Oil vs Tomatoes: Basra’s Farmers Continue To Protest  

Posted by Big Gav

IBN has a look at the conflict between oil and food production in Iraq - Oil vs Tomatoes: Basra’s Farmers Continue To Protest.

Basra’s farmers say the oil industry is “occupying” their land – and that the one thing the Iraqi government is forgetting in its race to get oil firms in and farmers out, is the rising cost of the food Iraq can no longer grow itself.

Just over a year ago, Saleh Mohammed was farming in the Qurna area, west of the southern Iraqi city of Basra. But then the oil companies came. And today the land that Mohammed once farmed belongs to international oil giant, Exxon Mobil. And Mohammed himself works as an employee on the periphery of one of the oil production facilities. Mohammed is 30 and his field of expertise is agriculture; he knows the ways of nature.

He worked on his 2.5 hectare property planting wheat, barley and dates and everything he knew, he learned from his parents and grandparents, who had farmed the land before him. He really doesn’t know much about the oil industry. Yet, like so many others here, he too now wears the grey overalls and cap of oil facility workers.

“When the American, Russian and British oil companies started to come here, the government just wanted us to disappear,” Mohammed says. “They even offered us financial compensation to do so. Now some of us work as watchmen, some of us as gardeners and some as labourers with the oil companies for around US$600 a month. And I didn’t really have a choice in this matter – I have a wife and four children to look after.”

Mohammed is not alone. It’s estimated that there are 43 billion barrels of oil under the ground in this region. Almost all of Iraq’s oil currently comes from here. All of which clearly means big business, not only for the oil companies, but also for the Iraqi government.

Oil Espionage: Traders Spy on Oklahoma Hub With Satellites, Sensors and Infrared Cameras  

Posted by Big Gav in

NPR has a look at the lengths people will go to understand oil supply dynamics at Cushing, Oklahoma (which drive the WTI price) - Oil Espionage: Traders Spy on Oklahoma Hub With Satellites, Sensors and Infrared Cameras.

The bottleneck of crude stored in Cushing, Okla., has become the country’s “biggest bank vault of oil,” Businessweek’s Matthew Phillips writes. And it’s only getting bigger.

The clog — which is pushing down the price of West Texas Intermediate crude from Oklahoma, creating a gap with its international rival, Brent — is making traders rich.

Information is everything, and traders are using high-tech extremes to extract data about oil storage and flow from the high-security oil hub. Photographers in helicopters? That’s relatively low-level when it comes to these storage tank spy games, Businessweek reports:

Recently, photographers have started using infrared cameras to peer inside the tanks. The difference in heat can often show where the oil line is.
Aerial photography is common. A bird’s-eye view allows analysts to estimate storage levels by calculating the angle of shadows cast by massive tanks’ floating roofs.

And that’s just the beginning.

A private “energy intelligence” company called Genscape is funding much of the high-tech surveillance, reports Businessweek, whose parent company — Bloomberg — also does their own Cushing surveillance by way of twice-weekly satellite flyovers.

3-D Printer Company Seizes Machine From Desktop Gunsmith  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Wired reports on a new form of printcrime, with one - 3-D Printer Company Seizes Machine From Desktop Gunsmith.

Cody Wilson planned in the coming weeks to make and test a 3-D printed pistol. Now those plans have been put on hold as desktop-manufacturing company Stratasys pulled the lease on a printer rented out for Wiki Weapon, the internet project lead by Wilson and dedicated to sharing open-source blueprints for 3-D printed guns. Stratasys even sent a team to seize the printer from Wilson’s home.

“They came for it straight up,” Cody Wilson, director of Defense Distributed, the online collective that oversees the Wiki project, tells Danger Room. “I didn’t even have it out of the box.” Wilson, who is a second-year law student at the University of Texas at Austin, had leased the printer earlier in September after his group raised $20,000 online. As well as using the funds to build a pistol, the Wiki Weapon project aimed to eventually provide a platform for anyone to share 3-D weapons schematics online. Eventually, the group hoped, anyone could download the open source blueprints and build weapons at home.

Until Stratasys pulled the lease, the Wiki Weapon project intended to make a fully 3-D printed pistol for the first time, though it would likely be capable of only firing a single shot until the barrel melted. Still, that would go further than the partly plastic AR-15 rifle produced by blogger and gunsmith Michael Guslick. Also known as “Have Blue,” Guslick became an online sensation after he made a working rifle by printing a lower receiver and combining it with off-the-shelf metal parts.

But last Wednesday, less than a week after receiving the printer, Wilson received an e-mail from Stratasys: The company wanted its printer returned. Wilson wrote back, and said he believed using the printer to manufacture a firearm would not break federal laws regarding at-home weapons manufacturing. For one, the gun wouldn’t be for sale. Wilson added that he didn’t have a firearms manufacturers license.

Liquid air 'offers energy storage hope'  

Posted by Big Gav in

The BBS has an article on a form of energy storage being trialled in the UK - Liquid air 'offers energy storage hope'.

Turning air into liquid may offer a solution to one of the great challenges in engineering - how to store energy.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers says liquid air can compete with batteries and hydrogen to store excess energy generated from renewables.

IMechE says "wrong-time" electricity generated by wind farms at night can be used to chill air to a cryogenic state at a distant location. When demand increases, the air can be warmed to drive a turbine.

Engineers say the process to produce "right-time" electricity can achieve an efficiency of up to 70%. ...

The technology was originally developed by Peter Dearman, a garage inventor in Hertfordshire, to power vehicles.

A new firm, Highview Power Storage, was created to transfer Mr Dearman's technology to a system that can store energy to be used on the power grid. The process, part-funded by the government, has now been trialled for two years at the back of a power station in Slough, Buckinghamshire. ...

IMechE says the simplicity and elegance of the Highview process is appealing, especially as it addresses not just the problem of storage but also the separate problem of waste industrial heat.

The process follows a number of stages:

*"Wrong-time electricity" is used to take in air, remove the CO2 and water vapour (these would freeze otherwise)
* the remaining air, mostly nitrogen, is chilled to -190C (-310F) and turns to liquid (changing the state of the air from gas to liquid is what stores the energy) the liquid air is held in a giant vacuum flask until it is needed
* when demand for power rises, the liquid is warmed to ambient temperature. As it vaporizes, it drives a turbine to produce electricity - no combustion is involved

IMechE says this process is only 25% efficient but it is massively improved by co-siting the cryo-generator next to an industrial plant or power station producing low-grade heat that is currently vented and being released into the atmosphere. The heat can be used to boost the thermal expansion of the liquid air.

More energy is saved by taking the waste cool air when the air has finished chilling, and passing it through three tanks containing gravel. The chilled gravel stores the coolness until it is needed to restart the air-chilling process.

The Empire Strikes Back ? Gross Feed In Tariffs  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

Giles Parkinson at ReNew Economy has an interesting article on the attempts by some utilities (or at least by the regulator in Queensland, presumably at the prompting of the new conservative government) to retain profit margins in the face of large scale consumer uptake of solar power, proposing "gross feed in tariffs", where consumers are charged retail prices for all their consumption (including the power they generate themselves) while only paying the wholesale price back to the consumer for the power they generated themselves - How solar PV is turning utilities against consumers.

It the solar industry ever harboured any illusions about the challenges it is facing in imposing itself on a sector that has been virtually unchallenged for more than half a century, then they were certainly shattered by a series of attacks on their industry from utilities and pricing regulators over the last few weeks.

It is now clear – if it wasn’t before – that Australian energy utilities are moving decisively against the proliferation of solar PV in an attempt to protect their revenues and business models, as we predicted they would back in June. This is the claim of the solar industry, and they point to numerous examples of tariff changes, network impediments and the lobbying and influence over regulators.

Last week’s revelation that the Queensland pricing regulator was contemplating a tariff that could effectively kill the attraction of solar PV to households struggling under the weight of rising prices from the grid, was proof enough. The attempt by TRUenergy to bring a halt to the deployment of both wind and solar – citing the potential of both to cripple the conventional energy industry – is a further sign of the desperation of those utilities struggling to adapt.

There is no doubt that the debate over clean energy has moved beyond day to day concerns around climate change (even if it should not), and now that technologies such as solar can deliver electricity at equal or lower prices at the socket, the issue of technology cost is also nearly redundant. The battleground has moved to regulation, and policy decisions on the framing of tariffs and how to reflect the true value of producing and consuming energy. And it’s largely played out out of the public eye.

What is required is a new way of looking at the energy system. The hub-and-spoke model, like fixed-line telephony, is creaking under the strain of the so-called “self consumption” market and the ability of customers to produce their own energy.

And the regulation has gotten off to a bad start. The premium tariffs designed to give rooftop solar a kick-start and help reduce its “soft costs” – those for installing, pricing and maintaining the systems – were so badly managed in some key states (NSW, in particular), that utilities seeking to defend their territory and business models were able to gain the moral high ground and win favourable tariff structures under the lofty goal of protecting disadvantaged consumers.

Most tariffs in the country are now structured around a net tariff, which enables a household to use the electrons they produce to offset their consumption and rising retail prices from the main utilities. But any excess production is sold back at a peppercorn rate (under the guise of network and other costs) to the retailers, who then sell it to a nearby customer for between two and four times as much.

However, the utilities have been quietly pushing for an even more draconian measure to be introduced – a gross tariff, which will require households to sell all their output to the retailer and then buy it back at an inflated price.

Giles has a follow up article noting that the gross proposal has been abandoned, for now - Utilities say no to gross tariffs, yes to battery storage.
In a nod to the emerging power of the “pro-sumer”, Australian energy network operators and retailers have rejected a suggestion to move to gross tariffs for rooftop solar, saying it risked turning customers against them. Some suggest tariffs that would encourage homeowners to invest in more battery storage.

Operators of electricity networks in Queensland and the energy retailers have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal by the state’s competition authority to introduce gross tariffs for rooftop solar, saying they would be complex, expensive and unfair to owners of rooftop panels.

The Queensland Competition Authority raised some eyebrows, and a few hackles, last month when it raised the prospect of a gross tariff in an issues paper it prepared for deliberations around a “fair and reasonable” tariff for solar.

The solar industry immediately condemned the proposal, saying the idea of forcing customers to sell all their solar power to retailers and then buy it back at a much higher price was inequitable and would effectively mean the death of the industry, as it would remove the attraction of rooftop systems as a hedge against rising electricity costs. And it seems that the utilities, who were suspected by some, of quietly advocating the move, have recognized the risk of putting consumers offside if such a tariff was introduced.

Most of the submissions put to the QCA by network operators and retailers pointed to the potential complexity and cost of a gross tariff – particularly in having to change metering arrangements.

Interestingly, it was TRUenergy, under fire over its proposal to sharply reduce the development of utility scale wind and solar developments by curtailing the ambition of the renewable energy target, which said most clearly that gross FITs were unfair because they were not equitable to consumers.

It noted that households that invested in rooftop photovoltaic systems do so in the expectation that they will be able to consume less grid energy, and thereby gain a sense of control over their costs.

“Under the proposed changes, households would be required to ‘sell’ energy to the grid at the cost of energy, and then ‘purchase’ energy for their own use, at up to three times the price,” it noted in its submission. It said it would be confusing and “may create the perception that electricity retailers are benefiting at the consumer’s expense.”

RIP Alan Jones ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Its been an interesting week watching conservative radio bully boy Alan Jones getting a thorough trashing at the hands of normal Australians who have had enough of the bile he spews out every day (I'd always hoped the cash for comment affair could have done this, or even better the London loo incident, but sadly not).

This time round Jones' comments about the death of the Prime Minister's father managed to annoy enough people that there was a concerted effort led by various Facebook and Twitter users (in particular Sack Alan Jones and Destroy The Joint) to tell advertisers to either cease supporting his program or find themselves doing a lot of damage to their brands, with most of them promptly abandoning Jones to his fate and the program subsequently going advertisement free.

Alan Kohler at the BS has a good summary - Alan Jones: it’s about disintermediation.

Corporate leaders everywhere would be watching the predicament of Russell Tate and Robert Loewenthal, chairman and CEO of Macquarie Radio Network, with a mixture of fascination and horror.

A social media campaign against one their products, the Alan Jones breakfast programme, and directed at their business customers as well as their own company, has forced them to cancel all advertising on that show.

For those who have recently flown in from Mars, it started with a speech by broadcaster Alan Jones to the Sydney University Liberal Club dinner on September 22nd, eventually reported in the Sunday Telegraph, in which he said: “They [Labor] are indeterminate and compulsive liars. They’ll lie and lie and lie. Every person in the caucus of the Labor party knows that Julia Gillard is a liar. Everybody, I’ll come to that in a moment. The old man recently died a few weeks ago of shame. To think that he had a daughter who told lies every time she stood for parliament.”

The suggestion that John Gillard died of shame has been widely and appropriately condemned, and Jones himself called a press conference last week to (sort of) apologise. Meanwhile 70 companies withdrew their advertising from his programme, either because they didn’t like what he said or because their social media monitoring services had picked up that their own customers didn’t like it.

Yesterday Russell Tate issued a long statement in which he announced the temporary suspension of all advertising in its Breakfast Show, blaming “21st century censorship, via cyber bullying”.

Also, the MC for the evening on September 22nd, Simon Berger lost his job as public relations and government relations manager at Woolworths, having apparently worn a chaff bag onstage to introduce Alan Jones (a reference to Jones’ frequent calls for Julia Gillard to be put in a chaff bag and thrown out to sea).

The “Sack Alan Jones” Facebook page has 15,486 “likes”, which doesn’t seem that many to have caused such carnage, but there has been a lot more to it than that.

There’s a petition on change.org with 109,962 signatories, another Facebook community called “Destroy The Joint”, after a statement by Alan Jones that women are “destroying the joint”, plus an uncountable number of tweets and hashtags on Twitter.

Russell Tate was both right and wrong in the statement that I quoted above: it is, indeed, 21st century censorship, but to call it bullying misses the point.

The digital revolution is only just getting going, and the social platforms, Twitter and Facebook, which has just passed a billion users, are only just starting to flex their muscle. There is a long way to go with this. Censorship up to the end of the 20th century involved community representatives – the church and then politicians – imposing limits on free speech. With social media, the community does it more directly and much more uncontrollably. ...

The essence of change that occurred between the 20th and 21st centuries is disintermediation. It is happening much more broadly than in censorship, but in that field of human endeavour, as it is everywhere, social media and the digital revolution generally, is simply and powerfully removing the intermediaries.

The organisation and expression of community disapproval has become incredibly powerful because it is spontaneous, immediate and clearly authentic.

That’s the difference between a social media campaign and a rap on the knuckles by the Australian Communication and Media Authority, the media regulator: you can argue about whether ACMA truly represents community opinion; with Facebook and Twitter you can actually see and feel it.

The SMH reports that Tony Abbott's replacement in waiting Malcolm Turnbull was happy to see Jones get a taste of his own medicine - Jones has not been bullied - Turnbull.
ALAN JONES has been ''given a dose of his own medicine'' with the online campaign that has stripped his station of sponsors, and is not the victim of ''cyberbullying'' as he has claimed, the Coalition communication spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, has said. ...

''Mr Jones has sought to lead 'people's revolts' for many years. But this was indeed a popular revolt against vicious and destructive public discourse … It is difficult not to believe that he is getting a dose of his own medicine …

''Mr Jones has complained that he has been the victim of social media bullying, saying that if it happened anywhere else in society, this kind of bullying or harassment or intimidation or threatening conduct, the police would be called in …

''But Mr Jones believes his association with certain products will encourage people to buy them … If other people take the view that an association with Mr Jones will lead them not to buy those products, why are they not able to tell the advertiser of their view and encourage others to do the same?''

The SMH had an earlier article from Peter Fitzsimmons describing the origin of the boycott campaign - Alan Jones has no shame.
Every time you think 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones has gone as low as he can go, he sets a new benchmark ever deeper in his now obviously bottomless barrel.

Not enough that he has already talked of putting the Prime Minister “into a chaff bag and hoisting her into the Tasman Sea,” or that he has said that the country needs to “bring back the guillotine,” to deal with her, and that across the country “women are wrecking the joint". Now, before an audience of Sydney University Young Liberals last weekend at the Watermark Restaurant at Balmoral he has referred to the grieving PM's late father, John Gillard – a man who was obviously very close to, and extremely proud, of his daughter – and said that he, “died a few weeks ago of shame".

The unspeakably vicious nastiness of it, the sheer bully-boy misogyny of saying such a thing, simply takes the breath away, even for those of us who spent fair chunks of time around the unvarnished Jones.

Guerilla Grafters  

Posted by Big Gav in

The LA Times has an article on a new variety of guerilla gardener - In San Francisco, a secret project bears fruit.

All Tara Hui wanted to do was plant some pears and plums and cherries for the residents of her sunny, working-class neighborhood, a place with no grocery stores and limited access to fresh produce.

But officials in this arboreally challenged city, which rose from beneath a blanket of sand dunes, don't allow fruit trees along San Francisco's sidewalks, fearing the mess, the rodents and the lawsuits that might follow.

So when a nonprofit planted a purple-leaf plum in front of Hui's Visitacion Valley bungalow 31/2 years ago — all flowers and no fruit, so it was on San Francisco's list of sanctioned species — the soft-spoken 41-year-old got out her grafting knife.

"I tried to advocate for planting productive trees, making my neighborhood useful, so people could have free access to at least fruit," she said. "I just wasn't getting anywhere."

Today, Hui is the force behind Guerrilla Grafters, a renegade band of idealistic produce lovers who attach fruit-growing branches to public trees in Bay Area cities (they are loath to specify exactly where for fear of reprisal).

Their handiwork currently is getting recognition in the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, as part of the U.S. exhibit called "Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good." Closer to home, however, municipal officials have denounced the group's efforts.

Even the urban agriculture movement is torn when it comes to the secretive splicers, outliers in a nascent push to bring orchards to America's inner cities. While many applaud their civil disobedience, others fear a backlash against community farming efforts. And few believe their work will ever fill a fruit bowl.

Not that that really matters.

"It's like the gardener's version of graffiti," said Claire Napawan, assistant professor of landscape architecture at UC Davis and a grafters sympathizer. "Even if there's some question about its ability to produce enough food to make a difference … as an awareness piece, it's a good idea."

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