The Sun Is Shining On Solar Power  

Posted by Big Gav

Tyler Hamilton reports that the Sun is set to shine on solar power in an interview with Vinod Khosla in the Toronto Star (Vinod is far too bearish about batteries and the potential of hybrid cars to ignite the smart grid / energy storage / V2G revolution if you ask me, but does understand the need to improve the transmission capacity of the grid).

The Cleantech Network released an insightful report last week that paints a rosy picture of the clean-technology sector, highlighting 2006 as a year of significant expansion.

"The year 2006 proved to be even more exciting than 2005," the report states. "Total venture investment rose; M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and IPO (initial public offerings) remained robust; public policies gained clarity and purpose; and innovators showed they were up to the task of developing and marketing new and better ways to conserve natural resources."

Among the highlights of the report is that investment in clean-tech companies rose 70 per cent, to $3.9 billion (U.S.) in 2006, with clean-energy-related investments such as solar and biofuels accounting for more than $3 billion of that.

Amid all the hype – and the hype, at this point, may be justified – it's fair to ask whether all clean-tech investments are created equal.

Some investors have strong views on this, including Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures and a long-time partner with venture capital titan Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (the firm that made early and successful bets on Google, and AOL).

Khosla more or less divides clean-technology investments into two camps: those that can make real but relatively small changes and those that can make huge changes to the world's environmental problems, most notably climate change.

"There's a difference between a good green investment and a climate solution," he told me last week in an interview. "I came into it from the point of view that asks what the large solutions are that actually matter to climate change.

"I love PV (solar photovoltaics), and we have investments in PV, but I don't think it will be relevant to climate change in the next 20 years."

Khosla is probably the closest you can get these days to a celebrity venture capitalist, and as a green investor with deep insight into emerging technologies and markets, he brings much-added balance to the debate – whether you agree with him or not.

He calls conservation a "nice habit." He refers to hybrid cars as "great" but incremental. Biodiesel he considers "completely irrelevant." Solar PV is "sexy" but immaterial, partly because it's an intermittent source of energy, similar to wind. And while he sees an important role for new battery technologies, "to call that a climate change solution is an environmental hallucination.

"I think we should stop playing with toys," says the self-described pragmatist, who never hesitates to engage in online debates with environmentalists and idealists who believe solar rooftops and wind power can wean us off coal. "If you're not solving 50 per cent of the problem it's not material."

So what is a material "climate solution" in Khosla's world? What's clean, cost-competitive, can be deployed on a large scale and is capable of dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Khosla, in addition to his other green investments, is placing a big bet on solar-thermal technology – what he considers the best weapon in the "war on coal power generation." To a lesser extent, he's also increasingly drawn to the potential of enhanced geothermal power.

"Solar thermal has been ignored completely in favour of sexier photovoltaics," he says. "When I started looking at solar thermal early last year, I couldn't find anybody who was paying attention, which sort of surprised me. It's a great technology, and about one-fourth the cost of PV with the kind of reliability that utilities actually like."

Khosla says there are a number of utilities and investors pinning their hopes on clean-coal technology, which in one form is known as IGCC, or integrated gasification combined cycle. But IGCC, while cleaner than conventional coal, is expensive, unproven and risky. And that's ignoring the added cost of capturing the CO2 stream and sequestering it somewhere.

"We can be cheaper than IGCC coal, even for our first (solar thermal) plants," says Khosla. "I'll beat them any day of the week on price, and I'll build them more quickly. I'll challenge anybody with this."

I ask Khosla whether solar-thermal plants can be built anywhere. We know that just last week San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. signed a deal to purchase 553 megawatts of power from the Mojave Solar Park, a massive solar plant being built in the California desert.

Can such plants help Ontario kick its coal habit? Khosla says the economics will differ depending on the geography – Arizona, it's safe to assume, is likely to be a better environment than Ontario, but it could technically be done anywhere in Canada. It all comes down to the cost per kilowatt-hour.

This got Khosla talking about another important investment area: next-generation, ultra-high-voltage DC transmission technologies and infrastructure.

In his mind, getting off coal and other fossil fuels means playing to our clean-energy strengths and connecting our energy sweet spots to a large, trans-national grid that can efficiently carry power over long distances.

Many environmental groups committed to renewable power are opposed to transmission expansion, because they feel it perpetuates the idea of big central power plants. They rightly see decentralized power as the future – solar PV on rooftops, community windmills and local co-generation stations that produce heat and power from biomass. All good, all necessary, but should this be to the exclusion of transmission?

The thing about renewables is you take it where and when you can get it. The wind doesn't blow all the time, and it does so better in certain regions. The sun doesn't shine at night, and the days are longer the further south you go.

Ocean and tidal energy is plentiful on the coasts. Geothermal heat can only be economically tapped in certain states and provinces. Biomass is plentiful but outside of major cities. Hydroelectric generation and pumped storage has tremendous potential, but most projects worth considering are too far from the current transmission system to be economical.

If we truly want to tap the potential of renewables, we have to take a hard look at investing in transmission that allows a city like Toronto to benefit from wave power in Nova Scotia, solar thermal power in Florida, geothermal in British Columbia and hydropower flowing from Newfoundland.

If we want renewables to directly replace coal and nuclear, it will only happen on the necessary scale if we have adequate transmission. Residential- and community-level renewables help reduce our need for the grid, but the need itself will never go away.

"I think that (enhanced transmission) is absolutely key to all renewables," says Khosla....

USA Today also has a bullish report on solar power.
Solar power accounts for well under 1% of U.S. electricity generation. Other alternative energy sources, such as wind, biomass and geothermal, are far more widely deployed. The outlook for solar, though, is getting much brighter. A few dozen companies say advances in technology will let them halve the price of solar-panel installations in as little as three years. By 2014, solar-system prices will be competitive with conventional electricity when energy savings are figured in, Deutsche Bank (DB) says. And that's without government incentives.

If that happens, solar panels would become common home and business appliances, says Brandon Owens of Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

Innovations — led by semiconductor firms and a new crop of "thin-film" solar makers — wring more power from sunlight, use less silicon to make panels and make factories more efficient. Venture-capital firms pumped $264 million into solar companies in 2006, up from $64 million in 2004, research firm Clean Edge says. The start-ups also have benefited from $159 million in U.S. research grants this year, largesse from efforts to reduce power plants' global-warming emissions.

Sharp price swings

High costs of solar panels have been due to volatile silicon prices, low production volumes and high setup costs. Solar panels generate electricity when photons in sunlight knock loose electrons in silicon — the same material used in PC chips. The silicon is sandwiched between two metal plates; electrons flow from one to the other.

Several years ago, SunPower, a unit of Cypress Semiconductor, (CY) realized the top metal plate was reflecting the sun's rays, cutting efficiency by reducing the percentage of sunlight converted to electricity. So the company decided to put both plates beneath the silicon. It now has an industry-high efficiency of 22% vs. an average of 16%, says analyst Dan Ries of Monness, Crespi Hardt & Co. That means fewer panels are needed to produce power, shaving installation costs and making systems more affordable for homes, which have smaller roofs than most commercial buildings.

SunPower, which says it will earn about $90 million on $740 million in sales this year, expects its prices to be competitive with grid power by 2012, says Vice President Julie Blunden.

Also poised to stir up the market is Applied Materials, (AMAT) the No. 1 producer of machines that make computer chips. It charged into the industry last year by paying $464 million for solar maker Applied Films. Now, it's transferring to solar the efficiencies it brought to flat-panel TV and laptop manufacturing. Its machines carve an ultra-thin solar cell into a giant, 55-square-foot sheet of glass to slash production and setup costs. "We want to get demand going," says Applied CEO Mike Splinter.

Like wind power, solar energy is spotty, working at full capacity an average 20% to 30% of the time. Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks. And it can be located at homes and businesses, reducing the need to build pollution-belching power plants and unsightly transmission lines.

In states such as California, with high electricity prices and government incentives, solar is already a bargain for some customers. Wal-Mart recently said it's putting solar panels on more than 20 of its stores in California and Hawaii. Google (GOOG) is blanketing its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters with 9,212 solar panels, enough to light 1,000 homes.

Burning demand

The solar industry is expected to triple in the next three years, from about $13 billion to $40 billion in revenue, says analyst Jesse Pichel of Piper Jaffray. (PJC) Turbocharging sales are government incentives in countries such as Germany and Japan. In the USA, generous customer rebates in California and New Jersey — by far the largest U.S. solar markets — along with a federal tax credit have trimmed system prices by a third or more.

Most states don't offer solar rebates, but prices still have fallen about 90% since the mid-1980s — 40% annually the past five years — as surging sales have led to cost efficiencies, says Rhone Resch, head of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Now, experts say it will take a quantum technological leap to quickly lower prices to utility levels. An armada of companies say they are poised to do just that ...

The Sietch Blog has a look at how many wind turbines the US could buy instead of fighting the Iraq oil war.
It so often seems that our government is not using its resources efficiently, everyone has heard of the thousand dollar toilet seats, and the wasteful government contracts. However the Iraq War has been one of the most colossal wastes of money this country has ever undertaken. Not to mention the horrific lose in life, both American and Iraqi, a loss more grave than any amount of money. But what if we could get that money back? What if we could use it for something that would benefit humanity.

Several groups have attempted to quantify exactly that. The National Priorities Project has done a great study of what exactly a half of a trillion dollars would buy for America and her people. They break it down by state for instance in Massachusetts they have the following.

Another person who has done an interesting calculation is Paul Gipe (if you are involved in wind power you will know that name, Gipe has written some of the best educational texts on wind power). Gipe has decided to see how much renewable energy that amount of money could have got the nation. The most shocking finding is that with half a trillion dollars you could build enough wind turbines to produce almost a third of all the energy used in the Untied States (!). Gipe uses some fairly conservative estimates, and the results are still pretty stunning.

With the current high cost of solar energy(estimated to become cheaper than carbon based energy by 2014), the “war panels” would only produce about 1-3%, which while small is still a lot of energy that would no longer require coal oil or gas to produce. He estimates that you could put a 2.5kw system on 18% of American homes with that kind of money.
More significantly, such a large-scale development program, reminiscent of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, would push America to the forefront of solar photovoltaics technology, enabling us to not only meet our own needs for clean, renewable electricity, but also enabling us to ship panels to distant–shall we say “foreign” lands–to help them meet their more modest needs.

Perhaps in the future we can ship wind turbines and solar panels to the Persian Gulf instead of our sons and daughters.

I really like the idea of fighting wars over oil with renewable energy. Paul Gipe is an amazing man, and you should pick up any of his books on wind power to quickly get up to speed on the science and technology behind wind power today.

The New York Times also did a piece on how much the money from the Iraq war could have gotten us.

(be aware this graphic was done in January)

They place the cost of the war at a staggering 1.2 trillion dollars. Paul Gipe’s estimates above were assuming a direct cost of half a trillion, if we combine the two we could estimate that as much as 60% of our energy could be produced from wind (a high estimate). So lets say that we get real conservative here and say that 10-30% of our nations energy supply could have been from renewable sources right now, had we invested all the money from the Iraq war into renewable energy. What would a nation like this look like?

Well for one we would have a lot more jobs. Someone is going to have to build, ship, install, and maintain all those turbines and panels. I know that in the part of the Midwest where I grew up there is a massive lack of manufacturing jobs. There is a large pool of skilled labor just waiting for a crack at working in a wind turbine factory, or a solar panel plant. This influx of new jobs would help drive more economic growth.

We would also have a lot smaller carbon footprint. Not only because we were using more renewable energy, but we would also have avoided the massive amount of carbon emitted by the war itself. War machines are not known for their fuel efficiency, a hummer started off as a Humvee, armor plate a hummer and see what kind of millage you get. Not to mention the massive amount of co2 released flying and shipping all the troops and equipment back and forth to the other side of the Atlantic ocean on a daily basis.

There would also be the issue of international diplomacy. The Iraq war was the turning point. After 9/11 almost the entire world was sympathetic to America. Willing to help us out in anyway we needed. When we decided to go to war we ruined all that. If instead we would have responded with a massive renewable energy campaign (perhaps also with a ratification of the Kyoto protocol) we could have capitalized on that good will to show the world the way forward.

Newsweek has a report on Honda's case of Prius envy.
Peter Kessner, a devout environmentalist, bought a Honda Civic hybrid four years ago to show everyone that he wants to save the planet. The only problem: no one noticed, since, other than the hybrid badge on the trunk, it looked like a regular Civic. So he traded it in for a Toyota Prius. Suddenly, strangers began stopping him on the street to ask about his hybrid, with its space-age styling and miserly mileage. "That's a big part of why I bought the Prius," says the Floral Park, N.Y., retiree. "It opens up conversations, and I push my theory that we've got to do our best to conserve." The Honda, on the other hand, didn't deliver what Kessner craved: green street cred. "If I'm driving a hybrid," he says, "I want people to know it."

Customers like Kessner have left Honda with a bad case of Prius envy. In the low-octane race for the environmental high ground, Honda is running a distant second to Toyota—despite the fact that Honda was first to sell a hybrid in America and remains a darling of the green movement. But to the average car buyer, Honda's hybrids are all but invisible. With 110,565 sold so far this year, the Toyota Prius is outselling Honda's entire lineup of gas-electric Civics and Accords by five to one. Honda is also pulling the plug on its hybrid Accord because it failed to attract buyers with its confusing formula of high horsepower, high price and so-so mileage. Honda execs now admit they weren't prepared for the power of the Prius. "The Prius has become synonymous with hybrid; it's the Kleenex of hybrids," says Honda senior VP John Mendel. "We feel Honda should be synonymous with the most fuel-efficient company in America."

That's why Honda is trying electroshock therapy on its hybrids. It's working on a new high-profile hybrid—a Prius fighter that analysts expect will have the highest mileage on the road when it arrives in 2009. Code-named the "Global Small Hybrid," Honda's new gas-electric model won't be a version of anything else in its lineup. Instead, Honda execs say it will be a five-passenger, small family car priced under $22,000. This time Honda won't make the mistake of wrapping its hybrid in the sheet metal of its everyday cars: instead, analysts expect the new Honda will have the larva styling the Prius pioneered—which now embodies the green-car look. ...

Things are getting weird out in the Pacific, with the coastline up at Yamba getting covered in a giant sea of froth after recent storms.
It was as if someone had poured tons of coffee and milk into the ocean, then switched on a giant blender. Suddenly the shoreline north of Sydney were transformed into the Cappuccino Coast. Foam swallowed an entire beach and half the nearby buildings, including the local lifeguards' centre, in a freak display of nature at Yamba in New South Wales.

One minute a group of teenage surfers were waiting to catch a wave, the next they were swallowed up in a giant bubble bath. The foam was so light that they could puff it out of their hands and watch it float away. It stretched for 30 miles out into the Pacific in a phenomenon not seen at the beach for more than three decades.

Scientists explain that the foam is created by impurities in the ocean, such as salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish and excretions from seaweed. All are churned up together by powerful currents which cause the water to form bubbles.

Crikey reports that the Rodent's uranium grab in the Northern Territory gets more and more outrageous by the day - now the land owners have to pay to use their own property - "Aboriginal assets to be seized, then rented back for profit". Big government neoconservatism, in action...
In moves seemingly impossible to reconcile with the protection of Aboriginal children on remote towns and communities in the Northern Territory, a document has come into the hands of Crikey that presages a federal government takeover of millions of dollars worth of assets owned by Aboriginal organisations.

At least Ned Kelly stole from the rich. Mal Brough is taking from the poor to establish a government-controlled property trust, from which he will then rent back to the dispossessed.

Organisational assets above the value of $400,000 are to be compulsorily acquired by Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) and transferred to a new entity, the Indigenous Economic Development Trust (IEDT), and then rented back at commercial rates to the same organisations from which the asset has been taken from.

In some cases this will make those organisations commercially unviable, leading to financial collapse and loss of Aboriginal jobs. Every reason for Aboriginal organisations for acquiring property as part of engaging with capitalism has been thrown out in favour of a centrally controlled government bureaucracy.

This is not about Aboriginal land in places like Arnhem Land: assets will be compulsorily stripped from Aboriginal organisations owning land and property up and down the Stuart Highway—Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs—no matter how well run, no matter what the level of services provided, no matter what those assets are being used for.

The early targets appear to be urban-based Community Development Employment Programs (CDEP). In a letter to these CDEP projects in towns and cities up the Stuart Highway, IBA’s "national manager business funding", Kim McIlveen is keen to introduce "new products and services that your CDEP organisation might qualify for".

One of these "new products" is "establishing an Indigenous Economic Development Trust, through which assets will be leased to Aboriginal businesses".

And he is cheerfully offering a helping hand.

"IBA staff and contracted service providers will be visiting each CDEP over the next few months to provide more information and invite you to discuss your business needs."

The sheer effrontery of it is extraordinary. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR), in at least one instance, will be "resuming" an asset from an Aboriginal business which is being offered back for commercial rental to the very Aboriginal business from which it was compulsorily taken.

In many cases the assets have been built up over many years—in some cases decades. Some are jointly-owned assets. Some are leased to groups such as health services; some provide low cost housing. Some are funded through a combination of commercial income, commercial bank loans, soft government loans and government grants.

The latter factor seems to be the key. Any Aboriginal organisation that directly or indirectly received federal government assistance to acquire or pay off an asset—even in small part—now faces compulsory seizure of the entire asset.

Potentially, property and other commercial assets that are earning an income, and employing Aboriginal people, will be summarily resumed by a federal bureaucracy. At least one CDEP seems destined to relinquish the property it purchased, then lease it back from the IEDT.

And the amount of this Stuart Highway robbery could run into many millions of dollars if this principle is extended. In Darwin assets owned by Larrakia Nation and its business arm, along with the Aboriginal Development Foundation and Danila Dilba Health Service, face compulsory asset removal.

In Katherine the Jawoyn Association faces property losses as well as potential loss of assets in the tourist industry in the millions. Tennant Creek’s Julalikari Council owns low cost housing valued at more than $2 million as well as other properties.

In Alice Springs properties potentially being seized are owned by the Institute for Aboriginal Development, Tangentyere Council, Arrernte Council and Health Congress. Assets in all of these towns owned by the Northern and Central land councils could also face resumption by the feds.

John Howard visited the Aboriginal town of Ntaria (Hermannsburg) Tuesday this week.

"We have a simple aim," he told the locals, "and that is whilst respecting a special place of Indigenous people in the history and the life of this country, their future can only be as part of the mainstream of the Australian community.

"But unless they can get a share of the bounty of this great and prosperous country, their future will be bleak."

One can only assume the "special place of Indigenous people in the history and the life of this country" is something to do with continuously re-enacting those bits where land and property are stolen from them. Hard to work out where the "share of the bounty" comes in.

A "Town Called Dobson" has a few thoughts about the Kucinich candidacy.
Most folks I know have a preferred candidate - Hillary, Obama, Edwards or Gore. But the crazy thing is, they will turn right around and say, “you know who I really want to vote for? Kucninch.”

I have those same feelings - I love Kucinich and think he would make the best President. His values most closely resemble my own. Why not vote for him?

Irrational fear. Total fear that the Republicans will lie about Kucinich and Fred Thompson will win the election. Wait, the GOP is gonna lie anyway, no matter what, so why the fear?

One thing I finally noticed about Kucinich during the AFL-CIO debate was how Kucinich always made more points during his alloted time than other candidates. I have been thinking about this and found the answer when I was reading the transcript. Kucinich doesn’t equivocate. He doesn’t dance around an issue - he goes straight for the explanation and since his past is not littered with idiotic support of bad bills, HE has nothing to fear, so why do I?

Yes, why do I fear? Do I think Hillary can win? No. I think she loses the election, the second she is nominated. Isn’t THAT something to fear? Do we think Fred Thompson, Gingrich or whatever other ass-wipe the GOP nominates will give a shit about universal healthcare, the environment or peace? Nope, it will be a straight continuation of 8 years of BushCo. Isn’t my fear displaced?

Who is the strongest Democrat in Congress? Kucinich.

What Congressman never LOST their spine in the politically crushing days after 9-11? Kucinich.

Who knows how to answer a direct question asked by We The People? Kucinich.

I think something changed for Kucinich during the AFL-CIO debate - I can’t put my finger on it, but something changed. Maybe it was his eagerness to address We The People with truth, honesty and integrity? Maybe it was just the other candidates equivocating on whatever nonsense answer their staff prepared for them months ago?

Maybe it was because the other candidates showed fear and Kucinich didn’t. He never flinched.

That is leadership as I see it. And from this point forward I will NOT fear to support Kucinich.

He is just like me. My values are the same as his. If I was in Congress, I would vote like he does. I no longer fear. I refuse to allow the GOP to manipulate me into supporting lesser candidates.

That just might be called courage.

Links :

* CNN Money - Big U.S. oil: Tepid on Libya. Not for much longer I suspect - Libya may well be second to Iraq in terms of undeveloped oil reserves.
* SMH - Australia's oil and gas production up
* Past Peak - Allawi Resurfaces. I bet he'll hand over the oil.
* WSJ Energy Roundup - In Today’s Journal: Tales from Kashagan
* WSJ Energy Roundup - No Shortages Here, Says OPEC
* Jeff Vail - EROEI Short #2: Lenin & Lohan
* Globe And Mail - Will oceans surge 59 centimetres this century - or 25 metres?. "If we follow 'business-as-usual' growth of greenhouse gas emissions, I think that we will lock in a guaranteed sea-level rise of several metres, which, frankly, means that all hell is going to break loose."
* Sharon Astyk - Diversify, Diversify, Diversify
* TreeHugger - Number of the Day: 300
* Reuters - Iran says ready to fill vacuum in Iraq left by US
* Bruce Schneier - Stupidest Terrorist Overreaction Yet?
* Free Market News Network - Ron Paul: Iran Attack in a Year?
* Lew Rockwell - A Political Theory of Geeks and Wonks

Beware Of Trojan Horses Bearing Rodents  

Posted by Big Gav

Well - its a balmy 8 degrees above the normal temperature for this time of year down here, but that didn't stop me sneaking in a good weekend of skiing down south. And at least we aren't on fire like Greece is.

The Australian has an article that firms up my belief that the Rodent's trampling over Aboriginal land rights is a thinly disguised uranium grab - "Leaders suspicious of 'trojan horse' intervention".

TWO months after the federal Government's unprecedented intervention in the Northern Territory, the nation's peak Aboriginal organisations are deeply pessimistic about the outcome. At the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement in Adelaide, chief executive Neil Gillespie, father of Australian cricketer Jason Gillespie, said indigenous people remained suspicious that the intervention was a "trojan horse" for the takeover of Aboriginal land.

He said he was "appreciative that the Government is finally doing something" about both child abuse and disadvantage, but he was concerned that none of the recommendations of the Northern Territory's Little Children are Sacred report had been followed. He said he suspected the Government did not have a coherent program to deal with abuse, and questioned why no charges had been laid despite two months of police and military activity.

Nor had the Government made the case for linking child abuse and the five-year compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land and the abolition of the permit system controlling access to communitues. "What's land got to do with child abuse?" he asked. "Is it to provide access to mining companies? Is it a trojan horse? With the proposed sales of uranium, is uranium waste going to be on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory?"

The president of the Aborigines Advancement League in Melbourne, Alf Bamblett, said the intervention appeared to have reinvigorated old political agendas, including the break-up of the large Aboriginal land councils in the Territory, which had created a belief throughout indigenous Australia that the intervention was a land grab dressed up as concern for children. "I suppose that's politics," he said. "It's a bit dirty, a bit nasty though."

In Sydney, NSW Aboriginal Land Council chairwoman Bev Manton said the intervention was discriminatory, punitive, top-down, ill-conceived and a land grab. The issue of child sexual abuse had been made worse by funding cuts during the Howard years, she said, and Mr Howard had now "kicked the door down on affected communities in the NT to apply a Band-Aid in the dying days of office".

David Reevely at The Ecolibertarian has a look at "Two views of the future", which contains the phrase of the day: "We’ll be able to step off the sinking hull of the oil economy onto the rising iceberg of the green-energy economy".
In quick succession this morning, I read two radically different views of our energy future.

First, Marc Gunther. Thesis: “Buying compact fluorescent light bulbs and hybrid cars won’t do it… I’m ordinarily a fan of incrementalism, and remain one—small steps lead to big changes and all that—but it’s clear that the way we live, work, travel and consume in the U.S., in particular, is unsustainable.” We need major changes and we need them quickly.

He’s mainly talking about greenhouse gases, but certainly about oil supply as well:
First, Americans (and Europeans and others in the developed world, not to mention China) are literally living off our past and our future. The past, because we are rapidly and aggressively exploiting tens of millions of years worth of the sun’s energy that is stored as coal and oil and natural gas. The future, because we are emitting carbon into the air at a rate so dangerous that we are putting the lives of future generations (including our own children) in jeopardy.

Then I read Eamonn Butler of Britain’s Adam Smith Institute. Thesis: “As developing countries like China suck in more and more oil, its price is likely to continue rising. That means those of us who can consume less will be forced to do so. But it also means that new sources will become economic.” We’ll be able to step off the sinking hull of the oil economy onto the rising iceberg of the green-energy economy, in other words.

I gave my head a firm shake and considered. We are in the realm of intuition here, but I think Gunther is closer to the mark.

Whether it’s peak oil or climate change, there are plenty of people who, like Butler, make the argument that prices and/or temperatures will rise so slowly we’ll have plenty of time to adapt and it’s only in retrospect that we’ll notice anything really significant happened. Usually, that claim is meant to oppose apocalyptic forecasts, or at least rhetoric, about the end of the world, which it itself overblown.

What’s at stake, I believe, is not the future of the human race, let alone the planet Earth as a bearer of life, but certainly our prosperity and comfort. Economists agonize over a few tenths of a percentage point of economic growth, and much more than that is at risk if the Earth begins to warm out of control or if we have to cope with an oil price shock that never lets go. That’s how these things seem to come — not as gradual increases, but in spikes that suddenly become the new normal, with a lot of pain along the way.

We have a powerful interest in heading off both those eventualities, and it happens that using less gasoline and other hydrocarbon-based energy serves both ends.

That said, I think Gunther’s underestimating the power of the market to cause people to make such choices by themselves. The low-hanging fruit, as it’s called, is energy-efficiency: we who live in temperate climates can get a long way to where we need to be just by properly insulating our damned buildings, and it’ll only take a few cold winters with higher energy prices to make us do it. Then maybe we talk about redesigning our communities and our supply chains.

The key will be for legislators to avoid the temptation to subsidize dangerous ways of keeping on keeping on — kicking public money into ethanol and liquefied coal are obvious ways they can screw it up. We do need to make some changes, but if we don’t try to hold them off, we shouldn’t find ourselves having to force them, either.

Emily Gertz at WorldChanging has a look at how "Hope, Not Fear, Inspires Change", quoting Dave Roberts from Grist. Especially when the populace has been numbed by all the neoconservative fear-mongering of recent years.
Last year my pal and sometimes-colleague Dave Roberts, editor of Gristmill, wrote a compelling series on fear and environmentalism, firmly and refreshingly grounded in the current realities of American politics: how fear of the terrorist (or more lately, the illegal immigrant) has been used for the past several years to induce Americans to accept an increasingly authoritarian government and the dilution of our civil liberties.

In particular, Dave took on the notion that liberals and progressives need to ape the baser tactics of some conservative sectors by trying to scare Americans into being more environmentally conscientious, because whatever it takes to win is what needs doing...instead of forging an independent path based on values that equate with creating sustainable and just societies: reason, compassion, forebearance, and selflessness.

Dave concluded that "[W]e live in an ascendant cycle of fear, anger, violence, and reprisal. But progressives should not pretend that the cycle is of any use to them, or that its force can be marshaled to more noble ends. We might gain some short-term victories by scaring the crap out of people, but a population in fear will always tend toward authoritarianism and violence."

Today Dave links over to a recent article on political psychology in The New Republic, where author John Judis noted that when people are reminded of their mortality, it can trigger emotions such as "disdain for other races, religions, and nations, to a preference for charismatic over pragmatic leaders, to a heightened attraction to traditional mores."

Dave goes on (and I'll let him have the final word here),
The researchers call this "worldview defense" -- "the range of emotions, from intolerance to religiosity to a preference for law and order, that they believe thoughts of death can trigger."

Environmentalists terrify the populace with stories of oncoming doom, and in the next breath proclaim that the worldview of humankind must change fundamentally, that we need a global spiritual transformation.

The former triggers worldview defense and the latter exacerbates it. If you tell people that all they know is false and corrupt, and that they must leap with you into an entirely new world, you are going to create extremely high barriers. Almost by definition, very few people are going to join you. The rest will find some way to preserve their reality -- by disputing the message, by disdaining those who carry the message, or simply by tuning the whole mess out.

We -- you and I and all human beings -- cling to what we know, what gives our world order and meaning. Threatening that causes us to cling tighter. We fear loss of control, particularly when confronted by the ultimate loss of control: death.

That reaction is fine if your goals are reactionary. If your goals are progressive, it works against you. Progressives must convince people that changes in the direction of justice and sustainability are the logical extension of who they are. They are a fulfillment of our true nature, not a fundamental break with our past. They are: what you have, what you know, only better, moreso.

Progressives must show people a path from here to there, a continuity that can be bridged with hope and confidence. Fear yields neither.

I've been corrected for mis-attributing a quotation I once lifted from Swans ("Trade liberty for safety or money and you'll end up with neither. Liberty, like a grain of salt, easily dissolves. The power of questioning -- not simply believing -- has no friends. Yet liberty depends on it.") which I thought was from Benjamin Franklin but was actually from the Swans publisher / editor Gilles d'Aymery. My apologies - and I'm glad someone is fact checking some of my work...

The article is actually a nice little exposition on the phenomenon of misinformation spreading virally across the internet, with misquotes of famous people being one readily identifiable example (apparently the Einstein quote about humanity disappearing 4 years after the bees do also falls into this category).


* WorldChanging - Efficiency Measures Could Cut Data Center, Server Energy Use by Half
* WorldChanging - Nothing is Simple, Not Even Biofuels
* The Observer - The end of traffic jams ?
* Dave Roberts - More ammo against climate skeptics - Skeptical Science
* The Age - NT Intervention Part Of Nuclear Plan
* Crikey - Aboriginal kids to be "worked until visibly tired".
* The Economist - The Indian exception. "The deputy sheriff does his bit for America's nuclear deal with India"
* SMH - Dubious Tale Of A Nuclear Bandit
* The Australian - Fallout from uranium price tumble
* The Australian - Drought hits electricity wholesalers. Once again - coal fired power and nuclear power are not compatible with a globally warmed world.
* Reuters - Energy Alberta seeks OK for nuclear power plant. Power for tar sands extraction - nuclear power accelerates global warming.
* Brisbane Times - Flash flooding in SE Qld breaks records
* BBC - Europe counts cost of flood chaos
* Energy Bulletin - Peak Oil Review -- August 27, 2007
* The Independent - Need Iraq Suffer More If We Pull Out?
* Cryptogon - Saudis Set Up 35,000 Strong Force to Guard Oil Infrastructure
* Montreal Gazette - Searing Documentary on War Complicity Indicts not Just US Politicos, but Major Media, too
* Crikey - Welcome, APEC Delegates, To SuperMax Sydney
* Balloon Juice - Welcome To Bedwetter Nation. "It is absurd. You are safe. I am safe. This nation is safe. Quit being such a damned pussy. All of you. "
* Wonkette - Cops Admit Cops Caught Being Fake Protesters Are Cops . "Whenever there's a big political protest, there are cops in disguise — usually as "anarchists" — trying to start sh*t ..."
* Naomi Klein - Big Brother Democracy: The Security State As Infotainment

Mining the Moon  

Posted by Big Gav

Technology Review has an update to the story about a new space race to obtain the moon's reserves of Helium 3 for use in fusion reactors. This is pie in the sky stuff for now (wouldn't mass deployment of solar, wind, geothermal and ocean energy systems be a lot cheaper than trying to transport helium back to earth to fuel as yet impractical fusion reactors ?) but it will get the aerospace companies excited...

At the 21st century's start, few would have predicted that by 2007, a second race for the moon would be under way. Yet the signs are that this is now the case. Furthermore, in today's moon race, unlike the one that took place between the United States and the U.S.S.R. in the 1960s, a full roster of 21st-century global powers, including China and India, are competing.

Even more surprising is that one reason for much of the interest appears to be plans to mine helium-3--purportedly an ideal fuel for fusion reactors but almost unavailable on Earth--from the moon's surface. NASA's Vision for Space Exploration has U.S. astronauts scheduled to be back on the moon in 2020 and permanently staffing a base there by 2024. While the U.S. space agency has neither announced nor denied any desire to mine helium-3, it has nevertheless placed advocates of mining He3 in influential positions. For its part, Russia claims that the aim of any lunar program of its own--for what it's worth, the rocket corporation Energia recently started blustering, Soviet-style, that it will build a permanent moon base by 2015-2020--will be extracting He3.

The Chinese, too, apparently believe that helium-3 from the moon can enable fusion plants on Earth. This fall, the People's Republic expects to orbit a satellite around the moon and then land an unmanned vehicle there in 2011.

Nor does India intend to be left out. This past spring, its president, A.P.J. Kalam, and its prime minister, Manmohan Singh, made major speeches asserting that, besides constructing giant solar collectors in orbit and on the moon, the world's largest democracy likewise intends to mine He3 from the lunar surface. India's probe, Chandrayaan-1, will take off next year, and ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization, is talking about sending Chandrayaan-2, a surface rover, in 2010 or 2011. Simultaneously, Japan and Germany are also making noises about launching their own moon missions at around that time, and talking up the possibility of mining He3 and bringing it back to fuel fusion-based nuclear reactors on Earth.

Could He3 from the moon truly be a feasible solution to our power needs on Earth? Practical nuclear fusion is nowadays projected to be five decades off--the same prediction that was made at the 1958 Atoms for Peace conference in Brussels. If fusion power's arrival date has remained constantly 50 years away since 1958, why would helium-3 suddenly make fusion power more feasible?

Advocates of He3-based fusion point to the fact that current efforts to develop fusion-based power generation, like the ITER megaproject, use the deuterium-tritium fuel cycle, which is problematical. (See "International Fusion Research.") Deuterium and tritium are both hydrogen isotopes, and when they're fused in a superheated plasma, two nuclei come together to create a helium nucleus--consisting of two protons and two neutrons--and a high-energy neutron. A deuterium-tritium fusion reaction releases 80 percent of its energy in a stream of high-energy neutrons, which are highly destructive for anything they hit, including a reactor's containment vessel. Since tritium is highly radioactive, that makes containment a big problem as structures weaken and need to be replaced. Thus, whatever materials are used in a deuterium-tritium fusion power plant will have to endure serious punishment. And if that's achievable, when that fusion reactor is eventually decommissioned, there will still be a lot of radioactive waste. ...

Technology Review had a recent related article called "India's space ambitions soar" which talked about Indian ambitions to build space based solar collectors to replace depleted fossil fuels (which might be the most ambitious peak oil mitigation program I've seen described so far - though obviously its just as likely to be an excuse for a military entry into space).
As China's star has risen, there's been speculation about whether its expanding space program will trigger a space race with the United States. After all, Shenzhou spacecraft have twice carried taikonauts to orbit and back, and they might in principle support the manned moon mission that the Chinese claim they'll carry out by 2026--and even, maybe, by 2017, one year before NASA now foresees a return to the lunar surface. Still, the next-generation CZ-5 Long March launchers necessary for a manned moon mission by China remain unfunded, and, in general, its space program has so far only repeated decades-old American and Russian achievements.

Meanwhile, attracting far less attention and operating on a far smaller budget, that other rising Asian giant, India, has also been ramping up its space program--and it is developing some novel, promising approaches. This spring, India's then president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam--a colorful scientist-technologist who loomed large from the success of his country's early satellite launch missions, and then led its guided-missile program--laid out (via teleconferencing ) an ambitious vision of India's future space efforts during his speech at a Boston University symposium.

Kalam told the international audience of space experts in Boston that, besides expanding its extensive satellite program, India now plans lunar missions and a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) that takes an innovative approach using a scramjet "hyperplane." Kalam said that India understands that global civilization will deplete earthly fossil fuels in the 21st century. Hence, he said, a "space industrial revolution" will be necessary to exploit the high frontier's resources. Kalam predicted that India will construct giant solar collectors in orbit and on the moon, and will mine helium-3--an incredibly rare fuel on Earth, but one whose unique atomic structure makes power generation from nuclear fusion potentially feasible--from the lunar surface. India's scramjet RLV, Kalam asserted, will provide the "low-cost, fully reusable space transportation" that has previously "denied mankind the benefit of space solar-power stations in geostationary and other orbits." ...

One last article from tech Review, this one a small scale energy efficiency technology - "Cooling Chips with an Ion Breeze".
Electrodes that send a flow of ionized air over the surface of a silicon chip could make the cooling fans in computers and laptops much more effective. Researchers at Purdue University and Intel found that a device that generates an ionic breeze keeps computer chips 25 ºC cooler than fans alone. By enabling the use of smaller fans, the device could lead to more-compact laptops.

As microchips get crowded with more and more components, today's cooling methods will no longer be adequate. Currently, heat is drawn away from chips by metal heat sinks--panels attached to arrays of fins or prongs that maximize heat-dissipating surface area. The fans in a computer cool the heat sinks and blow out the hot air. But air cooling "has been stretched to the limit in its capacity for heat removal," says Suresh Garimella, a mechanical-engineering professor at Purdue. And besides, fans can be bulky and noisy.

The new device is small and can be integrated directly into a computer chip. By placing it at specific "hot spots" on a chip, engineers could enhance the cooling fan's effectiveness in those areas. This could lead to smaller fans that work just as well as current fans, says Garimella, and thus to thinner, smaller laptops. The eventual goal is to develop cooling technologies for small notebooks and handheld computers, says Rajiv Mongia, an Intel research engineer who worked with the Purdue researchers on the new device.

Green Car Congress has an article on a biodiesel and ethanol from algae plant being backed by the people from Imperium Renewables. The project appears to be trying to leverage the New Zealand effort to produce jet fuel from algae.
Imperium Renewables, the Seattle biodiesel producer that opened a 100 million gallon per year biodiesel plant in Grays Harbor County last week, is backing a Tacoma start-up that is developing a process to convert algae into biodiesel and ethanol. The startup, Inventure Chemical, has raised about $1.5 million to continue development on a chemical process that turns algae into biodiesel and ethanol.
Imperium has not been shy about experimenting with algae to create biodiesel, especially since its plans to use imported palm oil have been met with criticism from environmentalists. Some believe that cultivating palm oil for energy needs could lead to the destruction of the rain forests.

In addition to the investment in Inventure, Imperium has a partnership with South San Francisco-based Solazyme, which also is attempting to convert algae into biofuels. In its IPO filing earlier this year, Imperium wrote that it would continue to explore “new or improved feedstock sources, such as jatropha, mustard and algae, in an effort to leverage our multi-feedstock capabilities and further reduce our production costs.”

Inventure has developed patent-pending technology that it says can process a variety of algae species, ranging from less than 1 micron to 10 microns, and including salt water and fresh water species and generate biodiesel and ethanol from the same algae mass. Inventure claims that its process generates near the theoretical maximum triglyceride and fatty acid conversion yields to fatty acid methyl or ethyl esters.

Inventure CEO Mark Tegen said that the new capital will be used to continue the work on scaling up the production process, including CO2 sequestering projects. Some resources will also focus on recent advances in processes for algae to jet fuel production.

MIT's Sustainability institute has an article on how Revolving doors can dramatically increase the energy efficiency of buildings.
On average 8x as much air is exhanged when a swing door is opened as opposed to a revolving door. That's 8x as much new air that needs to be heated or cooled and that's why using the revolving door is a great way to reduce energy requirements on campus.

Why should I use the revolving door?

You’ve probably seen the signs around campus saying “Help MIT save energy. Please use the revolving door.” But does it really make any difference? Absolutely. Our estimates show that if everyone used the revolving doors at E25 alone, MIT would save almost $7500 in natural gas amounting to nearly 15 tons of CO2. And that’s just from two of the 29 revolving doors on campus!

How does using the revolving door save energy?

The air that is inside a building has been “conditioned” to make it comfortable for the occupants. We call the equipment that does this “air conditioners” in the summer, but the air heating equipment in use during the winter and ventilation “make-up air” consumed year round is also conditioned air. Energy is required to condition air -- to make hot, moist air cold and dry in the summer and to make cold, dry air warm in the winter. Thus, whenever air is exchanged between inside and outside, air conditioning equipment has to work harder, using more energy.

The SMH reports that Santos are still muttering about exporting LNG from coal seam methane projects in Queensland - "Santos sets sights on LNG exports". Australia has gone from a relatively good position in terms of local gas supplies a year ago (with the proposed gas pipeline from PNG, rising reserves in Bass Strait and lots of coal seam methane more than compensating for declinging production from the Cooper Basin) to a rather less certain situation now, with the loss of the PNG pipeline and the potential for coal seam methane to go offshore instead of servicing the local market. There is probably some scope for resource nationalism to creep into the picture if / when the government starts to consider the medium term supply picture for the eastern seaboard.
SANTOS has forecast that more than half its production by 2020 will be in the higher-margin liquefied natural gas export business. Tired of low but improving domestic gas prices, Santos has set out to capitalise on strong Asian demand and oil parity prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) by gaining exposure to five LNG opportunities. They are in addition to the group's 11.4 per cent stake in the existing Bayu-Undan project. ...

The most radical of the group's five LNG opportunities is the $5 billion to $7 billion proposal to base an LNG project in Gladstone on coal seam gas, with first production possible in 2014. While the project has its doubters, Mr Ellice-Flint said the group was convinced the project was technically and commercially feasible. He said Santos had been "inundated by potential customers and potential partners" for the project and that $300 million would be spent in 2007-08 on proving up a supporting reserves base.

The group's other LNG opportunities — they all involve monetising contingent gas resources — are Timor/Bonaparte, PNG, Browse Basin and offshore Western Australia.

Meanwhile, gas from the North West Shelf and beyond has always looked destined for export customers, and Woodside has now signed up Tokyo Gas Co and Kansai Electric Co as customers for gas from the Pluto project. The Wall Street Journal also has a report that PetroChina is looking likely to buy gas from Woodside's proposed Browse development.
A MULTI-billion dollar export deal for the sale of Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan has been sealed at a formal signing ceremony in Sydney.

Woodside Petroleum chief executive Don Voelte signed the sale and purchase agreements with representatives of Tokyo Gas and Kansai Electric of Japan. The agreement provides for the supply of up to 3.75 million tonnes per annum of LNG to Tokyo Gas and Kansai Electric for 15 years, beginning late 2010.

But Woodside today would not put an exact dollar figure on the gas deal, citing client confidentiality. The LNG will be supplied from Woodside's Pluto LNG Project.

The SMH and note that Woodside is pulling out of its African projects and exploration efforts in Kenya, Mauritania and Libya to concentrate on Australian gas opportunities.
WOODSIDE plans to pull out of its African oil and gas operations to focus on its aggressive $30 billion-plus growth plans for its West Australian export gas business. The move comes in response to booming global demand for liquefied natural gas.

Woodside's managing director, Don Voelte, revealed the exit from Africa and the group's ambitious expansion plans at a briefing on the group's $610.1 million profit for the June half - a 16 per cent increase on the $524.4 million posted in the previous corresponding half thanks to increased production and asset sales. "Things are breaking loose for us right now in this industry," Mr Voelte said of the supercharged growth potential in the LNG business. "People are trying to grab large chunks of gas."

Funds freed by the African exit - either by trade sales or a more radical float/demerger option - would go part way to funding the group's ambitious growth plans for its LNG business, which was recently kicked off with an $11.2 billion commitment to develop the Pluto LNG project by the end of 2010.

Development of the group's Browse Basin LNG project and the Sunrise LNG project in the Timor Sea could follow by 2012 and 2014 respectively, enabling Woodside - of which Shell owns 34 per cent - to capture its full share and more of the boom in global demand for LNG.

Asked if Woodside could commit to development of Browse or Sunrise while Pluto was still in construction, an upbeat Mr Voelte said: "Oh yeah, we absolutely plan to. People, don't think this company stops after Pluto. This is the first in a line of opportunities that this company has. "We have an aspiration for the company where we would like to utilise the same contractors from [gas processing] train to train. What our people tell us is that somewhere between 18 and 24 months is the proper staging of these trains, and we clearly see five or six trains out there. We've got the gas on the [North-West] Shelf to do it."

The group's financial capacity to undertake the expansion opportunities without having to raise equity funds is increasingly the subject of debate. Mr Voelte said the company had a plan that said its aspirations "should not be limited" by financial constraints. The African exit is part of that plan. ...

Cost pressures have continued to haunt new projects. Mr Voelte confirmed that the cost of Train 5 expansion of the Woodside-managed North-West Shelf gas project and Woodside's soon-to-produce Otway gas project in Victoria had risen substantially.

Dan at The Daily Reckoning notes that Russian billionaires are also looking for investment opportunities in WA.
Russian bombers are sparring with British fighter jets in the North Atlantic in re-enactment of the bad old days of the Cold War. But here on the other side of the world, Russian steel makers are queuing up for their share of the Pilbara’s iron ore. Welcome to the world of resource nationalism.

Russia’s new military muscle is financed by its energy wealth. Britain’s subdued reaction to the high-profile stunt shows you just how much the UK needs Russian gas. Gazprom, the state-run natural gas producer (Russia owns the world’s largest natural gas reserves) supplies Western Europe with nearly 30% of its gas. The UK has its North Sea production, but that is tailing off. And the country finds itself last in line for Russian gas, geographically speaking.

He who has the gas (and oil) makes the rules, or so it would seem. It used to be he who has the world’s reserve currency and 14 aircraft carrier groups makes the rules. We’re not so sure anymore. When it’s not clear who’s making the rules, or what they are, we recommend cash and precious metals.

The West Australian Business News reports that, “Russian steelmaker Magnitorsk Iron & Steel Works (MMK) has increased its stake in iron ore developer Fortescue Metals Group Ltd (ASX:FMG). MMK, which is the largest enterprise in the Russian steel industry and accounts for 20 per cent of all steel products in the country’s domestic market, has upped its stake in Fortescue to 5.37 per cent.”

Victor Rashnikov is the billionaire businessman who runs Magnintorsk, and he sees something he likes in Fortescue’s Pilbara project, which is set to ship its first ore to China in 2008. Are the Russians and the Chinese playing a new “Great Game” for Australia’s mineral resources? ...

The ABC has a report on the rising price of electricity in Australia - "Consumers warned of power price hikes".
The recent drought has already seen wholesale electricity prices skyrocket, and the flow-on to home electricity bills is likely to continue through into next year, despite rain in some regions. The latest people to feel the impact on their hip pockets will be South Australians. A price hike in SA is expected to be approved within days. Add to that the impact of a national greenhouse emissions trading scheme in the next few years - no matter who wins the next election - and the experts warn that domestic power bills will never be low again.

But one way of dealing with the price volatility of the newly deregulated market is through smart meters, which will tell consumers in real time just how much their electricity is costing, allowing them to adjust their energy use. Coal-fired power is amongst the world's cheapest, but John Boshier from the National Generators Forum says that's about to change. "The days of low-priced electricity in Australia are probably gone," he said.

Greenpeace clean energy campaigner Ben Pearson agrees. "As water becomes more and more scarce in Australia, coal-fired power makes less and less sense," he said.


Nearly half of New South Wales' energy is generated by two power stations in the upper Hunter Valley. Coal turns water into steam that drives the turbines. The steam is later cooled, either in a man-made lake or in the giant Bayswater station in huge cooling towers. It is in giant cooling towers like these that most of the water is used and although it is less than 2 per cent of the national consumption, already the recent drought has had a significant impact, sending the wholesale price of electricity skyrocketing.

In the newly deregulated industry, electricity is bought and sold on a national market where prices fluctuate according to demand. On hot days, the peak demand for air-conditioning has meant Snowy Hydro's power attracts a premium price. But that was before the drought. With dams depleted Snowy Hydro is now struggling to provide any hydro-electricity, and in Brisbane, the Swanbank, Tarong and Tarong North coal-fired power stations have slashed production as water levels in Wivenhoe Dam have approached critical levels.

It's a similar story in Tasmania, where the dams are empty too. Instead of exporting power to the mainland, it's now importing it.

Volatile prices

Mr Boshier says the effect on the electricity system is unprecedented. "I think the impact has been mainly on price, and what's happened is that prices have become very volatile while the period of the drought has been on," he said. "You're paying over double what you paid this time last year." He says that jump in wholesale electricity price is only now beginning to be reflected in household bills. "Several utilities have announced 14 per cent to 16 per cent price increases recently," he said. "The effect of that is that that will flow on for another year or two."

But for some, there is a way around the higher prices. Barry Williams is a typical Sydney householder with the usual electrical appliances. What is different is the smart meter attached to his home. It charges him different rates for his power across the day. A monitor tells him exactly how much electricity he's using and how much it costs.

"When we've got a heater on you'll see my consumption will go up quite dramatically," he said. "Not only has it changed our behaviour of when we use appliances, but over the last eight months I've probably halved my electricity costs." Mr Williams says he gets a much cheaper tariff for the shoulder and off peak times but pays more during peak times, and the system gives him an incentive to keep most appliances switched off.

Meters for Victorians

In Victoria, the meters will soon become compulsory, replacing what Energy Minister Peter Batchelor describes as "100-year-old technology". "We're going to roll out over a four-year period in excess of 2.4 million new meters in each home and business right across the state," he said. But across the border, South Australian Energy Minister Pat Conlon is scathing about their use. "If you want a policy outcome where we kill the elderly in droves during heat waves, this is what you do," he said.

Mr Conlon believes charging extremely high prices for using appliances like air conditioners at times of peak demand will only punish poor people. "Anyone who will switch off will be low-income people. In South Australia, a large number of those are the elderly," he said. "I don't think anyone wants a policy that during very high temperatures convinces older people to turn their air-conditioning off. That would be extremely dangerous."

Mr Batchelor disagrees. "That's nonsense. In Victoria, we no longer believe that the earth is flat," he said. "I envisage that once the smart meter roll-out has been completed there'll be a range of pricing packages that will include time-of-day pricing. But I also think the retailers will continue with the traditional flat rate charging for those that don't want to avail themselves of this opportunity."

For Ben Pearson of Greenpeace, anything that makes consumers more aware of their carbon footprint is of benefit. "Smart meters are a good idea - they help people understand that the appliances around their house do use energy and greenhouse energy," he said. "Our modern lives are quite energy-intensive." And that's certainly the view of Barry Williams, who has nothing but praise for the new meter and the money it has saved him. "It's easy to do when you've got this sort of technology. You can see what your usage is and you can make instantaneous savings," he said.

Jeremy Leggett in the SMH notes that as the price of dirty coal fired power increases, the cost of solar power is falling.
What are hot, good-looking, born in Australia and about to make a lot of people very rich in China? Answer: many of the solar cells in production today. The solar photovoltaics business is one of the fastest-growing global industries. Over the past two years many billions of investment dollars have flowed into it.

Why is this subject important? At root, because human society has to conduct a managed retreat from the use of coal to power economies. If we want our economies to remain intact, much less to prosper, we have to leave most of the black stuff in the ground, along with a good deal of oil and gas. To do that, we need to mobilise - as though for war - the family of clean energy sources of which solar is an important member. Since Australia is a major producer and exporter of coal and because Australia has some of the finest solar photovoltaics research teams in the world this is a conflation of topics that ought to be high on Australia's list of national security concerns.

Why the need to turn our backs on coal? Climate scientists in government and universities run simulations of future climate that almost without exception show a sobering piece of arithmetic. If we are to avoid tipping the planet over the widely accepted danger threshold of 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide, we can afford to burn fossil fuels only in a quantity measured in the low hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon. Industry estimates suggest that using the remaining oil deposits alone would exceed this figure, if we include the unconventional sources such as tar sands. As for coal deposits, the energy industry suggests they are measured in thousands of billions of tonnes.

Even if we believe that fossil fuel proponents tend to exaggerate their estimates of the size of deposits, it is clear that the majority of remaining coal has to stay in the ground if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. ...

The manufacturing costs of solar cells are coming down nearly 20 per cent every time the global industry doubles in capacity, and that is happening every two years. Solar photovoltaics manufacturing costs are cheaper today than retail electricity in some markets, and by 2010 will be cheaper than today's electricity in most developed country markets. Meanwhile, of course, the price of polluting electricity is on the way up. As a result, when the installed price for solar electricity is cheaper than the retail electricity price in most places in the world a mass market for solar will emerge, and it will no longer be dependent on the kind of far-sighted governmental market enablement that is driving the fast growth of the industry today. People will be amazed at how rapidly solar and its sister low-carbon technologies can invade traditional energy markets at that point. Watch where the investment money is going today to see the speed with which people are twigging to this. The sister technologies to solar are taking off too, and they will include storage technologies and - via plug-in hybrids - transport technologies.

The future can be bright. However, the jury is very much out on whether we are collectively smart enough to fashion it so.

Neal Dikerman at Cleantech Blog has a few notes about the past and future of the solar power industry.
I saw a news article recently on the space walk to do repair and relocation on solar photovoltaic array on the International Space Station.

It reminded me to keep in perspective a bit of energy history. The US basically invented the solar industry to help power the space race. And the industry grew out of that to become a possible solution in the first energy crisis (though still way too early and way too expensive at the time). And we helped keep the industry alive post energy crisis with our off grid market and federal R&D funding.

Now that costs have fallen precipitously, and a wide range of major companies from Sharp and BP to Applied Materials and IBM are in the business to drive costs to the magical grid parity (Cleantech Blog has blogged about this numerous times), it is disappointing to see that the US leadership has fallen victim to stronger government support in newer national entrants like Japan and Germany (which combined have a solar market some 7x larger than ours) who major subsidy programs in place roughly 15 and 5 years ago respectively.

I think it is fair to say that we are not going to regain our leadership in the crystalline silicon end of the business, though perhaps we can make a dent. So perhaps we must look to the growth of thin film technology for our leadership. But there are bright spots on that front...

The Wikiscanner event of recent weeks managed to ensare the Rodent's own government department, with the SMH reporting on some bizarre conspiracy theorising emerging from the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet along with the predictable white-washing of history type stuff. One day most people will understand enough basic information security principles to avoid these types of glaring embarrassments but in the meantime its enjoyable seeing the searchlight shining on some of these despicable creatures.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard's staff were Friday accused of editing entries in the online Wikipedia to remove potentially damaging details. A spokesman for the prime minister said Howard had never asked staff to remove unfavourable comments from the website, which allows anyone to make contributions.

But according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, scores of edits were made by employees at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet -- including the removal of a reference to Treasurer Peter Costello as "Captain Smirk". On Howard's controversial policy of mandatory detention for illegal asylum-seekers, an employee inserted the word "allegedly" into a statement saying immigration detainees were subject to inhumane conditions.

The 126 changes which came from Howard's department, tracked using a new website which reveals the digital fingerprint of those who edit Wikipedia, mostly had nothing to do with the government. Additions to various Wikipedia entries made using government computers included "Freemasonry is the work of Satan", "Mormonism is the work of Satan" and "Jesus is god", the paper said.

The new website, WikiScanner, also identified the Department of Defence as behind more than 5,000 changes to entries on the online encyclopedia.

Defence said Friday it would block staff from editing Wikipedia after they made changes ranging from correcting information about the Australian military to removing negative comments about Howard's Liberal Party.

The SMH also reports that the Greens have proposed keeping George Bush in a cage during his visit in order to protect him, instead of embarking on the outrageously expensive exercise that is currently proposed of caging the inhabitants of the city.
A GIANT banner saying "Cage Bush. Not Sydney" could be slung from the top of Town Hall, under a proposal to be voted on by the City of Sydney tonight.

The Deputy Lord Mayor, Chris Harris, from the Greens, has called on councillors to support his motion calling for such a banner, to take a stand against crackdowns on protest at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum next month. "As a city councillor, I am appalled that we are allowing our government to gate off our city from the people who live, work and pay rates here," he said. "That we would spend $600,000 on a water cannon to be used against our citizens should they exercise their democratic right to demonstrate. That we have converted 31 State Transit buses into mobile holding cells, and that during the APEC summit it will cost the city of Sydney hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity that we will never recover. While I agree that we should do all we can to protect visiting leaders, it should never be at the expense of the community's democratic rights or the economic wellbeing of our businesses and workers."

Erecting a cage around the US President, George Bush, would ensure his safety without disrupting Sydney, he said. Cr Harris is asking council to "take a stand for its citizens by demonstrating its disapproval of the lockdown of Sydney and the loss of the democratic rights of its citizens by erecting a banner on the Town Hall of Sydney that says 'Cage Bush. Not Sydney"'.

I was somewhat surprised to see Robert Fisk getting quoted in The Australian today, with his latest column pondering a few of the surprisingly large number of inconsistencies and coincidences surrounding the events of Septmeber 11.
Each time I lecture abroad on the Middle East, there is always someone in the audience – just one – whom I call the "raver". Apologies here to all the men and women who come to my talks with bright and pertinent questions – often quite humbling ones for me as a journalist – and which show that they understand the Middle East tragedy a lot better than the journalists who report it. But the "raver" is real. He has turned up in corporeal form in Stockholm and in Oxford, in Sao Paulo and in Yerevan, in Cairo, in Los Angeles and, in female form, in Barcelona. No matter the country, there will always be a "raver".

His – or her – question goes like this. Why, if you believe you're a free journalist, don't you report what you really know about 9/11? Why don't you tell the truth – that the Bush administration (or the CIA or Mossad, you name it) blew up the twin towers? Why don't you reveal the secrets behind 9/11? The assumption in each case is that Fisk knows – that Fisk has an absolute concrete, copper-bottomed fact-filled desk containing final proof of what "all the world knows" (that usually is the phrase) – who destroyed the twin towers. Sometimes the "raver" is clearly distressed. One man in Cork screamed his question at me, and then – the moment I suggested that his version of the plot was a bit odd – left the hall, shouting abuse and kicking over chairs.

Usually, I have tried to tell the "truth"; that while there are unanswered questions about 9/11, I am the Middle East correspondent of The Independent, not the conspiracy correspondent; that I have quite enough real plots on my hands in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Gulf, etc, to worry about imaginary ones in Manhattan. My final argument – a clincher, in my view – is that the Bush administration has screwed up everything – militarily, politically diplomatically – it has tried to do in the Middle East; so how on earth could it successfully bring off the international crimes against humanity in the United States on 11 September 2001?

Well, I still hold to that view. Any military which can claim – as the Americans did two days ago – that al-Qa'ida is on the run is not capable of carrying out anything on the scale of 9/11. "We disrupted al-Qa'ida, causing them to run," Colonel David Sutherland said of the preposterously code-named "Operation Lightning Hammer" in Iraq's Diyala province. "Their fear of facing our forces proves the terrorists know there is no safe haven for them." And more of the same, all of it untrue.

Within hours, al-Qa'ida attacked Baquba in battalion strength and slaughtered all the local sheikhs who had thrown in their hand with the Americans. It reminds me of Vietnam, the war which George Bush watched from the skies over Texas – which may account for why he this week mixed up the end of the Vietnam war with the genocide in a different country called Cambodia, whose population was eventually rescued by the same Vietnamese whom Mr Bush's more courageous colleagues had been fighting all along.

But – here we go. I am increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11. It's not just the obvious non sequiturs: where are the aircraft parts (engines, etc) from the attack on the Pentagon? Why have the officials involved in the United 93 flight (which crashed in Pennsylvania) been muzzled? Why did flight 93's debris spread over miles when it was supposed to have crashed in one piece in a field? Again, I'm not talking about the crazed "research" of David Icke's Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster – which should send any sane man back to reading the telephone directory.

I am talking about scientific issues. If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820C under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin towers – whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480C – would snap through at the same time? (They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.) What about the third tower – the so-called World Trade Centre Building 7 (or the Salmon Brothers Building) – which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5.20pm on 11 September? Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it? The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyse the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC 7. Two prominent American professors of mechanical engineering – very definitely not in the "raver" bracket – are now legally challenging the terms of reference of this final report on the grounds that it could be "fraudulent or deceptive".

Journalistically, there were many odd things about 9/11. Initial reports of reporters that they heard "explosions" in the towers – which could well have been the beams cracking – are easy to dismiss. Less so the report that the body of a female air crew member was found in a Manhattan street with her hands bound. OK, so let's claim that was just hearsay reporting at the time, just as the CIA's list of Arab suicide-hijackers, which included three men who were – and still are – very much alive and living in the Middle East, was an initial intelligence error.

But what about the weird letter allegedly written by Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian hijacker-murderer with the spooky face, whose "Islamic" advice to his gruesome comrades – released by the CIA – mystified every Muslim friend I know in the Middle East? Atta mentioned his family – which no Muslim, however ill-taught, would be likely to include in such a prayer. He reminds his comrades-in-murder to say the first Muslim prayer of the day and then goes on to quote from it. But no Muslim would need such a reminder – let alone expect the text of the "Fajr" prayer to be included in Atta's letter.

Let me repeat. I am not a conspiracy theorist. Spare me the ravers. Spare me the plots. But like everyone else, I would like to know the full story of 9/11, not least because it was the trigger for the whole lunatic, meretricious "war on terror" which has led us to disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan and in much of the Middle East. Bush's happily departed adviser Karl Rove once said that "we're an empire now – we create our own reality". True? At least tell us. It would stop people kicking over chairs.

Forbes has a startling report on a US Navy whistleblower who has had a rather unhappy experience after reporting illegal gun sales in Iraq to the FBI. Cryptogon reckons this is just part of the exercising of the "Salvador Option".
One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods. There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers - all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees. The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co. "It was a Wal-Mart for guns," he says. "It was all illegal and everyone knew it."

So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn't know whom to trust in Iraq. For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad that once held Saddam Hussein, and he was classified a security detainee.

Also held was colleague Nathan Ertel, who helped Vance gather evidence documenting the sales, according to a federal lawsuit both have filed in Chicago, alleging they were illegally imprisoned and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics "reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants."

Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country's oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.

Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

"If you do it, you will be destroyed," said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. "Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, `Should I do this?' And my answer is no. If they're married, they'll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything," Weaver said.

They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms. "The only way we can find out what is going on is for someone to come forward and let us know," said Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent, nonprofit group that investigates corruption. "But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, 'Don't blow the whistle or we'll make your life hell.' "It's heartbreaking," Daley said. "There is an even greater need for whistleblowers now. But they are made into public martyrs. It's a disgrace. Their lives get ruined."

Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR. Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career. People she has known for years no longer speak to her.

Now I know the whole tinfoil thing annoys some of you and causes others to stop reading entirely (as well as keeping some unwelcome guests reading a whole lot of energy news that they'd be better off paying attention to and doing something positive about), but as Rob McLeod noted recently, some of this stuff is both true and can be proved to be so (although for most of it the truth will probably remain elusive for the rest of eternity), with the sorry tale of undercover Quebec police trying to cause a riot at the recent NAU / SPP meeting in Canada and getting caught in the act by the (non violent) protestors - and then exposed on YouTube in an interesting example of the potential of the Participatory Panopticon.

There is a resource nationalism angle at work here, with the protesters complaining that Canada's energy and water resources are being siphoned off to the US as a result of the NAFTA agreement and its successors.

While you're never going to see me at a protest and I'm frequently ambivalent about a lot of topics that get the left worked up enough to get out marching with placards, it seems to me that in a democratic society everyone gets to have their say and should be allowed to do so as long as they aren't committing violent acts. Confining protesters to "free speech zones" and (even worse) staging incidents that result in riots and mass arrests if the protesters aren't smart enough to snuff them out early on would seem to be in opposition to our traditions and rights as citizens - at the end of the day neoconservatism is fundamentally at odds with traditional western liberal democracy and the sooner the bulk of the population recognises this the better off we will be....
Police came under fire Tuesday, when a video surfaced on YouTube that appeared to show three plainclothes police officers at the protest with bandanas across their faces. One of the men was carrying a rock. In the video, protest organizers in suits order the men to put the rock down, call them police instigators and try unsuccessfully to unmask them.

Police-issued boots identified fake protesters

Protest organizers on Wednesday played the video for the media at a news conference in Ottawa. One of the organizers, union leader Dave Coles, explained that one reason protesters knew the men's true identities was because they were wearing the same boots as other police officers.

Coles said on Wednesday that the only thing he didn't know was whether the men were Quebec police, RCMP or hired security officers. "[Our union] believes that the security force at Montebello were ordered to infiltrate our peaceful assembly and provoke incidents," said Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union. ...

Concern Canada losing control of its energy

The protest at Montebello occurred outside the Fairmont Le Château Montebello hotel, near Ottawa, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The summit about border security, free trade and other issues began Monday and finished Tuesday. Protesters said they gathered to voice their concern about Canada losing control of its energy and water resources and borders. Others decried what they called a high level of secrecy at the summit.

Boing Boing also has a post on this story.
Following up on a previous BoingBoing post, here's a snip from CBC news:
Quebec provincial police admitted Thursday that their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators during the protests at the North American leaders summit in Montebello, Quebec.

Decius adds,
Police in Quebec have admitted that the people in the YouTube video linked yesterday on BoingBoing were their officers. However, the press release says "Les policiers ont été repérés par les manifestants au moment où ils ont refusé de lancer des projectiles." In english thats: "The police officers were located by the demonstrators when they refused to launch projectiles." Now that version of events is very clearly contradicted by the video, which shows demonstrators telling the officers to put the rock down, not to launch it.

The rabble rousers at Business Week note that Main Street Is Fed Up with neoconservative rule.
When I called my 87-year-old father in Wichita a few days back to commiserate about the recent financial turmoil, I had no clue what I was in for. "How about that crazy market?" was my opening gambit. "It's terrible," he said bitterly. "I think we need a revolution in this country."

A revolution? This was my father, a lifelong Republican until he quit a couple of years ago over Iraq and global warming. He had never staked out a position to my left. "All these excesses, the hedge funds, private equity, and these CEOs who pay themselves incredible salaries—the greed is outrageous," he said. "And we all pay the price."

The problems on Wall Street are making folks on Main Street plenty angry—even those who haven't bought a new home or refinanced a mortgage in recent years. Regular investors feel as if they, too, are victims of the predatory lenders and gluttonous financiers whose actions are wreaking havoc on the markets. It doesn't help matters that the recent moves by the Federal Reserve will largely benefit big institutions such as Countrywide Financial Corp. (CFC ), the nation's largest mortgage lender.


* Clean Break - "Green Buildings" not as costly as many think
* The Energy Blog - GM May Make 60,000 `Volt' Electric Cars in First Year
* The Energy Blog - Toray Develops Carbon Fiber Plastics for Auto Platforms
* After Gutenberg - Solar Energy and Water Conservation. Solar power doesn't need massive amoiunts of water for cooling, unlike coal and nuclear.
* After Gutenberg - Take a chance; What could it hurt?. Coal to liquids is evil.
* After Gutenberg - Okeelanta bagasse
* Groovy Green - Preparing Australian Agriculture for Rising Energy Costs and Water Insecurity
* Boing Boing - US spy chief: every time you debate spying laws, Americans die
* The Register - The Dream Police
* SlashDot - Skype may be NSA spyware. Wild speculation but an interesting idea.
* Reason - Death By Altruism. "Imagine how this sounds to the average Iraqi. 'America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we're drawing all the world's worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours.'"
* AP - War Analogy Strikes Nerve In Vietnam
* Forbes - Anti-American Sentiment Grows Worldwide
* Word of the day - Agflation
* Lew Rockwell - Gen. Petraeus and Modern Day Praetorians
* Prison Planet - Aaron Russo Passes Away
* Velcro City Tourist Board - Science Fiction And Politics: Ken Macleod


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