NAB pools data to save power  

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The SMH has an article on NAB's new energy efficient data centre in Melbourne (interestingly the trigeneration setup used at NAB's primary data centre isn't mentioned for this new data centre) - NAB pools data to save power.

National Australia Bank will officially open a new data centre in Melbourne this week, hoping to eventually save the financial institution $22 million over decade. The bank's 23 existing data centres, ranging in size from small broom closets to large computer rooms, will be amalgamated into the new facility at Deer Park, 17 kilometres west of the Melbourne CBD, as well as an existing building across town at Knox. When completed and fully operational in seven years, the downsizing will cut NAB's power usage by 40 per cent, its chief technology officer, Denis McGee, said. ...

The average power usage effectiveness (PUE) of the bank's 20-plus data centres is 2.5. PUE measures the total energy use of a facility divided by the energy used by the ICT equipment within. McGee hopes the Deer Park facility will almost halve the bank's PUE, to less than 1.3, a coveted goal for data centre owners and users. Google claims a PUE of 1.12 across all of its data centres. ...

The scale of the new facility, and the bank's promise to meticulously manage its power usage, allowed it to negotiate near-wholesale rates directly with the electricity supplier, data centre transformation senior manager Tim Palmer said. In the case of a power outage, six diesel generators will provide a back-up source. An underground concrete tank holds enough diesel to fuel the engines for three days. Free cooling will regulate the temperatures at Deer Park for half the year, where ambient air cooler than 30 degrees will be used instead of airconditioning. ...

The bank is also embarking on a virtualisation strategy improve server usage rates from 12 to 60 per cent ... "We have about 10,000 physical and virtuals, and 55 per cent are virtualised, and we have an ongoing program to virtualise more," McGee says.

Map Shows What US-Wide High Speed Rail Might Look Like  

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TreeHugger has a post on a high speed rail plan for North America - Map Shows What US-Wide High Speed Rail Might Look Like.

Alfred Twu, a high-speed rail activist and mapmaker, has created the map above, showing what a cross-country high-speed rail network might look like in the United States

Oil Price Update  

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Stuart at Early Warning has an update on oil prices - the rumoured glut of energy hasn't made itself apparent on the charts thus far - Oil Prices.

A while since we've looked at oil prices around here. The chart above shows the two main benchmarks - Brent and WTI - and the spread between them. These days Brent is a better indicator of global oil market conditions, as well as gas prices on the US coasts, while the spread of WTI to Brent is mainly measuring the fact that the boom in tight-oil production in the central US cannot be fully bought to market conveniently yet.

Brent prices have been in and around the $100-$120/barrel band since the beginning of 2011. For the last few months they've been rising and are currently somewhat above the 2011-2013 average. If the supply flatness of 2012 continues, I'd expect them to climb quite a bit more. However, it's not clear to me whether that supply flatness will continue.

Obama addresses climate, energy, infrastructure in State of the Union  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger reports that US President Obama is still talking a reasonably good game when it comes to global warming and clean energy - Obama addresses climate, energy, infrastructure in State of the Union.

President Obama on 3D Printing:

Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America. President Obama on Energy Policy:

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

On Climate:

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

On Clean Energy:

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Ecosystem in a Bottle  

Posted by Big Gav

The Long Now has a post on a cool experiment in a bottle - Ecosystem in a Bottle.

It’s the ultimate low-maintenance houseplant: a spiderwort that waters itself.

David Latimer, a retired resident of Surrey, UK, created this self-sustaining garden “out of idle curiosity.” In 01960, he decided to fill a large glass carboy with some compost, planted a seedling, and gave it a quarter pint of water. He watered it once more in 01972, then sealed the container shut. Since then, the spiderwort has developed its very own, independent ecosystem.

As the Daily Mail explains, this microgarden refreshes its own air and provides its own water; all it needs is a bit of solar power. Sunlight provides the energy required for photosynthesis – the process whereby a plant sustains itself by converting water and carbon dioxide into nutrients and oxygen. Bacteria in the soil offer a little help in driving this cycle of energy conversion: consuming that oxygen, they digest dead leaves that fall to the ground, and release carbon dioxide back into the air.

But what truly allows it to nourish itself is the enclosed spiderwort’s remarkably efficient ability to recycle water. Its roots draw moisture from the soil, which is then transpirated back into the air by its leaves. As this moisture condenses, it is reabsorbed into the soil, and ready to begin its cycle all over again.

Australia's "Dome of Heat"  

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The Economist has a look at Australia's record breaking heatwave at the start of the year, dubbed the "Dome of Heat" (which eventually resulted in a new record temperature for Sydney of 45.8 degrees) - Up to Eleven: An uncomfortable time for Australians, especially climate-change sceptics.

IN OODNADATTA, an outback town in South Australia, the roads melted. Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, sweltered through heat of 42.3°C (108.1°F). In Tasmania, a Dunkirk-style flotilla of small craft swung into operation to rescue locals and tourists stranded by fires on the isolated Tasman peninsula. Australia’s summer-holiday season has barely begun. Yet a heatwave has swept across the country, smashing temperature records and raising questions both about the impact on annual weather patterns of global warming, and about Australia’s vulnerability to the changes.

Heat is part of the national mythology. It killed some of the country’s first white explorers, and has sparked many devastating fires. The worst, “Black Saturday” in Victoria, killed 173 people four years ago. Thanks to better preparation, firefighting skills and a good dose of luck, fires raging in four states in the latest heatwave have spared humans. Yet Australia is getting ever hotter. The 2013 heatwave has set a new record, 40.3°C, for the highest national average temperature. So far, Leonora, a town in Western Australia, has been the hottest place of all, at 49°C on January 9th. That is still below the highest temperature ever recorded in Australia, 50.7°C at Oodnadatta 53 years ago.

The authorities are preparing for such recordings as the new normal. On January 8th the Bureau of Meteorology added new colours, purple and pink, to its weather map to denote temperatures once considered off the scale: 50-52°C and 52-54°C respectively. (In “Spinal Tap” parlance, it turned the knob up to 11.) The bureau says more “significant records” are likely to be set, with no end to the heatwave in sight.

Renewables now cheaper than coal and gas in Australia  

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ReNew Economy has a look at a new study from BNEF showing that renewables are now cost competitive with fossil fuels in Australia - Renewables now cheaper than coal and gas in Australia.

A new analysis from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance has concluded that electricity from unsubsidised renewable energy is already cheaper than electricity from new-build coal and gas-fired power stations in Australia. The modeling from the BNEF team in Sydney found that new wind farms could supply electricity at a cost of $80/MWh –compared with $143/MWh for new build coal, and $116/MWh for new build gas-fired generation. These figures include the cost of carbon emissions, but BNEF said even without a carbon price, wind energy remained 14 per cent cheaper than new coal and 18 per cent cheaper than new gas.

“The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date”, said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The fact that wind power is now cheaper than coal and gas in a country with some of the world’s best fossil fuel resources shows that clean energy is a game changer which promises to turn the economics of power systems on its head,” he said.

RNE also has an article on a Greens WA proposal to move to 100% renewables, drawing on work from Sustainable Energy Now and Beyond Zero Emissions - Greens push 100pct renewables plan for W.A..
The Greens Party has unveiled an ambitious new document that outlines possible pathways to turn Western Australia – one of the most energy-intensive states in the world – into one where its stationary energy needs are powered 100 per cent by renewable energy sources in less than two decades.

The Greens offer two principal scenarios to transform the coal and gas-dependent grid known as the South West Interconnected System (SWIS), which includes the capital Perth and the most populous regions. The first involves a heavier reliance on solar thermal and storage technologies currently deployed in Spain, the US and elsewhere, while the second relies more on currently cheaper technologies such as wind energy and solar PV. Both are supported by bio-mass and pumped hydro.

According to Scott Ludlam, the WA-based Senator whose office anchored the report with the help of specialist consultants, the plan seeks to make two important points – one that it is feasible, and two, it will not cost much more than business as usual (BAU).

Indeed, even using somewhat conservative technology cost forecasts for the various forms of solar, and to allow for a safety-first approach to capacity requirements, the study concludes that the levellised cost of electricity in the various renewable scenarios ranges from $208/MWh to $221/MWh by 2029. (We go into detail further down)

The levellised cost of electricity in the BAU case is not much cheaper – $203/MWh. While it has lower up front capital costs – $20 billion vs $60 billion, the balance of the BAU scenario bill will be paid in fuel costs, which for gas and diesel customers in WA is already proving expensive and forcing those on isolated and remote areas in particular to already consider solar alternatives. ...

The document was drawn together by Ludlam’s team, but the detailed technology scenarios were put together by an engineering team from Sustainable Energy Now, and drew on previous work by the likes of CSIRO and Beyond Zero Emissions.

RNE also has an interesting article on the impact of solar PV on peak power demand in South Australia - dramatically dropping summer peak demand from the grid - Rooftop solar reshapes energy market in South Australia.
Rooftop solar continues to have a dramatic impact on the energy market in South Australia – the Australian state with the highest penetration of rooftop solar.

As these graphs provided by Melbourne Energy Institute’s Mike Sandiford illustrate, the proliferation of solar PV is not just having an impact on overall demand in the state, it is also shaving and reshaping the peak demand curves.

The impact of solar PV in South Australia was recognised by a special study by the Australian Energy Market Operator last August. As we reported then, South Australia had some 267MW of rooftop solar as at June 30, representing one in five households. AEMO said rooftop solar was accounting for 2.4 per cent of overall demand, and more than one-third of the PV systems were operating at the time of peak demand at any one time.

These graphs deliver a further illustration of their impact, as they illustrate what happened in the latest months of December and January, traditionally the period of hottest temperatures and highest demand. (If the graphs are not easy to read we suggest you click on them to see them better).

The ones immediately below show the average demand curves in South Australia over the last five years. The pink line shows 2012/13. As Sandiford points out, midday demand in SA this summer is down 15 per cent on where it was five years ago, even though night-time demand is up, confirming the impact of solar PV.

One last article from REN, this one looking at the big picture for renewables - 100 pct renewables: it may be closer than we think.
The stunning set of data, cost profiles and market analysis produced in the first few weeks of calendar 2013 have confirmed what many had long suspected – that the global energy markets are changing faster than anyone had thought possible.

The implications for the incumbent energy industry – be they generators, network operators or retailers – couldn’t be more significant. The business models that supported the ageing infrastructure are broken, and if they can’t adapt to the new environment, they may soon be out of business. The idea of a rapid change to a largely renewable energy grid no longer seems aspirational, it could be inevitable.

Consider what we have learned this week:

- The price of wind energy (and in some isolated cases solar PV), is already cheaper than coal and gas in Australia. This gap is likely to widen considerably in the coming decade.

- By the time new baseload capacity is required in 10 years time, other technologies, including solar thermal with storage, and concentrated solar PV, will also be cheaper than coal and gas. Marine energy and geothermal could be close to parity.

- But not only do we have “grid parity” at the utility level, we also have socket parity, which means that homeowners and businesses can lower their cost of electricity by installing solar panels on their roof.

- the growing impact of large scale renewables, the self consumption market driven by rooftop solar and battery storage, and the impact of energy efficiency schemes, is reshaping the profile of the energy market and the dynamics of the industry. Sometimes in the most dramatic way. Coal and gas fired generators are getting priced out of the market.

As investment bank UBS noted last week, we are facing a “solar revolution” in the energy industry, and another is on the way with battery storage. As we suggested last year, the change is so profound that existing business models appear broken. According to Macquarie Bank, the German energy model is already “kaput”.

As we have seen in Australia, the increase in renewables is pushing down wholesale electricity prices, forcing the closure or mothballing of 3,000MW of fossil fuel capacity. In Germany, the closure rate is so rapid that the electricity authority has had to step in to slow them down.

The more retailers and network operators seek to recoup their investment in the face of lower demand, the more customers will be tempted to look after their own energy needs. Even halting all subsidies for rooftop solar will not stop it, said Macquarie. “The ever-increasing (grid) prices for domestic and commercial customers as well as rapid solar cost declines have brought on the advent of grid parity for German roofs. Thus, solar installations could continue at a torrid pace,” it notes. The same applies for Australia. ... Coal-fired power stations will not get built, for reputational and economic reasons, and gas – the much touted transition fuel – may also not get a look in. “Costs are just falling so quickly and the cost of fossil fuel are so much higher than public perception,” said Kobad Bhavnagri, head of clean energy research for BNEF in Australia. ”We could leapfrog gas as transition fuel.”

Bhavnagri said that by 2020 the “world could look quite different”. The market operator and system will be more experienced and adept at handling intermittency. “The case for gas is not as strong as people assumed a few years ago.”

The upshot of that analysis is that the plants we will be building in the 2020s will be – because they are the cheapest options – large scale solar with storage and other dispatchable renewables. The economic case for existing fossil fuel generators will be further undermined.

This explains why the fossil fuel industry in Germany, and in Australia, have been trying to halt the expanse of renewables. The primary policy goal of generators and fossil fuel industry for the past decade or more has been one of delay – to push back the build up of renewables long enough to extract maximum value from their existing assets, and even to create space so they can build more assets. The extractive industries have the same, simple plan.

All the major Australian utilities made clear in their submissions to the Climate Change Commission that allowing the renewable energy target to stand – and more wind farms and large scale solar PV to be built – would reduce the profits of their generators, quite dramatically. Yet diluting that target would allow them to build more gas-fired generation.

This is also why the utilities have also argued against the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, because it is designed to help usher in those technologies such as solar thermal and ocean energy that will be competitive in a decade’s time. But they can’t be competitive if none are built, and installation and manufacturing costs are reduced.

Many European markets are now at critical junctures with high penetration of wind and solar. This includes Germany, Italy, Denmark, Spain and Portugal. Australia, should it maintain its current renewable energy target, will follow soon enough. Germany, while reducing subsidies, is still increasing its renewables targets – 40 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2030.

Its biggest challenge is to figure out how to redefine the market rules so that it can provide enough economic incentive to prevent too many closures of fossil fuel plants, and to encourage existing gas to stay open rather than coal. It needs these gas plants to assist with the transition.

Severn Tidal Power Subsidy Below Offshore Wind  

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Hope springs eternal in the UK where groups are trying to revive the Severn tidal power project - Severn Tidal Power Subsidy Below Offshore Wind. The article says the subsidies required to be similar for those for a new nuclear power plant - but for a 30 year time frame, even though the tidal power plant would work for well over a century (and wouldn't have unquantifiable decommissioning costs).

The Severn Barrage project probably will require subsidies at about the same level as nuclear power stations and less than what’s offered for offshore wind plants, the developer of the British tidal energy project said.

“We expect that the price we will be able to negotiate will fall below offshore wind, and we hope close to or perhaps at the price nuclear power is currently negotiating,” Gregory Shenkman, chairman of Hafren Power Ltd., said at a hearing in the House of Commons in London today. That would make the project economically viable, he said.

The comments are aimed at answering the criticism that the technology that’s not working at a commercial scale anywhere in Britain would cost too much. Estimates for what the dam-like structure spanning the river at the southern end of Wales ran up to 25 billion pounds ($39 billion).

The Hafren plans, put to Prime Minister David Cameron in July, involve an 11-mile (18 kilometer) barrage from Cardiff in South Wales to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. Its 1,026 turbines would generate power on tides as the sea rises and falls. The project may create about 20,000 construction jobs and 30,000 manufacturing and service jobs.

The barrage could fulfil 16 percent of that target and be capable of generating as much as 5 percent of the U.K.’s power, the government estimates. The project would need 30 years of support through subsidies. Thereafter, it would run for at least 90 years without support, generating electricity that’s 75 percent cheaper than all other forms of generation, Shenkman said. Across its 120 year life span, the project could produce power at about 48 pounds-a-megawatt-hour, less than the 88 pounds nuclear power costs, he said.

LNG exports from Canada and the US get closer  

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The SMH reports that LNG exports from North America are starting to look likely - the gas age is in full swing - US and Canada step on the gas.

JUST hours after the Canadian government approved its third export gas project, another US export gas project, this time in Texas, has moved closer to getting a green light. The approvals come as concern is mounting that a large rise in North American gas reserves on the back of the shale gas boom will undercut much of the optimism of Australia's gas exporters over projects being developed off Western Australia and in Queensland.

Australia is set to be one of the world's largest gas exporters in the next five years, although growth prospects beyond that are being hurt by the increase in export projects vying for approval in North America.

On Tuesday Shell won approval for a project it is promoting in British Columbia, on Canada's west coast, which includes PetroChina, Korean Gas and Mitsubishi Corp as shareholders. Both PetroChina and Mitsubishi are participants in export gas projects in Australia.

As well, the US Department of Energy granted Pangea LNG approval to begin exports from its south Texas project. Pangea has been authorised to export up to 8 million tonnes annually of liquefied natural gas for 25 years.

Shell, also, has joined another consortium planning to export gas from Georgia, in the US south.

The inability of large vessels to use the Panama Canal always meant that gas exports from the US could only be exported to Asia from the west coast and Alaska, but that will change from late 2015 when the canal's capacity rises after a $US5.5 billion ($A5.28 billion) expansion.

Re-cycling: The Cardboard Bicycle  

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The Economist has a post on an innovative form of recycling cardboard - Re-cycling.

THE first bicycles were made of wood. Cycle manufacturers then switched to steel tubes. These days, for high-end bikes where weight is at a premium, they use aluminium alloys or even carbon fibre. But Izhar Gafni, an amateur cyclist who owns a number of such fancy bikes, wonders whether the original inventors had a point. He proposes to go back to using wood—or, rather, a derivative of wood, namely cardboard.

Mr Gafni, who is based in Ahituv, Israel, spent years trying to work out how to make a cardboard bicycle able to support the weight of a human being. The trick is twofold. First, he folds the cardboard—commercial-grade material, made from recycled paper—to increase its strength. (He worked out the exact pattern of folding for each of the machine’s components using the principles of origami.) Then, once it is folded, he treats the result with a proprietary resin that holds it in shape and stiffens it, before cutting it into the form of the component required. A second application of resin renders the component waterproof, and a lick of lacquer makes it look good. The result, Mr Gafni claims, is stronger than carbon fibre.

The bike’s frame, wheels, handlebars and saddle are all made of cardboard in this way, and then fitted together. The tyres—again harking back to the early days of cycling—are composed of solid rubber, which is recycled from old car tyres. That makes the ride a little harder than if the tyres were pneumatic, but means they cannot be punctured.

The chain, based on the timing belt of a car, is also made from car-tyre rubber. The pedals are plastic recycled from bottles and the brakes are recycled too, though Mr Gafni is not yet ready to disclose the details. The finished product weighs 9kg, a bit less than an ordinary bike, and can carry a rider weighing 220kg.

Mr Gafni’s target market is the poorer countries of the world. Because manufacturing the cardboard bike will, he reckons, cost $9-12 a unit, his design is far more affordable than a steel-framed bike.

Top Chinese Manufacturers Will Produce Solar Panels for 42 Cents per Watt in 2015  

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Greetech Solar has a report on ever lower solar panel prices - Top Chinese Manufacturers Will Produce Solar Panels for 42 Cents per Watt in 2015.

The cost of producing a conventional crystalline silicon (c-si) solar panel continues to drop. Between 2009 and 2012, leading "best-in-class" Chinese c-Si solar manufacturers reduced module costs by more than 50 percent. And in the next three years, those players -- companies like Jinko, Yingli, Trina and Renesola -- are on a path to lower costs by another 30 percent.

Check out this chart outlining projected costs, which comes from GTM Research's Global Intelligence PV Tracker.

With plenty of innovation still occurring in crystalline silicon PV manufacturing -- including new sawing techniques, thinner wafers, conductive adhesives, and frameless modules -- companies are able to squeeze more pennies off the cost of each panel. However, as the chart above shows, innovating "outside the module" to reduce the installed cost of solar will be increasingly important as companies find it harder to realize cost reductions in manufacturing.

Gasoline at Highest Price Ever for This Time of Year  

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CNBC reports that US petrol prices don't seem to be reflecting all the reports we are hearing about US energy independence being just around the corner - Gasoline at Highest Price Ever for This Time of Year.

U.S. drivers are now paying more to fill up their gas tanks than they ever have at this time of year. The national average price of retail gasoline posted its biggest one-day increase in 23 months on Friday, rising four cents to $3.46 a gallon, according to AAA. The average price has risen 13 cents -- a 4 percent increase -- in the past week.

Gasoline prices have followed in part the climb in the stock and oil prices. Oil and equities have risen sharply over the last few weeks, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached 14,000 for the first time since 2007, Brent crude oil futures hit at 4-month high near $117 a barrel, while the U.S. oi lprice is near $98 a barrel.

Retail gasoline prices have also hit a new milestone. "This is the highest price record for February 1st," says OPIS analyst Tom Kloza, who predicts the national average price of regular gasoline will climb a few more pennies to $3.50 a gallon this weekend.

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