The race for smart energy profits  

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The Business Spectator has an article on the need to educate consumers about energy usage and the opportunity for smart appliance vendors to disrupt the electricity industry - The race for smart energy profits.

We’re going to hear a lot about the potential of smart meters and smart grids to help solve some of the colossal challenges faced in the energy sector. But nothing much will be achieved without smart consumers and smart businesses. And right now, it seems, we don’t have enough of either.

A survey by Accenture finds that Australian consumers are not as smart about energy consumption as they think they are. And it also highlights how the utilities that are supposed to lead into this exciting new era are ill-equipped to cope with the business models of the future, and how they may lose much of their business to retailers, appliance manufacturers and software groups in one of the biggest business disruptions since the entry of the mobile phone.

The Accenture survey found that three quarters of Australians thought they understood enough about the actions they could take to optimise their energy consumption. But most of them were wrong.

When pressed, only about one third were actually aware of the measures they could take, and many confused actions on recycling papers and plastics, fuel efficiency in cars, and water conservation with energy use.

“They think they know, but they don’t,” says Greg Guthridge, the global head of utilities customer care at Accenture. “They all think they do their part to save the environment, but they are talking about recycling, water and petrol usage. They don’t realise that running washing machines at different times of day would save money.”

What worries Guthridge is that this lack of education around energy consumption could cause a backlash against the smart meter concept when it is introduced, possibly due to fears of a lack of control, loss of lifestyle, and privacy issues.

Part of the problem, he says, is a lack of education. And this, in turn, is caused in part because utilities don’t talk to their consumers, except when the consumer has a problem such as a blackout, a high bill or metering problems. It’s a negative relationship, and only 23 per cent of consumers trust the energy utilities they deal with. ...

This lack of engagement, and the fact that the internal business structures of energy utilities have been little changed for 30 years – unlike, for instance, the telecommunications industry – are going to present a massive opportunity for consumer savvy sectors such as retailers and telcos to muscle into their territory.

Consumers might be attracted to retailers such as Harvey Norman, who could offer – in partnership with appliance manufacturers such as Whirlpool or Fisher and Paykel and telco and software firms – a package of appliances, communications, and home entertainment that is integrated into the home energy management network.

Renewables Hit the Big Time  

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REW has a look at some of the largest renewable energy projects on the drawing board - Renewables Hit the Big Time.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, renewable-energy projects sized in kilowatts (kW) were considered large. The biggest solar array in 1963 had a mere 242 watts of capacity, and was installed on a lighthouse in Japan. Wind power, which took off more quickly, reached its first 100-kilowatt system in 1931, in Yalta, then part of the Soviet Union. And at that time, wave and tidal power plants were still twinkles in researchers' eyes.

But renewable-energy projects have grown inexorably larger, from kW-size systems to megawatt-size systems and now to gigawatt-size systems. “It’s just the natural progression of what’s happened to renewable energy,” said Clean Edge principal Ron Pernick, a firm that picked “megaprojects” as one of its top five trends for 2010. Starting with 150-kW wind turbines at Altamont Pass in California, one of the first U.S. wind projects, turbines have grown to 3.5 MW and even 5 MW today, he said, and solar projects have expanded from off-grid homes to commercial and industrial buildings and now to utility-scale solar farms.

The gigantic renewable systems in the works today match – and in some cases even exceed – the size and scope of some conventional fossil-fuel power plants. If they materialize, these projects will represent a major turning point, as renewable energy becomes just, well…energy. ...

SOLAR: Desertec, North Africa and the Middle East — 100 GW

At a scale that spans three continents, Desertec may well be the most ambitious renewable-energy project ever proposed. The concept seems simple enough: huge concentrating solar-thermal projects in the Sahara Desert and other sunny areas in Africa and the Middle East will supply the whole region, including Europe, Africa and the Middle East, with electricity via high-voltage direct-current transmission lines. Wind farms on the coast of Europe and Africa, as well as geothermal, photovoltaic, hydropower and biomass projects, mainly in Europe, will help balance out the grid’s power supply, but the concentrating solar-thermal projects will make up the largest piece — 100 GW, or the equivalent of 100 nuclear power stations.

But putting together such a vast project, really made up of dozens (or even hundreds) of separate projects connected by the all-encompassing intercontinental transmission lines, is anything but simple. The challenges can hardly be overstated. Creating such a large grid — agreeing on electricity standards across, not only cities and provinces, but different countries and even continents — and hashing out how to share the costs and benefits of building, maintaining and managing it is a gargantuan task rife with political landmines. Issues of national energy security are involved. The logistics of building so much solar power, of getting the materials, the people and the planning in place, is nearly unfathomable. And then there’s the cost: an estimated $555 billion.

The project might sound like nothing but a hazy dream, unlikely to materialize, except for the fact that a consortium of a dozen big companies, including Siemens, Munich Re, E.ON, RWE and Deutsche Bank, last year signed an agreement to try to raise the money. That’s not money in the bank, however. Aside from an expected 1 billion euros from the European Union, it will take plenty of government and private funding to make the project happen, and the donation buttons on the website make it clear the Desertec foundation is collecting wherever it can. The consortium doesn’t even plan to complete the plan to raise the money until 2012. And even with the funding, the project is expected to take decades, with the goal of completion by 2050.

WIND: Dogger Bank, UK — 9 GW

Moving wind-power projects offshore opens up vast amounts of space and also the potential to take advantage of steadier, faster-moving wind. The largest such project in the pipeline today is the Dogger Bank development, which is part of the United Kingdom’s third round of offshore wind licensing, according to EER. The project, with a whopping target installation capacity of 9 GW — and the potential for some 13 GW — blows away the current largest wind farm, a 782-megawatt onshore farm in Roscoe, Texas, that was completed in October 2009.

Forewind, a consortium of major energy companies including Scottish and Southern Energy, RWE Innogy’s RWE npower Renewables subsidiary, Statoil and Statkraft, won the license to develop the Dogger Bank zone in January. The site is 3343 square miles large, 77 to 150 miles from shore, with depths of between 59 and 206 feet, and its unparalleled size, distance and depth create a number of logistical challenges in constructing the project and connecting it to the grid. Make no mistake, this project is years away from completion. Forewind hasn’t had set a target opening date, but has said it plans to make initial investment decisions about the project in 2014.

TIDAL: Incheon, South Korea — 1.32 GW

Completed in 1966, the first tidal power plant in the world, France’s 240-MW Rance plant, remains the largest today. Now South Korea is planning a project more than five times as large in the Incheon Bay. GS Engineering and Construction Corp. (GS E&C), a publicly traded company based in nearby Seoul, said in January that it plans to begin building the Incheon tidal plant in the second half of next year, if regulators approve the project. Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. will run the plant, expected to cost $3.4 billion and start operations in 2017. The project involves a barrage, or an ocean dam, which traps water in a basin and uses turbines to make electricity from the water-level difference created by the tides.

As countries aim to get more electricity from renewable sources, it’s possible that another project, the U.K.’s proposed Severn Barrage, could surpass the South Korean plant. The project, which could install up to 10 miles of dams and sluice gates across the Severn Estuary, has been bandied about for nearly 30 years and a timeline remains uncertain. The government is considering five different ideas for the barrage, ranging from 1.05 to 8.6 GW in capacity, as well as three alternate concepts.

Welcome To Peak Oil - The Deeper You Drill, The More You Might Spill  

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TreeHugger has a post on deepwater drilling and peak oil - Welcome To Peak Oil - The Deeper You Drill, The More You Might Spill.

A British-owned company has failed publicly and massively in sovereign US waters, having outsourced an ill prepared charge into dangerous underwater territory. Hence the reference to Lord Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" - Light Crude Brigade...get it?

While it is hard to imagine how exactly they got process safety so wrong - drilling a mile below sea level without frequently testing and certifying that the system would actually shut the flow off when needed? - we should not miss the larger point, that this failed charge signifies the arrival of Peak Oil.

Everyone was expecting a steep and sustained run-up in oil price would mark the onset of Peak Oil. Not happening because of the economic downturn. Instead we get a Gulf-wide gusher. See below for ideas on how government regulation should be deployed under the Peak Oil reality.

You'd think that the engineers in charge of Horizon rig would have been constantly focused on how important process safety was to sustaining corporate productivity. Millions of barrels leaked, times around $65 per barrel, represents a huge profit loss even without the cleanup cost added in. (So much for the power of free markets to encourage companies to 'do the right thing.')

Sydney City council to take alternative route to renewable energy  

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The SMH has an article on efforts by the City of Sydney to build its own renewable energy facilities - City council to take alternative route to renewable energy .

The City of Sydney is expected to turn its back on an important part of state and federal efforts to tackle climate change by withdrawing from the GreenPower scheme and instead pursuing its own renewable energy projects.

The council is expected to endorse a motion at tonight's meeting to not renew its GreenPower purchase contract and instead create a $2 million a year renewable energy fund to finance such projects directly.

''Rather than just offsetting our electricity emissions, this strategy invests the money we would have spent on carbon offsets into building renewable energy projects for the city,'' the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said.

Until now the council has spent $2 million each year on the GreenPower scheme, which compels power retailers to buy renewable energy certificates and invest in renewable power.

The new fund would be used to finance projects such as a proposed glass and solar panel canopy in the forecourt of Customs House. The motion also states the council will retire all renewable energy certificates it has been awarded so far, so it will be making additional contributions to exceeding the national target for greenhouse gas cuts of 5 per cent by 2020. ...

The council has already installed 240 solar panels on the roof of Sydney Town Hall, and another 14 buildings have been fitted with solar systems.

Western U.S. Grid Can Handle More Renewables  

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Technology review has an article on a new study which says "35 percent of electricity could come from solar and wind without requiring new backup power plants" - Western U.S. Grid Can Handle More Renewables.

More than a third of the electricity in the western United States could come from wind and solar power without installing significant amounts of backup power. And most of this expansion of renewable energy could be done without installing new interstate transmission lines, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO. But the study says increasing the amount of renewables on the grid will require smart planning and cooperation between utilities.

The NREL findings provide a strong counterargument to the idea that the existing power grid is insufficient to handle increasing amounts of renewable power. As California and other states require utilities to use renewable sources for significant fractions of their electricity, some experts have warned that measures to account for the variability of wind and solar power could be costly. At the extreme, they speculated, every megawatt of wind installed could require a megawatt of readily available conventional power in case the wind stopped blowing. But the NREL findings, like other recent studies, suggest that the costs could be minimal, especially in the West.

"The studies are showing the costs are a lot lower than what people thought they were going to be," says Daniel Brooks, project manager for power delivery and utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute. Even if wind farms had to pay for the necessary grid upgrades and backup power themselves, they could still sell electricity at competitive rates, he says.

NREL considered a scenario in which 30 percent of the total electricity produced in a year in western states comes from wind turbines and 5 percent comes from solar power--mostly from solar thermal plants that generate power by concentrating sunlight to produce high temperatures and steam. The researchers assumed the solar thermal plants would have some form of heat storage, although not all planned plants do. The study used detailed data about wind speeds, solar irradiance, and the operation of the electrical grid. GE Energy researchers commissioned by NREL then used the data to simulate the impact of various scenarios for wind and solar power use.

The researchers found that one way to keep the number of new backup power plants to a minimum is to expand the geographical area that renewable energy is gathered from, says Debra Lew, the NREL project manager in charge of the study. If utilities can call on wind farms and solar power from several states, rather than just from the local area, a drop in wind in one area is likely to be offset by an increase in wind elsewhere, and solar panels shaded by clouds in one area will be offset by others in sunny areas.

Ostara Aims to Stave Off Peak Phosphorous  

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Fast Company has an article on phosphorus recycling from municipal waste streams - Ostara Aims to Stave Off Peak Phosphorous.

Forget peak oil. The next big crisis is peak phosphorous--a shortage of mined phosphorous for fertilizer. The problem is so bad that supply won't be able to meet agricultural demand within the next 30 to 40 years. But a Robert F. Kennedy Jr.-backed startup called Ostara thinks it might have the solution: a system that removes nutrients--including phosphorous--from wastewater and turns it into a slow-release commercial fertilizer called Crystal Green. The company's second commercial facility was unveiled this week at the Nansemond Treatment Plant in Suffolk, Virginia.

Ostara's process features a reactor that processes sludge liquid and recovers nutrients that might otherwise have to be disposed of using costly processes. The reactor is so effective that it can extract over 90% of phosphorous from a municipal waste stream. "Our process works very much in complement to existing wastewater treatment technology. There are plants that have advanced processes to remove nutrients from raw sewage, but they need to dispose of them. We can take those concentrated nutrient flows and extract out nutrients," explains Phillip Abrary, the CEO of Ostara, in an interview with "The system pays back for itself in five years."

Once nutrients have been extracted, Ostara mixes them with magnesium chloride and caustic to create pellets that can be processed into Crystal Green, the company's slow-release commercial fertilizer. What's unique is that the fertilizer dissolves over a long time," Abrary says. "When you put it in soil, it takes 8 to 9 months to dissolve. Plants are constantly fed using these nutrients."

Municipalities pay for Ostara's technology in one of two ways: a capital-based model that requires municipalities to pay Ostara for construction, with an investment paid back through revenue from Crystal Green sales, reduced operating costs, and increased plant capacity; and a fee-based model where Ostara pays for construction and operating costs while the municipality reimburses Ostara and pays a profit margin from a negotiated fee over a set number of years.

So far, municipalities have embraced the idea. Ostara opened its first commercial plant--a $5 million facility--outside Portland, Oregon last year. It is producing 500,000 pounds of Crystal Green annually. Ostara's second commercial plant, launched this week in Virginia, and the company plans on opening another plant in York, Pennsylvania in September.

Wave-powered desalination pump permitted in Gulf  

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CNet has an article on a wave powered desalination device in the Gulf Of Mexico (hopefully it will work even when covered in a coating of BP provided oil) - Wave-powered desalination pump permitted in Gulf.

The waters of the Gulf of Mexico will see a novel offshore platform later this year, one that will use wave power to desalinate water.

Independent Natural Resources, which makes the Seadog water pump, on Wednesday said that it has received a permit for a wave power generation facility off the coast of Freeport, Texas. The company says it's the first to receive a "section 10 permit" from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to operate a wave generator in the U.S.

The facility, which the company hopes to put in the water by the end of the year, will be a platform with 18 wave pumps underneath it. Each pump, which is about seven feet in diameter, will send water up through three water wheels connected to a generator. The electricity from the generator will be used to power a standard reverse osmosis desalination machine.

The wave energy generator is larger than Independent Natural Resource's prototype machines which it installed in 2007 but this new facility is sized to operate at commercial scale in Gulf waters. Rather than sell electricity or water, though, operators will be taking data to measure impact on sea life, the generator's performance, and the cost of operation, said Douglas Sandberg, the vice president of the privately funded company.

The platform will be about 150 feet by 75 feet in area and be 1 mile offshore to take advantage of swells. The pumps themselves will work 25 feet below the surface of the water and be able to generate about 60 kilowatts.

The efficiency of the system in converting wave energy to electrical energy is about 22 percent but can get over 50 percent, Sandberg said. Rather than only convert the energy of an incoming wave, the pump also captures some of the potential energy of air movement in the pump, he explained. The electricity generated on board will be used to power the facility and desalinate 3,000 gallons of water a day for testing, although it's capable of doing 20 times that, according to the company.

Bipartisan EV bill to help U.S. get into the global green car race  

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The Better Place blog has a post on efforts to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in the US - Bipartisan EV bill to help U.S. get into the global green car race.

For two generations, political leaders from both major political parties have identified oil dependence as a major vulnerability, and have asserted the need for the U.S. to break that addiction. But despite all of the passionate rhetoric, precious little has been proposed by way of a tangible strategy.

Today, there is hope that this is about to change.

Democratic and Republican members of the House and the Senate just introduced the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act (EVDA), a plan to speed mass adoption of zero-oil, zero-emission electric vehicles, and to put the U.S. into the global race for sustainable transportation.

Automobile companies around the world are calling electrification of the light-duty vehicle fleet “inevitable.” Countries like China and France are aggressively directing policy to take advantage of what they see as an opportunity to do more than reduce their emissions and dependence on oil, but to capture an enormous economic prize. Now, U.S. policymakers have showed up late to the party – but not yet too late for them to lead.

The bill, introduced by Senators Dorgan (D-ND), Alexander (R-TN), Merkley (D-OR), and Representatives Markey (D-MA) and Biggert (R-IL), seeks to accelerate EV adoption by allowing regions to compete for federal funding to build out model EV ecosystems, including infrastructure deployment and consumer incentives to switch to EVs.

One of the most laudable elements of the bill is its recognition of the multidisciplinary approach required to lead the EV revolution. The “ABCs” of electrification are Automobiles, Batteries and Charging networks – but with relatively low gas prices making dirty driving cheaper in the U.S. than most places in the world, these must also be accompanied by “D” – driving consumer Demand.

BP's gulf well plug fails, next step LRMP (or nukes) ?  

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The SMH reports that BP's "top kill" approach to stopping the Deepwater Horizon leak in the gulf of mexico has failed - BP's gulf well plug fails.

BP's "top kill" operation to plug the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico has failed, in a stunning setback to efforts to stem the worst oil spill in US history.

BP and federal authorities are now turning to a new strategy to stop the leak, but it will take at least four to seven days before it can be put in place.

At least 75 million gallons are now estimated to have gushed into the ocean since the disaster unfolded five weeks ago, threatening an environmental and economic catastrophe across hundreds of kilometres of the US Gulf Coast.

"After three full days of attempting 'top kill', we have been unable to overcome the flow from the well, so we now believe it's time to move on to the next of our options," BP Chief Operations Officer Doug Suttles told a news briefing.

Engineers had spent days pumping some 30,000 barrels of heavy drilling fluid into the leaking well head on the ocean floor in a high-pressure bid to smother the gushing crude and ultimately seal the well with cement. ....

The announcement marks the latest failure for BP, which despite a series of high-tech operations over the past month has appeared powerless to bring the disaster to heel since an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20 that killed eleven workers. The rig sank two days later.

The British energy giant had stressed that "top kill" was the best chance at stopping the leak other than drilling an entirely new relief well, a process that has already begun but is expected to take another two months.

The Oil Drum has been doing continuous coverage of the spill lately (with traffic starting to head back to the record levels of 2008), and reports BP's latest tactical plan is to try another containment dome style approach while waiting for relief wells to be drilled, this one dubbed the LMRP (lower marine riser package) - Deepwater Oil Spill - The LMRP Attempt Continued and Sunday's Open Thread .
BP said preparations have been made for the possible deployment of the lower marine riser package (LMRP) cap containment system, which would be complex because of the depth of the oil leak.

Deployment would first involve removing the damaged riser from the top of the failed BOP to leave a cleanly-cut pipe at the top of the BOP's LMRP.

The cap, a containment device with a sealing grommet, will be connected to a riser from the Discoverer Enterprise drillship, 5,000 feet above on the surface, and placed over the LMRP with the intention of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well.

Mr Suttles said it should capture "most of the oil" and was expected to last at least four days but "we cannot guarantee success at this time."

Zero Hedge points to a Bloomberg interview with Matt Simmons talking about using a nuclear explosion to plug the well, Russian style - Matt Simmons Tells Bloomberg Only Way To Contain Oil Leak Is With Small Nuclear Bombs, "Top Kill" Is Just A Distraction. It might stop the leak, but presumably the environmental issues will be just as large, albeit different....
In his May 28th interview with Bloomberg's Mark Crumpton and Lori Rothman, Matt Simmons of energy investment bank Simmons & Company, provides some stunning revelations on what is really occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, and proposes that the only effective way to contain the leak is to relieve BP, bring in the military, and do what the Russians have done on comparable occasions, namely explode nuclear weapons within the wellbore. Simmons knows what he is talking about. As Jim Bianco points out: "Matt Simmons gained fame with his book 2005 Twilight in the Desert where he claimed that the Saudis were overstating their oil output because they hit “peak oil.” Right or wrong Simmons claimed the price of oil was going to skyrocket and three years after the book’s release the crude oil hit $147/Barrel.

Grist has an article wondering if people are starting to lose the plot - Is the Gulf oil spill spinning out of control?.
op Hat, Top Kill, Junk Shot, Hail Mary. I don't know about you but it sure feels like nobody's going to stop this leak. Even BP CEO and chief spinmeister Tony Hayward is lowering expectations. This mess is officially out of control.

"Plug the damn hole"

Presidents don't do impotence -- usually. But while BP pipes spew non-stop on webcams, President Obama reduced to sending Cabinet members to the scene where they hold daily press briefings to explain what BP is (or is not) doing. Should we be surprised then at Obama's "Plug the damn hole" outburst at a recent White House meeting?

In his Washington Post blog Joel Achenbach calls BP the ballerina and the federal government the Stage Mom. But here's an alt analogy: BP is the teen learning to drive and the government is the parent in the front seat. Only he doesn't know how to drive either.

They got nothin'

The speculation in Washington is that if BP can't pull off its "top kill" gambit tomorrow, the White House will need to do something dramatic, like take over.

The feds do have the authority. But what would they do if they took charge of the unstoppable spill? The government's top man in the field, Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, flat out concedes that the feds are out of their league-technically-when it comes to plugging the damn hole.

Got any ideas?

Andrew Revkin, in his Dot Earth blog in the New York Times, wants a swat team, of gung-ho geologists and engineers. David Gergen, writing for CNN, wants to rally the country's best and brightest to brainstorm a solution.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wants to send in the troops. Let the U.S. military take over the cleanup operation.

Screw the army, we want Bruce Willis!

There is one other option out there, a dark option that BP wants nothing to do with. Nuclear weapons. Hey, we're serious here, people! The Soviet Union has used nukes four times in the past to cap leaking oil and gas wells. Sure it sounds crazy, but according to Russian writer Vladimir Lagovsky, the explosion "compresses the rock and squeezes the channel shut."

Of course, resorting to nukes could be a tough call for a Nobel Peace Prize winner, notes Christopher Brownfield, writing in The Daily Beast.
... using nuclear weapons, even for peaceful purposes, would be problematic for a president who stood in Prague and declared that the world should rid itself of such devices. If President Obama were to use a nuke to close this well, he would give other states an excuse to seek nuclear weapons of their own.

Elizabeth Kolbert has some background on oil spills and why these may become more common due to peak oil at The New Yorker - Oil Shocks.
n September of 1968, Union Oil Company of California, which later became Unocal and is now part of Chevron, erected a drilling platform off the coast near Santa Barbara. Over the next four months, four wells were constructed. Work on a fifth had begun and was proceeding uneventfully until, on January 28, 1969, the new well suffered a blowout. It took ten days’ effort before it was finally plugged, with cement slurry. By the time the flow had stopped completely, an estimated hundred thousand barrels of oil had poured into the Santa Barbara Channel. The slick it created covered eight hundred square miles. The area’s fishing industry was shut down, and pictures of blackened beaches filled the news.

Americans had never seen a spill like this, and they were shocked by it. There were protests—Californians stuck their gasoline credit cards on skewers and lit them on fire—followed by new horrors. In June of 1969, Ohio’s spectacularly polluted Cuyahoga River burst into flame. By the end of the year, Congress had passed the National Environmental Policy Act, known by the acronym NEPA, which requires federal agencies to file impact statements for all actions that could have a significant ecological effect. The following spring, millions of people took to the streets for Earth Day, and by the second anniversary of the spill President Richard Nixon had created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed into law the Clean Air Act.

BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill makes the Santa Barbara spill look like a puddle. By some estimates, the BP spill is spewing as much oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day as the Union well spewed into the Santa Barbara Channel in all, and the BP spill is now in its second month. The news out of the Gulf continues to range from grim to grimmer. Recently, it was revealed that the spill has created an undersea plume of oil ten miles long, and that some of the oil has already entered the loop current and is being carried toward Florida. Then the federal government doubled the area of the Gulf that had been closed to fishing. On Friday, the government increased that area again, to forty-eight thousand square miles. President Barack Obama has called the spill a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster,” a characterization that, if anything, probably understates the case.

In an immediate sense, the causes of the catastrophe are technical. Apparently, the Deepwater Horizon well was inadequately sealed, and natural gas built up inside it. When workers on the rig tried to activate the well’s blowout preventer, it failed. An attempt to activate the blowout preventer after the fact, using undersea robots, also proved unsuccessful. Another effort to cap the leak, by using what amounted to a hundred-ton steel funnel, flopped as well. Last week, BP finally succeeded in inserting a mile-long tube into the riser leading from the well. The company said that it was capturing a thousand barrels of oil a day, which is what it originally claimed that the well was leaking; nevertheless, crude continued to pour into the Gulf. (In a recent column in the Miami Herald, the author Carl Hiaasen joked that BP’s next move would be to try to seal the well with thousands of tons of instant oatmeal.)

But the real causes of the disaster go, as it were, much deeper. Having consumed most of the world’s readily accessible oil, we are now compelled to look for fuel in ever more remote places, and to extract it in ever riskier and more damaging ways. The Deepwater Horizon well was being drilled in five thousand feet of water, to a total depth of eighteen thousand feet. (By contrast, the Santa Barbara well was drilled in less than two hundred feet of water, to a total depth of thirty-five hundred feet.) While the point of “peak oil” may or may not have been reached, what Michael Klare, a professor at Hampshire College, has dubbed the Age of Tough Oil has clearly begun. This year, the United States’ largest single source of imported oil is expected to be the Canadian tar sands. Oil from the tar sands comes in what is essentially a solid form: it has to be either strip-mined, a process that leaves behind a devastated landscape, or melted out of the earth using vast quantities of natural gas.

Meanwhile, as everyone knows, no matter where oil comes from or how it has been extracted, burning it is destructive: oil combustion accounts for nearly a third of the greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. A report issued last week by the National Academy of Sciences called on Congress to enact legislation to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, by, among other things, “reducing oil use.”

The Small Cost OF Australia's Renewable Energy Target  

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The SMH reports that the increased mandatory renewable energy target being proposed for Australia is likely to have minimal cost to consumers and win multi-partisan support in Parliament - Power bills will not bear cost of clean power boom.

A RENEWABLE energy scheme before the Federal Parliament will drive $14 billion of clean power investment by 2020 according to new modelling, but the head of the Climate Change Department has warned that Australia still cannot meet its promised emission reduction targets without a broad price on carbon.

Modelling released by the government yesterday shows the new renewable energy target - which requires 20 per cent of energy to be sourced from renewables by 2020 - will increase the average household power bill by $41 a year. The scheme amendments before the Parliament will be responsible for just $2 of that.

The modest price rises mean it is likely the changes will pass with bipartisan support, as the original renewable energy target legislation did, allowing billions of dollars of renewables investment to begin.

BPing the Arctic?  

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TomDispatch has an article asking "Will the Obama Administration Allow Shell Oil to Do to Arctic Waters What BP Did to the Gulf?" - BPing the Arctic ?.

Unfortunately, as you've already guessed, I’m not here just to tell you about the glories -- and extremity -- of the Alaskan Arctic, which happens to be the most biologically diverse quadrant of the entire circumpolar north. I’m writing this piece because of the oil, because under all that life and beauty in the melting Arctic there’s something our industrial civilization wants, something oil companies have had their eyes on for a long time now.

If you’ve been following the increasing ecological devastation unfolding before our collective eyes in the Gulf of Mexico since BP’s rented Deepwater Horizon exploratory drilling rig went up in flames (and then under the waves), then you should know about -- and protest -- Shell Oil’s plan to begin exploratory oil drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas this summer.

On March 31st, standing in front of an F-18 "Green Hornet" fighter jet and a large American flag at Andrews Air Force Base, President Obama announced a new energy proposal, which would open up vast expanses of America’s coastlines, including the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, to oil and gas development. Then, on May 13th, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed a victory to Shell Oil. It rejected the claims of a group of environmental organizations and Native Inupiat communities that had sued Shell and the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) to stop exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic seas.

Fortunately, Shell still needs air quality permits from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as final authorization from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar before the company can send its 514-foot drilling ship, Frontier Discoverer, north this summer to drill three exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort Sea. Given what should by now be obvious to all about the dangers of such deep-water drilling, even in far less extreme climates, let’s hope they don’t get either the permits or the authorization.

On May 14th, I called Robert Thompson, the current board chair of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL). “I’m very stressed right now,” he told me. “We’ve been watching the development of BP’s oil spill in the Gulf on television. We’re praying for the animals and people there. We don’t want Shell to be drilling in our Arctic waters this summer.”

As it happened, I was there when, in August 2006, Shell’s first small ship arrived in the Beaufort Sea. Robert’s wife Jane caught it in her binoculars from her living-room window and I photographed it as it was scoping out the sea bottom in a near-shore area just outside Kaktovik. Its job was to prepare the way for a larger seismic ship due later that month.

Since then, Robert has been asking one simple question: If there were a Gulf-like disaster, could spilled oil in the Arctic Ocean actually be cleaned up?

He’s asked it in numerous venues -- at Shell’s Annual General Meeting in The Hague in 2008, for instance, and at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø, Norway, that same year. At Tromsø, Larry Persily -- then associate director of the Washington office of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and since December 2009, the federal natural gas pipeline coordinator in the Obama administration -- gave a 20-minute talk on the role oil revenue plays in Alaska’s economy.

During the question-and-answer period afterwards, Robert typically asked: “Can oil be cleaned up in the Arctic Ocean? And if you can’t answer yes, or if it can’t be cleaned up, why are you involved in leasing this land? And I’d also like to know if there are any studies on oil toxicity in the Arctic Ocean, and how long will it take for oil there to break down to where it’s not harmful to our marine environment?”

Persily responded: “I think everyone agrees that there is no good way to clean up oil from a spill in broken sea ice. I have not read anyone disagreeing with that statement, so you’re correct on that. As far as why the federal government and the state government want to lease offshore, I’m not prepared to answer that. They’re not my leases, to be real honest with everyone.”

A month after that conference, Shell paid an unprecedented $2.1 billion to the MMS for oil leases in the Chukchi Sea. In October and December 2009, MMS approved Shell’s plan to drill five exploratory wells. In the permit it issued, the MMS concluded that a large spill was “too remote and speculative an occurrence” to warrant analysis, even though the agency acknowledged that such a spill could have devastating consequences in the Arctic Ocean’s icy waters and could be difficult to clean up.

It would be an irony of sorts if the only thing that stood between the Obama administration and an Arctic disaster-in-the-making was BP’s present catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

Commissioning: In Pursuit of the Truly Green Building  

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WorldChanging has an article on green buildings, looking at the practice of “commissioning,” in which an engineer monitors the efficiency of a building from its design through its initial operation, in order to reduce long-term energy usage by buildings - Commissioning: In Pursuit of the Truly Green Building.

In a different world, it could be a reality television show — “Buildings On Trial,” with a street-savvy engineer going into skyscrapers, factories, offices and other commercial buildings to find the dumb mistakes that make them waste energy and produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s global warming emissions.

And in almost every case, even new buildings proudly displaying a LEED “green building” plaque by the front door, the engineer would come back out with a list of energy hog culprits: Here’s the ventilation system fan installed backwards, so it blows full force into another fan blowing in the right direction. Here’s the control system set up so heating and cooling systems both work at once, like driving with your feet on the brakes and the accelerator at the same time. Here are the stuck dampers that prevent the building from drawing on outside air when the temperature is right.

Such mistakes are commonplace even in the best buildings — and often costly. In one case, says Dave Moser of Portland Energy Conservation, Inc., an Oregon nonprofit, it cost a building owner $5,000 to fix stuck dampers — and cut $50,000 off the annual energy bill. In a case of simultaneous heating and cooling at an 85,000-square-foot academic building, a minor programming fix cost almost nothing and saved $100,000 a year in wasted energy, according to Mark Miller of Strategic Building Solutions, a Connecticut company.

The business of finding and fixing these mistakes is called “building commissioning,” a term borrowed from the standard naval practice of commissioning a new ship with sea trials to determine whether it’s fit for service. People started doing roughly the same thing with non-residential real estate in the mid-1990s, as buildings with computer-controlled systems became almost as complex as ships at sea. Commissioning frequently involves no more than a few weeks of testing out systems. But in the most complete form, the commissioning agent works with architects in the design stage, to help save money by specifying properly sized energy systems, then follows the building through construction, trains the operating staff, and tracks energy performance in different seasons through the first year of operation. Older buildings now also go through retro-commissioning, in search of improved efficiency.

But if you imagine that real estate developers must be lining up for this service — if only to save money, or determine whether they are getting the building they paid for — you would be mistaken. Even now, well under 5 percent — and probably closer to 1 percent — of new commercial buildings actually go through the process. Projects seeking certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (or LEED) program, managed by the U.S. Green Building Council, can earn extra points by going through “enhanced” commissioning. But they’re only required to do “fundamental” commissioning — a sort of commissioning-lite, potentially performed not by a third party, but by an “independent” employee of the construction manager whose contractors made the mistakes in the first place.

And yet building commissioning is “arguably the single-most cost-effective strategy for reducing energy, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings today,” according to a 2009 report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. If applied to the nation’s entire non-residential building stock, including retro-commissioning of older buildings, it would yield $30 billion in potential energy savings every year by 2030, the study projects, and avoid 340 million tons of global warming emissions annually. To put the latter number in perspective, other studies project that the United States is now on a path to increase global warming emissions by more than a third, up to 9.7 billion metric tons a year by 2030. Roughly 35 percent of emissions come from heating, cooling, and providing electric power for buildings and homes, split evenly between commercial and residential. So building commissioning is hardly the only remedy required. But the potential savings ought to make it one of the most attractive.

Why isn’t it more popular? A lot of developers, and even some building efficiency experts, have simply never heard of commissioning. Others have gotten turned off, says Glenn Hansen of Portland Energy Conservation, Inc., by early experiences in which “a fairly junior engineer” would go through a building checking off boxes on a clipboard. In a 2008 study by the New Buildings Institute, the energy performance in many LEED-certified “green” buildings was actually worse than in the average conventional building, probably because inexperienced people doing “fundamental” conditioning had failed to detect problems.

BP-owned Alaska oil pipeline shut after spill  

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Reuters reports that BP has another problem on its hands, this time in Alaska - BP-owned Alaska oil pipeline shut after spill.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, partly owned by BP, shut down on Tuesday after spilling several thousand barrels of crude oil into backup containers, drastically cutting supply down the main artery between refineries and Alaska's oilfields.

The accident comes at a difficult time for BP -- the largest single owner of the pipeline operator, holding 47 percent -- as it struggles to plug a gushing Gulf of Mexico oil well.

The shutdown followed a series of mishaps that resulted from a scheduled fire-command system test at Pump Station 9, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks, said Alyeska Pipeline Service Co, the operator of the 800-mile oil line.

The power outage triggered opening of relief valves, causing an unspecified volume of crude oil to overflow a storage tank into a secondary containment. There were no injuries, but the approximately 40 people at the work site were evacuated, Alyeska spokeswoman Michele Egan said.

North Slope oil producers have cut their flow into the pipeline's Prudhoe Bay intake station to 16 percent of their normal rates, Egan said. There is enough storage capacity to allow the line to be shut down for 48 hours as long as producers maintain the 16 percent flow rate, she said.

It is unclear how long the shutdown will last.

Japan could be geothermal energy leader  

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AFP has a report on geothermal energy potential in Japan - Japan could be geothermal energy leader: US expert.

A prominent US environmentalist said Wednesday Japan should focus on developing geothermal energy, saying the volcanic island-nation could become the global leader in the field.

"Japan could make geothermal energy the centre of its new energy economy just as the US or China will make wind the centre of theirs," Lester Brown, president of the US-based Earth Policy Institute, told a news conference.

"There are no leaders in the world today in this field. There is no industrial country in the world that now has a well established geothermal industry" Brown said at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.

Japan, located at the crossroads of four tectonic plates and on what is known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire" and dotted with volcanoes, is one of the world's most quake-prone countries.

If Japan can launch full development of geothermal energy technology, "it would not only lower carbon emissions in Japan, but it would also give Japanese industry the potential for playing a leading role in developing the world's geothermal energy resources." he said.

Brown noted that demand for the technology will grow in other geothermal-rich countries located on tectonic faultlines such as Indonesia and the Philippines in Asia as well as Chile, Peru and Colombia in South America.

"This is an opportunity for Japan to move to the centre stage in an area where it is richly endowed," he added.

Japan makes use of hot springs as a resource for tourism, but geothermal energy only accounts for 0.3 percent of its energy mix, and the country relies heavily on imports of oil and other resources.

Kiwis (and Icelanders) might find Lester's claim that no industrial country has an established geothermal industry a bit insulting. The NZ Herald has a report on their latest power station to open - Geothermal power station opens early.
Contact Energy's $100 million geothermal power station Tauhara One, near Taupo, has been finished three weeks ahead of schedule.

Contact managing director David Baldwin today said the 23-megawatt (MW) station, which would provide enough baseload renewable energy for about 23,000 homes, was also finished under budget. ...

Contact is seeking consents for a 250MW Tauhara Two geothermal power station through a board of inquiry process and advancing development of its consented 220MW Te Mihi power station.

Malcolm Fraser leaves party that left him  

Posted by Big Gav

The SMH has an article on the resignation of former leader Malcolm Fraser from the Liberal party, on the grounds it is no longer liberal, having become thoroughly infected with the disease of conservatism - 'Leftie' Fraser leaves party that left him. Crikey has more.

In resigning from the Liberal Party, Malcolm Fraser could well invoke the line that Ronald Reagan used to explain why he quit the Democratic Party - "I didn't leave the party, the party left me."

Since the end of his prime ministership 27 years ago, the Liberals have moved a long way to the right, leaving Fraser increasingly angry and isolated in the party he once led.

The prime minster who was attacked by Labor as being a granite-faced arch-conservative in the 1980s was in January derided by the Liberals' Sophie Mirabella as a "frothing-at-the-mouth leftie."

The surprising thing about Fraser isn't that he resigned in disgust.

Accusing John Howard of being "inhumane" with asylum seekers and Tony Abbott of being guilty of "pure Hansonism," the surprise is that he kept his membership so long.

The closest the Liberal Party has come to revisiting the liberalism of Fraser was its brief flirtation with that other Malcolm, Turnbull.

Turnbull lost the leadership in a clash over support for an emissions trading scheme to deal with climate change.

In this, Turnbull had Fraser's full support.

Fraser last October endorsed a call by 40 scientists calling on the Government to make "every effort" to cut carbon emissions and lead global negotiations.

When did the Liberals tear down Turnbull and replace him with Tony Abbott? December 1 last year. When did Fraser quit the party? In December. This is no coincidence.

Since the fall of the Fraser government, the Liberals have moved to the right in every major realm of policy. ...

The Iraq war particularly rankled with Fraser: "A good ally doesn't just go along with whatever Americans want, and I am sure that George Bush senior and his colleagues agree with me," he said in 2007.

"In some important quarters in America, we are held in contempt for being George W. Bush's puppy dog."

Singapore ramps up clean energy R&D investment  

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Ecoseed has an article on Singaporean efforts to develop a cleantech industry in the country - Singapore ramps up clean energy R&D investment.

The Singapore Economic Development Board (E.D.B.) will spend about 680 million Singapore dollars ($483.3 million) to build a clean technology ecosystem over the next five years as part of the country’s plan to become a global research and development hub.

The fund is expected to establish a more conducive environment for innovations in research, test-bedding and commercialization that will advance Singapore’s solar industry.

The board allocated 350 million Singapore dollars of the total investment to develop the country’s clean energy sector, with a focus on solar energy. Having a tropical climate, Singapore is a prime location for companies that wish to enter the Asian solar market.

Suntech Power, for instance, intends to expand its operations in the country because of the strong government support and exceptional technology capabilities. Bosch Group also opened its new headquarters in Singapore to better manage its newly acquired companies in Southeast Asia.

In addition to its linkages to leading Asian solar markets, Singapore has the capabilities to manufacture solar wafers, cells and modules, which will give the country a head start in the solar industry, the board said.

Offshore oil vs. offshore wind ... who wins?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

MNN has a look at how much offshore wind power could have been built for the amount of money spent on the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster - Offshore oil vs. offshore wind ... who wins?.

In my fact-digging on the now sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig, I came across a stat about the construction and operational costs of BP's failed rig which was to tap an estimated 7 billion barrels of oil from two recent oil discoveries (the Kaskida and the Tiber) over a 25-year period. According to Morningstar analysts (who published a study back in March), the projected investment for both wells was between $8 billion and $12 billion U.S.

So that got me thinking, just how much offshore wind could be bought for the equivalent $12 billion investment? My back of the envelope calculations were enlightening. Here we go ...

1. What is the cost of offshore wind power?

We have a good comp in the form of Alpha Ventus, a 12-turbine project off the shores of Germany which was recently completed. The project was the first of its kind and as might be expected, it ran over budget. According to Spiegel, the total project cost $282 million (it was estimated at just under $200 million) which includes upkeep costs over 25 years. Alpha Ventus is a 60 megawatt array, enough to power about 50,000 U.S. homes or 550 million kilowatts of electricity per year (a typical U.S. home uses 11,000 kilowatts).

2. How many turbines can $10 billion buy?

Projecting that the next few big offshore projects will drop in price as manufacturing and grid infrastructure improves, let's say a 60 megawatt project will go for $200 million. Divide that by $12 billion and you get sixty 60-megawatt wind projects, or about 33 billion kilowatts of power capacity per year.

3. How many electric cars does that power?

A typical American drives 12,000 miles per year. The latest plug-in electric vehicles (like the much-anticipated Tesla Sedan) use about 370 wH's per mile. The typical U.S. driver would need 12,000 x .37 = 4,440 kilowatts per year. Divide 33 billion by 4,440 kilowatts and you get about 7.4 million electric vehicles that could be powered each year by a $10 billion wind investment.

4. How many cars could Deepwater Horizon have fueled?

44 gallons of gasoline are made from each barrel of crude. Deepwater Horizon was to produce 7 billion barrels of crude over its 25 year life span. 7 billion x 44 = 308 billion gallons of gas divided by 25 years = 12. 3 billions gallons of gas per year. Let's say as cars become more efficient the average U.S. car goes up to a 26 mpg average. 26 mpg x 12.3 billion = 320 billion miles. Divide that by our 12,000 mile national average and you get 26.7 million gas cars per year from the $10 billion offshore drilling investment.

5. What's the end cost for the consumer?

You can see why as a nation we like oil so much ... it yields about 3-4 times more transportation power per dollar invested. But it's important to note that the cost of gasoline for the end-user is considerably higher than electricity. In the end the consumer pays dearly for all that convenient fossil fuel. Right now gasoline is about $3 per gallon and the typical car gets 22 mpg. So the typical gasoline mile costs us about 13.6 cents or $1,632 per year (oil). Grid electricity is about 10 cents per kilowatt, so one mile on electricity costs only 3.7 cents, or $444 per year (wind). If you figure that 7.4 million Americans would be saving $1,188 per year, that is about $8.8 billion going back into the U.S. economy rather than into the grubby hands of foreign oil companies like BP.

6. What if you factor in environmental costs?

Now if we start factoring in the massive cleanup costs, it changes the game significantly. Current estimates are putting the BP cleanup bill at $22.6 billion. This figure will be matched (at least) by U.S. taxpayers in the form of government assistance programs. So that puts the total estimated Deepwater Horizon pricetag at $55 billion ($10B + $22.5B + $22.5B), assuming it's even possible to clean up the spill at all.

7. Comparing apples and lemons ...

As a comparison exercise, let's say that instead of sinking on Day 1, the Deepwater Horizon sunk halfway though its lifespan. It would have powered 13.4 million cars at a cost of $55 billion ... about $4,100 per car (oil). Our wind turbines would have powered 3.7 million cars at $10 billion or about $2,700 per car (wind). Since "windspills" have never been known to cause any impact whatsoever and oil spills are quite frequent (according to NOAA in one sample year alone there were 257 oil spills) this seems more than a fair comparison and puts wind in the lead, both from the perspective of investment and consumer spending.

Of course, this sad little number game will never make up for the incalculable losses to the fishing industry, the tourist industry, the health of wetlands, the survival of wildlife, the carcinogens that are now leaking into the water systems of Gulf residents — all things for which BP will never pay. We, the American people however, will pay those prices for a very, very long time to come.

You get my drift ... it is time to change the way we think about offshore energy resources and start switching to safe, clean wind power.

The Tesla and Toyota Tie Up  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The CSM has an article on a deal between Toyota and Tesla Motors, "in which Tesla will buy a defunct Toyota plant in California, and Toyota will purchase $50 million of Tesla stock" - Will Tesla-Toyota deal help repair Toyota's public image?.

In a move that may provide a spark for the electric automobile industry, Toyota, the world's largest automaker, is teaming up Tesla Motors Inc, the makers of the only highway-legal all-electric car in the United States.

The companies announced a deal yesterday in which Tesla will buy a defunct Toyota plant in California where it will produce the model S, an electric sedan slated for 2012.

Toyota, meanwhile, will buy $50 million worth of Tesla stock, and the two companies announced Thursday that they will work together to develop new electric vehicle technologies and refine manufacturing methods.

In this symbiotic business deal, Tesla will likely benefit from direct knowledge of Toyota's economy of scale and links to a vast supplier base.

Toyota, for its part, might get a boost in its competition with other carmakers over the growing environmentally friendly vehicle marketplace. Tesla's advanced lithium-ion batteries, for example, might steer the way for Toyota as the Japanese automaker looks to replace the older nickel-metal hydride units found in its hybrid Prius.

The secret life of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange  

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange continues to get a high profile in the local press, with the SMH having another look at the organisation this weekend - The secret life of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

He has spent the best part of the past six months in Iceland, he says. And the next six months? ''It depends on which area of the world I'm needed most. We're an international organisation. We deal with international problems,'' he replies.

Assange mentions four bases, but names only two. The one in Iceland and another in Kenya, where he has spent a lot of time, on and off, in the past couple of years.

The Kroll report, released on Wikileaks, reportedly swung the Kenyan presidential election in 2007.

When he's in the country, Assange lives in a compound in Nairobi with other foreigners, mainly members of NGOs such as Medecins Sans Frontieres. He originally went to Kenya in 2007 to give a lecture on Wikileaks, when it was up and running. ''And ended up staying there,'' I suggest encouragingly.


As a result of liking the place or …

''Well, it has got extraordinary opportunities for reforms. It had a revolution in the 1970s. It has only been a democracy since 2004 … I was introduced to senior people in journalism, in human rights very quickly.''

He has travelled to Siberia. Is there a third base there?

''No comment. I wish. The bear steak is good.''

Why did he go to Georgia?

''How do you know about that?''

I read it somewhere, I reply. It was a rumour. ''Ah, a rumour,'' he says.

But he did go there? ''It's better that I don't comment on that, because Georgia is not such a big place.''

Living permanently in a state of exile, which can become addictive, means that you always have the sharp eye of the outsider, I suggest.

''The sense of perspective that interaction with multiple cultures gives you I find to be extremely valuable, because it allows you to see the structure of a country with greater clarity, and gives you a sense of mental independence,'' Assange replies.

"You're not swept up in the trivialities of a nation. You can concentrate on the serious matters. Australia is a bit of a political wasteland. That's OK, as long as people recognise that. As long as people recognise that Australia is a suburb of a country called Anglo-Saxon.''

Could he ever live in one place again? A brief silence. ''I don't think so,'' he says finally.

''I don't see myself as a computer guru,'' he remarks at one point. ''I live a broad intellectual life. I'm good at a lot of things, except for spelling.''

At one point, thinking about some of the material leaked on Wikileaks, I ask Assange how he defines national security. ''We don't,'' he says crisply. "We're not interested in that. We're interested in justice. We are a supranational organisation. So we're not interested in national security.''

How does he justify keeping his own life as private as possible, considering that he believes in extreme transparency?

''I don't justify it,'' he says, with just a hint of mischievousness. ''No one has sent us any official documents that were not published previously on me. Should they do so, and they meet our editorial criteria, we will publish them.''

Assange isn't paid a salary by Wikileaks. He has investments, which he won't discuss. But during the 1990s he worked in computer security in Australia and overseas, devised software programmes - in 1997 he co-invented ''Rubberhose deniable encryption'', which he describes as a cryptographic system made for human rights workers wanting to protect sensitive data in the field - and also became a key figure in the free software movement.

The whole point of free software, he comments, is to ''liberate it in all senses''. He adds: ''It' s part of the intellectual heritage of man. True intellectual heritage can't be bound up in intellectual property.''

Did being arrested, and later on finding himself in a courtroom, push him into a completely different reality that he had never thought about - and eventually in a direction that eventually saw him start thinking along the lines of a website like Wikileaks, that would take on the world?

''That [experience] showed me how the justice system and bureaucracy worked, and did not work; what its abilities were and what its limitations were,'' he replies. ''And justice wasn't something that came out of the justice system. Justice was something that you bring to the justice system. And if you're lucky, or skilled, and you're in a country that isn't too corrupt, you can do that.''

In another life, Assange might have been a mathematician. He spent four years studying maths, mostly at Melbourne University - with stints at the Australian National University in Canberra - but never graduated, disenchanted, he says, with how many of his fellow students were conducting research for the US defence system.

''There are key cases which are just really f---ing obnoxious,'' he says.

According to Assange, the US Defence Advance Research Project Agency was funding research which involved optimising the efficiency of a military bulldozer called the Grizzly Plough, which was used in the Iraqi desert during Operation Desert Storm during the 1991 Gulf War.

''It has a problem in that it gets damaged [from] the sand rolling up in front. The application of this bulldozer is to move at 60 kilometres an hour, sweeping barbed wire and so on before it, and get the sand and put it in the trenches where the [Iraqi] troops are, and bury them all alive and then roll over the top. So that's what Melbourne University's applied maths department was doing - studying how to improve the efficiency of the Grizzly Plough.''

Assange says he did a lot of soul-searching before he finally quit his studies in 2007. He had already started working with other people on a model of Wikileaks by early 2006.

There were people at the physics conference, he goes on, who were career physicists, ''and there was just something about their attire, and the way they moved their bodies, and of course the bags on their backs didn't help much either. I couldn't respect them as men''.

His university experience didn't define his cynicism, though. Assange says that he's extremely cynical anyway. ''I painted every corner, floor, wall and ceiling in the 'room' I was in, black, until there was only one corner left. I mean intellectually,'' he adds. ''To me, it was the forced move [in chess], when you have to do something or you'll lose the game.''

So Wikileaks was his forced move?

''That's the way it feels to me, yes. There were no other options left to me on the table.''

Wikileaks, he says, has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined.

''That's not something I say as a way of saying how successful we are - rather, that shows you the parlous state of the rest of the media. How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It's disgraceful.''

Where does Assange see Wikileaks in 10 years? "It's not what I want the world to be. It's what I want the rest of the world to be," he replies.

Ethical Futurism  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Jamais Cascio at Open the Future has a post (revived from 2006)on the ethics of futurism - OtF Core: Ethical Futurism.

Futurists — including scenario planners, trend-spotters, foresight specialists, paradigm engineers, and the myriad other labels we use — have something of an odd professional role. We are akin to reporters, but we’re reporters of events that have not yet happened — and may not happen. We are analysts, but analysts of possibilities, not histories. We’re science fiction storytellers, but the stories we tell are less for entertainment than for enlightenment. And, much to our surprise, we may be much more influential than we expect. ...

As I see it, then, where business professionals are responsible to the client and their various stakeholders, foresight professionals are responsible to the future.

Here’s what I think that means:

It means that the first duty of an ethical futurist is to act in the interests of the stakeholders yet to come — those who would suffer harm in the future from choices made in the present. This harm could come (in my view) in the form of fewer options or possibilities for development, less ecological diversity and environmental stability, and greater risks to the health and well-being of people and other species on the planet. Futurists, as those people who have chosen to become navigators for society — responsible for watching the path ahead — have a particular responsibility for safeguard that path, and to ensure that the people making strategic choices about actions and policies have the opportunity to do so wisely.

From this, I would argue for the following set of ethical guidelines:

An ethical futurist has a responsibility not to let the desires of a client (or audience, or collaborator) for a particular outcome blind him or her to the consequences of that goal, and will always informs the client of both the risks and rewards.

An ethical futurist has the responsibility to understand, as fully as possible, the range of issues and systems connected to the question under consideration, to avoid missing critical potential consequences.

An ethical futurist has the responsibility to acknowledge and make her or his client (audience, collaborators) cognizant of the uncertainty of forecasts, and to explain why some outcomes and consequences are more or less likely than others.

An ethical futurist has the responsibility to offer unbiased analysis, based on an honest appraisal of sources, with as much transparency of process as possible.

An ethical futurist has the responsibility to recognize the difference between short-term results and long-term processes, and to always keep an eye on the more distant possibilities.

Futurists perform a quirky, but necessary, task in modern society: we function as the long-range scanners for a species evolved to pay close attention to short-range horizons. Some neurophysiologists argue that this comes from the simple act of throwing an object to hit a moving target. Chimpanzees and bonobos, even with DNA 98% identical to our own, are simply unable to do so, while most humans can (at least with a bit of experience). It turns out that the same cognitive structures that let us understand where a moving target will be may also help us recognize the broader relationship between action and result — or, more simply, how “if” becomes “then.”

I’m not sure how many futurists recognize the weight of responsibility that rests on their shoulders; this is an occupation in which attention-deficit disorder is something of a professional requirement. But when we do our jobs well, we can play a pretty damn important role in shaping the course of human history. It’s incumbent upon us, then, to do our jobs with a sense of purpose and ethics.

Michael Klare, The Oil Rush to Hell  

Posted by Big Gav

TomDispatch has a new article from Michael Klare, looking at the problems associated with chasing ever-harder-to-extract oil - The Oil Rush to Hell.

Yes, the oil spewing up from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico in staggering quantities could prove one of the great ecological disasters of human history. Think of it, though, as just the prelude to the Age of Tough Oil, a time of ever increasing reliance on problematic, hard-to-reach energy sources. Make no mistake: we’re entering the danger zone. And brace yourself, the fate of the planet could be at stake.

It may never be possible to pin down the precise cause of the massive explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20th, killing 11 of its 126 workers. Possible culprits include a faulty cement plug in the undersea oil bore and a disabled cutoff device known as a blow-out preventer. Inadequate governmental oversight of safety procedures undoubtedly also contributed to the disaster, which may have been set off by a combination of defective equipment and human error. But whether or not the immediate trigger of the explosion is ever fully determined, there can be no mistaking the underlying cause: a government-backed corporate drive to exploit oil and natural gas reserves in extreme environments under increasingly hazardous operating conditions.

The New Oil Rush and Its Dangers

The United States entered the hydrocarbon era with one of the world’s largest pools of oil and natural gas. The exploitation of these valuable and versatile commodities has long contributed to the nation’s wealth and power, as well as to the profitability of giant energy firms like BP and Exxon. In the process, however, most of our easily accessible onshore oil and gas reservoirs have been depleted, leaving only less accessible reserves in offshore areas, Alaska, and the melting Arctic. To ensure a continued supply of hydrocarbons -- and the continued prosperity of the giant energy companies -- successive administrations have promoted the exploitation of these extreme energy options with a striking disregard for the resulting dangers. By their very nature, such efforts involve an ever increasing risk of human and environmental catastrophe -- something that has been far too little acknowledged.

The hunt for oil and gas has always entailed a certain amount of risk. After all, most energy reserves are trapped deep below the Earth’s surface by overlying rock formations. When punctured by oil drills, these are likely to erupt in an explosive release of hydrocarbons, the well-known “gusher” effect. In the swashbuckling early days of the oil industry, this phenomenon -- familiar to us from movies like There Will Be Blood -- often caused human and environmental injury. Over the years, however, the oil companies became far more adept at anticipating such events and preventing harm to workers or the surrounding countryside.

Now, in the rush to develop hard-to-reach reserves in Alaska, the Arctic, and deep-offshore waters, we’re returning to a particularly dangerous version of those swashbuckling days. As energy companies encounter fresh and unexpected hazards, their existing technologies -- largely developed in more benign environments -- often prove incapable of responding adequately to the new challenges. And when disasters occur, as is increasingly likely, the resulting environmental damage is sure to prove exponentially more devastating than anything experienced in the industrial annals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Deepwater Horizon operation was characteristic of this trend. BP, the company which leased the rig and was overseeing the drilling effort, has for some years been in a rush to extract oil from ever greater depths in the Gulf of Mexico. The well in question, known as Mississippi Canyon 252, was located in 5,000 feet of water, some 50 miles south of the Louisiana coastline; the well bore itself extended another 13,000 feet into the earth. At depths this great, all work on the ocean floor has to be performed by remotely-controlled robotic devices overseen by technicians on the rig. There was little margin for error to begin with, and no tolerance for the corner-cutting, penny-pinching, and lax oversight that appears to have characterized the Deepwater Horizon operation. Once predictable problems did arise, it was, of course, impossible to send human troubleshooters one mile beneath the ocean’s surface to assess the situation and devise a solution.

Drilling in Alaska and the Arctic poses, if anything, even more perilous challenges, given the extreme environmental and climatic conditions to be dealt with. Any drilling rigs deployed offshore in, say, Alaska’s Beaufort or Chukchi Seas must be hardened to withstand collisions with floating sea ice, a perennial danger, and capable of withstanding extreme temperatures and powerful storms. In addition, in such hard-to-reach locations, BP-style oil spills, whether at sea or on land, will be even more difficult to deal with than in the Gulf. In any such situation, an uncontrolled oil flow is likely to prove lethal to many species, endangered or otherwise, which have little tolerance for environmental hazards.

$5m Port Kembla wave generator wrecked  

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The Illawara Mercury reports the Oceanlinx wave power generator at Port Kembla has suffered a mishap - $5m Port Kembla wave generator wrecked.

A $5 million wave energy project off Port Kembla is facing ruin after it broke free from its moorings and crashed into rocks in rough seas.

The barge-like prototype, one of the first of its type in the world, snapped free of pylons 150m offshore about 1.30pm and was swept into the eastern breakwall, where it was grounded last night. ...

Fears were held for the safety of the barge overnight, with a heavy swell and 4m waves expected. The rough seas are expected to ease from midday today. ...

A spokesman for the project's Sydney-based developer, Oceanlinx, said there were more than double the required mooring lines in place to ensure its safe operation. "The unit was safely disconnected from the power grid and efforts are now underway to retrieve the unit from the breakwater."

It will be a blow to Oceanlinx, which had been keen to prove the project was commercially viable. The wave-to-energy barge, known as the Mk3, was at the forefront of marine renewable technology and has operated for four years.

New Oyster 2 Wave Power Generator Unveiled  

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Inhabitat has a post on the latest iteration of the Oyster wave power generator - New Oyster 2 Wave Power Generator Unveiled This Morning.

Basically it works like this. The Oyster 2 is anchored to the seafloor about half a mile off shore. Near-shore waves pound against its frame and engage the hinge mechanism. The hinges engage two hydraulic pistons that are connected to hydroelectric plants onshore. Essentially the Oyster turns offshore wave power into onshore water power. The first prototype Oyster 1 was installed and tested in the summer of 2009 and Aquamarine Power used information from that test to vastly improve their design. The Oyster 2 is simpler in design, has fewer moving parts, generates 250% more electricity and is easier to maintain.

A lot of issues developing in the offshore wave power industry have to do with the cost of installation versus the amount of energy extracted. It seems that the Oyster design solves this problem by replacing conventional turbines with hydraulic pistons to create the energy onshore instead of out in the waves. Three Oyster 2s will be deployed and connected to the grid in the summer of 2011 at the European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland. These Oyster 2 farms sound like a productive — and adorable — addition to the renewable energy market.

Using Ice to Cool Down the Grid  

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Technology Review has an article on "devices that make ice at night to replace air-conditioning during times of peak power demand" - Using Ice to Cool Down the Grid.

Over the next few weeks, a consortium of municipal utilities in California will begin retrofitting government offices and commercial properties with systems that use ice made at night to replace air-conditioning during the day. It's part of a pilot program for the devices, which are built by Windsor, CO-based Ice Energy. If widely deployed, they could reduce fuel consumption by utilities by up to 30 percent and put off the need for new power plants.

The first devices will be installed on about two dozen city-owned buildings in Glendale, CA, under the plan being coordinated by the Southern California Public Power Authority. Over the next two years, the 11 participating utilities will install 1,500 of the devices, providing a total of 53 megawatts of energy storage to relieve strain on the region's electrical grid. The project is the first large-scale implementation of Ice Energy's technology.

Each Ice Energy device is designed to make ice overnight, when demand for electricity is low, using a high-efficiency compressor to freeze 450 gallons of water. Around midday, the cooling mode kicks in, and the device shuts off the building's regular air conditioner for a six-hour cycle. It pipes a stream of coolant from the slowly melting block of ice to an evaporator coil installed within the building's heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning blower system. Once the ice is melted, the air conditioner returns to normal operation. Brian Parsonnet, Ice Energy's chief technology officer, says the Ice Bear can cut a building's power consumption by 95 percent during peak hours on the hottest days.

Cutting demand for electricity during peak hours reduces the need to build new power plants. It also allows utilities to rely on their most efficient power plants, says Ronald Domitrovic, a senior project manager for electric utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute. He says that when utilities fire up their "least efficient, oldest, and least desirable" generating resources to meet peak demand, every increment of increased power on the grid sends costs surging, whether one is talking fuel costs, greenhouse gas emissions, or service reliability. However, at night, utilities draw on their most efficient power plants, which use less fuel than power plants used only during peak hours. The utility also saves energy at other points in the grid--for example, cooler power lines at night transmit electricity more efficiently.

Domitrovic says systems that use ice or cold water on a large scale to provide cooling for campuses and large buildings have "been around for some time." But he says these are usually "expensive one-off units, designed specifically for the building," and that the smaller modular thermal storage systems that Ice Energy provides "can be deployed with relative simplicity" to serve one- or two-story commercial buildings. Ice Energy says that cooling units housed at distributed sites can be networked, presenting utilities with a resource that can be dispatched as needed to help manage demand on the grid.

Google-funded hot rock 'water' drill could reduce cost of geothermal energy  

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The Guardian has an article on Google's interest in a geothermal energy technology company called Potter Drilling - Google-funded hot rock 'water' drill could reduce cost of geothermal energy.

A novel drill that is inspired by a jet engine and uses super-heated water to carve through rock could help make clean energy from underground rocks more economically viable, according to its backers at Google.

Potter Drilling is part-funded by - the internet search giant's philanthropic arm - and wants to use its technology to develop geothermal energy, which involves tapping the energy from hot rocks deep in the Earth.

Geothermal energy is seen by environmentalists as a vast potential source of clean, carbon-free energy if it can be tapped efficiently. Traditional methods drill into the Earth and use naturally occurring underground pockets of steam or hot water in order to make clean electricity.

A report (pdf) by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated that tapping just 2% of the potential resource from so-called enhanced geothermal systems between 3km and 10km below the surface of continental USA could supply more than 2,500 times the country's total annual energy use.

Geothermal projects in countries from Australia to Iceland and Germany already generate thousands of megawatts of electricity. Geothermal power plants can be used as baseload electricity because they are usually productive for more than 90% of the time, compared with 65%-75% for fossil-fuel power plants. They also produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions.

Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) allow the traditional techniques to be applied almost anywhere. By drilling deep into the Earth (where rock temperatures can reach more than 200C) and pumping water into the hole, the underground hot rocks fracture, thus allowing the water to circulate and heat up. The hot water comes back to the surface and is then used to drive turbines and produce electricity.

"EGS could be the killer app of the energy world," said Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives for, when its funding was first announced for Potter Drilling. "One of the attractive aspects is that it's baseload, it's 24-hour power and that's a nice complement to solar and wind, which are intermittent sources. If you can put all three of these technologies together, we're going to have a much more attractive green electricity mix."

Prosperity cannot be paid forever by maxing out our green credit  

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Ross Gittins has an article in the SMH on ecological debt - Prosperity cannot be paid forever by maxing out our green credit.

The most thought-provoking comment I've seen on the budget came from Senator Christine Milne of the Greens. ''Every Australian knows,'' she said, ''that if you have two credit cards, it is very bad management to pay off your debt on one of them by racking it up on the other.'' The budget ''pulled down the national economic debt, but it continued the process of racking up our ecological debt''. ...

When we run down our non-renewable resources (as we're hoping to do at a much faster rate with the return of the resources boom), nowhere does this show up as a cost or reduction of our assets. When we continue to deplete renewable resources at a rate much faster than they can renew themselves, nowhere does this show up as any kind of negative.

When we continue pumping our waste back into the environment - including greenhouse gases, but also other air and water pollution, garbage and human waste - at a faster rate than it can absorb, nowhere is this recorded as a cost.

GDP, our great de facto measure of progress, counts the short-term benefits from all this exploitation, but ignores its long-term costs. So Milne is right: we have been paying off our economic credit card by racking up debt on our environmental credit card.

But as the still-unfolding global financial crisis reminds us, you can get away with racking up debt only for so long. And with the environment the day of reckoning has already started to dawn. Lift your head from the economic statistics and you see rising average temperatures, the clearing of native forests, the destruction of habitat, the decline in fish stocks, the damage we've done to the Murray-Darling and other river systems and the degrading of our soil.

So far we've managed to keep the economy separate from the environment, but we won't get away with that much longer. Why not? Because, in the words of a former US senator, ''the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment''.

The economy exists within the natural environment and is dependent on it. Logically, you could have the natural world without an economy - that is, without human activity - but you couldn't have an economy without a natural world.

We can go for a period running our economy at the expense of the environment - plundering its natural resources on one hand, pumping out our waste on the other - but eventually we start to get feedback. The despoiled and depleted ecosystem begins to malfunction, with serious consequences for the continued functioning of our economy.

We get a lot more extreme (and thus expensive) weather events, a rising sea level forces us to move back from the coast, we start running out of native forests and some mineral resources and fossil fuels (making energy and fertiliser a lot dearer), we see the destruction of international tourist attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef,

we have to move agriculture north to where the rain is, but the elimination of fish stocks and degradation of soil makes food production a lot harder and more expensive the world over.

How did we get into the mindset that allowed us to take the environment for granted? Well, mainly it's because economic activity is simply more visible than the environment. And because, until relatively recently, we could plunder the natural world with impunity.

But also because we're wedded to a way of thinking about (and measuring) the economy that, because it has changed little in the past 150 years, simply ignores the environment. Because at the time global economic activity was so small relative to the huge natural world, it made sense for the early economists to treat the environment as a ''free good'' - something so plentiful it comes without cost.

But with the human population having more than trebled since 1927 and the global standard of living also having risen considerably, it's no longer sensible to treat the environment as an ''externality''.

We need a new economic model - and a new way of measuring progress - that recognises the centrality of the environment to our wellbeing and keeps recording and reminding us when we charge things up on our environmental credit card, as Rudd has just done.

WikiLeaks founder has his passport confiscated  

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Glenn Greenwald has a post on reports that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has had his Australian passport confiscated - WikiLeaks founder has his passport confiscated.

This is a reminder that one can't run around exposing the secrets of the most powerful governments, militaries and corporations in the world without consequences (h/t):
The Australian founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks had his passport confiscated by police when he arrived in Melbourne last week.

Julian Assange, who does not have an official home base and travels every six weeks, told the Australian current affairs program Dateline that immigration officials had said his passport was going to be cancelled because it was looking worn.

However he then received a letter from the Australian Communication Minister Steven Conroy’s office stating that the recent disclosure on Wikileaks of a blacklist of websites the Australian government is preparing to ban had been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Last year Wikileaks published a confidential list of websites that the Australian government is preparing to ban under a proposed internet filter -- which in turn caused the whistleblower site to be placed on that list.

The Australian document was so damaging because the Australian government claimed that the to-be-banned websites were all associated with child pornography, but the list of the targeted sites including many which had nothing to do with pornography. That WikiLeaks was then added to the list underscores the intended abuse.

Forcing Assange to remain in Australia would likely be crippling to WikiLeaks. One of the ways which WikiLeaks protects the confidentiality of its leakers and evades detection is by having Assange constantly move around, managing WikiLeaks from his laptop, backpack, and numerous countries around the world. Preventing him from leaving Australia would ensure that authorities around the world know where he is and would impede his ability to maintain the secrecy on which WikiLeaks relies.

Secrecy is the crux of institutional power -- the principal weapon for maintaining it -- and there are very few entities left which can truly threaten that secrecy. As the worldwide controversy over the Iraqi Apache helicopter attack compellingly demonstrated, WikiLeaks is one of the very few entitles capable of doing so and fearlessly devoted to that mission. It's hardly surprising that those responsible would be harassed and intimidated by governmental agencies -- it'd be far more surprising if they weren't -- but it's a testament to how truly threatening they perceive outlets like WikiLeaks to be.


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