EEStor Update  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Jim at The Energy Blog remains somewhat skeptical about the latest news on EEStor.

EEStor is believed to have had trouble developing its product, an ultracapacitor claimed to have a specific energy of 280 watt-hours per kilogram, compared to a lithium ion battery with about 120 watt-hours and a lead-acid gel battery, with only 32 watt hours. (Although ElectroVaya claims 330Wh/kg, so they may not be alone)

The problem is believed, by some, to be in producing the ultra-pure barium-titanate used in the capacitor, which is the key to having the high specific energy. A January 2007 announcement indicated that 1) An automated production line had been proven to meet the requirements for precise chemical delivery, purity control, parameter control and stability and 2) they had completed the initial milestone of certifying purification, concentration, and stability of all of its key production chemicals notably the attainment of 99.9994% purity of its barium nitrate powder. At that time they claimed that they would be shipping product to Zenn in 2007, a year earlier than indicated in the current announcement.

EEStor's recently announced collaboration with Lockheed Martin, which gives the company credibility and is a further indication that the company is making progress. The current announcement seems to be in agreement with the timing indicated in the Lockheed Martin announcement, although, based on past performance, a wait and see position must be held.

Be Afraid: Cyborg Warrior Insects  

Posted by Big Gav

Bart at Energy Bulletin has included this piece from Nick Turse at TomDispatch in his latest collection of "Deep Thought" pieces - "Weaponizing the Pentagon's Cyborg Insects" - quipping "News items to whet your paranoia are usually the province of Big Gav (file under "tin-hat conspiracies"). The demise of projects such as these will be one welcome side-effect of peak oil.".

Believe it or not, I don't intentionally set out to monger fear or make you paranoid with my occasional tinfoil items - its partly a case of trying to consider all views on my various pet issues (especially ones that deviate - in these cases, far - from the mainstream), partly for entertainment purposes and partly because I think people should know about some of the stuff our out-of-control military industrial complex gets up to (something John Petersen also noted once in one of his "email from the future"'s - that particular link was in "The Shockwave Rider", which you should go and read if you haven't already).

Anyway - cyborg attack insects are old hat - Kevin at Cryptogon has done 'em plenty of times - I'm looking forward to the day when these things are fully fledged blogjects and the script kiddies start playing with them - a whole new take on "War Games" :-)

Biological weapons delivered by cyborg insects. It sounds like a nightmare scenario straight out of the wilder realms of science fiction, but it could be a reality, if a current Pentagon project comes to fruition.

Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They're creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the U.S. military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at U.S. military bases.

Today, many people fear U.S. government surveillance of email and cell phone communications. With this program, the Pentagon aims to exponentially increase the paranoia. Imagine a world in which any insect fluttering past your window may be a remote-controlled spy, packed with surveillance equipment. Even more frightening is the prospect that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with "bio weapons."

... "The people who build this equipment are always going to say that they're just building tools, that there are legitimate uses for them, and that it isn't their fault if the tools are abused," says the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Eckersley. "Unfortunately, we've seen that governments are more than willing to play fast-and-loose with the legal bounds on surveillance. Unless and until that changes, we'd urge researchers to find other projects to work on."

Some related video on Chinese experiments with robotic insects (don't watch it at work, whatever you do !).

From the same "Deep Thought" collection - An act of "biopiracy" 130 years ago enriched England and devastated Brazil. Sounds a lot like the story of introducing tea cultivation to India really, without the 20 odd million dead people.
Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire
By Joe Jackson
Viking. 414 pp. $27.95

On June 10, 1876, a self-styled explorer and adventurer named Henry Wickham arrived at Liverpool with his wife, Violet, having sailed from Brazil. He hastened to London and the offices of the Royal Botanic Gardens, commonly known as Kew Gardens, where he immediately presented the director, Joseph Dalton Hooker, with a sample of the precious cargo he had brought: 70,000 seeds of "the valuable rubber known as 'Par¿ fine,' " its proper botanical name being Hevea brasiliensis, or simply hevea, as Joe Jackson refers to it in The Thief at the End of the World.

Wickham had committed, as Jackson writes in this excellent account of his life and its lasting consequences, an act of "biopiracy." He had stolen seeds native to the Amazon forest and made them available to imperial Britain for planting in its Asian colonies. Jackson writes:

... "Thirty-four years after Henry's theft, the British rubber grown in the Far East from Henry's seeds would flood the world market, collapsing the Amazon economy in a single year and placing in the hands of a single power a major world resource"

Back To The Future  

Posted by Big Gav in

Old school poo power from the Wayback machine operators at Modern Mechanix.

SEWAGE that costs large cities tremendous sums each year can be turned into a source of power equivalent to thousands of tons of coal! The waste now dumped into rivers or shipped to sea may be used to run factories or to light buildings!...The apparatus for producing gas from sewage consists of two sludge digestion tanks in which the sewage is allowed to ferment. The gases given off are composed of from 25 to 75 per cent of methane, or marsh gas

Short Takes  

Posted by Big Gav

Edward Tapamoor's latest Peak Oil Passnotes column is up at Resource Investor - "Peak Oil Is Here, Enjoy. Venezuela's dispute with Exxon has resulted in them dispatching oil that used to go to their shared refinery in the US to China instead. Bloomberg reports that Russian oil output may fall for the first time in a decade in 2008. The Wall Street Journal has a look at "Saudi Arabia's (natural) gas mirage". Oil & Gas Journal is reporting that China faces diesel and petrol shortages.

Joe Romm has a column on Salon, considering the recent discussion of the relative importance of peak oil and global warming - "Peak Oil? Consider It Solved", noting that if we correctly mitigate global warming, we'll solve the peak oil problem (obviously this doesn't include a tactical switch form coal to natural gas, nor various forms of biofuel). Dave Cohen has a very misguided response to this at ASPO USA, blithely ignoring our ability to switch to renewables and instead misinterprets the Hansen-Kharecha scenarios and flirts with nuclear power - something the ASPO's spiritual mentor M King Hubbert would frown on, given his admonition for us to switch to solar power. Dave even trots out the "Easter island" myth (apparently rats were really to blame).

TreeHugger reports on a plan by Southern California Edison to build something a 250-megawatt solar power plant - distributed among many commercial rooftops in Southern California. Green Car Congress reports that EPRI and Ford are partnering to develop approaches for integrating plug in hybrid electric vehicles into the grid. Clean Break reports that the EEStor (ultracapacitor) powered CityZENN electric vehicle is targeted for release in the 3rd quarter of 2009. Forbes has an article on "Jump Starting Electric Car Production", looking at GM's efforts to beat Toyota to plugin hybrid car production.

The Energy Blog has a post on a Belgian proposal to develop a CHP bio-oil plant using jatropha oil - most commenters seem skeptical about this though. The Christian Science Monitor has a report on CHP in New York - Fuel does double duty in N.Y..

The Boston Globe has a look at a proposed biogas project in Boston - Urban decay, redefined. TreeHugger has a post on biochar / terra preta - "Biochar Offers Answer for Healthy Soil and Carbon Sequestration" - pointing to the International Biochar initiative and the Biochar Fund.

Reuters reports that the Navajo Nation plans to develop 500 MW of wind power. AFP reports that wind power briefly accounted for just over 40 percent of all electricity generated in Spain last weekend, before the grid operator asked them to reduce generation. The New York Times reports that the now closed Fresh Kills landfill may become the site of a small wind farm.

Inhabitat has a post on some "Revolutionary Super-Insulating Vacuum Glass", which could help dramatically cut building energy consumption. TreeHugger has another look at "Ecocities of Tomorrow" - "UK's First Planned Ecovillage Gets Go-Ahead". Inhabitat also has a look at a "Clean technology tower" (check out some sustainable towers in Malayisa and Daekwon Park’s Superstructure for Sustainable Skyscrapers as well).

GCaptian has a good post on the "Top 10 Green Ship Designs", which includes SkySails, but has some other nifty ideas.

The FT reports that Egypt has followed the lead of India, Vietnam and Cambodia in banning rice exports. The rice price has soared, with importers like the Phillipines scrambling for supplies.

The BBC reports that glaciers are suffering from record shrinkage.

Jamais Cascio requests that we "Please Don't Kick the Robots", featuring the eerie "packbot" robotic dog most people should have seen by now.

Bruce Sterling has some sarcastic notes on "The USSR and the USSA" - "As the two former superpowers sink inexorably into hideous mires of their own making, they still find the energy to feebly snarl at each other, not that anybody else cares nowadays". Can't argue with that.

What's Jimmy Carter Got To Do With Algae Bio-Diesel ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Energy Blog has a post on an algae to biofuel firm making some grand claims about their new operation - Petrosun to Start Commercial Operation of 4.4 MGY Algae Oil Plant". Most commenters seem highly dubious about the company involved. I like the April 1st launch date - pretty funny if it is a scam.

PetroSun, Inc announced that their Rio Hondo, Texas algae farm will commence operations on April 1, 2008 as PetroSun's initial commercial algae-to-biofuels facility. The current algae farm consists of 1,100 acres of saltwater ponds that the company projects will produce a minimum of 4.4 million gallons of algal oil and 110 million pounds of biomass on an annual basis. The company has dedicated 20 acres of ponds for a proposed algae derived JP8 jet fuel research and development program.

The Rio Hondo algae farm will be expanded in the future to provide the feedstock required by present or proposed company owned or joint ventured biodiesel and ethanol refineries. The Company plans to construct or acquire additional plants in the Gulf Coast region that are reachable via barge up the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The previously announced Bridgeport, Alabama refinery will receive algal oil feedstock from this distribution program.

"Our business model has been focused on proving the commercial feasibility of the firms' algae-to-biofuels technology during the past eighteen months Whether we have arrived at this point in time by a superior technological approach, sheer luck or a redneck can-do attitude, the fact remains that microalgae can outperform the current feedstocks utilized for conversion to biodiesel and ethanol, yet do not impact the consumable food markets or fresh water resources."

-- Gordon LeBlanc, Jr., CEO of Petrosun

Petrosun plans to establish algae farms and algal oil extraction plants in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mexico, Brazil and Australia during 2008. The algal oil product will be marketed as feedstock to existing biodiesel refiners and planned company owned refineries.

I don't think any other algae producing firms have reached this milestone. The production of algae oil is the critical step in producing biofuels from algae. Algae has the potential to produce all the petroleum needs for transportation on 2% of the land area of the US, which could be located on desert or semi-arable land.

Meanwhile, TreeHugger is asking "What's Jimmy Carter Got To Do With Algae Bio-Diesel?", and pointing to Solazyme as a likely success story.
"Greensters" (green oldsters) won't forget the gas station waiting lines that were routine under the US Presidential Administration of Jimmy Carter. On the plus side, the inconvenience alone led to people buying more efficient vehicles. This, in turn, had a negative feedback loop: Japan, Inc. got to eat Detroit's lunch with a dash of reliability & quality: efficiency was almost a side-dish by the time Motown car designers smelled the coffee.

Turns out, Jimmy's foresight had another plus side that, to this day, shows no sign of a negative feedback loop. Through a $25 million dollar biodiesel research program, his Administration set in motion the creation of an intellectual property bank that is a foundation of today's booming algae-based biodiesel industry. The private sector payback - although many years delayed - is likely to be significant.

The World’s Tallest Man Rides a Bicycle. Do You?  

Posted by Big Gav in

I do. From TreeHugger (who note someone just went and gave him a car - doh !).

Squeezing his 2.57 metre (8 feet 5 inches) frame into something like a Smart car might be a bit of a stretch for the world’s tallest man, Ukrainian Leonid Stadnyk. And even walking has presented its fair share of problems. The local store doesn’t stock many shoes to fit his 43cm (17-inch) feet, causing him to often go without footwear. Leading to frostbite in winter as he walked to his job as a farm veterinarian, wearing only socks.

But we are pleased to see that he has been made a special bike to help him get around. Now he can move about with less energy than a gazelle, salmon, or an eagle. We assume it also helps with his constant knee pain, caused by his legs having to support his body weight of 200 kilograms (440 pounds).

Feeling Down ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Then whatever you do, don't read Jeff Wells' completed post on "The Deep Ones and the Madness of Crowds" (or Cryptogon's review for that matter).

Fans of "The Lorax" might appreciate the reference to "The Onceler" though, even if the moral of Jeff's tale is rather different to (and rather less inspiring than) that of Doctor Seuss.

All through the Bush years, scores of non-Republicans have anticipated the brutal full-flowering of traditional dictatorship with all the trappings: martial law, mass internment and the cancellation of elections. Through much of the Clinton years, many non-Democrats looked for the same. It didn’t come (though some are still waiting). It’s as if they’ve not only expected the worst, but sought it, to put them out of their misery. But the worst exceeds their expectations, and their misery is to be protracted indefinitely.

The Kennedys and King, the October Surprise and Mena, anthrax and Wellstone, Gore and Kerry, Florida and Ohio: you might think that would be enough to make most Democrats say You know what? This isn’t working out. But elections are paced like the Olympics, and in another four years the Jamaican bobsledders may really have a shot. Hey, anything’s possible. And so long as people believe that, and that anything means everything they want, the cycle repeats and self-perpetuates.

The great assassinations of the Sixties were decapitation strikes, never intended to kill the host or to extinguish hope. It’s only the hopeless who are dangerous. Hope must be encouraged, because you don’t need to do anything to have it, and it keeps the prey from becoming wise to its own nature and seeking extraction from the cycle. Hope makes it possible to write and believe such things as “Al Gore will save the planet but Barack Obama will save this country.” Hope that the system works, even if it is just a digestive system.

Restrained predation upon the Democratic Party may be at an advanced stage of domestication, but it also mimics molecular endosymbiosis with the injection of alien organelles in the form of the Trojan horse DLC to which, of all the contenders, both Clinton and Obama are closest in tactics and ideology. Funny how that happened.

And how did that happen? I think there’s an institutional instinct at work, in the Deep Context, that maintains the insectival social engine of power. Does Obama know his role? That may be irrelevant, because the volition and cognition of the individuals who form the living manifestation of the system may be grossly overstated. They have given themselves to the system, the system has groomed them and raised them above all others, and they instinctively know what the system requires.

On an equally depressing note, apparently there are more slaves in the world now than ever before.
One hot june day in 2006, I saw what slavery really meant. In a rundown mansion in a slum of Bucharest, Romania, a pimp offered to sell me a young woman he described as "a blond." She had bleached hair, hastily applied makeup, and she apparently suffered from Down syndrome. On her right arm were at least 10 angry, fresh slashes where, I can only assume, she had attempted suicide. The pimp claimed that he made 200 euros per night renting her out to local clients. He offered to sell her outright to me in exchange for a used car.

It wasn't the first time I had encountered a slave in bondage. It wasn't even the first time I had been offered a slave for sale. Over five years on five continents, I had infiltrated trafficking networks and witnessed other negotiations to buy and sell human beings. Worldwide, I'd met more than 100 current and former slaves.

Many people are surprised to learn that there are still slaves. Many imagined that slavery died along with the 360,000 Union soldiers whose blood fertilized the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. Many thought that slavery was brought to an end around the world when most countries outlawed it in the 19th century.

But, in fact, there are more slaves today than at any point in history. Although a precise census is impossible, as most masters keep their slaves hidden, baseline estimates from United Nations and other international researchers range from 12 million to 27 million slaves worldwide. The U.S. State Department estimates that from 600,000 to 800,000 people -- primarily women and children -- are trafficked across national borders each year, and that doesn't count the millions of slaves who are held in bondage within their own countries.

NZ Energy Minister rejects gas lobby claims  

Posted by Big Gav in , , has a great statement from the NZ Energy Minister responding to the gas industries whining that NZ should use gas for its power instead of renewables - "NZ Minister of Energy rejects gas lobby claims" (a topic I previously discussed here).

Energy Minister David Parker says the oil and gas industry claim that renewable electricity will be more expensive than the gas fired electricity future the gas industry prefers is wrong. “In fact the steep rise in electricity prices that consumers have faced in the last decade has been caused mainly by the rise in gas and coal prices that have forced up the cost of fossil fuelled thermal electricity. To suggest that NZ gas prices will buck that recent history, and the overseas trend of increasing oil and gas prices, is optimistic and wishful thinking from a lobby group whose interest lies in selling more gas.”

“It is also undeniable that current and announced new investments by electricity generators prove that they think our renewables are cheaper. They are currently building geothermal and wind power – putting their money on the line. New Zealand has an abundance of renewables. We used to have 90% renewable generation in New Zealand. We can get back there by 2025, by building about 175 MW of renewable energy each year. This year alone we’re building around 300 MW. This shows the target is well within grasp. Of course with renewables, once built, their fuel is free. Wind and geothermal steam don’t go up in price. The same can’t be said of gas. The latest push by the gas lobby to increase gas usage and decrease renewables would also increase NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Guerrilla Geothermal Marketing  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Food Prices On The Rise  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

CNN has an article on the worldwide phenomenon of rising food prices and the stresses they are causing.

If you're seeing your grocery bill go up, you're not alone. From subsistence farmers eating rice in Ecuador to gourmets feasting on escargot in France, consumers worldwide face rising food prices in what analysts call a perfect storm of conditions. Freak weather is a factor. But so are dramatic changes in the global economy, including higher oil prices, lower food reserves and growing consumer demand in China and India. ...

No one knows that better than Eugene Thermilon, 30, a Haitian day laborer who can no longer afford pasta to feed his wife and four children since the price nearly doubled to $0.57 a bag. Their only meal on a recent day was two cans of corn grits. "Their stomachs were not even full," Thermilon said, walking toward his pink concrete house on the precipice of a garbage-filled ravine. By noon the next day, he still had nothing to feed them for dinner.

Their hunger has had a ripple effect. Haitian food vendor Fabiola Duran Estime, 31, has lost so many customers like Thermilon that she had to pull her daughter, Fyva, out of kindergarten because she can't afford the $20 monthly tuition. Fyva was just beginning to read.

In the long term, prices are expected to stabilize. Farmers will grow more grain for both fuel and food and eventually bring prices down. Already this is happening with wheat, with more crops to be planted in the U.S., Canada and Europe in the coming year. However, consumers still face at least 10 years of more expensive food, according to preliminary FAO projections.

Among the driving forces are petroleum prices, which increase the cost of everything from fertilizers to transport to food processing. Rising demand for meat and dairy in rapidly developing countries such as China and India is sending up the cost of grain, used for cattle feed, as is the demand for raw materials to make biofuels.

What's rare is that the spikes are hitting all major foods in most countries at once. Food prices rose 4 percent in the U.S. last year, the highest rise since 1990, and are expected to climb as much again this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As of December, 37 countries faced food crises, and 20 had imposed some sort of food-price controls.

For many, it's a disaster. The U.N.'s World Food Program says it's facing a $500 million shortfall in funding this year to feed 89 million needy people. On Monday, it appealed to donor countries to step up contributions, saying its efforts otherwise have to be scaled back.

In Egypt, where bread is up 35 percent and cooking oil 26 percent, the government recently proposed ending food subsidies and replacing them with cash payouts to the needy. But the plan was put on hold after it sparked public uproar. "A revolution of the hungry is in the offing," said Mohammed el-Askalani of Citizens Against the High Cost of Living, a protest group established to lobby against ending the subsidies. ...

In decades past, farm subsidies and support programs allowed major grain exporting countries to hold large surpluses, which could be tapped during food shortages to keep prices down. But new trade policies have made agricultural production much more responsive to market demands -- putting global food reserves at their lowest in a quarter century.

Without reserves, bad weather and poor harvests have a bigger impact on prices. "The market is extremely nervous. With the slightest news about bad weather, the market reacts," said economist Abbassian. That means that a drought in Australia and flooding in Argentina, two of the world's largest suppliers of industrial milk and butter, sent theprice of butter in France soaring 37 percent from 2006 to2007.

Peak oil vs Global Warming  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Jamais Cascio at Open The Future is enthused about the idea of a peak oil vs global warming smackdown

Could we avoid the worst ravages of global warming because we run out of oil?

Not since King Kong vs. Godzilla have we seen a monster fight of this magnitude. Disaster vs. Disaster! Things Fall Apart vs. The Center Cannot Hold! Category I Apocalypse vs. Category I Apocalypse! Best of all, NASA's James Hansen serves as referee.

In the first corner, we have Peak Oil, the premise that we'll soon (or perhaps already) have reached the maximum production of petroleum, and that remaining reserves are far lower than generally acknowledged. The result: ever-rising fuel prices, global conflict over dwindling resources, and possibly even social and economic collapse if peak oil hits faster and harder than expected. Even the moderate-case scenarios show declining petroleum access by the 2020s -- and all while China and India are ramping up a car economy.

In the second corner, we have Global Warming, the result of greenhouse gases -- particularly CO2 from human sources, such as burning petroleum -- trapping heat in the atmosphere. We're now at 385 parts-per-million and rising (up from 284ppm in the pre-industrial era). Climatologists generally consider 450ppm a tipping point into unrecoverable disaster, although there are now some signs that the already-past 350ppm would be a safer maximum. Among the actions required to avoid global warming disaster: a dramatic reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels.

In the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the "business-as-usual" scenario, which posits that society keeps going as it has, and fossil fuel consumption continues to grow at its current pace, results in an atmospheric CO2 concentration of over 950ppm by the end of this century. That's not likely to happen, of course -- the effects of global warming (sea level rise, drought, pandemic disease, dogs and cats living together, etc.) would make such steady growth untenable. Technology change would play a role, too, as would shifts in population. But the biggest reason why it wouldn't happen is a simple one:

There isn't enough petroleum in the ground, in any form, to make it possible.

That's the argument that James Hansen and his colleague Pushker A. Kharecha make in a new article posted to the science website In "Implications of “peak oil” for atmospheric CO2 and climate" (PDF), Hansen and Kharecha assert that the effort to keep atmospheric carbon levels below 450ppm may be greatly helped by basic limits on the amount of available oil. Because of peak oil forcing limits on petroleum consumption, a reasonable phase-out of coal ("developed countries freeze their CO2 emissions from coal by 2012 and a decade later developing countries similarly halt increases in coal emissions. Between 2025 and 2050 it is assumed that both developed and developing countries will linearly phase out emissions of CO2 from coal usage"), active measures to reduce non-CO2 forcings (including methane and black soot), and draw-down of CO2 through reforestation, would limit CO2 to below 450ppm. This doesn't require the most aggressive peak oil scenarios, either -- simply using the US Energy Information Administration's estimates of oil reserves is enough. Using more aggressive numbers, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 422ppm.

Hansen and Kharecha present five scenarios, using a variety of estimates of peak oil timing and pace ...

The difference between Hansen & Kharecha's business-as-usual and the other scenarios points to the importance of limiting coal and other greenhouse gases. Peak oil isn't going to save us from global warming by itself. We'll still have to make major changes to how we live, how we build, how we generate energy, etc. -- all of the imperatives we've had to reckon with for awhile.

And peak oil itself, despite its global warming benefit, remains a real problem. While the "doomer" peak oil scenarios seem to me to be overwrought and simplistic, it's true that our society is thoroughly dependent upon fossil fuels, and an abrupt reduction in availability would be traumatic. As I noted in The Big Picture: Climate Chaos, the intersection of global warming and peak oil means that we have overwhelming reason to move away from fossil fuels as energy sources as rapidly as possible -- and that solutions in one arena can help in the other.

It will be interesting to me to see how both peak oil watchers and anti-global warming activists take this report. I suspect that some oilers will dismiss it as not big news, since they already knew that society is going to collapse before we reach the worst of global warming; others might take it as an indicator that trying to deal with peak oil by producing liquid coal fuels (or similar fossil substitutes) is a bad idea, as it would eliminate the one slight benefit of peak oil conditions. I hope that climate watchers might have a generally more positive response, relief that the worst-case scenarios are even less likely than before. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that more than a few global warming-focused activists will see this report -- despite coming from Hansen -- as an attempt to reduce the urgency of the need to deal with anthrogenic carbon emissions.

What this report tells us, however, is that we can't simply focus on one crisis -- no matter how large and looming -- without taking into consideration the other key drivers of change. The onset of peak oil will alter how we deal with climate disruption, rendering climate strategies that don't take peak oil into account of limited value. Similarly, the fact of global warming must shape how our economies deal with a permanent oil crunch.

For both issues, the kinds of strategies most likely to succeed are those based on the precepts of an open future: innovation and experimentation; transparency and shared knowledge; and collaboration and shared responsibility. It's a future worth fighting monsters for.

My comment at OTF (in summary - I think the BAU scenario is the most likely to occur unless there is a concerted effort to switch to clean energy sources) :

I know I'm somewhat atypical amongst peak oilers, but I've always thought peak oil is a bad thing (at least in the medium term) from a global warming point of view if we stick to BAU, as it will simply encourage those wedded to the current energy paradigm to turn to unconventional fossil fuels and (first generation) biofuels - both of which will rapidly increase our carbon emissions (along with numerous other unpleasant side effects).

You can already see this in action - deforestation in the pursuit of palm oil and soy, coal to liquids plants being investigated in numerous countries, efforts to accelerate tar sands developments in Canada (and interest in developing heavy oil deposits in places like Venezuela and Madagascar), renewed interest in shale oil, interest in gas to liquids (including using coal seam methane), keen interest in tapping methane hydrates / clathrates etc etc

Many peak oilers (1) underestimate conventional oil reserves - Iraq being the striking example, and (2) underestimate unconventional oil reserves and our ability to harness them if we choose to.

I think Hansen is being overly optimistic here (I may be the first person to accuse him of this, excepting maybe Lovelock, but he does so for different reasons).

Several ASPO people have argued this line for years, but I for one don't buy it.

Jamais also has a post on "Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals".
A leading fear for those of us looking at the longer-term implications of molecular manufacturing is the technology's capacity to give small groups -- or even individuals -- enormous destructive capacity. This isn't unique to advanced nanotechnology; similar worries swirl around all manner of catalytic technologies. In fact, some analysts consider this a problem we currently face, and give it the forbidding label of "super-empowered angry individuals."

Thinking about it for a moment, the question arises: Where are the "super-empowered hopeful individuals?"

The core of the "super-empowered angry individual" (SEAI) argument is that some technologies may enable individuals or small groups to carry out attacks, on infrastructure or people, at a scale that would have required the resources of an army in decades past. This is not an outlandish concern by any means; many proponents of the SEAI concept cite the September 11 attacks as a crude example of how vulnerable modern society can be to these kinds of threats. It's not hard to imagine what a similar band of terrorists, or groups like Aum Shinrikyo, might try to do with access to molecular manufacturing or advanced bioengineering tools.

But angry people aren't the only ones who could be empowered by these technologies.

As a parallel, the core of the "super-empowered hopeful individual" (SEHI) argument is that these technologies may also enable individuals or small groups to carry out socially beneficial actions at a scale that would have required the resources of a large NGO or business in decades past. They would rebuild towns or villages after a natural disaster, or provide health care to refugees; they would clean up environmental toxins, or build renewable energy systems. The Millennium Development Goals would be their checklist. They would carry out the kinds of projects that humanitarian organizations do today, but be able to do so with smaller numbers, greater speed, and a far larger impact.

To an extent, these are tasks we might expect governments, NGOs or businesses would seek to accomplish, and they'd be welcome to do so. But catalytic technologies like molecular manufacturing could so enhance the capabilities of individuals that, just as we have to account for SEAIs in our nano-era policies and strategies, we should pay attention to the beneficial role SEHIs could play. They change the structure of the game.

In my work at Worldchanging, I became acquainted with numerous individuals and small organizations who would jump at the chance to become SEHIs. There's a tremendous desire out there for tools and ideas to build a better world. In addition, if molecular manufacturing proves as economically disruptive as some have argued, there may also be large numbers of people looking for something to do with their lives after their previous jobs disappear; it's in our collective interest to make sure that more of them become SEHIs than SEAIs.

Some readers may be wondering why we should care. It's obvious that we need to be concerned about SEAIs -- they can kill us -- but if SEHIs want to go out and make the world a better place, hooray for them (and the world). So why worry?

One answer is that there would be debate over just how beneficial some of the SEHI plans would actually be. Clean water, rebuilt homes? Fine. But what about building churches or mosques or other religious centers? Or think of the controversy surrounding the One Laptop per Child project; now picture thousands of One Laptop per Child-scale projects, run by passionate (but quirky) individuals. Worse yet, imagine the havoc that could ensue if well-intended but misguided SEHIs decide to solve global warming on their own and embark on massive geoengineering projects with disastrous side-effects.

Still, the outlook is not all bad. Far from it. The amount of good that can be done by future super-empowered hopeful individuals may prove to be far greater than the damage produced by their angry counterparts.

The lesson I took from Worldchanging was that it is precisely when the risks and challenges are greatest that we see just how many of us are willing to act to build a better world. There are millions of people out there right now, looking for ways to build a better world. Perhaps you’re one of them. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has said, "The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope."

What Hubbert might say today  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Steve Andrews from ASPO USA is channeling the ghost of M King Hubbert in an effort to divine what the peak oil prophet would have to say about the energy situation today. One highly likely option - the recommendation that we turn to solar power to meet our energy needs.

Twenty years ago this month, I interviewed Marion King Hubbert at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Hubbert was a brilliant and opinionated man. If he were alive, he would no doubt be fascinated by the quadrupling in oil prices and the increasingly vigorous discussion of peak oil. In this column, I’ll take my best shot at summarizing what Hubbert might have to say today about recent developments in the oil industry. His remarks from that old interview are in italics.

1. Hold the USGS’ feet to the fire:

There is no doubt in my mind that the USGS’s optimistic world petroleum resources report of 2000 would top Hubbert’s agenda today. His frustration would be born from his experience during the 1960s and 1970s, when the USGS issued a number of over-optimistic forecasts. While Hubbert would need a crash course in the new computing tools and resource assessment terminology, once he were up to speed, I suspect he’d blister the USGS’ year 2000 report. Quotes from the 1988 interview:

The U.S. Geological Survey—Vincent McKelvey in particular—always came out with an ultimate of around 600 billion barrels for the Lower 48, for crude oil. Since the USGS is highly respected, these misguided figures were taken seriously in Congress. Industry wasn’t quite so taken in, but the government was.

In the early 1960s, I predicted that the US would peak shortly, within less than 10 years, and the Geological Survey was predicting that it would occur in closer to 40 years. So, okay, I said “well, let’s wait and see what happens.” As it turned out, the USGS misled the government for 15 years [through 1977].

2. Critiquing unreasonably optimistic forecasters:

How would Hubbert feel about the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s forecast of a global peak between 2036 to 2043? I suspect he would be railing at EIA in public.

In their forecast, after peak production, EIA projects a cliff-like decline rate (10%/yr). Based on his statement below, Hubbert would favor a more gentle decline, similar to that drawn by the EIA in 2000, showing a peak in 2016 with much slower net annual decline rate (about 2%/year). “After the hump, production can’t drop sharply; it’s got to go down gradually because that’s how you find oil. You don’t find it all at once and you don’t produce it all at once. It peters out gradually.” The key point here: since the decline rate wouldn’t fall that fast, Hubbert would insist that the peak would have to come decades sooner than currently forecast.

How about optimists, like Daniel Yergin and Cambridge Energy Research Associates? Consider Hubbert’s thought here: “After my study was published, there were two camps of thought. The first reaction was ‘that guy must be crazy.’ It violated their intuitive judgment. But when some of the skeptics went back and took a look at my ultimate, they found it fell within their range of their estimates, making the conclusion of a near peak in US production not just likely but inevitable. But others found my conclusion so abhorrent that they couldn’t accept it.” He would likely put CERA in the latter camp.

3. The Solar and Efficiency Pathway:

One of Hubbert’s famous presentations, delivered 52 years ago to an audience of his peers, was called “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.” At the time, he anticipated that nuclear energy would step in to substitute for future declining petroleum production. Later, he saw too many problems with nuclear and started promoting solar energy instead.

‘Were we a rational society, a virtue of which we have rarely been accused, we would do so and so…’ Hubbert suggested. He believed we should husband our dwindling supplies of oil and gas—supplemented by imports as long as they are available—and institute a program comparable to that in the nuclear industry of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, for the conversion to solar energy. He understood that time was a precious and fleeting resource: We still have great flexibility but our maneuverability will diminish with time.”

The biggest source of energy on this earth, now or ever, is solar. I used to think it was so diffuse as to be impractical. But I’ve changed my mind. It’s not impractical…This technology exists right now. So if we just convert the technology and research and facilities of the oil and gas industries, the chemical industry and the electrical power industry—we could do it tomorrow. All we’ve got to do is throw our weight into it.

4. Challenge Shell to come clean:

Hubbert enjoyed speaking truth to power. Back before his famous 1956 presentation, Shell officials were twisting Hubbert’s arm to change his message right up to the last minute. Then afterwards, “This thing hit the New York Times and some officers at Shell nearly went through the roof. They just about had cat-fits. Things were pretty intense for a few weeks around Shell. But by the time they had time to study the paper, they found they couldn’t [refute it].”

Eventually Shell got over it. Hubbert continued to lecture at Shell’s month-long, executive training school at the Arden House for up-and-coming staffers. “I have a letter I received during the 1980s, written by a Shell vice president who wanted some information for a talk he had to give. He had been in one of these Arden House groups and he said he thought I was the most pessimistic geologist he ever heard….and now he commented about how right I was.”

Now comes 2008, and Royal/Dutch Shell’s CEO Jeroen van der Veer writes to his staff that the output of conventional oil is close to peaking, that world demand for oil and gas will outstrip supply within seven years. But in this country, Shell’s CEO John Hofmeister fired a salvo last week aimed at discrediting the concept of peak oil. Hubbert would favor the Euro-Shell’s view of our unfolding future and take Hofmeister to task.

5. No soft treatment of presidential candidates:

On the 1988 presidential candidates, he energetically opined: “They’re ignorant, they don’t know anything about [energy]. The entire crop, with the exception of [Governor Bruce] Babbitt, is a bunch of ignorant asses. They haven’t any idea of the state the country’s in, with respect to energy resources.” Just imagine what Hubbert would say about the recent pandering of presidential candidates to Iowa’s ethanol lobby; it wouldn’t be pretty.

6. Growth as a cultural problem:

“We’re dealing with a cultural problem. We’ve had nothing but exponential growth for 200 years. During that period we’ve had nothing but exponential growth, and so we’ve developed an exponential growth culture. Politicians are always trying to maintain our growth. If we could maintain it, it would destroy us.”

Solar Paint  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Inhabitat has an interesting post on some research into building steel cladding with a solar power generating coating (albeit one very short on technical details).

Installing solar panels on the roof of every new building in the world would go a long way towards solving our energy needs, but as we all know, solar panels are costly and often difficult to install. But what if the solar panel was an integral part of every building? What if solar cells could be painted on building products? Well, according to a team from Swansea University this type of technology will soon be coming to a hardware store near you.

The Swansea Solar Paint project is led by Dave Worsley, who, together with his team, were researching ways to make make steel last longer. By chance that they started to focus on the degradation of paints in steel surfaces, when they realized that their research could lead them to develop a new way of getting energy from the sun.

The idea is to coat every piece of steel cladding with a solar cell paint. As steel is passed through the rollers multiple coatings of of the solar cell system are applied to it. Based on the preliminary research, the materials that are being applied are suited to capturing low level solar radiation, which means that they should work just as well in areas where the sun doesn’t directly shine on them. ...

What is interesting about this one, is that the process, if successful, can be scaled massively and quickly. Think about the possibilities of having every roof clad with a durable, electricity-generating steel finish!

If the Solar Paint project gets off the ground, it is expected that they would be able to press around 30 to 40m2 a minute. This may not sound like much, but put it into perspective: according to Dr. Worsley, if all the steel cladding produced by just one manufacturer was produced to be energy generating, at a very conservative energy exchange rate of 5%, it would be the equivalent of 50 wind farms, or roughly 4,500 gigawatts of electricity, per year. If you ask us, this is a project that might be worth looking into.

Massive Ice Shelf Collapses  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The British Antarctic Survey has a report (including video) on the collpase of part of the Wilkins ice shelf in Antarctica. More at The Australian.

A CHUNK of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan has suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk. Satellite images show the disintegration of a 415 sq km chunk in western Antarctica, which started on February 28. It was the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf and has been there for hundreds, perhaps 1500, years.

British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan said the collapse was the result of global warming. Because scientists noticed satellite images within hours, they diverted satellite cameras and even flew an airplane over the collapse for rare pictures and video.

"It's an event we don't get to see very often," said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. "The cracks fill with water and slice off and topple... That gets to be a runaway situation."

While icebergs naturally break away from the mainland, collapses like this are unusual but are happening more frequently in recent decades, Mr Vaughan said. The collapse is similar to what happens to hardened glass when it is smashed with a hammer, he said.

The rest of the Wilkins ice shelf is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it too may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 2002 and 1995. Mr Vaughan had predicted the Wilkins shelf would collapse about 15 years from now.

Scientists said they are not concerned about a rise in sea level from the latest event, but say it's a sign of worsening global warming. Such occurrences are "more indicative of a tipping point or trigger in the climate system," said Sarah Das, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in the US.

Meanwhile the disappearing arctic ice cap has oil prospectors salivating at the prospect of further accelerating global warming - "Shrinking icecap lures oil giants".
WINTER sea ice around a Norwegian Arctic island has thinned to less than one metre since the 1960s, according to a study of a region that may be more attractive to oil firms because of climate change. The Norwegian Polar Institute said ice around Hopen island south-east of the Svalbard archipelago had thinned by more than 40cm over the past 40 years, in what it called the first long-term study of ice thickness in the Barents Sea.

"Since the year 2000 there have been no observations of ice thicker than one metre at Hopen, and the local air and water temperature has also risen," the institute said in a statement.

Hopen is a narrow island about 30km long off north Norway which is home to polar bears. Ice around the entire Arctic reached a record low in September 2005, the end of the northern summer.

The UN Climate Panel says temperatures are rising more rapidly in the Arctic than on most of the planet because of global warming, stoked by human use of fossil fuels. Darker water and land soak up more heat than reflective ice and snow.

"The reduced see ice thickness at Hopen is in line with the generally reduced volume of ice in the Barents Sea and the whole Arctic," said Sebastain Gerland of the Polar Institute. The study was being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the institute said.

Oil and gas companies are pushing north into the Barents Sea, seeking new reserves. Scientists say climate change may make the region less inhospitable and prices around $US100 a barrel can justify exploration despite high costs.

Nearing The Brink  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The WSJ has a surprisingly even handed look at the idea that "The Limits To Growth" may have been worth paying attention to afterwards, noting that the demands of a growing population (and a rapidly industrialising one at that) may require a change to our current systems - Nearing the Brink (more commentary at Energy Bulletin).

THROUGHOUT history, there have been warnings that human activity would overwhelm the Earth's resources. The Cassandras always proved wrong. Each time, there were new resources to discover, new technologies to propel growth.

Today the old fears are back. Although a catastrophe is not at hand, the resource constraints foreseen by the Club of Rome are more evident today than at any time since the 1972 publication of the think tank's famous book The Limits to Growth. Steady increases in prices for oil, wheat, copper and other commodities are signs of a lasting shift in demand as yet unmatched by rising supply.

As the world grows more populous (6.6billion today) it also is growing the prosperous. The average person is consuming more food, water, metal and power. Growing numbers of China's 1.3 billion people and India's 1.1 billion are stepping up to the middle class, adopting the high-protein diets, petrol-fuelled transport and gadgets that developed nations enjoy. The result is that demand for resources has soared. If supplies don't keep pace, prices are likely to climb further, economic growth in rich and poor nations could suffer, and some fear violent conflicts could ensue.

Some of the resources now in great demand have no substitutes. In the 18th century, England responded to dwindling timber supplies by shifting to abundant coal. But there can be no such replacement for arable land and fresh water. The need to curb global warming limits the usefulness of resources such as coal. Soaring food consumption puts stress on the existing stock of arable land and fresh water.

"We're living in an era where the technologies that have empowered high living standards and 80-year life expectancies in the rich world are now for almost everybody," says economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute. "What this means is that not only do we have a very large amount of economic activity right now, but we have pent-up potential for vast increases (in economic activity) as well." The world cannot sustain that level of growth, he contends, without new technologies.

The West is already grappling with higher energy and food prices. There's a growing consensus that this isn't just a temporary surge in prices. Some experts foresee a long-term upward shift in prices for oil and other commodities. ...

This troubles economists who used to be sceptical of the premise of The Limits to Growth. Thirty years ago, economist Joseph Stiglitz said: "There is not a persuasive case to be made that we face a problem from the exhaustion of our resources in the short or medium run." Today, the Nobel laureate is concerned that oil is underpriced relative to the cost of carbon emissions, and that key resources such as water are often provided free.

"In the absence of market signals, there's no way the market will solve these problems. How do we make people who have gotten something for free start paying for it? That's really hard. If our patterns of living, our patterns of consumption are imitated, as others are striving to do, the world probably is not viable," Stiglitz says.

Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of The Limits to Growth, says the book was too optimistic in one respect. The authors assumed that if humans stopped harming the environment, it would recover slowly. Today, he says, some climate-change models suggest that once tipping points are passed, environmental catastrophe may be inevitable even "if you quit damaging the environment".

One danger is that governments, rather than searching for global solutions to resource constraints, will concentrate on grabbing their share.

China has been funding development in Africa, a move some see as a way to gain access to timber, oil and other resources. India, once a supporter of the democracy movement in Burma, has signed trade agreements with the resource-rich country. The US, EU, Russia and China are all vying for the favour of natural-gas-abundant countries in politically unstable Central Asia. The rise of China and India already has changed the world economy in lasting ways, from the flows of global capital to the location of manufacturing. But they remain poor societies with growing appetites. ...

In 2005, China had 15 passenger cars for every 1000 people, close to the 13 cars per 1000 that Japan had in 1963. Today, Japan has 447 cars per 1000 residents, 57 million in all. If China ever reaches that point, it would have 572 million cars, 70 million shy of the number of cars in the entire world today. China consumes 7.9 million barrels of oil a day. The US, with less than a quarter as many people, consumes 20.7 million barrels.

"Demand will be going up, but it will be constrained by supply," says ConocoPhillips chief executive James Mulva. "I don't think we are going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day, and the reason is: where is all that going to come from?"

Harvard economist Jeffrey Frankel says: "The idea that we might have to move on to other sources of energy; you don't have to buy into the Club of Rome agenda for that." ...

The 1972 warnings by the Club of Rome struck a chord because they came as oil prices were rising sharply. Oil production in the continental US had peaked, sparking fears that energy demand had outstripped supply. Over time, America became more energy efficient, overseas oil production rose and prices fell. The dynamic today appears to be different. So far, the oil industry has failed to find new sources of crude. Without new discoveries, prices are likely to keep rising, unless consumers cut back. Taxes are one way to curb appetites.

New technology could help ease the resource crunch. Advances in agriculture, desalination and the clean production of electricity, among other things, would help. But Stiglitz contends that consumers eventually will have to change their behaviour even more than then did after the '70s oil shock. He says the world's traditional definitions and measures of economic progress - based on producing and consuming ever more - may have to be rethought.

Shower Without Glory  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Ross Gittins has an interesting (as always) aricle in the SMH about the affect of global warming and rising energy prices on long hot showers. Being a long, hot shower addict myself, I have to say he's totally wrong about this - if you've gone 100% green power (ideally with solar hot water on your roof as well) and are water efficient in other ways, then long hot showers really don't matter. So don't feel like you have to become a smelly hippie (just kidding) to adapt to peak oil and global warming.

As climate change - and our need to limit it - catches up with us, perhaps we need to examine more critically some of our daily habits. So let me ask you a personal question: how often do you take a shower?

If your answer is daily, you wouldn't hesitate to tell me. If your answer is twice a day, you may be quite proud of the fact. If your answer is two or three times a week, you'd probably prefer me to mind my own business.

But consider this: when you remember how much energy and water we use for our showering, the day may not be far distant when that order is reversed. When the person who showers only a few times a week is pleased to tell you so, while the person still showering twice a day doesn't like to admit it.

Does that prospect appal you? Do you shudder at the thought of conditions deteriorating to the point where we're all walking around dirty?

If so, I have news, courtesy of an eye-opening book I've been reading by the British sociologist Elizabeth Shove, Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience.

I guess most of us like to believe that showering - or bathing, for that matter - is about cleanliness. About getting rid of dirt and germs so as to maintain a high standard of personal hygiene and prevent the spread of disease.

Don't kid yourself. We could do all we needed to do to prevent disease with far fewer showers. If we were really on about hygiene, we'd put a lot more emphasis on thorough, soapy hand-washing and a lot less on showers.

They don't shout it too loudly, but many dermatologists disapprove of all the showering we do, particularly the way we soap up every time as though we've just fallen into a manure heap. All that unnecessary soap and water leaches the natural oils from our skin.

Dirt isn't identical to germs and disease. In any case, our modern lives of paved roads and footpaths, travel by car rather than horse, use of electricity rather than coal, and our predominantly white-collar jobs, mean we rarely get particularly dirty.

The proof of that is obvious: the high proportion of people who shower in the morning before going out, rather than in the evening after getting home. Do they really go to bed dirty? ...

In olden days, the rich regarded bathing as a sign of their social superiority. These days, the ubiquity of electricity, mains water and sewerage mean even the great unwashed need no longer be. Perhaps that's what's driving the obsession: if the poorest worker can afford to shower daily, how can the rest of us settle for anything less?

Another element to it, of course, is that many people shower because they enjoy it. It wouldn't be the first time we sought to crown the things we enjoy with a halo of civic virtue.

The funny thing here is the opposing reasons we have for enjoying it. Some people say they find showers invigorating, the perfect thing to wake them up and get them going in the morning.

But then the evening brigade say showering is relaxing, a great stress-reliever. I must say, I've had both emotions. Magical things, showers.

To all this, you may say, so what? What business is it of an economics writer, anyway? It's a free country and an affluent one. If we choose to spend a little of our wealth on lots of showers, what of it? Surely it's a pretty innocent vice.

Well, not as innocent as it was now we're in the age of climate change. And, soon enough, not as cheap as it was. Before too long we'll be paying a lot more for the water we use and for the electricity or gas with which we heat it.

I don't foresee a day of government advertisements proclaiming the social irresponsibility of showers, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them becoming less popular.

The Twin Towers (of Kazahkstan)  

Posted by Big Gav in

Inhabitat's striking green building of the week is a yet another oil funded masterpiece in Almaty by Norman Foster - "Norman Foster’s Almaty Twin Towers in Kazakhstan". I'm sure Borat will love his new office.

The Foster Towers will have glass facades with the firm’s signature diagrid pattern (similar to London’s Gherkin and the Hearst Tower in New York City.) The top of the towers will feature roof gardens where the workers will be able to relax, and the base will incorporate a glass topped canopy with pedestrian walkways connecting the two towers. The development will be located right near the heart of Almaty Financial District. Right now, we can’t find out much architectural detail about the structures, but knowing Foster’s penchant for high-tech environmental systems, we wouldn’t be surprised to find out that green building techniques are well incorporated into the Almaty Towers design. We look forward to finding out more about this eye-catching design proposal.

Carbon Emissions and the Cooper Basin  

Posted by Big Gav

The ABC has a segment on the impact of the Garnaut report on two Cooper basin projects - GeoDynamics' HFR geothermal power experiment (covered before in Geothermia), and Santos' proposal to use carbon dioxide injection into Cooper Basin oil and gas fields to enhance recovery rates - the Moomba Carbon Storage project (pdf). I suspect the taxpayer will end up being asked to pay for this gigantic exercise in stuffing carbon emissions under the rug - how many large scale CSP plants could be built for the same cost (and much less ongoing risk) ?

MIKE SEXTON: Deep beneath the hostile desert that straddles the South Australia, Queensland border lies the Cooper Basin. A 130,000 square kilometre geological formation that provides gas and oil to Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide. And may give Australia a great leap forward in combating climate change. ... In the Simpson desert, not far from where explorers Burke and Wills perished in 1861, Geodynamics is building the most remote power station in the country, one that could provide large amounts of green electricity.

ADRIAN WILLIAMS, GEODYNAMICS: Our first commercial project we're shooting for 500 mega watts, approximately. That will have the annual power output comparable to about one Snowy scheme. That's a significant first project in anybody's language.

MIKE SEXTON: The power will be generated by the heat contained in layers of granite that lie three kilometres underground.... Once the plant is completed water will be pumped into the granite where it will turn into steam. The steam is brought up other shafts with enough pressure to drive turbines and generate emission free power.

ADRIAN WILLIAMS: One of the things I think that's exciting about geo thermal energy is its materiality, sheer size. We know under our feet we have a resource that will support 10,000 mega watts of generating capacity with an annual output of around 15 snowy schemes. We know that resource is here. We've measured temperatures. There's no doubt about that.

PROFESSOR ROSS GARNAUT, CLIMATE CHANGE ECONOMIST: There will have to be large changes about the way we use and generate energy. This will not be costless.

MIKE SEXTON: When Professor Ross Garnaut released his interim report on climate change last month he pulled no punches. Arguing for a 90 per cent cut in emissions by 2050. If this is achieved it had will be a radical turn around for a country so reliant on cheap power from coal. And Professor Garnaut believes geothermal energy will play a role.

PROFESSOR ROSS GARNAUT: The interim report puts a lot of emphasis on support for research and innovation. Work in this area involves companies taking risks, doing a lot of learning, the benefits not only to them, those that spend the money but benefits everyone who is watching them as well. So I think there should be more support for innovation in the low technology industries.

MIKE SEXTON: There is another project in the Cooper Basin that could cut emissions without shutting down the coal fired power plants. For 45 years Santos has pumped oil and gas out of the basin along the way drilling almost 2,500 wells. The company now proposes a bold type of reverse engineering to counter climate change by using the old wells to store carbon dioxide.

JOHN ANDERSON, SANTOS: It's proven technology today. There are a number of projects throughout the world, for example, Algeria, Norway, there is a leading project in Canada, in which C02 is being stored.

MIKE SEXTON: Initially Santos intends storing C02 from its own plant but believes it has the storage capacity to hold one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. A network of pipelines could bring emissions from coal power generation plants from the eastern sea board inland to Moomba.

JOHN ANDERSON: We are seeing a policy setting unfold in Australia at the moment. The Garnaut report certainly alludes to the Federal Court that carbon capture and storage will play a vital role in addressing Australia's needs. Very early days but it appears to be heading in the right

MIKE SEXTON: Santos is not the only company positioning itself for carbon storage, but the project all hinges on a price being put on carbon. It is a significant investment. We're looking at 750 million to a billion dollars of investment. It is having the surety that in fact Australia is up for the challenge in the longer term, that there will ultimately be those pipelines taking C02 back to the Cooper Basin. It's building confidence around that end game that is vital for us. That involves having a very strong partnership with Australian Government to make this a reality.

MIKE SEXTON: It's a similar story across the Basin at Innamincka where Geodynamics admits it can't compete with coal in the current economic climate.

ADRIAN WILLIAMS: As soon as there is any form of impost on carbon emissions, whether that's through emissions trading or taxes, however that impost takes place, both geothermal energy and gas will be two very attractive options for this country.

MIKE SEXTON: But there are some who believe Governments can't just let the free market dictate industry responses. Ian Dunlop is a former senior executive in the coal, oil and gas industry, he chaired the Australian greenhouse office experts group on emissions training. He believes governments must use incentives and regulation where necessary to bring about change.

IAN DUNLOP, FMR INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE: The risk we're run something very high, we have to look at the science, decide what direction we have to go in, then use the economics to achieve the best mechanism for doing that.

MIKE SEXTON: Professor Garnaut's final recommendations in September will frame a car been trading policy. Whatever form that takes it will have major impact on activity in the Cooper Basin.

IAN DUNLOP: I believe we can make this change, it's going to require a very major turn around in attitude and enormous investment. It becomes essentially a nation building project, a little bit akin to a 21st century equivalent of the Snowy scheme in the 50s where we really have to radically change the concepts of energy in this country.

The attractiveness of gas once carbon costs are accounted for is an interesting issue - just how long will Australia's gas reserves hold out if we make a large scale switch from coal to gas ?

More on that later...

Solar Planes ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

Renewable Energy Access has an article about an unusual Swiss experiment to build a solar powered plane capable of flying around the world (though I think we can all consider this highly unlikely to ever scale to jumbo sized planes).

Swiss company Sputnik Engineering has committed to ramping up production of its SolarMax inverters to 400 megawatts (MW) of capacity by the end of 2008. The ambitious target comes as the company is also about to open a new manufacturing facility in Port, Switzerland in March. The company sold devices with a total capacity of 120 MW in 2006, and last year this number rose to 188 MW. In 2008 Sputnik plans to sell inverters with a total capacity of 275 MW.

The company is providing its inverters for two projects that are involved in testing the physical limits of solar energy technology. In the Swiss Alps, the research station at Jungfraujoch is 3,500 meters above sea level. It offers researchers from all over Europe the opportunity to conduct scientific experiments at high altitudes. Currently, physicians from the University of Munich are researching the practical treatment of high altitude pulmonary edema, the Swiss Confederation is monitoring radioactivity in the air and scientists from the Belgian Institute for Atmospheric Research are investigating the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

Since January 11, 2008 the world's highest solar power plant has been helping to power this research. Swiss company sol-E Suisse AG integrated 82 square meters of solar modules into the facade of the research station. By 2009 the company plans to build two or three more systems on other parts of the station. When complete, the system will have an output of approximately 25 kilowatts. The research facility also has solar engineers at work.

“Here we are researching how the atmospheric conditions, the altitude, the temperature and the air density have an effect upon a photovoltaic system,” said Sebastian Vogler from sol-E Suisse parent company, Swiss energy provider BKW FMB Energie AG. “The data are relevant for the SolarImpulse project from Bertrand Piccard.”

Bertrand Piccard's goal is to fly around the world in 2011 using only solar energy to power the flight. SolarImpulse will be the first manned solar airplane that will remain in flight under the cover of darkness. The success of the project depends largely on how efficiently solar energy can be utilized at high altitude.

Another Week of GW News, March 23, 2008  

Posted by Big Gav in

"A Few Things Ill-Considered" has a weekly roundup of global warming related news that few mortals could read through in a week - the links below are the index to this week's post.

Sipping from the internet firehose...

This weekly posting is brought to you courtesy of H.E.Taylor. Happy reading, I hope you enjoy this week's Global Warming news roundup

Top Stories:WGMS Report, X-Prize, Opportunity Cost
  • Melting Arctic, Arctic Oil & Gas Claim, Earth Hour, PCA, ECO:nomics, G20
  • Hurricanes, GHGs, Temperatures, Glaciers, Sea Levels, Satellites, DSCOVR
  • Impacts, Forests, Corals, Wacky Weather, Floods & Droughts, Food Production
  • Mitigation, Transportation, Buildings, Sequestration, Geoengineering
  • Journals, Miscellaneous Science, Hansen
  • Kyoto, Carbon Trade, Carbon Tax, Optimal Carbon Reduction Strategy
  • Politics:G8, Security, America, Britain, Europe, Australia, China, Japan, Canada
  • Ecological Economics, Apocalypso, Media, Books
  • Energy, Solar, Coal, Biofuel, Nukes, Peak Oil, Efficiency, Cars, Business
  • Carbon Lobby, The Usual, Useful Links
  • Shameless Self Promotion, .sig
  • Nader Returns  

    Posted by Big Gav in ,

    Grist has an interview with Ralph Nader about his "presidential platform on energy and the environment". Its pretty good.

    question Why should voters consider you the strongest environmental candidate?

    answer I was a big advocate of renewable energy back in the '70s -- all forms, from wind power to photovoltaic to solar thermal to passive solar architecture. I was a very early opponent of nuclear power. As a lobbyist, I was instrumental in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, along with legislation to control air pollution and other toxic substances. I was also involved in the passage of the first motor-vehicle efficiency laws back in the '70s. So my words on this issue as a candidate reflect what I've done, rather than what I hope to do.

    question Going forward, what sets your environmental platform apart from the other candidates'?

    answer I'm basically promoting a massive conversion from a hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. I'm not talking about corn ethanol, which has a very poor net energy- and water-usage characteristic. I'm talking about industrial hemp. I'm talking about plant life that can be efficiently converted to fuel -- like sugar cane, agricultural waste, cellulosic grasses, and certain kinds of biomass that can be grown with a spectacular ratio of energy inputs to outputs. I'm talking about a very fundamental remodeling of our economy -- a conversion from industrial-age, 19th-century technologies like the internal combustion engine to renewable, sustainable technologies of efficiency and production. We should have vehicles that get well over 100 miles per gallon. As Amory Lovins and Paul Hawken have shown, we can create far greater efficiencies in the use of our natural resources, whether it's copper, iron, oil, gas, timber, you name it.

    question Let's get more specific about how you would implement this massive shift. You propose a carbon pollution tax, for instance. How would that work?

    answer You tax inefficient technology and you tax pollution. The carbon tax would not be a credit exchange [as in a cap-and-trade program], which can be easily manipulated. It would be a straight-out tax on hydrocarbon production at the production source -- where it's far, far removed from consumers and forces better choices of technology from the get-go.

    question Would energy producers then pass an increase in prices along to consumers in the form of higher gasoline and electricity prices?

    answer Not necessarily, because it will provide a competitive opportunity for companies to say, "Hey, it's now more expensive to produce polluting technology than it is to produce non-polluting technology." And they will begin to break ranks from one another in an effort to innovate, and the magnet will be toward the more efficient option.

    To protect consumers, you could have an excess profits tax on companies such as Exxon, and rebate it back to the customer. Or we could use the proceeds from the pollution tax to build more alternative public transit -- that would relieve the burden on consumers.

    question Some people argue that a carbon tax is political suicide because you can't make taxes appeal to voters, period.

    answer Look, this is not a gasoline tax. This is not a final product tax that directly hits consumers. It's a tax at the coal mine, a tax at the oil well.

    question Your website says, "No to nuclear power, solar energy first." How do you plan to phase out nuclear and phase in renewables?

    answer Oh, this is easy. The first thing you gotta do to stop nuclear power is prevent government guarantees of Wall Street loans to nuclear power companies to build plants. They will not get private-sector financing without a 100 percent Uncle Sam guarantee. You appeal to conservatives and liberals who don't like corporate welfare and say, "Let's stop rigging the playing field and cut off loan guarantees to nuclear power."

    As far as the renewables are concerned, you can do it in two ways: You can basically eliminate all direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear and say, "Let's have a level playing field." Or you could actively increase tax credits and subsidies to solar power because it has superior environmental and geopolitical benefits. Furthermore, the government's a big customer -- it can take its entire procurement power and direct it toward solar energy and sustainable technology.

    Keep in mind that we're currently paying six, seven dollars a gallon for gasoline if you include all the military expenditures to safeguard the global oil pipeline. That's something that taxpayers are paying for, even if it doesn't show at the pump.

    question Nuclear makes up 20 percent of America's electricity supply. Coal makes up more than half. Would you phase out coal as well, or do you believe in the promise of advanced coal technology?

    answer There's no such thing as clean coal. Anybody who's been down in a coal mine knows that. You've got to phase out all fossil fuels: first coal and oil, then natural gas.

    question How quickly would you phase out fossil fuels?

    answer If we had the will, we could convert most of [the infrastructure] in 20 to 25 years, and that includes a significant portion of the housing and building stock, which you'll replace with different types of structures and solar architecture, and retrofit existing buildings for solar water heating and photovoltaic.

    I think solar energy is on the verge of exploding in this country. California is adding jobs by the day. The beauty of solar energy is, the jobs it adds are very decentralized, right down to "fix it yourself" firms in little towns. It's wonderful for climate, it doesn't promote wars abroad, and we've got a 4-billion-year supply. And Exxon cannot eclipse the sun in order to produce a shortage.

    question Do you see renewable energy costing consumers more than conventional electricity?

    answer If you include the costly military and environmental externalities of fossil fuels and nuclear, solar has been cost-competitive for years. If you exclude the externalities of finite fuels, wind power is already competitive, passive solar architecture is competitive. Meanwhile, the price of photovoltaics and other forms of solar-generated electricity are coming down very fast every year, and are on an upward curve of innovation -- with new technology, refined ways of producing the film, etc. They will be uniformly competitive within the next 10 years.

    Remember that consumers are paying [for today's energy system] in many other indirect ways: strip mines, acid runoff into lakes and streams, pollution in their lungs, medical costs. Sixty-five thousand people a year die from air pollution, half of them from coal-burning utility plants. Those are just a few of the external costs operating here.

    question Would you use revenues from your carbon tax to provide incentives and tax breaks for renewable innovation?

    answer Industry argues for public subsidy, but I think renewable energy technologies are moving very, very fast toward a competitive posture with fossil fuels. It's happening on its own. That's even without accounting for the horrendous external cost, military cost, pollution, health cost, and damage to land and water. Once you've incorporated all of those burdens, the cost comparison is not even close. If the geopolitical and environmental costs are so compelling, government tax credits can reverse the uneven playing field that has existed for decades to the advantage of fossil fuels and nuclear, and direct them toward solar consumers and the fledgling solar industry.

    question Companies from Wal-Mart to GE have been launching green initiatives and building clean energy solutions. What do you think of these efforts? Do you see corporate America today as a breeding ground for transformative change?

    answer Oh yeah. Why not? I mean, when they start competing over light bulbs and things like that, that's a sign the solar age has come of age. After General Electric monopolized and stagnated the electric light bulb for decades, costing billions of dollars and many, many megawatts of waste, it's nice they've finally recognized that consumers want efficient lighting systems.

    question Many argue that the U.S. shouldn't commit to a global greenhouse-gas reduction target that doesn't involve China and India. Do you agree with this? How would you bring them to the table?

    answer You bring them to the table by restricting imports of badly emitting greenhouse-gas technologies. Then you devise an international treaty where you analyze very carefully which countries really need aid in this area, which countries don't need aid, and you proceed accordingly. You have a deliberative process under an international body with a global goal of restricting greenhouse gases and acid rain and other things.

    question What do you think is the most important environmental issue we face after climate and energy?

    answer It's all about solar, in all its manifestations -- from passive solar to active, including photovoltaics, solar thermal, and efficient biomass [plant life fed by sunlight]. Wind is also a form of solar energy, because the sun creates the earth's climate, including the winds within it. Solar is the greatest universal solvent for environmental hazards.

    question What do you think of Al Gore's climate activism? Has he been an effective agent of change?

    answer At last. Where was he when he was vice president? We couldn't get him to make a speech on solar energy. But now, like Martin Luther King Jr. said, he's "free at last, free at last," and he's made a major contribution.

    question Many have called George W. Bush America's worst environmental president, and some critics have said that if you hadn't entered the 2000 race, Gore would have been president, and therefore Bush's irreversible environmental damage never would have happened.

    answer Well, tell those critics to take a course in elementary statistics and engage all variables, each one of which would have put Gore in the White House. Gore won, but the Republicans stole his victory in Florida. The Electoral College stole his victory nationally after he won the popular vote. The Supreme Court stole his victory. And 250,000 Democrats in Florida voted for Bush. We've got to stop playing the spoiler game and treating third-party candidates as second-class citizens.

    If you're going to blame me for Gore's loss -- and Gore doesn't blame me, by the way -- then you've got to credit me for Gore's Nobel Prize for his alerting the world to global climate change, for all of his successes with books, and for his millions of dollars of appreciating Google stock.

    question Maybe you should get an honorary percentage. On to another topic: Who is your environmental hero?

    answer There are several. One is David Brower. Another is Barry Commoner, who wrote Making Peace With the Planet, among other great books on the environment. The third one is Amory Lovins.

    question What do you do personally to lighten your environmental footprint?

    answer I consume very little except newspapers, and I recycle them. I don't have a car. I'm the antithesis of the over-consumer.

    question How are you getting around for your campaign?

    answer We use planes and cars and trains. When we get there, we spend very few resources in getting our message across.

    question Are you going to offset your footprint from the planes and cars?

    answer I think that's an indulgence. I don't trust these offsets. We can do a lot more than that.

    question If George Bush were a plant or an animal, what kind of plant or animal would he be?

    answer Poison ivy. As for an animal, I wouldn't demean any animal species that way. It's easy to say coyote, but that's a stereotype of animals. What carnivore has ever, as a species, done what Bush has done to the Iraqis?

    Can the Smart Grid Save the Economy ?  

    Posted by Big Gav in

    Wired has an article on Eric Janszen's new book about the vital changes needed to shift to alternative energy and deal with the faltering economy - "Clean Tech Is Only Hope for the Collapsing Economy".

    As the mortgage and financial crisis continues to notch more victims, the question on many economists' minds is not whether a recession will happen, but how deep it will get and how long it will last. But one prominent voice thinks the high-flying finance industry isn't going to bounce back -- and that we'll need to look elsewhere to set the U.S. economy back on firm footing.

    Eric Janszen is an angel investor and founder of the contrarian market website, which The New York Times credited with "accurately predicting that the [internet] bubble would pop." Now Janszen believes the American economy needs a fundamental restructuring away from its foundations in finance, insurance and real estate. His prescription: a new bubble based on green technologies.

    In a widely discussed Harper's article in February, "The Next Bubble: Priming the Markets for Tomorrow's Crash," Janszen argued that clean tech is the only sector that could create enough "fictitious value" to replace the losses from the housing bubble, if only temporarily. Neither a clean-tech skeptic nor a booster, he wrote, "Given the current state of our economy, the only thing worse than a new bubble would be its absence." recently spoke with Janszen to discuss the state of the economy, his plan to pay for alternative energy with a tariff on oil, and how running fiber to your home is good energy policy.

    Smart Grid News is asking "Can the Smart Grid Save the Economy?".
    No one has been more involved in thinking through energy solutions this century than Spencer Abraham, former Secretary of Energy (2001-2004). ... Abraham's high-level experience gives him a comprehensive view of the Smart Grid and how it fits into the larger world of energy. SGN recently sat down one-on-one to get his thoughts on the future.

    An early Smart Grid advocate

    As Secretary of Energy, Abraham inherited a severe energy crisis that included the California blackouts and declining domestic energy supplies. Yet even then, he held forth an optimistic scenario. He began a 2001 speech to the San Francisco Bay Area Council by stating: "I would like to describe a different world – a more optimistic world – in which energy is seen as the fuel of our survival and success, rather than the cause of our demise.”

    Abraham went on to describe a world of cleaner, smaller and more efficient power generation. He predicted individual choice, more competition and a closer approximation of a true energy market. And he thought all of this was possible with increased reliability, increased supply and lower prices. He was one of the first leaders to advocate what we now call the Smart Grid. Early in his tenure, he described a move “...away from a transmission system in which power only flows one way – from a plant to your home – and, instead, contemplates a two-way electricity grid where homes or businesses can sell their surplus power back to the grid."

    States are the key

    Fast forward seven years to January 2008, when Abraham keynoted Distributech 2008. Today, he states firmly, technology is not the problem. With the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) in 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, the federal government set the foundation for building the Smart Grid. Now the states must accelerate adoption. Always practical, Abraham says energy can only fuel our survival and success if we challenge our current assumptions. To this end:

    · States need to set rates in favor of deployment.
    · States need to follow the lead of California and decouple utility profits from power generation.
    · Voters and public policy makers need to understand that conservation is not enough.

    Conservation is not working

    On the latter issue, the Secretary cited research that shows consumers are using more energy despite millions of dollars spent on education about energy efficiency. He pointed to a recent Washington Post article (see link below) documenting how energy usage in Northern Virginia is exceeding all projections. Despite this evidence, some people still preach conservation. Abraham makes a distinction between conservation (people taking active steps to reduce energy usage) and energy efficiency (built-in devices that passively save energy). Abraham believes that voluntary conservation efforts will produce positive results, but they must be coupled with major energy efficiency initiatives. SGN notes that experience in California supports his contention.

    Economic stimulus built around energy efficiency

    Secretary Abraham believes that we can climb out of the current economic downturn, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and build the Smart Grid all at the same time. He proposes:

    · Fully funding existing DOE programs. Existing programs such as Energy Saving Performance Contracts (which led to the ESCO industry) and the budget of DOE’s Electricity office need to be fully funded.

    · Emphasizing “smart, green buildings”. Although there has been some emphasis on passive energy measures, Abraham suggests third parties and utilities combine to fund energy efficiency measures that convert new and existing buildings into "smart, green buildings." Those buildings would then be the engine for demand response programs selling negawatts back to the utilities. The revenue earned by building owners would pay back the loans used to build or retrofit. Once the loan is paid back, the building owner has a new source of income.

    Government would set the policy and requirements. Private money would be used to (i) reduce energy consumption, (ii) restore small business, (iii) create jobs, (iv) provide a return to investors and (v) implement demand response (a core element of the Smart Grid.)

    Such a program could reverse the current economic climate by revitalizing the real estate construction business and aiming it towards creating smart, green buildings for demand response. As a point of reference, more than 400 Energy Savings Performance Contract projects have been awarded by 19 different federal agencies in 46 states. And $1.9 billion has been invested in U.S. federal facilities, saving 16 trillion Btu annually, equivalent to the energy used by a city of about 450,000. Harkening back to his 2001 speech, the Secretary continues to articulate an optimistic future – if we can but act.

    Technology Review has an article on Xcel Energy's smart grid rollout in Boulder Colorado - A Power Grid Smartens Up.
    Boulder, CO, should soon boast the world's smartest--and thus most efficient--power grid, thanks to a $100 million project launched last week by Minneapolis-based utility Xcel Energy. The project will equip homes with smart power meters that help people reduce demand when electricity is most expensive. Substations will also use information from the meters to automatically reroute power when problems arise. Among its other benefits, the project should help Boulder residents take better advantage of renewable power sources.

    In today's power grids, a steady but essentially blind flow of electricity is all that links power plants, distribution systems, and consumers. Mike Carlson, Xcel's chief information officer, says that Boulder will test how much more reliable, cleaner, and cheaper grid operation can be when each element communicates with the others. If the benefits prove as great as Xcel expects, Carlson says, the Boulder experiment could unleash rapid investment in "smart grids." The equipment is ready, Carlson says. "We're not talking the Jetsons or Star Wars here. If we can get the right standards and the right incentives and the right financial structures, it's viable technology today."

    Rob Pratt, who runs the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's GridWise program, agrees that Xcel's project should--if fully implemented--provide the best test to date of smart-grid benefits because it will make Boulder the "densest concentration" of smart-grid technologies. "You can't have one smart-grid customer in Boulder and two over in Fort Collins and a few dozen in Denver, and have it mean as much as having all those people on one street," says Pratt. "Here we're talking about a whole city, which would be amazing."

    Carlson says that Xcel chose Boulder for its relatively isolated electrical distribution system and its population of roughly 120,000 (including students). Xcel plans to install 50,000 new smart meters serving about 100,000 of those residents, a large enough pool that the company can experiment with different approaches. It could, for example, deploy meters from different vendors, which send information in different ways: either wirelessly, or over the power lines themselves. The company could also experiment with sending different signals to the meters to try to influence consumer demand. (See "Gadgets to Spur Energy Conservation.")

    One scheme that Xcel plans to test is a way to make better use of renewable energy. On today's grid, intermittent sources of renewable power--such as wind--must be backed up by more conventional fossil-fueled or nuclear power stations. "Xcel's leading the country right now in wind power--we have almost 3,000 megawatts on our system and plan to double that--but we have a consumer base that doesn't modify its habits when that wind isn't blowing," says Carlson.

    Instead of trying to store renewable energy for when it's needed--a pricey proposition--Carlson thinks that the smart grid may be able to "store" demand for when the wind happens to blow. Xcel plans to send signals when the wind is up, and some consumers will be able to program their smart meters to, say, activate their dishwashers or heating panels in response. "If the system could signal wind availability--or any renewable energy source, for that matter--would we see an adjustment of consumption? We think yes," says Carlson.

    Similarly, real-time pricing signals should reduce consumption during peak hours, when the price of wholesale power spikes and power lines can overheat. In January, Pratt's group at Pacific Northwest National Lab completed a demonstration project that showed that real-time pricing can cut peak power usage by 10 percent, reducing congestion and power losses on the lines. It also means that the least efficient and most polluting fossil-fueled plants, which utilities would rather not fire up, can be left on the sidelines.

    Continuous feedback from smart meters and substation sensors should further increase power reliability in Boulder by enabling rapid and precise response to grid problems. The system will pinpoint lines or substations at risk of overloading and activate remotely operated substation switches to reroute power. If problems persist, the system can send a signal to the smart meters of customers on the troubled lines, who have been offered some type of financial incentive to reduce demand when necessary.

    Alex Steffen at WorldChanging has more - Boulder: The U.S.'s First Smart Grid?.
    One of the fun things about editing a project like Worldchanging in times like these is the frequency with which our predictions and speculations get run down and overtaken by commercial realities. We've written a lot about smart grids, touting their potential benefits, from neighborhood survivability to enabling pug-in hybrid-electrics to act as a system of batteries during peak use surges.

    Now Xcel Energy has announced that it's going to turn Boulder, Colorado, into the United States' first smart grid community.

    Smart Grid News also notes that both California and Hawaii are looking at building smart grids.

    Smart Electric News looks at smart grid related news in Europe (where it seems to at least partially fall under the category of "distributed generation") - "Institute for Energy releases report - “Distributed Power Generation in Europe: technical issues for further integration”".

    Renewable Energy World has a summary of a speech at the National Electricity Delivery Forum by Kurt Yeager of the Galvin Electricity Initiative, describing the state of the US grid as the electrical equivalent of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco - " Regulators and Utilities Urged to Step Up Grid Modernization Efforts".
    Speaking before an audience of federal and state regulators, utilities and other industry players, Yeager said that the future of the U.S. electric power system rests upon our ability to take advantage of the technology available today and prioritizing the modernization of our unreliable, inefficient and insecure grid infrastructure.

    "Our electric power system has been in a sub-prime mortgage-like era for decades," Yeager said. "There are no technological or economical obstacles to modernizing the U.S. electric grid, only policy and regulatory barriers that must be eliminated," said Yeager. "If states open up the electricity market and offer utilities incentives for integrating smart grid technology and giving consumers control of their own energy use, everyone will win. Consumers gain better service and a smaller carbon footprint while utilities gain much-needed upgrades and a system that is less vulnerable to cyber-attack."

    Yeager shared some of the Initiative's key proposals that will pave the way for a more intelligent electricity grid:

    * The technology exists today to transform the 1950s-era grid into a smarter, reliable and efficient power system. To secure this future, state leadership is needed to remove the regulatory policy obstacles to smart grid development and implementation.

    * Utilities need incentives to drive grid modernization efforts. Utilities are compensated for selling more electricity, not for providing quality service or efficiency programs. States need to support "decoupling," or separating utilities' profits from their energy sales. Only then will utilities become motivated to offer consumers tools such as time-of-use pricing and smart meters that can reduce the escalating demand that is taxing our aging grid infrastructure, increasing emissions of dangerous pollutants. Consumers should be treated as individuals with individual needs. As with other industries that have been opened to competition and choice, given the option, most consumers will take control and reduce their energy use.

    * Renewable resources are an important part of our electricity generation mix, but they will not eliminate coal-generated or nuclear power. States should examine their available renewable resources for electricity generation — solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, etc. — and add them to their electricity generation portfolio.

    * New transmission lines should be the last option. Technology currently exists to increase the capacity of the wires we have today. With the addition of "smart" electronic controls, transmission lines can run closer to their limits without risking overload. This will also minimize the major security and vulnerability risks that these extensive transmission networks pose to the nation today.

    Robert Rapier has a collection of green job ads up at The Oil Drum - recruiting companies include Google, Choren, Khosla Ventures portfolio companies including LS9 and Accsys Technologies.

    Joel Makower also has a column on green jobs (no ads though) at WorldChanging - "Where Are All the Clean, Green Jobs?".


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