The population timebomb is a myth  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Independent has an article from Dominic Lawson, declaring "The population timebomb is a myth".

The human appetite for bad news knows no bounds. That is why gossip is usually malicious and why, on a grander scale, prophets of doom are always guaranteed a credulous audience. Conversely, good news – however well attested – is generally squeezed in the margins of newspapers.

For example, The Independent buried in a few paragraphs a story with the headline "Population growth not a threat, say engineers". But at least The Independent found some space to cover the publication of a report last week by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers entitled Population: One Planet, Too Many People? – I could find nothing about it in other newspapers.

The reason for that distinct lack of column inches is that the institution answered its own question in the negative. No, there are not (and will never be) too many people for the planet to feed. As the report's lead author, Dr Tim Fox, pointed out, its verdict is not based on speculative guesses about the development of new agricultural processes as yet unknown: "We can meet the challenge of feeding a planet of 9 billion people through the application of existing technologies". For example, Dr Fox pointed out, in Africa, no less than half the food produced is destroyed before it reaches its local marketplace: with refrigeration and good roads, the developing world could avoid this horrendous waste.

Interestingly, another detailed report on "sustainability" published last week by the French national agricultural and development research agencies came up with the same answer. The French scientists set themselves the goal of discovering whether a global population of 9 billion, the likely peak according to the UN, could readily have access to 3,000 calories a day, even as farms take measures to cut down on the use of fossil fuels and refrain from cutting down more forests: their answer was, you will be thrilled to know, "yes".

Some people will not be so thrilled. There is an increasingly noisy claque of Malthusians who insist that an "exploding" global population (as they put it) is going to lead to disaster – from Boris Johnson to Joanna Lumley, not to mention Jeremy Irons and Prince Charles. For example, last weekend The Independent published a lengthy interview with the Bermuda-based philanthropist James Martin, who has given Oxford University $125m to set up a forecasting institute in his name. Mr Martin's own forecast is that "by mid-century we're going to be using the term 'giga-famine', meaning a famine where more than a billion people will die, a catastrophe on a scale that's never been known before on Earth."

Martin sounds uncannily like Paul Ehrlich, the secular saint of the neo-Malthusian movement. Back in the 1970s, Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb became a global best-seller on the back of his forecast that by the end of the century even the United States would be enduring mass famine and that there was no better than a 50 per chance of anyone remaining alive in Great Britain by the year 2000. You might have thought that events would have discredited Ehrlich as a forecaster, but he is still constantly cited as an authority by the population control freaks, and is himself remarkably unbothered by the fact that agricultural techniques had rapidly developed in a way which he was unable to envisage. Asked in 2000 about his prediction of a wipe-out of the UK by famine, he replied: "If you look closely at England, what can I tell you? They're having all kinds of problems just like everybody else." If his original forecast had merely been that "The world – including Britain – will have all kinds of problems", I somehow doubt he would have found a publisher.

One reason why the population doomsters have come out in force in recent weeks is that, according to the UN Population Division, this year will see the number of living inhabitants hit the figure of 7 billion; or according to an imaginative piece of global palm-reading by The Guardian: "Later this year, on 31 October to be precise, a boy will be born in a rural village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. His parents will not know it, but his birth will prove to be a considerable landmark for our species as his arrival will mark the moment when the human population reaches 7 billion."

Or it might not; but we get the drift: lacking only the prognosticated presence of three wise men from the East, this is a Big Moment. It's also not a bad moment, either for the parents (they'll probably be delighted it's a boy) or for the planet. While the misanthropic Malthusians will gloomily see his arrival as just "another mouth to feed", he might more charitably be seen as another human whose ingenuity, creativity and intellect can be of benefit to the world.

As a matter of fact the population doom-sayers among the media and showbusiness are becoming more fashionable just as the experts are coming round to the view that it has all been one giant false alarm. This year National Geographic magazine is making population its theme; but its lengthy opening essay was notable for its lack of alarmism. It quoted Hania Zlotnik, the director of the UN's Population Division, saying: "We still don't understand why fertility has gone down so fast in so many societies, so many cultures and religions. It's just mind-boggling. At this moment, much as I want to say there's still a problem of high fertility rates, it's only about 16 per cent of the world's population, mostly in Africa."

The most fashionable of all arguments for some sort of global anti-natalist legislation comes in the form of professed concern for the atmosphere – too many people produce too much CO2, thus damaging the planet via climate change. The Malthusians have seized on this as grist to their mill, having been refuted on every other argument. Yet Joel Cohen, the professor of populations at Columbia University's Earth Institute, told National Geographic: "Those who say the whole problem is population are wrong. It's not even the dominant factor."

Apart from anything else, the developed world, which uses vastly more energy per capita than sub-Saharan Africa (the only part of the globe with high fertility rates), is going through a period of rapid demographic decline. As Matt Ridley, the author of The Rational Optimist, pointed out last week, the world's population is not "exploding" but growing at 1 per cent a year, and the actual number of people added to the figure each year has been dropping for more than 20 years.

Still, morbid pessimism about the ability of the Earth to support its population has always been with us. In AD200, Tertullian wrote: "We are burdensome to the world; the resources are scarcely adequate for us." Of course, the resources of the planet are not, in the purely mathematical sense, infinite; but neither is the population.

A Long Bet on Peak Travel  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Long Now has a post on a bet on the advent of "peak travel" - Long Bet on Peak Travel.

One of the miracles of the modern world is our capacity for getting around – hop on a plane, nap a few hours, and you’re on the other side of a continent! Technologically enabled, we’ve embraced this ability with gusto and are currently more mobile a species than ever before. But, according to a pair of Stanford researchers, the industrialized world is mellowing on this trend a bit. They claim that travel in several countries may have peaked earlier this decade:
A study of eight industrialized countries, including the United States, shows that seemingly inexorable trends — ever more people, more cars and more driving — came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices. It could be a sign, researchers said, that the demand for travel and the demand for car ownership in those countries has reached a saturation point.


A Long Bet placed in 02005 hinted at this potential, though it imagined a more dire mechanism: peak oil. While the necessary statistics to certify Long Bet 197 won’t be published for some time yet, they’ll come from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics and tell us whether highway vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. for 02010 exceeded those of 02005. The Bet is that they’ll actually be lower – essentially that Americans collectively drove less in 02010 than in 02005.

The scenario imagined by predictor Daniel Simon in 02005 was that an energy crisis brought on by peak oil production would push up the cost of personal motor vehicle travel enough to halt or reverse its growth. Glen Raphael was doubtful enough to put up the money for a Bet and explained he expected growth to continue. Read their full arguments at Long Bets.

According to the BTS table they provided as a reference for adjudication, total vehicle miles travelled in 02005 were 2,989,430. The most recent year published on that table is 02008 and it checks in at 2,973,509 – almost 20,000 miles fewer. So, we can’t finalize the Bet as of yet, but the data we’ve got is in line with the Stanford study as well as Simon’s prediction, despite a seemingly more mundane overall picture.

Check back in a year or two for the exciting conclusion! (Also, if you or someone you know works at BTS, let us know if we’ve missed more recent numbers.)

‘Cows Eat Grass’ and Other Inflammatory Statements  

Posted by Big Gav in

Utne reader has an article on the laughable state of "political correctness" in Iowa - whatever you do, don't criticise the corn god - ‘Cows Eat Grass’ and Other Inflammatory Statements.

Cows eat grass. You wouldn’t think it’s a big deal to state this, but at Iowa State University a highly qualified job applicant who had the temerity to voice this simple biological fact was ejected from consideration for a post leading a sustainable agriculture program, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

Among those who study sustainability, saying cows should eat grass is not a controversial statement. But saying so in Iowa—which grows more corn than any other state—is likely to attract attention.

Well, it sure did. Ricardo Salvador is a well-respected sustainable agriculture expert and a former professor at Iowa State—and a natural, many observers thought, to lead the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture as its new director. A finalist for the position, however, he didn’t get the post even when the top candidate turned it down. Apparently, his cow comment came back to haunt him:

The remark that may have sunk Mr. Salvador’s candidacy came 37 minutes into his on-campus presentation. While discussing a research project in New York State, he mentioned meat being “produced in the natural way that meat should be produced, which is on land suitable for grasses and perennial crops.”

If this were a TV game show, a loud buzzer would have gone off and Mr. Salvador would have been escorted from the stage that very moment. Because apparently he was supposed to say that cows should eat corn. Even if that’s not natural or sustainable, it’s simply how things are done in Iowa, a state built on big agriculture…

The danger of the truth is so great that the Chronicle couldn’t even get Wendy Wintersteen, the dean of Iowa State’s agriculture school, to go anywhere near it. When asked whether cows evolved to eat grass, she replied, “I don’t have an opinion on that statement.”

BP given permit to drill for oil off SA  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The SMH reports that BP are looking to start exploring for oil off the South Australian coast - BP given permit to drill for oil off SA.

THE company behind last year's disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP, has been granted its first Australian oil-exploration permit since the accident.

The move could pave the way for deepwater drilling.

The Deepwater Horizon well spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico beginning last April. Now the company plans to begin seismic surveys in the Great Australian Bight off South Australia from next summer with a view to drilling in 2013 or 2014.
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The Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, said yesterday that the government would impose particularly stringent conditions on BP because of last year's spill.

Although the permit gives BP the right to explore and develop any commercial oil or gas fields it finds, drilling and seismic surveys would require further environmental approval.

''This is the start of a long, extensive, drawn-out and exhaustive process,'' Mr Ferguson said. ''BP's exploration activities, and indeed those of all operators in Australia waters, will be undertaken in accordance with our stringent environmental and safety standards.''

The permits cover an area 180 kilometres off the coast at depths of 140 to 4600 metres. ...

The Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 workers when the rig exploded, is regarded as one of the worst oil spills and highlighted the risks of deepwater oil drilling.

But Mr Ferguson said oil exploration had to be encouraged to deal with the nation's $16 billion trade deficit in petroleum products. Due to dwindling reserves, the deficit is expected to widen to as much as $30 billion by 2015.

''Our energy security will be greatly enhanced by opening up new geological frontiers and reducing our dependence on imports,'' he said.

Venezuela Says Oil Reserves Surpass Saudi Arabia's  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

CNBC reports Venezuela has increased their (heavy) oil reserves figures - Venezuela Says Oil Reserves Surpass Saudi Arabia's.

Venezuela has overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world leader in oil reserves with certified deposits leaping to 297 billion barrels at the end of 2010, President Hugo Chavez's government said Saturday.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez told Reuters that the new reserves, which pushed the total 41 percent higher than the previous year, were booked in the South American OPEC member's vast Orinoco extra heavy crude belt.

A jubilant Chavez told parliament that Venezuela's reserves now surpassed those of Saudi Arabia.

"We have enough for 200 years," the former soldier said in a speech in which he denied he was a dictator, complained that he was being unfairly "demonized" and offered to give up much-criticized decree powers a year ahead of schedule.

There are suggestions that countries, including Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, have exaggerated their oil reserves in the past, though the producers deny doing so.

Some analysts point out that some OPEC members' reserves figures have not changed in years, suggesting new discoveries had exactly matched output, while others say the lack of independent verification gave rise to doubts.

OPEC said that Saudi Arabia's reserves stood at 265 billion barrels in 2009.

Saudi Arabia's advantage is that its oil is mostly light, conventional, easily-pumped crude, while the Orinoco deposits are extra heavy tar-like sour crude that must be upgraded or mixed with a lighter grade to create an exportable blend.

First Offshore Floating Turbine in Portugal  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Irish Energy News reports that Portugal is getting in to the floating wind power game - First Offshore Floating Turbine in Portugal.

The first offshore floating wind turbine is now under construction off the coast of Aguçadoura in the north of Portugal. The project involves the construction of a 2MW wind turbine prototype over the next 6 months – one of the first of its kind in southern Europe. Installation and contruction costs are estimated to amount to 4.1 million Euros per MW installed.

The technology is patented by American company Power Principle using the name “WindFloat”. It consists of a triangular floating base. The base is allowed to float through the use of three pillars, one of which houses the tower structure for the wind turbine. The structure is anchored to the seabed through the use of cables and can be installed anywhere between depths of 50 meters to several hundred meters.

The design and size of the WindFloat enables the overall structure to be assembled onshore and towed to its final location. All fabrication and qualification is completed at quayside in a controlled environment. According to Principle Power, cost savings are significant when compared with direct/fixed offshore wind turbine support structures.

Cleandxr has a compilation of some Scandinavian floating wind power designs - Seven Innovative Floating Windmill Platform Concepts.

Floating tidal power plant opened in Norway  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Renewable Energy Focus has an article on the launch of Hydra Tidal’s floating tidal power plant, Morild II, in Lofoten, Northern Norway - Floating tidal power plant opened in Norway.

The opening of the 1.5 MW tidal power plant marks the start of the planned two-year trial period for testing and verification of Morild II and the technology.

The tidal turbine blades are made of laminated wood with a diameter of 23 m.

“We know of no comparable floating tidal power plants in the world. There are smaller scale models that have been installed, but Morild II is a full-scale plant. The largest known turbine diameter of other power plants is 18 meters, and the largest installed power known to us is 1 MW. Thus we can imply with a fair amount of certainty that Morild II is the largest tidal power plant of its kind,” says the CEO of Hydra Tidal, Eivind Nydal.

Rwanda targeting 300 MW of geothermal power in next six years  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Engineering News has an article on interest in geothermal power in Rwanda (the country also has some interesting power generation potential using gas from the great lakes) - Rwanda targeting 300 MW of geothermal power in next six years .

Rwanda plans to include geothermal power in its energy mix in a bid to tackle severe electricity challenges and power its fast-expanding economy. The East African nation says it has set itself a target of generating 300 MW from geothermal sources in the next six years.

Stephen Onacha, an energy expert at Rwanda’s Ministry of Infrastructure, says that the drilling of three geothermal exploration wells, at a cost of $20-million, will start this year.

The decision to invest in geothermal energy is part of a comprehensive energy diversification programme aimed at expanding Rwanda’s installed capacity to 1 000 MW in seven years, connecting more people to the grid and driving economic growth.

The programme is expected to cost a staggering $900-million, and various financers, such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the European Union, have already committed to assisting Rwanda in the implementation of key projects, including the upgrading of the country’s dilapidated transmission and distribution infrastructure and the construction of new generation plants.

Although Rwanda is East Africa’s fastest-growing economy, with the World Bank forecasting gross domestic product growth of 7% in 2010, the country has been facing major energy challenges.

The Rwanda Electricity Corporation says the country’s installed capacity stood at a mere 69 MW in 2009, but plans are under way to increase this capacity to 130 MW by the end of next year through investments in small hydropower plants and methane gas plants. Only 6% of the population is connected to the electricity grid.

Smart Appliances On The Horizon ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Technology Review has a look at one component of the smart grid that should be moving slower than the others: smart appliances - CES: Smart Grid, Smarter Home.

It's been quite a while since appliances had any prominence at a high tech show: images of women immaculately dressed in evening gowns while demonstrating the magic of microwave oven technology at the 1964 World's Fair spring to mind. When LG discussed its new technology for fridges and washing machines alongside its smartphones and Internet-enabled TVs at its press conference on Wednesday, there were actually some sniggers from the audience. But after many years of producing essentially commodity products, appliance manufacturers are gearing up for a rejuvenated market as electrical utilities begin to roll out smart meters and homeowners are encouraged to install or upgrade to appliances that can communicate with these meters.

The ability to communicate with the meter means that these appliances can adjust their behavior as the price of electricity varies due to demand: for example, a fridge might postpone its automatic defrost cycle to an off-peak time, or a dish washer might suggest setting a delay of a couple of hours before washing its load (in the latter case, the user would have the option to override the machine's recommendation if they needed clean plates sooner rather than later.)

General Electric has developed a complete suite of smart appliances, including a fridge, dish washer, electric oven, clothes washer, dryer, and hot water heater that all have Zigbee radios for communicating either directly with a smart meter or with the company's Nucleus Energy Manager. The latter is plugged into a spare power socket. It uses Zigbee to talk with the smart meter, appliances, and any electric vehicle you might own, and communicates with users via a PC or smartphone interface over WiFi. It lets users see usage and price data, and program some parameters, such as at what electricity price point or battery charge status they would like to suspend vehicle charging (for example, if their car is 90 percent charged, they might want to stop charging at peak times, but if the battery is tapped out they probably would like to charge regardless of the price.) The water heater is already on the market, and the other appliances will be available to home owners in 2011 through utilities; mass market release is scheduled for 2012.

As the rollout of the smart gird, and therefore the value of smart meter-enabled appliances, is largely in the hands of utilities, some manufacturers, like Kenmore, are holding off on including smart grid functionality into their products, but they are already designing for it. When the smart grid gathers more momentum they expect to be able to quickly drop in the required hardware into their lines of appliances.

India set to get Asia's first tidal power plant  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Business Standard reports that Atlantis Resources is looking to build a 250 MW tidal power plant in India - India set to get Asia's first tidal power plant.

With the proposed commissioning of a 50-Mw tidal power project off the coast of Gujarat in 2013, India is ready to place its first “seamark” that will be a first for Asia as well.

London-based marine energy developer Atlantis Resources Corporation, along with Gujarat Power Corporation Ltd, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Gujarat government to start this project.

The cost for the plant is expected to be in the vicinity of Rs 750 crore. This plant is also is expected to be scaled up to 250 Mw.

Timothy Cornelius, CEO, Atlantis Resources Corporation, said with just about 2 giga watt of tidal power installations in the world today, this is a completely new and uncharted power sources with immense potential. “Tidal power today is what wind energy was 10 years back,” he said.

Due to the high investment in setting up the project, a typical tidal power project is expected to break even between 8 and 12 years after commissioning. Despite the long gestation period to make it commercially viable, tidal power has unparalleled environmental advantages.

“Tidal current power uses turbines to harness the energy contained in the flow of ocean tides. It is unique as like tidal movements, power output is highly predictable and sustainable with zero visual impact and the turbines are completely submerged. Tidal power is like putting a wind turbine subsea and the turbine rotors rotate slowly, causing very little environmental impact to marine flora and fauna,” said Cornelius.

The power offtaker would be Gujarat Power Corporation. The final cost of power per unit will be determined at the completion of front-end engineering and design (FEED) phase, but was expected to be competitive when compared to the large solar power projects planned for development in Gujarat, the company said.

The project is currently owned by Atlantis and GPCL and project equity participants will be sought at the completion of FEED phase.

Late last year, Atlantis became the turbine supplier to the largest planned marine power project in the world, MeyGen, a 378-Mw tidal power project in the Pentland Firth in Northern Scotland.

Current estimates suggest 15 per cent of the world’s power demands can be met by tidal current power sources, while the estimates for India are currently around 5 per cent of its annual demand for power.

Happy New Year  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm slowly emerging from my holiday daze - regular posting should slowly resume over the coming week or two.

While I've been relaxing, SP has been busy at TOD ANZ - recent posts include :

Coldry - Comfortable Coal? - does drying brown coal make it less dirty ?

A Peek under the tree - a summary of energy and sustainability books and reports available online from the US National Academies of Sciences.

Nearest Neighbor News - a look at Indonesian fuel subsidies.

It's a Rare Earth - a roundup of articles on rare earths.

Salty Solar Storage - describing plants about to be built using molten salt heat storage to extend or shift the generating ability of the solar thermal plant.

Planning for Oil Vulnerability - on a recent special issue of The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) journal Australian Planner titled CITIES AND OIL VULNERABILITY (Vol 47, No 4, Dec 2010).

Shed your load - on baseload power.

Solar thermal industry set to boom  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

Todd Woody at Grist has a post on a new US government report predicting a boom for the solar thermal power industry - Solar thermal industry set to boom.

This year will see a boom in large-scale solar thermal projects.Photo: International RiversThe rapidly growing photovoltaic industry has spawned thousands of jobs for people who design, make, and install rooftop solar arrays for homes and businesses. But the smaller solar thermal business is also set to boom in the United States, according to a new government report [PDF].

Solar thermal products come in all sizes -- from rooftop panels that absorb the sun's rays to heat swimming pools and provide hot water for homes to huge mirror arrays that heat liquids to create steam to drive electricity-generating turbines at solar power plants.

Employment in the solar thermal collector industry jumped 22 percent in 2009 from the previous year, said the report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The number of solar thermal companies increased by 19 percent.

It's still a small industry, with revenues in 2009 reaching $96.7 million, a 19 percent spike from the previous year. At the same time, total shipments of solar thermal products fell nearly 19 percent.

That's because swimming pool products accounted for 73 percent of the industry in '09. But that's poised to change, as developers are set to break ground on several large-scale solar thermal power plants in the desert Southwest this year.

Those projects will deploy tens of thousands of mirrors, solar troughs, and other components. California alone in recent months has licensed solar thermal plants that would generate more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity -- that will heat a whole lotta swimming pools.

German solar manufacturer Schott, for example, has built a solar thermal component factory in Arizona to supply projects in the Southwest, and other manufacturing facilities are planned for the region.

Grist also has a report on a big new solar PV plant in the strange new Chinese region of Ordos - Deal signed in big China solar project.
The world's largest photovoltaic project is finally moving forward in China.

Back in September 2009, First Solar, the Tempe, Ariz., thin-film solar module maker and developer, announced that it had struck a deal to build a massive 2,000-megawatt solar power plant complex in the Ordos region of Inner Mongolia.

Then, as often is the case when such big projects are unveiled with great fanfare, nothing much happened for a long while as the nitty-gritty financial details were worked out and First Solar grappled with Chinese bureaucracy.

But on Monday, First Solar said it had struck an agreement with the China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Company (CGN SEDC) to build the first 30-megawatt phase of the two-gigawatt project. According to the original announcement, the full project is to be completed by 201


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