A First Look Inside Masdar: Foster + Partner’s Carbon-Neutral Eco City  

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Inhabitat has some pictures from the slowly emerging city of Masdar - A First Look Inside Masdar: Foster + Partner’s Carbon-Neutral Eco City.

Foster and Partner's carbon-neutral Masdar City is springing to life in Abu Dhabi, and we recently had a chance to take a first-hand look inside this ambitious sustainable development! Just last Friday we checked out the city's first eco street fair and Organic Market -- a family affair complete with cotton candy, clowns, and princess fairies that also gave locals and visitors their first glimpse of some of the world’s most advanced architectural and cleantech developments.

Boom gathers pace as resource projects surge  

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The Australian has a report on the investment boom in resource (particularly natural gas) projects in Australia - Boom gathers pace as resource projects surge.

THE resources boom is gathering strength as companies commit to new mega-projects in Queensland and Western Australia and gear up for a massive surge in investment over the next year.
In the past six months, resource companies have given firm commitments to 33 new projects worth a combined $43.9 billion, led by investments in coal-seam gas, iron ore and new coalmines.

The government's resource industry adviser, ABARE, now has 94 projects worth $173.5bn on its books, a 31 per cent increase since last October. … The biggest new project announced in the past six months was the $16bn coal-seam gas venture in Gladstone, which is being led by Santos. Gas and oil projects account for $101bn, or 60 per cent of the total number of projects under construction.

One major component in the investment boom is Chevron’s Gorgon LNG project in WA - The Australian reports that the WA government is continuing to insist on 15% of the gas being supplied to the domestic market - Chevron close to domestic gas deal on Gorgon project.
CHEVRON says it is close to signing contracts to supply gas to industrial users from its $43 billion Gorgon project in Western Australia after it reached a crucial access agreement with the Dampier-Bunbury Pipeline to transport the fuel.
The US energy giant's Australian operations head, Roy Krzywosinski, said yesterday the access agreement meant all the infrastructure contract arrangements were in place to supply the energy-hungry WA market by 2015.

Major industrial users have complained for several years about a lack of cheap gas supplies for mines, alumina plants, fertiliser operations and power stations. The Woodside Petroleum-operated North West Shelf Venture and Apache's Varanus Island are the only suppliers to the domestic gas market.

But Apache's $US1bn Devil Creek project is expected to become the next major domestic gas supplier later this year. The project will inject up to 220 terajoules of extra gas into the state's domestic system every day.

A parliamentary inquiry into gas pricing in WA found that prices were double those in other states, and recommended domestic gas reservation requirements should remain.
The producers have strongly opposed the reservation policy, which stipulates that 15 per cent of a project's output may have to be set aside for domestic needs.

Mr Krzywosinski said work on Chevron's estimated $30bn Wheatstone project would begin before the end of the year, generating 6500 direct jobs at peak construction and $21bn in government revenue.

WA Today reports that the gas industry continues to generate a lot of protest, with the latest round complaining about the proposed Kimberly gas hub - John Butler stands up to Woodside.
WA musician John Butler has led a lunchtime musical protest outside mining giant Woodside's city offices in protest against its proposed Kimberley gas hub.
The multiple ARIA award-winning musician performed on the steps of Woodside’s St George’s Terrace skyscraper as part of a nationwide stance against industrialisation of the Kimberley. Rock stars including Jimmy Barnes and Midnight Oil's Rob Hirst entertained crowds in Sydney while musician Shane Howard hit Melbourne’s Swanston Street.

Woodside, with joint-venture partners Chevron, BP, Shell and BHP, plan to build a multi-million dollar gas processing hub at James Price Point on the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome. The move has sparked outrage from environmentalists as the area is frequented by migrating humpback whales, untouched beauty and gardens of unique coral.

Saul Griffith: The future doesn't have to suck  

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The Climate Spectator has a brief interview with inventor Saul Griffith of Makani Power (amongst other things) following his weekend talk at TEDx Sydney - The future doesn't have to suck. Presumably there will be video up at YouTube at some point but it hasn't appeared yet.

Giles Parkinson: Saul, could you just explain how this high altitude kite works?

Saul Griffith: So, I think most people will have seen a wind turbine – a normal looking wind turbine, which is three blades on the end of a very big stick. So, 75-80 per cent of the energy that’s produced by that wind turbine is produced in the 25 per cent of the tips, so only the tiny little bit at the very wingtip of those huge machines is producing the majority of the energy. The insight that drove Makani [Power] was, well, let’s get rid of everything else except for that little tiny piece of the wingtip. And so we built, really, quite astounding wings – they’re autonomously controlled and they fly in circles. Ideally we’ll be flying them at 2,000-3,000 feet up in the atmosphere, eventually. And they’re tethered to the ground by a cable that brings the electricity back down to the ground and, as the wind makes them fly in circles, very small turbines on the wing actually bring the energy back down to the ground.

GP: That takes up a fair amount of air space, I’d imagine. How do you think that would work with flights, etc?

SG: So, we do have to deal with air space issues and we’re working with the FAA in the United States, and other organisations around the world, to get permissions. We can fly below 2000 feet right now. The reality is most aircraft fly in pretty much highways in the sky that are very well established and there are a lot of regions in the world where there’s very little air traffic. And so, you know, we’re not planning on putting this at Mascot, but this is the technology that could be fabulous for offshore wind and there are plenty of remote regions. So, I’m not terribly worried about this issue. We need to jump the bureaucratic hoops, but I’m pretty sure we’ll get that.

GP: And so each of these turbines, machines – what do you call them? – can generate about 3MW, you say?

SG: Airborne wind energy machines… these magic things from the future! Well , we could build them at any sized scale from tens of kilowatts through to tens of megawatts or hundreds of megawatts, but you then have to say well, at which one of those sized scales is the one that’s going to give you the cheapest electricity? And you do all the math and it’s pretty complicated because you have to look at the statistics of the wind speed at all the different heights, etc, etc, etc, and you have to look at the materials that you can use and the math that we look at and the physics that we look at at the moment suggest that the optimum is going to be sort of 1MW to 5MW machines flying at 2000-4000 feet up.

GP: And you think it could be as cheap as coal?

SG: Yeah. It will take a while to get there. We think that it can be cheaper than coal. As with any new technology, you don’t really know until you’ve got it to full scale, but as long as the maintenance – and that’s the challenge for all the renewable energy technologies is not the cost of the input, it’s maintenance – so, as long as the maintenance isn’t too bad, I think we’re going to kick coal’s arse and that’ll be great.

GP: You talked [in the presentation to TEDx] about the role that solar and wind will play to power the world to give energy to the world, but you also talked about the need to think beyond the technology that we are contemplating now. Can you expand on that?

SG: We aren’t thinking big enough, not even close. One thing is that we presume that solar is going to get ten times better. It’s not. The best solar cells are already 40 per cent efficient and we’re not going to get much better than that ever, so they might get better in cost, lower in cost, but there’s nothing in what we’re doing today that’s going to make them more efficient really. And, you know, we still think of solar as this distributed energy thing and you put it on your roof and da, da, da, da.

The reality is, Australia is one of the lucky countries where you could almost generate all of your energy on your roof, but nowhere else on earth is like that, so we’ve really got to think a lot bigger about enormous solar farms outside of metropolitan centres that are producing the energy to bring it into those centres and we’ve got to look at large-scale solar thermal for generating electricity. And by large-scale, I mean hundreds of square kilometres of these things.

History judges heroes and audacious people really well and what is astounding to me is that we don’t have any audacious or heroic vision right now. We’re failing for lack of audacity and I think that’s a terrible reflection on humanity. Like, let’s do it. What an awesome project to be involved in. Like, terawatt-scale solar farms. What an awesome project to be involved in – high-altitude wind power. I think it would be a great time to be an 18-year-old engineer because these projects are fantastic and, to young people going into renewable energy engineering, this century is your century, and go out there and kick arse!

GP: What’s holding us back with the vision thing, because we’ve got all these challenges in front of us, we sort of know what confronts us – what’s holding us back, do you think?

SG: Politics on every side of the fence.

GP: And Vested interest?

SG: You know, I don’t really subscribe to the who-killed-the-electric-car-kind-of-paranoia; that there’s someone out there trying to stop us. I’m confident that wind and solar will get to costs below coal. The problem is that coal is there and you’ve got to get your technology to scale while competing against this thing that is 100 years old. 100-year-old machines have kind of figured it out, right? So, you’re competing in a pretty difficult marketplace because they’ve had 100 years to learn and you’ve had a few years. So, you know, that’s the problem in the industry.

And then, there’s politics, on both sides. Both sides of the house in every country in the world don’t really understand what this is all about. And we don’t have young people as politicians. You know, what I would like to do is; you should not be allowed to be older than 25 and be a politician. You should only have 18-25 year-olds, because they’re the kids that are going to be living in the future that our current batch of politicians are fucking up and I choose that word really specifically. I mean, it’s terrible, the lack of political vision.

GP: What are some of the other technologies that, at the moment, interest you; some of the new things coming on the horizon?

SG: Myself, I’m working on a lot of solar projects at the moment. Working on trying to lower the cost of heliostats for solar tracking, that could be useful for lowering the cost of PV and solar thermal. You get about 30 per cent more energy if you can track. That’s very useful in solar thermal technologies.

Thousands protest against coal seam gas drilling  

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Every day seems to bring new reports of protests against the coal seam gas industry somewhere in Queensland or New South Wales - the ABC has a report on one event on the weekend at Byron Bay- Thousands protest against coal seam gas drilling.

Organisers of two beachside protests in New South Wales say they have sent a clear message against the coal seam gas mining industry.

They say more than 2,000 people gathered for a vocal protest to spell out "No CSG" on Byron Bay's main beach.

Around 1,500 people held a separate but similar protest on Austinmer Beach, north of Wollongong, to spell out "Stop Coal Seam Gas".

Apex Energy has been given permission to drill 15 wells in the region.

A spokeswoman for Stop Coal Seam Gas Illawarra, Jess Moore, says even coal miners have raised concerns about the industry.

"We've actually need a full, public royal commission into exactly what the potential consequences of coal seam gas mining are, and until we've got the outcome of that royal commission it can't go ahead because it's just too dangerous," she said.

She says communities across the state are worried about the health and environmental effects of coal seam drilling.

The Origin of an energy revolution  

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Giles Parkinson has an in-depth look at Origin Energy's interest in smart grids - Origin of an energy revolution.

The roll-out of in-house display systems for energy use promises to revolutionise the way the consumers understand and consume energy.

Origin, the largest retailer in the country, has kicked it off by announcing the largest pilot scheme of in-home displays in Australia – one that will involve 5,000 households over the next six months. But the rollout has far greater implications than consumer experience: it also promises to revolutionise the way that energy utilities conduct their business.

The basic business model of the energy utility has not changed for decades. It’s a simple model that revolves around selling as many electrons to as many customers as they can. But technology has caught up with the industry and, combined with the need to respond to rising costs, conserve energy and reduce emissions, the rollout of the “smarts” – meters, displays and appliances – is poised to cause as dramatic a restructuring as occurred in the banking industry in the 1980s and the telecommunications industry in the 1990s.

How the utilities manage that transformation could decide how they evolve and maintain influence over their industry, as the major banks have managed to do in theirs, and how much third party corporates such as Google, Intel and others come to play a dominant role, as a range of new companies have done in telecommunications.

“We’ve been in one paradigm for the last 100 years,” says Phil Craig, the head of retail at Origin Energy. “The electrons came down the poles and wires, you got the bill in the mail and you went into the post office and wrote the check. That hasn’t changed much, but we re now looking at a whole different model.”

A report released last year by Ernst & Young entitled Seeing Energy Differently described the challenge facing energy utilities in dealing with the providers of new “smart technology” and responding to the demands of improved efficiency. Basically it came down to two options: either the utilities form partnerships with third parties to help consumers manage their energy and evolve the model into a new, sophisticated form of energy service; or they stonewall and come under competitive attack all along the value chain.

Origin has clearly decided to evolve rather than having change thrust upon them. “The telecommunications industry is not like it was 15 years ago, it has experienced radical change,” says Craig. “That‘s what is going to happen to energy over the next 10 years, so we want to be in the best position to manage that.”

Origin has chosen as its partner the Colorado-based Tendril, which provides an in-home display that allows customers “unprecedented visibility” into energy usage, personalised estimates of monthly electricity bills and the ability to control household consumption. It allows communications over the web, mobile phone and home area networks, and can link with smart appliances and electric vehicles. And, of course, the energy company can see this information too.

Exactly how that business model will evolve is not yet clear because there are so many different factors that can still be brought to bear. But for Australian energy consumers, in-house displays – which look something like the dashboard displays in your car – are not far away. After the six-month pilot, Origin intends to then roll out the displays to all its 4.6 million customers – although the extent to which this can happen will depend on the rollout of the underlying infrastructure, which in this case is smart meters.

Craig says that by the end of the decade, consumers can expect to have smart appliances in their home that can respond to a pricing signal and turn themselves off. There will be charge points in the garage where the plug-in electric vehicle can choose the best time to charge itself, or even send electrons back into the grid. And, says Davis, there could be much larger solar systems on our homes.

And just as electric vehicle batteries will be able to be purchased under a leasing phone, just as people buy plans for their mobile phone, consumers might want to negotiate similar packages with their electricity supplier, possibly via third parties such as electrical retailers.

Peak Mineral Sands ?  

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Alan Kohler has an interview with Iluka CEO David Robb about the application of "peak oil" ideas to mineral sands production (somewhat unconvincingly after they earlier discuss his deliberate reduction of production) - Iluka's Robb concerned by industry behaviour.

ALAN KOHLER: In a recent presentation you compared your products to peak oil, which implies that the production is declining and there's no more sources of supply.

Are you sure of that? I mean are you sure there won't be any surprise suppliers bobbing up?

DAVID ROBB: Well we don't know what we don't know. Obviously if someone other than us made a really big discovery tomorrow in time that would have an effect. But there's a lead time from discovery to first production that provides a buffer.

I think what you do see is sort of two over-arching themes in the world today. One is the demand from emerging economies for raw materials, and the other thing is the world is struggling in many areas to respond to that demand.

Our industry is the same. The peak oil reference also really relates to the fact that in order to sustain oil supplies, the world has relied on technological advances - deep water drilling, 3-D seismic, all of those things that have actually made more oil available. I don't think we've seen the same technological breakthroughs to produce more in many mineral resources. And without that I think the supply problems going to continue for quite a while.

Temporal Power brings new spin to flywheel energy storage  

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Clean Break has a look at a flywheel based energy storage system from a Canadian startup - Temporal Power brings new spin to flywheel energy storage.

A Burlington, Ontario-based startup called Temporal Power is the focus of my Clean Break column in today’s Toronto Star. Temporal has designed a stationary flywheel energy storage system that it claims can dramatically outperform the next-best system on the market, which you might say comes from Mass.-based Beacon Power. The company has filed patents on the system but they have yet to become public — likely in a few months. Until then, the company is keeping quiet about how it achieves its claimed performance, and I don’t blame them given the competitive pressures. The story behind how the company came about, however, is interesting. And if Temporal can convincingly demonstrate what it claims, it could prove a breakthrough for economical grid-scale energy storage.

For a good primer and innovation update on flywheel energy storage systems, check out this recent story in the Washington Post. My column also explains the basics of how the systems work and the challenges of making them efficient and economical.

So what does Temporal claim? The company says it has designed a system with zero parasitic losses and extremely low friction using relatively simple and easily available components. It uses permanent magnets, not electromagnets, but the overall integration of components is largely a mystery — for now. It claims its flywheel will lose less than 5 per cent of its energy after up to 10 hours of spinning, making it ideal for storing energy from a wind farm in the evening and dispatching it hours later when the power is needed. This is a departure for flywheel systems, which are typically used for short-term energy backup and services such as grid regulation.

The company plans to standardize on 50-kilowatt-hour units, double the size of the main Beacon model, and these systems could be grouped together to achieve a larger scale of energy storage. It already has a working 20-kilowatt-hour prototype. Its first demonstration is likely to be a 10-flywheel project deployed in Hydro One’s distribution network, where the technology will absorb fluctuations from nearby wind turbines in an area of the grid that has strained capacity.

A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!  

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The Washington Post has an opinion piece from Bill McKibben looking at the recent bouts of heavy weather in the US - A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!.

Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections….

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind ... It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods — that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these record-breaking events are happening in such proximity — that is, why there have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years….

Better to join with the U.S. House of Representatives, which voted 240 to 184 this spring to defeat a resolution saying simply that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” Propose your own physics; ignore physics altogether. Just don’t start asking yourself whether there might be some relation among last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heat wave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France’s and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields. Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.

It’s very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies. If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent filing: that there’s no need to worry because “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.”

All watched over by machines of loving grace  

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Adam Curtis (of Power Of Nightmares and Century of the Self fame - and now with his own BBC blog) has a new 2 part TV series out entitled "All watched over by machines of loving grace" (named aftera poem by Richard Brautigan, which seems to have become a basis for ethical guidelines for the digital design world).

Curtis's new documentary looks at the impact of Ayn Rand's followers on our culture over the years and the results of the digital revolution that they believed would bring a techno-uoptian future into being (echoing some of the ideas examined in "From Counterculture to Cyberculture").

The Guardian has a review of the show - Adam Curtis: Have computers taken away our power? - as do Wired and Den Of Geek.

It was amateur footage of an event involving an early video game called Pong that gave Adam Curtis the idea for his new documentary series.

In 1991, a computer engineer from California called Loren Carpenter organised a mass experiment in a huge shed. Hundreds of people were each given a paddle, and told nothing. But on a big screen in front of them was projected a game of Pong – a very basic computer game, where a ball is knocked back and forth on a screen, like table tennis. Each half of the audience jointly controlled the bat on their side of the screen; they had to operate it together and, spontaneously and without discussion, they successfully played a game of Pong, whooping and cheering at their collective collaboration.

"It was like a switch went in my head," Curtis says. "Carpenter saw it as a world of freedom with order. But I suddenly saw it as the opposite – like old film of workers toiling in a factory. They weren't free – they looked like disempowered slaves locked to a giant machine screen. It was a video game, which made it fun, but it still made me wonder whether power had really gone away in these self-organising systems, or if it was just a rebranding. So we became happy components in systems – and our job is to make those systems stable."

The new series, called All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, takes complicated ideas and turns them into entertainment by the use of the vertigo-inducing intellectual leaps, choppy archive material and disorienting music with which all Curtis fans are familiar. The central idea leads Curtis on a journey, taking in the chilling über-individualist novelist Ayn Rand, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, the "new economy", hippy communes, Silicon Valley, ecology, Richard Dawkins, the wars in Congo, the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory, and the computer model of the eating habits of the pronghorn antelope. ...

Now he has moved on to machines, but it starts with nature. "In the 1960s, an idea penetrated deep into the public imagination that nature is a self-regulating ecosystem, there is a natural order," Curtis says. "The trouble is, it's not true – as many ecologists have shown, nature is never stable, it's always changing. But the idea took root and spread wider – people started to believe there is an underlying order to the entire world, to how society is structured. Everything became part of a system, like a computer; no more hierarchies, freedom for all, no class, no nation states." What the series shows is how this idea spread into the heart of the modern world, from internet utopianism and dreams of democracy without leaders to visions of a new kind of stable global capitalism run by computers. But we have paid a price for this: without realising it we, and our leaders, have given up the old progressive dreams of changing the world and instead become like managers – seeing ourselves as components in a system, and believing our duty is to help that system balance itself. Indeed, Curtis says, "The underlying aim of the series is to make people aware that this has happened – and to try to recapture the optimistic potential of politics to change the world."

The counterculture of the 1960s, the Californian hippies, took up the idea of the network society because they were disillusioned with politics and believed this alternative way of ordering the world was based on some natural order. So they formed communes that were non-hierarchical and self-regulating, disdaining politics and rejecting alliances. (Many of these hippy dropouts later took these ideas mainstream: they became the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who decided that computers could liberate everyone and save the world.) ...

At first, the vision that machines had created a new stability seemed true. On Greenspan's watch, computers allowed investment banks to produce complex mathematical models that could predict the risk of making any loan or investment. If a risk could be predicted, it could be balanced by hedging against it. Hence, stability. There would be no more boom and bust. It was the "new economy".

That stability was, of course, an illusion; it was followed by the greatest economic crash since 1929. But, as Curtis says, the price of the bailouts was paid by ordinary people, via the state, rather than by the wealthy financiers who lost all the money in the first place. That's because, despite the illusion of ordered non-hierarchy, some people have vastly more power than others, and in many cases have had it for centuries.

He draws a parallel with those 1970s communes. "The experiments with them all failed, and quickly. What tore them apart was the very thing that was supposed to have been banished: power. Some people were more free than others – strong personalities dominated the weak, but the rules didn't allow any organised opposition to the suppression because that would be politics." As in the commune, so in the world: "These are the limitations of the self-organising system: it cannot deal with politics and power. And now we're all disillusioned with politics, and this machine-organising principle has risen up to be the ideology of our age."

If you are a component in the system, it is difficult to see how power has shifted, Curtis says. "The power of politicians has been taken by others, by financial institutions, corporations. After the crash, the elite used politicised power to rescue themselves. Politics was seen to have failed, to have been corrupt, empty." ...

Why don't we have big ideas or dreams any more? "Because now that there's nothing more important than you, how can you ever lose yourself in a grander idea? We're frightened of eccentricity, of loneliness. Individualism just wants to keep the machine stable, leads to a static world and a powerless world. Rand is individualism carried to its most extreme form, yet she's very popular, and not that far away from how a lot of people, especially the young, feel today."

All of this, Curtis says, means we're missing the bigger picture. "We never talk about power these days. We think we live in a non-hierarchical world, and we pretend not to be elitist now – which is, of course, an emotionally attractive idea, but it's just not true. And that's dangerous." ...

In his films, Curtis draws on recent attempts to overthrow power in autocratic countries, describing the spontaneous revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan as a "triumph of the visions of computer utopians of the 1960s, with their vision of computers allowing individuals to create new, non-hierarchical societies" – just like in that mass game of Pong. "The internet played a key role in guiding revolutions that had no guiding ideology, except a desire for self-determination and freedom." But the desire for freedom itself was not enough, he says. "In all those revolutions, that sense of freedom lasted only for a moment. The people were brilliant at overturning the power – but then what? Democracy needs proper politics, but people have given up on saying that they're going to change the world." The Arab uprisings began after he finished making the films, but he sees these in the same way. "It's as if these people assembled spontaneously on Twitter and they just want freedom. But what kind of society do they want?"

If you have a poke around YouTube you should be able to find the whole show...

World's Second largest gas field found in Turkmenistan  

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The UK Daily Telegraph has a report on a huge gas field in Turkmenistan - Second largest gas field found in Turkmenistan.

A new report from Gaffney Cline, the British oil field auditing company, to be released officially next month, has confirmed claims from the former Soviet Republic that many had dismissed as overly optimistic.

"It appears that the South Yolotan field is now easily the world's second largest gas field in terms of gas in place – second only to the North Field and South Pars," Peter Holding, Gaffney Cline's director for Central Asia, said at a conference in the Caspian resort of Awaza.

The report is expected to say that the field could hold 20 trillion cubic metres, enough to supply the UK for more than 350 years, and Europe for more than 50. The compares with the top-level estimate of 14 trillion cubic metres it gave in its 2008 audit, which ranked the field only sixth worldwide.

The development of the giant North Field has made Qatar the world's richest country in terms of per capita income. The field, which is shared with Iran, holds more than 50 trillion cubic metres.

Mr Holding pointed out that the South Yolotan field could now easily support gas deliveries to Europe, as well as to Russia and China.

The Challenges of Big Data on the Smart Grid  

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Technology Review notes that “Installing "smart meters" and upgrading utility networks will force electricity providers to process far more information than they're accustomed to handling” - The Challenges of Big Data on the Smart Grid.

The average big electric utility is a sprawling network that is buzzing with energy but contains surprisingly little data about that energy. Managers at utilities can't "see" very deep into the thousands of substations and relay units that make up the electrical grid. Some utilities still learn about a neighborhood electrical outage not because it shows up on any of their sophisticated monitoring equipment, but because customers call them on the phone and complain that the power's out.

This paucity of real-time information is one of the challenges that utility companies and IT vendors are addressing with a modernization effort known as the "smart grid." Once utilities and consumers have finer-grained information about power use, both the supply of power and the demand for it can be managed more efficiently. For instance, consumers could be guided to move some electricity consumption to off-peak hours, reducing the need for dirtier and more expensive power plants to be activated at peak hours.

But before this can happen on a widespread basis, the utilities need to prepare for an onslaught of data—as other industries have done. The challenge of upgrading IT systems accordingly is one of the reasons the smart grid is "in its infancy," says Donald Kintner Jr., a spokesman for the utility-sponsored Electric Power Research Institute.

"What energy companies are about to experience isn't simply a doubling or tripling of the amount of data they will be getting," says Jeff Taft, who works on smart-grid efforts at Cisco Systems, the networking company. "Instead, it's going to be an increase of multiple orders of magnitude. The industry knows this and is slowly making the transition. But energy is one of those areas where you can't just rip everything out and start all over."

Flying high on biofuels  

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Giles Parkinson at The Climate Spectator has a column on interest in biofuels (and electric vehicle adoption) from the airline industry as it contemplates a world where liquid fuels are in shorter supply - Flying high on biofuels

Don’t be surprised if airlines such as Qantas and Virgin, and big manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, put in large orders for the first fleets of electric vehicles. They have a special interest in seeing the EV industry succeed: because the more vehicles that are plugged into sockets, the more fuel there is to fly planes.

It’s not that the airline industry is facing a Mad Max-style fuel crisis, but clearly the price of oil is going up. Supplies from alternative sources such as tar sands are heavier, and so will be more difficult, and more core costly, to turn into jet fuel, and carbon costs will also have an impact. So if tens of millions of electric cars can be plugged in by 2020 – as some optimistic forecasts would have us believe – then that leaves extra capacity for the aviation industry to find its own alternatives.

A new report released this week by the CSIRO, with the backing of the aviation industry, predicts that Australia is uniquely positioned to provide for one third of its transport fuel needs from a range of biofuel feedstocks. Land transport accounts for most of the demand – aviation is only 15 per cent – so if most of the personal transport system can plug into the grid, then home-grown biofuels could potentially provide for all of the country’s aircraft fuel needs. Even without the EV factor, existing and new non-food biomass fuels could provide 46 per cent of the aviation fuel needs of Australia and New Zealand by 2020, and 100 per cent by 2050. ...

So far there have been several test runs – by an Air NZ Boeing 747, a US Air Force F18 “green” Hornet, a Dutch Air Force Apache Helicopter – that have proven various bio-fuels. The US defence forces have set ambitious targets to replace jet fuel with biofuels – an issue of energy security as much as cost – and the commercial industry intends to follow in its wake, although at a slower pace.

“Many people thought it would take decades to develop these technologies, but we already know it is possible to fly with biofuels,” says Ian Thomas, the head of Boeing Australia. Thomas says the future of the industry – and anticipated future sales of 32,000 aircraft worth an estimated $3.6 trillion in coming decades – depends on the industry’s ability to develop these fuels, as well as designing lighter and more fuel efficient aircraft, and improving flight management programs.

The CSIRO report says urban waste is probably Australia’s most available and cheapest option at the moment. Lignocellulose – wood and stems from trees and crops – is the most abundant, but they face high refining costs. A range of potential new “exotic” sources are identified, with the most interesting being Pongonia, an inedible oil-yielding legume tree; algae, salt water and coastal plant varieties known as halophytes and a short rotation tree species known as coppice. But the costs of all these are relatively uncertain, and the industries will take some time to develop.

Like energy solutions, biofuels are likely to come from a portfolio of feedstocks. The major airlines are already pursuing various technologies. “There are no silver bullets here, just got silver shotguns,” says John Valastro, the head of risk and resilience at Qantas, which has already signed agreements with aspiring producers of fuels from urban waste, and from algae, and is looking to build its first refinery in the next couple of years.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival 2010/2011  

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I went to see this year's Banff Mountain Film Festival recently which was entertaining as always.

The films featured (at least the ones I remember) are listed below - the kayak guys probably made the biggest impression, largely due to the insanity of what they were doing (with a honorary award to the old Kiwis and some of their amazing footage from the 1970's - AJ Hackett is a funny guy)...

Dream Result - "Top whitewater paddlers travel the world to explore the limits of possibility"

Last Paradise - "Travels through almost 50 years of adventure in the remotest regions of New Zealand"

Euli Steck - The Swiss Machine - "A record-breaking speed alpinist takes his high-speed game to Yosemite"

Life Cycles - "This beautiful celebration of the bicycle is sure to amaze anyone who has ridden one"

Azadi: Freedom - "Skiing plays a role in rebuilding tourism in a country torn by a bloody insurgency"

Into Darkness - "Cavers discover a fantastic world unlike anything we experience on the surface"

The Longest Way - "A one-year walk from Beijing to Urumqi, condensed into five minutes"

The frightening automation of Planet Manchester  

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Guy Rundle has a prolonged pontification at Crikey on some of the ramifications of automation of the service sector in Western countries, wondering what if the combination of the emergence of a new section of the population without employment prospects and the ability to mechanically produce vast amounts of products at low cost might revive some old left visions of the future (topics I took some notes on in Peak oil and the Tea Party movement and Is it time for a four day working week ?) - The frightening automation of Planet Manchester.

To anyone who started flying more than 10 years ago, this feels very strange indeed. The process used to have such an air of solemn deliberation about it -- handing over the ID, the attendant checking the computer, the slight wrinkled brow, the whish of procedural paranoia ("why isn't she smiling? Have I been mistaken for Sheikh Khalid?") and the eventual relaxing smile and passage through. Now it's the same as getting on a tram (in fact, it's more automated than buying an intercity train ticket, that process apparently having been listed by the National Trust).

But what's even more striking is that the process in Australia is running ahead of airport automation elsewhere. Few airports in Europe have totally automated check-in in that manner, and in the US it's years behind. Yet in other fields it's the reverse.

In the UK, supermarket check-out has been wholly automated with breathtaking rapidity -- indeed Tesco's, the largest chain, has now virtually abolished a seated check-out aisle at all, preferring automated check-out with a few floating staff to assist bewildered oldies and anyone trying to buy booze.

In the US, online shopping for books, ebooks, etc, has left not merely Borders, but bookshops chains per se, teetering on the edge of disappearance. In Europe, they're skipping the Starbucks stage of mass cafes entirely, and going to "Nespresso"-style outfits -- essentially serve yourself cafes (using a sealed process, so no one gets burnt or whatever), with a single staff member on hand in case someone gets burnt or whatever.

Thus, the technological revolution in service delivery is happening -- but so differentially and partially that we are not really noticing how epochal it all is. Yet a moment's thought would realise that this is one of the greatest transformations of economic life in centuries -- as far-reaching as the industrial revolution itself, and as significant as the globalisation of production, and the shift of industry from west/north to east/south from the 1970s onwards.

Presumably the industrial revolution was like this. If you were around Stoke-on-Trent or Dudley in the Midlands round the late 1700s, you would have noticed steam engines, iron bridges, freight trams, etc, being introduced here and there, against a background of horse and human power, wood and sweat.

But at some point such changes gather together, and figure and background swap places -- industry becomes the context within which life is lived. That seems likely to be the process under way here. At some point in the next decade, the different process of service replacement will cross-fuse, and in the space of a year or two, everyone will suddenly noticed that large sections of the Western world have categorically shifted. The texture of the world will have changed -- and more significantly, the structure of employment.

Under some circumstances that would be a good thing. These service occupations are boring and tedious jobs after all, just as the industrial jobs they replaced were frequently boring and exhausting. Were there a process by which the multitudes no longer required for this work could access training, education, more interesting work, etc, etc, then it would be a boon.

The pollyanna-neoclassical theory would be that a whole range of new products, businesses, services will emerge as automation creates greater productivity in existing services, retail, etc, etc -- just as the previous dissolution of labour in one sector has made new economic sectors possible.

Yet the very fact of repetition does not guarantee that the process is indefinitely extendable. Three factors may give the pollyannas pause: the first is that the dissolution of service jobs is occurring barely a generation after they became the main repository for people (or their children) for whom industrial jobs were no longer available.

The second is that rising inequality creates an under-consumption crisis -- a small group of people have more money than they can spend, a larger group have nothing to spend on stuff they need; and the third is that so much of an economic burden is placed on the act of private consumption that it reaches the cultural and existential limits of the human being.

These difficulties are exacerbated by the reduced power -- politically, culturally, procedurally -- of the state to redistribute money in order to overcome under-consumption/overproduction crises. States where it retains that power, such as the northern European social democracies, are in much better shape to shift working populations that are suddenly surplus to requirements into new sectors -- aged and social care, education, science, etc.

The more that economies -- the Anglo-American ones in particular -- have allowed redistributive power to wither, the more this massive technological revolution becomes a dual problem: raising structural unemployment and reducing demand -- essentially sidelining a whole social class from membership of the economy.

This, one suspects, is part of the reason why real recovery in these economies has proved so elusive. The brief, thin sunshine of the post-2008 stimulus had a paradoxical effect -- consolidation and closing down of retail chains, greater automation of existing chains. Now in the UK, ahead of the next quarter of statistics, it seems clear that it has slipped into recession again -- high street shop closures are up, demand is down. Businesses that had been holding on through the bad times hoping that the recovery would refloat them, have found that it couldn't, and given up the unequal fight.

But of course this has all been said before. It's easy to find foolish quotes of "what is there left to invent", "the wheel will never catch on", etc, etc. Experience tells that the one thing you can't anticipate are new ways to carve up and commodify human experience, and sell it back to people.

Indeed one result of the rise of service automation may be a giant step backwards, as the West experiences an enormous downward pressure on wages. Unable to compete with the east/south, and with few other options, the disappearance of work combined with the new inequality may create a new servant class. The ultimate new luxury would be someone's entire attendance -- which we currently buy in portions at the cafe, dry cleaner, etc -- wholly oriented to the needs of the rich.

Nevertheless, such a development would be far from stable, for that new "Guatemalanisation" of social life would occur in the context of our current predicament -- under-consumption, overproduction, inequality, automation -- becoming greater.

It would become obvious to people how much labour is no longer necessary, how much of it had become part of the luxury sector of society -- and increasingly, what resources such new technologies offered for reorganising social life.

For it may be that should automation reach a critical point (presuming the world economy does not slump into depression and war that sets us back decades or centuries) then what it will make clear is what Marx spoke of in the Grundrisse -- that such economies are no longer governed by labour, but by time, and permit vast reductions in the working day.

We have always known that -- we, who think about such things, anyway -- but the implicit assumption has always been that automation would come to industry first, visions of robot factories making bubble cars. Instead, the world as a whole is as capitalist as it has ever been -- the planet resembles one vast Manchester. But in the most advanced (and crisis-ridden) areas of it, the beginnings of post-capitalist forms are beginning to show through.

Mind you, they did lose my luggage.

Climate inertia shows ugly side of the Australian character  

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Ross Gittins has an article on the depressing level of debate over the carbon tax at the SMH, noting “It's a sore test of faith when people put power bills before their children's future“ - Climate inertia shows ugly side of the Australian character.

This week's report from the Climate Commission - established to provide expert advice on the science of climate change and its effects on Australia - tells us nothing we didn't already know, but everything we've lost sight of in our efforts to advance our personal interests at the expense of the nation's.

Its 70 pages boil down to four propositions we'd rather not think about. First, there is no doubt the climate is changing. The evidence is clear. The atmosphere is warming, the ocean is warming, ice is being lost from glaciers and ice caps, and sea levels are rising. Global surface temperature is rising fast; the last decade was the hottest on record.

Second, we are already seeing the social, economic and environmental effects of a changing climate. In the past 50 years, the number of record hot days in Australia has more than doubled. This has increased the risk of heatwave-associated deaths, as well as extreme bushfires.
Sea level has risen by 20 centimetres globally since the late 1800s, affecting many coastal communities. Another 20-centimetre increase by 2050 is likely, on present projections, which would more than double the risk of coastal flooding.

Third, these changes are triggered by human activities - particularly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation - which are increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with carbon dioxide the most important of these gases.

Fourth, this is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change our children and grandchildren experience. Without strong and rapid action, there is a significant risk that climate change will undermine society's prosperity, health, stability and way of life.

That scientists still need to repeat these long-established truths is a measure of how much we've allowed short-sighted and selfish concerns to distract us from the need to respond to a clear and present danger.

In this we haven't been well served by our leaders. The Labor government's decline dates from Kevin Rudd's loss of nerve following the defeat of his carbon pollution reduction scheme in the Senate in late 2009, following the success of the Coalition's climate-change deniers in overthrowing Malcolm Turnbull and replacing him with a man whose record showed him willing to take whatever position on climate change he thought would advance his career.

Had Rudd the courage of his professed convictions, he would have taken the question to a double-dissolution election, fighting in defence of his ''great big new tax on everything''. Instead he dithered, eventually yielding to pressure from those in his party - including Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan - wanting to put the government's survival ahead of its duty.

Opposition leaders play a vital role in a democracy and are given considerable licence. They're not expected to speak the unvarnished truth. Dishonest scare campaigns have long been used by both sides.

I don't like using the L-word, but Tony Abbott is setting new lows in the lightness with which he plays with the truth. He blatantly works both sides of the street, nodding happily in the company of climate-change deniers, but in more intellectually respectable company professing belief in human-caused global warming, his commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 and the efficacy of his no-offence policies to achieve it.

He grossly exaggerates the costs involved in a carbon tax, telling business audiences they will have to pay the lot and be destroyed by it, while telling the punters business will pass all the costs on to them. He forgets to mention that most of the proceeds from the tax will be returned as compensation.

He repeats the half-truth that nothing we could do by ourselves would reduce global emissions, while failing to correct the punters' ignorant belief that Australia is the only country contemplating action. Last week's news that Britain's Conservative-led coalition government has pledged to cut emissions by half within 15 years is ignored. Economists call this mentality ''free-riding''; the old Australian word for it is ''bludging''.

But it's far too easy to blame our failure to face up to climate change just on our hopeless politicians. Our increasingly partisan media have failed to hold Abbott to account over his duplicity. Many have sought to increase circulation or ratings by joining in the fearmongering and denial. The media's love of controversy has led it to give doubters of the science of climate change a credibility they don't deserve against the overwhelming weight of science.

Australians are proud of their inbuilt bulldust detectors, but on this issue they seemed to have turned them off, happily believing whatever self-serving nonsense politicians, business people and media personalities serve up to them.

The one thing humans are meant to care about above all is the survival of their young. Yet people with the highest standard of living in history are whingeing that they couldn't possibly afford to pay a bit more for their electricity.

Final Tests For Torresol’s CSP Plant With Molten Salt Storage Complete  

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The National reports that Torresol’s solar thermal power plant in Spain has completed testing - Spanish solar plant built by Masdar is well worth its salt. The plant includes 15 hours of storage, making it able to operate around the clock for much of the year.

A Spanish solar plant built by an Abu Dhabi company is set to power homes even during the night. Masdar, which is owned by Mubadala Development, and a Spanish joint venture partner have completed the final tests on a solar plant in Seville, in southern Spain. …

Thousands of mirrors at the plant concentrate the sun's energy on a single tower holding molten salt, which developers believe is so effective at retaining heat that it will be able to produce power 24 hours a day from March to October. "We're basically decoupling the solar [input] from the electricity generation," said Frank Wouters, the director of Masdar Power.

The tower is the first part of Masdar's €1 billion (Dh5.18bn) investment in Spanish power production. That includes two 50 megawatt solar parks being built by Torresol Energy, Masdar's 40-60 joint venture with the Spanish engineering company Sener.

Bloomberg has a look at Masdar’s overall plans for clean energy - Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Has $5 Billion in Solar, Wind Power Projects.
In Spain, the company has three solar projects worth about $1 billion, Wouters said at a media briefing in Abu Dhabi today. A 20-megawatt plant will start producing power this month and two 50-megawatt facilities will start this year, he said. Masdar also has stakes in the 1-gigawatt London Array offshore windfarm and a 6-megawatt offshore wind project in the Seychelles.

Abu Dhabi, which holds almost all the oil reserves in the United Arab Emirates, is investing in solar and wind power all over the world to pioneer the use of renewable energy. The emirate is building Masdar City, a business and residential complex designed to minimize carbon emissions, and serves as headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Masdar is a key component of Abu Dhabi’s aim to generate at least 7 percent of the power it uses from renewable sources by 2020. Growth in power demand to more than 20,000 megawatts by the end of the decade would require about 1,500 megawatts from projects such as wind and solar plants, according to data from Abu Dhabi’s utility.

The company’s domestic projects include the Shams 1 project, the largest concentrated solar plant in the Middle East, which is 45 percent complete and will be ready next year, according to a statement received by e-mail today. Masdar expects to award a construction contract for the 100-megawatt Noor 1 photovoltaic plant by the end of 2011 and may start building a 30-megawatt wind farm on Sir Bani Yas island.

Renewable Energy World has a detailed look at the technology being used in the Spanish solar thermal plants - CSP: Targeting Grid-Parity in Spain
Concentrated solar power (CSP) uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight and generate heat and is typically used to generate electricity via a conventional steam cycle.
Unlike photovoltaic farms or wind energy — which has grown to become Spain's third largest power source — CSP plants can cost-effectively store energy that cannot immediately be used. In Spain, which has a second demand peak in the evening, this is important. Most new CSP projects incorporate storage so they can keep generating electricity several hours after the sun has gone down, or even right through the night.

But, while CSP is more dispatchable than other renewable energy sources, it also currently costs more. So Spain is the focus for efforts to drive down costs, both through economies of scale and improvements in technologies.

'All the CSP technologies are expensive so a lot of research seeks to reduce component costs and optimise production and installation,' says Eduardo Zarza, head of R&D for solar concentrating systems at the Plataforma Solar de Almería (PSA), Spain's leading solar energy research centre, which researches all four types of CSP technologies. The most mature CSP technology is the parabolic trough design, which accounts for 93% of the 2500 MW of new CSP capacity that Spain has authorised up to 2013. While the other three technologies — solar tower, Fresnel collector and Stirling dish — all have commercial potential, the financial backers of Spain's CSP projects have opted to reduce their risks through parabolic trough's longer track record. In the US, parabolic-trough plants date back to the 1980s.

'With a tower system, for example, it is difficult to get project finance because no one knows how long the receiver will last,' says Frank Dinter, head of solar at RWE, the German utility, which is investing in several Spanish renewable projects.

To benefit from Spain's generous feed-in CSP tariff — currently 28 euro cents/kWh for 25 years — CSP plants cannot exceed 50 MW. This size limit is seen as less than optimal, given the current maturity of parabolic-trough technology, and limits potential benefits from economies of scale. Several costs in a CSP project are not proportional to its size. For example, a 200 MW turbine costs less than four times as much as a 50 MW turbine. Dinter estimates that a 200 MW plant would be about 25% cheaper per megawatt than a 50 MW plant. ...

The best places to locate CSP plants tend to be arid regions with little cloud, but such environments are often subject to water restrictions. A plant such as Andasol 3 consumes 500,000 m² of water a year, mostly to condense steam, but also to clean mirrors.Investors in Novatec Solar's PE2 plant insisted on air cooling to avoid such controversy, even though reduces the economic return.

'Air cooling costs much more and it reduces the output by 5%-6%,' says Selig. Opinions are nevertheless divided on this issue. RWE's Dinter says water cooling is essential to boost the thermodynamic efficiency of the steam cycle of parabolic-trough plants like Andasol 3 with a relatively low inlet temperature. 'With dry cooling, you cannot reduce the outlet temperature as much as with water,' he says.

Burgaleta of Torresol Energy says that even though the Gemasolar central tower plant works at higher temperatures, water access was not a problem, and so the designers opted for water cooling. But one of Torresol's central tower projects planned for the future will have air cooling instead, he adds.

As Spain is now discovering, concentrating solar power is far from being a single technology, but rather embraces a wide range of designs and key technologies, each with different operating characteristics, risk profiles and trade-offs. 'There is no clear winner,' clarifies Siemens' Mürau.
Even without any radical technological breakthroughs, improvements in technologies and greater economies of scale are expected to drive a 30% reduction in the cost of CSP-generated electricity in Spain by 2015. And by 2025, costs may fall as much as 50%, at which point CSP plants will finally be in a position to substitute conventional sources in Spain's energy mix.

MBD Energy Moving Forward with Tarong Algae Plant  

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The Climate Spectator reports that algae biomass hopeful MBD Energy (the subject of reports in the SMH and Australian in recent years) is moving forward with its demonstration plant at the Tarong power station in Queensland - Supersize Me.

Algae oil developer MBD Energy has placed an order for a large-scale algae extraction system with the US-based OriginOil for installation at its demonstration plant at Tarong power station in Queensland. The equipment, one of the largest extraction systems to be produced to date, will allow up to 1,100 litres of algae culture to be produced per minute, according to OriginOil. “This milestone places OriginOil at the forefront, globally, of delivering high scale, energy-efficient dewatering and extraction of algae, one of the most critical issues facing algae production today,” said OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckelberry.

The 1 hectare project at Tarong will begin production later this year. MBD will use the power station's CO2-laden flue-gas to feed a Bio-CCS Algal Synthesizer. It will serve as proof of concept for a larger, second stage facility of up to 80 hectares before being progressively expanded to a much larger third stage facility. MBD Energy will use the algae biomass to produce fuel, feedstock and other products.

Blow-out at well fuels concerns over coal seam gas  

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The SMH reports the coal seam gas industry has hit a spot of turbulence after a well blow out in Queensland - Blow-out at well fuels concerns over coal seam gas.

THE safety reputation of the gas sector has taken a battering after a well blew out in Queensland and a dangerous ''planking'' act was carried out on top of a 60-metre gas flare tower in South Australia.

The sacking of two Santos workers who carried out the prank on top of the Whyalla flare tower was overshadowed yesterday when a gas well operated by Shell and PetroChina blew out for reasons that are uncertain. The blow-out was triggered when workers tried to install a pump and created a pressurised spout of water and gas which spewed for more than 24 hours until it was plugged.

The farmer who owns the land around the well said it was the fourth gas-related incident on the property in five years, denting efforts by the gas sector to build confidence in the controversial practice of tapping coal seam gas.

Rival coal seam gas operators were seething over the potential damage to the sector's image and the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, said the joint venture company - Arrow Energy - would be subject to a ''thorough investigation''.

Coal seam gas has prompted concern among farmers over land access and water quality issues and environmentalists are worried about the pumping of chemicals into wells and aquifers. A theatre company in Queensland has been subjected to a boycott campaign because it accepted sponsorship from the gas company QGC.

Over on the west coast Woodside are slowly creeping towards approval of the expansion of the Pluto natural gas LNG plant - Pluto expansion moves step closer.
OIL and gas producer Woodside Petroleum is a step closer to its goal of expanding the $14 billion Pluto project, after discovering more gas off Western Australia.

Analysts were speculating last night that Woodside may now have enough gas to push ahead with a second processing train at Pluto, after it announced success in its Xeres well in the Carnarvon Basin. The Xeres well and the nearby Martin well have long been touted as holding the key to Woodside's expansion hopes, and yesterday's announcement revealed the company had intersected 51 metres of gross gas within the triassic target at Xeres.

The well depth exceeded three kilometres and the discovery had been confirmed by several methods, including with the recovery of gas samples to the surface. The discovery is the seventh in the region and comes after 100 metres of gross gas was discovered at the Martin field in March.

Citi analyst Mark Greenwood said the Xeres find was relatively small, but might be enough to get the second stage of Pluto over the line. ''I think they've probably got enough gas,'' he said. ''They've been aiming to get about 3 trillion cubic feet of gas or more. ''They've made seven discoveries, so each of these discoveries have been pretty small and this one might get them to the threshold or slightly above the threshold.''

Electric roads – the throttle EVs need ?  

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Paul Budde has an interesting article at The Business Spectator on the "electric road" concept - where electric vehicles can be quickly recharged while they are on the move - Electric roads – the throttle EVs need.

The electric vehicle industry, long held back by consumer concerns over the capabilities of batteries and the logistics of refuelling, has received an unexpected boost from a group of scientists bunkered down in the Bear Lake Mountains, 130 kilometres north of Salt Lake City.

Researchers at the Energy Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University are working on a solution to shift the energy storage burden from electric cars to the road, which, if successful, will give the industry the throttle it so desperately needs.

According to the scientists, electric vehicles, or EVs, could pick up small amounts of electricity as they drive over charging pads buried under the asphalt that are connected to the electrical grid. The researchers say that a continuously available power supply would allow EVs to cut battery size by as much as 80 per cent, drastically reducing vehicle cost.

Moreover, it’s a solution that would also allay consumer and industry concerns about drivers’ ability to recharge electric vehicle batteries – something the Obama Administration is already working towards through a $5 million funding package to develop EV infrastructure including community recharging centres.

Famed inventor Nikola Tesla – the namesake of the California electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors – first discovered the principles of wireless charging, or inductive power transfer, in the late 19th Century. It works by creating an electromagnetic charging field that transfers energy to a receiving pad set to the same frequency.

Manufacturers are already marketing wireless charging pads for electric vehicles that can deliver a 5 kilowatt charge with 90 per cent efficiency from a distance of about 25 centimetres. There is also a trial application of electric roads – albeit at slow speeds and using very long charging pads – for buses at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, south of Seoul.

But researchers at Utah State University are thinking of something much more radical – charging at interstate speeds. However, such a plan requires several technical breakthroughs.

At 75 miles per hour (120kmph), the car would only stay on a pad for about 30 milliseconds. At that speed the pad embedded in the road would need to be turned on and off really quickly. The pads would also need to be able to signal to each other that a car is coming, and the car would need to communicate its need for a charge.

Additionally, electric roads will need to use much more sophisticated smart grids, as the grid the electric roads use will not only need to become more “self-aware,” but will also need to be capable of autonomously self-correcting against sags, surges, and the disruptive loads that electric vehicles will present.

No doubt these developments will take some time and will be expensive. However, the cost of electrified roads, estimated at $1.5 million to $2.5 million per lane mile, could be easily made up through charging a toll along the roadway.

In fact, charging a fee to recharge on the road could be just the fuel the industry needs.

Geothermal without the Earthquakes  

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Fast Company has an article on efforts to reduce the side effects caused by drilling for geothermal energy - Geothermal without the Earthquakes. Technology Review has more - Geothermal without the Earthquakes.

Welcome to the scenic Mayacamas mountains of Northern California. Feel that shaking? It's an earthquake. There are about 40 of those a year. That's because the Mayacamas are home to the Geysers geothermal field, where geothermal power provides 1,500 megawatts of clean energy and has the unfortunate side effect of causing "natural" disasters.

The process works by pumping liquid into the ground at high pressures, which fracture rocks and get to the hot air underneath. But those fractures can increase the frequency and severity of earthquakes, especially in earthquake-prone zones like Northern California. Around the Geysers, it has become a large problem.

GTherm, a Connecticut-based startup, claims it has developed an EGS system that won't cause earthquakes. Instead of pumping liquids into wells at high pressures to fracture rock, GTherm's "heat nest" can be installed at the bottom of a well to draw out heat from the surrounding rock. Nice and non-shaky. According to MIT Technology Review, fluid travels down the well in a closed loop, bringing heat to the surface and creating steam that turns turbines.

The whole process requires very little water, which means GTherm can set up shop anywhere that there are ground temperatures between 250 °F and 300 °F--not just in places with water reservoirs. This includes thousands of used-up gas and oil wells around the U.S. that were previously off-limits for geothermal. Since we already dug all those holes in the ground, we might as well get some clean use out of them.

SolarReserve’s 24/7 solar thermal power plant for Nevada  

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Todd Woody at Forbes has a post on a new, dispatchable solar thermal power plant planned for Nevada - Obama administration grants $737 million for a 24/7 solar power plant

The Obama administration on Thursday offered Santa Monica solar startup SolarReserve a $737 million loan guarantee to build a 110-megawatt solar thermal power plant in Nevada that can generate electricity 24 hours a day.

That’s the holy grail for intermittent sources of carbon-free energy such as solar and wind and the SolarReserve loan guarantee is a sign that the United States Department of Energy is willing to gamble on a technology untested on a commercial scale.
SolarReserve literally was founded by rocket scientists from United Technologies’ Rocketdyne division in 2007 and licenses its molten salt technology.

Like rival BrightSource Energy, SolarReserve will deploy massive arrays of mirrors called heliostats around a very tall tower – in this case, one that tops 640 feet – with a boiler attached. BrightSource’s heliostats focus the sun on a water-filled boiler to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

SolarReserve fills its boiler with millions of gallons of molten salt. Some 17,500 heliostats heat the salt to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquefied salt then generates steam to drive the turbine before returning to the receiver. The salt retains heat that can be released at night or when the sun is not shining to continously to produce power.

“This solar technology is a genuine alternative to baseload coal, nuclear or natural gas burning electricity generation facilities," Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive, said in a statement.
The Nevada project, called the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, will be built on federal land in Tonopah, Nev., about 220 miles northwest of Las Vegas. SolarReserve said the molten salt can extend Crescent Dunes’ daily operation by 10 to 12 hours and the project can power 75,000 homes at peak output. Whether the utility that has contracted to buy the Crescent Dunes’ electricity, NV Energy, will want the plant to actually run around the clock depends on how it balances demands placed on the grid.

SolarReserve, which also has a license to build a 150-megawatt solar farm in the Southern California desert, is counting on the ability to provide carbon-free power when the sun isn’t shining as a competitive advantage. Rivals are also offering solar storage – Abengoa’s federally funded Solana solar trough power plant in Arizona, for instance, will feature up to seven hours’ storage.

ReynoBond - Pollution Eating Buildings  

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TransMaterial has a post on a building coating which can remove pollution from the air - Reynobond with EcoClean.

Reducing air pollution by way of photocatalysis is not limited to concrete. Alcoa Architectural Products has recently partnered with Toto to develop a titanium dioxide coating for their exterior-grade aluminum panels. According to Alcoa, the hydrophobic coating is the world’s first coil-coated, smog-reducing aluminum architectural panel.

In the presence of sunlight, Reynobond with EcoClean causes organic particulate matter near its surface to break down, and this material is washed away later by rain. 10,000 square feet of EcoClean surface has a similar cleansing effect as 80 trees, and can counteract the pollution produced by four cars per day.

Better Place unveils price plans in Israel and Denmark  

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The SMH reports that Better Place has unveiled pricing for their battery and eletric vehicle offering in Israel - Israeli electric car pioneer unveils price plans.

Electric car company Better Place has unveiled the pricing of its subscription packages ahead of the rollout of the world's first nationwide battery-charging grid. The company said Tuesday the base price for its flagship Renault Fluence Z.E. electric car will be 123,000 shekels, or $34,670.

It will offer various subscriptions depending on how much a user drives. Monthly costs will range from 1,090 shekels ($310) for 12,000 miles (20,000 kilometers) a year up to $450 for 20,000 miles (30,000 kilometers) a year. The company said it will also be offering a three-year package offering unlimited mileage for 157,500 shekels ($44,530). The company says the overall costs are up to 20 percent lower than a gasoline-powered car.

The Renault cars are to go on sale in Israel in August.

The company has announced a similar package in Denmark - Better Place and Renault launch Fluence Z.E., the first “unlimited mileage” electric car together with innovative eMobility packages.
Better Place opened today, together with its partner Renault, Europe’s first Better Place center. Visitors will now be able to experience sustainable mobility and will have the opportunity to place an order for a Renault Fluence Z.E. with the Renault staff and sign up with the Better Place team for a subscription of mobility services – conveniently packaged for consumers, fleet managers and the public sector.

The Fluence Z.E. “Prime Time” launched in Denmark from 205.000 DKK (€27.496), including VAT, and Better Place will offer consumers a choice of five, fixed-price, packages based on kilometers driven. For drivers who drive more than 40.000 kilometers per year, Better Place offers a fixed-price package of ‘all you can drive’ kilometers for 2.995 DKK (€399) per month, effectively giving drivers of the switchable-battery Fluence Z.E. unlimited driving range and unlimited kilometers in Denmark in an era when oil prices are at a two-year peak and rising.

For drivers who drive fewer than 20.000 kilometers per year, the fixed monthly price offer ranges from 1.495 DKK (€199) to 1.895 DKK (€249). Each subscription includes a one-time fee of 9.995 DKK (€1.341) for the installation of a private charge spot so that drivers can safely plug in at home. Initial delivery of the Renault Fluence Z.E. with Better Place mobility services will occur in the fourth quarter of this year.

The Renault Fluence Z.E. “Prime Time” will include, as standard features, climate control, navigation and energy management services via the in-car software system, radio-CD, alloy wheels, electric mirrors, 4 electric windows, central locking, a state-of-the-art lithium-ion switchable battery and many more equipments.

The car will offer Danish drivers a range of up to 185 kilometers, measured on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) with a fully charged battery. Actual range is virtually “unlimited,” thanks to the convenience of switchable battery technology that will enable drivers to “refuel” their Fluence Z.E. in under five minutes in the Better Place network of battery switch stations.

Japan nuclear plant confirms meltdown of two more reactors  

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The Guardian reports that Tepco has admitted that reactors 2 and 3 at Fukushima also suffered meltdowns - Japan nuclear plant confirms meltdown of two more reactors. I can just hear the zealots at BNC squawking about how this isn't a big deal and how the nuclear renaissance is still just around the corner...

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said fuel rods in two more reactors were likely to have suffered a meltdown soon after they were crippled by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami in north-east Japan.

Confirmation by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) that fuel in the cores of reactors 2 and 3 had melted came days after new data confirmed a similar meltdown in reactor 1 about 16 hours after the disaster.

The utility, which last week suffered the biggest annual loss by any Japanese firm outside the financial sector, said most of the melted fuel in all three reactors was covered in water and did not threaten to compound the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. ...

It said the fuel rods in the reactors 2 and 3 had started melting two to three days after the earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out vital cooling systems.

Tepco officials repeated their insistence that the reactors had been crippled by the waves, but speculation has mounted in recent days that the quake itself had been responsible, casting doubt on Tepco's claims that the plant was able to withstand even the most violent seismic shifts.

Perth’s Big Dry  

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WA Today reports that Perth looks like running out of dam water this summer courtesy of climate change induced declines in rainfall and deforestation, forcing the city to rely on water from aquifers and from the new-ish desalination plants - Perth’s Dry Dams.

Perth's drinking water supplies from dams will run out by the end of next summer even with decent rainfall, according to predictions by the Centre for Water Research. By then, Perth and the South-West would become solely reliant on water supplied from the already stressed Gnangara Mound aquifer and the Kwinana desalination plant, director Jorg Imberger said.

Even using an optimistic calculation that 35 gigalitres (35 billion litres) of rainwater would flow into the city's dams - far greater than the 13 gigalitres last year - the dams would run dry. "(Even) given recycled water, less water use, pumping the surface aquifer at Gnangara Mound a little bit more and hoping for rain, we'll basically have no water left at the end of summer 2012," Professor Imberger said.

The comments confer with the national Climate Commissioner's first report released yesterday, which warns that water availability will be at great risk before the end of the century due to changing rainfall patterns.

WA's South-West region was already "drying out" and all projections showed no improvement, the report by Professor Will Steffen said. "Rainfall is the main driver of run-off, which is the direct link to water availability," the report says. "Hydrological modelling indicates that water availability will likely decline in south-west Western Australia."

Perth's dam capacity is already below 25 per cent and only 10 per cent of that is drinkable.
WA Water Commission figures show the average amount of rainfall flowing into the dams has dramatically declined since 1974:

* 1911 - 1974 - 338 gigalitres
* 1974 - 2000 - 117 gigalitres
* 2001 - 2005 - 92.4 gigalitres
* 2006 - 2010 - 57.7 gigalitres

"It's raining less but the reduction into reservoirs has reduced even more because the vegetation is sucking up the rest (due to deforestation)," Professor Imberger said. "Between 30-40 per cent of that reduction is due to climate change. The remainder is down to land clearing - trees are not (there to) recycle water the way they used to be."

But a Water Corporation spokesman said it was too early too predict how much water would be left in the dams by early next year. He said over the past 10 years the dams had averaged 100 billion litres of water per year, although last year only 13 billion litres flowed.

Rainfall flows into the dams had been getting later and later each year but it already started this year. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the Perth metropolitan area recorded only 59 per cent of its average annual rainfall last year. A record hot summer brought no relief and so far this year, less than 50 millimetres of rain has fallen in Perth.

Professor Imberger said the state government's only option to avoid running out of drinking water was to immediately bring other sources online. That included expanding use of the Yarragadee aquifer in the South-West, doubling capacity of the second desalination plant at Binningup - due to come online by the end of the year to provide 45 gigalitres of water - to 100 gigalitres, and improving water recycling.

The SMH has an article on the Climate Commission report referred to above - Cutting fossil fuel production the green key.
Speaking at the launch of the Commission's report, The Critical Decade, into climate science, the report's author, Will Steffen said any climate change policy needs to quickly drive investment away from fossil fuels to ensure long-term emissions reductions. The Commission chief, Tim Flannery, said while efforts should be taken to store carbon in the landscape, it wouldn't prepare the whole economy for the necessary cuts to greenhouse gases. ...

While Professor Steffen did not comment directly on the Coalition's direct action policy, he said if storing carbon in soils is used as the ''the only methodology, as the primary one, and you allow emissions from fossil fuel emissions to go up, you won't solve the climate change problem, the science is clear on that. There is a very good case to be made for getting carbon back into the land, but if that is all you do, or you use that to delay action on fossil fuel emissions, you will have gone backwards a long way,'' he said....

The debate on soil carbon came as the top climate change official confirmed that the government's promise to use more than 50 per cent of the revenue generated by a carbon price for household compensation included measures to reduce the impact of petrol price rises.

The Australian reports the greens are calling for a ban on new coal mines while the details of the carbon tax are sorted out - Greens call for ban on new coal mines as they negotiate with Labor over carbon price.
GREENS deputy leader Christine Milne has called for a ban on new coal mines, amid signs of a growing gulf between the minor party and Labor as they try to reach an agreement on pricing carbon. Welcoming a Climate Commission report calling for urgent emissions cuts, Senator Milne said her party was pushing for the highest possible carbon price it could achieve in its talks with the government.

She attacked the burgeoning coal seam gas industry as a “disaster”, and said coal industry expansion should end. “(Coal seam gas) is not an industry we should be beginning at a time when we need to be getting away from investment in fossil fuels,” she said. “In terms of coal mines, the Greens have said very clearly no new coal mines, no extension of existing coal mines. Let's invest in renewables.”

Why are Australian petrol prices so high ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

I noticed an interesting little campaign on Facebook recently, which noted the strangely high level of Australian petrol prices compared to the last spike, given the much stronger Australian dollar and relatively subdued oil price.

Petrol is $1.45 a litre yet the Aussie Dollar is at $1.05 US and Oil Is $99 a barrel, yet last time we paid this much the Aussie dollar was around 70 US cents and oil was $145 a barrel, we should be paying about 90 cents a litre for petrol. we are being ripped off - copy and paste this on your face book page as the oil companies will realise with numbers we are on to them. Wheres the ACCC?

Australian Energy generators betting on a shale gas future ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

The recent (optimistic) EIA report into global shale gas resources has local gas producers wondering if a repeat of the coal seam gas boom may be on the cards in Australia, particularly in South Australia and West Australia. The Australian reports on Santos’ interest in this other form of unconventional gas - Energy generators bet on shale gas future.

THE hype about shale gas increased yesterday when Santos chief executive David Knox revealed he is planning to drill an onshore well in the next month to test for the unconventional gas, which has turned US domestic energy markets on their heads.
The move comes on the back of a report by the US Energy Information Agency that said Australia was sitting on the world's fifth-biggest reserves of shale gas and was ready to become a major producer. A revolution in shale gas technology has turned the US from a net importer of gas to one with a surplus in just the past five years, capping gas prices and dashing a host of planned liquefied natural gas import terminals.

The EIA, which is the US Energy Department's respected statistics and analysis arm, completed a study of global shale gas prospects last month and found Australia was one of the most prospective countries for development. "With geologic and industry conditions resembling those of the US and Canada, the country is poised to commercialise its gas shale resources on a large scale," the EIA said.

Santos is planning to drill in the Cooper Basin, which straddles the South Australia/Queensland border. Beach Energy, which claims it has more prospective shale ground than Santos, has already drilled there and is planning to do a frac test -- where the shale is fractured to release gas -- this quarter.

Gas captured in shale does not flow as easily as conventional gas, which is released from the rocks it is found in by pressure alone. The recent technology breakthroughs of the last decade mean the shale can be fractured underground to release the gas relatively economically.

While the Cooper Basin has a good chance to become Australia's first commercial producer of the gas, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on companies such as New Standard Energy and Buru Energy. which have grabbed early ground in Western Australia's big Canning Basin. The EIA says the Canning, in the northern part of the state, has 229 trillion cubic feet of risked recoverable reserves, compared to 85tcf in the Cooper and 69tcf in the Perth Basin, where AWE has shale ground.

If the EIA is correct and approximately 385 tcf of gas can be extracted from shale in Australia, this would extend the lifespan of domestic gas production even under a scenario of greatly increased consumption to over a century (thus further undermining any arguments to restrict exports based on resource nationalism - though obviously environmental issues remain, particularly given the experience in the US with unconventional gas extraction).

When push comes to carbon shove  

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Alan Kohler has a slightly depressing column in The Business Spectator, noting (correctly) that the current indecision over carbon pricing is holding up construction of new power generation capability, but then focussing entirely on how to swap gas for coal fired power (ignoring the real goal of switching to renewables) - before noting there isn't enough uncontracted gas on the eastern seaboard to make this viable given the rush to turn coal seam gas into LNG for Asian customers - When push comes to carbon shove. Kohler also keeps pushing the "taxpayers must compensate investors for shutting down (ancient) coal fired power generation", which is just ridiculous - the risk associated with buying these plants should have been well understood at least a decade ago.

That is, what’s required for Australia to make any kind of smooth transition away from coal-fired electricity generation is both a price on carbon and an industry policy that involves extra money from the budget, as proposed by the Coalition.

What we have instead are two political parties using each of these policies to fight a desperate war – one to survive, the other to prevail. The result is that each side of politics ridicules as utterly hopeless one of the two policies that are needed in combination.

This is now in stark contrast to the United Kingdom, where the Conservative-led government has produced an ambitious carbon abatement plan based on a bipartisan emissions trading scheme and an industry policy.

The key problem that Australia must solve is that 79 per cent of the power sold into the National Electricity Market comes from burning coal and 27 per cent of that is from brown coal. The brown coal alone produces 72 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is 13 per cent of the nation’s emissions.

If the brown coal were replaced with gas, Australia’s carbon emissions would fall by 9 per cent, which would more than meet the abatement targets of both the ALP and Liberal Party. Without replacing brown coal power generation, Australia’s emission reduction task would be virtually impossible.

UBS analyst David Leitch has calculated that to achieve that with a carbon price alone would require a price of $80 per tonne, which is four times the planned starting point for the Labor government’s proposed carbon tax.

A price of $20-25 per tonne would not only not result in any new gas-fired power generation, it would drastically cut the profitability of the brown coal power stations in the LaTrobe Valley, to the point where they probably be unable to service their debts.

That means Labor’s policy would probably result in the disastrous bankruptcy of existing coal-burning generators without their replacement with gas-fired ones.

Meanwhile the Liberal policy of ‘direct action’ is just as irresponsible, producing a massive blowout in government expenditure, as it tries to fully insulate the community from the higher cost of generating electricity from gas rather than coal.

The other problem is that Australia’s gas reserves are now being sold to China in vast quantities, so that very little remains for domestic consumption.

It’s estimated that replacing the 6,200 megawatts of electricity generated in the LaTrobe would require gas reserves of nearly 10,000 petajoules. About 30,000PJ have been found in Queensland coal seams but that’s all being sold as LNG; in the Gippsland basin, close to the LaTrobe Valley, only 1000PJ remains uncontracted – nowhere near enough.

In other words, there needs to be some kind of specific government intervention to manage the transition from brown coal to gas: there needs to be the ‘pull’ of a higher electricity price to make gas profitable; the ‘push’ of compensation for the brown coal generators to close.


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