MIT stacks solar panels, increases their power output by up to 20 times  

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Extreme Tech has a look at techniques for increasing the amount of power generated per area using stacked solar wafers - MIT stacks solar panels like pancakes, increases their power output by up to 20x.

What’s better than one pancake? A whole stack of pancakes! Using the same logic, a team of MIT researchers have stacked a bunch of photovoltaic solar cells together to produce up to 20 times the power output of conventional solar power installations. ...

Basically, photovoltaic cells themselves aren’t all that expensive — according to MIT, they’re only around 35% of the total cost of a solar power installation. The main issue with solar power (and its main cost) is its low energy density, and thus the sheer surface area required to generate a sizable amount of electricity. This is why you need to cover your whole roof with cells to power your light bulbs, and why solar power plants would have to occupy tens of square miles of desert to produce as much power as a nuclear power plant.

To combat this issue, MIT has built 3D stacks of photovoltaic cells. These have the same footprint of a conventional, flat solar power setup — but as you can see in the picture above, the total surface area is much, much larger. The team built a variety of 3D designs, including a cube, and in all cases they produced between two and 20 times as much power as a flat panel. The most interesting facet of this discovery, though, is that these 3D stacks produce lots of extra power whenever the sun is near the horizon, i.e. in the morning, evening, winter, or at latitudes far away from the equator. With conventional, flat cells, it’s hard to capture low-angle light, but with an accordion structure (as pictured) the relative angle would be closer to 45 degrees.

Bruce Schneier banned from testifying to Congress  

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The Register has an article on the controversy over the use of body scanners in US airports - TSA bars security guru from perv scanner testimony. I recently travelled through a few US airports and didn't really notice the scanners (the retina recording they do at customs was much more in-your-face to me) - however I did find the "security theatre" performed by the TSA way over the top - I think there were more people participating in the security pantomime at Bozeman airport, for example, than there were people traveling through the facility each day. As a job creation scheme it may have had some merit but a less productive one would be hard to imagine...

Security expert Bruce Schneier was been banned at the last minute from testifying in front of congress on the efficacy – or otherwise – of the US Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) much-maligned perv scanners.

Schneier is a long-time critic of the TSA's policies for screening travelers, and was formally invited to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearings. However, the TSA objected to his presence because he is currently involved in a legal case over the use of said scanners in US airports.

"I was looking forward to sitting next to a TSA person and challenging some of their statements. That would have been interesting," Schneier told The Register. "The request to appear came from the committee itself, because they'd been reading my stuff on this and thought it would be interesting."

Schneier, who is currently involved in an Economist debate on just this issue, has criticized the TSA's procedures as "security theater", designed to give the appearance of security without actually being effective. He has pointed out that the scanners are easily defeated, and that since people who do have items are merely forced to give them up and sent on their way, terrorists simply need to send enough people through the systems until one of them succeeds.

This isn't the first time the TSA has been less than willing to have itself subject to anything like the same scrutiny that aircraft passengers are routinely put through. Last year they ducked out of similar hearings at the last minute, apparently because they didn't want to sit next to representatives from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

The use of the perv scanners is highly controversial. The TSA has spent millions of dollars to buy them, and the industry hired ex–Homeland Security supremo Michael Chertoff as a lobbyist to push the technology. However, there have been numerous examples of people claiming to be able to beat the scanners, concerns about the health implications of scanning, and the so-called "homosexual" pat-downs introduced to encourage people to use them caused a national day of protest.

There are currently several ongoing legal cases against the scanners, including one recent case in which, it is claimed, attractive female subjects were being repeatedly ordered to use the devices. Personal airport searches have to be performed by a member of the same sex as the target, but no such rules are in place for operators of the scanners.

MyDrive - Better Place and the Future of the Electric Car  

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MyDrive has a look at Better Place and their model for electric car ownership - MyDrive - Better Place and the Future of the Electric Car .

MyDrive's Ash Davies takes a close look at the current state of the electric car and the network that could very well bring them to the public. Working with the new Nissan Leaf and Better Place, this film looks into the revolutionary technology that could finally make the Electric Car make sense.

Navy to U.S.: Geothermal Drill Baby, Drill  

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TPM has a post on an improved drilling bit for geothermal energy exploration - Navy to U.S.: Geothermal Drill Baby, Drill.

The U.S. Navy has teamed up with the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratory to revive decades-old technology for a high performance drill bit, only they don’t have drilling for oil or gas in mind. The drill bit, called a polycrystalline diamond compact bit, is being retested evaluated and improved to help lower the cost of drilling for geothermal energy.

The mashup of the Navy with the development of high efficiency geothermal drilling technology is a natural one, given that the Navy has been investigating geothermal energy for decades, and the Navy’s Air Weapons Station China Lake research facility in California is the site of a major geothermal power plant that has been in operation for 15 years.

As a whole, in recent years the Department of Defense has ramped up its pursuit of geothermal energy and other forms of locally generated energy such as solar power, wind and biogas in order to unchain U.S. national defense facilities from reliance on grid-supplied sources.

Ironically, Sandia originally helped to develop polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) technology about 30 years ago specifically to help the geothermal industry cut costs. However, given the industry’s small size at the time, there were relatively few opportunities to refine the technology in practice, so the oil and gas industry picked up the ball and ran with it.

PDC technology is based on a process called sintering, which involves fabricating objects from powders. According to Sandia’s press materials:
“Polycrystalline diamond compact cutters on the cutting faces of bits allow more aggressive drilling than bits traditionally used for geothermal drilling. They are created by a sintering process. Graphite powder is applied to the leading face of a cutter made of tungsten carbide. The material assembly is compressed in three directions at pressures of 1 million pounds per square inch. When heated to a transition temperature, the graphite converts a to a 1-millimeter layer of synthetic diamond.”
Since oil and gas drilling generally takes place in sedimentary rock, which is relatively softer and cool, commercially available PDC bits still haven’t been fully tested and developed for geothermal drilling.

Geothermal drilling generally involves much more complicated conditions than found in oil and gas fields. Aside from involving higher temperatures and greater depths, geothermal drilling typically occurs in igneous and metamorphic rock, which is much harder and contains abrasive materials such as quartz. Fracturing in these formations also creates sudden changes in conditions that can damage the drill.

Japanese firms considering geothermal plants in Fukushima  

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Reuters has a report on interest in developing geothermal power stations in the Fukushima area - Japanese firms considering geothermal plants in Fukushima.

Japanese firms are looking at building several geothermal plants in a volcanic zone in the area worst hit by last year's nuclear disaster, a project that could gain momentum after the government eased restrictions on drilling this week.

The head of a group of firms that have studied the potential of a geothermal project in Fukushima said on Friday a consortium of about 10 companies would meet local people by early May to explain their plans to build plants with a total capacity of 270 megawatts, which would be Japan's biggest.

The consortium plans to work with local communities, including those who run hotels and inns at hot springs, to develop geothermal energy, Masaho Adachi, the chairman of Japan Geothermal Developers' Council said.

The council has already held a meeting with local government officials in the central zone of Fukushima, home to the nuclear plant crippled by an earthquake and tsumani last year, he said.

Along with high costs, protests by local communities fearful of the impact of a geothermal plant on hot springs have prevented such projects from taking off in the past.

"We should spend together a period of more than 10 years before having geothermal plants running," he said in an interview with Reuters on Friday, referring to activities such as collecting data, test drilling and environment assessment. Adachi declined to name the companies forming the consortium.

The Nikkei newspaper earlier said that the Fukushima project by a consortium of companies including Idemitsu Kosan Co and Inpex Corp would cost around 100 billion yen ($1.2 billion), with operations set to start in 2020.

Since the crisis, interest in renewable energy has jumped and a government subsidy scheme, similar to those in many countries in Europe, to force utilities to buy renewable electricity is due to start in July. ...

Studies show Japan, a land of volcanoes, ranks as the world's third-richest nation in geothermal power. A government study last year showed it has the potential for business to derive 14,000 MW of energy, but it currently has only 540 MW worth of commercial plants due to restrictions on development in national parks, where most resources lie.

Petratherm spells out green vision for South Australia  

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Progress on goethermal power projects in South Australia has been disappointingly slow, however Petratherm continue to plug away trying to generate interest in a renewable energy precinct supplying power to Olympic Dam and adjoining mine sites. Recharge News reports - Geothermal group spells out green vision for South Australia.

Petratherm claims new tests reveal that wind and solar could play a big part in its vision of a 600MW Clean Energy Precinct in the north of the Australian state.

Assessments from consultancy Garrad Hassan Pacific reveal wind speeds of up to 8 metres per second at a height of 100 metres – offering the potential to host a 300MW wind farm – and a solar resource of 20 mega-joules per sq metre daily.

Adelaide-based Petratherm expects to complete the first 300MW stage of the project based on wind and gas generation. The second stage would see the deployment of large-scale geothermal energy from Petratherm’s ongoing South Australian Paralana project, supplemented by solar. The total cost of the project – located 300km northeast of Port Augusta – is estimated to be A$1.5bn ($1.57bn).

Petratherm says it is in discussions with key investors locally and overseas over potential technology and joint-venture partnerships. “It’s still early days for the precinct, but we remain firmly on track to combine new power generation facilities across gas, wind, solar and geothermal to eventually produce 600MW of reliable, competitively-priced electricity to meet anticipated demand from large mining developments in SA,” says Petratherm managing director Terry Kallis.

Petratherm sees robust demand growth from very large mines 270km east of the proposed site of the Clean Energy Precinct, including BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam – eventually tipped to be the biggest in the world – and OZ Mineral’s Prominent Hill and Carapateena mines. Between them they are estimated to have a total potential demand in excess of 700MW.

Ratbeard - should The Pirate Bay unleash robotic rats ?  

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Charlie Stross reckons that The Pirate Bay's idea of having file-sharing drones circling the skies of Sweden is a good idea going the wrong way and that they should look to the humble rodent for inspiration instead - Pirate LOSS? An alternative ....

I'm going to assume that you know who and what The Pirate Bay are.

The Pirate Bay just announced a nifty but somewhat questionable application for the Raspberry Pi low-cost Linux computer:
With the development of GPS controlled drones, far-reaching cheap radio equipment and tiny new computers like the Raspberry Pi, we're going to experiment with sending out some small drones that will float some kilometers up in the air. This way our machines will have to be shut down with aeroplanes in order to shut down the system. A real act of war.

We're just starting so we haven't figured everything out yet. But we can't limit ourselves to hosting things just on land anymore. These Low Orbit Server Stations (LOSS) are just the first attempt. With modern radio transmitters we can get over 100Mbps per node up to 50km away. For the proxy system we're building, that's more than enough.

I applaud their ingenuity, but I think this can be improved upon.

The LOSS concept has several drawbacks. First among these is power consumption and payload weight constraints. The Raspberry Pi is a low power device, but still draws juice via micro-USB, at up to five watts. On top of which, TPB propose to broadcast a wifi signal from their LOSS drones. To blanket an area of a square kilometre with a strong enough signal to sustain a high data rate (they say around 100mbps) is going to take both a decent antenna and a fair amount of electricity. All of which is going to drive up the weight, complexity, and cost of the LOSS.

LOSS needs to either be self-sustaining (which implies solar propulsion, along the lines of ELHASPA or NASA's Pathfinder aircraft) or it's going to have to land regularly to take on fuel. (I am ruling out nuclear propulsion because I assume The Pirate Bay do not have access to a supply of fissionable materials. Otherwise, it's Game Over for the MPAA.) This means that a cat-and-mouse game can be easily won by the authorities; there's no need to deploy air-to-air missiles over built-up areas when you can just have the Police keep an eye out for pirates refuelling their drones after midnight.

The sad truth is, quadrotors and small UAVs have lamentably poor airborn endurance, with flight durations measured in double or triple digit seconds rather than minutes, let alone hours. And baloon-type UAVs have the slight problem of being at the mercy of the winds, or requiring an anchor cable (which again makes them trivially easy for the Police to take down).

Rather than looking up at the stars, I believe the Pirate Bay should be looking down at the sewers. Their robot minions would be better modelled on the humble sewer rat than on the soaring seagull.

In the city, you are never more than three metres away from a rat. They're spectacularly successful. We've built them a wonderful habitat replete with high-speed autoroutes — storm drains and sewers — and convenience stores to snack from in the shape of dumpsters and trash. And ground level is where most of us wifi users happen to be, most of the time.

Small ground-traversing robots would not be subject to the same weight penalties as airborn drones. The wifi range would be shorter, but their power consumption would be lower and they'd be far more concealable — it's quite easy to imagine a ratbot that is, literally, no larger than a real rat.

Powering ratbot would be easier, too. In suitably hospitable environments Pirate Bay operatives could lay down inconspicuous inductive charging mats plumbed into power outlets. Alternatively, SlugBot shows the way towards a truly autonomous ground-dwelling robot—one that hunts for biological prey, digests it, and uses an on-board microbial fuel cell to provide electricity. In an urban environment ratbot need not hunt and kill moluscs to survive; instead, it could subsist on pizza rinds and the dregs from Mountain Dew cans, which would doubtless be easier to stalk and kill. Indeed, the rich pickings behind any fast food outlet would attract ratbots to the very same location where bittorrent users might congregate to furtively use their provided bandwidth.

Finally, if ratbot detects the presence of Police ferretbots in the neighbourhood, it can make its escape in a number of ways — climbing a nearby wall, clinging to the underside of an automobile (an especially efficient way of spreading the mesh network to other cities), diving into a storm drain (better hope the waterproof seals hold!), or asking a friendly Pirate Bay user for a ride.

Envia: Record Battery Energy Density in Context  

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Jamais at Open The Future has a look at Envia's advanced lithium ion battery technology - Record Battery Energy Density in Context. More commentary can be found at REnew Economy, The Falls Church News Press and Cryptogon.

A tech company called Envia Systems has announced that it is able to produce rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion, i.e., the standard kind of rechargeable batteries that go in everything from phones to electric cars) with a world-record energy density of 400 Watt-hours per kilogram! (Gigaom has lots of info, and useful background material.) Cool, right?

Yes? No?

Energy density is one of those really important concepts that not many people know about; it's not an exaggeration to say that a viable renewable energy future depends upon boosting energy density of batteries.

But it's hard to evaluate the importance of an announcement like this if you don't have context, so here you go:

Okay, 400 Watt-hours per kilogram (henceforth Wh/kg) means that one kilogram of battery material will be able to pump out electricity at a level of 400 Watts for one hour.

According to Envia, the best commercially-available Li-ion battery has an energy density of around 245 Wh/kg, so this new technology almost doubles that. This is good. Moreover, most Li-ion batteries operate at about 100-150 Wh/kg. The batteries in the Nissan Leaf, for example, have an energy density of about 120 Wh/kg (24 KWh/200kg). Tripling that density would, in principle, triple the range of the Leaf, taking it from around 100 miles to around 300 miles, a range close to a typical gasoline-powered car. This is very good.

But it's not revolutionary -- it's a (significant) incremental improvement.

That's because, even at 400Wh/kg, batteries still don't have an energy density anywhere close to fossil fuels.

Gasoline offers somewhere around 12,000 Wh/kg, 30x the energy density of the Envia battery technology. A Nissan Leaf with the same mass of gasoline-equivalent superbatteries would have a range of around 9,000 miles. Alternatively, to get the same 300 mile range as with the Envia batteries, the Nissan SuperLeaf would only need around 3kg of batteries.

I'm not discounting the importance of this breakthrough, not by any means, but it's important to keep this in context. There's a good reason why petroleum has such a hold on the world of transportation, and it's going to take a lot more than a tripling of battery energy density to beat it. Or, more to the point, moving beyond the gasoline automobile is going to take more than simply chipping away at energy density comparisons -- it's going to take a complete re-thinking of what we mean by transportation.

[UPDATE:]

As has been pointed out to me, in comments and in direct communication (and with varying degrees of politeness), this isn't an entirely fair comparison. It would be more accurate to compare the combination of energy density + drive efficiency.

Most standard automobiles have an average internal combustion engine efficiency of around 20% -- that is, of the energy available in the fuel, about 20% is eventually translated into motive force. So that 12,000 Wh/kg is effectively "only" 2,400 Wh/kg.

Electric motors, conversely, are extremely efficient at translating available energy into motive force; at 90%, that 400 Wh/kg Envia battery is still effectively 360 Wh/kg.

So a gasoline engine system 6.67x better than the Envia, not 30x better. The difference isn't as gobsmacking, but it's still significant, and remains a reminder of just how far battery technology has yet to evolve.

Dawn Of The Solar Peaking Plant  

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Giles Parkinson at REnew Economy has a look at the latest iteration of Wizard power's "big dish" solar thermal power proposal for South Australia, now apparently being driven by a company called "Solar Oasis" - Solar Oasis sets out to bust some solar myths.

Whatever anyone thinks of the technology – and no one will really know until it is deployed and operating at a commercial scale – it is clear that the Solar Oasis consortium behind the 40MW “big dish” solar thermal plant planned for Whyalla are taking an innovative approach to financing and to the energy markets in general. And energy retailers and aspiring solar developers should probably take note.

RenewEconomy caught up with Alex Braisier, the managing director of Solar Oasis, by phone on Wednesday while he was in China, where he is negotiating supply and financing deals for the project. That was our first takeaway from the chat: the $230 million project will not be financed by Australian institutions, as had been envisaged originally, even though an in-principle arrangement had been made with ANZ. Braisier says Australian institutions are too inflexible and narrow in approach.

Instead, Braisier will source equity partners and debt finance mostly from China, possibly from suppliers and other interested parties. “Working with vending project financing arrangements in China is more imaginative than going through motions with an investment bank in Australia,” he says.

(This is not surprising. The fact is that Australian institutions have no experience with such technologies and no reference points. International banks are expected to carry much of the load, and the inspiration, for the solar flagships projects. As this article points out, however, the loan guarantee program in the US has helped financiers get comfortable with the technology and bring down the cost of financing. And check out this article on Forbes, about how investors are making big money from renewables. There are lessons here for the Clean Energy Finance Corp.)

The relationship with Chinese partners and suppliers has grown since Braisier first formed a partnership with Chinese-based solar PV manufacturer SunGen, which is linked with an energy retailer in Braisier’s stable, Sanctuary Energy, supplies its PV modules (at zero upfront cost) and has taken a 26 per cent stake.

Sanctuary is a specialist in green energy retailing, and has some 20,000 customers, mostly with rooftop PV of between 1.5kW to 10kW, and solar hot water systems, with an aggregate capacity of around 30MW. It is small and also nimble: Braisier and his partners are former energy traders, and have developed a solid business playing the market, hedging with caps and derivatives, and using the natural advantage of solar that produces energy in the shoulder and high peaking periods.

This leads us to the next interesting point: the proposed PPA for the Whyalla project, which will feature 330 “big dishes” first developed by ANU and then taken up by Wizard Power. (It is solar thermal with a design change, instead of parabolic troughs or flat mirrors, or solar towers, these dishes can generate temperatures of 2000°C – more than you need unless you are trying to crack hydrogen or turn coal into liquids. So around 600°C will do for Whyalla).

Anyway, Braisier sees the solar dishes as “peaking power,” and he will treat the plant as such. He shakes his head (I presume, it was over the phone) at the reported attempts by the Solar Dawn consortium to strike a PPA of around $200/MWh, in which they were unsuccessful. Why treat solar thermal like a coal-fired power station? he asks. It should be treated like a hydro or gas-fired plant, none of which are ever built with PPAs in hand. They simply play the market and sell into the peaks, when prices jump.

“It (the PPA) will be a derivative product – it’s a peaking plant,” Braisier says. “ “It will sells caps and derivative product to help retailers manage risk. That’s what solar thermal will do.” And given that South Australia has highly volatile prices, and its big peaks coincide with hot sunny days, Braisier can be certain that the Big Dish array will be producing energy when it is most needed, and most profitable. The Solar Oasis offtake agreement will be done through Sanctuary Energy.

“I think we have a different view of the market, we don’t have 100 per cent hedges, and we can take an innovative approach,” he says. “You don’t bank a hydro plant in Australia, or even a gas plant – they are not positioned in market as base-load plants. To suggest that a solar thermal behaves and looks like a coal-fired plant is ridiculous.”

Braisier says the consortium is not planning storage, but may consider adding a small gas-boosted generator to help in firming and dispatchability into the peaks, which he says would improve the project’s IRR. It is also talking, with SunGen, about the possibility of installing a 5MW solar PV installation.

Braisier’s company is currently working with SunGen to construct several solar PV installations of between 1MW and 10MW in the Philippines, replacing diesel, which is costing up to $600/MWh or more. He says PV plants of that size can be installed for around $200/MWh.

Braisier expects the nominated $230 million cost of the project will fall too. Since the tender was first accepted in 2009, the market has changed dramatically, and the price of power blocks, for instance, was down by around 30 per cent. “Vendors are falling over themselves to provide vendor financing,” he says. “We expect a significant reduction in costs.”

Now that the funding deed has been signed, Solar Oasis will work on final design, permitting, and arranging grid connection. Construction is expected to start in May next year, with the project completed before the end of 2015. It will be interesting to see which project provides electricity to the grid first – Solar Oasis, or the 250MW Solar Dawn project in Queensland.

CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher  

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Wired has an article on the CIA's interest in the "internet of things" (the dark side of increasing our ability to make our environment more intelligent and thus - hopefully - far more energy efficient) - CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher.

More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.

Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” — that is, wired devices — at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,” Petraeus said, “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”


Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy” and prompt a rethink of “our notions of identity and secrecy.” All of which is true — if convenient for a CIA director.

The CIA has a lot of legal restrictions against spying on American citizens. But collecting ambient geolocation data from devices is a grayer area, especially after the 2008 carve-outs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Hardware manufacturers, it turns out, store a trove of geolocation data; and some legislators have grown alarmed at how easy it is for the government to track you through your phone or PlayStation.

Mighty RIver Opens Geothermal Plant At Salton Sea  

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Recharge News has a report on a new geothermal power plant opening in southern California - EnergySource starts 50MW geothermal plant at Salton Sea.

A 49.9MW geothermal plant came on line this month, tapping heat from the Salton Sea field, a proven geothermal resource area that hasn't seen a new generator in more than two decades.

The developer, EnergySource, already has a power purchase agreement for a second plant in the southern California area.
"With this team and so much available capacity in this resource, we have a development pipeline of new geothermal projects for the coming decade that will help California and Southwestern utilities meet their state-mandated renewable energy requirements,” says chief executive Dave Watson.

The $400m Hudson Ranch 1, under construction since May 2010, draws on what EnergySource describes as "one of the largest and highest temperature geothermal resources in North America", with an "extremely permeable liquid dominated resource". Two of the plant's three production wells draw enough steam to generate more than 40MW each -- "among the largest producers in the world" -- while a third is capable of more than 15MW.

“The Salton Sea geothermal resource is robust, with 326MW in 10 existing projects currently operating at a capacity factor substantially greater than 90%, with a development potential of 1,400MW or more,” says Dr. Subir Sanyal of GeothermEx, a resource consultant for the project's financiers.

US and UK To Release oil From Strategic Reserves  

Posted by Big Gav

The SMH has a look at the politics surrounding the announcement the US and UK will release oil supplies from their strategic reserves to try to lower oil prices (something the oil industry appears intent on fighting a vigorous PR campaign against, along with their Republican emissaries in Washington, judging by some of the FUD being spread about it) - Tapping strategic oil reserves is tricky.

The US Strategic Petroleum Reserve isn't quite as strategic as it used to be.

As President Barack Obama moves closer to an unprecedented second release of the US emergency oil stockpile in a bid to bring down near-record fuel prices, experts say dramatic logistical upheavals in the US oil market over the past year may now make such a move slower and more complicated.

Moving to tap the four giant Gulf Coast salt caverns that hold 700 million barrels of government-owned crude would still almost certainly knock global oil futures lower, delivering some relief at the pump for motorists and helping Obama in the November election if he can prevent gasoline from rising above US$4 a gallon nationwide.

On Thursday, prices fell by as much as $US3 a barrel after Reuters reported that Britain was set to agree to release stockpiles together with the United States later this year. UK officials said the timing and details of the release would be worked out prior to the summer, when prices often peak.

But the logistics of getting that crude oil to willing refiners are more complicated than ever. The reversal of a major Texas-to-Oklahoma pipeline will lower the distribution capacity of the SPR's largest cavern, according to John Shages, who oversaw the US oil reserves during the Bush and Clinton administrations. A resurgence in domestic oil output and the potential closure of the East Coast's biggest refinery is curtailing demand for crude.

There's little doubt that SPR oil would eventually find buyers, since it is basically auctioned to the higher bidder. But it may move more slowly than the government hopes. "The logistical system in the United States is shifting," said Guy Caruso, the former head of the Energy Information Administration. "That probably is going to cause SPR officials to rethink how that oil would be distributed especially in an extreme scenario."

The mechanics of the release may prove almost as tricky for Obama as rallying international support for a second intervention in as many years, or fending off attacks from Republicans who will likely brand it as a pre-election gimmick.

Iran Oil Bourse To Open Next Week ?  

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Cryptogon points to a few interesting datapoints, amongst which is a claim the fabled Iranian oil bourse finally opens next week - IRAN’S BANKS TO BE BLOCKED FROM GLOBAL BANKING SYSTEM ON SATURDAY.

Flashback to a couple of weeks ago on Cryptogon:
If SWIFT actually pulls the plug, I’d consider the fuse to be lit. Also, if SWIFT does it before 20 March, this is probably the real reason:

Last week, the Tehran Times noted that the Iranian oil bourse will start trading oil in currencies other than the dollar from March 20. This long-planned move is part of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vision of economic war with the west.

“The dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme is nothing more than a convenient excuse for the US to use threats to protect the ‘reserve currency’ status of the dollar,” the newspaper, which calls itself the voice of the Islamic Revolution, said.

SWIFT is going to pull the plug on Iran on 17 March, three days before the opening of the oil bourse.

Via: BBC:

Swift, the body that handles global banking transactions, says it will cut Iran’s banks out of the system on Saturday to enforce sanctions.

The move will isolate Iran financially by making it almost impossible for money to flow in and out of the country via official banking channels.

It will hit its oil industry, but may also have a heavy impact on Iranians who live abroad and send money home.

The move follows EU sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.

The US and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons – a charge it denies.

Iran last week agreed to hold talks with six major world powers over its nuclear programme, although no date or venue has been set.

Almost all banking transactions pass through Belgium-based Swift, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which is sometimes called the “glue” that holds the financial system together.

Swift will pull the plug at 1600 GMT on Saturday, in what is all but the final blow to Iranian business dealings.

Michael Klare, Why High Gas Prices Are Here to Stay  

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TomDispatch has Michael Klare's latest look at the oil world - Michael Klare, Why High Gas Prices Are Here to Stay.

Oil prices are now higher than they have ever been -- except for a few frenzied moments before the global economic meltdown of 2008. Many immediate factors are contributing to this surge, including Iran’s threats to block oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, fears of a new Middle Eastern war, and turmoil in energy-rich Nigeria. Some of these pressures could ease in the months ahead, providing temporary relief at the gas pump. But the principal cause of higher prices -- a fundamental shift in the structure of the oil industry -- cannot be reversed, and so oil prices are destined to remain high for a long time to come.

In energy terms, we are now entering a world whose grim nature has yet to be fully grasped. This pivotal shift has been brought about by the disappearance of relatively accessible and inexpensive petroleum -- “easy oil,” in the parlance of industry analysts; in other words, the kind of oil that powered a staggering expansion of global wealth over the past 65 years and the creation of endless car-oriented suburban communities. This oil is now nearly gone.

The world still harbors large reserves of petroleum, but these are of the hard-to-reach, hard-to-refine, “tough oil” variety. From now on, every barrel we consume will be more costly to extract, more costly to refine -- and so more expensive at the gas pump.

Those who claim that the world remains “awash” in oil are technically correct: the planet still harbors vast reserves of petroleum. But propagandists for the oil industry usually fail to emphasize that not all oil reservoirs are alike: some are located close to the surface or near to shore, and are contained in soft, porous rock; others are located deep underground, far offshore, or trapped in unyielding rock formations. The former sites are relatively easy to exploit and yield a liquid fuel that can readily be refined into usable liquids; the latter can only be exploited through costly, environmentally hazardous techniques, and often result in a product which must be heavily processed before refining can even begin.

The simple truth of the matter is this: most of the world’s easy reserves have already been depleted -- except for those in war-torn countries like Iraq. Virtually all of the oil that’s left is contained in harder-to-reach, tougher reserves. These include deep-offshore oil, Arctic oil, and shale oil, along with Canadian “oil sands” -- which are not composed of oil at all, but of mud, sand, and tar-like bitumen. So-called unconventional reserves of these types can be exploited, but often at a staggering price, not just in dollars but also in damage to the environment.

In the oil business, this reality was first acknowledged by the chairman and CEO of Chevron, David O’Reilly, in a 2005 letter published in many American newspapers. “One thing is clear,” he wrote, “the era of easy oil is over.” Not only were many existing oil fields in decline, he noted, but “new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically, and even politically.”

Further evidence for this shift was provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a 2010 review of world oil prospects. In preparation for its report, the agency examined historic yields at the world’s largest producing fields -- the “easy oil” on which the world still relies for the overwhelming bulk of its energy. The results were astonishing: those fields were expected to lose three-quarters of their productive capacity over the next 25 years, eliminating 52 million barrels per day from the world’s oil supplies, or about 75% of current world crude oil output. The implications were staggering: either find new oil to replace those 52 million barrels or the Age of Petroleum will soon draw to a close and the world economy would collapse.

Of course, as the IEA made clear back in 2010, there will be new oil, but only of the tough variety that will exact a price from us all -- and from the planet, too. To grasp the implications of our growing reliance on tough oil, it’s worth taking a whirlwind tour of some of the more hair-raising and easily damaged spots on Earth. So fasten your seatbelts: first we’re heading out to sea -- way, way out -- to survey the “promising” new world of twenty-first-century oil.

Deepwater Oil

Oil companies have been drilling in offshore areas for some time, especially in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caspian Sea. Until recently, however, such endeavors invariably took place in relatively shallow waters -- a few hundred feet, at most -- allowing oil companies to use conventional drills mounted on extended piers. Deepwater drilling, in depths exceeding 1,000 feet, is an entirely different matter. It requires specialized, sophisticated, and immensely costly drilling platforms that can run into the billions of dollars to produce.

The Deepwater Horizon, destroyed in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 as a result of a catastrophic blowout, is typical enough of this phenomenon. The vessel was built in 2001 for some $500 million, and cost around $1 million per day to staff and maintain. Partly as a result of these high costs, BP was in a hurry to finish work on its ill-fated Macondo well and move the Deepwater Horizon to another drilling location. Such financial considerations, many analysts believe, explain the haste with which the vessel’s crew sealed the well -- leading to a leakage of explosive gases into the wellbore and the resulting blast. BP will now have to pay somewhere in excess of $30 billion to satisfy all the claims for the damage done by its massive oil spill.

Following the disaster, the Obama administration imposed a temporary ban on deep-offshore drilling. Barely two years later, drilling in the Gulf’s deep waters is back to pre-disaster levels. President Obama has also signed an agreement with Mexico allowing drilling in the deepest part of the Gulf, along the U.S.-Mexican maritime boundary.

Meanwhile, deepwater drilling is picking up speed elsewhere. Brazil, for example, is moving to exploit its “pre-salt” fields (so-called because they lie below a layer of shifting salt) in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean far off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. New offshore fields are similarly being developed in deep waters off Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

By 2020, says energy analyst John Westwood, such deepwater fields will supply 10% of the world’s oil, up from only 1% in 1995. But that added production will not come cheaply: most of these new fields will cost tens or hundreds of billions of dollars to develop, and will only prove profitable as long as oil continues to sell for $90 or more per barrel. ...

Arctic Oil

The Arctic is expected to provide a significant share of the world’s future oil supply. Until recently, production in the far north has been very limited. Other than in the Prudhoe Bay area of Alaska and a number of fields in Siberia, the major companies have largely shunned the region. But now, seeing few other options, they are preparing for major forays into a melting Arctic.

From any perspective, the Arctic is the last place you want to go to drill for oil. Storms are frequent, and winter temperatures plunge far below freezing. Most ordinary equipment will not operate under these conditions. Specialized (and costly) replacements are necessary. Working crews cannot live in the region for long. Most basic supplies -- food, fuel, construction materials -- must be brought in from thousands of miles away at phenomenal cost.

But the Arctic has its attractions: billions of barrels of untapped oil, to be exact. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the area north of the Arctic Circle, with just 6% of the planet’s surface, contains an estimated 13% of its remaining oil (and an even larger share of its undeveloped natural gas) -- numbers no other region can match. ...

Tar Sands and Heavy Oil

Another significant share of the world’s future petroleum supply is expected to come from Canadian tar sands (also called “oil sands”) and the extra-heavy oil of Venezuela. Neither of these is oil as normally understood. Not being liquid in their natural state, they cannot be extracted by traditional drilling materials, but they do exist in great abundance. According to the USGS, Canada’s tar sands contain the equivalent of 1.7 trillion barrels of conventional (liquid) oil, while Venezuela’s heavy oil deposits are said to harbor another trillion barrels of oil equivalent -- although not all of this material is considered “recoverable” with existing technology.

Those who claim that the Petroleum Age is far from over often point to these reserves as evidence that the world can still draw on immense supplies of untapped fossil fuels. And it is certainly conceivable that, with the application of advanced technologies and a total indifference to environmental consequences, these resources will indeed be harvested. But easy oil this is not. ...

The Hidden Costs

Tough-oil reserves like these will provide most of the world’s new oil in the years ahead. One thing is clear: even if they can replace easy oil in our lives, the cost of everything oil-related -- whether at the gas pump, in oil-based products, in fertilizers, in just about every nook and cranny of our lives -- is going to rise. Get used to it. If things proceed as presently planned, we will be in hock to big oil for decades to come.

And those are only the most obvious costs in a situation in which hidden costs abound, especially to the environment. As with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil extraction in deep-offshore areas and other extreme geographical locations will ensure ever greater environmental risks. After all, approximately five million barrels of oil were discharged into the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to BP’s negligence, causing extensive damage to marine animals and coastal habitats.

Keep in mind that, as catastrophic as it was, it occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, where vast cleanup forces could be mobilized and the ecosystem’s natural recovery capacity was relatively robust. The Arctic and Greenland represent a different story altogether, given their distance from established recovery capabilities and the extreme vulnerability of their ecosystems. Efforts to restore such areas in the wake of massive oil spills would cost many times the $30-$40 billion BP is expected to pay for the Deepwater Horizon damage and be far less effective.

In addition to all this, many of the most promising tough-oil fields lie in Russia, the Caspian Sea basin, and conflict-prone areas of Africa. To operate in these areas, oil companies will be faced not only with the predictably high costs of extraction, but also additional costs involving local systems of bribery and extortion, sabotage by guerrilla groups, and the consequences of civil conflict.

And don’t forget the final cost: If all these barrels of oil and oil-like substances are truly produced from the least inviting of places on this planet, then for decades to come we will continue to massively burn fossil fuels, creating ever more greenhouse gases as if there were no tomorrow. And here’s the sad truth: if we proceed down the tough-oil path instead of investing as massively in alternative energies, we may foreclose any hope of averting the most catastrophic consequences of a hotter and more turbulent planet.

So yes, there is oil out there. But no, it won’t get cheaper, no matter how much there is. And yes, the oil companies can get it, but looked at realistically, who would want it?

The sinking of the E-Cat  

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Ugo at Cassandra's Legacy has an update on the tale of the "ECat" - The sinking of the E-Cat.

It was Captain Kirk of the starship "Enterprise" who said that it is not a good idea to put oneself in a no-win situation. Good advice that was not taken by Mr. Andrea Rossi, inventor of the "E-Cat," the cold fusion device that he claimed to be able to solve the world's energy problems. After having been unable to show that his device produces energy, Mr. Rossi stated that he didn't need any more tests because he could now proceed to market it in millions of pieces. But, in reality, Mr. Rossi had simply placed himself in a no-win situation. The E-Cat is now fast sinking, hit by the contradictions of its inventor.

Let's start with what Rossi himself had declared about his E-Cat. He said that it is based on the nuclear fusion of hydrogen and nickel nuclei (see Rossi's patent) and that gamma rays are produced during operation (see here) so that lead shields had to be placed inside the device. Rossi also said that he was building a factory in the United States where he would produce E-Cats by the millions to be sold as water heaters for people's homes. According to some recent statements by Rossi, the device had been undergoing safety testing for months at Underwriters Laboratory.

It couldn't go unnoticed in Florida that someone was claiming to be producing nuclear reactors in large numbers. On February 24, an officer of the State of Florida Bureau of Radiation Control went to investigate what was going on in the pretended "E-Cat factory" in Miami. There, he found no factory, but an apartment and Andrea Rossi in person. Questioned on the E-Cat, Rossi declared that "no nuclear reactions occur inside the device." Rossi also stated that all the facilities for testing and production are "overseas," and that safety certification with Underwriters Laboratory will be arranged in the future. The officer then left, writing in his report that his bureau has no jurisdiction over a device which has nothing nuclear inside. (The complete documentation is here, comments can be found here and here. Rossi himself confirmed the story here.)

No matter how we want to see this story, it is clear that Rossi has been victim of his own "no-win" strategy. First, he claimed that he had developed a nuclear device, but he never could provide convincing proof. So he said that he didn't need proof because he could just produce and sell the device - the market would judge it. But if he wanted to produce and sell the device, then he would have to obtain the necessary certifications. And how to obtain the necessary certifications after having declared that the device is based on nuclear reactions and it emits gamma rays? Surely, Rossi's word is not enough to prove that shielding with lead foil is sufficient to remove gamma rays. Maybe there are arcane reasons (as claimed in this paper) that reduce, or even eliminate, gamma ray emission. But just the possibility of such an emission would required extensive investigations and years of work. So, you see? If it is nuclear, Rossi can't sell it. If it is not nuclear, who would buy it? A classic no-win situation.

In the end, lacking experimental proof, the idea that the E-Cat produces energy rests only on Rossi's statements that say, basically, just "trust me". But after the Florida story, it is clear that this is, also, a no-win strategy. How can you trust Rossi after so many contradictions? Where is the E-Cat factory that he said was in the US and then, no, it is overseas? Most likely, there isn't one. And where is the safety testing (not) being done? Incidentally, if, hypothetically, the E-Cat were really producing nuclear reactions, we should think of Rossi as a dangerous criminal who lied to the Florida officer about his plans to produce and sell a device that generates gamma rays without the necessary safety certifications. That Rossi can't be trusted has been clearly perceived also by Rossi's supporters, who have been abandoning the sinking ship: for instance Sterling Allan. The University of Bologna had wisely disengaged from Rossi already in January.

More Problems at Calif. Nuclear Plant  

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The WSJ has a report on more safety issues at US nuclear power plants - More Problems at Calif. Nuclear Plant.

More failed pressure tests of critical equipment at a Southern California nuclear-power plant raised new concerns about safety and possible electricity shortages this summer.

Edison International's Southern California Edison utility said Friday four steam tubes, or metal pipes, that carry radioactive water failed pressure tests. Three other tubes ruptured during testing earlier in the week, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to send a team to investigate.

SoCal Edison said it was taking the ruptures seriously, and was looking for alternative power sources to serve customers.

Now US says solar PV to be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020  

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Giles Parkinson at REneweconomy has a report on the changing economics of solar power - Now US says solar PV to be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020.

The sharp slump in solar PV prices has caused a dramatic re-evaluation of the technology cost and potential for solar by the world’s largest energy consumers – the US, China, and India – over the last three months.

The latest update came from US Energy secretary Stephen Chu, who suggested in a keynote speech late last week that the US government’s “sunshot” program launched in 2020 – with the goal of making solar cheaper than fossil fuels by the end of the decade – was no longer just aspirational, but a growing reality.

Chu began by making several observations about the US energy industry as it now stands. Onshore wind is already cheaper than new coal-fired energy, although gas is cheaper than both at around 5.5c/KWh, thanks to the boom in shale gas exploitation. Solar PV comes in at around 15c-24c/KWh. But Chu said the goal is to get solar down to 6.5c/KWh by the end of this decade (remember, Australia’s white energy paper absurdly predicts solar PV at 34c/KWh by 2035! Which is why you won’t hear a Chu-style speech from any current Australian energy minister).

Chu noted that utility-scale solar had already gone from $8 a watt in 2005 to $3.80 a watt in 2010, when the cost of the module was $1.70/watt. To get the cost of utility-scale solar down to $1/watt, it needs the cost of modules (which accounts for half of the total cost) to fall to 50c/watt. What makes him more optimistic than ever that the US will get there is the fact that in less than two years, it is already down to 93c/watt for silicon-based panels and below 80c/watt for cadmium telluride. “We’re more than half way there on module costs already, “ he told the ARPA-E conference. “Now we’ve got to do the same on the balance of system costs, and we are working hard on that.”

Once the total system cost gets to $1 a watt, utility-scale solar will have a long-term cost of energy of 6.5c/KWh. At that point, Chu says, it will be the same price as natural gas, without the need for any solar subsidies.

Chu’s predictions mean that the governments of the world’s three biggest energy users – China, the US and India – each believe that the cost of utility-scale solar will be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020 at the latest. In India, because they have to import so much and have lousy transport infrastructure, that cost curve is expected to intersect with five years.

These three countries are predicted by the International Energy Agency to account for half of all energy demand in 2035. In the next biggest market, Europe, wind energy is already cheaper than fossil fuels in most countries. The Middle East, which will be the next biggest market, has already recognised that solar is cheaper than the oil-fired plants it currently uses.

So, what happens next? Most people can possibly guess, but for those who think it might not mean much, or that the transition will be slow, Chu used the example of the transport industry, and the introduction of the automobile, to illustrate just how quickly an industrial sector can be transformed. Up to the mid 1890s, the US transport industry was dominated by the horse and cart, he noted. By the early 1920s, it was almost all automobiles and trucks.

“It was,” says Chu, “one of the most rapid transformations in the history of industrialisation” – particularly if you considered the infrastructure that had to go with it, such as manufacturing and fuel distribution.

And, like solar and the energy industry, the transport industry was driven not just by better and cheaper technology, but by environmental factors too. “In New York in the 1890s, there were 160,000 horses dropping 3-4 million pounds of manure each day,” he noted. “It had reached its saturation point …. pollution hastened the transition,” he said.

And, of course, there were naysayers. The president of the Michigan Savings Bank told Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, that the “horse was here to stay and the automobile was just a fad.” Rackham ignored him and turned a $5,000 investment in the Ford Motor Co into a stake worth $15 million. In 1909, the magazine Scientific American said that the automobile had reached the “limit of its development”.

Little wonder that the vested interests, those with trillions of dollars invested in the current energy infrastructure and energy sources, and the prospect that their unearthed resources will continue to be exploited, are pushing back so fiercely. Any delay in funding programs for R&D and deployment is a win for the fossil fuel industry.

Climate Danger from Natural Gas  

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Chris Vernon has a look at the impact on global warming of natural gas extraction - Climate Danger from Natural Gas.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece (Natural gas, the green choice?) for The Oil Drum looking at the climate change implications of using gas rather than coal. Burning gas to produce electricity produces only around 40% the CO2 emissions of burning coal. However, since methane (CH4) is itself a potent greenhouse gas, its release to the atmosphere without being burnt can quickly compensate for this CO2 advantage against coal. I included this chart to illustrate the point:



On the left, CO2 emissions per kWh for coal and natural gas. On the right, the global warming potential of leaked CH4 expressed as CO2

The key take-away was that if the natural gas leak rate is 3%, the global warming potential of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from gas is equivalent to coal. The details behind the chart are in the original article.

This week the journal Nature has an article (Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field) presenting measurements from a gas field and suggesting that “Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas.”
Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. ...

Gas is often described as the ‘cleaner’ choice, as a transitional energy source between coal and low-carbon renewables. Gas does burn without emitting the oxides of sulphur (SOx) and nitrogen (NOx), traces of mercury, selenium and arsenic, as well as the particulates associated with coal and doesn’t leave the non-combustible slag. Despite this it is increasingly unclear that gas has a significantly lower climate impact and the fracking process itself is not as clean as conventional gas extraction.

This figure of 4%, their range is 2.3–7.7% loss, with a best guess of 4%, is well inside the danger zone suggesting gas has similar, if not higher, climate impact as coal.

Reviewing Jevons' Paradox  

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Wired has a look at the accuracy of Jevons Paradox and the implications for energy efficiency strategy - Clive Thompson on Unsaving the Planet.

We put a lot of stock in energy efficiency. It is regarded as the quickest and easiest way to reduce carbon emissions. Al Gore even ended An Inconvenient Truth with a plea for everyone to install low-power lightbulbs and appliances.

But in 1865, British economist William Stanley Jevons offered a skeptical take on efficiency. In The Coal Question, he wrote that energy-efficiency technology has a backlash effect. By increasing efficiency we make energy cheaper, thus spurring people to use more of it. As Jevons pointed out, when steam engines became more efficient, the consumption of coal (for steam production) didn’t decrease—it expanded, because steam engines became cheaper to run and thus attractive for more and more things.

Adherents call this the Jevons paradox, or rebound effect. And the idea is at the heart of David Owen’s new book, The Conundrum, which argues that not only will efficiency fail to solve global warming—it’ll actually make things worse. The good news is that Owen’s analysis is likely off target. But it’s worth hearing him out.

Owen makes a number of grim observations that ring true. Automobile engines have become much more efficient, but we’ve responded by demanding larger cars loaded with more electrical gewgaws. Air-conditioning has become more efficient, but we’ve made it a cultural norm that every room and vehicle nationwide must be cooled in summer.

Or consider lighting. As a source of illumination, light from modern bulbs costs just 0.03 percent of what candles did in 1800. But a recent study funded by the US Department of Energy found that the amount of global GDP spent on lighting has remained at about 0.72 percent over the past three centuries. The astonishing increase in lighting efficiency merely drove an explosion in the number of things we light up—like kids’ sneakers. Efficient power usage has made it “so that there’s almost nothing you can do that doesn’t require power,” as Owen tells me.

But if efficiency will just make things worse, how can we avert climate disaster? Owen says we need to start living smaller, quickly and dramatically—by traveling less and consuming less and taxing energy much more. It is not, he admits, a pleasant message.

Assuming he’s correct. The Jevons paradox has long been controversial, with economists arguing that Jevons got it wrong. Rebound effects are real, they say, but much smaller than he believed.

That’s because we modern folk spend very little on energy—only around 9 percent of GDP in the US. Plus, if we save money through energy efficiency, we don’t immediately spend those savings solely on more energy. We spend it on more food or movies or clothes, where energy accounts for only a small part of creation cost. As a result, economist James Barrett calculates, rebound probably decreases the total amount of energy saved by at most 30 percent—hardly the catastrophe predicted by Jevons and Owen.

There’s also evidence that efficiency standards work. After California imposed them in 1974, per capita electricity consumption stopped growing, even as it rose throughout the rest of the nation. Yes, globally we chew through more power every year, but that’s due to economic growth, argues Amory Lovins, an environmental scientist with the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Owen and other rebound Cassandras “have a critique of growth, which they then blame on energy efficiency,” Lovins tells me. But perhaps we’re buying two air conditioners simply because we’re wealthier, not because air conditioners are more efficient.

National Convention Centre Installs Better Place Charge Points  

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Better Place has a press release about the installation of charge points at the national convention centre in Canberra - National Convention Centre pioneers a sustainability benchmark.

The National Convention Centre, Canberra, is the first conference centre in Australia to pioneer the installation of electric car charge spots.

In partnership with leading electric car charge network Better Place, the National Convention Centre has installed two permanent charge spots in its car park for electric car drivers to use. Drivers can plug into the charge spot and top-up their battery whilst enjoying the conference centre’s various facilities and event spaces.

Four electric cars can charge at once using the spots at the National Convention Centre, which is managed by IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group).

“The National Convention Centre is committed to helping our visitors make a positive contribution to environmental sustainability,” National Convention Centre manager, Cindy Young said.

“Reducing carbon emissions is not just a global issue; it’s a local issue too. Installing charge spots for electric car drivers supports our commitment to sustainability, and enables us to offer a leading-edge service for visitors that can also help to reduce pollution and emission levels in Canberra,” Ms Young said.

there’s no tomorrow ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

Dermot from Idleworm (one of the many blogs that I used to read which now seems to have pretty much stopped operating) how finally released his animation project about peak oil - there’s no tomorrow. Its pretty doomerish when considering alternatives but quite relaxing to watch.

Global mining boom is leading to landgrab, says report  

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The Guardian has a report on the growing demand for minerals (clearly we aren't going to achieve a cradle-to-cradle industrial ecosystem any time soon) - Global mining boom is leading to landgrab, says report.

The global mining, oil and gas industries have expanded so fast in the last decade they are now leading to large-scale "landgrabbing" and threatening farming and water supplies, according to a report by environment and development groups in Europe, Africa and India.

"The catalogue of devastation is growing. We are no longer talking about isolated pockets of destruction and pollution. In just 10 years, iron ore production has more than doubled, coal has risen 45% and metals like lithium by 125%. Across Africa, Latin America and Asia, more and more lands, rivers and aquifers are being devoured by mining activities.

"Industrial wastelands are being formed by vast open-pit mines and mountain top removal, and the poisoning of water systems, deforestation, and the contamination of topsoil," says the report by the Gaia foundation and groups including Friends of the Earth International, Grain, Oilwatch and Navdanya in India.

The dramatic increase in large-scale mining, clearly seen in places such as the Amazon for gold and oil, India's tribal forest lands for bauxite, South Africa for coal and Ghana for gold, is being fuelled by the rising price of metals and oil. These have acted as an incentive to exploit new areas and less pure deposits, says the report.

"Technologies are becoming more sophisticated to extract materials from areas which were previously inaccessible, uneconomic or designated of 'lower' quality," it says. "That means more removal of soil, sand and rock and the gouging out of much larger areas of land, as seen with the Alberta tar sands in Canada."

Economies are getting better at reducing the intensity of the use of raw materials but the sheer increase in their absolute consumption is now staggering, say the authors. According to the US Mineral Information Institute, the average American will use close to 1,300 tonnes of minerals in a lifetime. Global energy demand, which is based largely on fossil fuels, is expected to increase 35% by 2030, according to oil firm Exxon.

Iran presses ahead with dollar attack ?  

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I never view the UK Daily Telegraph as an entirely factual information but its the only place I've noticed this story (at least in recent years) linking the Iranian oil bourse and planned non-dollar oil sales to the latest round of sabre rattling (which mostly seems to be coming from the Israelis) - Iran presses ahead with dollar attack.

Last week, the Tehran Times noted that the Iranian oil bourse will start trading oil in currencies other than the dollar from March 20. This long-planned move is part of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vision of economic war with the west.

“The dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme is nothing more than a convenient excuse for the US to use threats to protect the 'reserve currency’ status of the dollar,” the newspaper, which calls itself the voice of the Islamic Revolution, said.

“Recall that Saddam [Hussein] announced Iraq would no longer accept dollars for oil purchases in November 2000 and the US-Anglo invasion occurred in March 2003,” the Times continued. “Similarly, Iran opened its oil bourse in 2008, so it is a credit to Iranian negotiating ability that the 'crisis’ has not come to a head long before now.”

Iran has the third-largest oil reserves in the world and pricing oil in currencies other than dollars is a provocative move aimed at Washington. If Iran switches to the non-dollar terms for its oil payments, there could be a new oil price that would be denominated in euro, yen or even the yuan or rupee.

India is already in talks with Iran over how it can pay for its oil in rupees.

Even more surprisingly, reports have suggested that India is even considering paying for its oil in gold bullion.

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