The Geological Prize Called Haiti ?  

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Somewhat to my surprise my most highly read article of the past week was an off-the-cuff pointer to some tinfoil about oil in Haiti. F William Engdahl (one time peak oil theorist and now vociferous anti-peak oil and anti-global warming theorist) has taken to the story like a duck to water, floating his now familiar theory about abiotic oil and suppression of oil production - The Fateful Geological Prize Called Haiti. I guess time will tell if Haiti does have any oil or if this is all just some colourful theorising from the fringes.

A President becomes UN Special Envoy to earthquake-stricken Haiti.

A born-again neo-conservative US business wheeler-dealer preacher claims Haitians are condemned for making a literal ‘pact with the Devil.’

Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Bolivian, French and Swiss rescue organizations accuse the US military of refusing landing rights to planes bearing necessary medicines and urgently needed potable water to the millions of Haitians stricken, injured and homeless.

Behind the smoke, rubble and unending drama of human tragedy in the hapless Caribbean country, a drama is in full play for control of what geophysicists believe may be one of the world’s richest zones for hydrocarbons-oil and gas outside the Middle East, possibly orders of magnitude greater than that of nearby Venezuela.

Haiti, and the larger island of Hispaniola of which it is a part, has the geological fate that it straddles one of the world’s most active geological zones, where the deepwater plates of three huge structures relentlessly rub against one another—the intersection of the North American, South American and Caribbean tectonic plates. Below the ocean and the waters of the Caribbean, these plates consist of an oceanic crust some 3 to 6 miles thick, floating atop an adjacent mantle. Haiti also lies at the edge of the region known as the Bermuda Triangle, a vast area in the Caribbean subject to bizarre and unexplained disturbances.

This vast mass of underwater plates are in constant motion, rubbing against each other along lines analogous to cracks in a broken porcelain vase that has been reglued. The earth’s tectonic plates typically move at a rate 50 to 100 mm annually in relation to one another, and are the origin of earthquakes and of volcanoes. The regions of convergence of such plates are also areas where vast volumes of oil and gas can be pushed upwards from the Earth’s mantle. The geophysics surrounding the convergence of the three plates that run more or less directly beneath Port-au-Prince make the region prone to earthquakes such as the one that struck Haiti with devastating ferocity on January 12.

GDF Suez, Santos reach Australian LNG deal  

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UPI has a report on yet another Australian LNG project, this one in the Timor sea - GDF Suez, Santos reach Australian LNG deal.

French energy giant GDF Suez signed an agreement with its Australian partners at Santos to develop three offshore gas fields in Australia, the company said.

GDF Suez announced a $200 million deal with Santos that concludes plans launched in August to develop its Bonaparte liquefied natural gas project. The integrated project envisions the construction of a floating liquefaction plant with a capacity to produce more than 2 million tons of LNG per year.

The project relies on gas resources from the Petrel, Tern and Frigate gas fields in the Bonaparte gas basin in the Timor Sea, which GDF Suez described as one of the richest gas regions in Australia.

The Low-Hanging Fruit of Energy Efficiency  

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Kevin Drum has an article on profitable (for the buyer) forms of energy efficiency investment - Climate Change's Low-Hanging Fruit.

If you don't live in California, you might not have heard of Arthur Rosenfeld. But for the past four decades, he's been the main inspiration behind a host of energy efficiency and conservation regulations that have made California the greenest state in the nation. He's retiring from the California Energy Commission this week, and today the LA Times remembers his early battles :
New homes and buildings were required to be better insulated and fitted with energy-wise lighting, heating and cooling systems. Appliances had to be designed to use less power. Utilities were forced to motivate their customers to use less electricity.

....Not surprisingly, those rules were attacked by business groups as bureaucratic job killers. Rosenfeld, who received his doctorate from the University of Chicago, was called unqualified by critics at Pacific Gas & Electric Co., one of California's largest utilities.

Yet these mandates have yielded about $30 billion annually in energy savings for California consumers. They've eliminated air pollution that's the equivalent of taking 100 million cars off the roads. They have been copied by states and countries worldwide. California's gains are so closely linked to Rosenfeld that they've been dubbed the Rosenfeld Effect in energy efficiency circles, where the 83-year-old has taken on rock star status.

Rosenfeld's ideas, far from being job killers, have been a boon for California. We have plenty of problems here in the Golden State right now, but better energy efficiency isn't one of them. In the end, Rosenfeld was right and his critics in the corporate world were wrong.

This reminds me of a current kerfuffle over energy efficiency on a national scale. McKinsey, the consultancy firm, has pressed the cause of energy efficiency for some time, and in 2007 they released a report that contained this now-famous chart (this is the 2009 version):

The point of the chart is simple: Some energy efficiency measures have a net cost and require fairly careful analysis to decide if they're worthwhile. Those things are shown on the right side of the chart. But there are lots of efficiency measures that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but produce net cost savings at the same time. These are the low-hanging fruit of climate change, otherwise known as "no-brainers." There are tremendous savings out there for the taking.

But there's still opposition to this idea. A couple of weeks ago Ted Gayer of the Brookings Institution wrote that McKinsey's conclusion "violates the basic principles of economics. If firms (or consumers) could reduce emissions at negative cost, then they would do so. To say otherwise is to say that they are willingly or ignorantly passing up profits." But firms and consumers do pass up opportunities to save money. Maybe it's through ignorance, maybe through laziness, maybe because of financing limitations. But there's plainly friction in the real world that doesn't always show up in simple Econ 101 models. A few days ago Brad Plumer linked to a Wall Street Journal report about an energy efficiency consultant, EnerNOC, that audited Morgan Stanley's New York headquarters and immediately saved them a bundle of money...

NT Tidal power project could run all homes  

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NT News has an article on interest in tidal power in the Northern Territory - Tidal power project could run all homes.

A COMPANY wants to build a multimillion-dollar tidal power project in the Top End. Territory-based Tenax says it could potentially generate enough electricity to supply 194,000 homes - more than exist in the NT. It has applied for an environmental assessment of the scheme at Clarence Strait at Glyde Point, 50km northeast of Darwin.

More than 450 generators would be installed across 1690ha of the seabed and connected to the NT's electricity grid by 2km-long underground cables. Each generator would sit on a 14m x 21m x 3m-high concrete and steel base.

Clarence Strait was selected for two reasons:

* IT HAS the greatest tidal velocity near Darwin, with tidal movements of up to 5m; and
* IT HAS the minimum 20m depth needed for tidal power.

How will we recharge all the electric cars ?  

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The Economist has an overly-negative look at the issues involved in recharging electric cars in the US - How will we recharge all the electric cars?.

IN THE ten years since hybrid electric vehicles first hit the highways and byways of America, they have come to represent 2.5% of new car sales. Yet, in places like Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, DC, every other car seems to be a Toyota Prius. That is because hybrids like the Prius have sold overwhelmingly where well-heeled early adopters reside.

Expect the new generation of “Post-Prius” electrics—plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt from General Motors and those relying only on a battery such as the Nissan Leaf—to end up nosing around the same upscale neighbourhoods. With more than a dozen plug-in and pure-electric models arriving in showrooms over the next year or so, sales are expected to outstrip even those enjoyed by the Prius and other hybrids in their early days. A couple of million of the new electric vehicles could be bought by early adopters during the first few years.

That would be a problem. Unlike the Prius and its ilk—which use their petrol engines, along with energy recovered from braking, to recharge their batteries while motoring—plug-in hybrids and pure electrics have to be recharged direct from the grid. The popular assumption is that they will be plugged into a wall socket in the garage late at night, taking advantage of cheap off-peak power. Unfortunately, things are not that simple.

For a start, the new generation of electric vehicles are not glorified golf-carts, but cleaner and more frugal alternatives to today’s petrol-powered family cars. When fully charged, the Volt (to be called the Ampera in Europe) can travel 40 miles (64km) on electric power, enough for three out of four commuters in America to get to work and back without needing to burn a single drop of fuel. Beyond that range, a 1.4-litre engine kicks in to generate electricity and simultaneously propel the car and recharge its batteries.

The medium-sized hatchback Leaf can carry five adults 100 miles on a single charge. To go farther, Nissan has put its faith in a network of rapid-charging stations it is developing with partners. The Leaf is expected to cost $25,000-30,000, about the same as a comparable diesel-powered car. But the battery pack will have to be leased separately (for around $150 a month).

One thing the new plug-ins and pure electrics have in common is a beefy lithium-ion battery pack that needs a lot of heavy charging. At the very least, that involves installing 220-volt wiring in the home. Trying to recharge a modern electric car with a standard American 110-volt supply takes too long to be practical (up to 18 hours in the case of the Leaf).

Of course, if not fully charged at night it may have to be recharged during the day—when electricity rates can be up to five times more expensive. Average peak rates in America are 33 cents a kilowatt-hour compared with seven cents off-peak. Charging at the peak rate is equivalent to buying petrol at $3.63 a gallon (80 cents a litre), instead of 77 cents a gallon off-peak, reckons Southern California Edison, a utility based in the Los Angeles area. In America, peak-rate charging totally destroys any economic advantage an electric car may have. ...

Much, of course, will depend on how quickly the new plug-ins and pure electrics become part of mainstream motoring. Generally speaking, it takes 15-20 years for a new technology to capture 10% of an established market, and a further 10-15 years for it to own 90%. That was the case when steam ships replaced clippers in the mid-19th century, and when petrol-engined taxis took over from horse-drawn cabs in the early 20th century. The same sort of lag occurred with the introduction in the 1970s of emission controls on cars. It takes years for the benefits of volume production to work their way through to the market, and for the supply chain to catch up.

If plug-in electrics follow a similar demand curve to other disruptive technologies, there could be 25m of them humming quietly around by 2025, and ten times that number by 2040. Hopefully, by then, the utilities will have learned to cope with recharging them.

The New York Times has an article on the forthcoming release of the plugin Toyota Prius - The Dawn of Plug-In Priuses and Smart Meters.
Toyota announced on Monday plans to begin selling “several tens of thousands” of plug-in versions of its popular Prius hybrid in 2012 2011, as Hiroko Tabuchi reports.

In another article in The New York Times today, Matthew L. Wald describes how the rollout of so-called smart meters – which are promoted by electric utilities as a way to save ratepayers money over the long term because they allow for variable electricity rates – is meeting resistance from skeptical consumers, who do not appreciate the meters’ up-front price tag.

In many ways, these articles are about pieces of the same thing — the “smart grid” envisioned for the future.

These two new technologies, plug-in cars and smart meters, are both critical components of the smart grid. In the future, large numbers of automobiles are expected to run on electricity and recharge from a home outlet during the night. (That is true not just of the plug-in Prius, but also of other electric vehicles in the pipeline, like the Chevrolet Volt.)

Smart meters are expected to help encourage consumers to charge their cars at night, because they allow utilities to offer lower rates for electricity at off-peak times. Far less electricity is used at night, when most people are sleeping, than during the day, so power plants have spare capacity to charge automobiles. However, under the current system, there is little incentive to charge automobiles at night because most utilities charge consumers a single rate that stays the same, daytime or nighttime.

Gas-to-Liquids and Coal-to-Liquids Production Statistics  

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Stuart Staniford at Early Warning has a post on the state of play for gas-to-liquids projects around the world - Gas-to-Liquids Production Statistics.

Continuing this little series on production stats for various forms of alternative liquid fuels, this morning I look at Gas-to-Liquids (GTL). This is a process in which:
Gas to liquids is a refinery process to convert natural gas or other gaseous hydrocarbons into longer-chain hydrocarbons such as gasoline or diesel fuel. Methane-rich gases are converted into liquid fuels either via direct conversion or via syngas as an intermediate, for example using the Fischer Tropsch process.

After researching it, there seems little hope of obtaining actual production statistics for this process globally, but we can get pretty close just from research on plant capacity and opening dates. The graph above summarizes the situation. There are three plants globally operating GTL processes at commercial scale, and together they sum to less than 100,000 barrels/day.

The longest standing plant is at Mossel Bay in South Africa, operated by PetroSA since 1987 (I assume this is another legacy of apartheid sanctions) which has a 36kbd output capacity.

In 1993, Shell began operating a small plant in Bintalu, Malaysia, and increased its capacity in 2005 (from 12.5kbd to 14.6kbd).

Most recently, Sasol and Qatar Petroleum brought on stream the Oryx plant in Qatar. This had a difficult start up, but is now apparently operating at the designed 34kbd capacity.

There are also other plants under construction: the 120kbd Pearl GTL plant in Qatar, and the Escravos plant in Nigeria. Both hope for production in 2010, but given the history of difficulties with GTL plant startup we should probably reserve judgement.

There were many more plans for GTL plants around the year 2000, but most went under. A helpful National Petroleum Council study report explains ...

Start also has a post on coal to liquids - Coal-to-Liquids Production Statistics.
So, in today's adventure in much-harder-to-find-than-they-should-be energy statistics, I try to assemble some kind of series for global production of synfuel from coal-to-liquids (CTL). This went even worse than the tar sands. However, I think I have figured out the big picture, and I report my findings here for the benefit of future energy sleuths, or in the hope that someone will point me at better data if it exists.

Firstly, for the sake of readers just getting up to speed, what we are talking about is the possibility to use various kinds of chemical transformations to make a petroleum-like liquid fuel from coal. See the Wiki entry on coal liquefaction for more details of the various possibilities. This was done most famously by the Germans during World War II, and has been done for a long time in South Africa; the South Africans needed to get around economic sanctions during the Apartheid era, and that country has a lot of coal and not much oil. Since there are huge amounts of coal underground around the world, CTL is often cited as a potential substitute for oil in future (generally by folks not worried about climate change).

There are at present two plants in the world operating coal liquefaction processes at commercial scale. The first is operated by Sasol in South Africa and has been operating for a long time. The second has just been opened last year by Shenhua in China. ...

Overall, the picture seems to be that South African production of CTL synfuel has been roughly flat for many years. There are some fluctuations, but there is certainly not an overall upward trend.

The data situation for the new plant in China is even sketchier. According to this page, the capacity of the plant is 1 million tonnes per year, which is about 1/7 of the output of Sasol in South Africa. It reached full production some time in mid 2009, so there would not have been a full year of production in 2009. Thus, at this time this represents a rather small increase in total global production of coal to liquids - perhaps of the order of 5-10%, with a little more coming in 2010 with, I assume, a full year of operation. Shenhua does have plans to increase the plant capacity to 3Mt in the future, which would give another increase when that occurs.

Amusingly, the CTL plant is located in a place we have already referenced on this blog: Ordos.

iMeter Smart meters save energy, water, and dollars  

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Todd Woody has an article at Grist talking about the benefits of expanding the smart meter / smart grid idea from the electricity grid to the water supply network - Smart meters save energy, water, and dollars.

The other day I came home to find a colorful flyer on my front door proclaiming, “Your meter just got smarter.”

While I was out and about in Berkeley, a worker from my utility, PG&E, slipped in the side gate and gave my old gas and electric meter a digital upgrade. So-called smart meters allow the two-way transmission of electricity data and will eventually let me monitor and alter my energy consumption in near real-time. I’ll be able to fire up an app on my iPhone and see, for instance, a spike in watts because my son has left the lights on in his room and a laptop plugged in.

Now I only learn of my electricity use when I get my monthly utility bill, long after all that carbon has escaped into the atmosphere. The situation is even worse when it comes to water consumption; my bill and details of my water use arrive every other month.

“When you tell people what total bucket of water they used in the past 60 days, the barn door is open and the animals are long gone,” says Richard Harris, water conservation manager for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, my local water agency.

EBMUD is currently testing smart water meters in 30 households and plans to expand the pilot program to 4,000 homes and businesses later this year.

“It’ll give us better knowledge of where our water is going,” says Harris. “We also thought if we’re going to ask people to use water more efficiently, especially when we’re coming out of a drought and have imposed water restrictions, customers need to have an idea of what their current use is.”

EBMUD’s smart meters take readings every hour and participants in the pilot program will be able to go online to check their consumption and set up an email alert if their water use rises above a certain level. The agency also plans to offer a social networking feature to allow people to compare their water consumption with other households in the area. Nothing like a little peer pressure to get you to turn off the tap.

Given that many states expect to face water shortages in the coming years, one would think we’d be seeing a roll out of smart water meters akin to the national effort being made to smarten up the power grid.

The payoff could be enormous. Water agencies and consumers would be able to detect leaking pipes and toilets in real-time and fix the problem before the water literally goes down the drain.

Smart grids continue to be the one area of the cleantech world that is really booming this year, so I'll do a little roundup of recent articles.

EETimes points to a recent report predicting their will be over 200 million smart meters deployed by 2014 - Report: Smart meters rise to 212 million in 2014.
Deployments of smart electricity meters worldwide will rise from 76 million in 2009 to reach about 212 million in 2014, according to a new report from ABI Research. The report provides forecasts of the wired and wireless communications options used to connect meters as well as profiles of some of many smart meter makers.

The move to smart grids and two-way meters to enable new services to the home got a $3.4 billion boost from economic stimulus grants in the U.S. this year, noted Sam Lucero, a practice director at ABI and author of the report.

For its part, the European Union enacted a so-called Third Energy Package in September which aims to migrate every European electricity meter to a capability for two-way communications by 2022. China is said to be ramping up its own smart grid programs, Lucero added.

Smart Grid News has a look at some possible changes to the energy market configurations as a result of smart grid implementation - Why Today's Utilities May Soon Be Obsolete (and What May Replace Them).
The potential for implementation of a Smart Grid depends upon the paradigm or paradigms that are eventually implemented, as well as on the quantity and quality of information being exchanged. ... Two major questions are paramount across all models:

* Who makes the decisions?
* How is control exercised?

These crucial questions determine who applies the smarts to the grid and how efficiently those smarts realize the promise of Smart Grid technologies.

Attempting to create a taxonomy of market structures risks over-simplification, but the resulting clarity can be insightful. This said, I argue that there are four market models that capture the critical elements of what will emerge when the Smart Grid is fully implemented. While elements of the four can be mixed and matched, at the core they represent extremes that require dramatically different deployment strategies in information and data flow, as well as end user decision and control.

These are:

* Pure Market
* Intermediated
* Microgrid
* Centrally Controlled

Reuters has a look at the smart grid investment landscape - How to make a play in the smart electrical grid: executives.
The privately-held Silver Spring Networks is smart grid networking company and is often cited as a candidate for an initial public offering.

The smart grid will allow two-way communications between utilities and their customers. Analysts have said it will marry clean power, electric vehicles, advanced meters, and power storage into a seamless network, modernizing thousands of miles of outdated power lines and allowing for more efficient energy use.

Increased momentum for smart grid technology helped push power storage and energy efficiency stocks to perform the best on the WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index in 2009, which tracks the performance of 86 global clean energy stocks.

The sector also has seen a boost from the Obama administration, which announced a $3.4 billion package in 2009 to help build a smart electric grid meant to trim utility bills, reduce blackouts and carry power generated by solar and wind energy.

"The scale is even bigger than the Internet ... but the speed of adoption is still going to be slow," said Adrian Tuck, chief executive at Tendril, a Boulder, Colorado-based smart grid company that GE recently acquired a stake in. ...

"Demand response is the killer application in this market, at least the first killer app," said Robert W Baird analyst Michael Horowitz. "These guys already have built fairly good business momentum over the last couple of years, as consumers and utilities alike are looking for better ways to manage delivering electrons," he added.

While bigger players are moving into the sector, they may not be the fastest way to profit from the smart grid. Google has invested in smart grid player Silver Spring Networks while Cisco and Microsoft are seeking to leverage their existing networking and software expertise in the emerging sector.

"Our view is the pure play companies are going to give a lot more bang. This is going to be very small to incremental for a company like Cisco and Microsoft," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Stuart Bush.

Back at Smart grid News, a look at some of the issues that are cropping up as utilities try to phase out jobs like meter reading as smart meters are rolled out - Is the Smart Grid Inducing Labor Pains?.
It seems that there is a bit of wire crossing happening amid the hardworking folks who are actually many of the hands and feet creating and managing the Smart Grid. In spite of very positive initial reactions to the federal investment of billions into the creation of the Smart Grid, the law of unintended consequences is introducing some consternation among the ranks of organized labor as Smart Grid programs move from philosophy to reality.

While the introduction of the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program was applauded by many in the labor community as the beginnings of a new market for skilled technicians, such as in this AFL-CIO blog post, or this IBEW promotional video, some actual deployments are not being greeted as positive changes.

Most recently, on Jan. 19 the Kennebec Journal reported that IBEW Local 1837 was "speaking out against" a new smart meter installation project by Central Maine Power (CMP) that had been funded to the tune of $96M through the SGIG, and which had a total cost of roughly $190M. Seems that the project would likely eliminate, over time, some 141 positions, and that did not sit well with the union.

The tension at CMP, however, is not unique. In October, a plan by the board of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division (MLGW) received similar criticism from the IBEW, which noted that roughly 400 meter reading jobs would be lost in that plan.

The Smart Grid is comprised of much more than just smart metering. It involves redundancy, and resiliency, and quality of power, and ease of integrating renewables, and storage, and on and on and on. Today's unfortunate reality, however, is that investment has been increasingly targeted to smart metering. Smart meters, and the improvements in automating, and "remotifying" the reading, turn-on, and cut-off of power, are seen as early wins. They do not appear to jeopardize the delivery of power, and can very quickly demonstrate cost efficiency by decreasing truck rolls. This is both a reaction to the government's emphasis of "shovel-ready" projects to fund, and to the ease with which a utility can justify the project to regulators as a cost-saver, paying off the capital cost in short order through a reduction in labor costs. As a result, the union teams, originally anxious to generate skilled labor to drive the construction of the next generation of transmission and distribution, is left, instead with a short-term need for installers that will be wiring up the elimination of hundreds of jobs for their meter reading brethren.

Greentech media has a look at the top 10 smart grid news stories from 2009 - The Past and Future of Smart Grid.
8. Distribution and Transmission Up Next: Not all smart grid systems are visible to the untrained eye. Upgrading distribution and transmission grids with communications and controls could help utilities squeeze up to 10 percent more efficiency out of their existing generation capacity, according to the Electric Power Research Institute. Those savings can come from preventative maintenance and replacement, shortening outage times, and optimizing grid voltages, among other sources.

At the same time, managing the massive growth in renewable solar, wind and geothermal energy that will be needed to cut the nation's carbon emissions will put new pressures on the grid. Hundreds of billions of dollars will need to be spent on new transmission lines to carry Midwest wind power and Southwest solar power to load centers, according to studies - which opens up new business models for startups.

And at the neighborhood level, distribution grids will need a whole host of new technologies to manage the increase in rooftop solar panels, demand response-enabled homes, and future plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles that will soon place unprecedented new pressures on utilities built on the model of delivering power from central generation stations to millions of customers.

9. Smart Grid 2.0: All of these emerging smart grid technologies will be a lot more useful if they can be linked together. That's the idea for the next surge in the industry – a whole ecosystem of smart architectures, stretching from generations sources and transmission lines to the wireless and wired networks in utility customers' homes and businesses.

GridPoint, one of the more prominent – and well-funded – of the smart grid startups out there, is centered on delivering this kind of integrated offering to utility customers. Its approach has included buying up a host of startups offering vehicle charging, home energy monitoring and industrial and commercial energy management, indicating the breadth of functions it hopes to provide.

What will the smart grid of the future look like? Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers speaks of a utility-managed system that orchestrates smart meters, solar panels, batteries, demand response systems and plug-in vehicle chargers to serve as "virtual power plants" scattered throughout a utility service territory.

CNet has an article on a in-house energy usage display that is combined with a thermostat (I suspect we'll see a trend for convergence in home based control devices over time which mirrors that of hand held devices) - CES: To save energy, thermostat becomes mini computer.
There are dozens of companies making in-home displays designed to help consumers shave energy use at home. But SilverPac is packing many of those features into a high-tech thermostat. SilverPac, which makes digital picture frames and other media electronics, on Monday introduced the SilverStat 7, a sleek device that combines the heating and cooling controls of a programmable thermostat with a real-time energy display. ...

The thermostat is built around a 7-inch touch-screen display that runs Windows CE on Intel's Atom processor. It has a Wi-Fi interface that will allow it to get electricity usage information from smart meters and talk to network-aware appliances on a home wireless network. It has built-in speakers to play FM radio or music streamed from a home network. People can also use the device as a calendar.

According to the company, SilverPac's in-home energy display will rely on getting information from a smart meter, which means that it won't be accessible to everyone. Even with millions of smart meters expected to be installed over the next three years, many utilities will not be making meter information available over home wireless networks, in part because of security concerns.

Smart meter programs in Australia are still in their infancy - Western Australia recently announced the first step in a local smart meter rollout - IBM nabs WA smart meter deal .
RESIDENTS in parts of Western Australia will soon be able to tell exactly how much power each electrical appliance consumes.

Western Power hopes to roll out 10,500 smart meters as part of its smart grid project, aimed at helping customers identify consumption patterns. As a result, households and businesses could lower their power bills as smart meters make usage monitoring more transparent.

IBM bagged a key contract with energy supplier Western Power to provide systems integration and project management services for the smart grid trial, due for completion in June 2012. ...

IBM is involved in almost 50 smart grid projects worldwide, including local utilities Energy Australia and Country Energy.

The federal government has pledged up to $100m towards the nation's first national smart grid. A government-backed smart infrastructure conference, ThinkFuture, will be held at Parliament House in Canberra on March 12. has an article on some turbulence being encountered by a smart meter rollout in New Zealand - Second thoughts about smart meters in New Zealand.
A question has been raised in New Zealand whether the primary motivation for smart meter installations is so power companies can recoup funds from customers where were undercharged previously.

Three major utilities – Contact, Genesis, & Meridian – are all installing smart meters throughout New Zealand claiming the devices will conserve energy and save money for customers. The devices allow for remote meter reads so human meter readers don’t have to be sent out. The smart meters also use information technology to record and display power usage.

The New York Times has a look at consumer unhappiness with smart meter rollouts in the US as well - ‘Smart’ Electric Utility Meters, Intended to Create Savings, Instead Prompt Revolt.
Millions of households across America are taking a first step into the world of the “smart grid,” as their power companies install meters that can tell them how much electricity they are using hour by hour — and sometimes, appliance by appliance. But not everyone is happy about it. Leo Margosian of Fresno, Calif., said his meter put July use at three times as much as last July's.

Customers in California are in open revolt, and officials in Connecticut and Texas are questioning whether the rush to install meters benefits the public.

Some consumers argue that the meters are logging far more kilowatt hours than they believe they are using. And many find it unfair that they will begin to pay immediately for the new meters through higher rates, when the promised savings could be years away.

Power companies say the meters will allow utilities to vary the price charged to their customers by the hour to correspond to what those utilities are paying for energy in the wholesale market. This can help consumers save money, they say.

They also say the meters will be crucial to remaking the electric system to handle intermittent power sources like wind turbines and solar cells while continuously meeting customers’ needs. ...

In response to a wave of complaints from the Bakersfield area in the Central Valley, Pacific Gas & Electric has been placing full-page advertisements in newspapers in the area promising benefits from the new meters. It says customers will save money not only by paying rates based on hourly fluctuations in the wholesale market, but also eventually by displaying real-time rates.

To reduce their bills, customers could cut back at pricey peak times and shift some activities, like running a clothes dryer or a vacuum cleaner, to off-peak periods. Utilities will then have lower costs, the argument goes, because the grid will need fewer power plants as demand levels out.

Customers will become “structural winners,” said Andy Tang, senior director of the company’s Smart Energy Web program.

Someday utilities hope to use the meter to control consumption by major appliances like air conditioners. But experts are still debating what technical standards the meters and appliances should use to communicate.

The Energy Collective has an article on the need to educate consumers about the long term benefit of smart meter rollouts (though I think the fact that some smart meters just aren't that smart, or they help utilities adopt a utility centric model rather than a customer centric one - like the horrible example above of utilities controlling customer air conditioners rather than customers configuring their own response to high power prices, needs to be addressed - many of these programs are far from perfect) - Connecting the Smart Grid Dots One Meter at a Time.
There are more signs that the brouhaha over PG&E’s smart meter rollout may do damage to other utilities’ plans for similar deployments. News reports indicate that utilities and regulatory agencies in other states are closely watching the legal tangle devolve in California. Consumer advocacy groups in California are concerned that smart meters are expensive, inaccurate and increase their bills, and only benefit utilities by eliminating meter reading jobs. This clearly demonstrates that they and the consumers they represent see the immediate impacts of the rollout of smart meters – a highly visible and disruptive new technology – as negatives. To them, the smart meter is an unwelcome revolutionary technology with no benefits to average ratepayers. They don’t know about its evolutionary role in the Smart Grid and how it will help ratepayers save money AND the environment.

And why should they? It’s the responsibility of utilities, and maybe the Department of Energy (DOE) as well to educate consumers better about what Smart Grid technologies can do today and in the future. The DOE has developed a series of booklets that explain the benefits of the Smart Grid to various groups, including consumers, but clearly there need to be much more aggressive and coordinated campaigns to enlighten consumers.

Does Joe Ratepayer understand that smart meters enrolled in utility programs will reduce or eliminate the need to build more power plants to address peak electricity load requirements? Does Jane Ratepayer understand that new power plant construction translates into higher electricity bills to recover costs? Could Joe or Jane intuitively understand how a smart meter saves them money and saves the environment too?

Those of us in the business understand that smart meters will save consumers money on their utility bills as the grid evolves to residential Time of Use (TOU) electricity rates and Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) are deployed. (Note: The Smart Grid Dictionary defines TOU as “A rate structure with different unit prices for electricity use in a 24-hour timeframe, generally to encourage use during periods of lower demand. This price applies to a time-of-use price, rate, or tariff and is a dynamic price scheme typically used with non-dispatchable demand response programs. It is also known as time-of-day pricing.”)

Analogies can help explain the Smart Grid rollout process and the role that smart meters play. For instance, let’s say that I am building a new house with the kitchen of my dreams. I won’t get the benefits of that kitchen’s output until foundations to fixtures are installed.

The smart meter is like my house’s foundation. There’s no home without a foundation. There’s no Smart Grid without smart meters. In building my new home, I understand that there is a start and a finish to the project. I have a blueprint to visualize the goal. I have a project plan to understand the process of achieving that goal.

It is vital for utilities to connect the dots between current smart meter rollout activities and long term Smart Grid objectives. Ratepayers and consumer advocacy groups need equivalent blueprints and project plans to understand the long-term objectives in terms of what it means to their bills and the environment.

The New York Times also has a look at experiments investigating the psychology of electricity consumption - Will 'Smart' Electric Meters Lead to Smarter Consumers ?.
In conjunction with utilities, tech companies and state and federal agencies, Stanford University is doing a number of experiments to see how psychology affects people's energy consumption.

Researchers say that when it comes to demand-side management, the field of psychology has been lying fallow for far too long, particularly in the residential sector.

"California has huge amounts of money to put toward marketing campaigns, and they spend it all on media marketing campaigns that we know don't work," said Carrie Armel, a research associate at Stanford University's Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency. "Tens, hundreds of billions of dollars are going to be spent on installing smart meter technology. How much is being spent on behavioral research? Nothing. That's mind-blowing."

Economists and policymakers have long advocated real-time pricing as a way to reduce consumption and smooth demand at peak times. California's 2001 energy crisis might have been avoided had customers had a direct incentive to conserve power; the state Public Utilities Commission has experimented with at least three different pricing mechanisms since 2003, and is currently aiming to install smart meters in the majority of consumers' homes by 2011.

Stanford researchers are working on a dozen different studies on how behavioral patterns can create barriers to adopting new technologies and practices. The projects target four categories -- policy, technology, community and media -- with the aim of creating tools to tap into people's natural proclivities.


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The hunt for unconventional gas sources has created a swathe of health problems and a growing backlash against the industry, with an example being the new documentary "Gasland" - Gasland - The Movie.

When filmmaker Josh Fox discovers that Natural Gas drilling is coming to his area—the Catskillls/Poconos region of Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, he sets off on a 24 state journey to uncover the deep consequences of the United States’ natural gas drilling boom. What he uncovers is truly shocking—water that can be lit on fire right out of the sink, chronically ill residents of drilling areas from disparate locations in the US all with the same mysterious symptoms, huge pools of toxic waste that kill cattle and vegetation well blowouts and huge gas explosions consistently covered up by state and federal regulatory agencies. These are just a few of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND.


Who’s Afraid of a Clean-Energy Future ?  

Posted by Big Gav

I was sorry to see the WSJ's Environmental Capital blog close its doors recently (I occasionally feel that the quality blogosphere is slowly dying - though maybe I've just grown out of touch with the more vibrant sections) but I enjoyed Keith Johnson's last post - Who’s Afraid of a Clean-Energy Future ?.

Two years ago, when we launched Environmental Capital, we set out to chart the tectonic shift in the global energy landscape, affecting everything from what keeps the lights on to what’s under the hood of your car.

A big part of that shift was—and still is—environmental concern. The world’s (half-hearted) efforts to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions were meant to spur (and might yet) the development and deployment of a whole new world of cleaner energy.

But we also noted another rationale for a shift in the way the world produces and uses energy: the bottom line. Whether it’s a big-box retailer changing the way it packs and ships goods or the growing conviction that energy efficiency and “negawatts” are the cheapest, cleanest source of energy available today, the cleaner way of doing things is very often the smarter way of doing things.

That it isn’t always the case is less of an indictment of clean energy than of the current energy system itself.

To take a single example: The price that American drivers pay at the pump, frightening as it is these days, does not reflect the cost of oil and gasoline. There are additional costs to the reliance on oil that simply don’t show up in the twirling numbers at the gas pump, whether they are the environmental costs of oil extraction, transport and combustion, or the cost of U.S. military engagement to protect oil supplies and keep vital sea lanes open.

For economists, all these hidden costs are called “externalities.” They’re as real as they are hard to spot, from the Fifth Fleet’s operating expenses to the pernicious health costs of a coal-fired electricity sector.

For policymakers, these externalities represent an opportunity as much as a headache. For all the worries that a bigger role for government in the energy business—from cap-and-trade schemes to solar-power subsidies—represents a retreat from free markets, that’s hardly the case. Energy markets aren’t “free” today, and the playing field is anything but level.

New energy policies that seek to redress those problems, and unleash rather than further stifle a genuine market for energy, will point the way toward a new energy future that makes sense, both environmentally and economically. That’s because, if new policies set out to tackle those externalities once and for all, the environmental answer will quite often become the economic answer. Everything has its price—and its cost.

Converting pedestrian footsteps into energy  

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Anthill magazine has a look at an ambient energy collection device being trialled in the UK - Switched-on innovation converts pedestrian footsteps into energy.

There’s an interesting post over on Springwise about Pavegen slabs, an eco innovation by UK-based Pavegen Systems, which harvest the kinetic energy from pedestrian footsteps and converts it into electricity.

They look a little bit like floodlights embedded in an astroturf tennis court, but they are designed to be prominent in order to encourage pedestrians to step on them. As Volkswagen demonstrated last year, simple environmental incentives can dramatically alter pedestrian behaviour. Five percent of the energy Pavegen harvests from each step is expended on lighting up its LED — affirmation for the pedestrian that the energy transfer was successful.

The energy can be used to power traffic lights, safety signs and other outdoor ambient items that require electricity. Pavegen slabs have already been trialed in East London, with the developers now seeking investment.

Technology Review also has a look at harvesting energy from motion, in their case via a piezoelectric material called PZT - Flexible Sheets Capture Energy from Movement.
Researchers at Princeton University have created a flexible material that harvests record amounts of energy when stressed. The researchers say the material could be incorporated into the soles of shoes to power portable electronics, or even placed on a heart patient's lungs to recharge a pacemaker as he breathes.

The energy-harvesting rubber sandwiches ribbons of a piezoelectric material called PZT between pieces of silicone. When mechanically stressed, a piezoelectric material generates a voltage that can be used to produce electrical current; a current can also be converted back into mechanical movement.

The rubber material can harness 80 percent of the energy applied when it is flexed--four times more than existing flexible piezoelectric materials.

Flexibility could prove vital if energy-harvesting technology is to take off. For example, the military tested stiff-soled piezoelectric shoes as a power source, but soldiers complained of foot pain. And previous flexible energy harvesters--based on piezoelectric polymers, nanowires, or other types of crystal--put out little electrical current.

PZT is the most efficient piezoelectric material known, but its crystalline structure means that it must be grown at high temperatures, which normally melt a flexible substrate. The Princeton researchers, led by mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine, got around this by making PZT at high temperatures and then transferring thin ribbons of the material onto silicone. ...

Proof-of-concept tests described this week in the journal Nano Letters show that the rubber-encased PZT ribbons maintain their high power-conversion efficiency. McAlpine says the simple printing process should readily scale up to make larger sheets; he has filed a patent on the process.

Vibration related energy harvesting also appears prominently in an article about unusual energy technology at - Renewable energies you don't hear about every day.
Mechanical energy from piezoelectric generators

Israel-based Innowattech has developed a new alternative energy system that harvests mechanical energy imparted to roadways, railways and runways from passing vehicles, trains and pedestrian traffic and converts it into electricity by installing generators beneath a road's asphalt layer.

The company says it ran a successful trial along a ten metre stretch of road and plans to expand the trial to several one-kilometre stretches of road in Israel.

It's not alone. Washington D.C.-based New Energy Technologies claims it's developed something similar (see New device for capturing kinetic energy from vehicles).

Piezoelectrics that recoup energy from spinning auto tires are also being investigated by Silicon Valley-based EoPlex (see Printing up cleantech, towards the end of the story). ...

Motion energy harvesting

Researchers are working to harness energy from movement — such as from walking and natural vibrations in the environment — by using “tunable” devices.

While some devices already exist for converting kinetic energy to electrical energy, they’re limited to a narrow range of motions, or frequencies. But what about technology that could convert a range of vibrations instead of just a narrow band?

Research in this area is going on at Duke university in North Carolina.

Their technology is basically a small cantilever that releases power when strained. It is several inches long and a quarter inch wide, with a magnet on one end that interacts with nearby movable magnets. By changing the distance of the movable magnets, the researchers were able to “tune” the interactions of the system with its environment, and thus produce electricity over a broader spectrum of frequencies.

Motion is also harnessed by M2E Power of Idaho, which is pursuing a batteries for the military that charge themselves by the movement of troops' bodies (see M2E captures $8M with kinetic energy). The objective: Generate power throughout the day so soldiers don't have to carry as many heavy batteries.

Origin seeks environmental nod for A$35bln LNG project  

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Reuters has an update on Origin Energy's proposed coal seam gas to LNG project - Origin seeks environmental nod for A$35bln LNG project.

Australia's Origin Energy Ltd (ORG.AX) reported a small rise in quarterly output on Friday and said it had sought formal environmental clearance for its gas export project with U.S. ConocoPhillips (COP.N).

Origin, the country's largest producer of coal seam gas, said the lodging of the draft environmental statement with the Queensland state government advances the A$35 billion ($31.3 billion) project towards a final investment decision by December this year and first LNG shipments by late 2014.

Origin posted a 2 percent gain in its second-quarter output and a 16 percent rise in revenue, helped by higher commodity prices.

Production for the three months ended Dec. 31 was 24 petajoules equivalent (PJe), bringing its half year output to 49.8 PJe. Sales revenue for the quarter was A$135.4 million.

While the lodging of the environmental statement is a key project milestone, investors are still looking for firm gas sales before validating the project, analysts say.

There are four other projects racing to start exporting Australian coal seam gas and the Origin/Conoco development is seen by some analysts as a falling behind the rivals as it was yet to lock in any gas sales.

Origin's project, also known as Australia Pacific LNG, will produce between 3.5-4 million tonnes per year (mtpy) of LNG in the first phase in 2014, before progressively expanding up to 14-16 mtpy.

City Condemns House Because Woman Was Trying to Save Money By Using Solar Panels and Batteries Instead of Utility Power  

Posted by Big Gav

Cryptogon points to an article on municipal intolerance of people trying to go off-grid - City Condems House Because Woman Was Trying to Save Money By Using Solar Panels and Batteries Instead of Utility Power. Plus a couple more interesting snippets - Pentagon Report Calls for Office of ‘Strategic Deception’ and Howard Zinn Dies At 87. RIP Howard.

An Avondale woman who spent 11 days sleeping in her car said the city treated her unfairly when her home was condemned in December for lack of electricity.

But city officials said Christine Stevens violated building codes, a health and safety concern because Avondale homes are required to have heating systems and a running refrigerator.

Stevens, 47, was trying to make ends meet by powering her home with solar panels and batteries for several months before Avondale code enforcement officials visited her on Dec. 10.

“We explained to her that the panels weren’t enough to sustain a quality of life there,” said Pam Altounian, code enforcement manager for Avondale.

Stevens said she was not given adequate notice before officials gave her 24 hours to contact Arizona Public Service Co. to reconnect electricity or her home would be condemned.

Avondale said a code enforcement officer, Carlena Jones, inspected the property in the 2300 block of North 123rd Lane on Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 and left a notice of violation hanging on the door. According to case reports, both notices went unanswered.

The Lorax: "I speak for clean coal"  

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I've recommended Dr Seuss' excellent book "The Lorax" previously (and some of you actually bought it) and no doubt the good Doctor is turning in his grave as he watches his fable being butchered by a bunch of grimy coal merchants - Andrew Leonard has the story ("Unspeakable blasphemy: Dr. Seuss gets repurposed for a fossil fuel start-up company" - The Lorax: "I speak for clean coal".

In these days of relentless political absurdity and unending economic travesty, you may sometimes feel as if your disgust meter has completely maxxed out. There's nothing left that will shock you, you might imagine, as you take a jaded swig of your martini and shrug wearily at the world's gaunt tapestry of injustice.

And then you learn that a coal-gasification start-up has -- without authorization -- named itself after Dr. Seuss' environmental icon, the ("I speak for the trees") Lorax, in the deluded belief that if Dr. Seuss were alive today, he'd be a crusader for clean coal. And suddenly, your disgust meter goes to 11!

Wonk Room's Brad Johnson brings us the word, via
The company, whose principals include Michael Sununu, the son of former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, has raised over $1 million in seed capital to build a high-sulfur coal factory. The name choice was a deliberate attempt to cloak their coal-and-chemical company as an eco-friendly venture:

And, yes, the name is inspired by the Dr. Seuss story, Farina said. "The Lorax is the protector of the truffula trees," he said. "We think this is the greenest use of coal."

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. And the Lorax endorses clean coal.

Long queues at port as demand for coal soars  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

There seem to be plenty of jitters about the Chinese economy, but for now it is sucking in coal rapidly - Long queues at port as demand for coal soars.

THE queue of ships at the world's biggest coal port, Newcastle, is near its longest level since before the financial crisis and waiting times are at a one-year record.

In a sign of the booming demand for coal, figures published this week show 58 ships were waiting on Monday, just shy of the pre-Christmas peak of 60, which was the longest queue since mid-2007.

Average waiting times for vessels at the port have also blown out to a fresh one-year high of 17.86 days, the Newcastle Port Corporation figures show.

The trend, mirrored at key ports around the country, points to the soaring demand from coal buyers in China and Europe, after severe winters caused a surge in demand for electricity.

Most of the coal shipped through Newcastle - used by Xstrata, Rio Tinto and Centennial Coal - is thermal coal used by power stations. Its price jumped to more than $US100 a tonne earlier this month amid subzero temperatures in key markets.

The growing queues are a positive sign for export industries, but they also highlight the increasing strain on port infrastructure as the global resources boom gathers pace.

This month Macarthur Coal announced a delay to its Middlemount expansion plan, after it was unable to secure access to third-party rail and water infrastructure.

Over-reliance on China is also seen as a risk for the industry. China has come to the rescue of coal exporters in the past year, but recent market fears that its economic growth could slow this year sent a shiver through share prices in the sector.

What a croc !  

Posted by Big Gav

Off topic but I liked it - What a croc!.

On Proliferation, Climate, and Oil: Solving for Pattern  

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Amory Lovins has an article in Foreign Policy on how to solve the myriad problems associated with fossil fuel consumption - On Proliferation, Climate, and Oil: Solving for Pattern.

The problems of proliferation, climate change, and oil dependence share both a nuclear non-solution that confounds U.S. policy goals and a non-nuclear solution that achieves them.

The first four months of 2010 offer a unique opportunity to align the United States' foreign-policy goals with domestic energy policy and new market developments, and thereby to stem what the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review will reportedly rank equally with great-power threats -- the spread of nuclear weapons.

Epistemologist Gregory Bateson and farmer-poet Wendell Berry counseled "solving for pattern" -- har­nessing hidden commonalities to resolve complex challenges without making more. President Obama's speech at the recent U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen hinted at such an approach by linking an efficient, clean-energy, climate-safe economy with three other key issues: prosperity, oil displacement, and national security. Keeping proliferation, climate, and oil in separate policy boxes has in the past stalled progress on the first two issues over North/South splits that the third issue intensifies. Yet these three problems share profitable solutions, and seem tough only because of a wrong economic assumption.

One false assumption can distort and defeat policies vital to paramount national interests. The Copenhagen climate conference proved again how pricing carbon and winning international collaboration are hard if policymakers assume climate protection is costly, focusing debate on cost, burden, and sacrifice.

That assumption is backwards: Business experience proves climate protection is not costly but profitable, because saving fuel costs less than buying fuel. Changing the conversation to profits, jobs, and competitive advantage sweetens the politics, melting resistance faster than glaciers. Whether you care most about security, prosperity, or environment, and whatever you think about climate science, you'll favor exactly the same energy choices: focusing on outcomes, not motives, can forge broad consensus.

For instance, a January 2009 study by McKinsey & Company demonstrated how it was possible to cut projected 2030 global greenhouse-gas emissions by 70 percent at a trivial average cost: $6 per metric ton of CO2. Newer technologies and integrative design, which often makes very large energy savings cost less than small or no savings, turning diminishing into expanding returns, could make even bigger abatements cost less than zero­ dollars.

This can be done fast enough. Consider that from 1977 through 1985, U.S. oil intensity (barrels per real GDP dollar) fell 5.2 percent per year. Today, cutting global energy intensity at an annual rate of about 3-4 percent, vs. the historic 1 percent, could abate further climate damage. The United States has long achieved 2-4 percent cuts each year without paying attention; China achieved more than 5 percent reductions from 1976 through 2001 and is on track for 4 percent reductions from 2005 through 2010. Individual firms have been able to achieve 6-16 percent reductions. So why should 3-4 percent be hard, especially with most of the global economic growth in China and India, where making new infrastructure efficient is easier than fixing it later?

Since energy efficiency consistently makes money (billions for many firms), why should this be costly? And why should climate negotiators adopt economists' assumptions about cost rather than business leaders' experiences of profit? The climate conversation gets vastly easier and less necessary when it's shifted from shared sacrifice to informed self-interest.

Many policymakers likewise assume U.S. oil dependence and imports must be permanent. Yet a 2004 Pentagon-cosponsored independent study showed how it was possible to eliminate U.S. oil use by the 2040s at an average cost of about $15 per barrel, led by business for profit. Implemen­tation was launched in 2005 by "institutional acupuncture," then spurred by the 2008 price shock, 2009 policy shifts, and military innovation.

That effort now looks to be on or ahead of schedule: In 2009, "peak oil" emerged, but on the demand side. U.S. gasoline demand reached its apex in 2007. Cambridge Energy Research Associates doubts OECD oil demand will regain its 2005 peak. Deutsche Bank forecasts light-vehicle electrification (at one-third China's planned rate, and without counting the other revolutionary innovations underway) will turn world oil demand downward from 2016 -- reaching, by 2030, 8 percent below 2009. Suburban sprawl is reversing. Just in 2008, government-mandated "feebates" cut inefficient cars' sales in France 42 percent and raised efficient cars' sales 50 percent. Thus oil is becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before it becomes unavailable even at high prices.

Yet with oil as with climate, official assessments ignore these solutions as too detailed, disruptive, novel, or integrative to contemplate. When offered cramped old choices, policymakers all too often perpetuate largely incremental policies. Private firms are more likely to innovate, while governments play catch-up. And intergovernmental negotiations learn slowest of all.

Websites fade to black in censorship protest  

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The SMH has a report on a protest against internet censorship by the Australian government - Websites fade to black in censorship protest.

Hundreds of websites joined an Australia Day "internet blackout" today to protest against the Government's web censorship agenda, but even the internet industry body believes it will do little to lessen the Government's resolve.

The Greens, Democrats and ISP iiNet are among the organisations that pledged to fade their websites to black today and provide visitors with information about the Government's censorship plans. The blackout is expected to last until Friday.

The Government is determined to implement mandatory internet filtering of a secret blacklist of sites the Government's censors have determined are "refused classification" (RC).

Critics say RC is too broad and that providing the Government with a new censorship power is unnecessary, given that the filters could only ever cover a tiny fraction of the nasty websites on the internet. Child welfare groups have said it might give parents a false sense of security.

There are also fears over the lack of transparency in administering the blacklist and that the scope of what is blocked could drastically increase over time.

"My main problem with the filter proposal is that it won't work and that it sets up a really dangerous mechanism to centralise censorship of the net by the Australian Government," Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam said.

The leased life  

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The Boston Globe has an article on the idea of leasing products rather than buying them (a topic related to cradle-to-cradle manufacturing) - The leased life.

In June 2008, when Punsri Abeywickrema was working on his backyard in San Mateo, Calif., he found himself in need of a wheelbarrow. He didn’t own one, but his neighbor did, and he had borrowed it the previous weekend; due to space constraints, he preferred not to buy one himself. Yet he hesitated to impose on the neighbor again.

He ended up renting a wheelbarrow from a store. But then he wondered, what if he had instead offered to pay his neighbor a small fee to borrow the wheelbarrow? Abeywickrema would have fulfilled his need without acquiring a cumbersome object or feeling like a freeloader. The neighbor, meanwhile, could have reaped a modest windfall. This thought led to an inspiration - wouldn’t it be great if a whole network of residents in his area could conduct similar transactions, with locals they didn’t even know yet?

Thus was born Like so many other websites, it connects mutual beneficiaries - in this case, people who own things they don’t use much with people who want to use things without owning them. Members can post either belongings they have to offer or goods they are hoping to find. Items recently listed include a body fat scale ($5 a week), a bread maker ($1.75 a day), and a cupcake transporter ($3 a week). The site was launched last October with limited membership, and opened to the public earlier this month.

Rentalic is an example of what is sometimes called (rather awkwardly) a “product service system.” The essential insight is that in many purchases, we don’t want the thing per se - we want what it can do for us. You don’t crave a lawn mower, you want shorter grass; the desire is not for a refrigerator but for cold, unspoiled milk. And according to an emerging line of thinking, there are great benefits in meeting the customer’s needs in creative ways that don’t necessarily entail ownership.

The concept has long been familiar in certain sectors - if you’ve rented a car, joined a gym, or registered at Netflix, you’ve taken part in a product service system. But now, advocates hope to expand the principle to many

other contexts where owning is currently the norm. If these systems were to catch on, we would rent, borrow, or lease a variety of things, ranging from tools to textbooks to snow blowers, from individual owners or from companies with revamped business models. Other firms, while continuing to sell their products, would address customers’ underlying needs more directly - selling warmth or “comfort services,” for instance, rather than oil or gas - which would presumably lead to enhanced efficiency. ...

The prospect of such a change is intriguing. Not only could it mean more savings and less accumulation of stuff for the relatively wealthy; for poorer people, especially in developing countries, it could mean access to goods that would be otherwise unattainable. The other major promise is environmental. Under the current ownership ethos, manufacturers face perverse incentives: If their wares last a long time, they undermine their future marketing opportunities. But if a company retains ownership itself, the argument goes, it will be motivated to make products that are truly durable - or easy to upgrade or recycle into new ones. And if a single product serves multiple users, fewer goods would need to be manufactured and ultimately discarded. All of this would mean diminished resource extraction from the earth and less trash dumped into landfills.

Solar Beam-Down Plants For Cheaper Solar Thermal  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

EcoGeek has a post on a new solar thermal power tower design - Solar Beam-Down Plants For Cheaper Solar Thermal.

Solar power towers have proven to be a fairly efficient way of converting solar energy into electricity. In a solar power tower, energy from a large array of mirrors focused onto a tower that captures the heat in some way, and then converts that heat to electricity using a boiler and turbine. It's a great system, but building that heat-resistant tower and pumping all of those fluids up and down can be pretty expensive.

Which is why researchers at the Masdar Institute, the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Cosmo Oil are working together on "beam down" solar. Instead of having the heat-capturing system up on that big tower, a second set of mirrors directs the light back down at the ground where it can be captured by a system that doesn't have to be suspended many stories in the air.

It's certainly cheaper than a traditional solar power tower. The bad news is that the extra set of mirrors lowers the efficiency of the system by about 20%. If that can be made up for with reduced capital costs, however, they could be in business. In the end, creating cheap ways of capturing solar energy is probably going to be more important than creating efficient ways.

Rise and fall of the Australian gas provinces  

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This link is a little old (from back in December) but its worth noting what the Australian Energy Market Operator (combining Nemmco's old electricity market operator role with that of the gas market as well) views as the outlook for the eastern states natural gas supply - Rise and fall of the gas provinces.

THE gas market will see a fundamental shift over the next two decades as gas-fired electricity generation expands under the Federal Government's carbon reduction scheme. Victoria's gas reserves will plunge and Queensland will become the dominant gas supplier on the east coast.

The forecast is contained in the first so-called ''Statement of Opportunities'' for gas released today by the Australian Energy Market Operator, which took over the running of the electricity market from the National Electricity Market Management Company earlier this year, and also took responsibility for the gas market.

By the end of the two decades Victoria could be down to 10 years of gas reserves - or less - forcing it to consider sourcing gas from other states for the first time, which will boost its gas price significantly.

NSW is likely to be forced to turn increasingly to Queensland for gas, although the wild card is locally sourced gas, as the exploration push for coal-seam methane gas gets under way in earnest in this state.

According to the AEMO, NSW will experience a doubling in gas reserves from 2025, largely thanks to an anticipated rise in gas reserves around Camden, to Sydney's south-west, as less gas is available from Victoria. Reserves from other regions such as Narrabri and Casino, in the state's north, are not yet significant.

The forecast suggests Queensland's domestic annual gas demand will treble to 458 petajoules by 2029 from 166PJ, and export demand for liquefied natural gas will reach 1302PJ by 2029. Victoria's annual demand will almost double to 403PJ by 2024.

But the big change will come from an expected 55 per cent drop in Victoria's gas reserves to 4344PJ by 2029, equal to just 10 years of production. But strong economic growth between now and then could reduce it to just seven years of reserves by then.

This anticipated decline will result from a rise in demand in Victoria, and elsewhere, coupled with falling reserves as Bass Strait's large oil and gasfields near the end of their life.

At the same time, South Australia's reserves are expected to fall by a quarter to 1075PJ, equal to 14 years of production.

Under these forecasts, NSW will need extra pipeline capacity from 2012, as well as Victoria, marginally at first but more significantly from 2017.

''All of the pipelines in Queensland … will be exceeded from between 2010 and 2013,'' the AEMO said.

NSW will need additional gas pipelines linking to Queensland, which may result in the long-mooted Hunter to Queensland pipeline proceeding.

In total, domestic gas demand in the eastern states will double to 1205PJ a year by 2029 from 626PJ now.

Over this period the NSW annual gas demand will reach 199PJ, up from 130PJ now, but well below Queensland and Victoria, largely due to the lack of sizeable gas reserves in NSW, coupled with its higher price relative to other states.

Using Bacteria To Make Diesel from Biomass  

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Technology Review has an article on LS9's second generation biofuel production process using engineered E. coli bacteria - Bacteria Make Diesel from Biomass.

Engineered bacteria have been rewired with the genetic machinery necessary to convert cellulose into a range of chemicals, including diesel fuel. The bacteria, developed by South San Francisco company LS9 in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, make the necessary enzymes for every step along the synthesis pathway and can convert biomass into fuel without the need for additional processing. LS9 has demonstrated the bacteria in pilot-scale reactors and plans to scale the process to a commercial level later this year.

Jay Keasling, professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering at UC Berkeley and one of LS9's founders, and scientists at LS9 report engineering E. coli bacteria to synthesize and excrete the enzyme hemicellulase, which breaks down cellulose into sugars. The bacteria can then convert those sugars into a variety of chemicals--diesel fuel among them. The final products are excreted by the bacteria and then float to the top of the fermentation vat before being siphoned off.

Using these methods, it's possible to create a range of fuels from biomass, but LS9 is focusing on diesel rather than fuels similar to gasoline for the time being, says Stephen del Cardayre, the company's vice president of research and development. Diesel specifications are easier to meet and the market for diesel is growing by 2 to 4 percent a year, while that for gasoline is flat. Last May, LS9 partnered with Procter & Gamble to develop fuels as well as commodity chemicals.

Ice Energy begins 53MW energy storage project  

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Recharge News has a report on a novel form of energy storage being implemented in southern California - Ice Energy begins 53MW storage project with SCPPA.

Rather than building a new power plant to address peak electricity demand needs, Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA) will move some 64 gigawatt hours of demand a year to off-peak times using Ice Energy storage systems.

The systems, which connect to existing building air conditioning (AC) units, use off-peak energy overnight to freeze 450 gallons (about 1,700 litres) of water in an insulated tank. The resulting stored energy, in the form of ice, is used to cool buildings during hot afternoons when electricity demand spikes to run traditional AC systems.

Over the next 24 months, SCPPA will pay Colorado-based Ice Energy to install its systems on some 1,500 government, industrial and commercial buildings in the service territories of its member utilities. The project is equivalent to a 53 megawatt capacity peaking power plant. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

SCPPA and Ice say the project – which is an example of demand-side management – will contribute to grid stability, lower rates for customers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and allow the integration of more renewable energy by providing additional load to balance off-peak renewable supplies.

Highlights from Global Energy Outlook debate at WEF  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Reuters has some choice energy related quotes from the World Economic Forum in Davos - Highlights from Global Energy Outlook debate at WEF.


"We are planning to increase (gas production) maybe two or three times, maybe more -- to do that we need much bigger capacity of pipeline."


"The problem of peak oil remains ... it will be very difficult to raise the oil production worldwide above 95 million barrels per day."


"None of us will sell more gasoline than in 2007 (to developed markets)."

"We are cautiously optimistic about the potential that Iraq can play in providing a new source of supply to global oil markets. BP is involved in a major contract to redevelop a local field ... the field is producing 1 million bpd and we have a plan to take it to 3 over the next 10 years or so.

"If all of us who are participating there are reasonably successful in delivering on the commitments we have made, it is quite likely we will see Iraq increase its production to perhaps around 10 million bpd within about 10 years. It won't be faster than that although if you added up the contractual obligations you could draw that conclusion. The realities of the challenges of execution on the ground and the need to build capability on the ground mean things will happen a little slower than all of us are perhaps planning for today.

"The reality is absent any unforeseen political events ... the resources there are relatively easy to bring onstream and there is no reason to believe that Iraq can't be producing 10 million bpd by 2020 or so."

Carbon Currency: A New Beginning for Technocracy ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

I normally only ever come across the Canada Free Press (I'm not sure what is "free" about a Canadian publication that worships America, but whatever) when people are spouting conspiracy theories about global warming and the apparently baleful influence of Canadian Maurice Strong. Today however I came across an article on Hubbert and the Technocrats and how their ideas about an energy based currency may be slowly coming to fruition via carbon credits - Carbon Currency: A New Beginning for Technocracy ?.

Critics who think that the U.S. dollar will be replaced by some new global currency are perhaps thinking too small.

On the world horizon looms a new global currency that could replace all paper currencies and the economic system upon which they are based.

The new currency, simply called Carbon Currency, is designed to support a revolutionary new economic system based on energy (production, and consumption), instead of price. Our current price-based economic system and its related currencies that have supported capitalism, socialism, fascism and communism, is being herded to the slaughterhouse in order to make way for a new carbon-based world.

It is plainly evident that the world is laboring under a dying system of price-based economics as evidenced by the rapid decline of paper currencies. The era of fiat (irredeemable paper currency) was introduced in 1971 when President Richard Nixon decoupled the U.S. dollar from gold. Because the dollar-turned-fiat was the world’s primary reserve asset, all other currencies eventually followed suit, leaving us today with a global sea of paper that is increasingly undesired, unstable, unusable.

The deathly economic state of today’s world is a direct reflection of the sum of its sick and dying currencies, but this could soon change.

Forces are already at work to position a new Carbon Currency as the ultimate solution to global calls for poverty reduction, population control, environmental control, global warming, energy allocation and blanket distribution of economic wealth.

Unfortunately for individual people living in this new system, it will also require authoritarian and centralized control over all aspects of life, from cradle to grave.

What is Carbon Currency and how does it work? In a nutshell, Carbon Currency will be based on the regular allocation of available energy to the people of the world. If not used within a period of time, the Currency will expire (like monthly minutes on your cell phone plan) so that the same people can receive a new allocation based on new energy production quotas for the next period.

Because the energy supply chain is already dominated by the global elite, setting energy production quotas will limit the amount of Carbon Currency in circulation at any one time. It will also naturally limit manufacturing, food production and people movement.

Local currencies could remain in play for a time, but they would eventually wither and be fully replaced by the Carbon Currency, much the same way that the Euro displaced individual European currencies over a period of time.

Sounds very modern in concept, doesn’t it? In fact, these ideas date back to the 1930’s when hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens were embracing a new political ideology called Technocracy and the promise it held for a better life. Even now-classic literature was heavily influenced by Technocracy: George Orwell’s 1984, H.G. Well’s The Shape of Things to Come and Huxley’s “scientific dictatorship” in Brave New World.

This paper investigates the rebirth of Technocracy and its potential to recast the New World Order into something truly “new” and also totally unexpected by the vast majority of modern critics.


Philosophically, Technocracy found it roots in the scientific autocracy of Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and in the positivism of Auguste Comte (1798- 1857), the father of the social sciences. Positivism elevated science and the scientific method above metaphysical revelation. Technocrats embraced positivism because they believed that social progress was possible only through science and technology. [Schunk, Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective, 5th, 315]

The social movement of Technocracy, with its energy-based accounting system, can be traced back to the 1930’s when an obscure group of engineers and scientists offered it as a solution to the Great Depression.

imageThe principal scientist behind Technocracy was M. King Hubbert, a young geoscientist who would later (in 1948-1956) invent the now-famous Peak Oil Theory, also known as the Hubbert Peak Theory. Hubbert stated that the discovery of new energy reserves and their production would be outstripped by usage, thereby eventually causing economic and social havoc. Many modern followers of Peak Oil Theory believe that the 2007-2009 global recession was exacerbated in part by record oil prices that reflected validity of the theory. ...


If M. King Hubbert and other early architects of Technocracy were alive today, they would be very pleased to see the seeds of their ideas on energy allocation grow to bear fruit on such a large scale. In 1933, the technology didn’t exist to implement a system of Energy Certificates. However, with today’s ever-advancing computer technology, the entire world could easily be managed on a single computer.

This article intended to show that

* Carbon Currency is not a new idea, but has deep roots in Technocracy
* Carbon Currency has grown from a continental proposal to a global proposal
* It has been consistently discussed over a long period of time
* The participants include many prominent global leaders, banks and think-tanks
* The context of these discussions have been very consistent
* Today’s goals for implementing Carbon Currency are virtually identical to Technocracy’s original Energy Certificates goals.

Of course, a currency is merely a means to an end. Whoever controls the currency also controls the economy and the political structure that goes with it. Inquiry into what such a system might look like will be a future topic.

Technocracy and energy-based accounting are not idle or theoretical issues. If the global elite intends for Carbon Currency to supplant national currencies, then the world economic and political systems will also be fundamentally changed forever.

What Technocracy could not achieve during the Great Depression appears to have finally found traction in the Great Recession.

Wade Davis - “The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World”  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Long Now Foundation recently hosted a talk by one of my favourite authors, Wade Davis - The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World.

What does it mean to be human and alive?

The thousands of different cultures and languages on Earth have compellingly different answers to that question. "We are a wildly imaginative and creative species," Davis declared, and then proved it with his accounts and photographs of humanity plumbing the soul of culture, of psyche, and of landscape.

He began with Polynesians, the wayfinders who mastered the Pacific ocean in the world's largest diaspora. Without writing or chronometers they learned 220 stars by name, learned to read the subtle influence of distant islands on wave patterns and clouds, and navigated the open sea by a sheer act of integrative memory. For the duration of an ocean passage "navigators do not sleep."

In the Amazon, which used to be thought of as a "green hell" or "counterfeit paradise," living remnants may be found of complex forest civilizations that transformed 20 percent of the land into arable soil. The Anaconda peoples carry out five-day rituals with 250 people in vast longhouses, and live by stringent rules such as requiring that everyone must marry outside their language. Their mastery of botany let them find exactly the right combination of subspecies of plants to concoct ayahuasca, a drug so potent that one ethnobotantist described the effect of having it blown up your nose by a shaman as "like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with Baroque paintings and landing in a sea of electricity."

In the Andes the Incas built 8,500 miles of roads over impossibly vertical country in a hundred years, and their descendents still run the mountains on intense ritual pilgrimages, grounding their culture in every detail of the landscape.

In Haiti, during the four years Davis spent discovering the chemical used to make real-life zombies, he saw intact African religion alive in the practice of voodoo. "The dead must serve the living by becoming manifest" in those possessed. It was his first experience in "the power of culture to create new realities."

The threat to cultures is often ideological, Davis noted, such as when Mao whispered in the ear of the Dalai Lama that "all religion is poison," set about destroying Tibetan culture.

The genius of culture is the ability to survive in impossible conditions, Davis concluded. We cannot afford to lose any of that variety of skills, because we are not only impoverished without it, we are vulnerable without it.

A Safer Way to Coat Long-Lasting Solar Cells  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology Review has an article on a "Antireflective film which helps solar cells maintain their energy yield" - A Safer Way to Coat Long-Lasting Solar Cells.

In the solar photovoltaic market, even the smallest improvement in efficiency can have a meaningful impact on manufacturers' bottom line, which is why antireflective coatings are so important. These thin coatings, which cause solar cells to appear blue, maximize how much sunlight is absorbed and reduce surface defects that can lower performance.

However, the most popular coating method--the vapor deposition of a silicon nitride film using saline gas--comes with major risks. Silane can ignite when exposed to air; the gas is costly to transport, and silicon cell manufacturers must invest in special storage, ventilation, and other safety measures to prevent accidents. ...

Rohatgi and his team of researchers at Georgia Tech have spent the past 18 months working with Montreal-based Sixtron Advanced Materials on a new silane-free process for applying antireflective film to solar cells. During their work they discovered that the coating--a silicon carbide nitride material carrying the trade name Silexium--also reduces light-induced degradation by up to 88 percent.

Crystalline silicon wafers, which are usually doped with boron, also contain oxygen. When sunlight first hits a new cell it causes boron and oxygen to combine, resulting in a 3 percent to 5 percent degradation in cell efficiency. The researchers found that when the Silexium film is added, some of the carbon in the coating ends up diffusing into the bulk of the silicon wafer. They believe the carbon competes with the boron to make a bond with oxygen. Because there's less oxygen for the boron to bond with, light-induced degradation is largely avoided.


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