Farewell Bob Brown  

Posted by Big Gav in

I was sad to see Bob Brown announce his retirement last week. On the plus side he's been remarkably effective at building a third party and forcing through a carbon tax over the past couple of years courtesy of achieving the balance of power at the last election. Its a shame that parliament will be losing one of the few authentic politicians left - what a sad collection of hacks the rest of them are (other than a few remnant exceptions like Malcolm Turnbull).

Crikey duo Bernard Keane and Guy Rundle have some thoughts. First Keane - Brown: our most successful third-party pollie.

Bob Brown ends his long and successful parliamentary career with the Greens at the peak of their power.

The former medical practitioner has travelled the long journey from the United Tasmania Group, which won just under 4% of the vote in the 1972 state election, to leader of the party with the balance of power in the Senate, a deal with a minority government and a House of Representatives seat.

After a medical career, Brown served 10 years in the Tasmanian parliament (taking his seat the day after he was released from prison for protesting against the Franklin Dam) and, as he would do in the Senate, oversaw the rise of the Greens to balance-of-power status in Tasmania.

Brown entered the Senate in 1996 and was, from 1998 to 2001, the sole Greens representative (and parliament’s first openly gay member). A decade later, he leaves the Senate with nine Greens senators, after the Greens Senate vote reached 13% in 2010.

At a time when politics is increasingly professionalised and parties are pushing younger, less experienced people into senior positions, Brown was a traditional conviction politician, forthright in attacking the most sacred of cows in Australian public policy on economics, the media and foreign policy, including challenging George W. Bush when he addressed Parliament. He most recently attracted criticism for his now-famous “fellow earthians” speech arguing for a global parliamentary democracy.

What was missed by most commentators was that the speech was to a Greens party conference; when Barnaby Joyce plays to his party’s base it is seen as canny retail politics; when Brown did the same, it was “looney left” stuff.

A key challenge from the rise of the Greens to balance of power status (and the spread of Greens senators to all states) has been managing expectations from the party’s base — which varies significantly in different states, with the Australian Greens still notionally being a composite of separate state parties. But this was deftly managed in relation to the carbon price with Christine Milne convincing Labor to establish an all-party process to develop a package, enabling the Greens to shape the package from the outset, which led to a significant array of “direction action” measures, including a massive Clean Energy Finance Corporation investment vehicle.

The result is that, so far, the threat of alienating the party base through the necessary compromises that come from the balance of power has yet to eventuate. ”I’ve always waited for a protest outside our window saying we’re too weak,” Brown told Crikey recently, “but I find myself in a situation where we’re taking a stronger stand on environmental issues than key mainstream long-established environment group — I never thought I’d find myself in that position.”

Despite media portrayals of him as a soft liberal, Brown’s early political experience was torrid.

“Twenty years ago I could not go up the street without getting abused,” he said. “Quite a lot of it was homophobic abuse, but it was coming out of the fact that I was an environmentalist, wanting to change the economic direction, the skill set and the employment base of this state … it was threatening, it was abusive, it was foul language, car windows down when people drove up the street … having the personal wherewithal to go through that sort of ever-present abuse … is a bit of a crucible for toughening up and a bit of a learning curve.

“But,” he added, “I’m not in Syria.” And, he says, now he has the opposite problem of being stopped by well wishers.

With the carbon pricing package about to start and the party at historic levels of strength federally, Brown leaves politics as the most successful non-major party politician of his generation, having twice built up a parliamentary third-party presence to balance-of-power levels.

Brown’s Tasmanian colleague Christine Milne will succeed Brown; like him, Milne has considerable state parliamentary experience and led the Tasmanian Greens in coalition with the Liberals in the 1990s (after succeeding Brown). It was Milne who drove the Greens’ involvement in the carbon pricing package. ...

Brown today rightly declared himself proud to be leaving the leadership of a growing party. But he is less optimistic about the overall direction of progressive politics currently.

Progressive politics, he told Crikey, is in a “stunning and very troubling retreat … it’s being totally eclipsed by the power of the corporations..."

And now Rundle's take (rather more dense reading than you'll find anywhere else on the topic !) - Greens will survive the Brown-out.
There’s something cruelly ironic about the departure of Bob Brown, and the subsequent coverage of it — the acres of identikit propagandorial cost the death of countless trees to cover the career of a man whose life’s work was to save them.

Throughout News and Fairfax, national correspondents with zip to go on — because they rarely bother to talk to individual Greens senators about their beliefs, priorities and pollies — tried to conduct some sort of guessing game about the likely effect of Brown’s departure. Was Christine Milne too strident for the public to take to? Would the Greens go the way of the Democrats? Was this departure a product of factional splits within the Greens? The Democrats, would the Greens go the way they had gone? Was there conflict between state and federal branches? Would the Greens, suffer, well the Democrats, you know what happened to them?

And on and on. It was mainstream Australian political commentary at its usual worst, devoid of ideas, insight, or any anchoring to the greater political and social movements of the world. The cynical and intellectually limited people who make up the bulk of the mainstream press gallery are instantly at sea when dealing with a political movement that is effective in the mainstream and yet connected to a wider and more comprehensive movement. When they look at the Greens, they are as the colour-blind looking on a Jackson Pollock — they can discern general shapes but none of the real essence.

So the story, repeated ceaselessly across all media, has been one of a crude factional split between the so-called “greenies” — identified with Brown, Milne and one or two others — versus the “watermelons” — ex-Trotskyites and Communists identified with Lee Rhiannon. Adam Bandt tends to get lumped into this latter category, due to his involvement in the “Left Alliance” student group in the ’90s, and a PhD on a Marxist legal theorist, which has acquired an occult mystery status second only to the lost Gospel of St Thomas. The general story/hope of many commentators is that, without Brown’s charismatic presence, these factions will fall on each other like wolves, and the public vote will collapse.

This, it must be noted at the first, is a pretty recent reversal in the press gallery’s group think about Brown. For year he was the charisma-free, mung-bean eating, pious and ascetic, blah blah, when he was not, in the words of someone like Greg Sheridan a “sly and cunning” leader, an ideologue having maintained deep cover as a dutiful doctor and nature lover, called to politics in his mid-30s, his long “sleeper” nature as a normal human being complete. He was described, utterly erroneously, as a “deep ecologist” — one who believed in radical population reduction, deindustrialisation, etc, to fit humanity back into nature.

But this endlessly repeated narrative had to be abandoned when Brown and the Greens began to win seriously and consistently — otherwise it would be an affirmation of deep ecology itself. Furthermore, as Brown spent more time in the public eye, and became known for a plain-spokenness, an anti-charismatic speaking style, and a wry humour, the frame didn’t fit. So two new narratives were introduced. The first was that Brown was the reasonable man holding back the deep Greens he had hitherto been accused of membership of. Now he was the guy in the suit, fending off the bush crazies who would come into town ahead of the Greens AGMs, take over the party, nominate a whale to the Senate, and mandate vegan dog food.

This story didn’t last a hugely long time either — once Brown was joined by more than one other Senator, and it became clear that their concerns were more than merely environmental, the non-emergence of the ferals had to be explained. By the mid-2000s, the Greens had been reshaped by external events — the refugee crisis and the war on terror. Standing firm against the “emergency” politics of both, they earned a decisive switch from a whole social class who had been wavering between they and Labour for most of a decade. The “cultural producer” class — policy workers, teachers, culture and knowledge creators — those who formed the base of the Labor Left for a couple of decades (after the dissolution of the old industrial left), once they were convinced of the Greens bona fides, switched across and didn’t come back. The solidity of the Greens also dealt a death-blow to the Democrats, as a whole tranche of somewhat more culturally conventional leftists and social liberals made the decisive switch from the old party to the new.

So a third narrative was needed. Brown now became not merely a bulwark against craziness, but a rule-proving exception — a brave and wise man of the people, the Green who wasn’t a Green, the adult in the room. He was now someone to be supported in his lonely struggle against the Red Regiments surging into the ranks of the placid and gentle Greens. As NSW state member Lee Rhiannon, whose past had attracted little attention hitherto, prepared to enter the Senate, her past membership of the born-moribund pro-Soviet Socialist Party of Australia (it had split from the CPA in 1972), became a focus of manufactured obsession.The attack on Rhiannon was full or ironies — the Australian Right is currently full of people like Christopher Pearson and Keith Windschuttle who rejected SPA’s line as hopelessly moderate, and enthusiastically supported the Chinese cultural revolution and Pol Pot’s auto-genocidal Kampuchea. In today’s Oz, another screed on Green “watermelons” is cheek-by-jowl with a piece on New Guinea by Helen Hughes, who was a member of the CPA during its mid-’60s remnant Stalinist period. Then, she advocated revolution in New Guinea and Aboriginal Australia. Now she advocates withdrawal of aid, compulsory imposition of individual land tenure, whether people want it or not. The Stalinist impulse, the adamantine certainty about reconstructing people’s lives survives wherever the politics ends up — yet you won’t see any exposes of Hughes’ past politics in the Oz.

However, it was also true that the attitude of the small but active and influential Marxist “far-left” to the Greens had changed. Having made various serio-comic attempts to create a unified electoral bloc, and gaining about 1% of the vote, this was abandoned in favour of supporting or even joining the Greens. By and large this wasn’t a strategy of “entrism” as practised by Trotskyite groups in UK Labour in the ’80s, but it was an attempt to give activist backbone to a party whose branches were often composed of nice people, wanting to make the world a better place, and yet as dippy as a three-tier chocolate fountain. The increased effectiveness of the Greens over the past decades has come to a significant degree from the tried-and-tested organisational skills many of these people brought to the party.

The rise of Rhiannon, and of a red phalanx allowed the Right to construct a simple narrative of red versus green. The “reds” in this analysis were watermelons — they allegedly had no real concern for the Green causes they wrapped themselves in, using the party only as a vehicle for a century-old Marxist struggle. The idea that Marxists might believe that the destruction of the planet as an entity supporting human life might constitute a genuine historical emergency, and an inevitable consequence of capitalist alienation, was too complex to understand (and would require the acknowledgement that there was a genuine historical emergency), and would involve recognising them as full human beings. So the mad conspiratorial theories became obsessively dominating.

The red/green pseudo-split underestimated the degree of environmental concern on the left — and also the degree of leftist critique on the Brown/green side. The green Greens had never been indifferent to the idea that capitalism, by its very nature, must expand its productive base to retain its level of profitability, and that this eventually brings it into conflict with social and natural life — the movement globally, had simply rejected doctrinaire notions of class struggle, and revolutionary socialism. Green politics is implicitly social democratic/democratically socialist in that it believes that the key production decisions — output levels, pollution levels and costs, etc — should be in democratic hands (whether through the state or interlinked co-operatives or a hundred other possibilities), rather than set by capital, and enforced by an unquestioning growth state.

Furthermore, the notion of a simple red/green split obscured the most interesting development of a “third force” within the Greens — the post-Marxist leftism represented by Adam Bandt and a half-dozen leading figures who entered the Greens (many as senior advisers) in the 2000s, and began to reshape its politics. For the dim-bulb depress gallery, there was only one Marxism — far-left Trotskyism, with its political schema of classes, labour theory of value, etc, essentially unchanged since before the First World War. But the “Left Alliance” group with which the “Bandt faction” had been involved since the ’90s had constituted itself in direct opposition to this sort of Marxism. Using theorists such as Ernesto LaClau, Foucault, Giorgio Agamben and others, there has been a long-standing attempt to theorise a world dominated by intellectual production, global fluidity, the changed role of culture in personal formation, etc. A pretty clear statement as to how this approach to the world fits with a green philosophy was contained in Bandt’s maiden speech, republished in The Age, in which he affirmed that a Green politics of collective ownership of the planet fits into a wider notion of radical equality — which then necessitates a commitment to same-s-x marriage. Rather than being a grab-bag of progressive policies, this approach puts a whole series of social and environmental policies on a common ground. It’s a philosophy with which the Greens can go consistently into the future.

What’s most noticeable is that this “third force” Greens faction’s ideas fit more neatly with the Green Greens rather than the Red Greens they are supposed to be in alliance with. The Bandt faction want to distance themselves as much as possible from old crude anti-imperialist struggles — such as the pro-Palestine BDS campaigns in NSW, on the grounds that left politics can no longer be squeezed into such simplistic strait-jackets. Ditto, the Bandt faction support for involvement in Libya, which was crucial to the party adopting the stance in full. Interestingly none of this complexity appeared in Sally Neighbour’s one-dimensional article on the Greens in The Monthly, which brought that publication’s obsessions to the issue, and missed the wider story. Indeed, the major factional struggle in the future will be between the Bandt greens and the old red Greens, something the MSM has missed entirely.

The Greens have nearly 40 years continuous history in one form or another; they are part of a global movement — which they did much to foster — which has held government in numerous places. They have a deepening and expanding philosophy which makes factions possible without tearing the party apart; they have a class base. I reckon they will survive the departure of their key figure. Whether the MSM depress gallery can survive their continued existence remains to be seen.

And one last piece from the SMH - Bob Brown hikes off into his political sunset.
THE first time I visited Bob's old shack in Liffey in northern Tasmania, I was struck by the now famous sign on the front fence reading ''Trespassers Welcome''. Spending that night out there by myself I heard movement nearby and wondered if someone was in the back shed. I mentioned this to Brown when I saw him later and he confirmed that there was a homeless man camping out back.

It spoke to me about the kind of man he is: someone whose actions match his words.

Bob Brown announced on Friday that he would resign from Australian politics, as the party he has led for 16 years is at its prime. He exits as one of the great survivors of Australian politics, having endured six changes of Labor leadership and four on the Liberal side since he was first elected to the Senate in 1996 after 10 years in Tasmania's State Parliament.

The reasons for Brown's departure seem simple enough - he is not getting any younger and feels confident the Greens are a strong enough team to continue into the future. Knowing Brown, this is a decision he will not have arrived at lightly.

Brown has recently rearranged his life in Tasmania, given his famous bush property in Liffey to Bush Heritage Australia (an organisation he founded in 1991 that has gone on to preserve close to 1 million hectares of bushland around Australia) and moved to the idyllic farming town of Cygnet in the Huon Valley. ...

This connection between the local and the political has never left him. In later years, when Brown was drawn into the battles over Lake Pedder and the Franklin Dam, he emerged somewhat reluctantly as an environmental leader. He still suffered from crippling nerves at the thought of public speaking, and was always more of a political figure by necessity, rather than being driven by ego or lust for power. These early experiences ensured he has always retained his empathy for the underdog.

The idea of transformation is central to Brown's story. Just as he has had to overcome personal demons and transform himself into the man we know today, he has been able to take that power of transformation into national and even international political spheres. During the Howard years, Brown was regularly called the ''de facto leader of the opposition'' and was frequently a lone political voice against that government's involvement in the Iraq war and increasingly draconian refugee policies. He told mass rallies around the country in 2003 that, ''The prime minister has never, ever been given a mandate by the people of Australia to go to war with Iraq. The prime minister has abused the terms of freedom and democracy in his own country.''

Brown's words cut through the cynicism that many Australians feel towards politicians and gave much needed voice and heart to a movement that would become one of the largest anti-war movements in history.

Although the focus of Brown's activism has changed over the years, the fundamentals have remained: the attempt to keep in check the forces of rampant industrialisation, inject humanism and compassion into national politics, and preserve what is left in the natural environment for the sake of future generations.

Even from his enemies there is grudging respect. It's telling that although News Ltd papers in particular have attacked and criticised Brown at every turn, The Australian recently voted him the most influential politician in the country.

He denies that the viciousness of recent attacks is a factor in his decision to resign. ... Such attacks are not surprising. One of his favourite quotes is from Machiavelli: ''If you want to change the world, prepare to feel the full force of the reaction against you from those that have the most to lose.''

Terrified by peak oil, FedEx turns to biofuels, efficiency  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Grist has a look at FedEx's efforts to reduce the company's exposure to oil prices and availability - Terrified by peak oil, FedEx turns to biofuels, efficiency.

FedEx owns 700 planes and tens of thousands of trucks, which is why CEO Fred Smith is crazy for energy efficiency, reports NPR.
Shortly after Smith founded Federal Express, the 1973 Arab oil embargo almost killed it. The experience imprinted Smith with a keen interest in the price and availability of oil.

FedEx’s forthcoming all-electric pickup and delivery vans will cost one-quarter as much to operate per mile as their gasoline equivalents, says Smith. He also predicts that electric vehicles will be in wide commercial use in about six years.

In the future, he sees his jets being powered by algae-based fuels, and his long-haul trucks running on natural gas. Smith is a staunch Republican, by the way, and a perfect example of how energy efficiency is a no-brainer that cuts across political lines.

Why baseload power is doomed  

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Chris Nelder has a post at Smart Planet on the baseload fallacy and the path towards 100% renewable power - Why baseload power is doomed.

The grid’s architecture developed in a fairly ad-hoc way. As the country was built up, more generation capacity was added, and the grid was extended. Technologically speaking, most of the grid is old and “dumb”: Power gets generated somewhere, and transmitted somewhere else, but there is very little in the way of sensors, storage buffers, switches, or security mechanisms along the way. It’s more like plumbing than an iPhone. This is why it was possible for one overloaded transmission line in Ohio take down much of the grid in Ontario, the Northeast and the Midwest in the blackout of August 14, 2003.

Grid operators have one overriding, fearsome task: They must maintain enough supply from this very complex system, within a narrow range of frequencies and voltages, to meet constantly fluctuating demand at all times. Therefore they tend to be risk-averse, preferring to stick with what they know to be reliable, and avoiding innovation.

Enter renewables

Before the advent of renewables, generating power was a pretty straightforward task: When demand increased, you just added more fuel to an engine. With renewables, the task is reversed: The engines (wind turbines and solar collectors) ramp up and down of their own accord, and grid operators must adjust to accommodate their output.

The growth of renewables in the U.S. has been driven primarily by state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) requiring a certain percentage of power to be generated from renewables by a certain date. According to an April 2011 MIT report just released this month, 29 states have RPS mandates which typically require 15 to 25 percent renewables by 2015 to 2025. Many of these states mandate that grid operators give the renewably-generated power priority, so when wind generation spikes, for example, they must ramp down other generating units. In other areas of the U.S. and in parts of Europe, operators may instead curtail peak production from renewables to accommodate their baseload generation—for example, forcing a wind farm operator to furl their blades or apply brakes to their turbines.

The baseload fallacy

The notion that renewables cannot provide baseload power is really an artifact of the way the grid and its regulators have evolved. If all generators were able to ramp up and down on demand, and if grid operators were able to predict reliably when and where the sun would be shining and the wind would be blowing, accommodating any amount of power from renewables would be no problem.

A 2010 study called “The Base Load Fallacy” by Australian researcher Dr. Mark Diesendorf, an expert on integrating wind into power grids, fingers the “operational inflexibility of base-load power stations” as the main obstacle to further integration of renewables. “The renewable electricity system could be just as reliable as the dirty, fossil-fuelled system that it replaces,” he observes, if demand were more efficient and intelligent, and supply were made up of a wide variety of renewable sources plus a small amount of gas-fired capacity to cover the peaks. The perpetrators of the baseload fallacy, he argues, are mainly the industries who benefit from the status quo: coal, oil and gas companies, the nuclear industry, power generators, and industries who depend on them like aluminum and cement manufacturers.

Claims that renewables could never generate more than a few percent of grid power without taking down the grid have been given the lie by the real-world experience of areas that deliberately adapted their grids.

The best example in the U.S. is Texas. By virtue of having its own grid (technically, an “interconnection”), it is generally outside the purview of federal regulation by FERC. The entire grid is operated by a single ISO, ERCOT, so it has a lot of control over its generation mix and grid planning. Texas decided long ago to pursue its wind potential vigorously, and now has the largest installed wind capacity in the States at over 10 gigawatts (GW).

On March 7, ERCOT used a record 7,599 MW of wind power, constituting 22 percent of the load and representing over 77 percent of its nameplate wind capacity. The previous day it had met 24 percent of the load with wind. Baseload proponents had said that such levels of integration were flatly impossible. But ERCOT had made it possible with the help of a new modeling tool that analyzes real-time conditions every half-hour, giving grid technicians greater ability to match generation with demand and control transmission more discretely. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has found that if other grid operators adopted similar tools, over one third of U.S. power could be generated from renewables.

All that ERCOT needed to accommodate more wind power was some sensors, a better flow of information, and better modeling tools. As the MIT report notes, the hardware to provide better grid information already exists, but few operators have employed it in their control and dispatch operations. The obstacle is not technology, but “the industry’s culture of resistance to new and experimental projects.”

That’s not a problem for China, however. The MIT report mentions that China is piloting a program that will allow it to monitor the national grid in real-time and control it automatically. The system eventually could allow China’s grid to uptake a far greater percentage of renewably-generated power than the antiquated and obsolete U.S. grid can, although the former is still the world’s top consumer of coal for power generation.

Another 2010 study by the German Renewable Energies Agency turned conventional baseload logic on its head, finding that due to their relatively inflexible ability to adjust to changing demand, “nuclear power plants are incompatible with renewable energies.” To meet forecasted wind production in Germany, conventional baseload operation would be cut in half by 2020, assuming renewable generation continues to enjoy priority dispatch. As renewables gradually replace conventional baseload capacity, only more flexible gas generators that can operate at under 50 percent of their capacity will still have a role to play.

The European example

Europe serves as another model of why good grid planning and management are key to integrating renewables into the grid. If baseload proponents were correct, then we would expect the countries with the highest levels of renewable penetration to have the most trouble in managing their grids, but the reality is quite the opposite.

A comprehensive new report on renewables integration by European consultancy eclareon GmbH surveyed the policies and grid functions of the 27 member states of the European Union, and found that “large quantities [of renewable generation] can be effectively managed on the grid.” Countries that planned for adequate grid capacity generally didn’t have a problem with accommodating renewables, and unsurprisingly, those are the same countries that have pushed for more renewable generation.

Solar and wind generation as a percentage of electricity consumption in 27 European Union countries in 2010 (first bar) and 2020 (second bar). Grid integration designated by color: green = positive, yellow = neutral, red = negative. Source: RES Integration Final Report, eclareon GmbH.

Countries where the share of renewable power is greatest—Germany, Denmark, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal—offer “positive conditions for grid operations,” although some barriers to integration were identified, including the potential for curtailment in Germany, challenges to priority dispatching in Ireland, and strict distribution parameters in Portugal. Identified barriers for grid development in those countries revolve around public policy issues, permitting, regulatory regimes, cost distribution, and the obligation (or lack thereof) of grid operators to beef up their grids to accommodate more renewable power.

Ripe for innovation

The real issues around the integration of renewables into the grid have to do with human arrangements, not technology. As the MIT report concluded, “There is a clear need for a statement on national goals for the electricity sector to streamline the US regulatory structure, which currently is complex and fragmented.” We need smart policy, and an intelligent approach to planning the grid of the future that is not simply beholden to the vested interests of the status quo.

This will run directly at odds with the free-market ideologies that have brought us this far. As the EU project THINK observed, “the main shortcomings of the conventional regulatory framework are that grid companies have disincentives to innovate.” A firm regulatory hand, like that in the most renewably-powered countries of Europe, will be necessary to integrate more power from solar and wind onto the grid.

Renewables should be able to meet at least 20 percent of electricity demand without disrupting the grid just about anywhere in the world with good grid planning and management. As geothermal and marine power technologies mature, they will become a much less intermittent, natural substitute for the baseload technologies of the past. A host of other technologies will even out the bumps in renewable generation by adding storage (batteries for distributed storage, and pumped hydro and solar thermal for utility scale); increasing the connections between grids (allowing better transmission between sunny and cloudy, or windy and still areas); and transitioning to on-demand natural gas-fired peaking generators. Over the next decade, the current assumptions about the need for traditional baseload capacity will begin to fade as new storage, interconnection, and smart grid management strategies come into play, and ultimately, a combination of these technologies might raise the limit on renewables to 100 percent.

New Zealand to host tidal device testing  

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Tidal Power Today has a look at the slow steps towards harnessing tidal power in New Zealand - New Zealand to host tidal device testing.

It may seem one of the world’s most suitable locations for building a tidal power industry, but New Zealand looks like it also has a promising future as one of the world’s first major customers. An example of this is Crest Energy, a tidal company which in 2011 won planning permission for up to 200 MW at Kaipara harbour in the North Western peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island, which is taking a different course and will not be testing its own devices there.

Crest Energy, whose proposed project may well be the largest planned on the planet, has no tidal power prototypes of its own. Anthony Hopkins, managing director, says it will instead act as a developer, hosting companies with their own turbines and associated kit to produce electricity. ...

The company does have significant support from a major shareholder, the privately owned energy producer Todd Energy. Among the technology developers interested in New Zealand, perhaps not surprisingly, are the British, who could use various locations for product development and testing. A delegation from the UK arriving in April plans to consider such issues.

“I’m sure that some of the UK groups coming down will want to collaborate with New Zealand groups to develop and adapt prototypes to New Zealand conditions...the purpose of the mission is to link companies at the research and development level, where the research and development is advanced to a near-commercial level that can be exploited within a reasonable time-frame. ...

Other locally grown tidal companies are interested in developing their own projects or technology. These include Energy Pacifica, which has proposed a 30 MW project in the Tory Channel off the South Island, and Parnell Community Leisure Centre, which wants to power some community baths. Neptune Power is another company that wants to install tidal turbines in the Cook Straits (between the North and South island).

Germany’s $263 Billion Renewables Shift Biggest Since War  

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Bloomberg has a look at Germany's switch from nuclear power to renewable energy - Germany’s $263 Billion Renewables Shift Biggest Since War.

Not since the allies leveled Germany in World War II has Europe’s biggest economy undertaken a reconstruction of its energy market on this scale.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to build offshore wind farms that will cover an area six times the size of New York City and erect power lines that could stretch from London to Baghdad. The program will cost 200 billion euros ($263 billion), about 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011, according to the DIW economic institute in Berlin.

Germany aims to replace 17 nuclear reactors that supplied about a fifth of its electricity with renewables such as solar and wind. ...

Already, the program is expanding markets for Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP), the world’s biggest solar panel maker, and Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS)., the largest maker of wind turbines. It’s hurting utilities from RWE AG (RWE) to EON AG (EOAN), which have stepped up cost-cutting to curb losses from closing nuclear stations early. ...

“The German energy transformation is as challenging as the first moon landing,” said Peter Terium, who in July takes over as chief executive officer of RWE, Germany’s second-largest utility. “It’s a huge challenge we’ll be able to master only if everyone works together.”

Germany is among the first nations to grapple with a global need to upgrade power stations. By 2035, at least $10 trillion of investment is needed to add 5,900 gigawatts of generation worldwide, more than five times the capacity of all U.S. utilities, the International Energy Agency estimates. Half of that will come from renewable. A gigawatt is about enough to supply 800,000 homes in the U.S. and a bit less than the capacity of a nuclear reactor.

“If Germany succeeds, it could be a role model for economies all over the world,” said Claudia Kemfert, DIW’s senior energy expert. “If it fails, it will be a disaster for Germany’s politicians, society and economy.”

Germany’s efforts in the industry are sending shocks through European power markets. When it’s windy and sunny, turbines and solar cells flood the grid with electricity, undermining the economics of natural-gas fired generators, since clean energy has supply priority over fossil fuels.

Renewables LinkedIn to growth surge  

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BusinessGreen has some interesting statistics on economic growth as divined by analysing LinkedIn traffic - Renewables LinkedIn to growth surge.

You may know LinkedIn as an excellent way to network/waste time, but those lunch hours spent trawling the business social networking site looking for a new job or connecting with old school friends have also resulted in some fascinating data on the size and shape of the US economy.

By tracking the jobs and job changes of its 150 million members between 2007 and 2011, LinkedIn has been able to calculate which industries are on the up and which are in decline.

And yes, you've guessed it: top of the pile is renewable energy and environmental roles. These grew more than 49 per cent over the four-year period, exactly double those of the second-highest risers, internet and online publishing.

More encouraging still, the sector performed equally impressively when LinkedIn moved beyond percentage terms to examine the volume of jobs gained and lost.

"Our data show that, even through the recession, the industries with the largest volume of employment growth... were internet, hospitals and healthcare, health, wellness and fitness, oil & energy, IT and renewables," wrote Scott Nicholson, a LinkedIn data scientist and economist in a blog post. "On the other side of the story, retail, construction, telecommunications, banking and automotive had the largest volume of job losses between 2007 and 2011."

Of course, it is likely that those working in some of the newer industries are more tech-savvy and utilise networks such as LinkedIn more often, potentially skewing the numbers, though the survey does give a fascinating picture of how the economy is shifting beneath our feet.

But then there is a wealth of evidence suggesting LinkedIn's figures are more than just an interesting snapshot. Research by analyst firm Clean Edge found yesterday that the global market for solar PV, wind energy and biofuels grew 31 per cent during 2011 to almost $250bn (£159bn).

A New Energy Third World in North America?  

Posted by Big Gav in

Michael Klare has a new article in TomDispatch about fossil fuel politics in North America - A New Energy Third World in North America?.

The “curse” of oil wealth is a well-known phenomenon in Third World petro-states where millions of lives are wasted in poverty and the environment is ravaged, while tiny elites rake in the energy dollars and corruption rules the land. Recently, North America has been repeatedly hailed as the planet’s twenty-first-century “new Saudi Arabia” for “tough energy” -- deep-sea oil, Canadian tar sands, and fracked oil and natural gas. But here’s a question no one considers: Will the oil curse become as familiar on this continent in the wake of a new American energy rush as it is in Africa and elsewhere? Will North America, that is, become not just the next boom continent for energy bonanzas, but a new energy Third World?

Once upon a time, the giant U.S. oil companies -- Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, and Texaco -- got their start in North America, launching an oil boom that lasted a century and made the U.S. the planet’s dominant energy producer. But most of those companies have long since turned elsewhere for new sources of oil.

Eager to escape ever-stronger environmental restrictions and dying oil fields at home, the energy giants were naturally drawn to the economically and environmentally wide-open producing areas of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America -- the Third World -- where oil deposits were plentiful, governments compliant, and environmental regulations few or nonexistent.

Here, then, is the energy surprise of the twenty-first century: with operating conditions growing increasingly difficult in the global South, the major firms are now flocking back to North America. To exploit previously neglected reserves on this continent, however, Big Oil will have to overcome a host of regulatory and environmental obstacles. It will, in other words, have to use its version of deep-pocket persuasion to convert the United States into the functional equivalent of a Third World petro-state.

Knowledgeable observers are already noting the first telltale signs of the oil industry’s “Third-Worldification” of the United States. Wilderness areas from which the oil companies were once barred are being opened to energy exploitation and other restraints on invasive drilling operations are being dismantled. Expectations are that, in the wake of the 2012 election season, environmental regulations will be rolled back even further and other protected areas made available for development. In the process, as has so often been the case with Third World petro-states, the rights and wellbeing of local citizens will be trampled underfoot.

Pesticides Make Bees Lose Their Way  

Posted by Big Gav in

Reuters has an article on new studies into the impact of pesticides on bee colonies - Pesticides Make Bees Lose Their Way.

Scientists have discovered ways in which even low doses of widely used pesticides can harm bumblebees and honeybees, interfering with their homing abilities and making them lose their way.

In two studies published in the journal Science on Thursday, British and French researchers looked at bees and neonicotinoid insecticides – a class introduced in the 1990s now among the most commonly used crop pesticides in the world. …

In the first of the Science studies, a University of Stirling team exposed developing colonies of bumblebees to low levels of a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid, and then placed the colonies in an enclosed field site where the bees could fly around collecting pollen under natural conditions for six weeks.

At the beginning and end of the experiment, the researchers weighed each of the bumblebee nests – which included the bees, wax, honey, bee grubs and pollen – to see how much the colony had grown.

Compared to control colonies not exposed to imidacloprid, the researchers found the treated colonies gained less weight, suggesting less food was coming in.

The treated colonies were on average eight to 12 percent smaller than the control colonies at the end of the experiment, and also produced about 85 percent fewer queens – a finding that is key because queens produce the next generation of bees.

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