing — will simply entrench stasis and more inflation.

The EU-eurozone cannot float a stabilisation fund of any power, because 17 nations must agree to it, and their publics don’t. Meanwhile at the global level, it has finally been admitted that world trade integration, a la the Doha Round, is dead and has been for some time. Margaret Thatcher made famous the notion of TINA — There is No Alternative, to her plan, to which the first reply was simply refutation. Now the state of affairs is TINP — There Is No Plan. With the eurozone lurching towards a Greek default, the world is bracing for a fresh “correction”.

Because the movements that might have suggested a positive alternative — Marxism, radical social democracy — with a concrete program, are long since dead in any mass form, the “Occupy” movement has thus faced the dilemma, very early on, of having nothing to rally people around. What has bounced around the world is a program, of 5-15 points, of the most extreme generality. Here’s excerpts from the London one:

1. The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.
2. We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, s-xualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.
3. We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis …
7. We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.
8. We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression.

To point out this generality is not a criticism of the participants, and there are often specific demands attached to specific local campaigns. There is nothing else that could occur at this stage. But in normal circumstances, such a program would leave it open to the most withering criticisms of the Right, and the Liberal centre. Yet by far the most interesting part of this whole process is the degree to which that hasn’t occurred. There’s plenty of wilful incomprehension if you want to find it — from the (quite funny) baiting of Mark Steyn on National Review to the New Republic’s tremulous response that what is required is not an anti-capitalist movement, but the mild Frank-Dodd banking regulations bill.

But you’ll also find a lot more circumspect commentary from the mainstream too, many going out of their way to concede the basic justice of the “Occupy” movement’s arguments about inequality, failed strategies, etc, etc.

Why is that? It’s not out of any regard for the individual participants, among whom the TV networks can always find the most dreadlocked and Texta-graffitied members, with an, erm, unfocused verbal style. It is simply because there is now very little to say back to them.

Many on the Right have spent so much time and energy denigrating banks — the Tea Party in particular — and corporations, in the name of a fantasy virtuous capitalism, that there is nothing to say back to those who also refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis. The corporate world now has no confidence that the political Right will impose state spending cuts; more importantly, there is no great confidence that this would actually have a desired effect, of lowering wages without crippling demand.

In the US, the fantasy nature of the politics has had the inevitable effect. Love objects of the Right last no more than a fortnight, Palin falling to Bachmann, to Perry, and now to Herman Cain, with his 9-9-9 back-of-the-envelope tax plan. Furthermore, despite the “get a job” rhetoric, the Right realise that there is an increasing degree of worker and public support for such movements — from the canon of St Paul’s, to the New York transport workers who let attendees ride free. The “Occupy” movement is many things, but in the first instance, it is a challenge to Right-wing populism, since it echoes many of their anti-corporate, anti-systemic themes, but is not tied down with the masochistic Randian worship of “success” that the Tea Party tries to impose on its followers.

That challenge may become a crisis, should a new and sudden global economic reversal occur. For then the simple message of the “Occupy” movement will become compelling, in a way that Right populism no longer is. Should that occur, the movement’s separate occupations will serve as nuclei for something that may grow as fast as the movement itself spread across the world.

Without that system crisis, it may collapse or die down, or change form. But should conditions prove right, that lack of specificity will prove the movement’s supreme virtue and advantage.

Dan Denning at The Daily Reckoning wonders if history might repeat itself at some point and the OWS folk will achieve the opposite of what they are intending - Man Vs Universe.
--The fact that the universe, like the economy, is a changing, dynamic, evolving thing is bound to deeply unsettle some people. Some people prefer eternal truths, unchangeable laws, and the certainty of a highly regulated order in life. These people are usually scared of the future, highly controlling, and naturally gravitate toward politics. Their natural instinct will be to fight back...against the universe.

--So get ready for the war to preserve the cosmos...or the war to preserve the old order. In one camp IS the old order, the oligarchs and plutocrats of Europe and America who want the next 100 years to be like the last 100 years. And on the other side is...everyone else.

--The situation is evolving and unstable. Only psychopaths and criminals like a revolution. They will be agitating for one. But our guess is that the Occupy Wall Street movement will be pushed, from the margin, into an act of violence that terrifies what's left of the middle class. They will crave for order and demand that someone bring it to them.

--By the way, has anyone seen David Petraeus lately?

Cryptogon points to another area where US banks are making themselves no friends - Banks Demolishing and Trying to Give Wrecked, Looted Homes Away.
Cleveland — The sight of excavators tearing down vacant buildings has become common in this foreclosure-ravaged city, where the housing crisis hit early and hard. But the story behind the recent wave of demolitions is novel — and cities around the country are taking notice.

A handful of the nation’s largest banks have begun giving away scores of properties that are abandoned or otherwise at risk of languishing indefinitely and further dragging down already depressed neighborhoods.

The banks have even been footing the bill for the demolitions — as much as $7,500 a pop. Four years into the housing crisis, the ongoing expense of upkeep and taxes, along with costly code violations and the price of marketing the properties, has saddled banks with a heavy burden. It often has become cheaper to knock down decaying homes no one wants.

The demolitions in some cases have paved the way for community gardens, church additions and parking lots. Even when the result is an empty lot, it can be one less pockmark. While some widespread demolitions could risk hollowing out the urban core of struggling cities such as Cleveland, advocates say that the homes being targeted are already unsalvageable and that the bulldozers are merely “burying the dead.”

90 MW Addition to Iceland's Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant  

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Renewable Energy World has an article on an expansion to a geothermal power plant in Iceland - 90 MW Addition to Iceland's Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant.

With the fifth phase of development complete, Iceland's Hellisheidi geothermal power plant is now one of the largest in the world.

On October 1st 2011, Reykjavik’s utility company, Orkuveita Reykjavikur, celebrated the start-up of the 5th phase of the Hellisheidi geothermal combined heat and power plant (CHP), located just outside Reykjavik, Iceland. This fifth phase added an additional 90 MW of power. The plant, which was designed by a group of consulting firms led by Mannvit, is now one of the world’s largest geothermal energy plants, producing 303 MW of power and 133 MW of thermal energy for space heating and hot water.

Mannvit, as the mechanical and overall plant designer, is proud to report on the successful commissioning of the plant’s 5th phase, which added 2 x 45 MWe Mitsubishi turbines. The total cost of the 90 MW, 5th phase was approximately $197 million, or 23.5 billion ISK (Icelandic krona).

Calpine plans $700 million Geysers geothermal power expansion  

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The North Bay Business Journal reports that the world's largest geothermal power plant will expanded by 98 MW - Calpine plans $700 million Geysers expansion.

Calpine Corporation, the nation’s largest renewable geothermal power producer, plans to build two new power plants adjacent to its existing Geysers steam field in Sonoma and Lake Counties designed to generate a total of 98 megawatts of additional clean energy, pending regulatory approvals. ...

The Geothermal Operator Corporation (GOC) and the Central California Power Association (CCPA) previously developed this site. These firms built their first plant in 1989 with a capacity of 135 megawatts. Due to a sharp decline in natural steam conditions, the plant was decommissioned and steam wells were plugged and abandoned in 1990.

Over the past 10 years, Calpine has been injecting up to 20 million gallons of reclaimed wastewater per day from Santa Rosa and Lake County into the underground steam reservoir to produce additional steam and manage the entire field as a whole. This injection process is what makes it possible to revisit abandoned well sites and bring them back online. ...

The Geysers is the single largest geothermal operation in the world, producing up to 725 megawatts of green energy around the clock — enough electricity to power the entire city of San Francisco.

Today this 45-square mile steam field, with its 330 steam wells and 75 injection wells, represents 41 percent of overall geothermal generation in the U.S.

Oil Production of the Top Three IOCs  

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Stuart at Early Warning has a post on the flat production profile of the major international oil companies - Oil Production of the Top Three IOCs.

The [graph] shows the liquids production of the three largest international oil companies (IOCs), as compiled from their annual reports. You can see that by and large these companies are about the same size they were 15 years ago, in oil production terms (the partial exception is BP which managed to buy into a Russian oil company half way through the last decade). The big IOCs have not been able to increase production much in response to the high prices of the last six or seven years.

It's important to note of course that since the 1980s most oil is not produced by IOCs but rather by the various national oil companies. Also it's worth noting that IOC revenues and profits have grown enormously over the last 15 years as oil prices have increased so much - they are basically selling roughly the same sized stream of liquids for far more money.

Meat Supply’s ‘Precipitous’ Drop to Spur Prices to Records, Rabobank Says  

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Bloomberg has a report on declining US meat production - Meat Supply’s ‘Precipitous’ Drop to Spur Prices to Records, Rabobank Says.

U.S. meat and poultry production may drop as much as 5 percent next year, sending beef and pork prices to a record amid climbing feed costs and shrinking herds, according to Rabobank International.

Producers are curbing output as tighter feed supplies boost costs, which will lead to a “precipitous fall” in available meat in 2012, David Nelson, a global strategist at Rabobank, said in a report. The drop is compounded by a drought that is forcing ranchers in the Southwest to cull herds and by surging demand for U.S. beef in developing countries, he said.
“There’s going to be less supply, so we’re going to have higher prices,” Nelson said in a telephone interview from Chicago yesterday. “It’s quite a shift.”

By late 2012, U.S. beef production may be running at rate of 7 percent below comparable levels this year, Nelson said. The spot-market price for fed steers sold to slaughterhouses may average a record $1.16 a pound in 2012, up from a projected $1.13 a pound this year, Nelson said in the report. Beef prices also will climb to an all-time high, he said.

U.S. per-capita consumption of beef will continue to drop, so the tightening supply of the meat may impact foreign buyers the most, Nelson said. The “relatively cheap dollar” is boosting demand for U.S. meat, Nelson said. The dollar is down 1.2 percent this year against a basket of six major currencies.

World bioplastics market to grow 32 per cent by 2014  

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Canadian Plastics has an update on the global bioplastic market - World bioplastics market to grow 32 per cent by 2014: study.

The global bioplastics market is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 32 per cent between 2010 and 2014, according to a report by market research firm Technavio.

The "Global Bioplastics Market 2010-2014" report, which covers the Americas as well as Europe and the Asia Pacific regions, indicates that the market is being driven by the favorable policies adopted by various governments.

"Governments of various countries have been encouraging production of bioplastics," the report noted. "The U.S. Government has introduced the Federal Farm Bill Energy title 9, which urges Federal Agencies to buy bioplastic items. Also, the Kyoto Protocol has been established where member countries have agreed to reduce CO2 emission by adopting various measures, including bioplastics."

The report also highlights that the high cost of production is hindering the growth of this market. However, the rising costs of petroleum products are expected to drive the market, leading to particular growth in the automobile industry.

Chevron Uses Solar-Thermal Steam to Extract Oil in California  

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Bloomberg has an article on enhanced oil recovery using solar thermal energy in California - Chevron Uses Solar-Thermal Steam to Extract Oil in California.

Chevron Corp. (CVX), the second-largest U.S. oil company, began extracting crude from a southern California field using steam produced by a 29-megawatt solar- thermal power plant. BrightSource Energy Inc.’s system uses mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler at Chevron’s Coalinga, California, enhanced oil recovery project, the solar company said in a statement after extraction began today.

Solar-thermal technology companies such as BrightSource are targeting industrial users in the oil-recovery and food- processing industries as customers as well as power generation. Mining and metals processing are also very promising, especially in remote areas where power can also be generated along with heat, Charlie Ricker, BrightSource senior vice president of business development, said today in an interview. ...

The Coalinga plant consists of 3,822 mirror systems, or heliostats, each with two 10-foot (3-meter) by 7-foot mirrors mounted on a 6-foot steel pole focusing light on a 327-foot solar tower. Steam created by the heat is fed into the oil reservoir, making it easier to bring to the surface. The system began generating steam in August, Kristin Hunter, a spokeswoman for Oakland, California-based BrightSource, said today in an e- mail.

Areva SA’s Areva Solar, Seville, Spain-based Abengoa SA, Erlangen, Germany-based Solar Millennium AG (S2M) and Burbank, California-based eSolar Inc. are competing with BrightSource with their own solar-thermal technology. Glasspoint Solar Inc., based in Fremont, California, makes solar steam generators for the oil and gas industry using mirrored troughs inside of glasshouse enclosures to protect the mirrors.

Enhanced oil recovery, or EOR, fits very well with solar temperatures, Glasspoint Vice President John O’Donnell, said today in an interview.

Some 32 percent of California’s industrial and commercial gas use is for EOR as its use grows in the U.S. and all over the world, O’Donnell said. The state produces about 40% of its oil using EOR and in a few years that will grow to 60%, he said.

The company can produce heat for EOR for about $3 per million British thermal units, compared with about $4 for a comparable natural-gas plant in the U.S. and between $10 to $12 for other conventional solar thermal technologies, O’Donnell said. “We are the only ones below natural gas right now in the U.S.”

China's LNG demand questioned  

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The Australian has a stunningly suspect article downplaying the prospects for Australian LNG exports to China. Given that these LNG projects only get built when long term supply deals are signed with Asian customers (who often take an equity stake in the projects) its hard to understand the motive here (no pipeline from Russia seems likely in the next decade and the prospect of US shale gas LNG exports being significantly cheaper than Australian natural gas or coal seam gas LNG exports doesn't seem particularly plausible either).

Nevertheless, some investment banks seem keen to push the idea, for whatever reason (on the plus side it would keep gas cheap on the east coast in the coming years) - I always love when the sources have to remain anonymous, in this case for "compliance reasons" ! - China's LNG demand questioned.

As Australia prepares itself for the economic bonanza that will stem from the construction of LNG projects in Western Australia and Queensland, those keeping a close eye on how China is meeting its energy needs are raising their eyebrows at the Australian plans.

More than $200 billion in LNG projects is planned or already in construction, potentially leading Australia to challenge Qatar for the title of the world's biggest producer. Removed from the hysteria surrounding Australia's LNG construction frenzy, the Asia-based analysts who scrutinise China's energy needs are questioning whether China will be the increasingly LNG-hungry nation the Australian LNG proponents need it to be.

That's not to say China's gas demand isn't growing dramatically. The China Gas Association is tipping a fourfold increase in Chinese gas consumption by 2020, while state-owned energy giant PetroChina is tipping a trebling in demand over the same timeframe. The central government has mandated for China to increase its gas consumption over the coming years, in part on environmental grounds. Gas currently accounts for around 5 per cent of China's energy mix, compared with an average of around 20 per cent in other developed nations.

The problem for Australia, however, is that LNG is but one of a number of potential sources for gas. And when it comes to competing with those other sources, LNG is set to be the most expensive.

While China has been actively lining up sources of Australian LNG, including deals with the Chevron-led Gorgon and Wheatstone projects and a number of coal-seam gas-fed LNG developments in Queensland, it has also been securing a wide number of alternative supplies.

Much of the country's gas is already piped in from the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan and there is talk of a new pipeline that could bring much more. China and Russia have been in discussions for several years over the prospect of piping gas in from Russia and if and when the deal is done, it will be at a price below that of LNG.

The stunning growth in gas reserves in North America following breakthroughs in shale gas and coal-seam gas technology has raised the prospect of Canada and the US exporting cheap LNG.

And the real wildcard is China's own domestic gas industry, which is looking to tap the same technology and techniques that have turned North American gas markets on their heads. Studies suggest that China could host as much, if not more, gas than North America and this could have a major impact on China's appetite for Australian LNG. ...

Another Hong Kong-based analyst, who cannot be named for compliance reasons, is also scratching his head over the demand picture facing Australian LNG projects. "Should they be worried? Absolutely," he says. "But not only because of the potential for shale in China but also because of gas out of Russia and pipeline gas out of Central Asia and also lower-cost potential LNG out of Canada and the US. All of it can be brought in at far below the rising cost of LNG out of Australia."

City of Sydney plans recycled water network  

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Clover Moore's Sydney city council seems to be plotting a slow secession from the electricity and water grids. The SMH has a report on an interesting plan for storing recycled water in local aquifers - City of Sydney plans recycled water network.

THE City of Sydney council is finalising plans for a recycled water network to be established throughout much of the city. It will include use of the Botany aquifer which extends from Redfern and Surry Hills, through Centennial Park and on to Botany Bay.

The rethink of the city's water supply comes as the council finalises plans to decouple the electricity network from the statewide supply grid, instead using a new network of power generators throughout the CBD which will provide cheaper and more reliable power to the city. ''If you're digging up the streets to put in the new trigeneration [electricity, heating and cooling] system, that's the golden opportunity to put in a recycled water network,'' the council's chief development officer for energy and climate change, Mr Allan Jones, said.

''Sixty per cent of the cost of the infrastructure is in the trenching and traffic management. That's why we're also looking at automated waste collection.''

The council recently outlined plans for an automated waste collection system, which remains under study. ''Piping water into the city and only drinking 2 per cent of that is just crackers,'' Mr Jones said. Taking into account cooking, and any possible way of ingesting water, no more than 20 per cent of the city's water needed to be of drinking quality, he said.

Central to the plan will use of recycled water and stormwater at new developments such as Barangaroo and Green Square.
Barangaroo will generate a surplus of recycled water which is expected to be used in water cooling towers and similar structures in other parts of the CBD.

The Hubbert hurdle: revisiting the Fermi Paradox  

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Ugo at Cassandra's Legacy has a post theorising about a possible link between peak fossil fuels and the Fermi paradox - The Hubbert hurdle: revisiting the Fermi Paradox.

When I started reading astronomy books, in the 1960s, nobody knew if there existed planets around other stars and the common view was that they were very rare. Of course, that contrasted with the main theme of the science fiction of the time, of which I was also an avid reader. The idea that planetary systems were common in the galaxy was much more fascinating than the "official" one but, at that time, it seemed to be pure fantasy. But it turns out that science fiction was absolutely right, at least on this point. We are discovering hundreds of planets orbiting around stars and the latest news are that one sun-class star out of three may have an earth-like planet in the habitable zone. Fantastic!

The measurements that are telling us of extra-solar planets cannot tell us anything about extra-solar civilizations, another typical theme of science fiction. But, if earth-like planets are common in the galaxy, then organic, carbon based life should common as well. And if life is common, intelligent life cannot be that rare. And if intelligent life is not rare, then there must exist alien civilizations out there. With 100 billion stars in our galaxy, we may think that also on this point science fiction might have been right. Could the galaxy be populated with alien civilizations?

Here, however, we have a well known problem called the "Fermi Paradox". If all those civilizations exist, then could they develop interstellar travel? And, in this case, if there are so many of them, why aren't they here? Of course, for all we known the speed of light remains an impassable barrier. But, even at speeds slower than light, nothing physical prevents a spaceship from crossing the galaxy from end to end in a million year or even less. Since our galaxy is more than 10 billion years old, intelligent aliens would have had plenty of time to explore and colonize every star in the galaxy, jumping from one to another. But we don't see aliens around and that's the paradox. The consequence seems to be that we are alone as sentient beings in the galaxy, perhaps in the whole universe. So, we seem to be back to some old models of the solar system that told us that we are exceptional. Once, we were told that we are exceptional because planets are rare, now it may be because civilizations are rare. But why?

Low-Cost Tablet Runs on Three Watts of Power  

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Technology Review has an article on a new low power technology for portable devices - Low-Cost Tablet Runs on Three Watts of Power.

After a year of testing in a remote village in India, researchers are ready to scale up production of an ultra-low-power $35 tablet called the I-slate.

The I-slate is designed to teach math and other subjects to students whose schools lack electricity or to students who don't have access to teachers at all. The device will enter full-scale production next year, and will be the first device to apply a low-power technology called probabilistic CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) to achieve a longer battery life.

The probabilistic CMOS approach is simple: run an ordinary microchip less stringently, sacrifice a small amount of precision, and get huge gains in energy efficiency in return. Probabilistic CMOS (CMOS refers to the technology behind most of today's chip technologies) works particularly well in graphics and sound processing, since human vision and hearing aren't perfect, and small errors are therefore undetectable.

Krishna Palem, a professor at Rice University and director of the Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics at Nanyang Technological University, first demonstrated probabilistic CMOS in 2006. Palem is now working on getting the technology into applications including a low-power hearing aid. In the educational tablet device, Palem says, probabilistic chips will enable huge power savings: the educational tablet will require just three watts of power, meaning it can be powered entirely by small solar cells like those on a pocket calculator.

Anatomy Of A Food Price Spike  

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Sustainablog has a look at the latest spike in food prices - Anatomy Of A Food Price Spike.

I have been posting updates on the most recent, global food price spike since February 2011 – most recently in June. Yesterday, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) released its most recent data on the prices of food in international trade. As seen in the graph above, the overall index and its various components have declined slightly, but remain at very high levels.

People living in the developed world have seen some food price increases, but because we grow so much of our own food and spend a small part of our income on feeding ourselves, the impact is minor. This has the greatest effect on the lives of poor people in import-dependent countries.

What is actually most unsettling about this phenomenon is that nothing like it has occurred for decades, and yet we are in a second such spike. The first was in 2007/8, and the current spike has been in 2010/11.
Source: sustainablog (http://s.tt/13sjc)

10 Extraordinary Photographs of the Starry Night Sky  

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TreeHugger has an interesting collection of photos of the night sky - 10 Extraordinary Photographs of the Starry Night Sky.

Smart meters given a fail  

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Smart meters continue to get bad press everywhere - partly from bad communication (no one seems to understand what benefits they could offer), partly from bad products (which don't do enough to be really useful) and partly from the absence of dynamic, realtime power pricing to make a decent implementation useful. The Age has an example of the lack of enthusiasm in the Australian market today - Smart meters given a fail.

VICTORIA'S experiment in rolling out so-called ''smart electricity meters'' is unlikely to be seen in New South Wales soon, with the head of one of the largest electricity distributors casting doubt on their merit. Last year in Victoria, the cost of the program blew out to $2 billion from initial estimates of $800 million.

''Is the business case in place? I'd have to say it's not,'' George Maltabarow, the managing director of Ausgrid, told a forum recently. ''Victoria is a very good example of that. ...

NSW has been slower to move, and the merging of information technology and electricity grids coupled with the large price declines of the necessary equipment means that there was no advantage in being the first to act.

Smart meters allow households to monitor their power consumption and reduce use during peak price periods, which can help reduce electricity networks investing in equipment otherwise used only a few hours a year. ...

In NSW, Ausgrid has more than 400,000 first-generation smart meters installed, with 250,000 customers on ''time-of-use'' contracts. Mr Maltabarow estimated that these households reduced their electricity bills by as much as $270 a year, on average, with time-of-use contracts, while the median saving is about $70 a year. Other NSW electricity distributors have been on the back foot in adopting the technology as well, due to the cost of rolling out the meters and limited benefit. ...

Under the federal government's ''smart cities smart grid'' program, Ausgrid is rolling out smart meters that have communication capabilities, which will enable it, with TruEnergy which bought the company's retailing operations earlier this year, to test differing pricing products combined with feedback technology, Mr Maltabarow said.

From brown coal to solar thermal  

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The Climate Spectator has a report on some positive thinking in South Australia, where Alinta is considering converting an old coal fired power station to a solar thermal power generator - From brown coal to solar thermal.

The owners of Australia’s most polluting coal-fired power station, the Playford plant in South Australia, are considering converting it to a solar thermal facility if it is closed as part of the government’s proposed buyout of brown-coal generators.

Jeff Dimery, the head of the now privately owned Alinta, said solar thermal technology was one of two options being considered after the closure of the 240MW Playford, and may be an easier option than trying to source gas for a gas-fired peaking generator, as there is no gas pipeline to Port Augusta.

“We’re exploring the idea of building a renewable facility and integrate that with baseload (from the remaining northern station) and solar thermal would be ideal, as there a good sun resource in the region,” Dimery told Climate Spectator in an interview. “The technology requires funding, and it’s a case of needing to convince government that it is one of better projects. We intend to explore it.”

Playford is one of four brown coal generators eligible to make a tender for the government’s proposed buyout, which intends to remove 2000MW of brown coal generation from the grid by 2020 in order to reduce emissions, and create room for gas-fired generation or renewables to be built in their place.

The solar thermal idea will not form part of Playford’s submission – apparently it matters not what the owners of the retiring generation plant intend to do with the funds (and some may be expected to expatriate those funds overseas), but Dimery is confident that Playford would be an attractive option in any case. For a start, it’s the most polluting, at 1.7t of Co2e/MWh, the early closure of 240MW would have little impact on the National Energy Market, and the workforce could be absorbed at the neighbouring 520MW Northern Power Station without any forced redundancies. That could save on government funds.

The other attraction of solar thermal is that it could be integrated into the Northern Power Station, pre-heating boilers in the same way that a solar booster plant will be designed to do at the Kogan Creek power station in Queensland, and/or putting electricity directly into the grid.

GPS Data on Beijing Cabs Reveals the Cause of Traffic Jams  

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Technology Review has an article on using data from taxi GPS units to try to optimise road design to reduce traffic jams - GPS Data on Beijing Cabs Reveals the Cause of Traffic Jams.

Beijing is a city famous for traffic jams. In 2006, rush hour reportedly lasted 11 hours a day, and the city has been called a "virtual car park" during daylight hours. As in most major cities, urban planners have been trying for years to relieve the pressure by adding new roads or public transit lines, or providing better enforcement for traffic laws.

Now a group working at Microsoft Research Asia has shown that tracking the location of taxicabs could be a better way to identify the underlying problems with a city's transportation network, helping officials determine how to best ease congestion.

The researchers used GPS data from more than 33,000 Beijing taxicabs. That data was collected in 2009 and 2010. The researchers were not just looking for bottlenecks—trouble spots that regular commuters may know only too well. "[Congested] road segments are only the appearance—they're not the problem," says Yu Zheng, who led the research. "We try to identify the true source of the problem in our work."

The researchers presented their work last week at the 13th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, which took place in Beijing.

To get at underlying causes of traffic problems, the researchers needed to get information about the trips people are taking—where journeys start, finish, and how a commuter travels in between. The researchers divided Beijing into regions and analyzed the taxi data to find places where two regions weren't properly connected.

Digging up old fossils  

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The Climate Spectator has a look at the immense subsidies directed to fossil fuels - Digging up old fossils.

Of all the riveting topics that will be brought up at this week's tax summit in Canberra, one that is likely to feature little, if at all, are subsidies for fossil fuels. And that’s a pity.

The International Energy Agency and the OECD last night delivered another broadside against the extent of fossil fuel subsidies around the globe, estimating that they amounted to $409 billion in 2010 – a rise of $110 billion over 2009 – and will likely exceed $600 billion by 2010.
Moreover, the agencies argue, they do nothing to alleviate fuel poverty, because they are poorly directed. While many of them reduce the price of oil and fuel below their cost, they favour only the rich and middle class that can afford them in the first place. Only eight per cent of the subsidies reach the poorest population.

“Making energy cheap means we use fuel in a wasteful manner, says Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the IEA. Without these subsidies, he says, global energy use would decline 4 per cent by 2020 – a significant reduction in the current context – around 1.7 gigatonnes of greenhouse emissions would be avoided, and more money could be directed towards renewable energy and energy efficiency schemes.

The IEA has been raging against fossil fuels for several years, arguing that artificially lowering prices below their costs distorts the market for energy products, and impedes the task of reducing emissions and ensuring energy security, which it sees as its remit. It also has other unwanted impacts, such as encouraging energy smuggling.

The OECD notes that removing fossil fuel subsidies – which outrank renewable energy subsidies by a factor of around eight to one – are one of the few structural reforms and policy levers available to address one of the worst economic crises of our lifetime and to stimulate growth and employment. The World Bank has recently argued that ending fossil fuel subsidies in developed countries could allow funds to be directed towards climate change financing in emerging economies, one of the key sticking points at international climate negotiations.

Most of the subsidies accounted for in the IEA/OECD survey come from nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia, and half of the subsidies are directed towards petroleum products. China, India and Russia have been credited with taking measures to reduce their subsidies.
However, for the first time, the IEA and the OECD countries have combined to produce an inventory of fossil fuel subsidies in these nations, most of them among the G20, who in 2009 promised to eliminate these subsidies by 2020.

This is potentially embarrassing for Australia, which has used definition arguments and accounting gymnastics to try and argue that it doesn’t have any. The OECD is not having a bar of it. Its inventory estimates that 24 OECD nations together hand out around $45-$75 billion a year in fossil fuel subsidies, and Australia has more than its fair share, with annual subsidies – even within the narrow construct of the OECD definition – of more than $7 billion.

According to the OECD, the big ticket items are fuel tax credits, which have amounted to around $5 billion a year in each of the last three years. There was a further $1 billion in fuel tax credits for aviation, and another $563 million in exemptions for “alternative fuels.”

While Australia has moved to end some of its most notorious subsidies, such as the fringe benefits tax, which encouraged people to drive their cars more than was needed, the OECD says its assessment also does not include subsidies to the making of motor vehicles designed to run on petroleum fuels, or to electricity producers.

That means that some of the subsidies that exist in NSW, for instance, where the cost of coal-fired electricity is subsidised by contracts that are dramatically below market prices, are not included. Nor does it take into account the carbon pricing mechanism currently before parliament.

Australia would argue that its carbon pricing regime finally addresses part of what many would describe as the biggest subsidy in the world today – the lack of accountability on the external costs of fossil fuel production, as outlined in this article on Monday.

However, it seems likely that the OECD would take a dim view of some of the compensation measures included in the Clean Energy Future package, as others already have. In particular, the $5.5 billion in compensation that will be handed out to coal-fired generators, apparently to ensure that they don’t close suddenly, and the further billion or two billion dollars that will be spent on the brown coal buyout scheme to ensure that some of the worst polluting generators do in fact close.
The IEA/OECD, and most independent think tanks would argue that these handouts are not needed, and the money would be better directed at support for R&D and the commercial rollout of clean technologies.

North Sea gas production falls 25%  

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The Guardian has an article on declining UK natural gas production - North Sea gas production falls 25%.

North Sea gas production has slumped by 25% in the second quarter of the year, an alarming increase in the rate of decline that will cut tax revenues and could put more pressure on government to agree controversial shale gas developments.

Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also show a 36% rise in coal imports, but a leap from 6.3% to 9.6% for the amount of electricity generated by wind and other renewables.

The department records that the output of oil and associated gas liquids fell by 16% in the three months to the end of June, compared with a year earlier – the biggest decline since records began 16 years ago.

This left Britain importing 3.6m tonnes of oil in the second quarter, compared with 2.8m tonnes in the same period of 2010, even though total oil demand fell by 1.7%.

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