Why the Smart Meter Backlash Story Isn't Going Away  

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Earth2tech has a look at some of the reasons why there has been significant resistance to smart meter rollouts - Why the Smart Meter Backlash Story Isn’t Going Away.

This story seriously won’t go away. And here’s why:

1. People don’t like PG&E. PG&E has a long and contentious relationship with California residents. The utility previously backed the losing Prop 16, which would have basically stopped local governments from getting into the power business. There was that whole gas line fire disaster in San Bruno in September, and the utility took months to initially respond with an apology for the first smart meter complaints that emerged. PG&E couldn’t have done a worse job at outreach to date. Basically anything PG&E does at this point is going to be looked at with a skeptical eye. Bummer.

2. Hard times. As the sergeant put it to the New York Times, budgets are tight everywhere right now and anything that’s giving the impression of unfairly costing consumers money is going to face anger, and apparently, a lot of it. This might not happen to such a large extent if wallets weren’t so tight.

3. Technology is confusing: People generally don’t understand how smart meters work. If you have a Wi-Fi router in your home, a cell phone in your pocket, and a GPS device in your car, yet you’re worried about health concerns of your smart meter, then you don’t understand smart meter technology.

4. Digital, networked technology can be scary. As I’ve written at length, adding a network connection and software to a device has, throughout history, tended to make people nervous. Whether it’s a backlash to computerized voting, or online and mobile banking, the digitization of the power grid will face the same uncertainty.

5. It’s getting hot in here. NASA reported that January through September were the hottest on record. The hotter it is, the more air conditioning people use in their homes, and the more they spend on their monthly utility bills. So as the first wave of smart meters is being installed (partly to help fight climate change), the climate has delivered record hot temperatures that are likely boosting a lot of bills.

6. Little innovation, little change. The power industry has seen little innovation over the past century, which is why greentech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are so eager to build companies in this industry. As a result, utility consumers are used to a routine, never-changing relationship with the utility, and aren’t used to any type of change, period.

7. What do I get? Compare a smart meter installation to the installation of your new cable connection. Working with the cable company is really annoying; they seem to take forever; their customer service lines are abysmal; yet at the end of the irritating journey, you have an Internet connection that brings you all your favorite web content. After you get your smart meter, what do you get? Oh, the ability to cut down on your energy consumption. Not so fun.

The New York Times has an article on some examples of the backlash - ‘Smart’ Meters Draw Complaints of Inaccuracy.
Over the last year, as utilities around the country have installed an estimated two million of the new digital meters, power companies have received plenty of complaints — and in some states have been hit by class-action lawsuits — most of them from consumers saying the smart meters are overstating their electrical usage.

This is not the smooth rollout envisioned last year, when the Obama administration included money for utilities to install smart meters as part of a $3.4 billion injection of federal stimulus spending to modernize the nation’s power grid. By 2020, there could be as many as 65 million smart meters, by various makers, installed in this country, according to one estimate.

Using digital technology and computer networking, smart meters can transmit real-time data that is supposed to enable utilities to conserve electricity and better allocate power during parts of the day when overall demand is high. Utilities can also then vary the price for power, by time of day or time of year, based on when it is being used; some are already offering this option to customers.

Meanwhile, for customers with the right training and additional equipment, the meters can give households a much more detailed picture of the amount of electricity they are using, down to individual appliances. That, in theory, can help people reduce their electric bills and become greener citizens.

But because of faulty technology in some cases, and more often through general shortcomings in consumer education and customer-service support by many utilities, smart meters are leaving many customers dumbfounded.

In Maryland earlier this year, state regulators, aware of the discontent around the country, temporarily blocked a utility’s smart-meter proposal, citing inadequate planning and the potential cost to consumers.

In California, Michael Kelly, a lawyer handling a class-action suit against the state’s dominant utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, over billing disputes, said the problems probably had less to do with faulty devices and more to do with a hasty rollout. Old billing systems were merged with the new smart-meter technology, he said, too frequently resulting in erroneous charges.

“We’re just saying we want an evaluation done and that we want anyone who was overcharged to get their money back,” Mr. Kelly said.

A state-ordered analysis by the independent research firm Structure Consulting Group, released in September, agreed with the utility’s assertion that its new meters were accurate for the most part. The study also supported its conclusion that most of the complaints could be traced to a heat wave, changes in personal behavior or old meters that were actually malfunctioning and undercharging before the new ones were installed.

But the Structure report also said the utility had done a poor job of educating consumers and addressing their concerns. In basic terms, the smart digital meters are simply replacing the old analog meters, with their inscrutable dials and counters, found on the sides of homes all over America. But unlike those “dumb” devices, which are often read once a month by utility employees going house to house on foot, the digital meters can provide utilities with remote, real-time measurements of kilowatt-hours being used.

A recent analysis by the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute, a utility-financed research organization based in Palo Alto, Calif., estimated that creating an intelligent electricity grid of this sort in the United States could reduce electricity use by more than 4 percent annually by 2030. Nationally, that could mean annual savings of roughly $20.4 billion for utilities and their customers, according to the institute.

Grist has some commentary on the Earth2Tech and New York Times articles - Understanding the smart meter backlash.
David's been writing lately about the intersection of technology and human habits and culture, arguing that energy is a behavioral challenge as much as a technological one. There's a prime of example of how these things collide -- and why climate hawks should pay attention -- in the backlash against smart meters in California.

The New York Times is the latest to cover the trend of residents responding in outrage when utilities install smart meters -- home-energy computers that provide detailed information on what appliances you're using, and when. They're a necessary element in building a clean-energy grid that relies on wind and solar power, feeds electric cars, and supports greener dishwashers and other appliances (here's a good backgrounder).

California utility PG&E has been a national leader in rolling out the devices. It's also faced the strongest revolt. ...

Behavioral researcher Doug McKenzie-Mohr suggests there's no silver bullet to getting people to adopt new sustainable behaviors. It requires patience, careful communication, carefully designed pilot programs, and research into what mental associations new concepts may trigger (that's why we get home-energy "reviews" or "check-ups" instead of "audits").

Mailing out brochures isn't going to put everyone's concerns to rest, because their worries are less about information than about adjusting to change.

There's reason to think that privacy fears about the smart grid aren't going to be "solved" any quicker than the question of internet privacy will be resolved (the grid is often called the internet for energy). The question will persist, just as the question of internet privacy has.

Fehrenbacher's whole story at Earth2Tech, "Why the Smart Meter Backlash Story Isn't Going Away," runs through a list of ominous reasons why the dilemma will stick around. It's worth reading.

There are two ways to think about the PR challenge of smart meter going forward, one cheery and one gloomy. Global warming speech-givers are fond of saying that our choice is not between sustainability and the status quo; it's between sustainability and Detroit/Mogadishu/Pakistani floods (pick your social-collapse metaphor). In the same vein, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers says our choice is between a wired clean-energy network and utility rates that will rise 20 to 40 percent in the coming decades to replace aging power plants. The status quo isn't an option -- that's the gloomy conclusion.

For the other perspective, I'm cribbing from David's recent post comparing China's massive top-down energy planning and a decentralized American alternative:
Among other infantilizing features of modern American life is the fact that we are passive, thoughtless consumers of energy, forever suckling at a far-away teat, whether it's foreign oil producers or politically connected corporate behemoths. We send money out of our communities; someone sends power in. We are as dependent as sheep.

One step toward regaining our sense of civic engagement and self-determination would be to widely distribute the means of making and managing energy, to empower bottom-up rather than top-down innovation. Our communities can never truly govern themselves if they have no control over their own power. Let China have the Three Gorges Dam. Let's show the world, again, that democracy can work.

Smart meters can help Americans become not just consumers but energy managers and producers (through, say, rooftop solar panels). If you buy this perspective, adding info-tech to your home's energy system isn't disempowering at all. It's an expression of democracy. That's a bit more hopeful.

Aleklett on Peak Oil and Global Warmingl  

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The SMH has an article on ASPO President Kjell Aleklett's Australian tour, looking at global warming scenarios considering peak oil and quoting ASPO Australia and TOD ANZ's Phil Hart - Emissions scenarios are based on flawed assumptions, says energy expert.

The concept of a peak - maximum production - does not mean a date after which the world soon runs out of fossil fuels. It's about flow rates. ''We are not running out,'' says Aleklett. ''But we have a limit to supply. What we're running out of is the possibility of increased usage.''

Aleklett, a long-time critic of the International Energy Agency's forecasts, is looking increasingly on the money as demand figures have been wound back in the IEA's 2010 World Energy Outlook, released this month.

The IEA stopped short of calling a peak in oil production but did lower its consumption forecasts.

In 2009, the IEA stressed the importance of oil for economic growth and concluded that 106 million barrels a day (mb/d) would be required by 2030, about 20mb/d higher than today. In 2010, the IEA only predicts 99mb/d by 2035 and avoids any discussion of economic growth.

''We can interpret this as meaning desired economic growth is not possible,'' says Aleklett. He means it.

Aleklett believes high oil prices - they peaked at $US147 in 2008 - helped trigger the global financial crisis, when oil-dependent home owners in the outer suburbs of America's cities began defaulting on their loans.

Peak oil will limit economic growth: the IEA now sees OECD oil consumption falling 15 per cent by 2035. OECD nations, including Australia, will have to revise down their consumption estimates. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has yet to bring its forecasts into line with the IEA. But Australia's oil production is declining rapidly - by the end of the decade we could be reliant on imports for 80 per cent of consumption, says former Shell Australia and Australian Coal Association executive Ian Dunlop.

Where will that oil come from? Can we outbid the likes of China and India?

''The government's assumption there will always be oil available on the market is nonsense, unless we're willing to pay a fortune,'' says Dunlop.

BHP Billiton's latest quarterly crude oil production figures showed drops across the board, year-on-year, propped up only by the new Pyrenees field in Western Australia.

ABARE's Energy Resource Assessment last year listed just two other new Australian oil projects, including Thai operator PTTEP's Montara/Skua field - site of last year's disastrous spill, which the government finally responded to this week.

Local ASPO spokesman Phil Hart says ABARE is in ''economic fairyland'', believing demand will always lead to supply. The same problem underpins the IPCC's scenarios, which are modelled by economists who ''assume business as usual is possible''.

Ultimately it is irrelevant whether we have enough fossil fuels to hit 6 degrees of warming. Global temperatures are already too high at 0.8 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and climate change is already dangerous. Recent Potsdam Institute analysis concluded 75 per cent of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if we are to keep warming to 2 degrees.

''There's more than enough coal, oil and gas to get us into trouble,'' says Hart. We need to stop burning fossil fuels now (and, the implication is, avoid wasting billions on carbon capture and storage, which uses extra energy and will only accelerate resource depletion) in favour of renewables.

The ramifications are profound, particularly for infrastructure spending: we need to electrify transport, and shift from private to public transport. Aviation may be a sunset industry. No more toll roads with wildly optimistic demand projections. No more hideously expensive airports.

Aleklett says politicians should welcome the concept of peak oil. ''Peak oil should be politicians' best friend,'' he says. ''It is something they cannot fix.''

Carter Era Solar Panel Performance Amazes Owner  

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Cleantechnica has a look at the long term performance of solar panels - Carter Era Solar Panel Performance Amazes Owner.

A story in Green building advisor sheds some light on how long the solar panels on your roof just might keep on pumping out power.

While most appliances only use energy, rather than make energy, and are not subject to the rigorous second-guessing of solar arrays (when was the last time you demanded a payback analysis on your car, your fridge or your giant plasma TV?) a solar array is just an appliance that supplies a personal power supply, after all. Like a car, a fridge, or a plasma TV, it provides you with a service.

So, will it outlast your car, fridge and plasma TV? Apparently: yes.

Green Building Advisor’s Green Building’s Martin Holladay tested the 30 year old solar panel that he originally purchased and installed in 1980. To mark the 30th anniversary, Holladay climbed on his roof and brought one of his panels down for testing. He was curious to see exactly how well it was working, compared with its original rating.

He connected it directly (with no intervening battery) to two different 12-volt loads to test it: a 35-watt incandescent light bulb, and a blower rated at 4.5 amps (about 54 watts). Result? “The old PV module passed with flying colors. It easily powered up the light bulb; my Fluke multimeter showed that under a full load of 2.015 amps, the module’s voltage was an impressive 14.93 volts” said Holladay.

The panel tested at an even better performance than when the panel was new..

Phosphate: Morocco's White Gold  

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BusinessWeek has a look at a key agricultural input commodity, phosphate - Phosphate: Morocco's White Gold.

Miners have been working in Khouribga for almost a century, but only now is the area poised to become central to the global economy. Back in the 1920s pioneers started tunneling through the earth here, digging through layers of sediment formed under an ancient sea, looking for phosphate-rich rock and occasionally plucking out the tooth of a 30-million-year-old shark. The phosphate extracted from the rock, used in fertilizer, detergent, food additives, and more recently lithium-ion batteries, sold for decades in its raw state for less than $40 per metric ton. Those days are gone. It's currently trading at about $130.

This is good news for King Mohammed VI, 47, who owns more than half the world's phosphate reserves. James Prokopanko, chief executive officer of Plymouth (Minn.)-based fertilizer giant Mosaic (MOS), has called Morocco the Saudi Arabia of phosphate, with all that implies about the King's power to influence prices and economies. Mohammed's strategy, by most accounts, is to drive the commodity's price higher yet—which means the cost of making everything from corn syrup to iPads will be going up as well. ...

Phosphate, when used as fertilizer, is the irreplaceable engine powering modern agriculture, and its reserves are in decline almost everywhere except Morocco. Most phosphate mines, including those in the U.S., which produces 17 percent of the global supply, have been in a downward spiral for the last decade, running out of quality rock and hindered by environmental regulation. That has forced companies to look farther afield for additional supplies. Earlier this year, Mosaic spent $385 million for a 35 percent stake in a Peruvian mine to supply rock to its phosphate operations in the U.S. and South America. Meanwhile, Australia's mining giant BHP Billiton (BHP) has been threatening to take over Canada's PotashCorp (POT), a major supplier of both potash and phosphate.

Even a temporary phosphate shortage could affect a range of U.S. industries. Phosphate fertilizer is used on just about every crop, though most in the U.S. goes to the 13 billion bushels of corn grown each year to make everything from corn syrup to cattle feed to ethanol. When prices climbed tenfold in 2007 and 2008, retailers and farmers scrambled to build local fertilizer warehouses as a buffer. Now, according to Dirk Lohry, owner of Nutra-Flo, a crop and animal nutrient manufacturer in Sioux City, Iowa, many of those warehouses stand empty as supplies are being used too quickly to build inventory. The prospect of a shortage has become serious enough that the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the U.S. Energy Dept. recently assigned an analyst to study the issue; she was not permitted to speak publicly because of "geopolitical sensitivities."

One could look at the 2007-08 food crisis for clues to how a shortage might play out. At that time, rising food prices led to riots across Africa and Asia—the Pakistani Army even stepped in to defend warehouses and farms. Before the crisis was over, China had levied a 135 percent export tariff on its phosphate to protect its domestic food supply; phosphate there is still taxed at 110 percent at the height of the buying season.

The scale of Morocco's phosphate wealth was officially verified in September, when the International Fertilizer Development Center released its long-awaited update on global phosphate resources. Morocco's portion went from the 5.7 billion metric tons still cited in U.S. Geologic Survey reports, to 50 billion metric tons—85 percent of the world's total. Even with 170 million metric tons of concentrated phosphate changing hands each year, the Moroccans likely have at least 300 to 400 years of rock available. Talal Zouaoui, OCP's director of communications, won't agree or disagree with estimates, but says in an e-mail that Morocco has "significant reserves," and notes that reserves denote only those quantities that countries have discovered and deem economically viable to extract.

With a growing world population consuming more grain, more meat, and more biofuels, demand is expected to rise at a rate of 2 to 3 percent per year, according to the International Fertilizer Assn. Some experts, like Dana Cordell, co-founder of the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative, predict that phosphate production will "peak" within the next 50 years.

Not all phosphate becomes fertilizer: About 15 percent is turned into detergents or food additives, such as the tangy phosphoric acid in Coca-Cola (KO), or the moisture-retaining salts in salami. (As U.S. states try to control the use of phosphates, which promote algae blooms in water bodies, Procter & Gamble (PG) and other detergent makers have been experimenting with phosphate-free products, with mixed results.)

OCP controls 30 percent of global phosphate exports, and plans to increase annual production from 30 million metric tons to 54 million metric tons by 2015, investing $5 billion in the process. By that time, Prayon, a Belgian phosphate processor in which OCP owns a 50 percent stake, believes demand for phosphate as a component of the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles could exceed demand for it in detergent.

Is baseload power necessary ?  

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The Climate Spectator has an article on the transition from the old model of "baseload" power generation to a new, more flexible system - Is baseload power necessary ?.

For years, David Mills, the eminent solar energy technology developer, has dreamed of creating a new model for an energy system that does away with the conventional design of massive baseload infrastructure.

Next week the newly-retired founder of solar thermal technology company Ausra (now owned by French nuclear giant Areva), and a former leading researcher at UNSW, will present that model.

Using hourly data for energy use of the entire United States economy in 2006, Mills will demonstrate how it could have been powered almost exclusively by wind and solar (with storage and the help of biofuels for aircraft and some biomass capacity for certain smelting operations).

The details of his findings, including capacity and costing estimations, will be released when he addresses the Australian Solar Energy Society's annual conference in Canberra next week. But in an exclusive interview with Climate Spectator, Mills gave a broad outline of his conclusions and suggested there was a surprisingly small difference in costs.

“Everyone says that you need flatline baseload capacity (such as coal or nuclear, or in some countries hydro) and build on that platform, and use load-following gas turbines,” Mills said.

“They assume that being baseload makes it cheaper, and all other things are more expensive.”

“What we are suggesting is a new paradigm. The traditional paradigm of flatline baseload does not exist in this scenario, but you need to understand that the replacement for baseload power is not another baseload, it’s a system of flexible and inflexible energy mechanisms based around wind and solar and other sources.”

The study is an extension of an idea that Mills has held dear for some time. In 2005 he presented a talk in Canberra suggesting that solar plans with a “primitive” storage model could run the electricity grid in eastern Australia.

Two years later, he did a similar study for California concluding that, based on hourly data for energy usage in 2006, solar could have carried well over 90 per cent of the electricity load.

The latest study – completed with a former R&D specialist at Ausra, Wei Li Cheng, and a US Department of Energy analyst Phil Larochelle – looks at how solar and wind could handle the entire electricity needs for the US in the same year, and also looks at whether it could handle the entire energy needs for the country, including transport.

Interestingly, wind and solar account for around 50 per cent each of the electricity supplies to handle summer demand and peaks, while more wind was used in winter. Such a system would require a capacity redundancy above peak demand, but would in fact be less than current systems.

Mills says the study looked to test a number of different premises. The first premise was that there was enough solar and wind that, in combination, could run the US economy. There was.

The second was that solar and wind would be connected with a new electricity transmission system, using high voltage direct current lines for the spine of the network, which will allow more flows and result in considerably reduced transmission losses.

These are the sort of networks being contemplated by the Desertec consortium founded by a group of large European industrial giants that are looking to source solar power from north Africa to provide some of Europe’s energy needs.

Mills says China is installing more HVDC lines than any other country in the world – looking to link coal plants with the Three Gorges dam and wind and solar from the north and west of the country. “It very clear to see what they are doing and that it is a very good thing to do,” he said.

Mills says the data used for his study came from 2006, and was based around technology that might be used in 2050, but exists now – even though its lack of scale makes current deployment expensive. "Its not technology that we don’t have now. I didn't want people saying that it's future technology." ...

Mills notes the work of the Beyond Zero Emissions group, which outlined a highly contentious study into how Australia could go 100 per cent renewable by 2020 – not so much to suggest it should be done, but that it could be done.

The German industrial giant Siemens has also produced a report entitled “Picture the Future”, which suggested renewable energy could, by 2030, provide 70 per cent of Australia’s electricity needs, with half coming from solar – augmented by storage and a suite of installation across different time zones – and the rest made up of an equal share of wind and geothermal.

Chinese Project Puts Cow Dung to Work  

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Technology Review has an article on a gargantuan Chinese biogas project - Chinese Project Puts Cow Dung to Work.

A rapidly growing industry in China—dairy farming—is also a major new source of greenhouse-gas emissions. But Huishan Dairy in northeast China is trying to change this by installing the world's largest system for generating electricity by collecting methane gas emitted by fermenting cow manure.

The Chinese have not, historically, been big milk drinkers, but decreasing costs and aggressive marketing efforts have changed that. Huishan's new system will prevent methane—which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas—from reaching the atmosphere. It will also reduce waste and odors, and produce a valuable organic fertilizer that's safer than raw manure.

The operation at Huishan is 10 times the size of the typical systems for generating electricity from cow manure. Its massive scale could help make the project more economical. GE, which is supplying the project's gas-powered generators, also hopes it will act as a showcase for the technology. Methane is not widely harnessed in farming worldwide, largely due to the initial costs, a lack of established economic models, and little government support.

Huishan, one of the biggest dairies in the country, imports 3,000 cows from Australia every month to sustain its massive stock of 250,000 cows—about double the number of dairy cows in the entire state of Florida. Huishan's new electricity generating system will process the waste from 60,000 cows and produce 5.6 megawatts of power. It will generate enough electricity to meet the needs of 3,500 American-size households, which means it will service many more Chinese ones, which use far less energy.

What was previously the largest system for generating electricity from manure produced two megawatts. Most such systems still produce only a few hundred kilowatts. Huishan will capture 20 million cubic meters of biogas (which is about 60 percent methane).

Technology for capturing biogas and putting it to use has existed for a long time. In its simplest form, an enclosed digester allows the anaerobic organisms to break down manure and capture the methane produced. The gas is then siphoned off in a pipe for cooking or lighting. The Chinese government estimates that millions of small farms already have such primitive manure digesters.

Generating electricity from biogas is more difficult because constituents of the gas, such as hydrogen sulfide, are particularly corrosive. It is possible to clean up the gas by removing the hydrogen sulfide by exposing it to iron oxide (a process called hydrodesulfurization). The biogas can then be burned to produce electricity in generators such as the GE Jenbacher engines that Huishan uses. These engines have been modified to burn at compression levels particularly suited to biogas, and they have special coatings that resist corrosion.

Less than 1 percent of the dairies in the United States capture methane. Part of the challenge is scale. According to Don Wichert, director of renewable energy programs at Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, producing electricity from biogas at a farm with about 100 cows costs twice as much as producing it at a farm with over 2,000 cows. Huishan is gathering manure from 20 farms located close together near Shenyang, China, to feed into massive digesters. Thomas Elsenbruch, marketing program manager for Jenbacher engines at GE, says larger systems can supply enough gas for a one-plus-megawatt engine. Such engines are more efficient than the 300- to 500-kilowatt systems used in many farms in Europe or the U.S.

15,000 smart homes planned for NSW  

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The Australian has a report on Energy Australia's smart grid progress in NSW - 15,000 smart homes planned for NSW.

POWER company EnergyAustralia will rely on Ericsson technology to deliver the first national smart grid, in a deal worth up to $12 million.

Ericsson will provide equipment, software and services as EnergyAustralia turns 15,000 NSW households into smart homes.

The utility will conduct a privacy impact assessment to ease concerns that information held on smart meters could be hijacked by thieves and direct marketing companies.

Internet giant Google has been in hot water for inadvertently accessing private data from its Street View vehicles as they travelled around Australia and other countries collecting mapping information.

Homes in Newcastle, Scone, Newington, Sydney CBD and Ku-ring-gai will rely on fourth-generation wireless communications network that will use Wimax and long-term evolution (LTE) platforms.

Wimax and LTE will be used to transmit data between 200 major substations, and 12,000 smart sensors and 3000 mobile devices at 150 sites.

The utility will be able to pinpoint faults in its network and provide real-time alerts to customers on power use.

Ultimately, this could lead to lower energy consumption in homes, especially in an era of spiralling power costs.

EnergyAustralia has rolled out 800km of fibre-optic cable. The "last mile" of its network will rely on 4G technologies.

The company is rolling out the Wimax network, and LTE trials at 15 sites will begin next year, said Adrian Clark, the manager of EnergyAustralia's intelligent networks.

Better cars, less oil mean fuel tax revenue will dry up  

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The SMH has a look at the impact of peak oil on tax revenues - Better cars, less oil mean fuel tax revenue will dry up.

FUEL taxes will become an increasingly unreliable source of revenue for governments as the supply of oil diminishes and cars become more fuel-efficient, a report warns.

Transporting Australia's Future, to be published today by the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia, urges state and federal governments to raise revenue for transport infrastructure from new sources, including levies on employers and taxes on high-value land around transport hubs.

''Reliance on traditional fuel excise as the key revenue tool is internationally recognised as having limited longevity, with diminishing reserves and increased fuel efficiency curtailing revenues,'' the report says.

''An infrastructure funding regime based on fuel taxes has no sustainable future.''

The report says that while fares and tolls from transport users cover the ''aggregated costs'' of transport, governments treat these as taxes, going into general revenue. It says there is ''no accountability to transport users who are frustrated by inadequate reinvestment in transport''.

Hybrid storage melds battery, ultracapacitor  

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CNet has a post on a hybrid battery-ultracapacitor - Hybrid storage melds battery, ultracapacitor.

In the geeky world of energy storage, there are well-understood limitations to plain old batteries and to ultracapacitors, devices able to store relatively little energy but also deliver big bursts of power.

Energy storage company Ioxus on Monday plans to announce a hybrid storage device that combines the attributes of an ultracapacitor with a lithium-ion battery. In the first quarter of next year, it plans to make available a second generation of the device, which could potentially be used in auto applications, according to Ioxus CEO Mark McGough.

Its first hybrid will store more than twice the energy of traditional ultracapacitors, and charging is done on the order of seconds, rather than hours as in the case of traditional batteries, according to the company.

The device, which is about the size of a C cell battery, won't propel a plug-in electric car. But it could be used for power tools, off-grid lighting, and handheld medical devices, according to McGough.

If used in an ear probe for medical applications, for example, a doctor could fully charge the probe in 90 seconds or partially charge in 20 seconds, McGough said. The company is now providing sample to designers in different industries.

"What we've been able to do is take the fast charge/discharge of ultracapacitors and improve the energy density by designing in a lithium ion electrode and putting it all in the same device," McGough said. The device combines the activated carbon material of an ultracapacitor that stores charge and layers of lithium ion material wrapped in a cylinder form, he explained.

The trade-off to the hybrid design is that it won't have the same cycle life--or charge/discharge cycles-- as ultracapacitors. People can expect 20,000 cycles versus millions of cycles for an ultracapacitor, McGough said.

The long cycle life makes it suitable for use in places where replacing a battery would be difficult, such as off-grid lighting. Within cars, it could be used to run smaller motors, such as the ones that raise and lower power windows, in order to lighten the load and cabling from the main battery.

Announcing the New Worldchanging Book  

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WorldChanging notes that a new edition of their book will be released next year - Announcing the New Worldchanging Book!.

We are extremely pleased to be able to announce the new edition of Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, to be released this spring (and already available for discount pre-order at Powell's, Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon).

We struggled with whether to even call this book a new edition, rather than a new book: over half of the entries are new and most have been updated. While we weren't able to start completely from scratch (as in an ideal world one might when trying to cover so vast a range of topic), we do feel that we've been really successful in bringing many of the newest worldchanging ideas to the page. Bright green business, carbon neutral cities, passivhaus green building, product backstories, post-ownership, planetary futurism, green infrastructure, deep walkability, parallel collaboration, product-service systems, zero waste communities, retrofitting the ruins of the unsustainable... it's all in there. This is really, in many ways, the definitive statement of the Worldchanging solutions set (or as close as we can get).

The book comes with a foreword by Van Jones and an introduction by Bill McKibben, as well as with a detailed bibliography and index. The design, again, was created by our friend Stefan Sagmeister. We think Abrams has again made a beautiful book.

China's Coal Crisis  

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The WSJ has a look at Chinese coal production - China's Coal Crisis. I'm not much of a believer in imminent peak coal globally (or even in the next few decades - other than through a drop in demand) but Chinese resources may be constrained compared to local demand.

The idea of peak oil—the point at which global production reaches its maximum—has fixated the energy industry for years. Now, China is grappling with a new worry: peak coal.

State-run media reported that Beijing is considering capping domestic coal output in the 2011-2015 period, partly because officials worry miners are running down reserves too quickly to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding economy.

"China accounts for around 14% of global coal reserves but its share of global coal consumption is already over triple that at 47%, which is unsustainable," Hong Kong-based brokerage CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets said in a report last month.

Imposing a cap would be significant as China's mining sector is already finding it hard to keep up with domestic coal demand, which has grown around 10% annually over the past decade.

Its net coal imports exceeded 106 million metric tons in the first nine months of the year—higher than the level for 2009 as a whole—and state companies have been aggressively acquiring overseas coal assets to secure long-term supply.

In the three years to September 2010, Chinese companies spent $20.96 billion on overseas coal-sector acquisitions, according to Dealogic.

An output ceiling would also underpin regional coal prices, which are near six-month highs on expectations that China will import record volumes of coal this month and in December.

While China hasn't declared publicly it will impose a coal production cap, the idea is gathering momentum.

WikiLeaks to drop another bombshell  

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The SMH reports that Wikileaks is looking to release a new raft of Iraq war documents - WikiLeaks to drop another bombshell.

WIKILEAKS has revealed plans to publish a new tranche of secrets, this one seven times larger than last month's massive 400,000 military reports about the Iraq war.

The announcement comes days after Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for the organisation's editor, the Australian citizen Julian Assange, following a two month investigation into allegations of rape.

WikiLeaks announced on Twitter yesterday afternoon: ''Next release is 7x the size of the Iraq War Logs. Intense pressure over it for months.''

Guy Rundle at Crikey has a look at the ongoing saga in Sweden involving some dodgy criminal proceedings being discussed against Assange - Limited refuge options left for Assange. Try Cuba..
A Swedish court has issued an international arrest warrant for WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange, on charges of r-pe and misconduct that were first made several months ago. The warrant was issued on a request by Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, who re-opened the case against Assange in September, after it had been dismissed by a lower level prosecutor.

Assange, who is currently in the UK, was “remanded in absentia” on the arrest warrant. Yet the warrant is an arrest for further questioning, not a full charge for criminal trial. The prosecutor’s office said that they had no choice but to issue the arrest warrant in order to continue an investigation into the matter, claiming that Assange had refused to speak with them. Speaking through his UK lawyer Mark Stephen, Assange denied this, with Stephens saying that:
“Despite his right to silence, my client has repeatedly offered to be interviewed, first in Sweden before he left, and then subsequently in the UK (including at the Swedish Embassy), either in person or by telephone, videoconferencing or email and he has also offered to make a sworn statement on affidavit.

“All of these offers have been flatly refused by a prosecutor who is abusing her powers.”


The accusations came at a time when Assange was applying for a Swedish work and residence permit, which would permit him to be a director of incorporated bodies necessary to the process of basing WikiLeaks in Sweden, which would allow it and Assange to take advantage of journalist shield laws. The request, and the scandal, came several months after WikiLeaks released its “Afghan War Diaries”  — nearly 200,000 leaked documents from Afghan war operations, revealing a higher level of civilian casualties at allied hands than had been previously acknowledged.

Assange was refused the permit for Sweden in mid-October, based on the ongoing investigation of the r-pe charges, which had been re-opened by Ny. Since then he has spent his time between Sweden, the UK and Switzerland. On October 22, WikiLeaks released its Iraq war logs, a vast cache of more than 400,000 documents covering the war. Pre-released to The Guardian and The New York Times, the Iraq war dossier pushed the number of documented deaths in the conflict to 100,000 (up from 40,000, and indicative of vastly more), revealing graphic details of civilian deaths arising from bad policing, and casual allied violence as well as sectarian chaos.

The release prompted renewed calls from elements of the US Right for the assassination of Assange, and rumours that he would be charged under the US espionage act if they could get their hands on him. However, the release also coincided with a growing backlash against WikiLeaks and Assange in particular, with the resignation of the No.2 spokesperson, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who accused Assange of being autocratic, and suggested that others were leaving the organisation. The NYT —  or members of its pro-Iraq war faction — also published a long profile of Assange at the same time as the Iraq war dossier, essentially accusing him of being paranoid and isolated.

Assange has denied this, and claimed that a host of recruits has joined WikiLeaks. However, he also said that the group is spending 40% of its time fending off cyber attacks from the US and others. The site’s website is currently hosting only the Iraq and Afghan dossiers, with hundred of earlier leaks unavailable — a fact that some have used for evidence in the charge that WikiLeaks has become exclusively focused on the US government, while other leaks sites such as Cryptome, take material — much less interesting material, it must be said — from a wider variety of sources.

When the r-pe accusations were first aired Assange made vague remarks about US involvement in honey-trapping, though few gave this much credence. Ardin, Assange’s named accuser, was after all on the left of the social democratic party, a self-described radical feminist, who had organised Assange’s talks to the “Brotherhood”, the Christian faction of the Social Democrats.

Given that Ardin, her lawyer Claes Borgstrom, and prosecutor Ny were all heavy-hitters in Swedish gender politics, most money was on an out-of-control process becoming subject to wild a-se covering. However, some people have been more sceptical about the other complainant, who had become obsessed with Assange during his lecture tour, and acted as an unofficial photographer. “A known honeypot,” said one source.

Given the nature of the charges, many are reluctant to make explicit charges, though the Swedish libertarian left has less qualms than most, seeing a certain type of legalistic feminism as now part of official state ideology, rather than an instrument of liberation. There’s plenty of that sort of evidence for those who want it — Borgstrom was the social democratic party’s gender equality spokesperson for years, Ardin was “gender equality” officer at Uppsala University, the Oxford of Sweden, and Ny runs a prosecutor’s unit whose explicit brief is to extend the remit of s-x crime prosecution to wider areas of social life.

The missing element is the US, which has been busily re-extending its security links in Sweden after decades of being frozen out by the country’s official neutrality, and the valiant opposition of continuous Social Democratic governments to American imperialism and crimes against humanity.

But the Social Democrats just lost their second election in a row (for the first time in 80 years), indicating a decisive power shift in Sweden, to the centre-right Moderate Party. With that has come a more pro-US attitude (the Moderate Party government has enacted several entirely unnecessary “war on terror” laws in solidarity with the US) and the renewal of co-operation between US intelligence, and SAPO, the Swedish domestic spy agency.

Neither the Moderates nor SAP, nor major elements of the Social Democrats would have much interest in Assange gaining residency, because he would then benefit from the multiple and interminable legal right processes in Sweden (the ones being extended to his accusers, and which he is currently suffering from). Did they take advantage of a chaotic situation? Or even play one of the complainants (Ardin), who had three months earlier posted a “guide to s-xual revenge” on her blog, including tips on how to use the law to wreak havoc on cheating lovers?

For his part, Assange shows no sign of going back to Sweden any time soon, and has announced that he may sue the Swedish government — something he could easily do in the European Court of Human Rights. International human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson told Crikey in September that he thought Assange had an excellent case, and that he would be happy to help Assange out in these matters. Robertson also urged the Australian government to “carpet” the Swedish ambassador over the treatment of an Australian citizen. Small chance of that, but it’s high time that the Greens made an issue of it in Parliament.

The legal process has been farcical, and even if there were accusations of violence, constitute cause for objection. Given the absence of such allegations, or any allegations at all — even the complainants lawyers weren’t allowed to attend the warrant hearing, because the prosecution didn’t want to disclose its evidence — the process has been a travesty. Given the role WikiLeaks has played in challenging state power over the past three years, and the authoritarian nature of many in the Swedish elite, of left and right, you’d be a fool to stand idly by.

Tidal power: Could waves provide 10% of America's electricity?  

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The LA Times has a look at tidal power in the US - Tidal power: Could waves provide 10% of America's electricity?.

Last month, in the swells off Oahu, a company called Ocean Power Technologies connected a small test buoy to the power grid that serves the Marine Corps Base Hawaii. It was a first for a wave energy device in U.S. waters.

"We have demonstrated that our technology works, that it can survive in harsh ocean conditions and can deliver high-quality power to the grid," said Robert Lurie, a vice president of Ocean Power, which is based in Pennington, N.J.

Next spring, the company plans to anchor a larger power buoy in the waves off Reedsport, Ore., for further tests. The ultimate goal, Lurie said, is to build "multi-buoy wave farms" generating enough power to light 50,000 homes.

Tapping the tides is the latest niche in the search for affordable, renewable energy. Widespread use may be years off, but advocates say tides and other hydrokinetic systems, from ocean waves to free-flowing rivers, ultimately could meet up to 10% of America's electric power needs — more than hydropower dams now supply.

Pilot projects or studies are underway not only in Hawaii, but also in Washington's Puget Sound, in Alaska's Cook Inlet, off Florida, California, Oregon and Maine, in New York City's East River, along the Mississippi River and elsewhere.

"These are coastal resources, and most people live along the coasts," said Hoyt Battey, a water power expert at the U.S. Energy Department. "When you're talking about providing half the power of Alaska or Hawaii, or half the power of New York, that's significant."

For now, the technology for marine and hydrokinetic power remains in its infancy, and costs are prohibitive. Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, South Korea, China, Australia and other nations have been testing the waters for years. Commercial operations are rare.

"It's much more difficult to do things underwater than on dry land," said Robert Thresher, research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. "The water tears stuff apart. There's fish, rust, fouling … all kinds of problems."

In Washington state, the Snohomish County Public Utility District plans to install two large turbines to gather tidal data half a mile offshore and 200 feet deep in Admiralty Inlet in Puget Sound."We would hope to operate for three years and then make a decision on whether to expand," said Craig Collar, project manager.

Canada is investing $75 million for three pilot projects in the upper Bay of Fundy, home to the world's highest tides. The first test turbine weighs 400 tons, has a peak capacity of one megawatt and looks like a sunken windmill. ...

In theory, the U.S. resource is immense. Waves and currents are relatively reliable in some areas, and tides ebb and flood twice a day like clockwork. They thus are more predictable resources than wind or solar power.

Unlike wind, however, tides with sufficient range and velocity run only in the nation's northeastern and northwestern corners, mostly Maine and Washington, plus Alaska. Waves are consistently high only on the Pacific coast north of Point Conception, Calif., and in Hawaii.

Several developments suggest a surge of U.S. interest, however.The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reported this month that it has issued 140 hydrokinetic preliminary permits for proposals to tap tides, waves or river currents, up from a handful a few years ago. In many cases, officials said, applicants are staking claims in case the technology takes off.

Fair Game  

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I went and saw a movie on the Valerie Plame affair earlier in the week which I quite enjoyed (reliving some of those old moments loathing the Bush gang when they were in office) even if Sean Penn was a little random in his portrayal of Joe Wilson at times - Fair Game.

Geothermal hot spots  

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The Climate Spectator has an update on events in the geothermal energy industry in Australia - Geothermal hot spots.

Geodynamics has completed the first stage of its crucial fracture stimulation at the Jolokia well in the Cooper Basin, but it hasn’t been able to decide yet whether the results are good news or bad. The Jolokia wells are important to ascertain the extent of the hot dry rock resource in the Cooper Basin – a successful result would indicate that up to 6500MW of emissions-free, baseload energy capacity could be brought to the grid over the next 10 to 15 years.

However, the two fracture tests conducted at 4400m and 4700m – the deepest ever in Australia – indicated different geological behaviour to its Habanero well, with the fractures in the super-heated granite at a steeper angle and needing higher pressure to create a flow. On the plus side, the flow rate increased three-fold during the testing.

“Nature is what nature is,” said Geodynamics CEO Jack Hamilton. “Now we’ve got to take the results away and analyse what that actually means.” The most likely conclusion is that further stimulations will be required before the company can conclude that it can stick a commercial heat exchanger at the location and generate energy. “We are not there yet,” Hamilton admitted.

Meanwhile, the company’s giant rig is moving to the so-called Innamincka “shallows”, where its partner in the “deeps”, Origin Energy, will conduct drilling in the hope of identifying a commercial resource in the nearby hot sedimentary aquifers, which are only 2000-3000m deep and less hot, but also less technically challenging. The partners believe that, if drilling is successful, this resource is likely to be brought to commercial operation sooner than the deeps. Geodynamics will resume drilling at the Habanero 4 well next year, with the hope of installing a 1MW pilot plant to power the village of Innamincka installed in early 2012.

Greener pastures

Greenearth Energy has struck an agreement with aluminium giant Alcoa that could be pivotal for the development of its Geelong geothermal project. The memorandum of intent announced on Monday, and negotiated over several years, will allow Greenearth to site its production wells and generating plant on or near Alcoa’s coal mining leases, plug into Alcoa infrastructure to gain connection to the grid, and secure an off-take agreement.

Greenearth managing director Mark Miller described the MOI as a “tremendous outcome” for the company and could help it overcome significant hurdles, not least of these being financing for the proof of concept, and demonstration phases, when it will build a 12MW energy plant. “This is not a financial deal but it should make financing easier down the track,” Miller said.

Miller said he viewed the MOI with Alcoa as a further endorsement of the potential of Greenearth’s project to deliver zero emissions, base load renewable energy to the state. It hopes drilling can go ahead in the second half of 2011, with production possible in late 2012. Alcoa says it has cut emissions from its Victoria operations by 60 per cent over the last two decades and its agreement with Greenearth is part of its “big picture” response to climate change.

Unilever unveils ambitious long term sustainability programme  

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The Guardian reports that Unilever are looking to make their large range of consumer goods a little more environmentally friendly - Unilever unveils ambitious long term sustainability programme.

Consumer goods group Unilever will today unveil an ambitious new sustainability plan that aims to double sales and halve the environmental impact of its products over the next 10 years.

The initiative will cover not just Unilever's greenhouse gas emissions, waste and water use – but the impact caused by its suppliers and consumers, from agricultural growers to the packaging and waste water produced by consumers of Unilever brands, which include Dove, Persil, Bertolli, Flora and PG Tips.

"More than two thirds of greenhouse emissions and half the water in Unilever products' lifecycle come from consumer use," said the company, "so this is a commitment on an unprecedented scale."

The Anglo-Dutch group also intends to improve the nutritional quality of its food products – with cuts in salt, saturated fats, sugar and calories – and link more than 500,000 smallholder farmers and small scale distributors in developing countries to its supply chain.

The group's new Sustainable Living Plan – to be launched simultaneously in London, Amsterdam, Delhi and New York – is the result of 12 months' planning. Chief executive Paul Polman told the Guardian that the plan was essential because "continuing to increase our environmental impacts as we grow our business is not viable".

He said he was "decoupling" growth from the group's environmental aims and that the changes constituted a "new business model".

Polman said it was essential that companies took responsibility for the damage they are doing to the planet as concerned consumers were starting to "vote with their wallets on responsible products".

"Consumers want more", he said. "They see food shortages, malnutrition and climate change, and governments are not addressing those problems. Companies that do this will get a competitive advantage. Those that do not will put themselves at risk."

Tidal energy testing completed successfully  

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Polizeros has a post on a successful tidal power test - Tidal energy testing completed successfully.

Neptune Renewable Energy Ltd announces that it has successfully completed a series of rigorous in-water tests on the multi-million pound full-scale demonstrator of its world-leading Proteus NP1000 tidal stream power generator. A key landmark in the testing process was the powering-up and generation of electricity as proof of the commercial potential of the device’s power curve.

A huge advantage of tidal power is that while the power isn’t steady, it is completely reliable and you know exactly when the power will be generated.

High Speed Rail - Europe and the American Election  

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Bit Tooth Energy has a look at developments in high speed rail in Europe and the US - High Speed Rail - Europe and the American Election.

It was President Obama who famously said, after the 2008 vote that “Elections have Consequences.” Well two years later that dictum still applies (as it will two years from now). I bring it up since (h/t to Luis) the European Commission has just released a report on High Speed Rail which gives some of the progress that has been achieved on that continent since the first high speed line was inaugurated between Florence and Rome in 1977, though it was not until the service between Paris and Lyon in 1981 that the boom began. And now Europe has 3,861 miles of high-speed lines where trains can travel at faster than 150 mph (the fastest is over 220 mph in commercial service, 350 mph in trials). The inter-continental service is continuing to grow, though to facilitate progress the EU is seeking to develop common technical standards across the network. Unfortunately, after Tuesday, the prognosis is not that favorable to the change in the United States.

It will be a considerable boon in Europe, as expansion continues. Spain, for example, is planning on expanding the network so that 90% of the inhabitants are within 30 miles of a station. The results can be seen with the reduction in travel times between major cities. (And remember that the stations generally lie in the heart of the city, not an hour or so away as many airports now are).

It becomes faster, and more efficient, as well as (speaking personally) less physically tiring, to travel increasingly great distances in Europe by train, in contrast both with air and car. As a result, the report notes:
The advantages of HSLs, in terms of frequent connections (which can easily be modified depending on demand) and flexibility for passengers, have allowed the railways to compete more effectively against other modes of transport. Since 1997, over 6 million passengers a year have been using the Brussels–Paris HSL. As a result, flights have been cut back on this route.

Overall the growth in traffic has been a six-fold increase in usage.
Since high-speed lines were introduced, the number of passengers opting for this mode of transport has constantly increased. The number of passengers on all German, Belgian, Spanish, French, Italian and British lines increased from 15.2 billion passenger-kilometres (bpkm) in 1990 to 92.33 billion in 2008.

In looking at door-to-door travel times, the report chart shows that air becomes faster than conventional rail at a travel distance (in Europe) of around 240 miles, while air does not become faster than high speed lines until a distance of about 500 miles. I start to think about flying instead of driving at a distance of around 300 miles.

At the present time those dealing with the anticipated growth of the network over the next ten years have not, I suspect, taken into consideration the changing fuel availabilities of the next decade. If, as is a reasonable possibility, crude oil pops over $100 in the next year, thereby drawing increasing attention to the coming of Peak Oil, then it is likely that demand for improved rail traffic will likely rise significantly beyond the 25% increase in growth that has been projected. As I have noted before, trains in Europe are becoming increasingly full, at current rates of demand, even in off-peak hours. In the shorter term, as the report notes, train transport may also be helped by the increasing saturation of existing airports with flights. But it also leads to the problems of using rail to transport goods as well as people. These services have different imperatives, and so the report concludes that two separate systems will evolve. ...
Although the environmental impact of HSLs can also be reduced by improving the energy efficiency of trains and working on other elements of the vehicle, the carbon foot- print of rail travel is still much smaller than that of air or road travel. In the case of a journey from Paris to Marseilles, CO2 emissions in grams per passenger-kilometre (g/pkm) are just 2.7 g/pkm by HS train, compared with 153.0 g/pkm by air and 115.7 g/pkm by car. From the point of view of energy efficiency, HSTs also perform better, using 12.1 grams of petrol per passenger-kilometre, compared with 17.6 for conventional trains, 18.3 for a coach, 29.9 for a car and 51.5 for an aircraft.

So how does this tie into the first paragraph? Well in the United States, and a part of the Stimulus from the Federal Government, high speed lines had been proposed, with funding from Washington. However, with the election of Republican governors in several states due to receive that money, the plans may have to change. The new governor of Wisconsin, for example, has vowed to kill the high-speed line between Madison and Milwaukee. This was meant to be part of a network that would run from Chicago to Minneapolis, and stopping the project will likely cost the state money and jobs – but as a top campaign issue it is likely something the Governor-elect may have to follow up on.

Similarly in Ohio, the incoming Governor, John Kasich has said that “Passenger rail is dead in Ohio.” In this case he was discussing the $400 million plan to restart passenger service between Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

Work on the high-speed Florida link has already started, this is expected to carry up to two million folk a year from Tampa to Orlando or back, by 2015. It was not favored by Rick Scott who was just elected Governor of the State, though some of his opposition may come from the investment needed to extend the link from Orlando down to Miami. However the incoming Chair of the House Transportation Committee has already spoken out against it.

On the other hand the fate of the investment in a high-speed link in California has not been changed by the election. The backbone of that system, the 500 miles from LA to San Francisco is planned for completion by 2020.

Plastic gets organic  

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The SMH has a look at the progress being made by bioplastic company Plantic - Fantastic as plastic gets organic.

A revolution in green packaging is being launched from a head office in Altona, as leading British retailer Marks & Spencer has announced that this Christmas its entire Swiss chocolate range will be sold in an innovative Australian company's biodegradable plastic trays.

Plantic Technologies' cutting-edge bioplastic, also called plantic, is made from starch and is not only 100 per cent compostable but also completely dissolves in running water.

It's a pretty neat trick, which has enabled the company founded in 2003 to open sales offices in Germany, Britain and the US, and employ about 50 people worldwide. The global biodegradable plastic packaging market it wants a slice of is estimated by British analyst Visiongain to be worth $US1.6 billion this year.

Helen Roberts, head of packaging at Marks & Spencer, says: ''This is a fantastic step forward for food packaging. We know our customers really want to be responsible, and using plantic means they can enjoy a delicious box of chocolates without the worry of what to do with the leftover tray - they can just throw it on their compost heap.'' ...

Plantic's technology, which involves the use of industrial starch with film-forming properties, was developed from research into plastics by an Australian federal government-funded research group, the Co-operative Research Centre for International Food Manufacture and Packaging Science, involving experts at Swinburne University, the University of Queensland and the CSIRO.

Morris says the research was built on Australia's ability to add value to agricultural crops. ''We don't take the whole crop,'' he says.

''When our starch is produced we take a portion: another portion goes to animal feed; another to compost or fertiliser, so the whole crop is used. There's no waste.''

The fact that the strain of corn used is non-genetically modified has been a big plus in the European market, while the company has also recently expanded its US presence, signing an exclusive distribution deal with Klockner Pentaplast, which is one of the world's leading manufacturers of rigid plastics.

GreenBiz.com has an article looking at some of the characteristics of various bioplastics - The Material Facts About Bioplastics.
Our recent webcast, "A New Life for Plastics: End-of-life Solutions in the Age of Greener Materials," drew a sizeable audience -- and a sizeable number of questions. We only were able to address a handful of them during the webcast, so we asked the three participants -- William Hoffman, environmental scientist in green chemistry at UL Environment; Robert Whitehouse, Director of Applications Development for Metabolix, Inc., a leading bioplastics company; and Kelly Lehrmann, consultant with the German bioplastics firm FKuR -- to respond to some of the remaining questions.

Here are their thoughts on the benefits of bioplastics, the differences among various biobased plastics, the role of municipal waste agencies in creating a composting infrastructure, and other things. ...

What is the best benefit from a bioplastic: the biodegradability or the renewable source reducing the carbon footprint?

William Hoffman: Not all bioplastics are biodegradable. Braskem (Green PE) and PolyOne (ReSound) both produce biobased materials which are not biodegradable. Ultimately, the "right" answer to this question would depend on the application for which the material is designed (and the end-of-life associated with that application). Let's say the material is to be used in a durable application, perhaps an appliance housing where that part needs to last the life of the appliance (approximately 10 years), then biodegradability is not an ideal characteristic. On the other hand, if the material is used in a disposable packaging application, biodegradability would be a desirable characteristic of the end-product since so much single-use plastic packaging end up in landfills.

Robert Whitehouse: The best benefit is a bioplastic that is both biobased and biodegradable. As an example, Mirel™ bioplastics is made from annually renewable resources, corn sugar, and is biodegradable in a wide range of environments including natural soil and water environments, in home and industrial compost facilities where available, and anaerobic digestion. The combination of biobased and biodegradable helps to reduce reliance on petroleum and can help to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills or incineration.

What about anaerobic degradation in a closed landfill?

WH: Once a landfill is closed, the conditions that encourage biodegradation – recirculating leachate, which carry microbes and elevated moisture levels are removed. Indeed, closed landfills resemble the "dry tombs" that William Rathje studied in his Garbage Project in the 1970s.

RW: Landfills are typically unmanaged with regard to microbial activity and so degradation is very difficult to predict. Managed anaerobic degradation facilities typically take from 20 to 50 days for organic carbon conversion.

Turbines Could Tap the Mississippi's Power  

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Technology Review has a look at a proposal to tap the Mississippi river for hydro power - Turbines Could Tap the Mississippi's Power.

Tens of thousands of turbines anchored to the bottom of the Mississippi River could someday provide more than a gigawatt of renewable energy, enough to power a quarter of a million homes. That's the vision of Free Flow Power, a startup based in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that recently received preliminary permits from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granting it the right to explore energy production at dozens of sites along the lower Mississippi over the next three years.

The proposed development is one of a number of "hydrokinetic" projects in the works. Such projects seek to generate electricity from wave movement, tidal flows, or river currents, without the use of dams.

The ambitious Mississippi project, however, relies on relatively unproven technology. The only commercial hydrokinetic river-power system operating in the U.S. is a single turbine deployed by Hydro Green Energy close to a conventional hydropower dam on the Mississippi River in Hastings, Minnesota.

Free Flow hopes to deploy hydrokinetic power on an unprecedented scale: hundreds of 40-kilowatt turbines, each the size and shape of a large jet engine and attached to pylons jutting out from the riverbed at 88 locations along the Mississippi.

Although most companies developing hydrokinetic technology have focused on tidal or wave energy, Free Flow's chief financial officer, Henry Dormitzer, argues that river power has distinct advantages. "The water flows in one direction, it doesn't have salt in it, and, in the case of the Mississippi, people have spent 100 years tracking water flows and velocities," he says. ...

A 2007 study by the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, predicted that the U.S. could develop three gigawatts of hydrokinetic power from rivers by 2025. That's the equivalent of roughly two new nuclear power plants. "There is no question the potential for hydrokinetic river power is huge, but this industry is so young, it's very hard to say how economically viable it will be," says Andrea Copping, a senior program manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Sequim, Washington.

Collapsus: What Energy Collapse Might Look Like  

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TreeHugger has a look at some peak oil doomerism converted to a transmedia experience - What Energy Collapse Might Look Like (Video).

When I interviewed my friend Tim Toben, he argued that one of the most important things we can do is to "tell the story about the transformation from a world powered by fossil fuels to a world powered by renewable energy -- in poetry, music, art, dance. Make it real for people who can't imagine their way out of the hole we find ourselves in." I've just come across a fascinating multimedia (or transmedia, apparently) project that aims to do just that. The only trouble is, it makes for some pretty bleak viewing.

Collapsus, which was directed by Tommy Pallotta—the producer of Scanner Darkly and Waking Life—is described by its makers as "a new experience in transmedia storytelling". Combining traditional documentary footage with animation, mini-games and movie fragments, the audience is invited to participate by making decisions to try to avoid future blackouts and create a more livable future.

Based around the lives of ten young people around the Globe, the story is set in a world of falling energy supplies, economic disruption and civil unrest. I must admit, the medium is an interesting one—but a brief exploration suggests the message being presented is pretty bleak. I don't want to repeat my arguments about the futility of disasterbation, or the dangers of Mayan prophecy, but I can't help but wish for a slightly more empowering vision.

Of course with IEA insiders talking about inflated oil stats, and secret Government talks warning of imminent peak oil, there is undoubtedly plenty of evidence out there to suggest that a disasterous peak oil scenario is not out of the question. What worries me, however, is that as regular documentaries give way to these transmedia projects aimed at "the connected generation" (not sure what that term says about the rest of us), there is a danger that the choice of medium will inevitably warp the message—there's a reason why so many video games involve violent destruction.

Collapsus Walkthrough from SubmarineChannel on Vimeo.

Gas drilling goes ahead in Sydney without any checks  

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The SMH has a report on controversy surrounding coal seam gas exploration in the Sydney suburbs - Gas drilling goes ahead without any checks. The ABC and The Australian have more.

The state government does not conduct any environmental assessment of exploration drilling for gas into coal seams despite increasing concern about its impact on aquifers and water supplies.

Documents tabled last week in Parliament show the government has little understanding of the possible environmental impact of coal seam gas exploration wells that are being drilled.

The Sun-Herald disclosed at the weekend that the government has approved plans by an exploration company to drill a well searching for gas in St Peters. Neither Marrickville Council nor City of Sydney council had been advised of the plans.
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Exploration drilling is being carried out for gas trapped in coal seams from the far north of NSW, around Casino, to around Gunnedah in the north-west, Singleton in the Hunter Valley and around Camden, south-west of Sydney. Coal gas methane is already extracted already at a number of sites on the southern coalfields around Appin, and at West Cliff, north of Wollongong.

Environmental concerns centre on the need to inject water and special chemicals, so-called fracking fluids, under pressure into many of the wells to force gas to the surface.

Among the tabled documents, an email by senior officials within the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water makes it clear the department has no knowledge of what is occurring, since it has no say in exploration activities.

''The majority of sites that use fracking currently are operating under exploration licences regulated solely by [Department of Industry and Investment]'', which had no environmental or scientific expertise, the departmental officer noted.

The SMH also has an article on Gasland's Josh Fox and the problems associated with fracking fluids - Fracking hell: Busting the natural gas myth.
American theatre director Josh Fox didn’t set out to make a film, much less star in one. But when he received a letter offering him $100,000 in exchange for allowing some natural gas wells to be sunk on his farm in a pristine river valley in Pennsylvania, he decided to ask around. What he discovered was shocking — and, he insists, of more than passing relevance to Australians as we embark on a future in which natural gas is touted as a ‘‘clean’’ alternative to oil and coal.

Fox found that, across the US, there are more than 500,000 natural gas wells, many of them on private property and many of them tapped using a process called ‘‘hydraulic fracturing’’, or ‘‘fracking’’, as it is colloquially known. In this, a hole is drilled hundreds of metres down and a mix of highly toxic chemicals and water is pumped down that hole under pressure, forcing the rock base to crack, thereby releasing the natural gas trapped in it.

The problem is, about one-third of the water mix stays below ground, and in many of the sites Fox visits in his documentary, this residue has leached into the water supply, as has the gas itself. Where that’s happened, people can’t drink the water that comes out of their taps any more; in some cases there’s so much gas coming out they can set their water alight.

‘‘This is a huge issue because once you’ve contaminated an aquifer you can’t go back,’’ says Fox, who has been in Australia to promote his film, Gasland. ‘‘It’s almost impossible to clean an aquifer, so your standard for drinking water should be ‘no risk’. Not ‘risk balanced with energy’, or ‘risk balanced with industry’, just ‘no risk’. Period.’’

Kjell Aleklett touring Australia  

Posted by Big Gav

TOD ANZ has a somewhat late post noting that ASPO President Kjell Aleklett is touring the country - Kjell Aleklett touring Australia.

Professor Kjell Aleklett, President of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and head of the Global Energy Systems group at Uppsala University is on a tour of Australia.

Public events:

* 27th October, Whitlam Institute, University of Western Sydney 4-6 pm, "Resource Depletion - The Tie That Binds Peak Oil & Food Security"
* 5th November, Brisbane Institute, 12pm, Sustainable Transport
* 12th November, University of Sydney, 6pm "The Peak of the Oil Age: Declining world oil production will halt economic growth."
* 24th November, University of Melbourne, Prince Phillip Theatre, 6-8pm. (Sponsored by Melbourne Uni GAMUT with additional presentation from your local TOD-ANZ editor Phil Hart.)

More details available on the ASPO-Australia website.

Our American buddy has gone missing on climate change  

Posted by Big Gav in

Paddy Manning at the SMH has a look at global global warming politics, saying "The US is ruining the planet and Australia is just as culpable. " - Our American buddy has gone missing on climate change.

NO WE can't. This decade was definitely our last chance to stop dangerous climate change, if it wasn't too late already, but when Sarah Palin chirps to Fox News that ''cap and tax'' (her derisory term for a US emissions trading scheme) is ''off the table'', she means it.

Her Big Oil-funded Tea Party movement has ruined the possibility of meaningful global action on climate and when federal opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt crows about that he should be utterly ashamed. Another wet used up, like Philip Ruddock.

True, the writing was on the wall before the US mid-terms - even if you took a glass-half-full approach to the outcome of last year's Copenhagen climate summit.

In July, after the limited Kerry-Lieberman climate bill was voted down in the US Senate, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called 2010, which was shaping up to be the hottest year on record, ''the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died''.

''It wasn't the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change,'' he wrote. ''What was it? The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice. If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn't be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries - above all, the coal and oil industries - would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.''

But greed needed the aid of political cowardice, Krugman went on, and he laid most blame at the feet of Republican senator John McCain, a one-time sponsor of cap and trade legislation on climate.

''[McCain] reaffirmed support for such a system during his presidential campaign, and things might look very different now if he had continued to back climate action once his opponent was in the White House. But he didn't - and it's hard to see his switch as anything other than the act of a man willing to sacrifice his principles, and humanity's future, for the sake of a few years added to his political career.

''Alas, Mr McCain wasn't alone; and there will be no climate bill.''

By the end of the year, once the UN climate talks in Mexico are over, the failure will be even more glaring.

If a recalcitrant US can't hit its paltry 17 per cent (on 2005 levels) by 2020 emissions reduction target, it would be all but impossible for the rest of the world to make up the slack, let alone limit warming to 2 degrees. The world's only response would be a climate-driven trade war and God knows where that would lead.

Australia's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, makes two points: ''First, it is not clear that the loss of control of the Senate by the Obama administration means the end of prospects for meeting Copenhagen commitments. It has been clear for some time that there were no prospects of a cap-and-trade bill surviving both houses of Congress. That has given rise to renewed focus on federal and state regulatory powers, which are being used vigorously. These are much more expensive, but they look like being pushed a long way. This adds to stimulus to low emissions technologies provided by federal expenditure, and to the effects of a sluggish economy on emissions. And the Copenhagen targets are about 2020 not 2012 or 2016.

''Second, the prospects are poor for effective global mitigation if the US does not in the end make a credible effort to meet the Copenhagen targets.''

That's being polite. Reasonable people have been trying to promote a win-win-win outcome. Developing countries get a chance to improve their standard of living by using cheap energy from fossil fuels a while longer. The rich countries responsible for the greatest share of emissions - historically and per capita - transition to cleaner but more expensive energy sources, because they can afford to. The climate we know gets half a chance. On a bullish view, given human ingenuity, it's hard but doable. We understand the problem and we have the solutions. It's not like trying to end poverty, or usher in world peace. It wasn't about the overthrow of democracy or capitalism.

It was a way forward that would hopefully have avoided the untold costs of global warming.

But no, we have seen the US fight tooth and nail so they can continue to pollute at record levels without paying higher domestic energy bills and everybody else can go hang.

This is inexcusable, unforgivable selfishness and it will not be forgotten, especially by the world's poor, including in our region, who will disproportionately bear the consequences.

Australia has been equally culpable, but wants to pretend it's a bit player. As the world's 15th-largest greenhouse gas emitter and the largest coal exporter, we are becoming a target. We had better decide which side our bread's buttered and a strategy of forever lining up with a destructive America seems foolhardy.

Victoria Government Rules Out Water Smart Meters  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Smart Meters.com reports that the Victorian government doesn't have the courage to rollout smart meters for water, following resistance to their electricity smart metering program - Victoria Government Rules Out Water Smart Meters, Despite Test.

Victoria, Australia will not be introducing water smart meters for household use after receiving a voter backlash against smart electricity meters, even though it conducted a test program in the southeastern suburbs. "Our Government will not be rolling our smart water meters for households in Victoria," stated Water Minister Tim Holding.

The State Government was looking to expand the bungled smart electricity meter system to cover water use as well, even though there were concerns that the system is useful for retail companies but causes household bills to rise.

Before ruling out the meter deployment, the Government conducted a trial by offering South East Water’s residential customers a $50 Myer voucher to participate, according to the Herald Sun.

Before the scrapping of this plan, there were revelations that residential smart electricity consumers will have to pay up to $285 per year just for having the meter. Electricity distributors have permission to recover smart meter installation costs directly from residential consumers.

To counter the customer concerns about bills, the Government-hired consultants gave the cynical suggestion of having a monthly billing period instead of a quarterly.
According to the Marchment Hill Consulting report for the Government, implementation of the water smart meter system will help water companies to reduce costs but it may not be able to reduce water price.

The smart meter system will give more control to households regarding water use management, however, it may cause "bill shock," says the report.

The water bill that an average household pays annually is already expected to reach $1000 this year with recovery process starting for the $3.5 billion Wonthaggi Desalination Plant.

Sydney Bicycle Film Festival 2010  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Local readers might like to check out this years Syndey bike bilm festival, starting on Wednesday - Bicycle Film Festival.

Brendt Barbur, Founding Festival Director, was compelled to start the Bicycle Film Festival when he was hit by a bus while riding his bike in New York City. He insisted on turning his negative experience into a positive one. In 2001 Barbur started the Bicycle Film Festival as a platform to celebrate the bicycle through music, art and, of course, film.

The Bicycle Film Festival has been a major catalyst for the urban bike movement, one of the most powerful and culturally relevant forces of the last decade. The BFF is sure to carry this momentum into the next decade.

IEA sees oil supply peak looming, ups price view  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Reuters has a report on the latest IEA world energy outlook, which is starting to accept that the peak of crude oil production could have already occurred as a real possibility - IEA sees oil supply peak looming, ups price view. The Oil Drum has a summary of questionable assumptions an omissions - .

Global oil supplies will come close to a peak by 2035 when oil prices will exceed $200 a barrel, the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday, as China and other emerging economies drive demand higher.

The IEA, in its 2010 World Energy Outlook, said conventional crude oil output had already peaked and would flatten out in the next 10 years, boosting reliance on costlier and more polluting unconventional sources such as oil sands.

"Production in total does not peak before 2035, though it comes close to doing so," the IEA said in the executive summary of the report. That projection was according to the report's central case, the New Policies scenario.

The Paris-based IEA, which advises 28 industrialised countries, also raised its mid- and long-term oil price forecasts, despite slashing oil demand estimates by 2035, citing growing supply uncertainty.

Oil prices would rise even further if governments did not act to curb consumption, the IEA's chief economist and lead author of the report, Fatih Birol, told Reuters in an interview.

"The message is clear, the price will go up, especially if consuming countries do not make changes in the way they consume oil, especially in the transport sector," Birol said.

Oil hit $87.63 a barrel on Tuesday, the highest since October 2008, after hovering around $70-80 most of the year.

The world needed higher oil prices to change consuming habits substantially and spur investment as markets were becoming less sensitive to price changes, Birol said.

A key passage from page 125 of the report itself :
Public debate about the future of oil tends to focus on when conventional crude oil production is likely to peak and how quickly it will decline as resource depletion passes a certain point. Those who argue that an oil peak is imminent base their arguments largely on the indisputable fact that the resource base is finite. It is held that once we have depleted half of all the oil that can ever be recovered, technically and economically, production will enter a period of long-term decline.

What is often missing from the debate is the other side of the story — demand — and the key variable in the middle — price. How much capacity is available to produce oil at any given moment depends on past investment. Decisions by oil companies on how much and where to invest are influenced by a host of factors, but one of the most important is price (at least relative to cost). And price is ultimately the result of the balance between demand and supply (setting aside short-term fluctuations that may have as much to do with financial markets than with oil-market fundamentals). In short, if demand rises relative to supply capacity, prices typically rise, bringing forth more investment and an expansion of capacity, albeit usually with a lag of several years.

Another misconception is that the amount of recoverable oil is fixed. The amount of oil that was ever in the ground — oil originally in place, to use the industry term — certainly is a fixed quantity, but we have only a fairly vague notion of just how big that number is. But, critically, how much of that volume will eventually prove to be recoverable is also uncertain, as it depends on technology, which will certainly improve, and price, which is likely to rise: the higher the price, the more oil can be recovered profitably. An increase of just 1% in the average recovery factor at existing fields would add more than 80 billion barrels to recoverable resources (IEA, 2008). So, the chances are that the volume of resources that prove to be recoverable will be bigger than the mean estimate we use to project production, especially since that estimate does not include all areas of the world. Even if conventional crude oil
production does peak in the near future, resources of NGLs and unconventional oil are, in principle, large enough to keep total oil production rising for several decades.

Clearly, global oil production will peak one day. But that peak will be determined by factors on both the demand and supply sides. We project a peak before 2020 in the 450 Scenario. In the New Policies Scenario, production in total does not peak before 2035, though it comes close to doing so, conventional crude oil production in that scenario holding steady at 68-69 mb/d over the entire projection period and never attaining its all-time peak of 70 mb/d in 2006. In other words, if governments put in place the energy and climate policies to which they have committed themselves, as we assume in this scenario, then our analysis suggests that crude oil production has probably already peaked.

If governments act vigorously now to encourage more efficient use of oil and the development of alternatives, then demand for oil might begin to ease quite soon and we might see a fairly early peak in oil production. That peak would not be caused by any resource constraint. But if governments do nothing or little more than at present, then demand will continue to increase, the economic burden of oil use will grow, vulnerability to supply disruptions will increase and the global environment will suffer serious damage. The peak in oil production will come then not as an invited guest, but as the spectre at the feast.


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