Ausgrid to trial 60kW battery storage system in Sydney  

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RNE has another example of the slow spread of energy storage out into the grid - Ausgrid to trial 60kW battery storage system in Sydney.

NSW network operator Ausgrid is installing a 60kW battery storage system in the Sydney suburb of Newington to see how it can help manage summer peak demand events. The installation of the lithium-ion storage system is the biggest battery trial so far for Augrid, which operates in the eastern half of Sydney, the central coast and the Hunter region. It is also the first battery storage installation on its side of the meter. A recently completed trial in the Hunter as part of the Smart City, Smart Grid program had 65 5kW battery storage systems in different homes in suburban Newcastle.

Ausgrid’s Paul Myors says the focus of the new trial would be to see how the battery storage functioned over the summer months, how it coped in hot ambient temperatures, and how it helped the operator cope with peak demand.

Should the Working week be 21 hours ?  

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The Guardian has an article looking at the success of the four day working week in Utah and efforts to promote shorter working hours - Working week should be 21 hours, says New Economic Foundation.

British workers may be toiling hard to ward off unemployment, but the future could bring an average of only 21 hours a week chained to their desk. A report by the influential thinktank, the New Economic Foundation, says over-consumption, rising unemployment, increasing inequality and deteriorating work-life balance can be tackled by radically altering working life.

Reducing the working week could also defuse the pensions time bomb by ensuring employees are healthy enough to work later in life. Citing the example of Utah, the study shows how the US state's decision in 2008 to place all public-sector workers on a four-day week saved energy, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. The report argues that 21 hours a week is already close to the average length of time spent in paid employment.

Hydro One Chooses Flywheel Energy Storage for Wind Balancing  

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Greentech Media has an article on a flywheel energy storage company that are building systems for Canadian utilities - Hydro One Chooses a Flywheel for Wind Balancing.

“Utilities are very familiar with spinning steel,” said Cam Carver, CEO of Temporal Power, a Canadian startup with an all-steel flywheel technology. The Ontario-based company is working with Hydro One to provide up to ten 500-kilowatt flywheels for frequency regulation on a feeder that is connected to two 10-megawatt wind farms in southwest Ontario.

Frequency regulation is the sweet spot for flywheel technology, which can quickly respond to the fluctuations on the grid to provide balancing services. Carver said that Temporal’s technology is ideal for providing about three minutes to fifteen minutes of storage. ...

The result is that it can run for up to six minutes at its full rate of power and can store up to 50 times more energy. The flywheels can be scaled to provide anywhere from about 2 megawatts to 100 megawatts. “It’s bigger, simpler, more powerful -- and it’s cheaper,” said Carver. “We’re advancing it, but we’re also making it simpler.”

Hydro One is using 500-kilowatt units, which are under construction now. The flywheels can be matched with motors of various sizes, for a rated power mode of anywhere from 100 kilowatt-hours to 500 kilowatt-hours.

What the IPCC found: The big news from the new climate assessment  

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Grist has a look at the latest IPCC report - What the IPCC found: The big news from the new climate assessment and The scary, the cautionary, and the stupid: Reactions to the IPCC climate report.

It’s extremely likely that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s, according to a landmark report from the world’s top panel of climate scientists. And we’re failing in our efforts to keep atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit, which many scientists say is needed to avoid massive disruption.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conducted an epic review of climate research over the last three years. It is summarizing the most important findings in its fifth assessment report, which offers the clearest picture science has ever painted of how humans are reshaping the climate and the planet.

Here, in a nutshell, are the main findings of a summary [PDF] of part one of the assessment report, which focuses on the science of climate change:

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. … Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.

Shell Abandons Oil-Shale Project In Colorado After Pumping Millions Into Exploration  

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The Huffington Post reports that Shell has finally given up on oil shale extraction in Colorado (not to be confused with shale oil - tight oil extracted from shale formations) - Shell Abandons Oil-Shale Project In Colorado After Pumping Millions Into Exploration

Royal Dutch Shell PLC has become the latest company to abandon efforts to turn Western Slope oil-shale into oil, joining a long line of companies in a boom and bust cycle in the region. The company said energy markets have changed since the project started in 1982, and the company no longer wants to continue efforts to turn oily shale rock into liquid by heating the rock and pumping out the oil. Chevron stopped its oil-shale research in Rio Blanco County in February 2012.

"We are exiting our Colorado project to focus on other opportunities," Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said. "Our focus is to work with our staff and contractors to safely stop research activities and close the site."

Efforts to squeeze the oil from the shale in the Rockies stretch back decades. An oil shale boom in Colorado in the early 1980s went bust when oil prices dropped and government subsidies dried up. People still refer to "Black Sunday," May 2, 1982, when Exxon Mobil Corp. shut down a $5 billion project near the West Slope town of Parachute, throwing 2,200 people out of work.

Paving the planet: did someone say "anthropocene" ?  

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Ugo at Cassandra's Legacy has an interesting chart of our ever increasing consumption of building materials - Paving the planet: did someone say "anthropocene"?.

This graph is taken from an article by Krausmann et al., (see below). It is not unexpected to see that the growth of all mineral commodities has been increasing during the past century. But what's impressive is the growth of "construction minerals" which stands for sand, rock, cement and the like. Incredibly fast: in terms of mass it is the largest produced mineral commodity over the planet. And even in more recent years, it shows no sign to be abating.

Think about that: 25 billion tons per year corresponds to more than three tons per person. Think of a ten kg cube of rock and cement delivered to you and deposited in front of your door every morning, every day of the year.

What drives this gigantic process? We seem to be engaged with incredible enthusiasm in the task of paving the planet. So far, it seems that we have been able to pave just a few percent of the planet's surface but, given the beauty of exponential growth, the day when we will have transformed the Earth into a shiny ball of concrete can't be too far away.

Four Charts That Prove the Future of Clean Energy Is Arriving  

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Greentech Media has an interesting collection of graphics about renewable energy - Four Charts That Prove the Future of Clean Energy Is Arriving. There's nothing like the power of exponential growth....

The Last Post  

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The Oil Drum has finally bid its readers farewell with The Last Post.

The Oil Drum (TOD) was an internet energy phenomenon that ran for over eight years from April 2005 to September 2013. The site was founded by Prof. Goose (also known as Professor Kyle Saunders of Colorado State University) and Heading Out (also known as Professor Dave Summers formerly of the University of Missouri).

The site took off with the advent of Hurricane Rita in September 2005 and resulted in the first 200+ comment event, indicating that there was demand for a site where concerned citizens could gather round a camp fire to discuss events impacting their energy supplies and ultimately, their well being. In eight years, >960,000 comments have been posted. Two other energy linked disasters, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the Fukushima Daiichi reactor melt downs would see readership soar to >75,000 unique visits per day.

These pages have hosted over 7,500 articles covering every aspect of the global energy system. It was not unusual for a post to attract over 600 comments, many of which were well informed and contained charts and links to other internet sources. The site would become known for a uniquely high level of discourse where armchair analysts of all stripes added their knowledge to threads in a courteous, and ultimately pro-social way that energy experts at hedge funds, corporations or universities might not have the freedom to do. It is this emergent property of smart people sharing knowledge on a critical topic to humanity's future that will be missed.

Bruce Schneier: NSA Spying Is Making Us Less Safe  

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Technology review has an interview with security guru Bruce Schneier - Bruce Schneier: NSA Spying Is Making Us Less Safe.

The NSA mission is national security. How is the snooping really affecting the average person?

The NSA’s actions are making us all less safe. They’re not just spying on the bad guys, they’re deliberately weakening Internet security for everyone—including the good guys. It’s sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create. Additionally, by eavesdropping on all Americans, they’re building the technical infrastructure for a police state.

We’re not there yet, but already we’ve learned that both the DEA and the IRS use NSA surveillance data in prosecutions and then lie about it in court. Power without accountability or oversight is dangerous to society at a very fundamental level. ...

So you’ve recently suggested five tips for how people can make it much harder, if not impossible, to get snooped on. These include using various encryption technologies and location-obscuring methods. Is that the solution?

My five tips suck. They are not things the average person can use. One of them is to use PGP [a data-encryption program]. But my mother can’t use PGP. Maybe some people who read your publication will use my tips, but most people won’t.

Basically, the average user is screwed. You can’t say “Don’t use Google”—that’s a useless piece of advice. Or “Don’t use Facebook,” because then you don’t talk to your friends, you don’t get invited to parties, you don’t get laid. It’s like libertarians saying “Don’t use credit cards”; it just doesn’t work in the real world.

The Internet has become essential to our lives, and it has been subverted into a gigantic surveillance platform. The solutions have to be political. The best advice for the average person is to agitate for political change.

The French Energy Transition Away From Nuclear Power  

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The Business Spectator has an article on French plans to wind down nuclear power in favour of renewables - French carbon tax, feed-in tariff reform and CCS on horizon.

Germany’s neighbour France is also looking to shake up how it supports renewables as the country begins its “energy transition” away from nuclear.

France will introduce a carbon tax and a law to cap nuclear-power capacity as part of a new energy bill next year to boost renewable generation, President Francois Hollande told an environment conference last week. Hollande has vowed to reduce reliance on nuclear to half of total output by about 2025 while also keeping down consumers’ bills.

Among other things, the energy law in 2014 will define how renewables are financed. Hollande said last week that the above-market guaranteed prices currently paid to green energy producers “can lead to a waste of public funds, profit-taking and speculative behaviour.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects the shift in renewable support may move towards a greater use of tenders to keep costs low.

The Energy Of Nations  

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Jeremy Leggett has a new book out called "The Energy Of Nations" on "Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance". The preface and first chapter are here (pdf).

Jeremy also has some news article posted - Why governments are blind to fossil fuel energy risk and A grim future if our oil-dependent society refuses to change.

Systemic risks of oil supply, climate shock and financial collapse threaten tomorrow’s economies and mean businesses and policy makers face huge challenges in fuelling tomorrow’s world.

Jeremy Leggett gives a personal testimony of the dangers often ignored and incompletely understood – a journey through the human mind, the institutionalization of denial, and the reasons civilizations fail. It is also an account of tantalizing hope, because mobiliizing renewables and redeploying energy funding can soften the crash of modern capitalism and set us on a road to renaissance.

"Ultra Mega" - India reveals plans for world’s largest solar plant  

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RNE has an article about a 4GW solar power plant planned for the deserts of Rajasthan - India reveals plans for world’s largest solar plant.

The Indian government has announced plans to develop a 4GW solar project, near Sambhar lake in Rajasthan.

According to the details of an official release, India’s Department of Heavy Industry (DHI) has initiated the process of setting up the Sambhar Ultra Mega Green Solar Power Project in the 23,000 acre area of Sambhar Salts Limited, a subsidiary of the government-run Hindustan Salts Limited (HSL) in Rajasthan.

The first phase of the project, which will be 1GW, is likely to be commissioned in three years (by the end of 2016), the release said, and is expected to be implemented through a JV company to be formed with equity from BHEL, Solar Energy Corporation of India, Power Grid Corporation, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam and Rajasthan Electronics and Instruments Ltd.

The remaining capacity would be implemented through a variety of models, depending on the outcome of the first phase of project.

If fully completed, the 4GW project would produce 6000 million kWh per year to the distribution companies of various states through India’s national grid.

There has been no indication yet of whether the project would use solar PV or concentrated solar power technology.

Graph of the Day: Commercial solar storage tipped to boom  

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ReNew Economy has a post on the growing solar PV energy storage industry - Graph of the Day: Commercial solar storage tipped to boom.

There has been no shortage of big talk about the huge, and as-yet untapped potential of the global solar energy storage market, mostly revolving around growth in the residential and utility-scale PV sectors. But this week, a new report by energy analysts IHS has predicted that commercial PV storage will become the largest player in the market, with projections suggesting it will grow by a factor of 700 by 2017.

Currently the smallest market segment at just 3.2MW, commercial storage is due to mushroom to almost 2.3GW by 2017 – from 5 per cent of the market to 40 per cent in five years – according to the IHS report ‘The Role of Energy Storage in the PV Industry’.

RNE also has a related post on energy storage for solar thermal energy - Return of the steam engine: cheap storage for solar.

Not long after Robert Mierisch finished up as director of thermal systems research at the solar thermal energy pioneer Ausra, he took himself to the Smithsonian in Washington, the world’s largest museum complex, to find out everything he could about the Skinner steam engine.

Mierisch was playing on a hunch. Or should that be a conviction. He had worked with solar thermal energy for years, and had been looking for a viable storage solution. He thought he could find the enabler in comparatively ancient technology.

Steam turbines, he reasoned, couldn’t do the job at the scale he had in mind, nor did they have the flexibility required to replace diesel power. But steam engines just might. This is what led him to the Smithsonian and the Skinner Unaflow steam engine, which were used in ships through the 1940s, the last commercial version of the steam engine that had begun at the start of the industrial revolution nearly 200 years earlier.

Now, a unique distributed generation technology with storage, the product of a 4-year collaboration between Mierisch and Steve Bisset, another Australian expat and Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is soon to see the light of day.

Terrajoule, the Redwood City, California-based company they co-founded, will soon bring a demonstration system up to full-power operation, generating 100 kW for 24 hours per day. This is a key milestone toward bringing the solar/steam/storage technology to market within the next 18 months.

Mierisch and Bisset say their technology is potentially revolutionary but deceptively simple. It combines inexpensive solar power with inexpensive storage and behaves like an electric motor plugged into the grid, or even like a diesel genset. In other words, it can operate 24 hours per day, but without the utility bill or the fuel cost.
 And they say it will be cheaper and far more efficient than alternatives such as solar PV combined with batteries.

RenewEconomy was invited in July to visit Terrajoule’s demonstration site near Oakdale, on an irrigated almond farm in the heart of the California Valley, about 150kms east of San Francisco (see photo).

There, Terrajoule has an array of parabolic trough receivers that collect solar energy to create steam to drive the engine. The breakthrough comes from the realization that the storage can be created by exploiting the difference between the high pressure and the low pressure cycles of the engine.

The shale gas bubble: burning your home in order to save it  

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Ugo at Cassandra's Legacy has a post on the shale gas bubble in the US - The shale gas bubble: burning your home in order to save it.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me comment on a point of this interesting discussion. We have been told, correctly, that the production of shale gas in North America is booming and also that prices are now very low; around 2 dollars per million cubic feet. It is, actually, somewhat more than that but it is still a low price in comparison to what it was some years ago; before the shale gas "revolution".

On the other hand, producing shale gas is expensive. "Fracking" is a technology that was developed long ago, but it was never used on a large scale because it was too expensive in comparison to conventional gas production. And that's reasonable: for fracking you need sophisticated equipment, chemicals, and more. In addition, a shale gas well is rapidly exhausted, so that you must go on drilling in order to keep producing. Indeed, mining technology has this characteristic: it can be used to mobilize more resources, but it can rarely make them cheap.

So, there is a contradiction here: we are using a more expensive technology to produce a commodity whose prices, however, went down considerably. What's happening?

I think the explanation, here, lies in financial factors. What we are seeing, indeed, is mainly a financial bubble in which investors are led to pour money into a market with the hope to make a lot of money. That's a hope, obviously, for the future because, right now, I am sure that nobody can make a lot of money with such low gas prices - actually I think a lot of people are losing money. But this is the magic of the financial market: if everyone believes that a certain commodity will have a large value in the future, then they invest in it, and the result is overproduction.

First Solar Breaks Ground On 150 MW California Solar Farm  

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Cleantechnica has a post on another large scale solar PV project in California - First Solar Breaks Ground On 150 MW California Solar Farm.

First Solar has now officially begun work on the 150 megawatt (MW) AC Solar Gen 2 project in Imperial Valley, California. ...

First Solar is no stranger to large-scale solar projects. It is the #1 utility-scale solar developer in the world in terms of capacity (by far). It is also a top solar module producer, the only thin-film solar module producer in the top 10. In this particular region, “First Solar also developed and is constructing the 139 MW Campo Verde Project in El Centro, which is expected to be complete by the end of October,” First Solar adds. “Additionally, the company is completing construction of the 130 MW Tenaska Imperial Solar Energy Center South project in Calexico for project owner and developer Tenaska.”

Iraq ‘to switch focus from oil’  

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Upstream Online reports that Iraq wants to diversify its economy, quoting some big numbers for oil production over the next 4-5 years - Iraq ‘to switch focus from oil’.

Iraq is aiming for nearly $360 billion in investment in new development projects as the Opec member nation hatches a plan to move its economy away from such a heavy dependence on oil revenues. The major hydrocarbons producer is to focus on developing its industrial sector under a new plan running until 2017, Reuters reported. ...

Iraq envisages that approximately $357 billion in investment will be needed for development projects with 79% to come from the government and 21% from the private sector. Oil revenues will, however, continue to be the breadwinner for Iraq, hitting around $662 billion in the over four-year plan period.

Production of oil is envisioned rising from 3.2 million barrels per day in 2012 to 9.5 million bpd in 2017, with crude exports climbing from 2.6 million bpd to 6 million bpd in 2017, assuming an average oil price of $85 per barrel over the five years, Reuters reported.

Two-Way Wave Power Generator Wins UK Dyson Award  

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IEEE Spectrum has an article on a new wave power generator design - Two-Way Wave Power Generator Wins UK Dyson Award.

A new multi-axis wave power generator that can absorb forces no matter which way the water is churning has won the Dyson Award for the UK region, according to BBC News.

Renewable Wave Power is a semi-submersible, multi-axis wave energy converter that is specifically designed for the waters off of the Orkney Islands in Scotland. ... Sam Etherington, the project’s engineer, was inspired by the variability of the ocean while kite surfing and sailing off of Cumbria in Northwest England.

In wave tanks at Lancaster University, the chain of loosely coupled pistons was able to absorb forces from all directions. The conditions in the tank were modeled after the data taken from buoys off the Orkney Islands.

The Labour Of Sisyphus  

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All good things come to an end I guess. Not only has The Oil Drum almost shut its doors but Breaking Bad has but 2 episodes left, after reaching "next level harrowing" in the last episode, Ozymandias.

Breaking Bad can be viewed as a commentary on modern life in many different ways. If you are a liberal, you might look at it as a criticism of the American health care system (or lack of one), with a humble high school teacher being faced with a choice between getting proper treatment for his newly diagnosed cancer (and the subsequent bankruptcy of his family) and simply waiting to die - and instead choosing to "break bad" and become a drug lord - the best option available (in the rest of the developed world we have universal healthcare and people don't have the same choice to make).

A more left wing view of it would be that it is a demonstration of the moral depths that you need to sink to in order to be (financially) successful in a capitalist society.

I guess a Christian might be able to make a case that it shows what happens when you are full of pride, and that Walt should have accepted charity from his rich friends early on rather than taking the course he chose.

And if you want to get a bit more metaphysical you could view the evolution of Walt and his alter ego Heisenberg as a meditation on the dual nature of reality.

As I watched Walt roll his remaining barrel of money across the desert (re-enacting the labour of Sisyphus in his apparently doomed attempts to leave a nest egg for his family) I wondered if perhaps Breaking Bad could be a metaphor for America's struggle with its oil addiction (I doubt Vince Gilligan and co would agree, but if you look hard enough into a mirror you can see whatever you want).

Like Walt, America has resorted to ever increasing levels of violence (against both other people and the environment) in order to try and generate the level of wealth required to support its dependents (aka citizens) in future.

Like Walt, America may find that achieving this goal is increasingly elusive...

GM’s New Plans To Challenge Tesla’s Electric Battery Dominance  

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Climate Progress has an article on GM's continuing interest in electric vehicles - GM’s New Plans To Challenge Tesla’s Electric Battery Dominance.

General Motors plans to challenge Tesla’s share of the electric vehicle innovation marketplace by doing two things: making a better battery, and putting it in a long-range electric car that’s affordable.

GM announced this week that it’s developing a car that can go 200 miles on a single charge — the same distance that Tesla’s Model S can. But the GM version will cost about $30,000, less than half the $71,000 sticker price of the Model S.

The company is also aiming to do an overhaul of the electric car battery. As Quartz explains, Tesla’s Model S uses Panasonic batteries made of nickel, cobalt and aluminum. GM wants to use a lithium-ion battery made of nickel, cobalt and manganese — a chemical mix that scientists think could create a cheaper and more powerful lithium-ion battery, but that right now has some flaws that GM hopes can be fixed.

Right now, GM sells two battery-powered cars: the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid which costs $35,000 and can go 38 miles on a charge before its gas-powered generator takes over, and the Chevy Spark, an all-electric car that can go 82 miles on a charge and costs $26,685 (both costs are before the $7,500 tax credit that electric car buyers are eligible for in the U.S.). GM is also focusing on making its current cars cheaper — the company has said the next generation of the Volt will cost $7,000 to $10,000 less than the current version.

South Australia’s perfect energy mix: Cleaner, greener, cheaper  

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ReNew Economy has a look at how South Australia's increasing dependence on renewable energy should be lowering power bills - South Australia’s perfect energy mix: Cleaner, greener, cheaper.

Not only has South Australia achieved the highest level of wind energy and rooftop solar in the country, and has cut its emissions by a third in the last few years, its consumers have also had a windfall in generation costs: they are paying generators much less for their electricity than they did before the boom in wind farm and household solar began in 2009.

A study by energy analyst firm Pitt & Sherry finds that in 2012/13, the average South Australian paid generators $88 a year less for the electricity he or she consumed than they did in 2009-10.

And that is even after the introduction of a carbon price. If the impact of the carbon price is taken out, the average price paid per capita to generators in South Australia has fallen by $188 over the last four years – during which time the wind industry has grown from virtually nothing to more than 1,200MW, and rooftop solar has done the same (it is now 400MW).

That’s due to a bunch of reasons. The impact of wind energy – which supplied 27 per cent of the state’s generation in 2012/13, has forced down the price of wholesale electricity. Rooftop solar has had the same impact because it subtracts from demand from the grid, as have more efficient appliances and other energy efficiency measures.

Unfortunately for South Australians, their electricity bills, like those everywhere else in the country, have risen because of the massive investment in grid upgrades and expansions, and because retail margins have also risen. Much of the investment in the grid is now being questioned, particularly as new forecasts show that electricity demand may fall over the coming decade rather than increase as had been assumed previously.

US Gas Prices Over $3 For Record 1000 Days  

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NBC reports that US petrol prices have a set a record number of days above $3 a gallon (I always love these archaic imperial measurements that the Americans cling on to) - Gas Over $3 for Record 1000 Days. Just imagine how high they would be if fracking hadn't killed peak oil.

AAA reports the national average for gas prices have been above $3 per gallon for 1,000 consecutive days. It’s the longest gas prices have remained over that threshold and AAA says you should expect it to stay there unless we have another major recession. It's been going on even longer in Washington state -- 1,077 days. “Paying less than $3 per gallon for gasoline may be automotive history for most Americans, like using 8-track tapes or going to a drive-in movie,” AAA President and CEO said.

Although some individual gas stations may have charged $4 or more per gallon during the 1,000-day streak, the national average has never reached that mark. It got close on May 5, 2011, when it reached $3.98 per gallon.

Compressed Air Energy Storage Makes a Comeback  

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IEEE Spectrum has an article on a new CAES technique being piloted in the US - Compressed Air Energy Storage Makes a Comeback.

The last time a compressed air energy storage (CAES) plant was commissioned was in 1991. This week, SustainX is bringing the technology back to the U.S. electricity grid, albeit in a vastly different form.

The startup, based in Seabrook, New Hampshire, began operating a full-scale demonstration system that stores energy as compressed air in pipes and supplies 1.65 megawatts of power. The company will use the machine to gather data on performance and and to show off the technology to potential investors and customers. The project was funded by $5.4 million from the Department of Energy and at least that much from SustainX, according to a representative.

Conventional compressed-air energy storage uses a compressor to pressurize air and pump it into underground geological formations. The two plants of this type currently in operation—one in McIntosh, Alabama, and the other in Huntorf, Germany—use salt caverns as storage tanks, pumping compressed air in at night, when energy demand is lowest. During the day, the air is released, heated with natural gas, and forced through a turbine to generate power. The appeal of this technology is that it’s relatively low cost and can store many kilowatt-hours of energy.

SustainX takes a different tack: it uses compressed air as the energy storage medium, but holds the air in large pipes, the same used in natural gas pipelines. That means utilities or even commercial customers could place a storage device in a range of industrial locations, rather than only where there’s an underground formation available.

At the base of SustainX’s machine, called the S165, is the bottom half of a diesel engine normally used to propel ships. To store energy, a permanent magnet motor-generator turns the engine's crankshaft, driving six pistons located above it. The pistons, each of which is taller than a full-grown man, compress a combination of air and foamy water, which is then pumped into storage tanks. When power is needed, the air is released, driving the pistons and turning the generator to create a current.

A key difference between SustainX's technique and conventional CAES technology is that the compression and expansion of air are done at near-constant temperature and the process doesn’t require natural gas. And unlike conventional batteries, this system can vary the amount of energy independent of the power output. In other words, you can expand the amount of energy it stores simply by installing bigger pipes. That's different from a battery designed to deliver, say, 1 megawatt for 2 hours. If you wanted four hours of storage, you'd have to buy another battery--a more expensive approach, the company says.

Europe's largest tidal power array surges forward  

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Business Green has a report on tidal power developments in Scotland's Pentland Firth - Europe's largest tidal power array surges forward.

The UK’s fledgling tidal power sector is set to take a major step forward today, as the Scottish government awards planning consent to the Europe's largest tidal array, located in the Pentland Firth. Meygen, a group led by Morgan Stanley, International Power and tidal technology provider Atlantis, is planning to deploy up to 400 tidal turbines in the Inner Sound, which is known as the “crown jewel” of the Pentland Firth for its fast flowing waters.

Today, Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing will confirm planning permission for the first 86MW phase of the project. Meygen is expected to install the tidal array in stages, starting with a 9MW demonstration project of up to six turbines.

The news will make Maygen the first tidal project in the Pentland Firth and the largest tidal power array in Europe to receive planning consent, marking a major boost for the industry. “This exciting development in the waters around Orkney is just the first phase for a site that could eventually yield up 398MW,” Ewing will say.

Factory Food From Above: Satellite Images of Industrial Farms  

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Wired has a look at a set of satellite photos of feedlots - Factory Food From Above: Satellite Images of Industrial Farms.

Seen from a satellite, an industrial feedlot has a sort of abstract beauty. The washes of colors, the juxtaposition of organic and rigid geometries, initially obscure the subject. Then comes the realization: That’s where our food comes from.

Such is the power of “Feedlots,” a new series of images crafted by British artist Mishka Henner from publicly available satellite photographs. Henner does work with the photos, enhancing the colors — the waste lagoons above, for example, are flat green rather than bright — but the physical details are unaltered.

Henner, who noticed the feedlots while scanning for pictures of oil fields in Texas, didn’t at first realize what he was looking at. Factory farms exist in the United Kingdom, but not at landscape scales.

The Peak in World Oil Production is Yet to Come  

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The Wall Street pitt has an article by James Hamilton on peak oil - The Peak in World Oil Production is Yet to Come.

World oil production stagnated between 2005 and 2007, which given rapid growth in demand from emerging economies sent oil prices shooting up. Some observers suggested that production might never rise much above the levels seen in 2005. Among those who raised this possibility, two of the more thoughtful have changed their mind. Euan Mearns last month summarized what he saw as three (or four) nails in the coffin of peak oil. And Stuart Staniford, an early editor and contributor for the Oil Drum, declared a few weeks ago that the data have spoken.

Certainly world oil production did not stop growing in 2005. Last year’s total was estimated by the EIA to be 4.8 million barrels higher each day than it had been in 2005.

About a third of the growth between 2005 and 2012 came in the form of natural gas liquids, chief among which are ethane and propane. These are useful hydrocarbons, but you can’t use them to power your car. The growth in NGL production has been a big benefit to industrial users of these chemicals; for motorists, not so much. Another important source of gain has been biofuels, which themselves require a significant energy input to produce. Actual field production of crude oil, which accounted for 87% of the total liquids produced in 2005, accounted for only 41% of the growth since 2005.

Those who thought that world oil production would peak in 2005 have been proven to be wrong. But so, too, were those who thought the run-up in oil prices of the last decade would be a temporary disruption until we found a way to return to the world as it had been for a century up until that point.

What happened to advanced biofuels ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

In my recent post on renewable energy I noted that production of biofuels had stalled, with production declining by 0.4% in 2012. Interesting ethanol production is declining while biodiesel production has doubled over the past 5 years and now accounts for 31% of the total.

Despite the recent plateau of production, the FAO is predicting ethanol production will increase by 67% over the next ten years with biodiesel increasing even faster but from a smaller base. By 2022, they project biofuel production will consume a significant amount of the total world production of sugar cane (28%), vegetable oils (15%) and coarse grains (12%).

The Economist recently had an article wondering "What happened to biofuels?", noting that production of first generation biofuels has stalled due to costs and the food vs fuel debate while advanced biofuels (such as cellulosic ethanol) have failed to appear in meaningful quantities so far - though commercial plants have started to appear - and that "flora vs fuel" may be the next battleground if they are produced successfully.

But instead of roaring into life, the biofuels industry stalled. Start-ups went bust, surviving companies scaled back their plans and, as prices of first-generation biofuels rose, consumer interest waned. The spread of fracking, meanwhile, unlocked new oil and gas reserves and provided an alternative path to energy independence. By 2012 America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had slashed the 2013 target for cellulosic biofuels to just 53m litres. What went wrong?

Making a second-generation biofuel means overcoming three challenges. The first is to break down woody cellulose and lignin polymers into simple plant sugars. The second is to convert those sugars into drop-in fuels to suit existing vehicles, via a thermochemical process (using catalysts, extreme temperatures and high pressures) or a biochemical process (using enzymes, natural or synthetic bacteria, or algae). The third and largest challenge is to find ways to do all this cheaply and on a large scale.

In 2008 Shell, an energy giant, was working on ten advanced biofuels projects. It has now shut most of them down, and none of those that remain is ready for commercialisation. “All the technologies we looked at worked,” says Matthew Tipper, Shell’s vice-president for alternative energy. “We could get each to produce fuels at a lab scale and a demonstration scale.” But bringing biofuels to market proved to be slower and more costly than expected.

The optimism of five years ago may have waned, but efforts to develop second-generation biofuels continue. Half a dozen companies are now putting the final touches to industrial-scale plants and several are already producing small quantities of second-generation biofuels. Some even claim to be making money doing so.

Consider Shell. Raizen, its joint venture with Cosan of Brazil, produces more than 2,000m litres of first-generation ethanol annually from sugarcane juice. Usually the fibrous stalks left over are burned for power or turned into paper, but next year Raizen will start turning them into second-generation bioethanol, using a cocktail of designer enzymes from Iogen, a Canadian biotechnology firm. Raizen hopes to produce 40m litres of cellulosic ethanol a year, cutting costs and boosting yield by co-locating its cellulosic operation with a traditional ethanol plant. Under this model, second-generation biofuels complement and enhance first-generation processes, rather than replacing them outright.

Three plants in America are expected to start producing cellulosic ethanol from waste corn cobs, leaves and husks in 2014: POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels (75m litres) and Dupont (110m litres), both in Iowa, and Abengoa (95m litres) in Kansas. But the first company to produce ethanol using enzymes on an industrial scale is Beta Renewables, a spin-off from Chemtex, an Italian chemical giant. An 80m-litre cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, near Turin, has been running at half capacity over the summer, using straw from nearby farms. It will run on corn waste in the autumn, rice straw in the winter and then perennial eucalyptus in the spring. Beta Renewables has already licensed its technology for use in Brazil and Malaysia, and expects to sell several more licences by the end of the year. All Beta’s plants can already make biofuels at a profit, albeit only in areas with very cheap feedstocks, says the firm’s boss, Guido Ghisolfi. ...

Amyris, based in California, genetically engineers yeasts and other microbes to ferment sugar into a long-chain hydrocarbon molecule called farnesene. This can then be processed into a range of chemicals and fuels. After a few rocky years when it over-promised and under-delivered, Amyris is now producing limited quantities of renewable diesel for public buses in Brazil and is trying to get its renewable jet fuel certified for commercial use.

Solazyme, another firm based in California, is also focusing on renewable diesel and jet fuels, in its case derived from algae. Microscopic algae in open-air ponds can use natural sunlight and atmospheric or industrial-waste carbon dioxide to produce oils. But harvesting the fuel, which is present in only very small proportions, is expensive and difficult. Solazyme instead grows algae in sealed fermenting vessels with sugar as an energy source. The US Navy has used tens of thousands of litres of its algal fuels in exercises, and Propel, an American chain of filling stations, recently became the first to offer algal diesel. But although its technology clearly works, Solazyme remains cagey about the economics. A 110m-litre algae plant in Brazil, due to be up and running by the end of the year, may clarify Solazyme’s commercial potential. ...

Even if second-generation processes can be economically scaled up, however, that might in turn highlight a further problem. To make a significant dent in the 2,500m litres of conventional oil that American refineries churn through each day, biofuel factories would have to be able to get hold of a staggering quantity of feedstock. Mr Ghisolfi of Beta Renewables points out that a factory with an annual output of 140m litres needs 350,000 tonnes of biomass a year to operate. “There are only certain areas, in Brazil and some parts of the US and Asia, where you can locate this much biomass within a close radius,” says Mr Ghisolfi. “I am sceptical of scaling to ten times that size, because getting 3.5m tonnes of biomass to a single collection point is going to be a very big undertaking.”

Billions of tonnes of agricultural waste are produced worldwide each year, but such material is thinly spread, making it expensive to collect and transport. Moreover, farms use such waste to condition the soil, feed animals or burn for power. Diverting existing sources of wood to make biofuels will annoy builders and paper-makers, and planting fuel crops on undeveloped land is hardly without controversy: one man’s wasteland is another’s pristine ecosystem. Dozens of environmental groups have protested against the EPA’s recent decision to permit plantations of fast-growing giant reed for biofuels, calling it a noxious and highly invasive weed. Just as the food-versus-fuel argument has proved controversial for today’s biofuels, flora-versus-fuel could be an equally tough struggle for tomorrow’s.

On Earth magazine also has a look at the advanced biofuels story - Turning Grass into Gas, noting that the military, airlines and the bioplastic industry are all motivated customers.

When they failed to hit their mark, vultures circled the industry. In late 2011 a Wall Street Journal editorial branded it “The Cellulosic Ethanol Debacle.” Two early cellulosic companies, Calysta and Coskata, switched to making gasoline from natural gas. BP and Shell abandoned their cellulosic projects. Congress began reconsidering the value of the RFS, using the unmet cellulosic targets as Exhibit A. Stock prices of cellulosic companies tanked. Investment capital fled.

But then a funny thing happened: in early 2013, cellulosic ethanol refineries finally began producing biofuel. Texas-based KiOR, the nation’s leading independent cellulosic company, began shipping cellulosic diesel and gasoline from its refinery in Columbus, Mississippi. INEOS Bio’s Florida refinery began producing cellulosic ethanol from yard and wood waste in early summer. By 2014 the Spanish energy giant Abengoa, the chemical conglomerate DuPont, the ethanol maker Poet, and five other cellulosic refiners are expected to begin producing next-generation biofuel.

That production comes none too soon. Cellulosic refineries are expensive to build. A commercial-scale plant (producing about 20 million gallons a year) can cost $100 million to $200 million. Months of testing and tweaking are required before full production starts. The burn rate at cellulosic start-ups can be astronomical. Prior to its first fuel shipments this year, KiOR went through roughly $10 million a month on R&D; revenues were about $1,000 a day.

After six years of struggle, the cellulosic biofuel industry is finally taking its first steps toward self-sufficiency. “The good news,” Advanced Ethanol Council executive director Brooke Coleman told me, “is that in 2013 we’re expecting our production number for the first time to not be zero.”

If Coleman’s quote seems a little cockeyed, then you haven’t spent much time in the cellulosic biofuel space. When it comes to hope, mystery, controversy, and drama, no green energy sector can match it. Over the past six years, the industry has seen IPO jackpots and shocking failures, breakthrough discoveries and maddening delays. Some early believers have lost the faith in cellulosic. Others have found hope in the ability of cellulosic refineries to produce not just ethanol but also gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and bio-based industrial chemicals, opening up new markets that might include the U.S. military, the global airline industry, and chemical manufacturers.

“Is cellulosic still worth it?” asks Mackinnon Lawrence, a renewable energy analyst and consultant for Navigant Research, in Colorado. “How much money do you throw at cellulosic to commercialize it? What’s its purpose now?”

These are fair questions. In a world of limited resources, it doesn’t make sense to pour money into failed technologies. It’s tough to know how the cellulosic story will end, or whether the grand ambitions of 2007 will ever be realized. Yet it’s clear that predictions of cellulosic’s demise have proved to be premature. ...

The companies that survive long enough to produce fuel may be the ones wealthy enough to give their chemists and engineers the time they need to work the bugs out of a technically demanding process. Of the four companies at or near commercial-scale production, three are sustained by deep-pocketed parents with revenue streams in other industries. What that money buys is time. Abengoa’s cellulosic plant in Hugoton, Kansas, a small town just north of the Oklahoma panhandle, is the company’s first commercial-scale biorefinery. “Frankly, we’ve been working on this process for 10 years,” said Chris Standlee, executive vice president of Abengoa Bioenergy, the company’s renewable fuel subsidiary. Abengoa started with “lab and pilot scale” facilities in Spain in 2003, he said, and the company has been working steadily on scaling up to larger plants ever since.

The curious thing about cellulosic biofuel is that even when production was zero, demand for the stuff continued to climb. It wasn’t all driven by the RFS mandate. Over the past few years, a number of companies and industries have set carbon reduction goals. It’s easy to become cynical about these announcements. But when they’re taken seriously they move markets—and provide critical demand for emerging green-fuel industries.

The American military is a huge future buyer. The U.S. Navy has announced that it wants to source half its non-nuclear fuel from renewables by 2020. That’s an ambitious goal, and the Navy is aggressively encouraging American biorefiners to build the plants necessary to produce upward of three billion gallons per year. Because the military is leery of the food-versus-fuel controversy, Navy fuel buyers are especially interested in advanced biofuels.

Pleasanton, California–based Fulcrum BioEnergy, which converts municipal solid waste into biofuel, has already signed development deals with both the Air Force and the Navy. Like most refiners, though, Fulcrum has yet to produce fuel: its Reno, Nevada, waste-to-fuel facility is still under construction.

Commercial airlines want cellulosic too. When officials from United, British Air, Lufthansa, and Qantas appeared before the advanced biofuels conference in Washington, the ballroom positively buzzed. The airline industry has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, and major carriers want cellulosic to be a big part of the fuel mix.

That market is massive. Worldwide, commercial airlines spend more than $200 billion a year on jet fuel, $50 billion in the United States alone. Airlines see carbon reduction as a key to their growth, because conventional fuels are expected to rise in cost as they become subject to carbon taxes and regulatory systems outside the United States.

“We expect to buy 100 million tons of biofuel by the year 2050,” Jonathan Counsell, head of environment for British Airways, told the conference.

No company is seeking biofuels more urgently than Qantas. Australia’s carbon tax has the airline paying more than $20 per emitted ton of carbon, so bringing more biofuel into their fuel mix isn’t merely a future concern. It’s a bottom line issue right now. And Australian companies are especially keen to find nonfood biofuels in light of the decade-long drought the continent suffered in the 2000s.

Another emerging market might prove nearly as valuable as marine diesel and aviation gas: renewable chemicals. The same process that turns switchgrass into ethanol can be tweaked to produce industrial chemicals such as BDO (1,4-butanediol) and butadiene, used in running shoes, cosmetics, tires, and other products. Earlier this year the German company BASF, the world’s largest chemical maker, signed a deal with San Diego–based Genomatica to produce renewable BDO using cellulosic technology. For BASF cellulosic chemicals could provide value at both ends of the factory: relief from the fluctuations of global petroleum prices and extra benefit to buyers. In competitive markets such as cosmetics and running shoes, bio-based ingredients could be the next wave of “organic” products.

50% Reduction In Cost Of Renewable Energy Since 2008  

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Cleantechnica has an article on the falling cost of renewable energy - 50% Reduction In Cost Of Renewable Energy Since 2008.

Renewable energy becoming more cost-competitive with fossil fuels isn’t news – as technology improves and more clean power generation comes online, electricity without emissions gets cheaper. But one new analysis reveals just how shockingly cheap it’s gotten.

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from wind and solar sources in America has fallen by more than 50% over the past four years, according to Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 7.0, recently released by global financial advisor and asset manager firm Lazard Freres & Co.

Lazard’s analysis compared the LCOE for various renewable energy technologies to fossil fuels on a cost per megawatt hour (MWh) basis, including factors like US federal tax subsidies, fuel costs, geography, and capital costs. ...

According to the analysis, utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) and leading types of wind energy are leading the surge – the LCOE of both power sources has fallen by more than 50% since 2008. Lazard estimates that utility-scale solar PV is now a competitive source of peak energy compared to fossil fuel power in many parts of the world without subsidies.

If we have to use fossil fuels to manufacture renewable plants, doesn't it mean that renewables are useless ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

One of the more frustrating arguments you can ever have with a doomer about renewable energy is the weird "solar panels (or wind turbines" aren't built entirely using renewable energy today and therefore they never can be" line that they like to trot out. Resilience has a post from Cassandra's Legacy looking at this bizarre belief (Still taking a mildly pessimistic viewpoint but its an improvement on the collapsist stuff you still see at places like peakoil.com) - If we have to use fossil fuels to manufacture renewable plants, doesn't it mean that renewables are useless?.

In this post, Marco Raugei makes a fundamental point about an often raised question: if we have to use fossil fuels to manufacture renewable plants, doesn't it mean that renewables are useless? Raugei's answer is a resounding "no". In fact, the EROEI of fossil fuels acts as a multiplier for the final EROEI of the whole process. It turns out that if we invest the energy of fossil fuels to build renewable plants we get an overall EROEI around 20 for a process that leads to photovoltaic plants and an even better one for wind plants. So, if we want to invest in our future, that's the way to go, until we gradually arrive to completely replace fossil fuels!

Your tax dollars at work...  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Glenn Greenwald's steady drip feed of reports (combined with Edward Snowden's disappearance into Putin's Russia) seems to be keeping the focus of attention on the NSA's capabilities.

Early Warning has a look at a new report about the deliberate insertion of security vulnerabilities into software - Your tax dollars at work....

Personally, I thought the Internet was already quite insecure without the US government spending large amounts of money to deliberately make it worse.

I'm not surprised by most of the revelations but I did find the notion of "LOVEINT" a little astonishing - it hadn't occurred to me that intelligence operatives would use their powers to stalk hot chicks, but I guess in retrospect that's a little naive. John Quiggin notes that polygraphs are used to prevent this sort of thing (presumably a phrenologist administers the backup test if the polygraph machine isn't working) - LOVEINT.

The drip feed of revelations about spying by NSA, related agencies and international subsidiaries like ASIO/ASIS, is taking on a familiar pattern. Take some long-held suspicion about what they might be up to, and go through the following steps

1. “You’re being paranoid. That can never happen, thanks to our marvellous checks and balances”
2. “Well, actually it does happen, but hardly ever, so there’s no need to worry about it”
3. “OK, it happens all the time, but you shouldn’t be worried unless you have something to hide”

An example which must have occurred to quite a few of us is whether NSA employees can spy on current or former partners, potential love interests and so on. Until a few days ago, this was at stage 1. Now, it’s been admitted that this not only happens, but it has a name “LOVEINT“. Still, we are told by the great defender of our liberties Dianne Feinstein, this has only happened on a handful of occasions (Stage 2).

All very reassuring, until you read the following

Most of the incidents, officials said, were self-reported. Such admissions can arise, for example, when an employee takes a polygraph tests as part of a renewal of a security clearance.

In other words, while NSA monitors everything you and I do all the time, it relies on witchcraft to detect wrongdoing by its own employees. I guess we’ll just have to hope that NSA staff are too busy snooping on our emails to read any of the 194 000 Google hits on “how to cheat a polygraph”.

George Washington at Zero hedge has a good summary of some of the latest news (lots of links at the original) - High-Level American Intelligence Source: “We Hack Everyone Everywhere".

Offensive cyber operations are not only occurring overseas …

The Department of Defense has long waged cyber-war against Americans by censoring and manipulating social media and other websites. More proof here and here.

This is not entirely surprising, given that:

  • Programs which the government claims are aimed at foreign entities have long been used against American citizens living in the United States
  • The “war on terror” has come home. If the government claims the power to assassinate and indefinitely detain American citizens living on U.S. soil … it’ s not going to hesitate in targeting them for propaganda and cyber-warfare
  • The government has long sought to spread propaganda through mainstream media, video games, movies, television, and every other popular medium. Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says the CIA bought and paid for many successful journalists. See also this New York Times piece, this essay by the Independent, this speech by one of the premier writers on journalism, and this and this roundup.
  • And the CIA is investing in technology which lets them cut out the middle man altogether … by having a computer write news stories
  • On the other hand, real reporters who criticize those in power are being harassed, targeted and smeared
  • Government agencies are scouring the Web for any critical comments about them, actively manipulating social media for propaganda purposes, and to help the too big to fail businesses compete against smaller businesses (and here), and to promote viewpoints which have nothing to do with keeping us safe

The Business Insider also has a good roundup of links - The Guardian's Bombshell Revelation About NSA Domestic Spying Is Only The Tip Of The Iceberg.

Binney — one of the best mathematicians and code breakers in NSA history — worked for the defence Department’s foreign signals intelligence agency for 32 years before resigning in late 2001 because he “could not stay after the NSA began purposefully violating the Constitution.”

He’s detailed how, ever since 9/11, the NSA has run a top-secret surveillance program that amasses electronic data — phone calls, emails, banking and travel records, social media, entire government databases — and analyses the information “to be able to monitor what people are doing” and who they are doing it with.

Binney would know — he built the original software (i.e. ThinThread) that identified, in real time, networks of connections between individuals based on their electronic communications. “I can pull your entire life together from all those domains and map it out and show your entire life over time,” Binney told documentarian Laura Poitras.”This is something the KGB, the Stasi or the Gestapo would have loved to have had.”

The RAR Energia Gravity Motor  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Cryptogon has a link to a Brazilian free energy generation device. I've got no idea if it works (though I always enjoy the universal popularity of perpetual motion machines) but I guess if it doesn't it could always serve as a piece of industrial art - The RAR Energia Gravity Motor.

When one follows “free energy” inventors, a lot of times, the path leads to madness.

The machines in question (that don’t work, by the way) are usually very small—table top scale—bicycle tires and JB Weld sorts of things.

Knowing all of this, I nearly fell out of my chair when I looked at what RAR Energia has built in Brazil. That thing is about two stories tall, and must have cost a minimum of hundreds of thousands of dollars to build.

Bubbling Up: Geothermal Sees Big Global Growth  

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While geothermal power remains a relatively niche source of renewable energy, it is still a piece of the puzzle. EarthTechling reports that global production is set to double over the next few years - Bubbling Up: Geothermal Sees Big Global Growth.

Global geothermal power capacity could be on its way toward doubling, according to a new industry report, as projects unfold around the world, with a number of countries closing in on putting their first geothermal power stations to work.

The Geothermal Energy Association, in its 2013 Geothermal Power: International Market Overview, said seventy countries are moving forward with nearly seven hundred projects. The group said that as of August this year, 11,765 megawatts of geothermal capacity were online – and 11,776 MW of new capacity were in the early stages of development or under construction.

Manufacturing a gas crisis  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Tristan Edis at The Climate Spectator has an article on the strange maneuverings of the coal seam gas industry in NSW as they try to create an illusion of gas scarcity to try and overturn moratoriums on drilling - Manufacturing a gas crisis.

NSW sources its gas from natural gas developments in the Cooper Basin of Central Australia (which had been thought to have peaked a decade ago but have now expanded again and reached a 20 year high) supplemented by and shale gas from the Cooper Basin (reckoned to be significant in some quarters) along with gas from the Bass Strait (which has also seen a rebound in production in recent years).

While the LNG export plants for coal seam gas being built in Queensland are looking to try and use some of the gas from the Cooper Basin, Tristan thinks that their is sufficient supply to support this for some time, with NSW gas consumption flat and a likely shrinking of demand from gas fired power plants as gas prices rise to equalise with those being paid by Asian customers (minus liquefaction and transport costs).

It’s important to note that gas demand in NSW is not growing noticeably, so this isn’t the thing driving any kind of shortage. Also, the traditional gas fields that have supplied the gas to NSW - South Australia's Cooper Basin and Victoria’s Bass Strait, aren’t about to dry up within the next few years. So, we aren’t actually about to run out of gas in the ground. But there are limits on supply in terms of how much equipment is in place to process the gas and transport it via pipelines into NSW, however this can be changed with a few years lead-time for construction.

The fear centres on the fact that Moomba also has a substantial pipeline into Queensland. Over the 2014-17 period as the LNG plants ramp up, they will suck so much supply from South Australia into Queensland that without development of NSW gas fields, manufacturers and households in NSW will be left short of gas.

King points out that, in reality, such a shortage for industry and households won’t eventuate and this is really just a matter of price. If NSW consumers were in desperate need of additional gas then, without doubt, prices would rise (and they are already rising). Now the interesting thing that King points out is that there is one particularly large consumer of gas that has ready substitutes – power generation. King explains:

“...what’s actually going to happen is that the first source of supply will be the withdrawal of use of gas for power generation. Okay. So, that’s actually where the first source of gas is going to come from, not a gas field. It’s going to come out of power generation. It’s not going to come out of industry. And, you know, in my view the suggestion that industry is the one that gets sort of shorted by this is not right because it will be power generation that will be shorted by that increase in demand for gas.” This doesn't mean we'll be doing without power, though. What King acknowledged is that the Renewable Energy Target by inducing extra renewable power capacity into the market, it is taking gas out of power generation and also freeing up NSW black coal generating capacity.

The major oversupply of power generation will ensure NSW has no fear of running out of gas or power.

Now, of course, a big rise in the gas price is hardly welcome news for manufacturers. So will freeing up coal seam gas development in NSW help?

It certainly wouldn’t hurt, but the extent of the difference it makes is highly dependent on circumstances. King points out that due to pipeline constraints from Moomba into Queensland its possible for additional supply from NSW to reduce gas prices.

However it needs to be a lot of a supply, which is conceivable but will take time. Just like in any other market, NSW CSG producers will price their product at the competing alternative supplier. If the marginal supplier is still gas from Moomba then NSW CSG will make no difference to price. For it to make a difference it needs to bring forward enough supply over 2014-2017 to more than offset any drop-off in supply from Moomba.

Those suggesting NSW faces an imminent gas crisis are yet to thoroughly explain whether this could be done. NSW manufacturers aren’t likely to find themselves without gas, but they will be paying much higher prices. Extra gas from NSW CSG could help, but it will take several years to make a major difference.

Plus it's worth noting if you look closely in the map above there is a dotted blue line running out of Narrabri into Queensland. That's a proposed new pipeline that would then allow NSW CSG to be exported into the LNG-linked Queensland market. If there really is a major shortage of gas to supply LNG plants and it turns out that NSW CSG is plentiful, then it probably wouldn't depress NSW prices for too long before that pipeline gets built.

Red Bull Illume Photo Competition  

Posted by Big Gav

Off topic - Wired has a cool collection of photos from the Red Bull Illume contest.

Oceanlinx moving forward with wave power project in South Australia  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

The ABC reports that wave power company Oceanlinx is moving forward with a project off South Australia, with construction due to be complete by the end of the year - Oceanlinx applies for licence to generate electricity using ocean waves off south-east coast of South Australia.

The Essential Services Commission (ESC) has received the first application in South Australia for a licence to generate electricity using the energy of ocean waves. The application has been lodged by New South Wales-based company Oceanlinx. A generator is being built off the coast from Port MacDonnell in the south-east of South Australia and all energy generated would be sold to electricity suppliers.

Wind Power Makes Hydrogen for German Gas Grid  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Proposals to generate hydrogen using excess wind power have been blowing around for quite a few years now, with the hydrogen being a form of "energy storage" that can be subsequently burnt for heat and/or power.

Some systems are now appearing in the wild in countries as diverse as Morocco, Turkey, Argentina and Norway.

Greentech media reports that the Germans are getting in on the act as well, converting excess wind power to hydrogen and feeding it into the natural gas grid (perhaps the combination of hydrogen derived gas and biogas will eventually eliminate European dependence on gas from Russia and the middle east) - Wind Power Makes Hydrogen for German Gas Grid

For the first time on an industrial scale, hydrogen produced using wind power is being injected into the natural gas grid in Germany. It’s a development that could enhance the value of wind power by making it useful no matter when it is produced.

E.ON said the P2G unit in Falkenhagen in eastern Germany, operated in a partnership with Swissgas AG, has a capacity of 2 megawatts and can pump out 360 cubic meters of hydrogen every hour. In a sign of the potential of the technology, its inauguration drew a crowd that included the German economics minister, members of the European parliament and high officials of Brandenburg state.

“One of the biggest challenges of transforming Germany’s energy system is finding ways to integrate the increasing share of intermittent, renewable-source energy,” Economics Minister Philipp Rösler said in the E.ON news release. “To ensure that Germany’s power system remains stable and that our economy continues to have the energy it needs, we not only have to rapidly expand energy networks. We also need innovative solutions like the P2G unit here in Falkenhagen.”

The Falkenhagen facility is essentially a way to store wind power. Instead of turning off the turbines at a nearby wind farm when demand is low (as it can be at night, when the wind tends to blow strongest), or using the power to move water up a hill (effective but site-specific and expensive pumped hydro) or charge a battery (expensive), or try to find a buyer for the power far away (requiring costly transmission), the power is used to turn water into hydrogen by electrolysis. The hydrogen is then shot straight into the area’s natural gas system, displacing a fossil fuel.

What’s especially interesting here is that last step: the use of the hydrogen in the natural gas pipeline. We recently reported on a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy, “Blending Hydrogen Into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues,” in which the authors sound a fairly optimistic note about the possibility of putting the country’s extensive gas pipeline system to work for clean hydrogen’s benefit. They don’t give a 100 percent endorsement of the idea -- because of the nature of hydrogen, the natural gas system can only take small percentages without extensive reworking -- but their review of the issues says that the pluses appeared significant enough to warrant further study. So while the E.ON project in Germany is fairly small, it should provide valuable insight that will help guide subsequent approaches with the technology.

Other similar approaches include putting hydrogen produced from excess renewables to work in fuel cells, and reacting it with CO2 from bioenergy plants to produce a carbon neutral methane, sometimes known as “renewable methane” or synthetic methane. This synthetic methane could go directly into the natural gas pipeline without the limitations of hydrogen. A 25-kilowatt demonstration plant using just such a system is operating in Germany.

Elon Musk To Drive Tesla Model S Across America In Six Days  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Gas 2.0 has an article on a plan by Elon Musk to drive a Tesla across the US - Elon Musk To Drive Tesla Model S Across America In Six Days.

The Tesla Model S has defied even the wildest expectations, shooting Tesla Motors stock into the stratosphere and increasing the profile of Elon Musk exponentially. So now is the perfect time for Musk to embark on a great American road trip. Musk claims that during six-day road trip from Los Angeles to New York City, the Tesla Model S will spend just 9 hours charging. ...

The 3,200 mile journey will require a minimum of 11 refills, even if Musk manages to wrangle 300 miles per-charge. Musk claims that they will spend just 1.5 hours a day recharging, the same amount of time they would spend at rest stops or tourist attractions.

Fair enough, but Tesla’s own Supercharge map shows wide swaths of the country remain uncovered. Am I missing something here? Probably. I know enough not to doubt Elon Musk when he says he is going to do something.

Green bank funds Portland wind farm in final fling  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The new Abbott government is looking to kill off the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (one of the best things the Greens and Independents managed to force the last Labor government to implement) as soon as possible - however it has managed to fund one last wind farm before the doors are barred and the building burned down - Green bank funds Portland wind farm in final fling.

The $10 billion green investment bank, set to be scrapped by the incoming Coalition government, has issued a loan to Pacific Hydro to build the final stage of its Portland wind farm in what is likely to be among the bank's final deals. The project will create hundreds of jobs, increase market competition and provide enough clean energy to power 31,000 homes, according to Pacific Hydro.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), dubbed a “giant green hedge fund” by the Coalition’s climate spokesman Greg Hunt, will provide the $70 million loan to Pacific Hydro as part of a financial package involving commercial banks. The deal secures funding for the 47-megawatt fourth stage of Pacific Hydro’s Portland Wind Energy Project in south-western Victoria.

Peak Coal In China  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Citibank has released an interesting report on "peak coal" in China - referring to peak demand rather than any supply driven peak of production (something I view as quite far off) - The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China.

The limit to coal use appears to be how much pollution the Chinese population is willing to tolerate - a reminder that there is more than one "limit to growth.

  • For the last decade, one of the most unassailable assumptions in global energy markets has been the ever-increasing trajectory of Chinese thermal coal demand. The consensus outlook for China’s coal demand, which currently accounts for more than 50% of global demand, has been so strong that the IEA called for coal to surpass oil as the leading global fuel before 2030.
  • Beyond the possibility of peak thermal coal demand in China, a series of transformative forces are increasingly asserting their influence on the global power mix. Disruptive changes in technology costs and fuel markets are now set to ensure that the next ten years look little like the last twenty. US shale gas is just the beginning. Changes in the power mix, especially in Chinese coal demand, have serious ripple effects on three categories: (1) globally traded coal and commodities, (2) countries and companies reliant on coal production and (3) carbon emissions.
  • Significant shifts in China’s economic structure and power sector demand a reassessment of coal’s perpetual climb. Key drivers include: (1) reduction of air pollution; (2) structural downward shifts in China’s GDP growth and energy intensity; (3) robust growth of China’s renewables and nuclear capacity, along with increased availability of natural gas from pipeline/LNG imports and domestic production; (4) efficiency improvements in coal power plants and energy demand.
  • Citi expects this combination of factors to slow the power sector's use of coal, pointing to a possible flattening or peaking before 2020, although many global energy agencies continue to expect high coal demand in the years to come. We arrive at our results based on a detailed, top-down electricity supply-demand model for China, which factors in power demand, efficiencies, coal and non-coal power generation and capacity, among others. The same macro forces driving the economic transition and lowering power demand should also lead to a deceleration in coal’s use in other sectors. Our conclusions are supported by results from bottom-up, economy-wide analyses by the China Energy Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Senior research staff at China’s National Development and Reform Commission suggested the possibility of peak coal demand by 2015. Further, our work builds on Citi’s extensive research on China’s transition and on the end of the supercycle in commodities and the mining sector

Ironically, a softening and potential drooping of Chinese coal demand is going to hit Australian exports hardest (Mongolia is the only country more exposed to Chinese import demand), which will no doubt be a headache for the newly ascendent coal mining industry which it seems may not get to enjoy it's victory in the recent Australian election.

ReNew Economy notes that the first major development for the mining industry under the regime of Tony "Suppository of Wisdom" Abbott is the cancellation of a $7 billion coal mining project - Tony Abbott gets crash course in carbon bubbles.

It didn’t take long for prime minister-elect Tony Abbott to get a lesson in the harsh realities of international markets. Just days after his election, his repeated promise to repeal the carbon price, the mining tax, roll back green tape and open the country up to business, one of the biggest mining projects in the country – the $7 billion Wandoan coal mine in Queensland – was scrapped.

This was something that was only supposed to happen under a Labor/Green government. But, as Glencore Xstrata CEO Ivan Glasenburg made clear on Tuesday, the world has changed. There is simply not enough demand from other countries, and prices are way too low to justify new projects.

This should have come as no surprise to Abbott’s closest advisors, presuming they are doing their job properly, and not just listening to the overtures of Gina Rinehart. Nearly a third of the world’s thermal coal supplies are losing money because of significant shifts in consumption and economic priorities in China, the world’s biggest coal user, and elsewhere.

Global Cooling ? The Growing Arctic Sea Ice Delusion  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Guardian has a great article on one of the usual recurrences of climate skepticism that accompany any annual arctic sea ice shrinkage not being as large as a preceding year - Arctic sea ice delusions strike the Mail on Sunday and Telegraph.

The reason so many climate scientists predicted more ice this year than last is quite simple. There's a principle in statistics known as "regression toward the mean," which is the phenomenon that if an extreme value of a variable is observed, the next measurement will generally be less extreme. In other words, we should not often expect to observe records in consecutive years. 2012 shattered the previous record low sea ice extent; hence 'regression towards the mean' told us that 2013 would likely have a higher minimum extent.

The amount of Arctic sea ice left at the end of the annual melt season is mainly determined by two factors – natural variability (weather patterns and ocean cycles), and human-caused global warming. The Arctic has lost 75 percent of its summer sea ice volume over the past three decades primarily due to human-caused global warming, but in any given year the weather can act to either preserve more or melt more sea ice. Last year the weather helped melt more ice, while this year the weather helped preserve more ice.

Last year I created an animated graphic called the 'Arctic Escalator' that predicted the behavior we're now seeing from the Mail on Sunday and Telegraph. Every year when the weather acts to preserve more ice than the previous year, we can rely on climate contrarians to claim that Arctic sea ice is "rebounding" or "recovering" and there's nothing to worry about. Given the likelihood that 2013 would not break the 2012 record, I anticipated that climate contrarians would claim this year as yet another "recovery" year, exactly as the Mail on Sunday and Telegraph have done.

In short, this year's higher sea ice extent is merely due to the fact that last year's minimum extent was record-shattering, and the weather was not as optimal for sea ice loss this summer. However, the long-term trend is one of rapid Arctic sea ice decline, and research has shown this is mostly due to human-caused global warming.

The Guardian also has an article on the bout of unseasonally hot weather in eastern Australia - Bushfires in September: voting while the planet burns.

We still get more or less the same rainfall but it now seems to come down in huge torrents, rather than weeks of slow drizzle, so we get more raging floods and then it stops completely, like it has now. It hasn't rained a drop up here for almost three months and the place is dry – very dry. It's also getting much hotter much earlier. My husband used to complain bitterly that we didn't see even a hint of spring until October at the earliest.

In the last few years, however, the daffodils are finished already and the wisteria is in full bloom – and it's only just September. And as we drove along the narrow dirt road towards our place yesterday, my daughter and I observed something much more sinister. The valley was in flames. Now don't get me wrong, spring is the traditional time when farmers up here burn to keep down weeds and ticks, so the grass fires we passed didn't worry us unduly at first. Though, as we commented, at 30 degrees (in September!) and with everything so tinder dry, it seemed high risk to do even a controlled burn. Then we got to our own property, and it was on fire too. Which couldn't be a controlled burn because we had not been there to either light it or control it. And, as well as breeding cattle, we grow trees as a commercial plantation – so when we burn, we watch it very carefully.

As a neighbour explained, the fires had been burning for three solid weeks, slowly eating their way up the valley. They hadn't done any real damage, sticking to the undergrowth and not getting into the canopy at all. To be honest, they've probably done us a favour by getting rid of the built up fuel that might be a real danger once summer hits, particularly if it stays this dry. Nevertheless, it spooked us a bit. In 40 years of visiting this valley, we had never seen or heard of such a slow fire, especially in August and September. Nor can anyone remember spring coming quite so early or being quite so hot. In fact, the world has just experienced its 342nd consecutive month of hotter-than-average temperatures.

In the evening as we watched Australia elect a government sworn to repeal the carbon tax, we couldn't help remarking on the irony, particularly as we watched the results come in while listening to the fire in the paddock across the river crackle and burn. As darkness fell, we could see little red pockets of fire scattered amongst the thick woodlands to our north and hear the crash of the occasional burnt out tree as it fell – in early September, on the edge of a temperate rainforest. We may have got a little drunker than we'd intended listening to the fire while watching Australians decide that what we could see, smell and hear either didn't matter or, if it did, wasn't important enough to truly do anything about it.

According to leaked details from the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, the world's ice sheets are melting rapidly as the planet warms. Greenland's ice added six times more to sea levels in the decade up to 2011 than in the previous 10 years and the Antarctic melt produced a five-fold increase.

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