USGS report reduces estimate of oil in Alaska  

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The Anchorage Daily News reports that oil reserve numbers in Alaska have been reduced by the USGS - USGS report reduces estimate of oil in petroleum reserve.

Recent drilling results indicate that the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska contains roughly a tenth of the oil that federal scientists had previously estimated, the U.S. Geological Survey announced Tuesday.

Instead, the federal agency said, natural gas is the dominant energy resource in the 23 million-acre reserve across northern Alaska, and in nearby state waters. The findings are based on more than 30 wells drilled and other exploration in the NPRA over the past decade.

The agency's findings are in sync with declining investment by some oil companies, which have shed more than a million acres of leases in the reserve and are spending much less money on purchasing new ones.

And yet, the agency scientist who published the new estimates cautioned against overreacting. He stressed on Tuesday that the reserve does hold some decent-sized accumulations of oil -- particularly in the northeast, near Teshekpuk Lake -- and its potential for gas is "just phenomenal."

But until a North Slope gas pipeline is built, "a gas discovery is not a lot better than a dry hole," said the scientist, David Houseknecht.

South African solar thermal power plan generates interest  

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AFP has an update on plans for a 5 GW solar thermal power plant in South Africa's Kalahari desert - S.Africa solar plan draws interest: government.

South Africa's plan to build what could become the world's biggest solar project has drawn keen interest from investors even though it is still in its infancy, an official said Friday.

More than 400 investors and solar industry insiders from around the world converged on the town of Upington in South Africa's arid Northern Cape province this week for a two-day conference aimed at generating investor interest in plans for a 5,000-Megawatt solar park at the edge of the Kalahari Desert.

The park, whose estimated price tag is 150 billion rands (21.3 billion dollars, 15.4 billion euros), would provide one-eighth of South Africa's current generation capacity, helping end the country's reliance on coal and the power shortages that pummelled its economy in 2008.

Speaking at the close of the conference, Ompi Aphane, acting deputy director general of the Department of Energy, said investors were "very excited" about the project even though it is still in the planning stage.

"There's a lot that's out there in the market about our urgent need for capacity and I think investors want to take advantage of that, particularly if it's clean energy," he told reporters.

"There are concrete financial proposals that have been received, notwithstanding the fact that some of the transaction issues have not been resolved."

Aphane said officials received a billion-dollar investment proposal from a European development firm and several others from firms around the world.

Green Overdrive: Saul Griffith’s Onya Cycles  

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Earth2Tech has some video of Saul Griffith's new Onya Cycles project - Green Overdrive: Saul Griffith’s Onya Cycles.

Saul Griffith, inventor, multiple entrepreneur and MacArthur fellow, is knee-deep in a new electric bicycle project: Onya Cycles! Griffith and his team, through their incubator Other Lab, have built a series of innovative, and heavy-lifting, electric bikes that are meant to replace local car trips to the store, including the tilting electric tricycle called the Front-End Loader, the Mule cargo bike, and the super-cute ET. For this week’s episode of GigaOM TV’s Green Overdrive video show we hung out with Griffith and took the Front-End Loader for a ride. Who needs a car when you can turn to pedals and batteries.

Russia prepares to spend billions on smart grid upgrades  

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Greenbang has an article on Russian smart grid plans - Russia prepares to spend billions on smart grid upgrades.

Russia’s Federal Grid Company (FGC) has signed a deal with the New York-based battery maker Ener1 to find ways to use high-performance batteries to make the ageing Russian electrical grid smarter and more reliable.

Russia, the world’s fourth-largest electricity market, has seen record-setting demand for power. After two decades of deferred investment, the nation is now preparing to spend some $15 billion between now and 2012 to upgrade its utilities using smart grid technology and energy storage.

FGC owns nearly 120,000 kilometres (75,000 miles) of Russia’s power grid, which stretches across nine time zones.

“Compared to any of the alternatives, grid storage is a quick, highly cost-effective way to solve reliability and power quality challenges on any network, and especially one that is already operating at its limit,” said Charles Gassenheimer, CEO of Ener1. “Russia and other emerging markets have the opportunity to leapfrog the kind of systems that exist elsewhere because the need for innovative solutions is so acute, and their existing grids are already stretched thin. The ability to store energy to use where and when it’s needed is a big part of that.”

FGC hopes that smart grid technologies will help reduce electricity losses by 25 per cent, as well as reduce energy consumption by as much as 35 billion kilowatt hours per year — enough to save more than $1.6 billion annually.

FGC plans to pay for the grid upgrade through a 51 per cent increase in the prices it charges electricity generators.

“The Russian economy continues to experience unprecedented transformation, with an increasing share of it depending on reliable, affordable electric power,” said Oleg Budargin, CEO of FSG. “Energy storage is a fundamental element in our strategy to make a truly flexible smart grid a reality.”

Bill Gates: The Miracle Seeker  

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Rolling Stone has an interview with Bill Gates about his clean energy aspirations - The Miracle Seeker. While I don't agree with a lot of Bill's ideas about solutions, it is good to see him focusing attention on the problems.

When it comes to climate and energy, Gates is a radical consumerist. In his view, energy consumption is good — it just needs to be clean energy. As he sees it, the biggest challenge is not persuading Americans to buy more efficient refrigerators or trade in their SUVs for hybrids; it's figuring out how to raise the standard of living in the developing world without wrecking the climate. Achieving that, he argues, will require an "energy miracle" — a technological breakthrough that creates an inexhaustible supply of carbon-free energy. Although he doesn't know what form that miracle will take, he knows we need to think big. "We don't really grasp the scale of the problem we're facing," Gates tells me in his office overlooking Lake Washington in Seattle. "The right goal is not to cut our carbon emissions in half. The right goal is zero."

Since leaving Microsoft, you're best known for your work combating poverty and disease in the developing world. Why add climate change and energy issues to the list?

Well, energy would be superinteresting and important even if it wasn't for the terrible climate problem. The thing that really changed in civilization — only about 250 years ago — was an intense use of energy. It changed everything: transportation and food and appliances and communication. Today, we're very dependent on cheap energy. We just take it for granted — all the things you have in the house, the way industry works. I'm interested in making sure the poorest countries don't get left behind, so figuring out how they can get cheap energy is very, very important. Whether it's fertilizing crops or building housing, a lot of it comes down to energy.

So we need more energy for the poor and less for the rich?

It's the poorer people in tropical zones who will get really hit by climate change — as well as some ecosystems, which nobody wants to see disappear. This is a global thing, and it's really hard for people to get their minds around the amount of reduction required. Every year we're increasing the amount of CO2 we put out, and yet we're talking about an 80 percent reduction. To make that happen, the rich world is going to have to be way down — way down — in energy use.

What really killed NSW solar?  

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Giles Parkinson at The Climate Spectator has a look at the factors behind cutbacks to the NSW solar feed in tariff program - What really killed NSW solar?.

It seems that the massive take-up of rooftop solar under the excessively generous NSW feed-in tariff was not the middle class indulgence that it was thought to be.

The review into the Solar Bonus Scheme prepared for the Keneally government by the Department of Industry and Investment dismisses the perception that solar panels were a privilege reserved for affluent homeowners in Sydney’s northern and eastern suburbs and the inner west.

It turns out that the greatest demand in Sydney for solar PV under the scheme came from the western and south-western “Aussie battler” suburbs of Prospect, Seven Hills, Mt Druitt and Liverpool.

And the highest numbers per locality were recorded in country areas – Including Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Taree, Port Macquarie, Ballina and Gosford in the north, Bega in the south, Armidale and Wagga Wagga further inland, and in numerous localities in the central coast. The country areas had particularly large appetites, ordering systems of an average size of 2.8kW, compared to 1.9kW in the city.

And while some social service groups had complained about the inequality of the scheme, the report noted that the cost of solar panels had come down so quickly in the last 12 months – from $12,600 per kilowatt to $6,000/kW (they had been $17,000/kW in 2001) – that installations had been offered for zero up front cost by some retailers. Clearly, the battlers in the mortgage belt were quicker to seize a bargain that the toffs in the inner suburbs.

The report also reveals that the Keneally government appears to have ignored the report’s advice that a low cap on rooftop solar would cause the state’s solar industry to come to a shuddering halt.

The report recommended a cap to keep a lid on costs, but warned that placing too low a cap would create a boom-bust scenario, and a heavy loss of jobs.

The Keneally government chose a cap of 300MW – allowing just 100MW of new solar rooftop to be installed at the drastically reduced tariff – a target that its own bullish forecasts predict could be met within 12-15 months. ...

By the report’s own estimates, the 50MW that had been installed by June, 2010, had created 2,500 jobs, with 10 jobs created for every 1MW in manufacturing, 33 in installation, 3-4 in sales and marketing, and 1-2 in research. On those figures, the Keneally government’s decision to place a cap of 300MW would cost 15,000 in future installation jobs alone.

Given the upcoming election, the demographics of the scheme, the identified job sacrifices, and the fact that the NSW Labor government must now explain why new owners will now pay more for coal fired power than they will receive for emissions-free solar, this may have been a more heroic decision than was first realised.

Daniel Kogoy says the NSW government should have looked offshore for ideas - An advanced approach to renewables.
The NSW government’s decision on Wednesday to drastically cut the Solar Bonus Scheme will be disastrous for NSW’s renewable energy industry. Thousands of jobs will be slashed and hundred of megawatts of installed solar capacity sacrificed.

Before making its surprising decision, NSW should have looked to the renewable energy policy progression of Ontario, Canada for inspiration.

Ontario is fast developing into a renewable energy powerhouse. One year after the region introduced North America’s most advanced renewable energy feed-in tariff (FiT), the region has 15,000 MW of renewable energy projects in the pipeline, and is on its way to meet its target of 50,000 jobs in three years.

Ontario’s advanced FiT program covers large and small wind & solar, mini-hydro, landfill gas, biomass and biogas, and is linked to its commitment to shutdown its dirty coal-fired power plants (7,500 MW capacity before the orderly shutdown commenced) by the end of 2014, and also includes bonus payments for community-owned renewable energy projects.

Thousands of residents and organisations have already taken advantage of the scheme and due to the requirement for all wind and solar projects over 10kW to contain a minimum amount of goods and services from Ontario, thousands of jobs have already been generated across the region, as solar manufacturers and wind farm developers set up operations in Ontario.

What are advanced renewable energy FiTs? According to a 2001 European Court ruling they are not subsidies because they are not funded from government revenue. Instead they are a powerful policy mechanism that places an obligation on electricity utilities to make payments per kilowatt-hour for all the electricity generated by a renewable resource based on the cost of generation plus a reasonable profit (much like coal and gas fired power plants).

Advanced renewable energy FiTs are the most successful and egalitarian mechanisms to encourage rapid development of renewable energy technologies because they provide investors with the transparency, longevity and certainty they need to invest.

Advanced FiTs have been implemented in a number of countries including China, Brazil, Slovenia, Germany, Spain, Malaysia, Vermont, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, South Africa, Croatia, Italy and many others.

Pentland Firth tidal project set for development  

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The future for tidal power projects in the UK wasn't looking so good last week when the government announced the severn barrage project would not go ahead (but that they would support 8 new nuclear power plants - on existing sites, with no public subsidy involved, which will probably make getting them actually built rather tricky).

The BBC reports that things have turned around this week though, with a 400 MW tidal power project getting the go ahead for Pentland Firth in Scotland - Pentland Firth tidal project set for development.

A huge tidal project is set to be developed in the Pentland Firth after the rights to the site were awarded to a consortium by the Crown Estate.

It has described the Inner Sound, which lies between the Caithness coast and island of Stroma, as one of the Firth's "most energetic" tidal areas.

The scheme could involve up to 400 submerged turbines, generating enough energy to power 400,000 homes.

A 25-year operational lease for the site was awarded to MeyGen. It is a joint venture between tidal technology provider Atlantis Resources Corporation, International Power and investment bank Morgan Stanley.

The award of the lease comes after two years of feasibility work in the waters of the Pentland Firth.

Subject to planning consent, the consortium plans to install hundreds of turbines in the Inner Sound area. Construction is expected to take place on a phased basis until 2020.

The project will be one of the biggest in the world, with the potential to generate up to 400MW of power.

The scheme is part of efforts to develop the Pentland Firth and waters surrounding the Orkney Islands in the largest planned wave and tidal generating programme in the world.

Earlier this year, areas in the Pentland Firth and around Orkney were leased to seven companies, which aim to generate enough electricity to supply 750,000 homes by 2020 from a range of wave and tidal devices.

Rivers Disappearing in Drought-Stricken Amazon  

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TreeHugger has a post on drought in the Amazon - Rivers Disappearing in Drought-Stricken Amazon.

In places throughout the Amazon, some stretches of the region's most important rivers and tributaries have dried up almost entirely, reducing the normally flowing waterways to a vast plain of broken clay and mud. For some people who live and work in this part of the world, life has come to a screeching halt amid the worst drought in recent memory. It is estimated that more than 62 thousand families have been affected by the lack of rainfall with over half the municipalities in the region having enacted a state of emergency. And, on the heels of a recent report about the global droughts to be expected due to climate change -- one can only wonder if such scenes will become more common elsewhere.

Throughout the affected state of Amazonia, rivers provide the only means of access to the outside world for families residing in the regions around the capital of Manaus. As the water ceases to flow because of the drought, these families are left stranded without the means to make a living.

According to officials, the level of the Amazon river will likely be lower than the previous recorded record set back in 1963 once final measurements are made.

One major waterway which runs along Manuas, the Rio Negro, hasn't been this low in the 108 years since recording began, reports Globo Amazonia. The economic impact on this region, one of poorest in Brazil, has been significant.

"Our community... is in a precarious situation. The river has dried up," said Josimar Peixoto, mayor of San Sebastian, a town which depends on the flowing Rio Negro. "With this, families are being harmed because they are without access to transportation."

Smart power meters 'to hit poor'  

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The Australian has a look at some of the FUD being generated about smart meters, with one criticism being that they hit poor people who are at home during the day harder than average - Smart power meters 'to hit poor'. Given that most power prices are regulated still this would be easy enough to address, either via the regulatory or tax systems (of course, you'd probably want market driven prices for power to make smart meters really useful, which points to the tax system for making this "fairer").

HOUSEHOLDS that rely on daytime airconditioning, cooking and heating will be hit with higher power bills. This will occur as hi-tech "smart meters" are rolled out nationally.

Victorians are being slugged an average of $68 a year just for the remote digital meters to be installed -- even though barely 10 per cent of households have them.

Consumers are being billed upfront for the rollout to 2.5 million households, which is not due for completion before the end of 2013.

Other states and territories are trialling the devices, which send real-time readings to power companies every half-hour.

Utilities can then tailor their bills, to charge more for electricity used at peak times of demand during the day, and less at nights and weekends.

Victoria has stalled the new pricing system for at least nine months, after complaints from welfare and consumer groups that it would punish low-income families and pensioners.

The introduction of the smart meters comes in the wake of Australians' electricity bills rising 18.2 per cent last financial year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with a typical bill going up by as much as 27 per cent to $2012 in Victoria and 12 per cent to $2278 for rural NSW residents.

The Age has a look at some of the deficiencies with the Victorian smart meter rollout - Smart meters look dumb for users.
SMART meters, the new technology pushing up Victorian power bills, will provide little benefit to customers over the next five years, as the big electricity companies reap hundreds of millions of dollars from the rollout, a Sunday Age investigation has revealed.

Findings by the Australian Energy Regulator have undermined the state government's position on smart meters - which will be fitted to every Victorian home by the end of 2013 - and the most recent cost-benefit analysis shows the implementation will deliver $1.5 billion in cost savings to power companies over 20 years and few real benefits to customers.

This comes as Victorians face escalating bills driven by smart meters. Customers pay up front, regardless of whether they have a smart meter. This year the cost was $68, next year $72, and the Auditor-General warned that costs could climb higher.
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Power companies will recover the cost of installing and operating meters through bills until 2028. So far, 250,000 meters have been installed.

Smart meters replace the old ''spinning disk'', manually read meters measuring electricity use. The new meters have two-way remote communication with the power company, sending energy use data 48 times a day. They will be able to connect and disconnect homes with the touch of a button. Retiring energy minister Peter Batchelor says the $1.6 billion rollout is like going from ''telegrams to email''.

Even the government's critics support the concept of smart meters but worry that, in leading the nation, Victoria has gone too far, too fast. The program, dubbed by the opposition as the ''myki of metering'', has doubled in price.

When it committed to a universal implementation, the Brumby government promised the meters would help ''tackle climate change'' and allow householders to manage energy and reduce power costs.

The customer benefits, however, now appear shaky. The meters tell customers virtually nothing about their energy use. Households need an ''in-home display'' or web-based program to see energy use and power charges. There is no plan about who - the retailer or the householder - pays for this technology in the program's next stage.

The government has also put a moratorium on a big benefit of smart meters: time-of-use tariffs. These allow people to shift energy use to cheaper times of the day.

The tariffs have been put on hold, possibly until the end of 2011, after the government accepted it had not considered disadvantaged groups and stay-at-home families who cannot easily shift power use and could be penalised by up to $200 a year.

More from wikileaks on Iraq  

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Wikileaks is back in the news again with more US government docs on the Iraq war, including some on the link between the US military and the death squads that appeared after the invasion (aka "the Salvador Option") - Iraqi torture squad 'given captives by US troops'.

Fresh evidence that US soldiers handed over detainees to a notorious Iraqi torture squad has emerged in army logs published by WikiLeaks.

The 400,000 field reports published by the whistleblowing website at the weekend contain an official account of deliberate threats by a military interrogator to turn his captive over to the Iraqi Wolf Brigade.

The interrogator told the prisoner that: ''He would be subject to all the pain and agony that the Wolf battalion is known to exact upon its detainees.''
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The evidence emerged as Britain's deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said the allegations of killings, torture and abuse in Iraq were ''extremely serious'' and ''needed to be looked at''.

Mr Clegg did not rule out an inquiry into the actions of British forces in Iraq, but said it was up to the US to answer for the actions of its forces. His comments to the BBC contrasted with a statement from the Ministry of Defence on Sunday, which warned the posting of classified US military logs on the WikiLeaks website could endanger British forces.

Mr Clegg said: ''We can bemoan how these leaks occurred, but I think the … allegations made are extraordinarily serious. They are distressing … and they are very serious. I am assuming the US administration will want to provide its own answer. It's not for us to tell them how to do that.''

Within the leaked archive is a batch of secret field reports from the town of Samarra, north-west of Baghdad. They corroborate previous allegations that the US military turned over many prisoners to the Wolf Brigade, the 2nd battalion of the interior ministry's special commandos.

The Wolf Brigade was created by the US in an attempt to re-employ elements of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard.

They were accused by Iraqis of beating prisoners, torturing them with electric drills and sometimes executing suspects.

The SMH also has some slightly confused analysis of Wikileaks' purpose by John Birmingham - you can probably be sure they don't want to release random taxpayer data if they happen to get hold of it - the purpose is to illuminate when governments and corporations are doing the wrong thing (ie. a relatively low tech implementation of John Brunner's ideas about transparency described in "The Shockwave Rider) - What secrets are worth keeping? .
It's a fraught business criticising Wikileaks. You suddenly find yourself surrounded by the sort of barking mad pinheads who hold down anchor positions on Fox News. This is a species of loon happy to speculate openly about unleashing special forces operators on Assange and, presumably by extension on anyone who criticises any aspect of US (or Australian) military operations. On the other hand, the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq have become such toxic tragedies in many people's minds that they cannot disentangle their contempt for the misadventures from any consideration they might otherwise make of Wikileaks' strengths or weaknesses. Since Assange declares himself opposed to the war, anything he does as regards the conflict must by definition be beyond reproach.

But plenty of people with no time for the military industrial complex or the vast right-wing media conspiracy supporting it (OK, I really just mean Fox News again) remain troubled by the tactics and philosophy of Wikileaks. You would think that journalists would love the idea of a website where they can pick up thousands of secret government documents, and for the most part they do. But Wikileaks is not a journalistic endeavour. It adheres to no standard of ethics and, being a relatively young institution, it seems to be evolving whatever standards it does have on the fly.

The question remains then, is there a document Wikileaks would not release? If for instance the group had existed in 1999 and had gained access to Australian plans to attack Indonesian military facilities in the event of an escalating confrontation in East Timor getting out of hand, would they have released them? It's a purely hypothetical question, but one worth pondering because it illuminates the potential dangers of information release without regard to unintended consequences. To Julian Assange the release of war plans might seem to be a guaranteed way of avoiding conflict. But in the real world that sort of information hits the public realm with massive kinetic effect and could well tip two contending nations into war rather than away from it.

Picking another area, were Avian Flu to mutate again and become a much deadlier and more communicable disease, would Wikileaks release government plans to deal with a lethal pandemic, knowing that the release would cripple the ability of a government to put the plan into effect? Were they to get hold of the Australian Taxation Office files of every PAYG earner in the country, would they release those? If you are a scrupulously honest tax payer you might be interested to know whether your fellow citizens are dudding you on their claims. But are you scrupulously honest? The government holds any number of dossiers on you; your tax history, your medicare records, every instance of every dealing you've ever had with every level of government in fact. Do you believe that because a file is held by a public institution it should automatically be released into the public sphere?
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While Assange and Co. are doing nothing more than vexing the likes of Stephen Conroy or bugging the freaks at Scientology, it's all good fun and jolly hockeysticks. But there are classes of information that should never be released into the public domain. Weaponized botulism recipes, anyone? Likewise there are huge fields of data which might well serve some public interest by being released, but not as a massive info dump without context or explanation. Neither of which Wikileaks do. They tried something like that with the release of the "Collateral Murder" video, but wound up looking like foolish amateurs.

There is doubtless a place in the world for Wikileaks. Some of their previous releases have been undeniably of benefit to public discourse. There is even without doubt a place for the release of documents such as those we've seen coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Historians will be forever grateful to Assange for providing them with such a vast trove of raw material they might otherwise have had to wait decades to access. But with power comes responsibility. It remains to be seen whether a protean, cell structured, largely anarchic group like this can ever properly internalise that.

Japan Pioneers Smart Energy  

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Technology Review has an article on some Japanese smart grid (or "smart community") plans - Japan Pioneers Smart Energy.

By coordinating energy use for electricity, heating, and transportation, four Japanese cities plan to reduce their carbon footprints and increase reliance on renewables. The cities are pledging to cut their carbon-dioxide emissions by up to 40 percent by 2030, employing systems that will go beyond smart-grid proposals like those being implemented in the U.S. and elsewhere. While smart-grid projects manage electricity, the Japanese "smart community" demonstration projects will also manage energy for heating and transportation, said Hironori Nakanishi, a director at Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, describing the projects at a recent smart-grid conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The projects, which got under way this year, were instigated by the Japanese government in part to fulfill a pledge the prime minister made last year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. They will cost about $1 billion over five years and are being implemented by consortia of dozens of companies including Toyota, Nissan, Nippon Steel, and Panasonic.

Achieving the emissions goal, Nakanishi said, will require installing some 28 gigawatts of solar power, the equivalent of about 28 large nuclear reactors. Smart-grid technology will help grid operators accommodate large amounts of electricity from solar and other renewable energy sources: as clouds pass overhead or wind patterns change, for example, signals could be sent out to smart appliances to pause operation or decrease their power consumption. In a smart community, this adaptability would be augmented by also managing heat. "More than half of energy is used as heat, so the integration of heat and electricity is quite important," Nakanishi said.

Panasonic already makes a system that integrates the two at the level of an individual home. It pairs a fuel cell system that generates electricity and heat from natural gas with an extremely efficient solar power array and a battery to store excess power from the solar panels. Such a system, which costs about $60,000, can make a single home independent from the grid, Nakanishi said. In the future, an electric vehicle that can store electricity might be added to such a system.

Banksy's Simpsons Intro  

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US approves 5th solar plant on western public land  

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The Washington Post reports another solar thermal power plant (this one 663 MW) has been approved in the US - US approves 5th solar plant on western public land.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved a big solar energy plant in the Mojave Desert, making it the fifth such project on western U.S. public lands to win federal authorization.

Salazar's approval Wednesday authorizes the Bureau of Land Management to offer Tessera Solar use of more than 4,600 acres for 30 years to build the Calico Solar Project.

The Interior Department says the 663.5-megawatt project could power 200,000 to 500,000 homes.

Houston-based Tessera originally sought more than 8,200 acres, but the BLM wanted to limit impacts on the endangered desert tortoise.

A Dream Dashed by the Rush on Gas  

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National Geographic has a series of articles on the shale gas boom in the US - A Dream Dashed by the Rush on Gas.

Both Hanger’s office and the gas industry maintain that if the process is done properly, there is no threat to drinking water when chemically treated water and sand are blasted underground to fracture shale to produce gas.

(Related: “Forcing Gas Out of Rock With Water”)

The hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluid, about 4 million gallons (15 million liters) per well, is released into the shale layer at a depth of 4,000 to 8,500 feet (1,220 to 2,590 meters). (Related:Breaking Fuel From the Rock). That means that there is about a mile or more of rock between the shale and underground water sources used for drinking water. About 1 million Pennsylvania households, nearly 20 percent of residences in the state, draw their water from private wells that are relatively shallow. Wells in the western half of the state, for instance, would likely be drilled to depths of less than 150 feet (46 meters), according to the Pennsylvania Geological Survey.

The potential for contamination of drinking water aquifers is a major concern in the Keystone State, which has more people served by well water than any state but Michigan, according to a 2009 analysis year prepared for the state legislature. The chief bulwark against water pollution is a separating wall—a casing made of tons of steel and cement—built in each gas well not only to protect the environment, but also to ensure the valuable gas doesn’t escape.

Hanger says there hasn’t been a single confirmed case of frack fluid migrating from the shale layer deep underground to the shallow drinking water supplies in Pennsylvania. However, about 20 to 50 percent of the drilling liquid flows back to the surface, most of it right after the well is completed. And that’s when proven trouble can occur.

‘It’s Not Water of Any Kind’

This “produced water,” which includes the frack chemicals, is a super-salty brine, prone to bacterial growth, and potentially contaminated with heavy metals. “It smells like turpentine,” says Conrad Dan Volz, director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, who has been researching the environmental impact. “It’s not water of any kind.”

State regulations say the frack fluid has to be collected and disposed of as an industrial waste, or it can be treated and reused to drill more wells, a practice pioneered in Pennsylvania within the past year. (Related: “Forcing Gas Out of Rock With Water”) Hanger says the water reuse is in no small measure a result of the DEP’s tough stance on wastewater handling.

But in at least 130 cases documented since 2008 by the DEP, drilling wastewater has spilled into creeks and tributaries due to holding pond overflows, pump failures, and other errors. There have been at least two small fish kills. One occurred in October 2009, soon after Range started its program to reuse frack fluid: about 10,500 gallons (40,000 liters/250 barrels) leaked from a broken pipeline joint and killed about 170 creek chubs, blacknose dace, and other small fish, along with some salamanders and frogs in Brush Run, 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Range says the fish killed collectively weighed about a pound. The company suspects vandalism, because bolts had been removed from the pipe connection. But no perpetrators have been tracked down, and the company was fined $140,000 for polluting a high-quality waterway. (Range since has switched to using unbolted high-density polyethylene pipeline to transfer its drilling fluid, Pitzarella says.)

In another case, involving East Resources* in north-central Pennsylvania, the state quarantined cattle exposed to wastewater that leaked from a containment pond and killed grass over 1,200 square feet on a farm. State agriculture officials said they acted to prevent contaminated beef from entering the food chain, since the water contained the heavy metal strontium, a substance especially toxic to children and one that lingers long in an animal’s system.

In a case that echoed the BP oil spill, although the results certainly weren’t as severe, an EOG Resources well blew out on June 3, with natural gas and frack fluid spewing for 16 hours from the gas well on hunting club land inside the Moshannon State Forest in central Pennsylvania.(Related: “Parks, Forests Eyed for the Fuel Beneath”) There should have been at least two pressure barriers or blowout preventers in the underground piping to prevent contaminated fluid from flowing to the surface, but only one barrier was in place, and it was damaged, the DEP’s investigation showed. EOG was hit with the harshest punishment to date by Pennsylvania’s shale regulators—a fine of $353,000 and temporary suspension from drilling.

The Dimock Case

But perhaps the most notorious Pennsylvania contamination case was in the northeastern part of the state, in rural Dimock Township, where natural gas was found in early 2009 to have contaminated the drinking water wells of 14 homes. Investigators were able to do a kind of “fingerprinting” to determine the source, and concluded the gas did not come from the Marcellus shale. But the state DEP contends that faulty well casing set into the ground by Cabot Oil & Gas as it drilled into the deep Marcellus allowed gas to migrate from more shallow geological formations into the groundwater. Dimock’s woes were recounted in the award-winning documentary film Gasland, forever linking the image of flammable drinking water to the Marcellus shale (even though the man who memorably set fire to his tap water in the film was in Colorado).

China Shakes The World  

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TomDispatch has an article from Michael Klare on Chinese energy politics - China Shakes The World.

The fact that China has now overtaken the United States as the world’s leading energy consumer is bound to radically alter its global policies, just as energy predominance once did America’s. No doubt this will, in turn, alter the course of Sino-American relations, not to speak of world affairs. With the American experience in mind, what can we expect from China?

As a start, no one reading newspaper business pages could have any doubt that Chinese leaders view energy as a -- possibly the -- major concern of the country and have been devoting substantial resources and planning to the procurement of adequate future supplies. In addressing this task, Chinese leaders face two fundamental challenges: securing sufficient energy to meet ever-rising demand and deciding which fuels to rely on in satisfying these requirements. How China responds to these challenges will have striking implications on the global stage.

According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), Chinese energy consumption will grow by 133% between 2007 and 2035 -- from, that is, 78 to 182 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs). Think about it this way: the 104 quadrillion BTUs that China will somehow have to add to its energy supply over the next quarter-century equals the total energy consumption of Europe and the Middle East in 2007. Finding and funneling so much oil, natural gas, and other fuels to China is undoubtedly going to be the single greatest economic and industrial challenge facing Beijing -- and in that challenge lays the possibility of real friction and conflict.

Although most of the country’s energy funds are still expended domestically, what it spends on imported fuels (oil, coal, natural gas, and uranium) and energy equipment (oil refineries, power plants, and nuclear reactors) will significantly determine the global price of these items -- a role that, until now, has been largely filled by the United States. More important, however, will be the decisions China makes about the types of energy it will come to rely on.

If Chinese leaders were to follow their natural inclinations, they would undoubtedly avoid relying on imported fuels altogether, given how vulnerable foreign-energy dependence can make a country to overseas supply disruptions or, in China’s case, a possible U.S. naval blockade (in the event, say, of a prolonged conflict over Taiwan). Li Junfeng, a senior Chinese energy official, was recently quoted as saying, “Energy supply should be where you can plant your foot on it” -- that is, from domestic sources.

China does possess one kind of fuel in abundance: coal. According to the most recent DoE projections, coal will make up an estimated 62% of China’s net energy supply in 2035, only slightly less than at present. A heavy reliance on coal, however, will exacerbate the country’s environmental problems, dragging down its economy as health-care costs mount. In addition, thanks to coal, China is now the world’s leading emitter of climate-altering carbon dioxide. According to the DoE, China’s share of global carbon-dioxide emissions will jump from 19.6% in 2005, when it barely trailed the U.S. at 21.1%, to 31.4% in 2035, when it will tower over all other countries in net emissions.

As long as Beijing refuses to significantly reduce its reliance on coal, ignore its rhetoric on global-warming negotiations. It simply won’t be able to take truly meaningful steps to address climate change. In this way, too, it will alter the face of the planet.

Recently, the country’s leaders seem to have become far more sensitive to the risks of excessive reliance on coal. Massive emphasis is now being placed on the development of renewable energy systems, especially wind and solar power. Already, China has become the world’s leading producer of wind turbines and solar panels, and has already begun exporting its technology to the United States. (Some economists and labor unions, in fact, claim that China is unfairly subsidizing its renewable-energy exports in violation of World Trade Organization rules.)

China’s growing emphasis on renewable energy would be good news, if it resulted in substantial reductions in coal use. At the same time, the country’s drive to excel at these techniques could push it into the forefront of a technological revolution, just as early American dominance of petroleum technology propelled it to the front ranks of world powers in the twentieth century. If the United States fails to keep pace, it could find the pace of its decline as a world power quickening.

Shooting for the Sun  

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The Atlantic has an article on an interesting form of concentrating solar power that uses a fuel cell like technique to generate electricity - Shooting for the Sun.

In March 2003, the independent inventor Lonnie Johnson faced a roomful of high-level military scientists at the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Virginia. Johnson had traveled there from his home in Atlanta, seeking research funding for an advanced heat engine he calls the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter, or JTEC (pronounced “jay-tek”). At the time, the JTEC was only a set of mathematical equations and the beginnings of a prototype, but Johnson had made the tantalizing claim that his device would be able to turn solar heat into electricity with twice the efficiency of a photovoltaic cell, and the Office of Naval Research wanted to hear more.

Projected onto the wall was a PowerPoint collage summing up some highlights of Johnson’s career: risk assessment he’d done for the space shuttle Atlantis; work on the nuclear power source for NASA’s Galileo spacecraft; engineering help on the tests that led to the first flight of the B-2 stealth bomber; the development of an energy-dense ceramic battery; and the invention of a remarkable, game-changing weapon that had made him millions of dollars—a weapon that at least one of the men in the room, the father of two small children, recognized immediately as the Super Soaker squirt gun.

Mild-mannered and bespectacled, Johnson opened his presentation by describing the idea behind the JTEC. The device, he explained, would split hydrogen atoms into protons and electrons, and in so doing would convert heat into electricity. Most radically, it would do so without the help of any moving parts. Johnson planned to tell his audience that the JTEC could produce electricity so efficiently that it might make solar power competitive with coal, and perhaps at last fulfill the promise of renewable solar energy. But before he reached that part of his presentation, Richard Carlin, then the head of the Office of Naval Research’s mechanics and energy conversion division, rose from his chair and dismissed Johnson’s brainchild outright. The whole premise for the device relied on a concept that had proven impractical, Carlin claimed, citing a 1981 report co-written by his mentor, the highly regarded electrochemist Robert Osteryoung. Go read the Osteryoung report, Carlin said, and you will see.

End of meeting.

Concerned about what he might have missed in the literature, Johnson returned home and read the inch-thick report, concluding that it addressed an approach quite different from his own. Carlin, it seems, had rejected the concept before fully comprehending it. (When I reached Carlin by phone recently, he said he did not remember the meeting, but he is familiar with the JTEC concept and now thinks that the “principles are fine.”) Nor was Carlin alone at the time. Wherever Johnson pitched the JTEC, the reaction seemed to be the same: no engine could convert heat to electricity at such high efficiency rates without the use of moving parts.

Johnson believed otherwise. He felt that what had doomed his presentation to the Office of Naval Research—and others as well—was a collective failure of imagination. It didn’t help that he was best known as a toy inventor, nor that he was working outside the usual channels of the scientific establishment. Johnson was stuck in a Catch-22: to prove his idea would work, he needed a more robust prototype, one able to withstand the extreme heat of concentrated sunlight. But he couldn’t build such a prototype without research funding. What he needed was a new pitch. Instead of presenting the JTEC as an engine, he would frame it as a high-temperature hydrogen fuel cell, a device that produces electricity chemically rather than mechanically, by stripping hydrogen atoms of their electrons. The description was only partially apt: though both devices use similar components, fuel cells require a constant supply of hydrogen; the JTEC, by contrast, contains a fixed amount of hydrogen sealed in a chamber, and needs only heat to operate. Still, in the fuel-cell context, the device’s lack of moving parts would no longer be a conceptual stumbling block.

Indeed, Johnson had begun trying out this new pitch two months before his naval presentation, in a written proposal he submitted to the Air Force Research Laboratory’s peer-review panel. The reaction, when it came that May, couldn’t have been more different. “Funded just like that,” he told me, snapping his fingers, “because they understood fuel cells—the technology, the references, the literature. The others couldn’t get past this new engine concept.” The Air Force gave Johnson $100,000 for membrane research, and in August 2003 sent a program manager to Johnson’s Atlanta laboratory. “We make a presentation about the JTEC, and he says”—here Johnson, who is black, puts on a Bill-Cosby-doing-a-white-guy voice—“‘Wow, this is exciting!’” A year later, after Johnson had proved he could make a ceramic membrane capable of withstanding temperatures above 400 degrees Celsius, the Air Force gave him an additional $750,000 in funding.

The key to the JTEC is the second law of thermodynamics. Simply put, the law says that temperature differences tend to even out—for instance, when a hot mug of coffee disperses its heat into the cool air of a room. As the heat levels of the mug and the room come into balance, there is a transfer of energy.

Work can be extracted from that transfer. The most common way of doing this is with some form of heat engine. A steam engine, for example, converts heat into electricity by using steam to spin a turbine. Steam engines—powered predominantly by coal, but also by natural gas, nuclear materials, and other fuels—generate 90 percent of all U.S. electricity. But though they have been refined over the centuries, most are still clanking, hissing, exhaust-spewing machines that rely on moving parts, and so are relatively inefficient and prone to mechanical breakdown.

Johnson’s latest JTEC prototype, which looks like a desktop model for a next-generation moonshine still, features two fuel-cell-like stacks, or chambers, filled with hydrogen gas and connected by steel tubes with round pressure gauges. Where a steam engine uses the heat generated by burning coal to create steam pressure and move mechanical elements, the JTEC uses heat (from the sun, for instance) to expand hydrogen atoms in one stack. The expanding atoms, each made up of a proton and an electron, split apart, and the freed electrons travel through an external circuit as electric current, charging a battery or performing some other useful work. Meanwhile the positively charged protons, also known as ions, squeeze through a specially designed proton-exchange membrane (one of the JTEC elements borrowed from fuel cells) and combine with the electrons on the other side, reconstituting the hydrogen, which is compressed and pumped back into the hot stack. As long as heat is supplied, the cycle continues indefinitely.
Click here to find out more!

“Lonnie’s using temperature differences to create pressure gradients,” says Paul Werbos, an energy expert and program director of the National Science Foundation. “Only instead of using those pressure gradients to move an axle or a wheel, he’s forcing ions through a membrane.” Werbos, who spent months vetting the JTEC and eventually awarded Johnson’s team a $75,000 research grant in 2006, describes the JTEC as “a fundamentally new way, a fundamentally well-grounded way, to convert heat to electricity.” Regarding its potential to revolutionize energy production on a global scale, he says, “It has a darn good chance of being the best thing on Earth.” ...

Commercial photovoltaic solar cells convert approximately 20 percent of received solar energy into electricity. The best solar-energy systems today—thermal-power plants that concentrate the sun’s heat to drive turbines—operate at a rate of about 30 percent efficiency. The JTEC, Johnson claims, could double that figure, cutting the cost of producing solar power in half from its current average of 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, and making it competitive with coal.

“There’s a lot of debate in Washington about carbon emissions and energy,” Paul Werbos says—“about coal, nuclear power, and oil, what I call the three horsemen of the apocalypse. If we can cut the cost of solar energy in half, it becomes possible to escape from the three horsemen. The importance of this is just unbelievable.”

Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Backing  

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The New York Times has a report on plans to build a transmission backbone for offshore wind power off the east coast of the US - Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Backing.

Google and a New York financial firm have each agreed to invest heavily in a proposed $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard that could ultimately transform the region’s electrical map.

The 350-mile underwater spine, which could remove some critical obstacles to wind power development, has stirred excitement among investors, government officials and environmentalists who have been briefed on it.

Google and Good Energies, an investment firm specializing in renewable energy, have each agreed to take 37.5 percent of the equity portion of the project. They are likely to bring in additional investors, which would reduce their stakes.

If they hold on to their stakes, that would come to an initial investment of about $200 million apiece in the first phase of construction alone, said Robert L. Mitchell, the chief executive of Trans-Elect, the Maryland-based transmission-line company that proposed the venture.

Marubeni, a Japanese trading company, has taken a 15 percent stake. Trans-Elect said it hoped to begin construction in 2013.

Several government officials praised the idea underlying the project as ingenious, while cautioning that they could not prejudge the specifics.

“Conceptually it looks to me to be one of the most interesting transmission projects that I’ve ever seen walk through the door,” said Jon Wellinghoff, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate electricity transmission. “It provides a gathering point for offshore wind for multiple projects up and down the coast.”

Industry experts called the plan promising, but warned that as a first-of-a-kind effort, it was bound to face bureaucratic delays and could run into unforeseen challenges, from technology problems to cost overruns. While several undersea electrical cables exist off the Atlantic Coast already, none has ever picked up power from generators along the way.

The system’s backbone cable, with a capacity of 6,000 megawatts, equal to the output of five large nuclear reactors, would run in shallow trenches on the seabed in federal waters 15 to 20 miles offshore, from northern New Jersey to Norfolk, Va. The notion would be to harvest energy from turbines in an area where the wind is strong but the hulking towers would barely be visible.

Google Hits Geothermal Jackpot in West Virginia  

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Cleantechnica has a post on geothermal energy in West Virginia - Google Hits Geothermal Jackpot in West Virginia.

Along with the great news that Google is investing a ton of money in an offshore wind energy superhighway, other recent Google energy news is that a Google-funded project has discovered enough geothermal potential under a rather infamous coal state — West Virginia — to more than double the state’s electricity generation capacity.

Google gave the Southern Methodist University a $481,500 grant to look into this issue and the research findings were huge.

78% more geothermal energy is under the state than was previously expected.

The implications are rather clear: West Virginia could kick its dirty coal and mountaintop removal habit and start tapping into geothermal. This would be a benefit for the state economically and environmentally, meaning a better quality of life for its residents.

It could also help the country become more energy secure.

“The presence of a large, baseload, carbon neutral and sustainable energy resource in West Virginia could make an important contribution to enhancing the US energy security and for decreasing CO2 emissions,” the report concluded.

West Virginia currently has an electricity generating capacity of 16,350 MW (~97% of that coming from coal power), but the report concluded that if only 2% of the state’s geothermal energy were recovered, it could produce up to 18,890 MW of capacity from clean energy.

Iraq: The great black gold gamble  

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The subject of Iraq's oil was in the local media on the weekend, with the SBS Dateline program and the Sydney Morning Herald featuring reports from Paul McGeough on the recent increase in the country's oil reserves and potential production increases - The great black gold gamble, Iraq to fight for greater share of OPEC rations and Power Struggle.

As unlikely players gather at the world's last energy casino, Iraq still faces an uncertain future despite its potential huge wealth.

THE tension is exquisite. Iraq is a political, security and economic basket case, but it is also the world's last energy bonanza. And because they are desperate for a piece of the hottest hydrocarbon action on Earth, oil executives come to prostrate themselves, offering to pump Iraq's runny black gold for a pittance.

There is another tension, equally exquisite. As Iraqi politicians fumble their efforts to create a government that might harness oil wealth so colossal it could catapult Iraq among the globe's leading economies, they are in a race against time and rising anger in a marginalised and increasingly disenchanted population.

And all this is topped off by a remarkable turn of events. After a trillion-dollar war of liberation which at home and abroad was often cited as a measure of Washington's determination to kick in Baghdad's door for Texas oilmen and their kin, American companies were left in the wash by more determined competitors from across the world in the grand auction of development licences in Baghdad. ''Paltry'' is how The Washington Post reported the performance of the US firms.

The Chinese are in in a big way, so too the Russians and Europeans. Companies from Malaysia and Angola have a stake in five of the winning consortiums. Petronas, state-owned in Kuala Lumpur, is a partner in three; Sonangal, part-state-owned in Luanda, is a partner in two.

Seven US firms registered for the Baghdad auction, but only one - Exxon Mobil - came through as a senior partner in a single project. Of the rest, only Occidental Petroleum won a minority stake in another. By comparison, the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation is the senior partner in two developments, and two Russian firms - including the Kremlin-owned Gazprom - are in there.

Big American oil houses such as Chevron and ConocoPhillips, which industry observers expected would stay in the mix because of their close ties to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, were left with nothing.

When the BP-Chinese joint venture became the first to test the Baghdad waters - offering a deal under which it would be paid just $US2 a barrel to lift oil, while working to push the ''super giant'' Rumaila oilfield's output to almost 3 million barrels a day - some in the industry saw the bid as a crazy, self-defeating low ball.

But after the BP-CNPC negotiations, two hard realities emerged for the rest of the industry. One, Baghdad was deadly serious about retaining sovereign ownership of its resources and so would hold the international oil companies to being paid a flat per-barrel fee, meaning that all the gain from rising oil prices will flow to Iraq; and two, that the $US2 fee for Rumaila was a first bidder's reward for BP-CNPC and that most who came after them would be screwed just a little bit harder.

"Not too flash," a foreign diplomat in Baghdad observed.

Despite the feigned scepticism of the oil majors when confronted by this hard-nosed stance in Baghdad, the auction in December at which the development licences were sold was seen as the best last chance to be a player in the world's last energy casino. Despite a wave of terrorist bombings that were intended to frighten off the bidders in the run-up to the auction, a senior oil man told the Herald: "Those last days were the tipping point for companies deciding they just had to be in."

Santos raises another $420m for Gladstone LNG project  

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Adelaide Now has an update an Santos's coal seam gas to LNG plant planned for Gladstone - Santos raises another $420m for Gladstone LNG project.

SOUTH Australian oil and gas major Santos has raised another $420 million in funding for its Gladstone liquefied natural gas project.

The new funding through the Euro hybrid market brings the total amount of hybrid capital raised by Santos in the market to more than $1.4 billion since September this year.

The follow-on issue represents another significant step towards funding Santos' share of the GLNG project, with a planned final investment decision before the end of the year. ...

French company Total recently bought a 15 per cent stake in the GLNG project for $650 million.

The coal seam gas project had also secured more than $100 billion of contracts, making it one of the largest export deals in Australia's history.

Santos has yet to publish an estimate of the cost of building GLNG but analysts forecast it will cost about $16 billion.

Swiss complete world's longest tunnel  

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The BBC reports drilling of the world's longest tunnel, under the Alps, has been completed - Swiss complete world's longest tunnel.

The 57km (35 mile) Gotthard rail tunnel has taken 14 years to build and is not likely to open before the end of 2016.

But it is expected to revolutionise transport across Europe, providing a high-speed link between the north and south of the continent.

Eventually, trains will travel through it at speeds of up to 250km/h (155mph).

Journey times between Zurich and Milan are likely to be slashed by as much as one-and-a-half hours. ...

Europe's freight, rumbling through on the backs of 40-tonne lorries, has been clogging the alpine valleys for years: an estimated 3000 heavy goods vehicles pass through the Swiss Alps every day.

Switzerland wants that freight underground, on the railways, and the new tunnel should achieve just that - a completely flat, straight, high-speed link.

It will be another six years before the line is open, but today's breakthrough is, the Swiss say, a crucial step to improving Europe's transport network, and protecting the alpine environment.

The 9.8bn Swiss franc (£6.4bn; $10.3bn) project will take up to 300 trains each day underneath the Alps.

The length of the Gotthard tunnel exceeds the 53.8km Seikan rail tunnel linking the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido and the 50km Channel Tunnel linking England and France.

RIP Hermann Scheer  

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Greentech Media reports that German renewable energy pioneer Hermann Scheer has passed away - Herman Scheer, Renewable Energy Hero, Dies. More at Democracy Now, Renewable Energy World and Clean Break.

I've mentioned Hermann a number of times over the years - some relevant posts are Feed In Tariffs: The German Experiment, An Interview with Hermann Scheer and Nuclear Power - Its A Waste. I haven't seen any mention of what he died of - maybe the nuclear power industry assassinated him (just kidding)...

Hermann Scheer, the German parliamentarian and author who played an instrumental role in getting the solar industry and renewable energy in general moving, has died at the age of 66.

Scheer, along with fellow Bundestag member Hans Josef Fell, crafted Germany's feed-in policy in the early 90s. As a result, approximately 60 percent of the world's wind farms and 70 percent of its solar panels are located in the country. Other countries saw how renewable energy allowed Germany to add to its grid and its employment rolls and slowly, but with increasing speed, began to follow suit.

"If we can defeat climate change, it will be because of Hermann Scheer," said Travis Bradford, the managing director of the Prometheus Institute and a professor of renewable energy at the University of Chicago.

“Hermann Scheer was the George Washington of the renewable energy movement,” said ACORE President, Michael Eckhart in a prepared statement.

Scheer founded Eurosolar, the Bonn-based NGO that led so much of the popular promotion of renewable energy in Europe, as well as the International Renewable Energy Agency. He was the author of numerous publications, including: "The Solar Strategy," "A Solar Manifesto," and "The Solar Economy."

A high-energy, sometimes confrontational speaker, he often filled rooms at alternative energy conferences.

China’s Pipelineistan “War”  

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TomDispatch has a new column from Pepe Escobar (the fourth in an ongoing series) on the evolving great game over Central Asian natural gas - China’s Pipelineistan “War”.

Future historians may well agree that the twenty-first century Silk Road first opened for business on December 14, 2009. That was the day a crucial stretch of pipeline officially went into operation linking the fabulously energy-rich state of Turkmenistan (via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) to Xinjiang Province in China’s far west. Hyperbole did not deter the spectacularly named Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan’s president, from bragging, “This project has not only commercial or economic value. It is also political. China, through its wise and farsighted policy, has become one of the key guarantors of global security.”

The bottom line is that, by 2013, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong will be cruising to ever more dizzying economic heights courtesy of natural gas supplied by the 1,833-kilometer-long Central Asia Pipeline, then projected to be operating at full capacity. And to think that, in a few more years, China’s big cities will undoubtedly also be getting a taste of Iraq’s fabulous, barely tapped oil reserves, conservatively estimated at 115 billion barrels, but possibly closer to 143 billion barrels, which would put it ahead of Iran. When the Bush administration’s armchair generals launched their Global War on Terror, this was not exactly what they had in mind.

China’s economy is thirsty, and so it’s drinking deeper and planning deeper yet. It craves Iraq’s oil and Turkmenistan’s natural gas, as well as oil from Kazakhstan. Yet instead of spending more than a trillion dollars on an illegal war in Iraq or setting up military bases all over the Greater Middle East and Central Asia, China used its state oil companies to get some of the energy it needed simply by bidding for it in a perfectly legal Iraqi oil auction.

Meanwhile, in the New Great Game in Eurasia, China had the good sense not to send a soldier anywhere or get bogged down in an infinite quagmire in Afghanistan. Instead, the Chinese simply made a direct commercial deal with Turkmenistan and, profiting from that country’s disagreements with Moscow, built itself a pipeline which will provide much of the natural gas it needs.

No wonder the Obama administration’s Eurasian energy czar Richard Morningstar was forced to admit at a congressional hearing that the U.S. simply cannot compete with China when it comes to Central Asia’s energy wealth. If only he had delivered the same message to the Pentagon.

That Iranian Equation

In Beijing, they take the matter of diversifying oil supplies very, very seriously. When oil reached $150 a barrel in 2008 -- before the U.S.-unleashed global financial meltdown hit -- Chinese state media had taken to calling foreign Big Oil “international petroleum crocodiles,” with the implication that the West’s hidden agenda was ultimately to stop China’s relentless development dead in its tracks.

Twenty-eight percent of what’s left of the world’s proven oil reserves are in the Arab world. China could easily gobble it all up. Few may know that China itself is actually the world’s fifth largest oil producer, at 3.7 million barrels per day (bpd), just below Iran and slightly above Mexico. In 1980, China consumed only 3% of the world’s oil. Now, its take is around 10%, making it the planet’s second largest consumer. It has already surpassed Japan in that category, even if it’s still way behind the U.S., which eats up 27% of global oil each year. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China will account for over 40% of the increase in global oil demand until 2030. And that’s assuming China will grow at “only” a 6% annual rate which, based on present growth, seems unlikely.

Saudi Arabia controls 13% of world oil production. At the moment, it is the only swing producer -- one, that is, that can move the amount of oil being pumped up or down at will -- capable of substantially increasing output. It’s no accident, then, that, pumping 500,000 bpd, it has become one of Beijing’s major oil suppliers. The top three, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce, are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Angola. By 2013-2014, if all goes well, the Chinese expect to add Iraq to that list in a big way, but first that troubled country’s oil production needs to start cranking up. In the meantime, it’s the Iranian part of the Eurasian energy equation that’s really nerve-racking for China’s leaders.

Chinese companies have invested a staggering $120 billion in Iran's energy sector over the past five years. Already Iran is China’s number two oil supplier, accounting for up to 14% of its imports; and the Chinese energy giant Sinopec has committed an additional $6.5 billion to building oil refineries there. Due to harsh U.N.-imposed and American sanctions and years of economic mismanagement, however, the country lacks the high-tech know-how to provide for itself, and its industrial structure is in a shambles. The head of the National Iranian Oil Company, Ahmad Ghalebani, has publicly admitted that machinery and parts used in Iran’s oil production still have to be imported from China. ...

Much more is to come, and Chinese leaders expect energy-rich Russia to play a significant part in China’s escape-hatch planning as well. Strategically, this represents a crucial step in regional energy integration, tightening the Russia/China partnership inside the SCO as well as at the U.N. Security Council.

When it comes to oil, the name of the game is the immense Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline. Last August, a 4,000-kilometer-long Russian section from Taishet in eastern Siberia to Nakhodka, still inside Russian territory, was begun. Russian Premier Vladimir Putin hailed ESPO as “a really comprehensive project that has strengthened our energy cooperation.” And in late September, the Russians and the Chinese inaugurated a 999-kilometer-long pipeline from Skovorodino in Russia’s Amur region to the petrochemical hub Daqing in northeast China.

Russia is currently delivering up to 130 million tons of Russian oil a year to Europe. Soon, no less than 50 million tons may be heading to China and the Pacific region as well.

There are, however, hidden tensions between the Russians and the Chinese when it comes to energy matters. The Russian leadership is understandably wary of China’s startling strides in Central Asia, the former Soviet Union’s former “near abroad.” After all, as the Chinese have been doing in Africa in their search for energy, in Central Asia, too, the Chinese are building railways and introducing high-tech trains, among other modern wonders, in exchange for oil and gas concessions.

Despite the simmering tensions between China, Russia, and the U.S., it’s too early to be sure just who is likely to emerge as the victor in the new Great Game in Central Asia, but one thing is clear enough. The Central Asian “stans” are becoming ever more powerful poker players in their own right as Russia tries not to lose its hegemony there, Washington places all its chips on pipelines meant to bypass Russia (including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline that pumps oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia) and China antes up big time for its Central Asian future. Whoever loses, this is a game that the “stans” cannot but profit from.

Gasland In Australia  

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Josh Fox's movie "Gasland" is going to get a somewhat delayed release in Australia in November - GasLand – Australia.

Palace Films is pleased to announce that award-winning writer/director JOSH FOX will be visiting Australia to support the national release of his controversial documentary GASLAND.

The tour will include metropolitan and regional locations beginning in Brisbane on Monday November 8, 2010 and Mr. Fox will participate in Q&A screenings at selected locations ahead of the film’s national release on November 18. Details of public appearances will be announced soon.

After premiering at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary and was voted the best competition film of any section by indieWIRE’s Sundance Critics Poll, GASLAND has gone on to screen at major film festivals around the world including Toronto Hot Docs, Sydney and Los Angeles Film Festivals.

Part vérité travelogue, part ecological expose, part showdown, GASLAND is a first-person story of discovery and empowerment that began in September 2006 when theatre director Fox received a letter from a natural gas company, offering him $100 000 for permission to explore his upstate New York property. His curiosity led him to discover that in the race for ‘cleaner’, greener & more efficient energy sources, the largest natural gas drilling boom in history has resulted in an environmental disaster of shocking proportions, and the PR-spun US government has not only turned a blind eye, it has regulated itself out of the picture.

The controversial Halliburton-led process of gas extraction that features in the film – hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) – has recently made national news in Australia as the burgeoning practice continues to spread in regions across the Eastern and Western seaboard, with recorded incidents of water contamination.

Tony and the Tories  

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The Climate Spectator has a look at some of the glaring climate policy differences between Australian conservative leader Tony Abbott and his UK counterparts - Tony and the Tories.

Few people are expecting Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to travel the Road to Damascus on climate change and clean energy policies any time soon, but perhaps the Road to Birmingham may do the trick.

Two things might have struck Abbott as he arrived at the Tory Party annual conference being held in the Midlands city: The first, that he was among the youngest of delegates; the second, that they were all celebrating “green growth” day. And no, this was not about creating standing green armies to pick up rubbish from nature strips – this was about the transition to a low carbon economy.

He would have heard a speech from Oliver Letwin, the former shadow Chancellor and now minister of state, who vilified the UK's Labour Party for not being green enough, and for making little progress towards reducing Britain’s dependence on hydro-carbons. “We're not as green as we need to be,” he declared.

The Tories, on the other hand, have pledged that they will be the greenest government ever, and the Tory 'Green Deal' – to be introduced in Parliament before the end of the year will provide a “new, radical way of making energy efficiency affordable to all, reducing household energy bills at no upfront cost to the householder. It will hugely reduce the energy demands of Britain's households and create a whole new industry – with new jobs in every part of the country,” he said.

And he went on: “Our smart grid and the roll out of smart meters will transform the way energy is supplied and used. Our incentive for renewable heat will bring forward the generation of heat from waste and other renewable sources – a crucial part of cutting carbon and maintaining energy security.

“Our transformation of the Climate Change Levy into a proper Carbon price will pave the way for low carbon power stations, including a new generation of self-financing nuclear power. Our Green Investment Bank will support the next generation of British green technology investment – helping to re-balance the economy and generate new jobs and economic growth across the UK.

“Our system of feed-in tariffs will encourage micro-generation, stimulate diversity and decentralisation of our power supply, and turn hundreds of thousands of houses into sources of energy. Our high-speed rail network will bring Birmingham and London into the same travel-to-work area, and provide a real low carbon alternative to the aeroplane.

“Our support for electric cars and plug-in hybrids means that Britain is now the natural home-base for a new growth industry, which will begin to cut the link between cars and carbon.”

Hopefully, Abbott was listening.

Transport Policy at Its Worst  

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The New York Times has a column on the inability of the United States to build new transport infrastructure - Policy at Its Worst.

We can go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and threaten to blow Iran off the face of the planet. We can conduct a nonstop campaign of drone and helicopter attacks in Pakistan and run a network of secret prisons around the world. We are the mightiest nation mankind has ever seen.

But we can’t seem to build a railroad tunnel to carry commuters between New Jersey and New York.

The United States is not just losing its capacity to do great things. It’s losing its soul. It’s speeding down an increasingly rubble-strewn path to a region where being second rate is good enough.

The railroad tunnel was the kind of infrastructure project that used to get done in the United States almost as a matter of routine. It was a big and expensive project, but the payoff would have been huge. It would have reduced congestion and pollution in the New York-New Jersey corridor. It would have generated economic activity and put thousands of people to work. It would have enabled twice as many passengers to ride the trains on that heavily traveled route between the two states.

The project had been in the works for 20 years, and ground had already been broken when the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, rejected the project on Thursday, saying that his state could not afford its share of the costs. Extreme pressure is being exerted from federal officials and others to get Mr. Christie to change his mind, but, as of now, the project is a no-go.

This is a railroad tunnel we’re talking about. We’re not trying to go to the Moon. This is not the Manhattan Project. It’s a railroad tunnel that’s needed to take people back and forth to work and to ease the pressure on the existing tunnel, a wilting two-track facility that’s about 100 years old. What is the matter with us?

The Chinese could build it. The Turks could build it. We can’t build it.

The True Size Of Africa  

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Google tests car that can drive itself  

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The SMH has a report on Google's self-driving cars - Google tests car that can drive itself.

Google, the world's largest internet search engine, has been tinkering with engines of another sort and come up with some futuristic results - a car that drives itself. ...

The automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to "see" other traffic, as well as detailed maps to navigate the road ahead.

The futuristic cars have already been tested on the heavily trafficked California roadways - including highways, bridges and busy city streets. They have even navigated San Franciso's famed Lombard Street, a tourist favorite known as the nation's most dramatically winding address.

The Google Blog has the official explanation of what they are up to - What we’re driving at.
Larry and Sergey founded Google because they wanted to help solve really big problems using technology. And one of the big problems we’re working on today is car safety and efficiency. Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.

So we have developed technology for cars that can drive themselves. Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research.

Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually driven vehicles) to navigate the road ahead. This is all made possible by Google’s data centers, which can process the enormous amounts of information gathered by our cars when mapping their terrain.

To develop this technology, we gathered some of the very best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson was the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge. Mike Montemerlo was the software lead for the Stanford team that won the 2005 Grand Challenge. Also on the team is Anthony Levandowski, who built the world’s first autonomous motorcycle that participated in a DARPA Grand Challenge, and who also built a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a person inside. The work of these and other engineers on the team is on display in the National Museum of American History. ...

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents. We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half. We’re also confident that self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new “highway trains of tomorrow." These highway trains should cut energy consumption while also increasing the number of people that can be transported on our major roads. In terms of time efficiency, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that people spend on average 52 minutes each working day commuting. Imagine being able to spend that time more productively.

We’ve always been optimistic about technology’s ability to advance society, which is why we have pushed so hard to improve the capabilities of self-driving cars beyond where they are today. While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science. And that future is very exciting.

Smart Water Meters Catch On in Iowa  

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Todd Woody at The New York Times has an article on smart water meters in the US midwest - Smart Water Meters Catch On in Iowa.

While some California cities move to ban smart electricity meters over fears about their impact on human health, residents of Dubuque, Iowa, are embracing smart water meters.

Like smart electricity meters, smart water meters measure consumption and wirelessly transmit the data to utilities. In Dubuque, 311 households have volunteered to have smart water meters installed as part of a pilot project between the city and I.B.M. to see if giving residents information on their water use in real time will prompt them to conserve. The project is also intended to help city officials spot and repair leaks in the water system as they happen.

“The more frequently water use is monitored, the more quickly things like leaks can be detected and addressed,” Milind Naphade, program director for I.B.M.’s smarter city services, said in an e-mail. “Also, we’ll be able to better identify trends and patterns over time more quickly with this frequency.”

Many water bills are issued quarterly, so residents may not notice a spike in consumption as a result of leaks or other problems for months. The smart meters in Dubuque, on the other hand, will transmit data on a home’s water use to I.B.M. computers every 15 minutes.

Residents can go to a Web site to monitor their water use. ...

Cutting water use also saves the city energy costs as less electricity is needed for pumping, city officials noted. “What our volunteer households are accomplishing is the first step to understanding waste and ultimately the conservation of valuable resources to sustain life quality for generations to come,” Dubuque’s mayor, Roy D. Buol, said in a statement.

The pilot project began in September and will continue until December, I.B.M said. In the longer term, the city of 60,000 plans to roll out smart water meters to all of its households as part of a sustainability initiative called Dubuque 2.0.

IBM Joins Australian Grid Project  

Posted by Big Gav in , , reports that IBM has joined the consortium building a pilot smart grid project in NSW - IBM Joins Australian Grid Project.

IBM has joined the $100 million Smart Grid, Smart City initiative as the systems integration partner. In addition to IBM, the EnergyAustralia Consortium consists of GE Energy Australia; AGL, Sydney Water, Hunter Water and Newcastle City Council. Under terms of an agreement with EnergyAustralia, IBM will deliver distributed generation, smart metering, and demand management solutions for what is Australia’s first smart grid network. The three-year project will test smart grid technologies in up to 50,000 NSW households.

The Smart Grid Smart City agreement calls for the installation of smart meters in the Hunter Valley and Sydney. Up to 20,000 houses will be equipped with in-home displays that enable consumers to track their energy use. Residents in ten percent of these homes will be able to control their energy devices using mobile devices such as the iPhone.

Glen Boreham, Managing Director of IBM Australia & New Zealand, called the Smart Grid, Smart City demonstration “a critical step in developing the necessary infrastructure meeting the energy demands of Australian citizens into the future. One of IBM’s key priorities is to help utility companies transform energy, environmental and sustainability issues into opportunities that positively impact the world. Being a member of the consortium that will carry out this project is a reflection of IBM’s commitment to the energy industry and our vision for a smarter planet.”

New Zealand's Parliamentary Library Report On Peak Oil  

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Clint Smith from the Economics and Industry research team at the New Zealand Parliamentary Library has produced a report on peak oil and the implications for New Zealand - The Next oil Shock ?.

New Zealand’s annual oil production in 2008 and 2009 was 55,000 barrels per day. Consumption was 148,000 barrels per day. Proven reserves total 189 million barrels.

There are thought to be potentially large, unfound oil reserves. A 2009 study by the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences estimates that there is a 90 percent chance that reserves totalling 1.9 billion barrels of oil remain in New Zealand and a 50 percent chance there are 6.5 billion barrels. Most of these estimated undiscovered reserves are in difficult to access deposits under deep water in the Great South Basin and the Deepwater Taranaki basin.

New Zealand’s geographical position is a serious challenge to increasing oil production. A report by Lincoln University’s Centre for Land, Environment and People (LEaP) states:

“New Zealand’s isolation from the rest of the world acts as a major constraint in the attraction of international explorers. Exploration and mining companies operating in New Zealand have to bear the cost of getting equipment to and from New Zealand as well as shipping crude oil to international refineries.”

In addition to petroleum oil reserves, New Zealand has a vast resource of lignite coal, which can be converted into petroleum products. Solid Energy and several other companies are proposing lignite to liquids plants or underground coal gasification projects to create oil products. However, the IEA estimates lignite to liquids production costs are US$60-$110 per barrel, so high oil prices are needed to make lignite to liquids viable.

If New Zealand can increase its oil production, it could be a major economic boon in the long-run. The Ministry of Economic Development projects oil exports to reach $30 billion per annum by 2025. However, becoming self-sufficient would require a massive increase in New Zealand’s oil production and refining capacity, and, as with any region, New Zealand would not be able to sustain high production rates as reserves were depleted.

No large-scale coal to liquids projects or commercial production wells of, as yet undiscovered, conventional oil reserves are planned to come online within the next five years.

In the medium term, New Zealand will remain heavily dependent on imported oil. Domestic production at any level cannot insulate New Zealand from global short-falls or price rises. New Zealand pays the world price for oil, whether that oil is produced domestically or not because oil producers will not sell their product in New Zealand if they can get a higher price overseas.

New Zealand would be affected by oil supply crunches both directly and indirectly via the effect on trading partners.

Direct effects include higher transport costs and an increased balance of payments deficit due to the increased cost of importing oil. Transport costs constitute a significant expense for exporters, especially exporters of bulk goods like timber, meat, and dairy.

Indirect effects would be felt through lower consumer demand in the markets for New Zealand’s export goods, leading to lower prices.

The LEaP report cited above details the economic consequences of oil shocks on the $9 billion a year international tourism industry, which it states is “highly dependent on affordable oil”:

* “Tourism Businesses: face an increase in their operating costs due to higher oil prices and reduced demand in response to oil shocks and price increases.

* Destinations and communities: face reduced visitation resulting in compromised regional development.

* Tourists: reduced experience due to higher proportion of holiday budget being spent on transportation.

* Government: reduced income from tourism as a result of reduced arrivals and reduced expenditure by tourists.”

As a country that is reliant on oil imports and heavily dependent on cheap oil for its major sources of income, New Zealand is highly exposed to oil shocks. Domestic oil production is insufficient to meet New Zealand’s oil needs. Equally, increasing domestic oil production would not protect New Zealand from either the direct or indirect effects of price spikes caused by global supply crunches.


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