Pavement power  

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World Architecture News has an article on an ambient energy collection device built by Pavegen - Pavement power.

According to inventor Laurence Kemball-Cook a paving stone on a busy street is stepped on by more than 50,000 pedestrians everyday and he’s seen the light by harvesting that pedestrian power. Every time the rubber Pavegen stone is stepped on, it flexes 5mm and the dynamo technology stores the kinetic energy produced.

The Pavegen System could power lights, computers, automatic doors and ticket machines at tube stations information displays, street lighting, shop frontages, train and bus timetables and wayfinding solutions.

The slab glows when stepped on indicating that energy has been generated to users. Five paving slabs distributed over a section of a pavement will provide sufficient power to illuminate a bus information panel overnight.

Vertical Axis Wind Turbine Market Continues to Expand  

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Vicky Portwain at the Energy Collective has a post on a vertical axis wind turbine design - Vertical Axis Wind Turbine Market Continues to Expand.

Vertical axis wind turbines appear to be flavour of the year when it comes to small wind turbines. In the UK, supermarket giant Tesco has installed several “Ropatec” vertical axis wind turbines with a rated capacity of 6kW.

The latest vertical axis turbine model to come into the test arena is the new Blackhawk Tilt Rotor Wind Turbine. The turbine is being tested and monitored by researchers from the Blackhawk Project LLC at Idaho’s National Laboratory Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES). ...

Blackhawk believes its turbine design distinguishes it from other wind energy systems. The clearest distinction being its blades or ‘airfoils’ that rotate parallel to the ground, unlike many commercial turbines. The airfoils are attached to a tilt rotor in the center of the turbine for which the company has a patent pending.

The TR-10 turbine is part of The Blackhawk Project’s prototype series and is expected to produce approximately 1.5 kilowatts of power which CAES say is “enough electricity to supplement a home, power a workshop or drive other small applications”

Cleantechnica also has a post on an unusual wind turbine design - The New NIMBY-Defeating Wind Turbine.
Ridgeblade is a fabulous wind-turbine solution from UK based The Power Collective. It’s very simple: instead of a large standalone windmill-like structure, put a long bladed turbine along the ridge of a building’s roof.

The blades are about the same length as a medium wind turbine, so you can catch about the same amount of wind. What’s more, as these can be mounted along an existing roof, there’s no need for an additional NIMBY-provoking superstructure.

Interview With an Algae CEO  

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Robert Rapier has an interview with an un-named company CEO about biofuel production from algae - Interview With an Algae CEO .

One of the things I did on the trip was take a tour of an algae farm. I spent some time with the CEO, and got to ask numerous questions. He had some very interesting comments, which I will capture below. Because he has to work in this industry, I am not going to identify him or his company. Below I will indicate his comments as CEO and mine as RR.

RR: Talk about some of the challenges of growing algae.

CEO: The list is exhaustive. It takes a lot of water. It takes a lot of electricity. Solar penetration is only about an inch into the water, so we really have to keep the ponds mixed well. One thing people never mention is the phosphorous requirement. Phosphorous is a limited resource, but a critical one for the algal growth. If you are trying to make oil, then you have to stress the algae and push it into a lipid production mode. But that causes growth rates to stall. If you engineer algae for higher oil production rates, they can't out-compete the native species in the ponds.

RR: I talk to John Benemann on a fairly regular basis, and he has said much the same. He likes algae for the potential, for the water treatment possibilities, and as something that should continue to get funding for lab research. But he is pretty harsh on the uber-optimists.

CEO: Yes, I know John as well. He has done some good work in the field. Have you seen his latest paper?

RR: (He shows me the paper, and I acknowledge that I do in fact have that one).

RR: I was looking at those open ponds and wondering if the evaporation rates wouldn't be problematic. That could create seriously high water usage, especially for those schemes that propose to use open ponds where the solar insolation is high (like in the Arizona desert).

CEO: Yes, those open ponds require a lot of fresh water. You should see our water bill.

RR: What about photobioreactors? Some people envision them as a solution to some of the problems (evaporation, contamination) of the open pond system.

CEO: They are ungodly expensive relative to how much algae they can produce.

RR: So how do you foresee the future of algal fuels?

CEO: There is no future. Look, some of these guys are out there committing fraud with their yield claims. Nobody is making fuel except for small amounts in the lab. I just don't see how anyone will ever make cost-competitive fuel from algae.

RR: How about fermentation approaches like Solazyme? I haven't written that off yet.

CEO: Yes, but they are using sugar, and sugar is food. They say they won't always use sugar, but who knows?

Military Experts Call for Action on Climate Change to Avoid Security Threats  

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ENN has an article on some lobbying in the lead up to the Copenhagen summit - Military Experts Call for Action on Climate Change to Avoid Security Threats.

Yesterday, a group of serving and retired military officers from around the globe called on governments to "work for an ambitious and equitable international agreement" at the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December. Participants at the conference on "Climate Change and Security at Copenhagen" emphasized the critical importance of addressing climate change now in order to avoid exacerbating current security threats and creating new ones.

"To avoid conflicts from climate change-related impacts, we need to employ every tool and strategy available, and the military is a critical ally in this fight," said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development and speaker at the conference.

One Charger to rule them all  

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Good Magazine has an article on efforts to reduce electronic waste by adopting a common standard for all mobile phone rechargers - One Charger for All the Universe’s Phones.

Back in February we heard that the cell phone companies were thinking about making every phone compatible with a single kind of charger. Well, good news: The International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations group that oversees this sort of thing, just announced specs for the Universal Charging Solution—a single phone charger for the entire (known) universe.

From the ITU:
Every mobile phone user will benefit from the new Universal Charging Solution (UCS), which enables the same charger to be used for all future handsets, regardless of make and model. In addition to dramatically cutting the number of chargers produced, shipped and subsequently discarded as new models become available, the new standard will mean users worldwide will be able to charge their mobiles anywhere from any available charger, while also reducing the energy consumed while charging.

The new UCS standard was based on input from the GSMA, which predicts a 50 per cent reduction in standby energy consumption, elimination of 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers, and a subsequent reduction of 13.6 million tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Can you imagine? 50,100 tons of redundant chargers? There are relatively few corporate “green” initiatives that have the potential to really reduce the amount of plastic crap we produce and throw away. This is one.

An "Eco DeathStar" for Dubai ?  

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Green Building of the week is this unusual dome proposed for Dubai - James Law’s Technosphere is an Eco Deathstar for Dubai.

Like an non evil, sustainable version of the Deathstar, the Technosphere by James Law Cybertecture replicates the Earth as a structural concept. Inside the eco-sphere is an entire world which serves as a vehicle to explore the issues of self-sustaining life on a smaller level. Although not nearly as self-sufficient as the Biosphere 2, the Technosphere is meant to reflect the state of our planet in current and future times. Proposed as an iconic building for the Technopark of Dubai, the eco-sphere would be a carbon neutral tourist attraction as well as a place in which to live and work.

ALso at Inhabitat, this enormous tree house - World’s Tallest Treehouse Built From Reclaimed Wood.

Obama awards $3.4 billion in ’smart grid’ grants  

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The Christian Science Monitor has an article on US federal stimulus funding for smart grid projects - Obama awards $3.4 billion in ’smart grid’ grants.

A major proposal of the Obama administration’s national energy makeover has been to build a next-generation “smart” power grid that enables integration of more renewable energy and maximizes efficiency. Most stimulus funding has so far gone to fix roads and other infrastructure, but on Tuesday the smart grid began catching up.

President Obama announced the winners of $3.4 billion in stimulus funding for projects in 49 states, except Alaska, which did not apply for funds.

Just 100 utilities of more than 400 applicants won federal grants, which officials say will leverage more than $4.7 billion in matching private sector investment. These grants comprise the lion’s share of the $4.5 billion stimulus money set aside for smart grid development, and is expected to create tens of thousands of new jobs.

The measure, announced by Mr. Obama at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, may be the largest single investment in energy-grid modernization in US history. It funds a range of technologies intended to speed the nation’s transition to a more efficient and reliable electric system that promotes savings and integrates renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

“There’s something big happening in America in terms of creating a clean-energy economy,” Obama said, adding that more needs to be done.

Wired has an article looking at where the new Department of Energy Adavnced projects money is going - Chart: How the ‘Darpa for Energy’ Is Slicing Its $150-Million Pie.
The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency announced its first grant awards Monday morning, handing out more than $150 million for what the agency describes as “bold, transformational” energy projects.

The fledgling “Darpa for energy” bet between half a million and 9 million dollars on 37 companies and universities.

The lion’s share of the grant money went to energy-storage projects followed by biomass-energy technologies and then renewable power like wind and solar. That said, the money was spread pretty evenly among the agency’s areas of interest. Of the 10 technological categories, seven of them received more than $10 million, and none received more than $30 million. Oil and gas received the least money with a sole project garnering $1 million.

The largest wards went to Foro Energy and DuPont, which received $9.1 and $9 million, respectively. Foro, which does not appear to have a website, has a new geothermal drilling technique that could provide faster drilling with less wear on drill bits. DuPont is trying to produce butanol from seaweed.

High-Energy Zinc-Air Batteries Coming to Market  

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Technology Review has an article on new rechargeable zinc-air batteries - High-Energy Batteries Coming to Market.

A Swiss company says it has developed rechargeable zinc-air batteries that can store three times the energy of lithium ion batteries, by volume, while costing only half as much. ReVolt, of Staefa, Switzerland, plans to sell small "button cell" batteries for hearing aids starting next year and to incorporate its technology into ever larger batteries, introducing cell-phone and electric bicycle batteries in the next few years. It is also starting to develop large-format batteries for electric vehicles.

The battery design is based on technology developed at SINTEF, a research institute in Trondheim, Norway. ReVolt was founded to bring it to market and so far has raised 24 million euros in investment. James McDougall, the company's CEO, says that the technology overcomes the main problem with zinc-air rechargeable batteries--that they typically stop working after relatively few charges. If the technology can be scaled up, zinc-air batteries could make electric vehicles more practical by lowering their costs and increasing their range.

Unlike conventional batteries, which contain all the reactants needed to generate electricity, zinc-air batteries rely on oxygen from the atmosphere to generate current. In the late 1980s they were considered one of the most promising battery technologies because of their high theoretical energy-storage capacity, says Gary Henriksen, manager of the electrochemical energy storage department at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The battery chemistry is also relatively safe because it doesn't require volatile materials, so zinc-air batteries are not prone to catching fire like lithium-ion batteries.

Mini plans electric vehicle trial for Australia  

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The SMH has an article on the new electric Mini - Mini plans electric vehicle trial for Australia.

The Mini E is a fully electric version of a regular Mini. It can travel around 240 kilometres on a single charge depending on driving style and conditions. It is powered by a 150kW electric motor, charged by a lithium-ion battery. The Mini E can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds and has a top speed of 152km/h.

``It’s one of the 600 that are currently undergoing trials in California, New York, the UK and Germany. It’s the largest trial of electric cars by any manufacturer in the world right now.

``So, we‘ve been lobbying Munich for some time and they agree that it would be good to get a car to Australia to see how it will work in the harsh Australian terrain.’’

Giving natural gas a fair go ?  

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The Australian has an article from the head of the gas pipeline industry arguing that we should be making greater use of natural gas, mostly coal seam gas, for power generation(or biogas, though she doesn't mention that), in combination with renewable energy sources - We must give natural gas a fair go to meet our clean energy targets.

Australia has many years supply of natural gas. Much of this will be coal seam gas, which also comes from coal beds and is sometimes called coal bed methane. It is produced from coal seams and sold into the general natural gas market. These coal seams are usually far underground and not viable for mining by coalminers, but the gas contained in them can be mined.

The proven reserves of coal seam gas in Queensland are in excess of 21,000 petajoules (ultimate reserves are estimated to be 10 times this amount) and are expected to form a large part of eastern Australia's gas supply into the future, providing fuel for new gas-fired power generation. As this "new" gas supply is developed, much of it is destined to be exported as LNG (natural gas compressed into liquid form).

Natural gas can and will help Australia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, but gas will not do this through government policies. It will reduce our carbon emissions because it is the world's cleanest fossil fuel and because Australia has plenty of it. By most accounts, Australia has at least a century of gas. About 60 per cent of our natural gas is used locally but only about 10 per cent is used in our homes. ...

It is likely Australia could source half of its electricity from natural gas and half from renewable energy, in which case our emissions from the stationary energy sector would fall by more than 75 per cent.

Given that the stationary energy sector is responsible for about 50 per cent of Australia's total emissions, this would be an important contribution.

Such a shift cannot happen rapidly but Australians are right to expect that their government would want to encourage such an outcome. Alas, no. There are no federal programs to encourage the use of natural gas for power generation. (Queensland requires 13 per cent of power generation to come from natural gas.)

As a fuel that has generated less than half the emissions in power generation than coal, natural gas should be the answer to our emissions reduction target. It is expected there will be some increase in demand for gas but under present policies, Australia will not get the full benefits from its gas supplies.

Natural gas will be required as a back-up fuel for renewable energy and for peaking power, but it will do this without assistance from the government. Much, but not all, of this natural gas will come from coal seam gas deposits.

Pentland tidal power plan 'on schedule'  

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The BBC has an update on plans to harness tidal power in Scotland's Pentland Firth - Pentland power plan 'on schedule' .

The Crown Estate has said the timetable for its leasing of the seabed and installation of renewable energy devices by 2020 remained on schedule It said legal paperwork opening the way for companies to harness wave and tidal power will be signed by the end of March next year. ...

But Thurso and Wick Trade Union Council said the process was taking too long. The council is eager to see new sources of work created to compensate for those that will be shed during the decommissioning of the defunct Dounreay nuclear power complex near Thurso.

Who says it's green to burn woodchips ?  

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The Independent has a look at complaints that large scale power generation from biomass probably isn't a good idea ("Europe is going to cook the world's tropical forests to fight climate change; it's crazy") - Who says it's green to burn woodchips?.

The issue may yet prove just to be a panicky reaction to a radical expansion of wood energy, or it may be a portent of a deep problem. If so, it will echo the evolution of biofuels, initially embraced as a universal blessing before it was realised that native forests were being grubbed up to grow palm oil, and that US farmers would switch from food cereals to fuel cereals, thus causing a world food shortage.

Some campaigners are in no doubt. Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch said: "It's almost unbelievable that we're creating vast areas of monoculture, mile after mile, just to be cut down as fast as they grow, to be shipped thousands of miles to be burned just for people's electricity. It just doesn't make sense. What about all the habitat that gets destroyed along the way?"

Simone Lovera, of the Global Forest Coalition in Paraguay, said: "Europe is going to cook the world's tropical forests to fight climate change; it's crazy." She said her group had obtained a report stating that Brazil is gearing up to meet the European woodchip demand, not by cutting down forests, but by expanding tree plantations by 27 million hectares, mostly of exotic species such as eucalyptus.

Last week, at the UN-sponsored World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires, the agronomist engineer Hector Ginzo, an adviser to the Kyoto Protocol, stressed that plantations could not be classified as sustainable. He said UN rules "would never allow a plantation of eucalyptus or other fast-growing trees for use as pulp or wood to be considered a sustainable forestry project, because that kind of production favours monoculture forests and the carbon capture is lost when the trees are cut down".

The Global Forest Coalition said that, in South America, tree plantations have had devastating effects on people and the environment, and have nothing like the biodiversity or ecological function of natural forests, whether they are first or even second growth. These plantations, it said, are "green deserts" because of the amount of water they consume, and because of the lack of native wildlife.

Its not just the trees that are in danger - Inhabitat reports small furry animals in Sweden are too - Sweden is Burning Biofuel Made from Bunnies.
Scientific American recently reported that Sweden uses a pretty strange source for some of its heating fuel: rabbits. Stockholm has an overabundance of the cotton-tailed critters, and the hungry bunnies are decimating city parks. To cut back on bunny populations and create a greener source of heating fuel for Swedes, city employees round up the rabbits, shoot them, freeze them and then ship them to a heating plant where they’re incinerated. And yes, the thought of it makes our soul hurt, too.

Toyota thinks electric : A plug-in prius  

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The SMH has a report from the Tolyo Motor Show on some new electric cars from Toyota - Toyota thinks electric.

Toyota will begin leasing plug-in hybrid vehicles within months as part of an ambitious plan to grow its environmental presence and branch out in to electric vehicles that can be recharged from household powerpoints.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow's Tokyo motor show - where Toyota is expected to reveal a vehicle that hints at an electric car that will go on sale in the United States in 2012 - the world's leader in hybrid technology revealed it will begin leasing a plug-in hybrid Prius before the end of 2009.

The SMH also has an article on something we're less likely to see on the streets - a hydrogen powered car from Mazda - First drive: Mazda’s hydrogen hybrid car.
With all the hype surrounding plug-in electric vehicles, hydrogen-powered cars have all but disappeared from the radar.

But Mazda, which was the first car maker in the world to lease a hydrogen car to a customer, is still pressing ahead with a trial of the technology in Tokyo.

It’s also about to expand the program to Norway. The company’s latest creation is the Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid, an unassuming people mover that has two fuel tanks and three power modes; hydrogen, petrol and an electric motor powered by lithium-ion batteries.

A rethink on geothermal risk  

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Giles Parkinson's column in The Australian has some notes on investing in geothermal energy - A rethink on geothermal risk. The column also includes some notes on a new geothermal heat exchange technology being trailled in Newcastle.

GEOTHERMAL energy is often characterised as unproven and therefore an over-the-horizon base-load technology - better, in that case, to consider available technologies such as coal, gas and nuclear, it is said.

Geodynamics last week presented a different take on the major economic risks affecting the long-run marginal cost of feeding energy into the national grid, breaking down the risk profiles of various technologies into high, medium and low uncertainty.

The key take-out was that the highest level of uncertainty over resource economics would be removed for geothermal, and possibly carbon prices, within the next two or three years. However, the high level of uncertainty would linger two or three times longer for carbon capture, another decade for public acceptance of nuclear, and ad infinitum for oil and gas prices.

The shorthand summary: by 2020, geothermal energy might not just be cheaper than oil and gas and other competing base-loads such as carbon capture and nuclear, it will also carry significantly less investment risk. And if that's not obvious now, taking into account the 10,000MW of geothermal energy currently produced across the globe, it will be crystal clear within the next two years.

GM exec: Volt not yet cost competitive  

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CNet has an article on the economics of GM's Volt hybrid car, noting the price of the battery pack needs to fall for the upfront cost to be comparable to legacy model cars using internal combustion engines only - GM exec: Volt not yet cost competitive

GM plans to manufacture the battery pack for the Volt, which is scheduled for release at the end of next year, using cells from a division of LG Chem. Lauckner said that the cost per stored energy for that entire pack is several hundred dollars less than $1,000 per kilowatt-hour, a number that's been projected by people outside GM.

The cost for the battery pack needs to shrink substantially to compete with existing auto technology to the range of $250 per kilowatt-hour, Lauckner said.

GM has not yet priced the Volt, which runs on batteries for 40 miles and uses an internal combustion engine to sustain the battery after that. People outside the company have estimated the cost at about $40,000.

There's a potential additional cost if electric car buyers choose to install a 220-volt charger at home, which will essentially cut charge time in half compared to charging from a regular 110-volt outlet. Having a 220-volt charger installed can cost between $300 and $3,000 depending on the complexity of the job, say industry executives.

To offset that upfront cost, Volt buyers qualify for the maximum $7,500 federal tax credit. The tax credit is one way that the federal government has sought to revitalize the U.S. auto industry around electric vehicle technologies. But Lauckner said that long term Volt costs have to go down further because government incentives will go away at some point.

The ongoing operating costs of owning a Volt will be about one-sixth of that of compact sedan, Lauckner said, adding that the savings go higher as the price of gasoline goes up. GM expects that most Volt drivers will be able to do almost all their driving in electric mode.

eBay To Demonstrate Bloom Fuel cells  

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Tonic reports that cogeneration / fuel cell company Bloom Energy is installing a 500KW configuration at eBay - eBay First To Demonstrate Bloom Fuel cells.

Following hard on Tonic's story on EEStor and a the wave of clean energy technologies about to break on the shores of global warming comes word that eBay is to get the largest installation to date of Bloom Energy's new fuel cell.

And we're not talking about a tiny demonstration project, of the sort we often read about; this is a gang of five commercial-grade cells turning out an impressive 500KW. That's a lot of output. It's no power station, but it's enough to run a neighborhood worth of homes.

Michael Kanellos, writing in greentechmedia, reports that the "City of San Jose has granted eBay permission to install five fuel cells from Bloom Energy that will generate up to 500 kilowatts of power." According to the San Jose Business Journal, eBay is "on a mission to reduce its overall carbon footprint by 15 percent by 2012 ... It’s using technology from the first green tech investment made by [venture capital firm] Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to do it."

A National 'Smart Grid' Remains a Vision With Many Gaps In The US  

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Time for a smart grid news roundup - the one area of cleantech that seems to have stepped up to the next level this year .

First up, The New York Times has an article on the state of play with the US grid - A National 'Smart Grid' Remains a Vision With Many Gaps.

Like a complex jigsaw puzzle with lots of missing pieces, the picture of a smart electric power grid is slowly beginning to take shape in the United States, along with predictions of big energy savings and emission reductions that could come with it.

The scattered placement of the pieces is a work in progress, with much of the action controlled by states. Some have embraced a clear vision of this revolution in the way electric power can be delivered, used and priced. In many more states, the picture is cloudy or incomplete, restrained by the historic caution of state regulators and the self-interest of some utilities.

Power companies have begun installing millions of advanced electric meters -- the basic building block of the smart grid. Coupled with communications links between customers and control rooms, information management systems in utility offices, and flexible electricity rate programs, the systems will empower consumers and producers to conserve electricity use, particularly on summer days when temperatures and electricity prices are soaring.

These systems have the potential to affect nearly everyone's life. They could change energy-using habits that have become ingrained over generations. A few examples: They can make it possible for millions of plug-in hybrid vehicles' batteries to be recharged with cheaper, nighttime electricity. They can tie rooftop solar units on homes and businesses into the power grid, making owners energy sellers as well as buyers. And they can give consumers meaningful influence over their electric bills for the first time.

But so far, only a small fraction of these capabilities have been deployed. Less than 5 percent of the nation's 144 million electric meters were being used for smart grid functions in 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reported. Utilities are using them mainly to control costs by replacing meter readers, pinpointing damage from storm outages and removing or adding customers to the grid remotely.

Reuters has a report (well - press release perhaps) on a smart meter rollout in Victoria - SP AusNet Selects GE for World`s First 4G Communications Smart Grid Solution, Delivering Revolutionary Security and Reliability Benefits.
The Victoria state government has mandated its entire service area be upgraded to smart meters by 2013. In addition to meters, future functionality is an important benefit for Australian utilities. Australia`s Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts expects the country to have 10 million households in 2020, resulting in a 56% increase in energy demand. At the same time, the Australia government aims to reduce carbon emissions by 10% and increase renewable generation to 20% by 2020. The GE smart grid infrastructure being installed today will help meet those goals while improving reliability in the face of increasing demand.

GE`s WiMAX smart grid solution will give SP AusNet the option to provide variable pricing throughout the day-enabling consumers to manage their energy usage and save money by moving energy-intensive activities to lower-cost, off-peak periods. With the right rate structure, SP AusNet could spread demand more evenly throughout the day and offset the need for new power generation.

This solution also will enable utilities to monitor the health and status of smart grid devices in real-time, helping ensure consistent reliability for customers. As one of the industry`s most secure, standards-based, scalable 4G technologies for smart grid, the GE solution will lay the foundation for a host of advanced smart grid applications-from plug-in vehicles, to advanced grid control, to alternative energy sources, such as solar on rooftops.

VentureBeat has an article on a smart meter rollout in Texas - Oncor, Landis+Gyr plunk down 300,000 smart meters in Dallas.
Landis+Gyr, one of the biggest smart meter makers in the business, partnered with Texan energy transmission provider Oncor to quickly deploy 300,000 new advanced meters in the Dallas Metro area — setting new standards for how big and fast other Smart Grid vendors should be thinking. Despite much hand wringing and heehawing in the sector about how long it takes to switch out traditional meters with their slick new cousins, Oncor says the team will have 700,000 meters in place by the end of 2009.

By 2012, the figure should jump to 3 million meters — Oncor’s full coverage area of residences and small businesses. As it stands, Landis+Gyr’s meters, will channel energy consumption data every 15 minutes to local utilities and to consumers via their home energy management dashboards. Ultimately, the hope is to equip utility customers with the usage and pricing information they need to adopt conservationist practices and save money on their energy bills.

The Dubai Chronicle has an article on a smart appliance program in the futuristic city of Masdar - Masdar City and GE partner on a first-of-its-kind smart appliance pilot program.
Masdar City and GE Consumer & Industrial announced today a landmark pilot program that will investigate the reduction of peak power demand through the use of smart home appliances. Involving some of the first residents of Masdar City – the world’s first carbon neutral, zero waste city being built in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi – the program will test how GE smart (or Demand Response enabled) appliances and Home Energy Manager (HEM) can lower power demand in the home and across the city.

GE specifically designed and manufactured the appliances and networks for this pilot, which leverages Masdar City’s status as a cleantech cluster and one-of-a-kind “living laboratory” for exciting new sustainability technologies. The equipment will be installed in early 2010 in the first building to be completed at Masdar City, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. has an article on Google's efforts to market their powerMeter service directly to consumers in the UK - Google Steps in to give UK customers what they need.
Google announced that it is able to provide energy usage information without involving a customer’s utility company. The search giant has partnered with smart meter manufacturer Energy Inc to provide the new service.

Google’s PowerMeter energy monitoring software, coupled with The Energy Detective (TED) 5000 smart meter device, allows for anyone to reap the benefits of smart metering without any interference from the utility company. Consumers don’t have to wait for a major smart meter installation project to come their way to get a better handle on their energy consumption.

“Today, we’re very excited to announce we have secured our first official device partner,” Google announced in an October blog posting. “For the last several months, a few hundred Google employees have been testing a number of in-home electricity monitoring devices.”

Earth2tech has a screen shot of PowerMeter in action - SCREEN SHOT: Google’s PowerMeter Live in Germany.
This week Google announced its first device partner for its energy management tool PowerMeter, which will enable PowerMeter to bypass the smart meter and the utility. Part of the benefit of cutting out the utility is that the device can use an Internet connection to feed energy data directly to a user’s computer in practically real time, instead of getting delayed via the commonly slow utility network. But in some rare cases utilities aren’t getting in the way and embracing the consumer home broadband connection — such is the case with Germany’s Yello Strom, which this morning announced that its customers can now use the PowerMeter iGoogle gadget online to track their energy consumption.

And finally, TreeHugger has a look at concerns about a smart meter led invasion of privacy - From Smart Grid to Big Brother?. While I don't think models that provide all your smart appliance data to a utility company (or anyone else) are a good idea, in terms of the information being collected about you, what your power usage is - even at a fine grained level - is the least of your worries...
Smarts grids and smart appliances are gaining a lot of mindshare these days. The main stated benefits are: A more efficient use of energy, and a higher capacity to handle intermittent renewable power sources (such as wind and solar). But there is another important issue that gets shoved under the rug: Privacy. These smart meters and appliances will be sending lots of data to power companies. What will happen to it is an important question that needs to be answered.

Bob Sullivan has an interesting piece on it. He writes:
Utility companies, by gathering hundreds of billions of data points about us, could reconstruct much of our daily lives -- when we wake up, when we go home, when we go on vacation, perhaps even when we draw a hot bath. They might sell this information to marketing companies -- perhaps a travel agency will send brochures right when the family vacation is about to arrive. Law enforcement officials might use this information against us ("Where were you last night? Home watching TV? That's not what the power company says ... "). Divorce lawyers could subpoena the data ("You say you're a good parent, but your children are forced to sleep in 61-degree rooms. For shame ..."). A credit bureau or insurance company could penalize you because your energy use patterns are similar to those of other troublesome consumers. Or criminals could spy the data, then plan home burglaries with fine-tuned accuracy. [...]

Privacy expert Alessandro Acquisti, who studies the intersection of economics and privacy at Carnegie Mellon University, said privacy issues routinely arise even when companies that collect data do so with all good intention. Many times, data that collected is harmless in isolation, but becomes troublesome when combined with other data, or examined by a third party for patterns.

The privacy risks - and opportunities for abuse, both from governments and from malicious individuals - are not unique to smart grids of course. It's par for the course with highly networked technologies like the internet.

The difference is that you can still mostly decide what you put online or on your computer. But you have a higher expectation of privacy inside your home, and might not realize that the data gathered about your energy usage could be used to reconstruct part of your life (potentially in erroneous ways).

A post-oil world gets less sci-fi by the day  

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Some more peak oil media attention, this time in The Guardian trotting out the old Mad Max meme, following the issuing of a report by Global Witness - A post-oil world gets less sci-fi by the day. Speaking of Mad Max, apparently Mad Max 4 is due to be filmed soon.

It is 30 years since the film Mad Max was made, launching the career of Mel Gibson.

The film made a big splash at the time for its terrifying view of a world without oil, where gangs of grisly looking people roam deserts in a post-apocalyptic world, killing each other to get their hands on the few drops of petrol that some have managed to produce in makeshift refineries. Social order has completely broken down.

Great film if you like that sort of thing but complete fiction, of course. Or is it? Three decades later, and I wonder if the film was, in fact, years ahead of its time.

Just think back to summer last year when oil prices spiked to $150 a barrel – 10 times the level of a decade earlier. In petrol stations in some European countries, people started to drive off without paying and drivers had to be banned from filling cars before they had paid up. In Britain, people stole heating oil out of the tanks that sit outside many houses in the country.

Imagine what would happen if prices rose, say, to $300 a barrel. Or higher. Not only would it become too expensive to drive unless absolutely necessary, but food would become prohibitively expensive to transport, goods from China would be too expensive to ship, and plastics, which come from oil, would be unaffordable. The cold turkey after more than a century of cheap oil would be painful indeed. For developing countries it would be fatal – many could not afford energy at those prices.

Oil has fallen sharply in price since last summer, but this is only because the world tumbled into its worst recession in decades, clobbering industrial output and trade volumes, and therefore oil demand. What is curious, though, is that oil prices, having tumbled below $40 earlier this year, went back above $81 a barrel last week, their highest for a year.

There are plenty of possible reasons, such as the continuing fall in the value of the dollar, in which oil is priced, or the piling in of speculators who think a recovery will push up oil prices. Or you could reach for the old chestnut of supply and demand. Demand has fallen a lot, sure, but maybe supply is not what it used to be. Indeed, take a graph of the oil price over the past couple of decades, chop off last year's spike to $150 and this year's plunge to $35 and you can see that oil prices have been on a steady upwards trend for a decade. The question is why?

An excellent new report, Heads in the Sand, released last week by the non-governmental organisation Global Witness – the group that first brought "blood diamonds" to the world's attention – looked in depth at what is happening to the supply of oil. And it is frightening.

Scotland’s £30bn offshore bounty  

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The Herald in Scotland has an article on the country's growing offshore wind industry - Scotland’s £30bn offshore bounty.

Unbeknown to most of us, offshore wind has actually been building up a head of steam since the start of the decade.

Mainland wind farms and their battles with local protesters might have seen most of the headlines, but the first few demonstration offshore farms started quietly appearing five or six years ago.

In the Moray Firth in Scotland, two vast turbines were erected next to the Beatrice oil field by Talisman Energy and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), while slightly larger installations were put up in Inner Dowsing and Lynn in Humberside and other places such as North Hoyle off North Wales and Scroby Sands off Norfolk.

Territorial waters owner the Crown Estate, meanwhile, started awarding larger concessions around England and Wales in the so-called Round Two programme in 2003. This created a potential off-coast capacity of 8GW through big future farms such as the Thames Estuary’s London Array (1GW), Triton Knoll off Norfolk (1.2GW) and Gwynt Y Mor off North Wales (750MW).

Scotland was ignored at this stage, since its waters were seen as deeper and more treacherous, but then received a whopping 6.4GW of potential capacity through the Scottish Territorial Waters Round late in 2008.

The whole country is now waiting to see how the Crown Estate decides to allocate its Round Three concessions, which concern nine mega-sites in deeper waters comprising a further 25GW of potential capacity, including four more gigawatts in Scotland.

To put that in context, the UK offshore industry is eventually expected to be four times the size of the onshore industry. Or another way, the 10GW offshore planned for Scotland will be larger than UK onshore wind as a whole. When you factor in grid connections, the first £1.15 billion phase of which is currently being tendered by energy watchdog Ofgem, the estimated total cost is £160bn, at least £30bn of which will be spent in Scotland.

Edward Burtynsky's "Oil"  

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Treehugger has an excellent slideshow of pictures from Ed Burtynsky's "Oil" exhibition - Edward Burtynsky's "Oil".

The Green Tower Of Guangzhou City  

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The BBC has an article on a green building being built in China, The Pearl River Tower - The Green Tower Of Guangzhou City.

Rising high through the polluted air of Guangzhou City in southern China is a 71-storey tower block which, according to its designers, will be the most energy-efficient in the world.

Among a host of features designed either to make or save energy, the one that caught my eye was the shape of the Pearl River Tower itself.

It is built in a curve, facing the prevailing winds. And it has been deliberately sculpted to increase the speed of that wind and force it through slots in the building where wind turbines will be located.

Now, on many buildings, wind turbines are a waste of space because there's so much turbulence in cities. I heard an apocryphal story about a Japanese firm that installed a turbine which needed electric power to keep it turning to save the face of its would-be-green owners.

But the American architects of this tower - SOM - insist that their experiments in a wind tunnel show this building will generate economically viable wind power.

The vertical axis turbines will be located in the mechanical floors mandated by the Chinese government as emergency muster floors, so no usable office space will be lost.

SOM claims that by thinking carefully about the use of space combined with energy-saving and energy-generating technology, they have been able to make unprecedented gains, so this building will potentially create as much energy as it uses.

How Can Bright Green Cities Thrive Without Capital ?  

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Alex at WorldChanging has a post pondering how cities can be transformed to sustainable models during a credit drought - How Can Bright Green Cities Thrive Without Capital ?.

What do you do when things are booming but your credit's dried up? Perhaps you begin to invent new ways of doing business.

U.N. Habitat recently released a report showing that the pace of urbanization is increasing, with "200,000 new dwellers flooding into the world cities and towns each day." That's like a new city the size of Seattle, Washington D.C. or Copenhagen springing up every three days. And while it is true that in the Global North, some industrial areas have become home to shrinking cities and others are in line for massive climate troubles, the trends suggest that most cities that are growing today are going to see long sustained booms in population.

But our cities are not only growing quickly, they're getting younger. We live on a young planet, with two billion people under the age of 15 and a median age of only about 27, worldwide. Already there is a massive unmet demand for jobs, housing and services. Youth unemployment is at its highest level ever in many countries, but that doesn't mean young people stop living. Indeed, while some of their energy is channeled into destructive outlets, from gangs to terrorism, evidence suggests that there's been a much larger explosion of activity in the so-called "informal economy" -- everything from "gray market" trading to casual labor to microbusinesses and community efforts. A faltering economy doesn't mean an end to enterprise.

Bright green innovations are generating all sorts of new business frontiers as well. Green building and design innovations spur new possibilities for development and renovation. Smart technologies drive new ways of looking at shared goods and spaces. Attention to foodsheds and footprints enable new models of feeding and clothing ourselves. The list goes on.

So on the one hand, we have the material for a remarkable boom: rapidly growing cities full of energetic, young people with unmet needs but access to a wave of bright green innovations.

On the other hand, we have a worsening credit drought. An increasing number of stories warn that we should not expect much available credit at all in the short term:
Most banks expect their lending standards to remain tighter than the levels of the last decade until at least the middle of 2010, according to a survey of senior loan officers conducted by the Federal Reserve Board.

The disturbing possibility presents itself that credit may not begin to flow again for years. A growing number of pretty credible observers already warn that, Wall Street talking heads aside, several big problems may dry up credit for some time to come. The biggest immediate problem seems to be that commercial real estate loans (for building apartments, offices, stores and warehouses -- $1.7 trillion in just U.S. loans) may be following residential lending off the cliff. In addition, while it's true that "green-technology firms attracted the largest share of venture capital in the third quarter," what hasn't generally been mentioned in green business stories on that news is that venture capital funds have shrunk to a 15-year low. Then there's the planet: other factors may cause investors to be even more skittish -- from the anticipated losses caused by climate change and ecosystem service degradation to the rising costs associated with constricting supplies of fossil fuels and virgin materials.

So, what does it mean to have an expansion, in a time when capital is extremely difficult to get? What does a "dry" boom look like?

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling ?  

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The Stoat has a look at some strange climate skepticism being promoted by the professional contrarians responsible for "Freakonomics" (filed under the heading "genral tripe") - SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling (and some other stuff)?.

I liked Freakonomics, so I'm a bit sad to see the (inevitable) sequel being so hopelessly wrong. Probably this is a case of the old rule: whenever you see people write about stuff you know, they get it wrong. Joe Romm has a fairly characteristic attack; and just for a change I'll agree with him; though he chooses odd bits to assault. It looks like the "global cooling" junk is just one chapter, but of course it is the only one I'll pay any attention to.

Diagnosis, in brief: (1) they write about stuff they clearly don't understand (2) they pick a catchy reverse-common-wisdom nugget as a headliner without the having the slightest interest in whether it is true or not (mind you, plenty of more respectable folk do the same) (3) they pick an expert to talk to, but since they don't have a clue about the subject they don't know how to pick a good expert, or even understand what the expert says (4) there is a grain of sense in there, but so badly wrapped in trash it is nearly unfindable.

The entire piece is riddled with errors. Reading it all would be tedious. So, before reading it in detail I decided to set myself a target of 10 major errors and then stop. Kindly, Romm has provided a PDF of the offending chapter, so you can play along at home.

The folks at RealClimate are aghast at the pseudo-economists claim that a form of geoengineering (the "sulphates in the upper atmosphere" mad-scientist's experiment) would be the most cost effective way to "solve" global warming - Why Levitt and Dubner like geo-engineering and why they are wrong.
The geo-engineering option that is being talked about here is the addition of SO2 to the stratosphere where it oxidises to SO4 (sulphate) aerosols which, since they are reflective, reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. The zeroth order demonstration of this possibility is shown by the response of the climate to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 which caused a maximum 0.5ºC cooling a year or so later. Under business-as-usual scenarios, the radiative forcing we can expect from increasing CO2 by the end of the century are on the order of 4 to 8 W/m2 – requiring the equivalent to one to two Pinatubo’s every year if this kind of geo-engineering was the only response. And of course, you couldn’t stop until CO2 levels came back down (hundreds, if not thousands of years later) without hugely disruptive and rapid temperature rises. As Deltoid neatly puts it: “What could possibly go wrong?”.

The answer is plenty. Alan Robock discussed some of the issues here the last time this came up (umm… weeks ago). The basic issues over and above the costs of delivering the SO2 to the stratosphere are that a) once started you can’t stop without much more serious consequences so you are setting up a multi-centennial commitment to continually increasing spending (of course, if you want to stop because of huge disruption that geo-engineering might be causing, then you are pretty much toast), b) there would be a huge need for increased monitoring from the ground and space, c) who would be responsible for any unanticipated or anticipated side effects and how much would that cost?, and d) who decides when, where and how much this is used. For point ‘d’, consider how difficult it is now to come up with an international agreement on reducing emissions and then ponder the additional issues involved if India or China are concerned that geo-engineering will cause a persistent failure of the monsoon? None of these issues are trivial or cheap to deal with, and yet few are being accounted for in most popular discussions of the issue (including the chapter we are discussing here).

Tim Lambert also has a few words to say on the topic - Underwhelming response from Superfreakonomics authors.
Myhrvold finishes with:
The point of the chapter in SuperFreakonomics is that geoengineering might be good insurance in case we don't get global warming under control.

No, it isn't. The point they are trying to make is that geoengineering is a more cost-effective solution than mitigation. Which is wrong. It might be cheaper, but you don't get the same result.

The rise and fall of oil production  

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Peak oil continues to make occasional appearances in the mainstream media, with the Daily Telegraph (UK) providing the latest example - The rise and fall of oil production.

To date, the debate on "peak oil" has had little influence on UK energy policy. But a combination of strong demand growth, erosion of spare capacity and ominous warnings from analysts has heightened concerns. Global production increased only marginally between 2004 and 2008, despite record high prices. While the recession has reduced demand, prices remain around $80 per barrel and the cancellation and delay of upstream projects could lead to shortages when the economy recovers.

Two physical features of oil resources make a peak in global production inevitable.

First, the rate of production from individual fields tends to rise to a peak or plateau relatively early in a field's life and then decline, largely as a result of falling pressure. As a result, some 4pc of global production capacity needs to be replaced each year, simply to maintain production at current levels – that's equivalent to a new Saudi Arabia coming on stream every three years. With demand rising and decline rates increasing, production is becoming progressively more difficult to maintain. Around half of global production capacity will need to be replaced before 2020.

Second, most of the world's oil is located in a small number of large fields. Although there are some 70,000 fields worldwide, around half of global production derives from only 110 of them, and as much as a fifth from only 10 fields. Around 500 "giant" fields account for two-thirds of all the oil that has ever been discovered. Most of these giants are relatively old, many are well past their peak of production, most of the rest will begin to decline within the next decade or so and few new giants are expected to be found.

This combination of features will drive the global peak. At some point, the additional production from the newer, smaller fields will be insufficient to compensate for the decline in production from the ageing giants. This process has been observed in more than 100 regions worldwide, with the peak typically occurring well before half of the resources have been produced. Economic and political circumstances profoundly influence the timing, and the complex interactions between supply and demand make a "bumpy plateau" more likely than a sharp peak. But, at some point, decline becomes inevitable.

Little Wheel  

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Feel like wasting some time ? Here's a game where you get to restart the power for a city that has has its energy supply knocked out - Little Wheel (via Steve Lagavulin at Cryptogon).

350: Climate activists begin day of action  

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The SMh has a report on today's global warming "day of action" organised by (whose server seems to be melting down under the strain today) - Climate activists begin day of action.

Climate change activists have begun staging events at iconic Sydney locations as part of an international day of climate action.

Thousands of events will be held in 141 countries worldwide in an bid to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to a level of 350 parts per million.

Synchronised swimmers held up "350" placards at Bronte Baths early in the morning, while Bondi Beach swimmers used their bodies to state the figure on the sand as part of 50 events to be held throughout NSW on Saturday.

The bells of St Mary's Cathedral in the city will toll 350 times in honour of the day, while the flagship event at Sydney Opera House will see attendees spell out a giant 350 on the Opera House steps at 2pm (AEDT).

The event, which will kick off the worldwide campaign, will be accompanied by a tall ship cruise and live music from the Cat Empire, the Beautiful Girls and Felix Riebl.

TreeHugger has some background from Bill McKibben - The Science of 350, the Most Important Number on the Planet.
350 is the most important number on the planet.

Which is odd, because until about 22 months ago no one even knew it mattered.

But that's when, in December of 2007, NASA's Jim Hansen gave a slide show at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco. He'd been thinking about what it meant that we'd just come through a summer of very rapid ice melt in the high Arctic, and that researchers were reporting "ahead of schedule" changes in dozen other of the earth's big physical features--melting glaciers, acidifying oceans and so on.

Combined with reams of paleo-climate data, his team believed they now had enough information to finally draw a red line for the planet: when atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were above 350 ppm, they said, global warming would be dangerously out of control. In fact, they said in the abstract of the paper they soon published, above 350 you couldn't have a planet "similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted."

It's as if we suddenly discovered what normal body temperature was, so we'd be able to tell when we were running a fever. In that sense, it came as a great relief.

But in every other sense, it was a pretty devastating number. For one thing, we're already past it, at 390 ppm and rising two ppm annually--that's why the Arctic is melting. For another thing, it means the work nations and individuals must do to reduce their carbon footprints is much larger, and must happen much more swiftly, than we'd believed. Hansen's data shows that as a planet we'd need to get off coal by 2030 in order for the planet's forests and oceans ever to bring atmospheric levels back down below 350--that's the toughest economic and political challenge the earth has ever faced.

But it's not as if we have a choice. The most useful thing about having a number is that it forces us to grow up, to realize that the negotiations that will happen later this fall in Copenhagen aren't really about what we want to do, or what the Chinese want to do, or what Exxon Mobil wants to do. They're about what physics and chemistry want to do: the physical world has set its bottom line at 350, and it's not likely to budge.

Ausculture has a look at Australia's participation rate in the festivities - Who’s getting involved in International Day of Climate Action?.
There are currently 4,800 actions lodged on their website globally, from 179 countries, of which our 201 make up the 4.2%. (Of course in theory 1 event could involve anywhere from one person to a country’s entire population, but it’s a fair guide.)

Nearly half of Australia’s events are taking place outside capital cities, but focussing on the capitals does enable me to compare participation around the country – the more events per hundred thousand people the higher the participation.

Hobart comes out on top, with Darwin a close second. Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra are all similar, at about half the participation. Brisbane is slightly below the previous three. Adelaide and Perth have less than a quarter of Hobart’s events per capita. Adelaide is the biggest surprise here – no resources boom to distract them and some fierce environmental impacts recently.

Then again, Adelaide doesn’t have The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald. The big surprise for Brisbane is that The Courier-Mail – a News Ltd. paper – has an environmentalist on the staff! And I’m not talking one of those woolly “lets protect the Great Barrier Reef because it’s good for tourism” types, I’m talking “you might want to think twice before chaining yourself to a coal conveyor belt because having a criminal record is no fun”. Graham Readfearn, ausculture salutes you!

Algae-based bioplastics  

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Plastics News has an article on making bioplastic using algae as the feedstock - Cereplast develops algae-based bioplastics..

Bioplastics maker Cereplast Inc. plans to launch a line of bioplastic resins based on all-natural algae by the end of 2010.

“Algae-based resins represent an outstanding opportunity for companies across the plastic supply chain,” Cereplast founder, Chairman and CEO Frederic Scheer said in an Oct. 20 news release. “We believe that algae has the potential to become one of the most important green feedstocks for biofuels, as well as bioplastics.”

Hawthorne, Calif.-based Cereplast currently uses corn, tapioca, wheat and potatoes to make its bioplastics. The firm also compounds Ingeo-brand PLA bioplastic made by NatureWorks LLC.

“It’s critical to have access to feedstocks not based on starches,” Scheer said by phone Oct. 20. Non-starch feedstocks “have less impact on the food chain and are less sensitive to price changes.”

Scheer said Oct. 20 that the algae-based resins could be blended with polypropylene or other standard resins and used in injection molded or thermoformed parts. Cereplast also is working to use the new products in extrusion applications, he said.

New School of Thought Brings Energy to 'the Dismal Science'  

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The New York Times has an article on a recent biophysical economics conference in the US, featuring Charlie Hall and Nate Hagens, amongst others - New School of Thought Brings Energy to 'the Dismal Science'.

The sharpest difference between biophysical economics and the more widely held "Chicago School" approach is that biophysical economists readily accept the peak oil hypothesis: that society is fast approaching the point where global oil production will peak and then steadily decline.

The United States is held as the prime example. Though the United States is still the world's third-largest producer of oil, its oil production stopped growing more than a decade ago and has flatlined or steadily fallen ever since. Other once-robust oil-producing countries have experienced similar production curves.

But the more important indicator, biophysical economists say, is the fact that the U.S. oil industry's energy return on investment has been steadily sliding since the beginning of the century.

Through analyzing historical production data, experts say the petroleum sector's EROI in this country was about 100-to-1 in 1930, meaning one had to burn approximately 1 barrel of oil's worth of energy to get 100 barrels out of the ground. By the 1990s, it is thought, that number slid to less than 36-to-1, and further down to 19-to-1 by 2006.

"If you go from using a 20-to-1 energy return fuel down to a 3-to-1 fuel, economic collapse is guaranteed," as nothing is left for other economic activity, said Nate Hagens, editor of the popular peak oil blog "The Oil Drum."

Oceanlinx commission final demonstration wave power plant  

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IEEE Spectrum has an article on wave power company Oceanlinx, who have commissioned their final demonstration unit before commencing construction of a commercial facility - This Renewable Energy Source Is Swell (via Cleantechnica).

The ocean is a potential treasure trove for renewable energy—one NASA study estimated more than 91 000 terawatt-hours annually of accessible energy worldwide. But wave-power technology development has been plagued by the unpredictability of the source and technical troubles stemming from the harsh ocean water environment. Now an Australia-based company has found a new way, to predictably and reliably generate energy from the ocean. The technology relies on the power of ocean swells, which are easy-to-predict long-wavelength oscillations.

Earlier this month, off the coast of Port Kembla, near Sydney, Oceanlinx began installation of its final demonstration-scale, grid-connected unit before it begins commercial construction. (The company is disassembling its first demo plant there, which has been in operation since 2006.) The new plant will be ready in early 2010, and its power can be connected to the Australian grid. Oceanlinx CEO Ali Baghaei says the new plant ”will validate a capacity over 2.5 megawatts” per unit—enough energy for about 2000 Australian homes.

The technology behind the power involves tugboat-sized platforms that convert ocean swells to energy as they pass beneath them. Unlike other ocean-energy schemes, the platform converts the energy of the swells into air pressure to turn a wind turbine.

Oceanlinx’s technology has its roots in the oil industry. Oil platforms no longer sit on the seabed; instead, they float, kept relatively stable by enormous heave plates (which look like big duck feet) situated many meters below the surface and stabilized by mooring lines. The same technology that keeps oil platforms in place can generate energy, which Oceanlinx demonstrated in 2007 with their second-generation prototype. ...

The generators, which have a modular design, can be combined and configured to provide a range of generation capacities, which will leave a smaller footprint than other renewables schemes, Baghaei says. For example, he estimates, the company’s third-generation platforms could form an array a few hundred meters across to generate hundreds of megawatts, on a par with the biggest commercial tidal power facility in the world, the 240-MW La Rance tidal power plant, in France. reports that aerospace company Lockheed Martin are partnering with wave power company OPT in the US - Lockheed dives into developing wave energy, buoyed by OPT tech.
Lockheed Martin and Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) said today they have officially signed a commercial engineering services agreement to develop OPT's wave energy systems to be used in future utility-scale power generation projects. ...

A 10-megawatt utility power station using OPT’s PowerBuoy technology would take up about 30 acres (0.125 square kilometers) of ocean space, the company said. However, the first project between OPT and Lockheed slated five miles off the coast of Reedsport, Ore., would start with a 10-buoy array, with each one capable of producing 150 kilowatts. The project would start at 1.5 MW, Taylor said, and expand in phases up to 50 MW.

OPT is already working on its next-generation 500-kW buoy, which would replace the 150-kW version because it's more economical, Taylor said. The Reedsport project would be followed by a 100-MW deployment in Coos Bay, Ore.

Also at, a report on an Israeli company looking to develop wave power projects in India - Gujarat government commits $5M to new wave power plant.
Wave power plant developer and engineering company SDE Energy said today its subsidiary signed a memorandum of understanding with the Gujarat government to build a 5 megawatt power plant that harnesses energy from ocean waves. ...

The government has also authorized a $700 million budget for the next phase—a 100 MW sea wave power plant to be built by SDE.

The War on Cyclists  

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From TreeHugger - The War on Cyclists and Pedestrians is Getting Ugly.

Large Hadron Collider Sabotaging Itself from the Future ?  

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Off topic but entertaining - The Times has an article on a strange series of setbacks suffered by the large hadron collider at CERN - Large Hadron Collider Sabotaging Itself from the Future?.

Explosions, scientists arrested for alleged terrorism, mysterious breakdowns — recently Cern’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has begun to look like the world’s most ill-fated experiment.

Is it really nothing more than bad luck or is there something weirder at work? Such speculation generally belongs to the lunatic fringe, but serious scientists have begun to suggest that the frequency of Cern’s accidents and problems is far more than a coincidence.

The LHC, they suggest, may be sabotaging itself from the future — twisting time to generate a series of scientific setbacks that will prevent the machine fulfilling its destiny.

At first sight, this theory fits comfortably into the crackpot tradition linking the start-up of the LHC with terrible disasters. The best known is that the £3 billion particle accelerator might trigger a black hole capable of swallowing the Earth when it gets going. Scientists enjoy laughing at this one.

This time, however, their ridicule has been rather muted — because the time travel idea has come from two distinguished physicists who have backed it with rigorous mathematics.

What Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, are suggesting is that the Higgs boson, the particle that physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be “abhorrent to nature”.

What does that mean? According to Nielsen, it means that the creation of the boson at some point in the future would then ripple backwards through time to put a stop to whatever it was that had created it in the first place.

Wall Street's Naked Swindle  

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Matt Taibbi's latest article on Wall Street is out at Rolling Stone - Wall Street's Naked Swindle .

What really happened to Bear and Lehman is that an economic drought temporarily left the hyenas without any more middle-class victims — and so they started eating each other, using the exact same schemes they had been using for years to fleece the rest of the country. And in the forensic footprint left by those kills, we can see for the first time exactly how the scam worked — and how completely even the government regulators who are supposed to protect us have given up trying to stop it.

This was a brokered bloodletting, one in which the power of the state was used to help effect a monstrous consolidation of financial and political power. Heading into 2008, there were five major investment banks in the United States: Bear, Lehman, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. Today only Morgan Stanley and Goldman survive as independent firms, perched atop a restructured Wall Street hierarchy. And while the rest of the civilized world responded to last year's catastrophes with sweeping measures to rein in the corruption in their financial sectors, the United States invited the wolves into the government, with the popular new president, Barack Obama — elected amid promises to clean up the mess — filling his administration with Bear's and Lehman's conquerors, bestowing his papal blessing on a new era of robbery.

To the rest of the world, the brazenness of the theft — coupled with the conspicuousness of the government's inaction — clearly demonstrates that the American capital markets are a crime in progress. To those of us who actually live here, however, the news is even worse. We're in a place we haven't been since the Depression: Our economy is so completely fucked, the rich are running out of things to steal.

If you squint hard enough, you can see that the derivative-driven economy of the past decade has always, in a way, been about counterfeiting. At their most basic level, innovations like the ones that triggered the global collapse — credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations — were employed for the primary purpose of synthesizing out of thin air those revenue flows that our dying industrial economy was no longer pumping into the financial bloodstream. The basic concept in almost every case was the same: replacing hard assets with complex formulas that, once unwound, would prove to be backed by promises and IOUs instead of real stuff. Credit-default swaps enabled banks to lend more money without having the cash to cover potential defaults; one type of CDO let Wall Street issue mortgage-backed bonds that were backed not by actual monthly mortgage payments made by real human beings, but by the wild promises of other irresponsible lenders. They even called the thing a synthetic CDO — a derivative contract filled with derivative contracts — and nobody laughed. The whole economy was a fake.

A Boost for wave power in Ireland  

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The Irish Herald reports that a 250 MW wave power plant is to be built on Ireland's west coast - Boost for wave power

A joint Irish-Swedish multinational company is preparing to develop a wave energy project along the Atlantic coast which could generate enough energy to power Cork city by 2020. The new venture with Tonn Energy, which is backed by the Swedish multinational utility company Vattenfall and indigenous Irish technology firm Wavebob, is hoping to generate up to 250MWs of electricity, enough for 180,000 homes and employ around 250 people.

Planning, installation, operation and maintenance work of pre-commercial devices at the national wave-energy test site at Belmullet, Co Mayo, will now begin. "Ireland could be to wave energy what Saudi Arabia is to oil," Wavebob chief executive Andrew Parish said yesterday.

The NYT has a report from the other side of the irish sea, noting that Aberdeen is starting to prepare for life after oil - Scottish City Prepares for Life Beyond Oil.
With British North Sea production of oil and natural gas 44 percent below its peak, Aberdeen, the self-styled oil capital of Europe, fears the slowdown is not simply cyclical. An oil industry that at one stage inspired talk of Scotland as “the Kuwait of the West” has already outlived most predictions, having enjoyed a hydrocarbon heyday of almost five decades. As it prepares for the end of oil, Aberdeen is remaking itself, putting its hopes in renewable energy and tourism. “I’m steering my kids away from anything to do with oil,” said John Irvine, a truck driver who used to work on the rigs. “It’s not going to last forever.” ...

When the oil finally does run out, the decommissioning of hundreds of offshore platforms and thousands of pipelines will be an opportunity in itself. The infrastructure will need to be disassembled and returned to shore for disposal, creating a market worth at least £23 billion, estimates Oil and Gas UK, an industry lobbying group. “It could be the beginning of a whole new industry,” said Lewis MacDonald, a member of the Scottish Parliament representing Aberdeen Central.

Big Oil cuts deals with Iraq  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

UPI has a report on oil companies cutting deals with the government to access Iraq's oil - Big Oil cuts deals with Iraq.

The government's gamble that the lure of Iraq's oil wealth will persuade major international oil companies to invest billions of dollars in upgrading the country's ramshackle energy on Baghdad's terms seems to be finally paying off. Several weeks before a crucial auction of licenses for some of Iraq's biggest oil fields scheduled for mid-December, Iraqi officials say that several global oil giants have lowered their demands and cut deals with Baghdad.

This will likely intensify pressure on other bidders to fall in line with Baghdad's demands if they want to get their hands on Iraq's immense energy riches. These total 115 billion barrels of proven, recoverable oil reserves, the fourth highest after Saudi Arabia, Canada and Iran. But industry analysts say that untapped reserves could double that. Major oil companies were booted out of Iraq in 1972 when the oil industry was nationalized. Now they want to get back in.

Wildlife Photographer of the year, 2009  

Posted by Big Gav in

The BBC has a report on this year's "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" exhibition - Leaping wolf snatches photo prize

A picture of a hunting wolf has won the prestigious Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 award.

Jose Luis Rodriguez captured the imaginations of the judges with a photograph that he had planned for years, and even sketched out on a piece of paper. "I wanted to capture a photo in which you would see a wolf in an act of hunting - or predation - but without blood," he told BBC News. "I didn't want a cruel image."

With a great deal of patience and careful observation of the wolves' movements, he succeeded in taking the award-winning photograph. Mr Rodriguez used a custom-built infrared trap to snap the the wolf as it leapt into the air.

Stop blaming the poor  

Posted by Big Gav in

George Monbiot has a column in The Guardian echoing John Brunner's theory in "The Sheep Look Up" - population growth isn't the root cause of environmental degradation - Stop blaming the poor. It's the wally yachters who are burning the planet.

It's no coincidence that most of those who are obsessed with population growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men: it's about the only environmental issue for which they can't be blamed. The brilliant Earth systems scientist James Lovelock, for instance, claimed last month that "those who fail to see that population growth and climate change are two sides of the same coin are either ignorant or hiding from the truth. These two huge environmental problems are inseparable and to discuss one while ignoring the other is irrational." But it's Lovelock who is being ignorant and irrational.

A paper published yesterday in the journal Environment and Urbanization shows that the places where population has been growing fastest are those in which carbon dioxide has been growing most slowly, and vice versa. Between 1980 and 2005, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa produced 18.5% of the world's population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in CO2. North America turned out only 4% of the extra people, but 14% of the extra emissions. Sixty-three percent of the world's population growth happened in places with very low emissions.

Even this does not capture it. The paper points out that about one sixth of the world's population is so poor that it produces no significant emissions at all. This is also the group whose growth rate is likely to be highest. Households in India earning less than 3,000 rupees (£40) a month use a fifth of the electricity per head and one seventh of the transport fuel of households earning 30,000 rupees or more. Street sleepers use almost nothing. Those who live by processing waste (a large part of the urban underclass) often save more greenhouse gases than they produce. ...

Someone I know who hangs out with the very rich tells me that in the banker belt of the lower Thames valley there are people who heat their outdoor swimming pools to bath temperature, all round the year. They like to lie in the pool on winter nights, looking up at the stars. The fuel costs them £3,000 a month. One hundred thousand people living like these bankers would knacker our life support systems faster than 10 billion people living like the African peasantry. But at least the super wealthy have the good manners not to breed very much, so the rich old men who bang on about human reproduction leave them alone.

In May the Sunday Times carried an article headlined "Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation". It revealed that "some of America's leading billionaires have met secretly" to decide which good cause they should support. "A consensus emerged that they would back a strategy in which population growth would be tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial threat." The ultra-rich, in other words, have decided that it's the very poor who are trashing the planet. You grope for a metaphor, but it's impossible to satirise.

James Lovelock, like Sir David Attenborough and Jonathan Porritt, is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust. It is one of dozens of campaigns and charities whose sole purpose is to discourage people from breeding in the name of saving the biosphere. But I haven't been able to find any campaign whose sole purpose is to address the impacts of the very rich.

The obsessives could argue that the people breeding rapidly today might one day become richer. But as the super wealthy grab an ever greater share and resources begin to run dry, this, for most of the very poor, is a diminishing prospect. There are strong social reasons for helping people to manage their reproduction, but weak environmental reasons – except among wealthier populations.

The Optimum Population Trust glosses over the fact that the world is going through demographic transition: population growth rates are slowing down almost everywhere and the number of people is likely, according to a paper in Nature, to peak this century, probably at about 10 billion. Most of the growth will take place among those who consume almost nothing.

But no one anticipates a consumption transition. People breed less as they become richer, but they don't consume less – they consume more. As the habits of the super-rich show, there are no limits to human extravagance. Consumption can be expected to rise with economic growth until the biosphere hits the buffers. Anyone who understands this and still considers that population, not consumption, is the big issue is, in Lovelock's words, "hiding from the truth". It is the worst kind of paternalism, blaming the poor for the excesses of the rich.

Shifting the world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy as early as 2030 -- here are the numbers  

Posted by Big Gav in

PhysOrg has a post on an article in next month's Scientific American describing how to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030 - Shifting the world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy as early as 2030 -- here are the numbers.

Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has coauthored an article that is the cover story in the November issue of Scientific American. The article presents new research mapping out and evaluating a quantitative plan for powering the entire world on wind, water and solar energy, including an assessment of the materials needed and costs. And it will ultimately be cheaper than sticking with fossil fuel or going nuclear.

To make clear the extent of those hurdles - and how they could be overcome - they have written an article that is the cover story in the November issue of Scientific American. In it, they present new research mapping out and evaluating a quantitative plan for powering the entire world on wind, water and solar energy, including an assessment of the materials needed and costs. And it will ultimately be cheaper than sticking with fossil fuel or going nuclear, they say.

The key is turning to wind, water and solar energy to generate electrical power - making a massive commitment to them - and eliminating combustion as a way to generate power for vehicles as well as for normal electricity use.

A Nuclear Power Renaissance ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology Review has an article on the poor economics of nuclear power - Nuclear Power Renaissance?.

Whether new nuclear plants are a good bet economically depends on three factors, all now in flux. First is the cost of a new reactor. In 2005, a few would-be reactor builders said they could construct a facility generating 1.2 to 1.6 gigawatts for $2,000 per kilowatt of capacity. Now, they put the cost at $4,000 per kilowatt. Neither price includes interest charges accrued during construction, which could be substantial if the job takes more than the five years or so that the builders predict--or if interest rates rise, as they are expected to. The Electric Power Research Institute, a utility consortium based in Palo Alto, CA, recently put the capital cost of a new coal plant at under $3,000 per kilowatt and that of a natural-gas plant at $800 per kilowatt.

The second factor is uncertainty about possible future competitors. If 10 years from now wind or solar plants, or coal plants that capture their carbon emissions, are able to deliver vast amounts of cheap power, the market price of electricity will fall, and plant owners may never see enough revenue to meet their costs.

The third factor is uncertainty about the price of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas. In the last year, the fuel cost for a kilowatt-hour generated from natural gas has varied from about 2.3 cents to about 9 cents. If a federal cap-and-trade system or a tax on carbon dioxide emissions is instituted, that is likely to add 0.5 to 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Add in 2 cents or more to recover the cost of building the plant, and the price of gas-fired power could make nuclear power look very attractive--or really overpriced.

First Solar Joins S&P 500  

Posted by Big Gav in , media has a post on thin film solar company First Solar's booming market capitalisation - First Solar Joins S&P 500.

As sales climbed, First Solar filed for an IPO in November 2006. The stock went out at $20 and hit $200 within a year, a trajectory that compares with Google's first year. The economic calamity, among other factors, caused the stock to drop, but the company has consistently topped revenue and earnings expectations while dropping the average price of its solar panels. It broke the $1 per watt manufacturing cost barrier in 2008. During the second quarter, the cost per watt was down to 87 cents. But good luck figuring out how they do it – the company fiercely guards its secrets. First Solar is working on a way to bring copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) cells to market.

Market awaits birth of geothermal giant  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Australian's "Greenchip" column has an update on the state of the geothermal power / low temperature geothermal power industry in Australia - Market awaits birth of geothermal giant. The article cites a Morgan Stanley report on the sector, "noting that there were already 10 listed entities pursuing geothermal energy opportunities in Australia". The article also reports that our first commercial-scale wave power plant (the world's largest) will be built by Carnegie Corp at Garden Island, south of Perth, with 5 MW of capacity due online next year.

Australia's resources lie in more challenging deep aquifers, and the even deeper and more experimental hot rocks. Despite this, the industry believes up to 2000MW of capacity could be installed by 2020, but progress has been slowed by the impact of the global financial crisis, drip-feed funding from governments, and, more importantly, the lack of drilling rigs. A well blow-out that has caused lengthy delays at the most-advanced project owned by Geodynamics has also clouded the future of the hot-rock technology.

However, the hydrothermal developers say hot aquifers are not nearly as complicated as hot rocks. Birdsville has been partly powered by one such aquifer since 1992, and Greenearth Energy last week released a report highlighting the fact that hydrothermal plants of 70MW to 120MW had been operating in the US for the past 20 years and in Europe for the past decade.

Greenearth believes it could deliver energy from the first stage of its planned 140MW project near Geelong within three years of starting to drill. Panax sees an even shorter time frame for its project on the Limestone Coast in South Australia.

However, neither company can move forward because they are in a queue to use the one suitable and available drilling rig in Australia, currently being used at Petratherm's Parlana hot-rock project, which is several months behind schedule.


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