Dumb Meters Get Smarter  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology Review has an article on Tendril's dumb to smart meter technology - Dumb Meters Get Smarter.

Tendril, a startup based in Boulder, CO, has developed a device that converts existing electrical meters into smart meters that can track customers' energy use as frequently as once every few minutes. Working with utility companies, Tendril plans to introduce it to thousands of homes this year.

The device could help speed the spread of the so-called "smart grid," a network of sensors and controls that could reduce energy consumption, enable the large-scale use of renewable energy, and save consumers money. Smart-grid projects will receive billions of dollars in funding under the stimulus bill signed into law in February. Tendril's device could be used by utilities to introduce variable-pricing schemes that discourage the use of electricity during times of peak demand, reducing the need for the most expensive and most polluting power plants. Eventually it could be used to help the electricity grid accommodate more electricity from variable sources of renewable electricity, such as wind and solar.

The new device--Tendril hasn't yet settled on a name for it--takes advantage of a type of electricity meter that utilities have installed in recent years to reduce costs. About half of the homes in the United States now have these meters, estimates Adrian Tuck, Tendril's CEO. They use short-range wireless signals to transmit energy usage information using a proprietary communications protocol. Meter readers, rather than manually inspecting each meter, simply drive by once a month with equipment that automatically reads these signals. These meters actually transmit the data every few minutes, though data is only recorded monthly. Tendril, working with the primary manufacturer of these meters, developed a device that reads these proprietary wireless signals and then sends the data to the utility over the Internet. Utilities can in turn transmit information about prices to consumers, also over the Internet.

The system provides a potentially much cheaper alternative to existing plans that involve replacing existing meters with "smart" meters that have two-way communications capabilities, as well as establishing new communications networks dedicated to transmitting the data, says Steven Hauser, vice president for strategy at GridPoint, a company based in Arlington, VA, that is developing a device similar to Tendril's.

With Tendril's device, new meters and networks aren't needed. "All you have to do is plug it in, go to the Web and enter the serial number from your meter," says Tuck. "It reads the signal [from the existing meter] and mimics a smart meter from that point on."

Squatter Cities In The US  

Posted by Big Gav

The New York Times has a report on the growth of homeless camps in US cities - Cities Deal With a Surge in Shantytowns.

As the operations manager of an outreach center for the homeless here, Paul Stack is used to seeing people down on their luck. What he had never seen before was people living in tents and lean-tos on the railroad lot across from the center.

“They just popped up about 18 months ago,” Mr. Stack said. “One day it was empty. The next day, there were people living there.”

Like a dozen or so other cities across the nation, Fresno is dealing with an unhappy déjà vu: the arrival of modern-day Hoovervilles, illegal encampments of homeless people that are reminiscent, on a far smaller scale, of Depression-era shantytowns. At his news conference on Tuesday night, President Obama was asked directly about the tent cities and responded by saying that it was “not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours.”

While encampments and street living have always been a part of the landscape in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, these new tent cities have taken root — or grown from smaller enclaves of the homeless as more people lose jobs and housing — in such disparate places as Nashville, Olympia, Wash., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

In Seattle, homeless residents in the city’s 100-person encampment call it Nickelsville, an unflattering reference to the mayor, Greg Nickels. A tent city in Sacramento prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to announce a plan Wednesday to shift the entire 125-person encampment to a nearby fairground. That came after a recent visit by “The Oprah Winfrey Show” set off such a news media stampede that some fed-up homeless people complained of overexposure and said they just wanted to be left alone.

The problem in Fresno is different in that it is both chronic and largely outside the national limelight. Homelessness here has long been fed by the ups and downs in seasonal and subsistence jobs in agriculture, but now the recession has cast a wider net and drawn in hundreds of the newly homeless — from hitchhikers to truck drivers to electricians.

“These are able-bodied folks that did day labor, at minimum wage or better, who were previously able to house themselves based on their income,” said Michael Stoops, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Resilience Economics  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Jamais Cascio at Open The Future has sketched out a scenario describing a post-capitalist economic order - One Model for a New World Economy.

The trigger was a phrase we'd all become sick of: "Too Big to Fail." The phrase had moved quickly from sarcasm to cliché, but ended up as the pole star for what to avoid. Any economy that enabled the creation of institutions that were too big to fail -- that is, whose failure would threaten to collapse the system -- could never be thought of as resilient. And, as the early 21st century rolled along, resilience is what mattered, in our environment, in our societies, and increasingly in our economics.

Traditional capitalism was, arguably, driven by the desire to increase wealth, even at the expense of other values. Traditional socialism, conversely, theoretically wanted to increase equality, even if that meant less wealth. But both 19th/20th century economic models had insufficient focus on increasing resilience, and would often actively undermine it. The economic rules we started to assemble in the early 2010s seek to change that.

Resilience economics continues to uphold the elements of previous economic models that offer continued value: freedom and openness from capitalism at its best; equality and a safety net from socialism's intent. But it's not just another form of "mixed economy" or "social democracy." The focus is on something entirely new: decentralized diversity as a way of managing the unexpected.

Decentralized diversity (what we sometimes call the "polyculture" model) means setting the rules so that no one institution or approach to solving a problem/meeting a need ever becomes overwhelmingly dominant. This comes at a cost to efficiency, but efficiency only works when there are no bumps in the road. Redundancy works out better in times of chaos and uncertainty -- backups and alternatives and slack in the system able to counter momentary failures.

It generates less wealth than traditional capitalism would, at least when it was working well, but is far less prone to wild swings, and has an inherent safety net (what designers call "graceful failure") to cushion downturns.

Completely transactional transparency also helps, giving us a better chance to avoid surprises and to spot problems before they get too big. The open-source folks called this the "many eyes" effect, and they were definitely on to something. It's much harder to game the system when everyone can see what you're doing.

Flexibility and collaboration have long been recognized as fundamental to resilient systems, and that's certainly true here. One headline on a news site referred to it as the "LEGO economy," and that was pretty spot-on. Lots of little pieces able to combine and recombine; not everything fits together perfectly, but surprising combinations often have the most creative result.

Lastly, the resilience economy has adopted a much more active approach to looking ahead. Not predicting, not even planning -- no "five year plans" here. It's usually referred to as "scanning," and the focus is less on visions of the future than on early identification of emerging uncertainties. Resilience economists are today's foresight specialists.

What does this all look like for everyday people? For most of us, it's actually not far off from how we lived a generation ago. We still shop for goods, although the brands are more numerous and there are far fewer "big players" -- and those that emerge tend not to last long. People still go to work, although more and more of us engage in micro-production of goods and intellectual content. And people still lose their jobs and suffer personal economic problems... but, again, there's far less risk of economic catastrophe, and some societies are even starting to experiment with a "guaranteed basic income" system.

Is it perfect? By no means. We're still finding ways in which resilience economics isn't working out as well as past approaches, and situations where a polyculture model doesn't provide the kinds of results that the old oligarchic/monopoly capitalist model could. But those of us who remember the dark days of the econopalypse know where non-resilient models can lead, and would rather fix what we've made than go back to the past.

Stimulus Appears to Be Sparking Alt-Energy Revival  

Posted by Big Gav

Scientific American reports that the clean energy industry in the US is showing some signs of life - Stimulus Appears to Be Sparking Alt-Energy Revival.

There are signs that the federal stimulus might be pumping a little life into the alternative-energy industry.

Financiers and law firms specializing in renewable energy say they see growing interest in reviving moribund projects and breaking ground on new deals. And while big banks that have braced the industry's backbone are still on the fence, some hedge funds and private equity and venture capital firms are cautiously looking to take advantage of stimulus provisions that temporarily eliminate the need for tax equity financing, which has long been a mainstay for renewable energy projects.

"Whether it's the stimulus package or the return of the banks, there is early evidence of a growing appetite for the types of small- to medium-size projects that they sponsor," said Tucker Twitmyer, managing partner at the venture capital firm EnerTech Capital.

The stock markets are still no place to raise cash, but if activity from many nontraditional sources of financing lifts the clean-tech sector faster, as many experts predict, that may encourage banks to ease their strict lending requirements and again lift renewable energy finance if credit markets start to normalize.

"I'd say it's a little bit like March in your garden," said John Gulliver, a specialist in renewable energy financing at the law firm Pierce Atwood. "There are some shoots of green coming up out of the frozen ground in the snow, but they're not ready to harvest yet."

There is some dispute among insiders as to which sectors are seeing the most benefits. Some are confident that solar energy companies are enjoying a big lift from the stimulus, while others observe signs that wind power is seeing more gains. Most assume that energy efficiency provisions in the law will see home and building weatherization fill up much of the activity, but analysts see opportunities for photovoltaic companies here, too.

But what is clear is that parts of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that replace the need for tax credits are giving the industry its biggest boost.

Germany's Mystery Cow Disease  

Posted by Big Gav

Der Spiegel has an article on an unexplained outbreak of a disease that causes calves in Germany to bleed to death - Germany's Mystery Cow Disease.

A mysterious illness is causing calves to bleed to death on German farms. Veterinarians are stumped over what is causing the deaths: vaccines, genetically modified feed or perhaps even the first mother's milk?

What can a cattle farmer do when he sees blood running from his calves like water, when they become lethargic and febrile and, by the next morning, are lying dead on the floor, their coats covered in blood?

"Our calves from last summer looked like they had been beaten," says farmer Robert Meyboom, who is still shocked and perplexed today. "The animals' bodies were covered with drops of blood, and their eyes were bloodshot."

The veterinarian tried everything, he says, including administering vitamins and blood-clotting agents. But nothing worked, and "within two or three days, they were all dead."

Meyboom, a farmer from Wesel in the Lower Rhine region of western Germany, has lost seven animals since the first calf bled to death in his barn in October 2007. The last calf died an agonizing death only a few weeks ago. Farmers refer to the victims as "blood sweaters," alluding to the way blood seems to seep from the pores in some of the calves.

A mysterious disease is rampant in Germany's cattle barns. The afflicted two-to-three-week-old calves begin bleeding massively and are often dead within hours. More than 100 cases have been documented throughout Germany, most of them in Bavaria, but the number of unreported deaths is believed to be much higher. Cases have also been reported in Belgium, but experts are still puzzled over what causes the condition.

"This disease is still very mysterious, and clarification is urgently needed," says Wolfgang Klee of the Clinic for Ruminants at the University of Munich in Oberschlessheim on the city's outskirts. Ottmar Distl of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover describes the bleeding calf phenomenon as "terrifying." "We rarely see diseases that are fatal in so many affected animals," he adds.

Veterinarians have been studying the unexplained deaths for the past two years, and the results of their efforts began to emerge last year. "Affected animals bleed from various parts of the body, sometimes from skin that is seemingly intact," says Klee. He has observed bleeding in the mucous membranes, blood accumulating under the white part of the eye, and blood oozing from the tiniest of cuts. The animals develop a fever and soon die.

The experts have discovered massive bleeding of the subcutaneous tissue and intestines. The bone marrow is also severely damaged, and veterinarians describe its consistency as "gel-like." Blood cells are formed in the bone marrow, and the sick animals apparently lack platelets, which are indispensible for coagulation. In addition, the calves' white blood cell counts are substantially lower than normal, making the animals more susceptible to infection.

The unexplained illness has farmers deeply worried. Hildegard and Josef Kirmeier, from the Bavarian town of Wurmsham, have already lost five calves. "Perhaps the soy we add to the feed is genetically modified," Kirmeier speculates. Or could a vaccination be causing the problem?

The theories, some of them outlandish, run rampant on Internet sites catering to farmers, such as a chat room for women farmers called "Bäuerinnentreff." The farmers have discussed everything from poisonous ferns to "decades of abusive inbreeding," solar panels and the "radiation from radio towers" as possible causes of the illness.

Many farmers blame the "blood sweating" on a controversial vaccine against bluetongue disease, which became mandatory for cattle in Germany in April of last year.

Since then, farmers who refuse to vaccinate their animals are threatened with fines. One of them is Gertraud Schützeneder, who operates an organic farm with her husband Konrad in the Bavarian town of Simbach am Inn. "We do not want to subject our animals to the vaccination," says the determined farmer. Schützeneder is convinced that the mysterious blood-sweating condition is "somehow indirectly related to the vaccination."

Falling oil prices bring fear of supply shock: CERA  

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Marketwatch reports that CERA and OPEC are predicting an oil supply shortfall in future years due to falling investment in new production and depletion of existing fields - Falling oil prices bring fear of supply shock: CERA. I'd agree with this except CERA's statements are such a reliable contrarian indicator that I'm worried now I've got it completely wrong.

The collapse in oil prices and reductions in production investment could cut the growth in oil supply by nearly eight million barrels a day in the next five years, according to a report released on Friday by Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

About 7.6 million barrels per day out of total potential future growth of 14.5 million barrels per day from 2009 to 2014 are "at risk," according to the energy research firm's report, the Long Aftershock.

If all "at risk" supply fails to materialize, world oil production capacity five years from now could reach 101.4 million barrels a day, down from the pre-collapse CERA projection of 109 million.

The steep decline in oil prices has not been matched by an equal decline in the cost of developing new oil fields. This means new production projects could be "slowed down, postponed, or cancelled altogether," CERA said in a news release. ...

CERA's view has been echoed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which controls about a third of the world's oil production. OPEC has warned of a possible price shock when oil demand picks up in coming years while supply remains weak. It's also said as many as 35 OPEC's new projects may be delayed by 2013

A Climate Bailout  

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Thomas Friedman is talking about what needs to be done to bail out the climate - Mother Nature’s Dow.

The physicist and climate expert Joe Romm recently noted on his blog, climateprogress.org, that in January, M.I.T.’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change quietly updated its Integrated Global System Model that tracks and predicts climate change from 1861 to 2100. Its revised projection indicates that if we stick with business as usual, in terms of carbon-dioxide emissions, average surface temperatures on Earth by 2100 will hit levels far beyond anything humans have ever experienced.

“In our more recent global model simulations,” explained M.I.T., “the ocean heat-uptake is slower than previously estimated, the ocean uptake of carbon is weaker, feedbacks from the land system as temperature rises are stronger, cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases over the century are higher, and offsetting cooling from aerosol emissions is lower. Not one of these effects is very strong on its own, and even adding each separately together would not fully explain the higher temperatures. [But,] rather than interacting additively, these different effects appear to interact multiplicatively, with feedbacks among the contributing factors, leading to the surprisingly large increase in the chance of much higher temperatures.”

What to do? It would be nice to say, “Hey, Mother Nature, we’re having a credit crisis, could you take a couple years off?” But as the environmental consultant Rob Watson likes to say, “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics,” and she is going to do whatever they dictate. You can’t sweet talk Mother Nature or the market. You have to change the economics to affect the Dow and the chemistry, biology and physics to affect Mother Nature.

That’s why we need a climate bailout along with our economic bailout. Hal Harvey is the C.E.O. of a new $1 billion foundation, ClimateWorks, set up to accelerate the policy changes that can avoid climate catastrophe by taking climate policies from where they are working the best to the places where they are needed the most.

“There are five policies that can help us win the energy-climate battle, and each has been proven somewhere,” Harvey explained. First, building codes: California’s energy-efficient building and appliance codes now save Californians $6 billion per year,” he said. Second, better vehicle fuel-efficiency standards: “The European Union’s fuel-efficiency fleet average for new cars now stands at 41 miles per gallon, and is rising steadily,” he added.

Third, we need a national renewable portfolio standard, mandating that power utilities produce 15 or 20 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. Right now, only about half our states have these. “Whenever utilities are required to purchase electricity from renewable sources,” said Harvey, “clean energy booms.” (See Germany’s solar business or Texas’s wind power.)

The fourth is decoupling — the program begun in California that turns the utility business on its head. Under decoupling, power utilities make money by helping homeowners save energy rather than by encouraging them to consume it. “Finally,” said Harvey, “we need a price on carbon.” Polluting the atmosphere can’t be free.

These are the pillars of a climate bailout. Yes, some have upfront costs. But all of them would pay long-term dividends, because they would foster massive U.S. innovation in new clean technologies that would stimulate the real Dow and much lower emissions that would stimulate the Climate Dow.

The peak oil crisis: pondering the near future  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Tom Whipple's latest "peak oil passnotes" has an ominous undertone, talking about everyone getting poorer as a result of peak oil / financial crisis / global warming and taking the menial jobs currently performed by immigrants in the US - The peak oil crisis: pondering the near future. What happens to the immigrants isn't discussed.

In thinking about the years ahead, is there anything, other than speculation, that can be said about what human life will be like in the rest of this century?

A few points seem obvious.

First, most of us are likely to become much poorer in terms of our physical possessions and our consumption of services. This is already happening at an alarming scale, with real estate values, equities, and employment plummeting worldwide; only a few living in remote areas will be left untouched. For nearly a year now governments around the world have been thrashing around in efforts to stem the decline. Opinions on the success of these efforts vary widely.

Government officials by the very nature of their positions must exude optimism and constantly tell us that changes for the better are just ahead. Others, without these responsibilities, and perhaps with a better grasp of the problems ahead, are skeptical and can foresee no immediate end to the economic troubles that could extend for decades.

What we will be doing to earn a living in the years ahead will change for many. The economic system that allowed so many of us to live better lives, or at least consume more, with much time for recreation and leisure, is clearly coming to an end for a while - perhaps a very long while. The abundance of wealth that allow so many to earn livings while sitting around offices - reading, writing, talking, designing, teaching, coordinating, meeting and leading -- is going to gradually melt away. With real wealth evaporating so rapidly, there simply will be less left over to support such activities that are not directly productive on the scale we have come to know.

This transition is going to be brutal for many. With white collar, manufacturing, construction, retail and hospitality jobs slipping away, keeping millions gainfully employed is going to be a major challenge for all levels of government. Currently, extended unemployment insurance and government stimulus programs are seen as the answer. The problem will come when we realize that the stimulus, while doing some good, is not sufficient. Unemployment insurance will run out and it will become apparent that we can longer print enough money to finance annual stimulus packages.

At some point, it is likely that the "free market", bereft of capital and customers, is not going to provide new jobs quickly enough to keep ahead of mounting social tensions. For many, friends and relatives will be the first resort after benefits and savings are used up. As distasteful as it may be to many, direct hire government job programs as were created in the 1930's may be the only way to avoid political unrest and damaging social problems.

The millions of essential, but hard, dirty, and far less desirable jobs - farm labor, construction, food processing, cleaning services, care of the elderly - that have come to be occupied by millions of legal and illegal immigrants will be an interesting case. As more desirable jobs slip away, the willingness and ability of people to move into much lower paying and less skilled jobs in order to survive will be a key test of civilization's resiliency.

Over the next decade or so the question of education and retraining a major portion of our workforce will come to the fore as it is highly doubtful that the job mix pattern which has grown up over the last few decades will last much longer. There obviously will be massive amounts of work to be done, at all skill levels, retooling our civilization to survive and prosper in the midst of climate change with sharply reduced liquid fuels and much less fossil fuel derived energy in general.

What appears to be lacking in the current economic debate is a coherent plan of where the U.S. and indeed the world's civilizations need to go. Unfortunately the only stated, and politically feasible, goal at the minute seems to be a return to "economic growth," an objective which is clearly unrealizable in the midst of the current but as yet unrecognized transition to non-fossil fuel energy.

Gradually, the realization will set in that returning to "economic growth", with cheap credit, McMansions in the suburbs, traffic jams and large cars simply is not going to happen. Somewhere in the next 12 months to 12 years the realization will come that returning to the abundance of the oil age is not going to happen for a long while and we can settle down to serious work.

Glenn Greenwald notes the US bailout packages are looking like going the way of IMF structural adjustment programs in the developing world, keeping the elite in place and devastating services provided to the middle class and poor - Comparing the U.S. to Russia and Argentina. Its interesting (from a tinfoil viewpoint, if nothing else) how well Tom Whipple's prediction for the future dovetails with this analysis, albeit coming from a completely different direction.
Desmond Lachman -- the former chief strategist for emerging markets at Salomon Smith Barney and a long-time official with the IMF (no raving socialist he) -- argues today that the most apt comparison for the U.S. now is not Japan's "lost decade," but rather, "that the United States is coming to resemble Argentina, Russia and other so-called emerging markets, both in what led us to the crisis, and in how we're trying to fix it." He begins by recounting an IMF trip to Yeltsin-era Russia:
I still recall the shock I felt at a meeting in Russia's dingy Ministry of Finance, where I finally realized how a handful of young oligarchs were bringing Russia's economy to ruin in the pursuit of their own selfish interests, despite the supposed brilliance of Anatoly Chubais, Russia's economic czar at the time.

He then describes the numerous similarities between the U.S. today and those corrupt, collapsing nations he studied in the past:
The parallels between U.S. policymaking and what we see in emerging markets are clearest in how we've mishandled the banking crisis. We delude ourselves that our banks face liquidity problems, rather than deeper solvency problems, and we try to fix it all on the cheap just like any run-of-the-mill emerging market economy would try to do. And after years of lecturing Asian and Latin American leaders about the importance of consistency and transparency in sorting out financial crises, we fail on both counts: . . . .

In visits to Asian capitals during the region's financial crisis in the late 1990s, I often heard Asian reformers such as Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew or Japan's Eisuke Sakakibara complain about how the incestuous relationship between governments and large Asian corporate conglomerates stymied real economic change. How fortunate, I thought then, that the United States was not similarly plagued by crony capitalism! However, watching Goldman Sachs's seeming lock on high-level U.S. Treasury jobs as well as the way that Republicans and Democrats alike tiptoed around reforming Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae -- among the largest campaign contributors to Congress -- made me wonder if the differences between the United States and the Asian economies were only a matter of degree. . . .

In the twilight of my career, when I am hopefully wiser than before, I have come to regret how the IMF and the U.S. Treasury all too often lectured leaders in emerging markets on how to "get their house in order" -- without the slightest thought that the United States might fare no better when facing a major economic crisis. . . . If we insist on improvising and not facing our real problems, we might soon lose our status as a country to be emulated and join the ranks of those nations we have patronized for so long.

Does anyone really doubt any more that the predominant characteristic of our political culture is "the incestuous relationship between governments and large [] corporate conglomerates"? Yet another former Goldman Sachs official and long-time derivatives advocate who played a major role in the repeal of key banking regulations, Gary Gesner, is now poised to become Obama's chief of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the body charged with regulating commodities and financial futures. The sleazy, central role Goldman Sachs has played in the events of the last six months -- from their current CEO's still-unexplained presence with Paulson (its former Chairman) and Geithner (protegé of its other former Chairman, Robert Rubin) as the AIG bailout was designed to the massive government windfalls that firm has received (including from that very AIG bailout) -- is merely illustrative of how our Government has long functioned and continues to.

Yves Smith last night noted the rather extraordinary (though unsurprising) development that the very institutions that played such a critical role in the crisis -- Citibank and Bank of America -- are now using TARP funds they received not to extend more loans (the ostensible purpose of the bailout), but rather, to buy up more and more of the very distressed assets that Geithner insists they need to be relieved of, because they now know that, under Geithner's plan, they will be able to sell them at a substantial profit courtesy of public funds (i.e, the Government will buy those crippled assets at well above their current market price). As Smith puts it: "So not only are they seeking to extract far more than was intended even with the already generous subsidies embodied in this program, but this activity is also speculating with taxpayer money. . . .Welcome to yet more looting."

Despite the limitless gorging on public funds by the very oligarchs (government owners) who caused the financial crisis in the first place, the predominant sentiment from our establishment media now is that Obama needs to force ordinary Americans to "sacrifice more." Back in 2006, Jonathan Schwarz wrote this very prescient post predicting that the U.S. would soon adopt the type of so-called "structural adjustments" which, through the IMF, we repeatedly forced upon other heavily indebted, defaulting nations: whereby we would demand that they pursue solutions that further enriched their economic elites while massively cutting the social spending that provided the barest of safety nets to their ordinary citizens. As Schwarz put it yesterday in citing highly revealing comments by Tim Geithner at a CFR conference this week:
There's been a common phenomenon in the third world over the past three decades or so. A country's financial sector, in collaboration with the larger financial world, would create some type of gigantic economic fuck up. The IMF would then (in collaboration with the local financial elites) step in and provide loans in return for what was called "structural adjustment." Structural adjustment involved getting rid of any kind of social spending that made life bearable for everyone else.

In other words, the country's financial elites would use the catastrophes they'd created themselves in order to do what they'd always wanted to but couldn't get away with in normal times. They took the profit, and then imposed all the costs on everyone else.

Isn't that exactly what is now happening here? When I first heard Chuck Todd questioning Obama at Tuesday's Press Conference about why Obama wasn't demanding "sacrifice" from ordinary Americans -- as though the massive loss of jobs, homes, retirement security and financial opportunities isn't sufficient "sacrifice" -- I mistakenly attributed Todd's question to the standard vapid ignorance and insularity of our media stars. I assumed that Todd was just mimicking a question he heard about 9/11 and decided to repeat it seven years later without realizing what a complete nonsequitur it is when applied to the financial crisis.

But there was actually a more pernicious aspect to his question. He was basically demanding of Obama: shouldn't you be telling those dirty masses that they can't have health care and education improvements and that they're also going to have to give up their Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits (while Citibank and BoA use taxpayer money to buy up distressed assets that they will then sell at a huge profit, also to the taxpayer under the Geithner plan)? Among our coddled elites, anger at the oligarchs who pillaged and who continue to pillage is misplaced, irresponsible and dangerous populist rage that must be stigmatized and suppressed. Instead, what is needed -- as Digby and DougJ noted weeks ago would be the prevailing message from our media class -- is a further reduction in the standard of living for average Americans in the name of "fiscal responsibility" to ensure that the subsidies to our oligarchical class -- the ones who enriched themselves for the last decade (and who own our media outlets) -- can continue (and that is, more or less, what Lachman advocates today as the necessary solution).

The key dynamic underlying all of this -- the linchpin that allows it all to happen and, historically, the primary hallmark of a deeply broken nation -- is the total elimination of the rule of law for the ruling class, with a simultaneous intensification of the law as a weapon against the citizenry. Does anyone expect there to be any widespread prosecutions for those most responsible for the looting, systematic fraud and grand-scale theft of the last decade? Identically, as more and more evidence emerges of the vast war crimes of the prior administration, the failure to enforce the law and our legal obligations against our nation's most powerful becomes even more transparent. As law professor Jonathan Turley put it on Rachel Maddow's show Monday night:
The president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. And we just found out the international Red Cross, also the definitive body on torture, found that this was a real torture program. And yet, the president is having a debate with the guy [Cheney] over whether it was good policy. . . .

It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There‘s no question about a war crime here. . . .

You know, some people say, what do you need, a film? We actually had films of us torturing people. So this would be the shortest investigation in history. You have Bush officials who have said that we tortured people. We have interrogators who have said we tortured people. The Red Cross has said it. A host of international organizations have said it. . . .

He should be appointing a special prosecutor. There is no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime. There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.

Contrast these desperate efforts to avoid any criminal accountability at all for the country's most powerful lawbreakers with the merciless application of criminal law to ordinary Americans. As Brown University Glenn Loury recently wrote:
Simply put, we have become a nation of jailers and, arguably, racist jailers at that. The past four decades have witnessed a truly historic expansion, and transformation, of penal institutions in the United States — at every level of government, and in all regions of the country. We have, by any measure, become a vastly more punitive society. Measured in constant dollars and taking account of all levels of government, spending on corrections and law enforcement in the United States has more than quadrupled over the last quarter century. As a result, the American prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history.

Here, as in other areas of social policy, the United States is a stark international outlier, sitting at the most rightward end of the political spectrum: We imprison at a far higher rate than the other industrial democracies — higher, indeed, than either Russia or China, and vastly higher than any of the countries of Western Europe. . . . With approximately one twentieth of the world’s population, America had nearly one fourth of the world’s inmates.

The treatment in our justice system of ordinary citizens ("a nation of jailers") and our elites (immunity from lawbreaking) could not be more disparate. We have (and are continuing to solidify) exactly the state of affairs that political science literature and the American government itself have long self-righteously warned other countries is the prime enabler for tyrannical rot: a two-tiered system of justice which exempts the country's elites from accountability. ...

Related to Johnson's observation that "needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk," here is The Washington Post's Paul Kane today explaining what the U.S. must do to solve its deficit and debt problems:
Even if you were to curb a bunch of Obama's most ambitious programs, you're still looking at trillions and trillions of dollars in debt.

The real fiscal answer is entitlement reform -- that's code word, everyone, for slashing Medicare benefits and raising the retirement age/payout time for Social Security recipients.

So our political class cheers on treasury-draining wars, allows financial elites to rob and pillage, witnesses huge transfers of wealth to the richest, and then when the whole thing explodes, the "real fiscal answer" is for ordinary Americans to have their Medicare benefits "slashed" and Social Security benefits reduced.

Cryptogon points to a Fortune article on the firm that seems best able to work the system (with the possible exception of JP Morgan) for its own benefit - Goldman Sachs and the Manipulation of Oil Prices.
How Goldman Sachs was at the center of the oil trading fiasco that bankrupted pipeline giant Semgroup.

When oil prices spiked last summer to $147 a barrel, the biggest corporate casualty was oil pipeline giant Semgroup Holdings, a $14 billion (sales) private firm in Tulsa, Okla. It had racked up $2.4 billion in trading losses betting that oil prices would go down, including $290 million in accounts personally managed by then chief executive Thomas Kivisto. Its short positions amounted to the equivalent of 20% of the nation’s crude oil inventories. With the credit crunch eliminating any hope of meeting a $500 million margin call, Semgroup filed for bankruptcy on July 22.

But now some of the people involved in cleaning up the financial mess are suggesting that Semgroup’s collapse was more than just bad judgment and worse timing. There is evidence of a malevolent hand at work: oil price manipulation by traders orchestrating a short squeeze to push up the price of West Texas Intermediate crude to the point that it would generate fatal losses in Semgroup’s accounts.

“What transpired at Semgroup was no less than a $500 billion fraud on the people of the world,” says John Catsimatidis, the billionaire grocer turned oil refiner who is attempting to reorganize Semgroup in bankruptcy court. The $500 billion is how much the world would have overpaid for crude had a successful scam pushed up oil prices by $50 a barrel for 100 days.

What’s the evidence of this? Much is circumstantial. Proving oil-trading manipulation is difficult. But numerous people familiar with the events insist that Citibank, Merrill Lynch and especially Goldman Sachs had knowledge about Semgroup’s trading positions from their vetting of an ill-fated $1.5 billion private placement deal last spring. “Nothing’s been proven, but if somebody has your book and knows every trade, it would not be difficult to bet against that book and put the company into a tremendous liquidity squeeze,” says John Tucker, who is representing Kivisto.

What’s known for sure is that Goldman Sachs, through J. Aron & Co., its commodities trading arm, was in prime position to use such data–and profited handsomely from Semgroup’s fall. J. Aron was Semgroup’s biggest counterparty, trading both physical oil flowing through pipelines and paper oil, in the form of options and futures.

When crude oil peaked in July, Semgroup ran out of cash to meet margin requirements on options contracts it had with Aron, contracts on which it had paper losses of $350 million. Desperate to survive, Semgroup asked Aron to pony up $430 million it owed on physical oil. Aron said no, declared Semgroup in default on its contracts and demanded immediate payment of losses.

Cryptogon also points to some grim scenario analysis from The Economist about the possibility of social unrest as a result of the financial crisis - Economist Intelligence Unit: Manning the Barricades.
This special report is the third by the Economist Intelligence Unit since the credit crisis erupted in August 2007. In the first report, we looked at the implications of a financial meltdown on the global economy. In the second, we considered the wider economic effects, including the risk of a 1990s, Japan-style collapse in the US. This time we focus on the political fallout from the crisis. To sharpen that analysis, we have created a new social unrest index that identifies where the risks are greatest. We have paired that with a new set of scenarios that chart possible paths for the global economy.

The political risks from the economic crisis are increasingly dire.

Its Time For Solar Power In Texas  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Houston Chronicle has an editorial calling for expanded use of solar power in Texas - Now it's time for Texas to develop solar power industry.

Texans have never been afraid to take advantage of an opportunity — particularly when it comes to energy.

Over the decades, Texans have relied on private enterprise — coupled with a supportive hand from state government — to develop the state’s wealth of energy resources: oil and gas, coal, nuclear power and, over the last decade, wind. Texas’ recent experience with wind power – fueled by wise choices by the Texas Legislature – has created thousands of jobs and millions in new tax revenue.

Yet, wind power isn’t the only renewable energy source with the potential to transform Texas’ economy and our environment. Indeed, the sun that strikes our buildings and soil each day has the potential to power the state many times over — and the technologies needed to harvest that energy are already here. Add to that our vast untapped reserves of energy efficiency and we’ve got ourselves homegrown resources that can more than meet the growing demand for energy.

The question facing Texas is whether we will continue to lead the clean energy revolution — bringing good jobs and clean power to our state — or whether we will lag behind. Already, states such as California and New Jersey — and nations such as Spain, Germany and Japan — are taking the lead in solar power development and reaping the benefits of their investment. While in 1999 Texas became the first state in the nation to create an energy efficiency resource standard, today we have fallen behind, ranking just 25th in the nation for utility investment in energy efficiency. Here in Texas, we know how to build cutting-edge industries from the bottom up. Our state’s role in the creation of the Microcomputer Consortium and Sematech led to the creation of a multibillion-dollar manufacturing center in Texas that has employed tens of thousands of people. We now stand at similar crossroads in the development of solar power and energy efficiency technologies. The good news is that the Texas Legislature is taking this opportunity seriously. More than 100 bills have been filed to incentivize solar power and energy efficiency.

The best way for Texas to ensure a future expansion in solar power capacity is by committing to a 10-year market development program that includes financial incentives and new building design policies, allowing us to develop 4,000 megawatts of solar by 2020 — the equivalent of solar on more than 1 million rooftops. Experience in California and in other countries, especially Germany, has shown that such government programs can lead to increased demand and lower prices — the first steps on the road to a robust, self-sufficient solar market in which government incentives are no longer necessary.

Geothermal Power In Chile  

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Reuters reports copper miners in Chile are looking to avoid energy shortages by exploiting geothermal energy - Chile miners look to tap desert geyser energy.

Miners in northern Chile, the source of a third of the world's copper, may be sitting on the answer to energy shortages that make electricity in the zone among the world's most expensive.

The proposed source is the same geothermal energy that feeds geysers sitting on plains some 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level.

Miners producing more than 35 percent of the world's copper devour nearly every Megawatt of energy produced in the north, and many are eager to tap into the nearby geysers.

Some groups object to tapping that power, saying it could harm water supplies and also compromise the drawing power of the geysers as one of Chile's biggest tourist attractions.

Chile is in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where intense volcanic activity has produced some 115 thermal sites that can generate geothermal energy, according to reports from the National Mining and Geology Service.

Soaring Andes mountains along Chile's eastern border and the Pacific Ocean to the west enfold the world's driest desert in the north and lush woodlands to the south.

"Positive results in the exploration phase would be good news for Chile," said Oscar Valenzuela, chief executive at GDN, a joint venture between Chilean and Italian investors that is developing a geothermal exploration project in Quebrada del Zoquete, 4 kilometers (miles) from geysers in the heart of Chile's mining country.

"It would open a new opportunity for our country's geothermal potential, bringing clean energy to the power grid."

GDN says its plant could generate 40 MW to feed into the northern power grid, or SING, which is strained to the limit as it supplies miners and other sources of power are cut off.

James Buckee: Testimony to the Australian Senate inquiry into public transport funding  

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Hansard (pdf) has a transcript of Dr James Buckee's testimony to the Australian Senate inquiry into public transport funding (via Energy Bulletin).

I have had 37 years in the oil industry. I was CEO of a large company for the last 16 years and I have just retired. As Bruce pointed out, that company produced about half a million barrels a day, which is sort of Australia’s consumption. From the 16 years of exploring the world, I would make the following observations: there are virtually no unexplored basins in the world. The ones that there are might be in the Arctic, and that illustrates the point quite neatly because it is obviously really difficult to get that.

The underlying fact here is that the world is consuming 30 billion barrels of oil a year and finding eight. It has been like that since 1980, maybe a little bit earlier, and it is certainly not getting any better. There are two further things. People say, ‘Look at the subsalt discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil.’ I would say, those are extremely difficult resources to produce. You will notice, of all the discoveries in the deep water Gulf of Mexico, not one barrel has been produced; not even on the list. It is the same for Brazil: it is subsalt and it is really difficult to produce.

The second point is that—I agree with the gentlemen over there—the black oil has peaked. This is disguised by the NGL production from the big gas fields in Qatar. They are quite rich in liquids and, as the LNG has been boosted from there, so has the associated NGL. So that has enabled the world’s liquids to keep growing, albeit slowly, while the black oil itself has declined, and this is disguised.

Another point in opposition to this thesis is, look at all the big oilfields in Canada—for example, the tar sands or oil sands. My response to that is that you have to think of tank and spigot: it is a big tank but the spigot is pretty small. The best projections get it going to two or three million barrels a day when the world is declining at four or five million barrels a day, so it does not really change the big picture at all.

The recent demand weakness has certainly disguised the tightness of supply demand. It has also deferred a lot of investment and it has deferred a lot of drilling. It has given people who are making big investments cause to doubt. As a result of this, the supply side has weakened. The demand side is driven by population growth and GNP per head, which is going up. So it is inexorable that the stress situation is going to come around again and the price of oil will start going up again in the next year or so.

I see the price going up until price rations demand and so I see the outlook as a long, gentle plateau, but by 2030 definitely we will be seeing a decline in oil production. So for people who are in the long-term planning business, as you are, to focus the mind you should think $20 a litre. That focuses it quite well and throws into sharp contrast the sorts of things you have to do.

The Quiet Coup  

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The Atlantic Monthly has an article on the credit crunch and the power of the US financial establishment by an ex-IMF economist who believes the US is becoming a "banana republic" - The Quiet Coup.

In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). In each of those cases, global investors, afraid that the country or its financial sector wouldn’t be able to pay off mountainous debt, suddenly stopped lending. And in each case, that fear became self-fulfilling, as banks that couldn’t roll over their debt did, in fact, become unable to pay. This is precisely what drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy on September 15, causing all sources of funding to the U.S. financial sector to dry up overnight. Just as in emerging-market crises, the weakness in the banking system has quickly rippled out into the rest of the economy, causing a severe economic contraction and hardship for millions of people.

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

Top investment bankers and government officials like to lay the blame for the current crisis on the lowering of U.S. interest rates after the dotcom bust or, even better—in a “buck stops somewhere else” sort of way—on the flow of savings out of China. Some on the right like to complain about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or even about longer-standing efforts to promote broader homeownership. And, of course, it is axiomatic to everyone that the regulators responsible for “safety and soundness” were fast asleep at the wheel.

But these various policies—lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector. Policy changes that might have forestalled the crisis but would have limited the financial sector’s profits—such as Brooksley Born’s now-famous attempts to regulate credit-default swaps at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in 1998—were ignored or swept aside.

The financial industry has not always enjoyed such favored treatment. But for the past 25 years or so, finance has boomed, becoming ever more powerful. The boom began with the Reagan years, and it only gained strength with the deregulatory policies of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Several other factors helped fuel the financial industry’s ascent. Paul Volcker’s monetary policy in the 1980s, and the increased volatility in interest rates that accompanied it, made bond trading much more lucrative. The invention of securitization, interest-rate swaps, and credit-default swaps greatly increased the volume of transactions that bankers could make money on. And an aging and increasingly wealthy population invested more and more money in securities, helped by the invention of the IRA and the 401(k) plan. Together, these developments vastly increased the profit opportunities in financial services.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street ran with these opportunities. From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent. Pay rose just as dramatically. From 1948 to 1982, average compensation in the financial sector ranged between 99 percent and 108 percent of the average for all domestic private industries. From 1983, it shot upward, reaching 181 percent in 2007.

The great wealth that the financial sector created and concentrated gave bankers enormous political weight—a weight not seen in the U.S. since the era of J.P. Morgan (the man). In that period, the banking panic of 1907 could be stopped only by coordination among private-sector bankers: no government entity was able to offer an effective response. But that first age of banking oligarchs came to an end with the passage of significant banking regulation in response to the Great Depression; the reemergence of an American financial oligarchy is quite recent.

Better Lithium-ion Batteries  

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Technology Review has an article on a startup that says its "solid polymer electrolytes will mean cheaper, more-reliable batteries" - Better Lithium-ion Batteries.

A new incarnation of lithium-ion batteries based on solid polymers is in the works. Berkeley, CA-based startup Seeo, Inc. says its lithium-ion cells will be safer, longer-lasting, lighter, and cheaper than current batteries. Seeo's batteries use thin films of polymer as the electrolyte and high-energy-density, light-weight electrodes. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is now making and testing cells designed by the University of California, Berkeley spinoff.

Lithium-ion batteries are used in cell phones and laptops because they are smaller and lighter than other types of batteries. They are also promising for electric and hybrid vehicles. However, conventional materials and chemistries have stopped them from being used extensively in cars.

Today's lithium-ion batteries use lithium cobalt oxide electrodes and a liquid electrolyte, typically lithium salts dissolved in an organic solvent. The electrode material can release oxygen when overcharged or punctured, causing the flammable solvent to catch fire and the battery to explode. Besides, "the charged electrodes are very reactive with the liquid electrolyte, which reduces power and [cycle-life]," says Khalil Amine, manager of the advanced battery technology group at Argonne National Laboratory.

Seeo's key breakthrough is a solid polymer electrolyte. It is not flammable and hence inherently safer. In addition, the battery will retain more of its capacity over time because the polymer does not react with the charged electrode. "Lifetime data suggests that conventional lithium-ion systems lose about 40 percent capacity in 500 cycles," says Mohit Singh, the cofounder of Seeo. "We get a much better cycle life. We can go through 1,000 cycles with less than 5 percent capacity loss."

For the negative electrode, or anode, the electrolyte also works with lithium metal films, which are lighter than current anode materials. That means the battery can provide more energy for the same weight. Based on the battery's single cell, Seeo has calculated that it would have an energy density of up to 300 watt-hours per kilogram, which is 50 percent greater than lithium-ion batteries that are on the market today.

PNAC 2: The Foreign Policy Initiative  

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Wonkette reports that Bill Kristol has launched a rebranded Project For A New American Century - Bill Kristol Launches Sequel To PNAC That Will Be Same Thing As PNAC.

Even though Barack Obama is ramping up the Afghanistan war now, as well as the official policy towards Pakistan known as “F*cking Around,” what we need is more wars, all the time, doesn’t matter if they’re major land wars or just playful warring. This must be done, because if we truly want the oppressed world to enjoy our freedoms, we must first kill them in wars.

Comically evil Republican handyman Bill Kristol, for example, would like to see at least one new war every day. And to get his opinion out there — because it’s not like every major media publication gives him regular column space whenever he asks — he has formed a new non-profit that is much like his old evil one, Project for the New American Century, the one founded during the Clinton years that went somewhat dormant during the Bush years when all of its members were busy invading Iraq.

Kristol’s new group also has a benign-sounding name: The Foreign Policy Initiative.

On The Road  

Posted by Big Gav

Back Sunday...

Toyota’s New Hybrid MR2  

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Inhabitat has a post on Toyota's latest hybrid vehicle design - Toyota’s New Hybrid MR2 Revealed!.

The Toyota MR2 sportscar is hitting the road, remade from its older version into a Prius-inspired hybrid vehicle. The new MR2 will draw inspiration (and technology) from the iconic Toyota Prius, with the goal of creating a mass market hybrid sportscar that is as fun to drive as it is green.

Toyota’s development of the MR2 is not to one-up the Tesla Roadster, but rather to create a car that can do a reasonable 0-60mph in seven seconds and get an incredible 60mpg. We are all familiar with Toyota’s efforts to create a mass market electric vehicle. The Prius, after all, is the best known green car on the market. So looking to capitalize on such technology while creating a sportier, much more dynamic looking vehicle has great implications for both a consumer market and the corporation’s innovation.

G20 to seize the opportunity for a Green New Deal ?  

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The SMH has an article from the economics editor of The Guardian, calling for a green new deal / new world order - G20 must seize the opportunity for a Green New Deal. I don't think linking these two phrases is helpful.

The security clampdown will be the same. The press will gather in droves. The spin doctors will be in full flow, claiming victory for their respective governments. But in every other way the meeting that Gordon Brown will host on April 2 will be different from the last gathering of world leaders hosted by a British prime minister - Tony Blair's 2005 Gleneagles summit.

The world has changed irrevocably since the financial crisis began in 2007, grew last year and will probably result in 2009 being the first year the global economy has contracted since World War II. In Brown's view the era of laissez-faire is over. Although they disagree about the means, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel agree.

A new world order is not going to be shaped in one day, but next week's meeting can help chart the right course, creating the framework for reform at a national level. Here are the five big areas that the Group of 20 should be concentrating on:

One: It's time for a new economics. The financial crisis and the environmental crisis are one and the same: crises of excess. There will be no lasting recovery without recognising that the world needs to slow down. For central banks it means a wider range of instruments so they can lean against the wind. More generally, it involves adopting the precautionary principle of elevating the local above the global - and having the humility to accept that the G20 does not have all the answers.

Two: A Green New Deal. If Roosevelt's big idea for the Great Depression was public works, then it makes sense to use this crisis to start the long, hard process of making economies more sustainable and less dependent on fossil fuels. A combination of low interest rates and fiscal expansion is ideal - provided the investment is used productively rather than for speculation. That will involve two concepts that have been anathema during the heyday of laissez-faire: industrial policy and credit controls.

A Green New Deal is vital for the world. The US has only 4 per cent of the world's population, but is responsible for 25 per cent of global CO2 emissions. The problems of the big three car makers provide Obama with an unprecedented opportunity to send the gas guzzler to the scrapheap. Rebalancing the global economy means countries such as China must increase domestic demand; one way to do that would be through investment in greener energy.

Three: Reform the International Monetary Fund. One reason the big Asian creditor nations built up huge surpluses before the crash of 2007 was that they were badly scarred by the financial crisis a decade earlier and were determined never again to be at the mercy of the IMF. Its response - as it has always been since 1944 - was that countries seeing capital flight should be subject to austerity programs.

So, reforms must overhaul the fund - not just to beef up its surveillance role but to make it less dominated by developed nations (especially the US) and less driven by the dogmatic belief that free movement of capital is always a force for good. The fund's big shareholders should go back to Keynes's blueprint and accept that the burden of adjustment in crises should fall on both creditors and debtors.

It is a concern that IMF reform appears to be low on the G20 agenda, particularly as the weakening grip of the US over the global economy makes change easier. The era of the unipolar world dancing to the tune of the Washington consensus lasted a scant two decades between the collapse of communism and the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Four: Make the global financial system more progressive. The humbling of Wall Street and the City of London has made them dependent on support from the taxpayer and opened up the prospect for reform. The most pressing need is for action against tax havens, not just because the money lost to national exchequers could be better used but because the big financial institutions can move offshore if threatened with tougher regulation. There seems to be greater G20 unanimity on tax havens than on any other issue, and the summit should insist on tax havens providing information to any government that asks for it. The G20 should also back a currency transaction tax - set low initially - that would provide the money to hit the United Nations millennium development goals.

Five: Tougher global regulation. Brown should forge ahead with his plans for an international college of supervisors to provide cross-border oversight of multinational banks. The G20 should start work on an international agreement to split retail and investment banks - an updated form of the Glass-Steagall reform in the US in the 1930s. The capital adequacy regime for banks should be toughened up; credit-rating agencies should be made statutorily independent of the companies they monitor; the more exotic forms of derivatives products should be subject to the same sort of licensing regime as new drugs.

We will know governments are really serious about reform when they link the pay of regulators to the pay of bankers.

Ummm - if you link the pay of regulators to that of bankers you have just incentivised the regulators to allow bubbles to be inflated in the same way the bankers are tempted to do so (in their case via bonuses and stock options).

Its really not a good idea (unless you are a regulator who wants to get rich quick).

Panelists Predict Smart Grid Cars in Five Years  

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Greentech Media reports that the vision of smart grids combined with electric cars is become increasingly well accepted - Panelists Predict Smart Grid Cars in Five Years.

Soon electric cars will be connected to the smart grid, managing and monitoring our energy consumption.

“We want cold beer and hot showers, please let’s have cars talking to each other.” Those were the words of Sven Thesen from electric car battery network company Better Place, during a panel debate about the networked car at Green:Net 09 conference in San Francisco.

The range and the prices of batteries are two main hurdles introducing the electric car according to the panel. “We need to make a charging infrastructure. It starts with the interface. We want the ability to do roaming. The primary goal is a simple system for the driver” said Richard Lowenthal CEO, Coulomb Technologies.

As in almost any panel debate today, the need for standards was also addressed. “It’s boring, but it has to be done. But the good news is that the technology is there, we just need to do it,” said Thesen.

The panel also discussed what sort of incentive structures could be put in place so that people would want to take part in the program in order to take the networked car and connect it to the grid. Incentive bills from the utility companies to make the transition from gas to electric power in consumer economy was one of the suggestions. And of course charging stations is a big issue.

“You want to be able to choose an electric car next time you buy a car, without being worried about where to charge it,” said Richard Lowenthal.

“We need federal guarantees and loans for batteries. Batteries are expensive,” said Sven Thesen, stressing the importance of policies and governmental interference with the market.

In just a few years we’re going to see much more smart technology in our electric cars, suggested Rolf Schreiber, RechargeIT Engineer, Google. “In five years we’re going to have vehicles pretty well connected to the grid. The user will be able to pick a charger profile. The cars will also be smart about how we manage the energy. What you will see is much more user choices and interactivity in the car.” he said.

Lighting The Tenderloin With LEDs  

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Next100 has a report on the introduction of LED street lighting in some sections of San Francisco - Brightening Up San Francisco's Tenderloin.

San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin district will shine a little brighter thanks to a new streetlighting program announced today by Mayor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and PG&E.

Newsom press conf 3-25-09.JPGAt a press conference this morning on Turk St., joined by PG&E's senior vice president for public affairs, Nancy McFadden, Newsom said the city is installing 50 ultra-efficient, energy-saving LED streetlights in the depressed neighborhood, a smart move to enhance public safety while demonstrating environmental leadership and saving money.

In addition, city authorities are working with PG&E to evaluate "smart controller" technology that will monitor the performance of individual streetlights, adjust their intensity, and signal when they are about to fail. Flexible controls will give officials to ability to turn selected lights on or off, dim them, or flash them to alert emergency personnel.

As NEXT100 reported in February, a pilot test of LED streetlights outside PG&E's headquarters on Beale St. in San Francisco helped pave the way for this announcement by demonstrating that remote management of LED streetlights can potentially save money by providing real-time billing information and automatic alerts to field repair teams. (Test lights are also in operation near City Hall on Fulton, between Larkin and Hyde.)

Cities also stand to save money simply by virtue of the fact that LEDs use only half the energy of traditional streetlights and last two- to three-times longer. Adding to their luster, PG&E is developing special energy rates and rebates to encourage cities to install LED streetlights.

The Sphere of Deviance  

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Phrase of the week comes from Buffalo Geek - The Sphere of Deviance (via Cryptogon).

The row that developed around the Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer tête-à-tête was sadly misguided. Mainly pushed by media outlets who don’t understand the whole point of The Daily Show and the subversive reality of the show’s irony. The Daily Show succeeds because it is the only show on which views from outside the sphere of legitimate debate can be aired and find an audience. It’s comedic basis disarms the critics.

The people who regularly watch The Daily Show treat it as an end of the day metafilter for the news coverage they just consumed. Whether the views aired on The Daily Show are about shoddy financial reporting, corporate media complicity in governmental shenanigans or lazy journalism; the show serves as a cultural touchstone for people who know the whole media spectacle is a sham. Stewart has the only show on which there is even a mild analysis of those who deign to keep the “news” centrally controlled. The fact that he does it in an entertaining manner and that it airs after repeats of Crank Yankers are beside the point.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I refer to the “sphere of legitimate debate”, I point you to Daniel C. Hallin’s book ‘The Uncensored War’, in which he defined the range and biases of journalism in the American media establishment. This is a topic that is central to several intelligent criticisms of the media establishment, most recently put forward by Jay Rosen of NYU’s Pressthink.org.
1.) The sphere of legitimate debate is the one journalists recognize as real, normal, everyday terrain. They think of their work as taking place almost exclusively within this space. (It doesn’t, but they think so.) Hallin: “This is the region of electoral contests and legislative debates, of issues recognized as such by the major established actors of the American political process.”

Here the two-party system reigns, and the news agenda is what the people in power are likely to have on their agenda. Perhaps the purest expression of this sphere is Washington Week on PBS, where journalists discuss what the two-party system defines as “the issues.” Objectivity and balance are “the supreme journalistic virtues” for the panelists on Washington Week because when there is legitimate debate it’s hard to know where the truth lies. There are risks in saying that truth lies with one faction in the debate, as against another— even when it does. He said, she said journalism is like the bad seed of this sphere, but also a logical outcome of it.

3.) In the sphere of deviance we find “political actors and views which journalists and the political mainstream of society reject as unworthy of being heard.” As in the sphere of consensus, neutrality isn’t the watchword here; journalists maintain order by either keeping the deviant out of the news entirely or identifying it within the news frame as unacceptable, radical, or just plain impossible. The press “plays the role of exposing, condemning, or excluding from the public agenda” the deviant view, says Hallin. It “marks out and defends the limits of acceptable political conduct.”

Anyone whose views lie within the sphere of deviance—as defined by journalists—will experience the press as an opponent in the struggle for recognition. If you don’t think separation of church and state is such a good idea; if you do think a single payer system is the way to go; if you dissent from the “lockstep behavior of both major American political parties when it comes to Israel” (Glenn Greenwald) chances are you will never find your views reflected in the news. It’s not that there’s a one-sided debate; there’s no debate.

The Sphere of Legitimate Debate is where reporters like John King, David Gregory, and Carl Cameron operate. They have also allowed entrance to new media reporters who serve as court jesters like Ana Marie Cox.

The Sphere of Deviance is where Amy Goodman of Democracy Now operates. Jay Rosen, Bill Moyers and Glenn Greenwald discuss why an Amy Goodman and those like her are not taken seriously.

In the sphere of deviance, we also find news subjects…people like Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, Ralph Nader and others who challenge the lockstep concepts of our society and politics. Think about the scorn that was heaped upon Peter Schiff when he tried to tamp down the irrational exuberance of financial analysts on CNBC and Fox News panel shows. He was treated as a member of the Sphere of Deviance. Schiff and others are made into wingnuts, jokes, zealots and are considered to be unserious. Including their views on a regular basis as part of a serious discussion and not as strawmen would not be convenient to the narrative and construct of American media. ...

The Stewart/Cramer discussion, as ancillary as it might seem to the greater crisis, was one of the first mainstream cracks in that veneer of always having the media define the boundaries of the argument.

Blogs and new media have been eating away at that veneer for quite some time and that’s why newspapers are suffering. Their inability to recognize the critical flaw in their coverage when the people are starting to demand more. Sure, they are having trouble with costs, scale and declining revenue, but the problem with their content precedes all of those things.

Al Gore Writes New Book On Climate Change  

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CBS reports that Al Gore has a new, solutions oriented book coming ou on global warming - Al Gore Writes Book On Climate Change.

Environmental activist and former Vice President Al Gore plans to release a new book, “Our Choice,” in November of 2009.

The book will “answer the call” for “urgent action” on a “comprehensive global plan that actually solves the climate crisis,” according to a press release.

Gore hopes that the book will “unquestionably inspire and rally those ready to fight for solutions that were deemed impossible only a short time ago.” He plans to lay out the conclusions he has reached after attending a number of “Solutions Summits” focused on the climate attended by policy experts, scientists and engineers.

Garbage Dreams  

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Inhabitat has a post on a film from the SXSW Film Festival, looking at low tech garbage recycling in the developing world and how it is slowly being replaced with modern technologies - SXSW FILM: Garbage Dreams.

Garbage Dreams, which premiered earlier this month at the South by Southwest film festival, is a documentary that offers an intimate look at Mokattam, a suburb of Cairo known for its poor residents who live among tall piles of garbage. By following the lives of three young men who live and work as garbage collectors in this community, the documentary reveals how a community has supported itself by recycling discarded materials — and how this way of life will change in the future.

Mokattam is home to the Zabballeen people, a Christian minority of 60,000 who have served as garbage collectors for the city of Cairo for the past 150 years. Though the Cairo government now pays the Zabballeen a nominal fee for their services, many members of the community support themselves entirely by recycling discarded material. Using only rudimentary tools, the Zabballeen run one of the world’s most efficient waste management systems, recycling and reusing between 80-90% of what they pick-up. Since the 1980s the Egyptian government has been working to modernize their waste collection system by replacing the Zabballeen with European waste management companies.

The film is the directorial debut of Egyptian American documentary filmmaker Mai Iskander. Iskander began the project on a volunteer trip to Mokattam: while filming local kids for a short documentary about the creation of a mural, she discovered that “in front of the camera, the students blossomed. They were uninhibited and were extremely pleased that an ‘outsider’ took such interest in them.” Iskander was so inspired by her footage that she decided to focus her project on three specific kids and see what happened.

Filmed over the span of three years, Garbage Dreams looks at how these young men find new modes of survival as the Zabballeen way of life becomes obsolete.

Learning to Live With Electric Cars  

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Greentech Media has a post on one of the major issues facing electric car manufacturers - getting people used to the idea - Learning to Live With Electric Cars.

While consumers overwhelmingly say they want plug-in cars, consumers will have to be educated on the differences between them and gas-burning cars, says Debra Reed, CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric, which will take delivery of 10 to 15 all-electrics Nissan when they come out next year.

Nissan and SDG&E showed off a "mule" of Nissan's electric commuter today. The functioning vehicle sports the same basic motor and other electronics that will come with the production all-electric cars, said a Nissan spokeswoman. However, it is housed in the shell of an existing car.

So what are the differences? For one thing, consumers are going to have to become disciplined about charging their cars at night, not during peak times. People will also have to remember, and accommodate, the comparatively short driving range.

"You don't want customers to think they are going to run out of gas," she said in an interview. "The challenges are going to be range and customer behavior."

Off-peak charging, of course, is one of SDG&E's big concerns. California could accommodate four million plug-in cars right if consumers charged them in off-peak times. "If it is on peak, it will require additional generating capacity," she said.

Nissan will be one of the first major car companies to release all-electric cars. General Motors will come out with the Volt around the same time, but it will be a gas-electric serial hybrid. Toyota has a plug-in hybrid coming in the near future too. Ford will release an all-electric commercial delivery van in 2010, but won't come out with an electric passenger car until 2011. (Tesla Motors already sells all-electric cars, but with a production volume of almost 20 a week, it's tough to classify it as a "major" automaker.)

Nissan's town car will sport a range of 100 miles, run on lithium-ion batteries, get the equivalent of 367 miles per gallon, and also be capable of being charged in four to eight hours.

The utility and Nissan are also conducting research on high-speed chargers that could charge a car in 26 minutes, said Reed. (Nissan's Minoru Shinohara, who oversees technical development at the company, also told us last year that the company is working on charging systems that will charge the car while driving.)

One of the more interesting aspects of Nissan's car will be the price. Nissan's spokeswoman said that it would not – repeat, not – sell for a premium, and that's before the $7,500 federal tax credit is added. Factor that in and it could be a bargain. Most car manufacturers have had trouble keeping the price point down on electric cars because of the cost of batteries. Even plug-in hybrids like the Volt have seen their prices increase because of battery costs.

Biochar Wars  

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I'm a big fan of the potential of biochar to help solve some of our problems (at least when we try to follow the terra preta example), so I was disappointed to see that George Monbiot is slamming the idea - Monbiot blasts biochar (via Energy Bulletin.

The latest miracle mass fuel cure, biochar, does not stand up; yet many who should know better have been suckered into it ...

Whenever you hear the word miracle, you know there's trouble just around the corner. But no matter many times they lead to disappointment or disaster, the newspapers never tire of promoting miracle cures, miracle crops, miracle fuels and miracle financial instruments. We have a limitless ability to disregard the laws of economics, biology and thermodynamics when we encounter a simple solution to complex problems. So welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the new miracle. It's a low-carbon regime for the planet that makes the Atkins diet look healthy: woodchips with everything.

Biomass is suddenly the universal answer to our climate and energy problems. Its advocates claim that it will become the primary source of the world's heating fuel, electricity, road transport fuel (cellulosic ethanol) and aviation fuel (biokerosene). Few people stop to wonder how the planet can accommodate these demands and still produce food and preserve wild places. Now an even crazier use of woodchips is being promoted everywhere (including in the Guardian). The great green miracle works like this: we turn the planet's surface into charcoal.

Sorry, not charcoal. We don't call it that any more. Now we say biochar. The idea is that wood and crop wastes are cooked to release the volatile components (which can be used as fuel), then the residue - the charcoal - is buried in the soil. According to the magical thinkers who promote it, the new miracle stops climate breakdown, replaces gas and petroleum, improves the fertility of the soil, reduces deforestation, cuts labour, creates employment, prevents respiratory disease and ensures that when you drop your toast it always lands butter side up. (I invented the last one, but give them time).

James Lovelock has a reply in The Guardian, noting that most sensible people would agree that creating plantations in the tropics in order to create charcoal is a bad idea, but that processing some existing crop wastes and using them for carbon sequestration is an entirely sensible idea - Lovelock replies to Monbiot on biochar.
I usually agree with George Monbiot and love the way he says it but this time – with his assertion that the latest miracle mass fuel cure, biochar, does not stand up – he has got it only half right.

Yes, it is silly to rename charcoal as biochar and yes, it would be wrong to plant anything specifically to make charcoal. So I agree, George, it would be wrong to have plantations in the tropics just to make charcoal.

I said in my recent book that perhaps the only tool we had to bring carbon dioxide back to pre-industrial levels was to let the biosphere pump it from the air for us. It currently removes 550bn tons a year, about 18 times more than we emit, but 99.9% of the carbon captured this way goes back to the air as CO2 when things are eat eaten.

What we have to do is turn a portion of all the waste of agriculture into charcoal and bury it. Consider grain like wheat or rice; most of the plant mass is in the stems, stalks and roots and we only eat the seeds. So instead of just ploughing in the stalks or turning them into cardboard, make it into charcoal and bury it or sink it in the ocean. We don't need plantations or crops planted for biochar, what we need is a charcoal maker on every farm so the farmer can turn his waste into carbon. Charcoal making might even work instead of landfill for waste paper and plastic.

Electric Trucks Make Their Move  

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JD at Peak Oil Debunked has a post on the rapidly developing electric truck market - MORE ELECTRIC TRUCKS.

Five years ago, when I first got involved with peak oil, electric and hybrid trucks weren't even a concept. A little over a year ago, when I first posted on the subject they still seemed fairly exotic. Now, in 2009, an amazing amount of progress has taken place, and the technology for both EV and HEV (hybrid EV) trucks is rapidly filtering into the mainstream. It's becoming increasingly clear that peak oil will have little impact on tasks such as local trucking, garbage collection, and grid maintenance. Peak oil is simply occurring too slow compared to the rate of truck innovation and dissemination.


Eaton is a manufacturer of hybrid drivetrains for medium and heavy-duty trucks. Just a couple of days ago, President Obama spoke at the preview of a PHEV utility truck made by Eaton, EPRI and Ford:
The plug-in hybrid truck is the first of five “boom and bucket” trucks based on a Ford F-550 chassis that will be provided by Eaton, EPRI and Ford to public and private utility fleets in the United States for use and evaluation. In addition to fuel and emissions savings while the truck is on the road, additional energy savings are available by utilizing the electric side of the system to power the ancillary systems and tools when the truck is stopped at a work site.Source

ATCO, an Alberta electric utility, is also introducing an HEV utility bucket truck Source. American Electric Power, a mid- and southern US electric utility has 4 International Durastar hybrid bucket trucks with Eaton drivetrains, and 18 more on order Source. A Michigan beer distributor recently purchased 15 medium-duty International DuraStar hybrid tractors made by Navistar with an Eaton drivetrain Source. Kraft is adopting the Durastar hybrid for transport of frozen foods Source. Honda is testing a Class 8 hybrid diesel truck made by Peterbilt (Paccar) and Eaton.


The heavy-duty electric trucks being used in the Port of Los Angeles, which I described 6 months ago are now in full production. The assembly line is finished, and Balqon will first be producing 20 units for the Port of LA Source. Note that Balqon's Nautilus E30 Class 8 heavy-duty EV truck, and their Mule M-150 7-ton medium duty EV truck, are both equipped for fast-charging Source. Balqon is using AeroVironment's PosiCharge fast charge system for the Port of LA trucks.


The Smith Newton 7.5 to 14 tonne all-electric commercial truck from Smith Electric Vehicles, which has been in use in Europe for 3 years, will soon be rolled out in North America Source. Smith's UK customers include: Babcock Airports, Continental Landscapes, TK Maxx, BSkyB, DHL, TNT Express, Openreach, Sainsburys, Royal Mail, CEVA Logistics, Scottish & Southern Energy, Crown Records Management, Translinc, yoyo and Balfour Beatty.


UK manufacturer Modec offers trucks in a number of styles, with a range up to 100 miles, maximum speed of 50mph, and payload of 2 tonnes. They have sold 150 vehicles since production started in 2007. Customers so far include: Tesco, UPS, FedEx, M&S, Network Rail, Speedy Hire, Stadsdeel Amsterdam Oud Zuid, CenterParcs, Hildon Water, Stadstoezicht Amsterdam, CESPA (Madrid), Deret Group (France), and UK Local Authorities (Modec vans).


Ford has announced a tie-up with Smith Electric Vehicles to market a fully electric version of its Transit Connect panel van in 2010. Ford will provide the chassis, brand and marketing, and Smith will integrate the EV technology.


Electric Vehicles International is a new player, which apparently has a significant marketing presence in Mexico. It is now offering the customizable eviLightTruck in 3 configurations -- Class 3, Class 4 and Class 5-6 -- for the US market.


In May of 2008, UPS ordered 200 HEV trucks with drivetrains made by Eaton (the largest HEV order in the industry to date), and 300 CNG trucks Source. In October, they ordered 7 hydraulic hybrids, and in November, they announced an order of 12 EV trucks produced by Modec, for deployment in the UK and Germany in early 2009 Source.

UPS currently has the largest alternative fuel fleet in the parcel industry, with more than 1,500 compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, propane, hydrogen fuel cell, electric and hybrid electric vehicles.


Ryder is offering the RydeGreen medium-duty hybrid truck based on Navistar and Eaton technology. "According to International®, the truck has the potential to provide up to 30 to 40 percent improved fuel efficiency in standard in-city pick up and delivery applications."


In early March 2009, Kenworth (a Paccar subsidiary) received a large hybrid truck order from Coca-Cola Enterprises:
The Kirkland company, a division of Bellevue-based Paccar Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR), said Coca-Cola Enterprises ordered 150 T370 diesel-electric tractors and 35 T370 hybrid trucks. Kenworth officials didn’t disclose the value of the order but the fuel-efficient trucks are reported to cost around $100,000 each.

Last year, Coca-Cola Enterprises of Atlanta (NYSE: CCE) ordered 120 hybrid delivery trucks from Kenworth. Officials at the distribution company said those hybrid trucks resulted in a 30 percent improvement in both fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reductions, compared with standard delivery trucks.

Another good source on this topic is the PESWiki for electric trucks. The Wiki gives an extensive list of firms, large and small, producing electric trucks.

Ireland pushes for fast action on small-scale renewables  

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Cleantech.com reports that the Irish government has introduced feed-in tariffs and streamlined regulations to encourage construction of small scale renewable energy projects - Ireland pushes for fast action on small-scale renewables.

Ireland expects to boost its rural economies with a new long-term feed-in tariff program encouraging consumers to install renewables energy generation projects on homes and farms.

The incentives are expected to help with the long-term cost of projects, but the government limited the scope of the incentives in order to push for fast action on the part of consumers.

Irish Energy Minister Eamon Ryan established the tariff of €0.19 ($0.26) per kilowatt hour, but the rate only applies for the first 4,000 projects registered during the next three years.The incentive applies to wind, solar, hydro and combined heat-and-power projects.

Ireland’s national energy agency, Sustainable Energy Ireland, is taking applications for grants to cover 40 percent of the cost of projects 50 kilowatts or less, but only 50 projects are expected to qualify.

Ireland has also taken long-term steps, such as removing the need for small-scale renewable energy projects to seek permission from planning authorities. ESB Networks, which operates the country's electricity distribution network, has established a policy to reduce the length and complexity of the process to connect to the grid. ...

Ireland imports more than 90 percent of its energy requirements, according to a white paper released by the government in 2007. By 2020, Ireland plans for renewables to contribute 33 percent of its power generation, while natural gas is expected to be just under 50 percent. Ireland imports 87 percent of its natural gas from the UK.

Tesla to unveil electric 5-seat sedan next week  

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AFP reports the new Tesla electric sedan should be launched next week - Tesla to unveil electric 5-seat sedan next week.

US electric automaker Tesla Motors, which launched a breakthrough gas-free sports car last year, announced Thursday it will unveil in coming days a five-seat sedan, to roll off assembly lines by 2011.

The zero-emission "Model S" prototype with a lithium-ion battery pack will have a range of 225 miles (360 kilometers) per charge. The car has an anticipated base price of 57,400 dollars.

"After a federal tax credit of 7,500 dollars, the effective price will be 49,900 dollars," Tesla said.

But, the innovative firm stressed, "because of tax incentives and relatively inexpensive maintenance and refueling, the lifetime ownership cost will be closer to cars with far lower sticker prices."

The new model is set to be the world's first mass-produced, highway-capable electric vehicle, said Tesla in its newsletter, adding that it will be unveiled at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, a suburb of Los Angeles.

"The Model S will become the car of choice for environmentally conscious and discriminating drivers throughout North America and Europe," the company said. It expects to roughly split initial sales between the two continents before expanding into Asia.


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