Yemen’s multiple proxy wars a recipe for a famine  

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Crikey has a look at the famine in Yemen, exacerbated by high prices for diesel - Yemen’s multiple proxy wars a recipe for a famine.

For decades throughout the 20th century, the idea of famine had two dominant uses in the West.

The first was proof of the Christian ideal that “the poor you will always have with you”, thus re-affirming the eternal need for charity, and the limited usefulness of political struggle — the second was to reaffirm a vaguely or explicitly racialist and Malthusian notion that the dusky-skinned two thirds of the world really couldn’t manage themselves that well, and were doomed to over-breeding and starvation. Before the Second World War, China was the locus for this concern/panic — in various famines until the 1949 revolution, children would be exchanged between families to be eaten, or sold in the marketplace.

After the war, attention switched to India, and then in the 1970s and ’80s, to Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. The story was static, and endlessly repeated — skeletal children, milk powder, guilt, appeals, etc. The global extravaganza of Live Aid in 1985 was probably the acme of this well-meant but bone-headed view of starvation — appropriately enough celebrated by a song in which a phalanx of stars wondered if animist and Muslim peoples even knew it was Christmas time at all.

But by this time another view of famine was beginning to permeate the liberal West, with the 1981 publication of Amartya Sen’s Poverty and Famines, which deployed an array of theories to argue that famines almost always occurred in regions where there was plenty of food — and that even when there was a will to alleviate the famine, the absence of democratic and open political structures made such alleviation impossible.

Sen’s example was the Bengal Famine of 1943 — something that Commonwealth readers rarely hear of in tales of WW2, because 3 million Indians died due to the incompetence, indecision and outright racism of the British authorities. Sen’s argument made an impact where more radical left-wing accounts of the political nature of famine had been dismissed — but many were still unwilling to concede one of his core points, that one of the great barriers to alleviating famine was the market itself.

Sen’s argument has made it impossible for Western news to report famine in the way it once did, but it’s a close run thing. Fragments of reasons a region might suddenly descend into desperate starvation are aired, but there remains a basic inability to tell a connected story. The default position remains the Pieta, the starving child in arms.

Which brings us to the Yemen famine, which has suddenly hit the headlines, after bubbling in the background of the news for months. Ten million people — nearly half of the country’s population — are at risk of starvation, yet the food shortage is not affecting whole regions or areas equally. The burden is falling overwhelmingly on the poor, with people starving while nearby markets are full.

Though there’s been a persistent food shortage since the global food price rise in 2008 — and in fact food has always been short for the poor in the country — the situation has been made urgent by several coincident factors. A drought has persisted for more than three years, and is at its worst this summer, leading to a lack of work for millions of rural labourers. It’s also Ramadan, which, perversely, as a month of daylight fasting, raises food prices — since the fasting is followed by night-time feasting.

Added to these woes, Yemen is starving because it has become a site for multiple proxy wars — the Shia-based Sadah uprising from the north-west, a South Yemen uprising (based around the territory of the old Soviet-era Marxist state), and the Arab Spring general insurgency against the 30-plus-year reign of President Salleh, and last but not least a proxy war between al-Qaeda and US drone attacks.

The result is a country in which substantial networks not merely of trade, but also of inter-family support and charity have broken down, making the usual transfer between rich and poor all the more difficult, such as it occurs. To be fair, it has also been pointed out that the production of the intoxicant herb “khat” dominates agricultural production without providing any nourishment (though it also acts as an appetite suppressant), to the detriment of food production and household budgets.

But above all and beyond all this is the way in which Yemen is trapped in a global commodity system, with steadily rising prices for basic staple foods (of which Yemen imports 90%), and for diesel oil, which is used to pump water. At this point, with diesel oil unaffordable, many families are reliant on charity for a continued supply of water.

This crippling gap has led Oxfam to approach the problem in a simple way — they’re simply giving money to the poor, so that they can shop at market, and also acquire diesel. But the inevitable result of that will be a further bump in prices as the money swims into the system without expanded production, and the cycle begins again.

The Yemen famine then, is something we will begin to see more and more — a situation in which a poor and precarious country has its price signals swamped by global demand and remorselessly rising prices. With several decades of rising crop yields and low oil prices, now curtailed, it will be the nations who have not managed to get on the development ladder — or the poor parts of those who have — that will pay for the prosperity being enjoyed by a booming global urban and industrial class. In that case, the price signal becomes not a carrier of information, but a barrier to it, a la Sen — it tells us nothing about what is really required to be done, within any ethical system worthy of the name.

That story won’t be told in even the most searching reports on this famine, or the next, in the next place. We have come a long way from famine as an act of God, but we are not yet ready to recognise it as a product of global markets, or our role within it.

Maugeri on peak oil  

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James Hamilton at Econbrowser has a look at Leonardo Maugeri's paper on peak oil - Maugeri on peak oil

Carpe Diem, Reuters, FTalphaville, and WhaleOil are among those calling attention to a new paper by Leonardo Maugeri, senior manager for the Italian oil company Eni, and Senior Fellow at Harvard University, which concluded:
Contrary to what most people believe, oil supply capacity is growing worldwide at such an unprecedented level that it might outpace consumption. This could lead to a glut of overproduction and a steep dip in oil prices.

Based on original, bottom-up, field-by-field analysis of most oil exploration and development projects in the world, this paper suggests that an unrestricted, additional production (the level of production targeted by each single project, according to its schedule, unadjusted for risk) of more than 49 million barrels per day of oil (crude oil and natural gas liquids, or NGLs) is targeted for 2020, the equivalent of more than half the current world production capacity of 93 mbd. [After factoring in risk factors and depletion rates of currently producing oilfields], the net additional production capacity by 2020 could be 17.6 mbd, yielding a world oil production capacity of 110.6 mbd by that date.

Here I take a look at some of the details of Maugeri's analysis.

About half of Maugeri's calculated 17.6 mb/d in net additional production capacity comes from two countries-- the United States and Iraq (see his Table 2). I have earlier discussed the situation for the United States. To briefly recap, more than half of the increase in total U.S. oil production since 2005 has come from biofuels and natural gas liquids, neither of which should be added to conventional crude production for purposes of calculating the available supply. Another important contribution to recent U.S. production gains has come from shale/tight oil. I agree with Maugeri that this will be an important factor in the future, but it is not cheap, and there are some big uncertainties in extrapolating recent gains, about which I will have more to say below.

But first let's take a look at Iraq, which by itself accounts for 5.1 mb/d, or 29% of the net combined global gains that Maugeri is anticipating. His starting point for these calculations (see his Table 1) is the "production target" associated with a dozen oil fields for which the Iraqi government has signed contracts with oil companies. These targets call for these fields to reach maximum levels of production which, when added together, come to 11.6 mb/d. To win a contract, oil companies had to specify two key parameters: a "target" level of production and a remuneration per barrel, with awards going to the companies that specified the highest target and lowest remuneration. Some have characterized the announced targets simply as propaganda. Once awarded, there seems to be a separate process in which the production targets get renegotiated. Maugeri acknowledges the logistic and security challenges in meeting the targets, and accordingly cuts the official estimates in half. Doing so would still be a stunning achievement, requiring an Iraq that would be substantially more stable and successful over the next decade than it has been over the last three.

A separate issue is that new production from places like the U.S. and Iraq are needed in part to replace declining production flows coming from mature fields. A key question in any study like this is the assumed magnitude of that decline. As Stephen Sorrell notes, Maugeri does not state his assumed rate, and confuses the issue by mixing discussions of the depletion of an existing reservoir (for which purposes Maugeri is correct to raise the offsetting factor of additions to reserves) with the declining production flow rate from a given field (the relevant number for purposes of calculating the net addition that new fields bring to annual production). Sorrell suggests we can infer the implicit assumed decline rate from Maugeri's Table 2, which reports a difference between his adjusted gross additions and adjusted net additions of 11 mb/d. That seems to imply that Maugeri is assuming that the total decline in production from existing fields between now and 2020 will be 11 mb/d, which I calculate to correspond to a 1.4% annual decline rate (ln(82/93)/9 = -0.014). As Sorrell notes, this compares for example with the IEA's (2008) substantially less optimistic numbers:

Based on data for 580 of the world's largest fields that have passed their production peak, the observed decline rate-- averaged across all fields and weighted by their production over their whole lives-- is 5.1%. Decline rates are lowest for the biggest fields: they average 3.4% for super-giant fields, 6.5% for giant fields and 10.4% for large fields. The average rate of observed post-plateau decline, based on our data sub-set of 479 fields, is 5.8%.
... I agree with Maugeri that new production from places like the United States and Iraq is going to be very helpful. But I think he substantially overstates the case for optimism. If we are counting on sources such as shale/tight oil, oil sands, and deepwater to replace production lost from mature conventional oil fields, the days of cheap oil are never going to return.

Australian ocean energy could power Melbourne by 2050: CSIRO study  

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ReNew Economy points to a new study from the CSIRO on ocean power potential in Australia - Australian ocean energy could power Melbourne by 2050: study.

Did you know that wave energy has the potential to supply about 11 per cent of Australia’s electricity – the equivalent to powering a city the size of Melbourne – by 2050?

If the results of yesterday’s Climate Institute’s “Climate of the Nation 2012″ report are anything to go by, you probably didn’t. Because while that study found overwhelming support among Australians for the development of renewables, most of this was directed towards solar, wind and hydro, with only 25 per cent of respondents nominating wave energy as their most preferred option (although this number still beat out nuclear and coal).

The fact is, not nearly enough is known about ocean renewable energy in Australia – a situation the CSIRO hopes to redress with its new report, “Ocean renewable energy: 2015-2050.” The report, released today – and from which the above fact was gleaned – is the result of the CSIRO’s efforts to understand the potential of this clean energy source, and to inform the ocean energy industry, government and investors about the challenges and potential for the technology.

“Given the potential of ocean energy and the fact that it’s a very new technology, CSIRO wanted to understand what is the sustainable level at which this resource could be used for energy supply and whether it could be competitive with other energy technologies,” said Ian Cresswell, acting director of the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship. “Assessing the opportunities and challenges from resource to the market is a first for ocean renewable energy in Australia.”

The study was carried out by the Wealth from Oceans and Energy Transformed Flagships and included an analysis of the resource, cost to market, technologies and future take-up projections by oceanographers, engineers, economists. It also engaged the ocean energy industry and related sectors.

As the report – which can now be viewed online – points out, wave energy converters are still an emerging technology. CSIRO’s research uncovered at least 200 devices around the world in various stages of testing and demonstration, but found that relatively few had publicly available data on deployments at sea in full operational mode. ...

Nonetheless, the study identified 16 Australian companies that are either actively developing ORE projects, have received significant government and/or private funding, or have announced ORE plans; and it pointed to some home-grown technologies being offered to the market – the most advanced being the CETO submerged buoy system, and the OceanLinx oscillating water column system.

The largest ORE project in Australia (recipient of a $66 million grant from the federal government) was identified as the construction of a wave farm off the coast of Victoria by Ocean Power Technologies Australasia (OPTA), a company with a US-based parent.

As for Australia’s ocean energy potential, the report found that Australia has an abundant wave energy resource and could produce 24-hour power, either from the tides, currents or waves. The nation’s best resource was found to be concentrated along the southern coastline, as well as a consistent, yet smaller, contribution on the east coast – although the report said characterisation of this resource area required further attention.

The areas the report says could benefit most from wave energy technology include Perth, the southern coastline, and (less-so) the east coast of Australia (see chart below). It also found that tidal technology could supply niche areas such as north east Tasmania and WA’s Kimberley region and ocean thermal energy off the coast of far north Queensland.

A soaring food price fear  

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The Business Spectator has an article wondering if the drought in the US will cause another spike in food prices and social unrest - A soaring food price fear.

Markets are bracing for a surge in global political unrest, as the worst US drought in half a century sent corn and soybean prices soaring to record highs overnight.

The combination of scorching temperatures and a lack of rain has now pushed corn and soybean prices above the peaks they reached during the 2007-08 food crisis. Overnight, the corn futures price climbed above $US8 a bushel for the first time, while that of soybeans hit a record $US17.12 a bushel.

Although the wheat price has not yet hit record highs, it has jumped more than 50 per cent in the past five weeks, and is now above the level it hit after Russia’s crop failure in 2010, which prompted Moscow to impose a ban on grain exports.

Grain traders have been anxiously monitoring the effect of the drought, which is the worst since 1956 in terms of the areas affected. In its weekly crop report, the US government said that only 31 per cent of the corn crop was in “good to excellent condition”, a sharp drop from its estimate of 40 per cent last week. For soybeans, the estimate dropped to 34 per cent from 40 per cent.

But the devastating US drought will have massive global effects. The United States is the world’s largest exporter of corn, soybeans and wheat – supplying around one-third of these staple grains traded on the global market.

Already, some analysts are warning that the world could be in for a period of intense social and political instability similar to that seen in 2007-08 when soaring food prices sparked riots in dozens of countries. They note that last year’s political instability in the Arab world was partly caused by surging grain prices.

The effect of rising grain prices is most pronounced in poor countries, where people can spend up to three-quarters of their income on food. Because food is such an important part of consumer spending, surging food prices are quickly reflected in a jump in official inflation figures.

Rolling Stone has an article by Bill McKibben on the state of play in global warming analysis - Global Warming's Terrifying New Math.
If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven't convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the "largest temperature departure from average of any season on record." The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet's history.

Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world's nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn't even attend. It was "a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago," the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls "once thronged by multitudes." Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I've spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we're losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.

When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn't yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to understand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless – position with three simple numbers.

Maine company leading way as tidal energy comes of age  

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The Portland Press Herald has an article on the first commercial tidal power generation in North America, in the Bay Of Fundy - Maine company leading way as tidal energy comes of age.

The tide is running out of Passamaquoddy and Cobscook bays, transforming the miles-wide ocean passages around Eastport into fast-running rivers.

To the east of this easternmost American port, the Western Hemisphere's largest whirlpool is surging to life, creating a vortex capable of sucking a small skiff into the abyss. Here on the west side of town, the sea is fleeing Cobscook and, unwittingly, generating electricity for the Ocean Renewable Power Co.

Slung beneath a specially built barge moored near the bay's mouth, a sailboat-sized turbine spins in the 4-knot current, generating a clean, renewable and predictable flow of electricity. It's a 50-kilowatt prototype that ORPC is developing for use in rivers, a small cousin to the 60-kilowatt device it tested here last year.

On Tuesday, however, the company will unveil its first full-scale commercial unit at a ceremony here: a cylindrical module as big as a Grand Banks fishing schooner with long curved turbine foils. Sometime next month, it will carefully attach the module to a mount already awaiting it on the Cobscook sea floor a mile farther up the bay from here. The company will attach cables linking it to new transmission lines on the Lubec shore and, with the push of a button, the 180-kilowatt turbine will begin selling power to the grid, the first of a new class of damless tidal energy devices to do so anywhere in North America.

Tidal power, long in development, is finally coming of age, with a Maine company leading the way.

"What ORPC is doing in Cobscook Bay is really a very important milestone," said Paul Jacobson, an ocean energy expert at the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Electrical Power Research Institute. "With this project, these tidal power devices have finally crossed the threshold into commercial development."

There's much more to come. ORPC plans to add two more turbines to its Cobscook site in the coming year, and as many as 18 in the faster, harsher waters of Passamaquoddy Bay on the other side of Eastport by 2016.

"Maine is where it all started and where the lessons are being learned," said ORPC's president and co-founder, Chris Sauer, who calls Eastport the "Kitty Hawk" of his nascent industry. "Maine will become the intellectual center for tidal energy, with the people and knowledge base for how to do this."

The Eastport area has Maine's highest tides -- 20 feet -- because it is perched at the mouth of the vast Bay of Fundy, home to the greatest tides on the planet. It's the ultimate tidal resource, and ORPC and its foreign rivals are competing to harness its energy.

Lockdown: The coming war on general-purpose computing  

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Cory Doctorow has an article outlining why he thinks a range of industries will be lobbying hard to make general purpose computers available to the masses - Lockdown: The coming war on general-purpose computing.

Why might other sectors come to nurse grudges against computers in the way the entertainment business already has? The world we live in today is made of computers. We don't have cars anymore; we have computers we ride in. We don't have airplanes anymore; we have flying Solaris boxes attached to bucketfuls of industrial control systems. A 3D printer is not a device, it's a peripheral, and it only works connected to a computer. A radio is no longer a crystal: it's a general-purpose computer, running software. The grievances that arise from unauthorized copies of Snooki's Confessions of a Guidette are trivial when compared to the calls-to-action that our computer-embroidered reality will soon create.

Consider radio. Radio regulation until today was based on the idea that the properties of a radio are fixed at the time of manufacture, and can't be easily altered. You can't just flip a switch on your baby monitor and interfere with other signals. But powerful software-defined radios (SDRs) can change from baby monitor to emergency services dispatcher or air traffic controller, just by loading and executing different software. This is why the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considered what would happen when we put SDRs in the field, and asked for comment on whether it should mandate that all software-defined radios should be embedded in “trusted computing" machines. Ultimately, the question is whether every PC should be locked, so that their programs could be strictly regulated by central authorities.

Even this is a shadow of what is to come. After all, this was the year in which we saw the debut of open source shape files for converting AR-15 rifles to full-automatic. This was the year of crowd-funded open-sourced hardware for genetic sequencing. And while 3D printing will give rise to plenty of trivial complaints, there will be judges in the American South and mullahs in Iran who will lose their minds over people in their jurisdictions printing out sex toys. The trajectory of 3D printing will raise real grievances, from solid-state meth labs to ceramic knives.

It doesn't take a science fiction writer to understand why regulators might be nervous about the user-modifiable firmware on self-driving cars, or limiting interoperability for aviation controllers, or the kind of thing you could do with bio-scale assemblers and sequencers. Imagine what will happen the day that Monsanto determines that it's really important to make sure that computers can't execute programs which cause specialized peripherals to output custom organisms which literally eat their lunch.

Regardless of whether you think these are real problems or hysterical fears, they are, nevertheless, the political currency of lobbies and interest groups far more influential than Hollywood and big content. Every one of them will arrive at the same place: “Can't you just make us a general-purpose computer that runs all the programs, except the ones that scare and anger us? Can't you just make us an Internet that transmits any message over any protocol between any two points, unless it upsets us?"

There will be programs that run on general-purpose computers, and peripherals, that will freak even me out. So I can believe that people who advocate for limiting general-purpose computers will find a receptive audience. But just as we saw with the copyright wars, banning certain instructions, protocols or messages will be wholly ineffective as a means of prevention and remedy. As we saw in the copyright wars, all attempts at controlling PCs will converge on rootkits, and all attempts at controlling the Internet will converge on surveillance and censorship. This stuff matters because we've spent the last decade sending our best players out to fight what we thought was the final boss at the end of the game, but it turns out it's just been an end-level guardian. The stakes are only going to get higher.

As a member of the Walkman generation, I have made peace with the fact that I will require a hearing aid long before I die. It won't be a hearing aid, though; it will really be a computer. So when I get into a car—a computer that I put my body into—with my hearing aid—a computer I put inside my body—I want to know that these technologies are not designed to keep secrets from me, or to prevent me from terminating processes on them that work against my interests.

Last year, the Lower Merion School District, in a middle-class, affluent suburb of Philadelphia, found itself in a great deal of trouble. It was caught distributing, to its students, rootkitted laptops that allowed remote covert surveillance through the computer's camera and network connection. They photographed students thousands of times, at home and at school, awake and asleep, dressed and naked. Meanwhile, the latest generation of lawful intercept technology can covertly operate cameras, microphones, and GPS tranceivers on PCs, tablets, and mobile devices.

We haven't lost yet, but we have to win the copyright war first if we want to keep the Internet and the PC free and open. Freedom in the future will require us to have the capacity to monitor our devices and set meaningful policies for them; to examine and terminate the software processes that runs on them; and to maintain them as honest servants to our will, not as traitors and spies working for criminals, thugs, and control freaks.

Cory is giving a talk at the Long Now next week - Cory Doctorow Seminar Primer.
If geek culture had a class president, Cory Doctorow would be frontrunner for the position. He writes for BoingBoing, uses Ubuntu, played a hero in XKCD, published several rebellious young-adult sci-fi novels (under CC licenses, no less), and has worked on two continents fighting for the rights of internet users. He’s spent the better part of the last couple decades encouraging content-producers to embrace the new models of distribution made possible by the internet and fought them tooth and nail when they seek to hold it back.

His outspokenness doesn’t come from a single statement like “information wants to be free.” Doctorow argues in a recent essay called Lockdown that enforcing Copyright law in the digital era is about more than protecting the rights of intellectual property holders; it has rather become a kind of trojan horse for the surveillance industrial complex and threatens to severely curtail the individual autonomy of the world’s citizens. Computers are infusing everything, he explains. They increasingly extend our embodiment and cognition and can thus be enabling and liberating. Computing’s inherent flexibility therefore offers a form of freedom; commercial or governmental interests that seek to control computing for their own needs or simply out of a fear of the new way must be resisted in order to protect that freedom.

Sit tight, the tidal wave of clean energy is on the horizon  

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The SMH has a suprisingly optimistic article on some Australian cleantech companies - Sit tight, the tidal wave of clean energy is on the horizon.

You may be looking at the often forgotten clean technology sector, but you may have to be patient before it generates good returns.

The introduction of the carbon tax means the focus will be on companies that operate in the green sector, either delivering energy in an environmentally sustainable way, reducing waste or minimising the impact of other companies' pollution.

The carbon tax sets a fixed price for carbon units, as they are called, for the next three years. That price is $23 in the first year, rising to $25.40 in 2014-15.

That impost should make cleantech companies more viable competitors to fossil-fuel energy producers such as coal and oil. ...


The electric-scooter company recently signed a contract for 6000 scooters with Shanghai's PowerEagle International. China is the world's biggest two-wheeled market and the deal would see Vmoto produce about 150,000 units by 2015. PowerEagle will use its distribution network to sell the scooters in China.


This is one of the more established businesses in the cleantech sector. It produces power-generating products for home and office, built around its fuel-cell technology. In its ASX update in March, the company said it had orders for 619 units. Payments received in the March quarter totalled $2.7 million, which was 85 per cent above the December quarter. Some of its BlueGen units were sold to clients in Britain and Germany, and the company has launched a marketing effort in the Netherlands. Domestically, it has installed 25 of its units in Newcastle, NSW, as part of the ''Smart Grid, Smart City'' project and 30 units are in similar projects in Victoria.


The company has about 22,300 hectares of trees planted for its carbon sink (reforestation) projects for other companies.

Management announced a record net profit result of $1.6 million for its past half year. Revenue for the company was also up significantly. While the company did not pay a dividend last time, the board says it's reviewing its policy in that area.

It also has a range of other environmental services such as forestry mapping and management, mine-site rehabilitation and carbon accounting.

Co2 is expanding its operations in New Zealand and looking at other overseas markets.


The company (and its share price) recently received a big boost after the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, confirmed the government's support for an exclusive agreement for Carnegie's Perth Wave Energy Project to power the Department of Defence's HMAS Stirling naval base. The company's wave-energy system includes an array of submerged pumps, which are tethered to seabed pump units. The motion of passing waves drives the pumps, which pressurise water, which is then delivered to the shore via pipes. That water then drives hydroelectric turbines. The managing director, Dr Michael Ottaviano, strongly supports carbon pricing.


The company has a high-yield algae-growth manufacturing system, which produces what it describes as sustainable and renewable oil for fuel. Algae has long been viewed as a possible replacement for fossil fuels. Algae production also avoids the ''fuel versus food'' debate, which can affect soybean and other biofuel foodstocks. Broker Patersons notes all companies in the algae sector face challenges in terms of the selection of algae species, optimum sunlight and water use. An Algae.Tec demonstration plant has been commissioned in Nowra on the NSW south coast and airline operator Lufthansa is conducting a test of algae oil.

Japan to probe 'active faults' under nuclear plants  

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AFP reports that Japan is rather belatedly trying to work out if its nuclear plants are built on fault lines - Japan to probe 'active faults' under nuclear plants.

Japan's nuclear safety watchdog on Wednesday ordered a probe into claims the country's only working nuclear power station sits on an active tectonic fault.

The order came as Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) readied to refire a second reactor at the Oi plant, western Japan, just weeks after the first unit was restarted, ending a brief nuclear-free period in earthquake-prone Japan.

A spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said KEPCO had to re-examine the Earth's crust underneath Oi, while the operator of the Shika plant in nearby Ishikawa also had to carry out further studies.

The decision came after geological experts argued both plants are likely sitting on active faults and could be vulnerable to earthquakes if tectonic plates shift.

Japan's entire stable of nuclear reactors was shut down in the months after the disaster at Fukushima when an earthquake-sparked tsunami knocked out cooling systems causing meltdowns that spread radiation over a large area.

Why has the Right gone missing on the surveillance state?  

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Bernard Keane at Crikey has a look at the ever expanding surveillance of internet activity in Australia - Why has the Right gone missing on the surveillance state?.

It took a while but Fairfax finally lumbered into action today on the remarkable proposals to dramatically expand government surveillance of Australians that are before the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, editorialising that intelligence agencies needed to explain why they want to retain Australians’ internet data, after its security specialist Dylan Welch had covered the proposals yesterday.

Yesterday the ABC also provided some detailed coverage; every specialist IT outlet had already covered the proposals in detail on Tuesday and Wednesday, after Crikey broke the proposals on Monday afternoon. A quick reprise of the proposals: the government wants to undertake some sensible housekeeping amendments relating to ASIO, the establishing legislation for which is showing some definite whiskers. But the government has also put on the table, for consideration, proposals including:

* keeping all Australians’ telecommunications and internet data for 2 years;
* wiretapping Twitter, Facebook and other social media;
* allowing ASIO to plant material on people’s computers, and destroy material, and go through a third party’s computer to do so;
* criminalise refusing to cooperate with government decryption attempts, so you could go to gaol for refusing to surrender your password;
* freeing up ASIO agents to break the law if it helps them stay undercover; and
* enabling non-ASIO intelligence agencies to work with ASIO to spy on Australians.

News Ltd’s papers, apart from recycling a single AAP piece today, have said nothing, a failure that is thoroughly perplexing. Here is a Labor government proposing draconian extensions to surveillance powers. What better opportunity for the bastion of “campaigning journalism” that loves nothing more than monstering Labor? There isn’t even a need to confect a target for a campaign, as News Ltd did with the BER program And yet… silence. It’s all the more bizarre given the company is in the throes of a furious campaign against the alleged threat of government regulation to freedom of speech.

If News Ltd and its dimwit spear-carriers like Janet Albrechtsen are to be believed, the proposals arising from the Convergence Review and the Finkelstein Inquiry are only one step short of Soviet re-education camps. Yet Labor wheels out a real threat to free speech far more sinister than a mere public interest test — our intelligence agencies, after all, have a sterling record of spying on journalists — and… nothing. How about the Institue of Public Affairs, who can normally be relied on to stand up free speech and attack regulatory overreach… or for that matter regulatory reach full stop? Not a squeak.

The issue was considered unworthy of the institute’s weekly round-up of left-wing outrages. How about Andrew Bolt, who if nothing else is hyper-sensitive to parliamentary threats to free speech, having been the victim of an appalling legal assault on his own? Nothing. Why has the Right gone missing on a clear and present threat to basic rights? Where’s the mistrust of government and readiness to go over the top when we actually need it in response to a clear and present danger? Is it because the issue of online freedom is somehow perceived to be one of the Left, despite its strong libertarian dimensions?

You don’t need to be of any particular political orientation to be offended about these proposals, and offended by the reasoning used to justify them. The justification used in the discussion paper, and it was one repeated by Joint Committee member Andrew Wilkie yesterday, is that our surveillance framework needs to be updated to address the move from the telecommunications to the internet era. That reasoning is, to use my favourite Greinerism, a nonsense.

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act hasn’t been left gathering dust on the legislative shelf since before the arrival of the internet. It’s been updated regularly in the last decade - more years than not have seen an amendment to that act or an extension of ASIO’s powers in our parliament. In fact, bizarrely, it’s the very frequency with which the acts have been updated that the discussion paper insists is all the more reason for an overhaul (and expansion) of the whole régime (yes, I’ve thought and re-thought through that and I can’t understand it either). The other reason it’s a nonsense is a more subtle one that intelligence agencies and politicians neither want to understand nor will accept.

The proposals to start wiretapping social media use, store your data, control communications infrastructure and lock you up when you won’t cough up the password to your laptop or phone are classic War On The Internet measures. They seek to re-impose analog-era control structures on a world fundamentally altered by interconnectedness. In the analog world of wiretapping telecommunications (which originally was, literally, sticking an alligator clip onto a wire), citizens had virtually no means of communications except a government-controlled telephone system — recall the grand days of dictatorships shutting down phone lines to the outside world at moments of crisis?

There was no network, no connectedness for citizens, because they could never talk to more than one person at a time, making their interaction easy to monitor. That single, controllable piece of copper linking people one at a time has been replaced with a network that connects everyone to everyone else, globally, simultaneously. But governments want to still employ the copper-era control mechanism, as if nothing has changed except the technology.

The technological change is trivial compared to the social change being wrought across the world, which those who were in control in the analog era don’t understand and want to keep at bay. And the urge to keep control and monitor is coupled with an ever-stronger refusal to share information with citizens; governments want a surveillance state for everyone but themselves; they insist on their own right to operate in secrecy. The luxury of redaction is only for governments, not their citizens.

This is far less about being Left or Right than about being wrong, fundamentally wrong, about how our societies and the way we function in them are changing. It’s that change these measures are aimed at stopping and controlling.

Peak oil debunked? The mechanisms of denial at work  

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Ugo at Cassandra's Legacy has a look at Leonardo Maugeri's paper on peak oil - Peak oil debunked? The mechanisms of denial at work.

In 1989, Ronald Bailey published an article in "Forbes" where he attacked the 1972 "Limits to Growth" study by saying that:
“Limits to Growth” predicted that at 1972 rates of growth the world would run out of gold by 1981, mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, copper, lead and natural gas by 1993."
No such statement existed in the "Limits" book, nevertheless Bailey's attack had an incredible success. It went viral and was repeated over and over by people who never worried about checking it. Eventually, it generated the legend of the "mistakes of the Club of Rome", still alive and well today and still at the basis of the widespread negative opinion of the "Limits" study. (this story is described here, as well as in my book "The Limits to Growth Revisited.")

The demolition of the "Limits" study remains today a classic example of the mechanisms of denial in scientific communication, as described, for instance, by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway in "Merchants of Doubt." Similar mechanisms have been at work against climate science, studies on the health effects of smoking, pollution studies and more. However, the idea that we are close to the peak of the world's oil production ("Peak Oil") had remained so far relatively immune to this kind of denial.

That may be changing with the publication of Leonardo Maugeri's recent study titled "Oil: the next revolution" which has generated a true tsunami of posts and articles all based on the concept that "Peak Oil has been debunked." We may be seeing a snowballing effect similar to the one caused by Bailey's 1989 article that destroyed the credibility of "The Limits to Growth."

To make my point clear, let me state that Maugeri's work is a serious study. Surely, it can be criticized (e.g. here, here, and here), but it is far better than Bailey's piece of pure slander and other propaganda pieces aimed, for instance, against climate science. But that has little to do with the mechanisms of denial. The problem is that most people - including decision makers - have no time, no inclination, and no expertise to go in depth in issues such as resource depletion. So, when facing a complex and nuanced issue they tend to choose the interpretation that they like best - it is called "confirmation bias." Now, surely good news are better than bad news and for most people an apparently authoritative study that says that we are not running out of oil is preferable to the gloom and doom of most depletion studies.

The problem is that Maugeri's thesis is based on preciously little: mainly on a new assessment of the oil reserves that takes into account the so called "unconventional" resources. Lately, the growth in this sector has been remarkable, true, but all what this "oil revolution" could do so far is to stave off the decline that would have occurred if we were relying only on conventional oil. Still, the fact that we haven't seen a well defined peak in the world's oil production is sufficient to give weight to Maugeri's ideas. Paradoxically, the numerous attempts of criticizing the study may have been counterproductive in giving it a visibility that it hardly deserves.

A couple of decades ago people started referring to the "Limits to Growth" study as "Club of Rome's mistake". Are we going to see Peak Oil described as "ASPO's mistake"? It is too early to tell, but we can rule out this possibility. Especially if oil prices were to collapse in the near future - as they did in 2008 - most people would take that as a vindication of Maugeri's thesis. Never mind that the price collapse would also cause a decline in production - as Maugeri himself clearly states in his study. Most people perceive the problems with oil only in terms of prices, not of production. If we are going to see this kind of events unfolding, it will take a lot of time and effort to redress the public perception on Peak Oil, just as it is taking a lot of time and effort to fight the perception that the "Limits" study had been "wrong".

On the other hand, Maugeri's work may simply be forgotten when it will be clear that the "oil revolution" he predicts is not materializing. Communication is a field where prediction is always very difficult, even more than with oil production. The only thing we can say for sure is that we are sensible to the viral diffusion of legends. It is the way our mind works; it has not evolved for long range planning.

Global Exergy Resource Chart  

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Stanford's "Global Climate and Energy project" has a great chart showing the energy sources available to us and how much we are currently using - Global Exergy Resource Chart.

India’s first tidal energy plant coming up in Gujarat  

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The Weekend Leader has an update on a proposed tidal power plant in India - India’s first tidal energy plant coming up in Gujarat.

The Gujarat government is all set to develop India’s first tidal energy plant. The state government has approved Rs 25 crore for setting up the 50 MW plant at the Gulf of Kutch. It will produce energy from the ocean tides.

The state government signed a MoU with Atlantis Resource Corporation last year to develop the plant.

According to an estimate, India has a potential of 8,000 MW of tidal energy “The proposal was approved in this year’s budget session,” says Rajkumar Raisinghani, senior executive with Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL).

Atlantis Resource Corporation is a UK-based developer of tidal current turbines. “The equipment has been imported and work will start anytime soon. We are awaiting Coastal Regulation Zone clearance from Ministry of Environment and Forests, which is expected soon,” adds Raisinghani.

According to the GPCL officials, if this 50 MW plant is successfully commissioned, its capacity will be increased to 200 MW. As per a study conducted by Atlantis Resource Corporation and the state government two years ago, the Gulf of Kutch has a total potential of 300 MW. The biggest operating tidal station in the world, La Rance in France, generates 240 MW.

According to the estimates of the Indian government, the country has a potential of 8,000 MW of tidal energy. This includes about 7,000 MW in the Gulf of Cambay in Gujarat, 1,200 MW in the Gulf of Kutch and 100 MW in the Gangetic delta in the Sunderbans region of West Bengal.

Exxon pulls out of Poland shale gas  

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Reuters has a report on Exxon's giving up on shale gas extraction in Poland - Europe shale push shaken by Exxon's Poland pullout. The FT also has a report - Poland shale: Exxon exit.

Europe's most ambitious shale gas plans were in disarray on Monday after U.S. major ExxonMobil announced it would pull out of exploration projects in Poland.

Poland's lucrative reserves had spurred hopes of transforming Europe the way a shale boom has left the United States brimming with supplies, potentially turning the Poles into net gas exporters.

That was until March, when a government report revealed the country's likely reserves were about one-tenth the size of previous estimates.

At the weekend, Exxon, which earlier this year cautioned that commercial production of Polish shale was at least five years away, said it would not go forward with exploration.

"The move is not surprising given that Poland's shale potential is still unclear," JBC Energy analysts said in a note on Monday.

A spokesman for Exxon in Poland said the company has not decided yet what it would do with its exploration licences. It controls four and jointly holds two with France's Total .

Poland has granted 112 shale exploration licences to ExxonMobil, Chevron and other firms, even as some countries, including France and Bulgaria, have banned shale exploration pending further environmental studies.

The Poles are keen to wean themselves off their heavy reliance on coal and imported Russian gas, partly due to environmental commitments they face as a European Union member nation.

"Exxon realised that commercial extraction was not possible with currently available technology. This is a general problem in Poland that shale rocks are too tight to allow extraction," an industry source said, asking not to be identified.

Abundant shale gas production in Poland poses a potential threat to Russia's supremacy in Europe, where it supplies a quarter of the gas used in the EU. ...

Poland had high hopes for shale after a study by the U.S. Energy Information Association in 2011 estimated Polish reserves at 5.3 trillion cubic metres, enough to cover domestic demand for some 300 years.

The government's study in March slashed estimates for recoverable shale gas reserves at 346 to 768 billion cubic metres.

Reuters also has a report on Exxon's disastrous experience with shale gas in the US - Exxon CEO says low U.S. natgas prices not sustainable.
U.S. natural gas prices are too low to allow the energy industry to cover the cost of finding and producing new supplies, the head of top producer Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) said on Wednesday.

Record production, thanks to new technologies that tap natural gas trapped in shale rock formations, pushed U.S. natural gas prices to 10-year lows below $2 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) in April, though prices have since rebounded.

"The cost of supply is not $2.50. We are all losing our shirts today," Rex Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, said in a presentation at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Gas prices have risen over 50 percent since April's lows, and were up more than 5 percent on Wednesday to nearly $2.95 per mmBtu.

Still, prices remain well below the $4-$5 level that makes drilling in pure natural gas fields profitable. Most producers have moved over to more lucrative oil and liquids-based plays to fetch higher prices, which has begun to put a slight dent in U.S. gas production.

Timor Sea hides fight for taxes and royalties  

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The ABC has a report on the long running dispute over oil and gas revenue between East Timor and oil companies operating from Australia - Timor Sea hides fight for taxes and royalties.

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Australians have long had an emotional attachment to East Timor. The images of violence when the Timorese forged their independence from Indonesia more than a decade ago are hard to forget.

Now East Timor has a new battle on its hands. It's fighting some of the world's biggest oil and gas companies for back taxes that could run into the billions.

In the lead-up to the country's general election this weekend, Stephen Long prepared this report.

STEPHEN LONG, REPORTER: It waged a long struggle for independence and won. Now the little country to our north has a new fight on its hands.


STEPHEN LONG: A battle between big oil and a poor, fledgling nation.

ALFREDO PIRES: The importance of the petroleum revenue in general is vital for Timor-Leste.

STEPHEN LONG: A decade after independence, the country is still struggling to lift its people out of poverty.

The Timor Sea holds a bounty of oil and gas and that's a blessing and a curse for Timor-Leste. Its generated $10 billion dollars in royalties and taxes, invested in a sovereign wealth fund.

PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER, LEGAL ADVISOR: It is the monies that will help stabilise the country. It is the monies that will help educate the people, feed people, give health care to those that are in need.

STEPHEN LONG: But its fragile economy is almost completely dependent on that petroleum revenue. 90 per cent of its taxes come from a handful of foreign resources companies. For years they got away without paying all that was due. Authorities in Timor-Leste didn't even audit them, taking the corporate giants at their word. But that changed about 18 months ago with audits going back as far as 2005.

PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER: And as part of that auditing process they are discovering that there are areas where there were some discrepancies and they're beginning to look at that more closely. And as they already discovered that the tax officials from Timor are raising those issues with the various corporations, operators and are beginning to say, "We believe that there are taxes due. Please pay them. If you have an objection, please state why."

STEPHEN LONG: Millions of dollars in back taxes have already been paid after 28 adverse assessments. But that may be just a drop in the ocean.

New Energy Report from Harvard Makes Unsupportable Assumptions  

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The Oil Drum has a post looking at the paper from Leonardo Maugeri that prompted George Monbiot's strange about face on peak oil - New Energy Report from Harvard Makes Unsupportable Assumptions.

As for US production, this is tied to increasing production from all the oil shales in the country, which will see spurts in growth similar to that seen in the Bakken and Eagle Ford.
I estimate that additional unrestricted production from shale/tight oil might reach 6.6 mbd by 2020, or an additional adjusted production of 4.1 mbd after considering risk factors (by comparison, U.S. shale/tight oil production was about 800,000 bd in December 2011). To these figures, I added an unrestricted additional production of 1 mbd from sources other than shale oil that I reduced by 40 percent considering risks, thus obtaining a 0.6 mbd in terms of additional adjusted production by 2020. In particular, I am more confident than others on the prospects of a faster-than-expected recovery of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.
As I noted in my review of the Citicorp report this optimism flies in the face of the views of the DMR in North Dakota – who ought to know, since they have the data. The report further seems a little confused on how horizontal wells work in these reservoirs. As Aramco has noted, one cannot keep drilling longer and longer holes and expect the well production to double with that increase in length. Because of the need to maintain differential pressures between the reservoir and the well, there are optimal lengths for any given formation. And as I have also noted, the report flies in the face of the data on field production from the deeper wells of the Gulf of Mexico.

It seems pertinent to close with the report’s list of assumptions on which the gain in oil production from the Bakken is based:

* A price of oil (WTI) equal to or greater than $ 70 per barrel through 2020

* A constant 200 drilling rigs per week;

* An estimated ultimate recovery rate of 10 percent per individual producing well (which in most cases has already been exceeded) and for the overall formation;

* An OOP calculated on the basis of less than half the mean figure of Price’s 1999 assessment (413 billion barrels of OOP, 100 billion of proven reserves, including Three Forks).

Consequently, I expect 300 billion barrels of OOP and 45 billion of proven oil reserves, including Three Forks;

* A combined average depletion rate for each producing well of 15 percent over the first five years, followed by a 7 percent depletion rate;

* A level of porosity and permeability of the Bakken/Three Forks formation derived from those experienced so far by oil companies engaged in the area.

Based on these assumptions, my simulation yields an additional unrestricted oil production from the Bakken and Three Forks plays of around 2.5 mbd by 2020, leading to a total unrestricted production of more than 3 mbd by 2020.

Enough, already! There are too many unrealistic assumptions to make this worth spending more time on. To illustrate but one of the critical points - this is the graph that I have shown in earlier posts of the decline rate of a typical well in the Bakken. You can clearly see that the decline rate is much steeper than 15% in the first five years.

Kevin Kelly On Electric Bicycles  

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Kevin Kelly has a post on his research into electric bikes - Electric Bicycles.

I am trying out electric bicycles. Today e-bikes have a limited range of 20-30 miles (50km) because of battery constraints. So most e-bikes are sold for daily commuters, especially in a hilly city like San Francisco. Zip to work and back with no car, faster than public transport. You can get some very good e-bikes these days. Millions of them are sold and used in China, and there are also very good models from Europe.

But I am looking for a touring e-bike, one that could give me mild assistance over 80 miles. I am doing a 1,000-mile tour with my teenage son and his cousin, and I can’t keep up with them, particularly on the hills. So I need a very mild assist to “flatten the hills” yet lightweight enough that for the rest of the time while I am pedaling, the bike with motor is not a burden.

Eric Hicks, the expert at recommended I try out a German Stromer e-bike. The legendary bike rental store Blazing Saddles rents e-bikes to tourists near the Golden Gate Bridge, so I headed there last weekend. The Stromer uses a motor on the back wheel, called a hub motor, and retains some of the chain derailer shifting. When the motor is off you can pedal as normal (the motor doesn’t impede your pedaling), and you pedal even while the motor is running — thus it is called Pedal Assist. You can set the amount of assist you want, from very low to very strong. The motor will only assist when you pedal. So it is not a lightweight motorcycle, but a pedal assist bicycle. A downside of the a hub motor is that changing a flat is a huge project. ...

System for Predicting Wave Energy Could Double Wave Power Generation  

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EcoGeek has a post on research into optimising wave power generation - System for Predicting Wave Energy Could Double Wave Power Generation.

As part of a new study on wave power, the University of Exeter and Tel Aviv University have come up with a system that predicts the power of waves in order to maximize wave energy devices' ability to generate energy from the sea. The researchers found that this system could potentially double the amount of wave energy generated by a device. reports, "The research focused on point absorbers, commonly-used floating devices with parts that move in response to waves, generating energy which they feed back to the grid. Point absorbers are already known to be much more efficient in the amount of energy they produce if their response closely matches the force of the waves and previous research has looked at trying to increase this efficiency. However, this is the first study that has focused on increasing the device's efficiency by predicting and controlling internal forces of the device caused by forthcoming waves."

Wave energy potential is huge. It's been estimated that it could power the world twice over and the UK, where this study was conducted, could be powered twice over just by utilizing wave energy generators along its coastlines. So far, wave energy technologies haven't gained traction the way that solar and wind technologies have because the ocean is a very inhospitable place. Wave energy generators have to be able to withstand the force of each wave.

This new system predicts the power of the incoming wave, allowing the device to respond in a way that extracts the most amount of energy. This controlled reaction not only increases the efficiency of the device, but protects it from damage from rough seas. Where most current wave technologies would be shut off during a storm, a prediction system could allow the wave generator to keep operating effectively.

The University of Exeter is now working with Ocean Power Technologies, one of the largest wave energy companies, to further test the results and develop better technologies based on this research.

Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed  

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Grist's Dave Roberts has a TED talk on global warming - Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed.

Back in April, The Evergreen State College invited me to speak at a TEDx event called “Hello Climate Change: Rethinking the Unthinkable.” Videos from the event are now online.

My talk was called “Climate change is simple.” I’m proud to say that I used only 17 of my allotted 15 minutes.

I’ve put an annotated version of my slideshow beneath the video, linking to sources and adding thoughts. The only thing I’ll say about the video itself is that I’ve always thought these things would be better with a soundtrack.

Monbiot says he was wrong on peak oil but the crisis is undeniable  

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Jeremy Leggett has a jaundiced look at George Monbiot's article on peak oil in The Guardian - Monbiot says he was wrong on peak oil but the crisis is undeniable.

In the run-up to credit crunch of 2007, whistleblowers were warning that an incumbency, the financial-services sector, had its asset assessment fundamentally wrong. The incumbency poured scorn on this, many of them professing that they had invented a new asset class – mortgage-backed securities and related complex derivatives – that represented an entirely new method of generating wealth.

Today, rather more whistleblowers are saying that another incumbency, the oil and gas sector, has its asset assessment fundamentally wrong. The incumbency pours scorn on this, insisting that they have opened up another new asset class – unconventional oil and gas – and that it represents another unforeseen road to riches. Some go so far as to say that North America is en route to being self-sufficient in hydrocarbons.

The first incumbency illusion proved to be a deadly bubble, the legacy of which still threatens to torpedo the global economy five years on. We will find out about the second within a few years. The UK industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security, which I convened, is among many groups forecasting a global descent in oil production by 2015 at the latest, notwithstanding all the incumbency rhetoric.

Ahead of the credit crunch, commentators echoed the incumbency mantras right across the media. Ahead of the oil crisis, the same is happening. Just Google "peak oil myth" and see what comes up. Yesterday George Monbiot joined this group with an article entitled We were wrong about peak oil. There's enough to fry us all.

The many misunderstandings he relays begin with the title. There is more than enough potential oil resource below ground to create the climate disaster he refers to. Peak oil is not about that. It is about when global production falls never again to reach past levels: a disaster, if the descent hits an oil-dependent global economy years ahead of expectations. This descent depends on flow rates in oilfields, not the amount of oil left. What worries those who believe the global oil peak is imminent is the evidence that the oil industry will not be able to maintain growing flow rates for much longer.

The whistleblowing in the run-up to the credit crunch involved a few maverick economists and some far-sighted financial journalists. The peak-oil whistleblowing is different. Many within the incumbency itself are sounding alarms. Every year, when the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) meets, recently retired oilmen queue to give their latest assessments of how their industry is getting its asset assessment wrong. The latest ASPO event was held a few weeks ago in Vienna, which I attended.

There has been "a boom in oil production" of late, Monbiot says. Wrong. Global production has been essentially struggling along a plateau since 2004, as Bob Hirsch, an ex-Exxon advisor to the US Department of Energy describes. Hirsch expects the descent to begin in one to four years.

Monbiot is correct that there has been a small increase in oil production in the United States in recent years. But can that continue, as he infers? Gas-industry whistleblower Art Berman describes how the shale gas gold-rush of recent years, now extending into shale oil, may well be a giant ponzi scheme: decline rates in wells are unexpectedly fast, meaning more and more have to be drilled at ever more expense, meaning ever more money has to be borrowed against cash flows from production that fall ever further behind. He looks at the resulting disaster in the balance sheets of oil and gas companies, and expects the bankruptcies to start any time soon. John Dizard has also warned of this particular bubble, in the Financial Times.

Even if oil production in America could somehow grow all the long way back to self sufficiency, what of the global picture, when conventional oil peaked back in 2006, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) has shown? The six Saudi Arabias of new production that would be needed to lift production to 100m barrels a day by 2030, according to the IEA, are a laughable prospect to the whistleblowers of ASPO, as many presentations in Vienna showed. The IEA clearly does not believe it is feasible. Neither do many still active in the incumbency, not least Total's head of exploration, who recently warned that peak is just around the corner.

Society ignores such warnings, and listens to potential bubble-backers like Monbiot, at its peril. Like his conversion to nuclear power during the Fukushima disaster, Monbiot has chosen an interesting time for a change of mind.

Ugo Bardi at Cassandra's Legacy also has some thoughts on the error of George's ways - Enough fossil fuels to fry us all.
Will peak oil save us from global warming? Can it be that the decline of oil production caused by scarcity will be more effective than the (feeble) attempts made by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

This point was debated briefly this year the conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) in Vienna. It is a typical controversy of ASPO conferences: some people seem to be so oil centered that they think that the climate models of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are all wrong because they don't take into account the ASPO data. The latest manifestation of this peculiar delusion comes from George Monbiot who decided that peak oil is not coming so soon, after all, and so concluded that "We were wrong about peak oil, there is enough to fry us all."

Now, we can say that Monbiot is wrong: first of all because he gives too much credit to an optimistic recent study on oil production (and even misinterpreting it - if you read it carefully, the data of the study are not so optimistic. See here and here for a critical assessment)

But the real mistake made by Monbiot is to over-emphasize the importance of peak oil for climate change. So far, the vagaries of oil production haven't affected so much the trend of the emissions of greenhouse gases. Today, even though crude oil production has been flat for several years, carbon dioxide emissions keep increasing.

That's what you'd expect: oil is just one of the sources of extra CO2 in the atmosphere and the increasing costs of extraction are pushing the industry to use dirtier fuels. In other words, we are seeing a trend towards using fuels which release more CO2 for the same amount of energy generated. In this sense, tar sands, heavy oil, oil shales, and the like are all dirtier than oil. Coal is even worse and it is also the fastest growing energy source in the world. To say nothing of the emissions of methane by fracking, (methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide).

So, why should we expect peak oil to make a difference? Paradoxically, if peak oil were to come tomorrow, we might see CO2 emissions increase even more as that would cause an even more massive use of coal, tar sands, and other dirty sources. It is true that, eventually, the declining energy yield (EROEI) of fossil fuels will cause a general decline of greenhouse gas emissions; but we shouldn't expect that to be very soon and it won't be the immediate consequence of peak oil.

If we continue with the present trends of fossil fuel production, we risk to make climate change irreversible if we pass the "tipping point", the point of non return, which we may well have passed already. If peak oil had to have an effect on climate (maybe), it should have come at least 20 years ago when CO2 concentrations were still around 350 ppm, said to be the upper limit to avoid irreversible climate change. Now, at 400 ppm and growing, peak oil is not enough to stop global warming.

So, in the end George Monbiot is wrong on peak oil, but right on his general conclusion. We only have to modify it a little, as "Peak oil or no peak oil, there are enough fossil fuels to fry us all".

Canberra grants pave way for world’s biggest wave turbine  

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Giles Parkinson at ReNewEconomy has an article on the release of some government funding to wave power companies BioPower (mentioned in this post on biomimicry) and long time developer OceanLinx to build pilot plants (following an earlier funding round to Carnegie Corp in WA) - Canberra grants pave way for world’s biggest wave turbine.

The Australian government as upped its investment in two nascent, Australian-developed wave energy technologies, announcing new grants worth almost $10 million to help bring the two new systems to the market, including what is believed to be the world’s biggest wave energy turbine.

The government is providing $5.6 million to BioPower Systems to install a 250kW full-scale pilot plant of its bioWAVE technology off the coast of Victoria, and is also providing just under $4 million to Oceanlinx, to install a 1MW demonstration plan of its Greenwave technology in South Australia.

Both grants are being made under the $126 million Emerging Renewables program, and follow an earlier $9 million grant to Carnegie Wave Energy, which is building a $31 million, 2MW grid-connected demonstration of its CETO technology near Fremantle in Western Australia.

BioPower CEO Tim Finnigan said the grant, along with a $5 million grant from the Victorian state government, means that its $15 million project was now fully funded. “This puts us into a position to complete the project, get it on the grid, and prove the technology at scale,” he told RenewEconomy. “It’s a pretty big development for us.”

The technology is best described with an image, see below. It’s designed to lay flat on the ocean floor when the waves become too big (it calculated this to be around 1 per cent of the time).

It is designed to absorb energy both at the surface and below. It is mounted on sea-floor, the demonstrator will be in about 30m of water, and the array of buoyant floats, sways back-and-forth in tune with the waves, and the energy contained in this motion is converted to electricity by an onboard self-contained power conversion module, and is delivered through a cable.

However, the first demonstration plan will weigh 400 tonnes when it is installed at a site 4kms from Port Fairy on the southern coast of Victoria. “We not trying to prove a light-weight structure right now,” Finnigan says. “We will carve our way to that over time.”

Like Carnegie Energy, Finnigan says the long term goal for wave energy has to be to match wind – which means capital costs of around $2 million/megawatt and a levellised cost of energy at $100/MWh or below. He says BioPower has a four-stage plan to reach that target by the end of the decade. ...

Meanwhile, Oceanlinx says it believes its GreenWave device (see below) is the first in the world to be rated at 1MW, and its efficiency has improved 50 per cent since an earlier, smaller version that was deployed near Port Kembla in NSW. The 20m by 20m structure, around 17m high, will sit in around 10m of water. It features an oscillating water column, with the turbine and other moving parts above the waterline. The 2,000 tonne concrete structure will sit on the ocean floor.

CEO Ali Baghaei says this demonstration unit will have an LCOE of 28c/kWh, which will fall to 16c/kWh once 5MW have been installed and to below 10c/kWh once 75MW have been installed. The initial project will cost $7.2 million, with the balance coming from a recent $8 million fund raising from existing investors. ...

Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the grants made Australia “one of the world’s largest supporters” of wave energy technology. “Wave energy is still very much an emerging technology and this funding will position Australia as a global leader in developing this technology,” he said in a statement, adding that wave energy had the potential of providing 1300 terawatt hours per year, or about five times Australia’s total electricity requirements.

The Death Of Peak Oil ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

I mostly try to ignore George Monbiot's erratic twists and turns of opinion nowadays - the doomerish eco-socialism I can mostly tolerate but the flip flops on nuclear power and now peak oil are simply annoying - for someone who appears to be incredibly intelligent he doesn't appear to need much in the way of new information to change his tune - False Summit

Peak oil hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen for a very long time. A report by the oil executive Leonardo Maugeri, published by Harvard University, provides compelling evidence that a new oil boom has begun(9). The constraints on oil supply over the past ten years appear to have had more to do with money than geology. The low prices before 2003 had discouraged investors from developing difficult fields. The high prices of the past few years have changed that.

Maugeri’s analysis of projects in 23 countries suggests that global oil supplies are likely to rise by a net 17m barrels per day (to 110m) by 2020. This, he says, is “the largest potential addition to the world’s oil supply capacity since the 1980s.” The investments required to make this boom happen depend on a long-term price of $70 a barrel. The current cost of Brent crude is $95(10). Money is now flooding into new oil: a trillion dollars was spent over the past two years, a record $600bn is lined up for 2012(11).

The country in which production is likely to rise furthest is Iraq, into which multinational companies are now sinking their money, and their claws. The bigger surprise is that the other great boom is likely to happen in the US. Hubbert’s Peak, the famous bell-shaped graph depicting the rise and fall of US oil, is set to become Hubbert’s Rollercoaster.

Investment there will concentrate on unconventional oil, especially shale oil (which, confusingly, is not the same as oil shale). Shale oil is high-quality crude trapped in rocks through which it doesn’t flow naturally. There are, we now know, monstrous deposits in the United States: one estimate suggests that the Bakken shales in North Dakota contain almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia (though less of it is extractable)(12). And this is one of 20 such formations in the US. Extracting shale oil requires horizontal drilling and fracking: a combination of high prices and technological refinements has made them economically viable. Already production in North Dakota has risen from 100,000 barrels a day in 2005 to 550,000 this January (13).

So this is where we are. The automatic correction – resource depletion destroying the machine that was driving it – that many environmentalists foresaw is not going to happen. The problem we face is not that there is too little oil, but that there is too much.

We have confused threats to the living planet with threats to industrial civilisation. They are not, in the first instance, the same thing. Industry and consumer capitalism, powered by abundant oil supplies, are more resilient than many of the natural systems they threaten. The great profusion of life in the past – fossilised in the form of flammable carbon – now jeopardises the great profusion of life in the present.

There is enough oil in the ground to deepfry the lot of us, and no obvious means by which we might prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world’s most powerful nation is once again becoming an oil state, and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by(14,15), the results will not be pretty.

Maugeri's article referenced by Monbiot has garnered a lot of attention lately but it didn't appear to say anything new. The shale oil boom does exist but the volumes are still trifling compared to US oil consumption, let alone global oil consumption and this is exactly what you'd expect to see - using technology to exploit (expensive and dirty) unconventional oil reserves as production of conventional oil sources peaks.

The other big potential jump in oil production comes from Iraq which isn't exactly news - its been obvious to anyone who has researched the history of the country that this is the one massive source of conventional oil which hasn't really been tapped - however this is not enough to invalidate peak oil theory nor will it make decades of difference to the global peak point.

The brouhaha over this reminds me a bit of an earlier episode this year, started by a report from Citibank and fanned by the likes of Alan Kohler, predicting "the death of peak oil" which was notable for its confusing of gas with oil and a complete absence of numbers (not to mention claiming large reserves of shale gas in places like Poland where it has been proven to not be the case).

Chris Nelder had a good critique of this episode - Energy independence, or impending oil shocks? (Matt Mushalik also weighed in with a relatively restrained - for him - piece - No number crunching in Alan Kohler opinion piece on premature peak oil death).

E.ON heats up plans for five deep-geothermal power plants in UK  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Business Green has a post on efforts to build geothermal heat and power plants in Britain - E.ON heats up plans for five deep-geothermal power plants. The FT also has a look at geothermal power - in their case looking at Kenya - Geothermal: Kenya pins its hopes on steam power.

The UK's nascent geothermal energy industry has today received a major boost after it emerged that one of the UK's largest energy companies is working on plans to develop five new deep geothermal heat and distribution systems.

Ireland-based geothermal technology specialist GT Energy today revealed that it has inked a memorandum of understanding with energy giant E.ON that will see the two companies jointly develop a range of urban geothermal heat power plants.

The UK currently boasts only a handful of deep geothermal power plants, including a pioneering district heat system in Southampton that has been in place since 1986. However, a number of projects are currently under construction, including plans for a new geothermal power plant in Cornwall and a geothermal heat facility in the centre of Newcastle.

E.ON and GT Energy maintain that scientific studies have shown the UK has access to up to 100GW of geothermal energy potential, particularly in the South-West, North-West, and North-East.

They have also argued that deep-geothermal technology is well suited to urban settings where the resulting heat can be easily distributed to a variety of buildings in the area.

1MW Orkney tidal project paves way for “world’s first” tidal array  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Renewable Energy Focus has a post on the commissioning of a tidal power array in Scotland - 1MW Orkney tidal project paves way for “world’s first” array. PhysOrg has more - Scotland passes turbine test to harness tidal power.

A 1MW tidal power device has started full export of power in Scottish waters, paving the way for ScottishPower, to deploy the technology in the “world’s first” tidal array.

The 1MW HS1000 tidal turbine, developed by Norway’s Andritz Hydro Hammerfest, was installed in the fast-flowing waters around Orkney last December. It has now successfully completed a range of tests, and is supplying electricity to the island of Eday, one of Orkney’s northern isles.

The test device in Orkney aims to fully prove that the technology can operate efficiently in Scotland’s fast flowing tides, that monitoring and maintenance operations can be honed and to help drive down costs in operations and installation.

The technology will be used by Iberdrola-owned ScottishPower Renewables as part of the “world’s first” tidal turbine array in the Sound of Islay. The company’s proposal for a 10MW tidal array received planning consent from the Scottish government in March 2011.

The Scotsman has some additional commentary on the politics of tidal power in the UK - Comment: Lord Smith not convinced by toe in the water.
IT WAS perhaps just a bit of bad luck that Lord Smith of Kelvin, the chairman of the much-anticipated Green Investment Bank (GIB), kicked investment in wave and tidal power into the long grass on the same day the sector highlighted it was desperate for cash.

The Marine Energy Action Plan, unveiled by the Scottish Government and its industry-led Marine Energy Group, reported on the significant progress made by Scotland’s wave and tidal energy sector.

It counted the 11 wave and tidal devices deployed or being deployed at the European Marine Energy Centre on Orkney, adding that there will be three more being tested by 2014.

Near Islay, there is also the world’s largest consented tidal stream project that will deploy the HS1000 tidal device in a project being undertaken by ScottishPower Renewables and the Austrian/Norwegian group, Andritz Hydro Hammerfest.

Then there is the Crown Estate’s leasing agreements for projects with a potential to produce up to 1,600 MW in the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters.

But, as Niall Stuart, the chief executive of industry body Scottish Renewables points out, getting the finance to scale up these projects to commercially viable arrays is a “major challenge”, not to mention the “massive costs to connect these projects to the grid”.

So where is the money going to come from? There are some technology developers that have got at least some support and investment from big private firms such as Alstom, Rolls Royce and Siemens.

The sector will have to rely on a range of funds being made available through the Department of Energy and Climate Change (£20 million), the Scottish Government’s Marine Renewables Commercialisation Fund (£18m) and the Technology Strategy Board (£10.5m).

It also has high hopes for the Renewable Energy Infrastructure Fund, made up from the £100m disbursement from the Fossil Fuel Levy that the Scottish Government wrangled from the Treasury last year. The other half of the levy was used to fund the foundation of the GIB.

The GIB, on the other hand, has £3 billion burning a hole in its pocket that has to be spent by April 2015.

Lord Smith says there is huge interest in the innovative developments taking place in wave and tidal energy, but despite his enthusiasm the entire sector still has its sceptics.

The GIB is taxpayer funded and while some will want it to take risks it has first to prove to the markets that it can deliver a return on its investment.

Scottish Enterprise has a map of offshore power investments in Scotland (including wind power as well as ocean energy - Examples of recent announcements of intended investments in offshore renewables.

Carbon Price Comes Into Effect, World Doesn't End - Not That It Will Help Labor  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Australia's carbon tax commenced on July 1 and the nation's economy seems to be trundling along OK, in spite of the apocalyptic predictions of the conservative fringe who seem to think that the small (and largely compensated for) cost is somehow going to wipe out one of the few well performing developed economies. Crikey's Bernard Keane has a look at the lunatic fringe and their opponents - the pathetic rabble in the Labor government who introduced the tax (not that they would have ever done such a thing if the Greens hadn't forced them to) and are hoping the electorate will base their beliefs on evidence at the next election - Labor and the myth of the rational voter.

Amid the torrent of earnest declarations, comments and wisecracks to mark the start of the carbon price yesterday, there was a moment of bright, shining stupidity that captured the entirety of this “debate”. Radio entertainer Neil Mitchell lashed out at Wayne Swan on Twitter for noting that Whylla, contra Tony Abbott’s apocalyptic claims, remained in existence.

“Is this stuff from Wayne Swan really the level of political debate we want?” he angrily demanded. “People in Whyalla and Yallourn and similar are actually concerned for their future. This reaction is offensive to them.”

It’s apt that we’ve reached the point where the mere assertion of a fact, and one as anodyne as the continued existence of a town, should be deemed by a media figure (albeit one whose job description is to be professionally offended on behalf of his audience) as “offensive”. The carbon price has always been a fact-allergic debate. I speak not so much of the senility of the anti-carbon tax protesters with their hilarious signs and deep anger at a world that won’t stop changing on them. Nor of the proud leadership of the assertion-based community by News Limited, with its decreasingly trusted newspapers.

It goes back further than that, to the original Kevin Rudd policy which was, let us not forget, a truly wretched concoction the development of which demonstrated all the faults that eventually killed that government.

To cover politics in that period was to hear, ad nauseum, the dulcet tones of Penny Wong averring “can I say, we think we’ve got the balance right” for a policy that in effect delayed any action on decarbonisation until the 2020s courtesy of a series of cave-ins to rentseekers, while Labor devoted itself to the twin, and incompatible, goals of trying to both win Coalition support for the package and split its opponents on the issue. When, finally, the policy was abandoned in the face of a crude but effective campaign by Tony Abbott, and Rudd’s fortunes slumped, it was no more than his government deserved for a deeply cynical approach to an issue it had portrayed as the greatest moral challenge of our time.

That his successor promptly ensnared herself in the same issue (LOL citizens’ assembly) and then smashed her credibility to CO2-molecule sized pieces with her post-election reversal was every bit as much just desserts for the women who’d lobbied Rudd hard to dump the issue and run.

As if taking his lead from his opponents, Abbott’s approach has been every bit as mendacious and more. Climate action is the issue par excellence on which Abbott has exemplified his political trademark, a tendency not so much (as Gillard is often accused) to believe in nothing as to believe in everything, occupying all possible positions on an issue, leading the Coalition’s primary advocate of a carbon tax to become its most dogged opponent. But that reversal was merely the platform for an extended campaign of wild overstatement. Abbott’s predictions of the end of Whyalla and other centres and various industries remain unwithdrawn, although some of the metaphors he has deployed have, rather in the manner of Maxwell Smart’s “would you believe” in the face of an incredulous villain, been replaced with softer versions as time has gone on.

With such examples from their political leaders, voters have followed suit. Voters are irrationally convinced that what is in effect a modest carbon price will have grotesque impacts on the economy, far beyond those occasioned by, say, the financial crisis. According to Essential Research, more than half of voters believe the carbon price will increase fuel prices “a lot” when it will have no effect at all. Around 40% believe it will increase grocery prices “a lot”. Nearly a third think it will increase unemployment a lot; one in five think (contrarily) it will increase interest rates a lot.

We’re not talking about the idiot fringe here waving “Bob Brown’s Bitch” placards and likely to die decades before the most serious impacts of climate change are felt. These are real, normal voters, with apparently functioning brains.

The Labor plan — or more correctly the Gillard plan — is that in the face of evidence that the carbon price has lifted unemployment or interest rates or the price of bananas, such voters will abandon their prejudice and look anew and sympathetically at the government. In aid of such a magical transformation, the government is running a campaign at almost election-level intensity, with the Prime Minister’s press staff spending the last 48 hours churning out media alert after media alert. The government will also be aided by a likely further fall in inflationery pressures that will see CPI remain almost flat, while fuel prices may even fall further.

But voters won’t change their minds at all, and certainly not in the time between now and the next election. For one thing, this sort of change, if it occurs, takes a long time: despite the fact that the GST is now firmly embedded in the Australian economy, 30% of voters still think it was a bad idea. That’s after more than a decade.

But, worse, the Labor fantasy is based — irrationally — on the idea of a rational voter. This is less than ever a plausible view of democratic Australia. We’re decreasingly willing to let facts influence our views of public policy. We regard the economy through a lens of our partisan beliefs, so that Liberal voters see only economic misery and financial hardship. We think we’re doing it tough financially even as we travel overseas. We’re convinced many multiples of asylum seekers are arriving than ever set foot here. We refuse to accept the copious evidence that our incomes have risen far more quickly than prices in recent years. We filter information out that doesn’t accord with our views. If that leaves us with no information at all, that’s no problem.

The cliché that you’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts thus appears decreasingly relevant. Indeed, not merely are you entitled to your own facts, it’s right to be offended, Neil Mitchell-style, at anyone offering contrary information. To be contradicted by someone is damn near an attack on your freedom of speech. The irrational anger that motivates some climate denialists to make threats of death and injury to scientists is only an extreme example of the fact that many of us now feel entitled to our own facts.

Perhaps it’s why everyone is so “offended” now. Offence is an entirely subjective state, one unable to be contradicted by any smart-aleck quoting evidence.

Labor’s plan to turn its fortunes around is a fantasy, a fact-based fantasy when the real world relies on make-believe. We’ll spend the next couple of months establishing that. Then it’ll be back to square one. Back to where Labor was in February.

GDF Suez spells out big ambitions for French tidal power  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Recharge News has a look at plans to expand tidal power in France - GDF Suez spells out big ambitions for French tidal power.

French utility GDF Suez has revealed details of plans for two large-scale tidal power developments on the west coast of the country by 2016.

The group has carried out studies of Raz Blanchard in Lower Normandy and the Passage du Fromveur off the Finistère coast in Brittany – between them estimated to represent 80% of France’s marine renewable energy potential.

At Raz Blanchard, where tidal speeds of more than six metres-per-second create a 4-6GW potential resource, GDF Suez aims to install a pilot plant of up to six of Voith Hydro’s HyTide turbines, creating a 3-12MW development – with long-term plans to deploy 100 machines.

The company also wants to develop a tidal plant at the Passage du Fromveur by 2016 in conjunction with Eole Generation, using technology-developer Sabella’s D10 prototype.

GDF Suez is already involved in marine renewables, including the MeyGen tidal farm project in Scotland’s Pentland Firth; the Electricité De Tahiti scheme in the French Polynesian archipelago of Tuamotu; Brazil’s Tractebel Energia project; and the Standpoint-Wavebob in Portugal.


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