The Utility Shift To Energy Solutions Provision  

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The Climate Spectator has a pair of articles looking at how Australian utilities are trying to avoid the utility death spiral - partly by resisting change and partly by trying to work out how to adapt to i. The first article looks at AGL, which has been marching backwards lately as it invests heavily in old (but very cheap) coal fired power plants - AGL's tense shift towards energy solutions provider.

Average household customer electricity consumption was down nearly 10 per cent for the year and this comes on top of similar falls in prior years (detailed in the chart below). Part of this year’s fall is attributed to the mild May and June but, nonetheless, “AGL expects average consumer demand to continue to be impacted by energy efficiency, solar and new technologies”.

With less volume AGL finds itself unable to make the kind of margin per customer which it has in the past in the retail end of its business. Earnings per 'customer account' were down 16.7 per cent compared to last year for AGL. At the same time, the reduced energy sales also flow down the line to lower prices and margins in the power generation part of its business as well.

The problem for AGL, and indeed other power companies, is that energy equipment suppliers for buildings – such as solar PV but also other products, such as energy efficient lighting – are cutting their lunch. These equipment suppliers are helping customers to reduce the amount of energy they need from the grid.

AGL’s chief executive Michael Fraser appears acutely aware of this challenge. He suggests that the company needs to transition from a conventional vertically integrated energy supplier which makes money through selling volume of energy, to what they term an integrated energy solutions provider, which they symbolise in the picture below.

Essentially, AGL believes it needs to vertically integrate yet another step beyond the centralised grid and into its customers’ homes. Under such a model the company would make money less by selling electrons from the grid and more by charging for services linked to equipment such as solar PV, batteries and devices which would improve a household’s energy efficiency and shift its electricity demand out of the periods when power is most costly, such as very hot and very cold days.

Boston Consulting Group released a paper recently looking at how this energy solution provision model may arise and the challenges it presents for traditional power utilities. BCG outlines in the diagram below how the revenues available upstream from the customer are likely to erode over time due to solar, cheaper batteries and more efficient and communication-enabled electrical equipment. It shows that while the revenue available to generation and power networks, declines, the available revenue for behind-the-meter equipment and services – as well as metering equipment – rises.

The second article looks at another of the big 3 Australian utility companies - Origin Energy - and how the rapid rise in east coast gas prices (caused by the export of coal seam gas as LNG) is impacting the generation mix - Origin hit by solar and efficiency demand drop.

Origin, like AGL, is also talking up its ability to vertically integrate into the customer-side of the grid to counter the loss of margins through lower grid-based electricity volumes. In its presentation to investors it states it is focusing on development of a “revitalised solar business, smart meter technology, electric vehicles, distributed generation and storage”.

However, Origin does not elaborate on what is meant by its “revitalised strategy in solar”. In its latest results it notes gross profit decreased in its non-energy commodity business dropped by 35 per cent, or $17 million, primarily due to lower demand for rooftop solar PV systems. Origin used to be the largest solar retailer in the country but in the last few years its market share has declined dramatically.

At the same time Origin’s presentation seems to indicate that it is hopeful regulatory changes might alleviate declines in power consumption, such as changes to the Renewable Energy Target and adjusting network charges away from being averaged across energy consumption to more of a fixed nature.

Also, the company notes they’d be looking to limit capital investment in their energy markets division. This seems to suggest they see better opportunities in oil and gas rather than funneling money into provision of innovative energy solution offerings to replace lost grid sales.

Also just like AGL, Origin see prospects for returns to improve in conventional power generation with large price rises possible. They believe that there will be a mass withdrawal of around 15 terrawatt-hours of gas fired generation from the NEM as LNG plants suck in this gas. They also expect some further power plant capacity to be retired.

The utilisation of their mix of power plants (detailed in the table below) underlies the shift we’ll see. Darling Downs and Mortlake are running at quite high capacity factors given their position in the power plant merit order while the coal-fired Eraring operated at less than half its full capacity (45 per cent capacity factor).

One can imagine with gas rising to around $8 per gigajoule these plants will almost drop off the grid while Eraring’s output will increase considerably.

Is Storage Necessary for Renewable Energy?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , has a look at an Amory Lovins presentation on our ability to switch to 100% renewable energy even without energy storage - Is Storage Necessary for Renewable Energy?.

Physicist and energy expert Amory Lovins, chief scientist at The Rocky Mountain Institute, recently released a video in which he claims that renewable energy can meet all of our energy needs without the need for a fossil fuel or nuclear baseload generation. There’s nothing unusual about that - many people have made that claim - but he also suggests that this can be done without a lot of grid-level storage. Instead, Lovins describes a “choreography” between supply and demand, using predictive computer models to anticipate production and consumption, and intelligent routing to deliver power where it’s needed. This “energy dance,” combined with advances in energy efficiency, will allow us to meet all of our energy needs without sacrificing reliability.

Okay, so there is a little storage involved: ice-storage air conditioning and smart charging of electric vehicles. But where others, including myself, have assumed that large storage devices will need to be added to the grid, Lovins thinks that massive storage facilities are unnecessary, and he presents compelling evidence to support his claim, including actual data from Europe and computer models from NREL. ...

Lovins presents this in the context of storage vs intelligent routing of electricity - which one do we need? That’s a false dichotomy. There will always be a need for storage since many applications are off grid. Obviously storage is needed in order to electrify transportation. So I agree that dynamic routing is the best long term solution for the grid, but we still need to invest in storage technologies. The good thing is that both storage and smart routing can be implemented together, a little at a time, and scaled up gradually.

Powering Australia  

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The Australian is running a poll on energy related issues in Australia - it's one of the few reasons I could think of visiting it (just long enough to vote) - Powering Australia.

Globe sees fourth warmest July on record; Oceans tie for warmest July  

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The Washington Post has an update on the warming globe - Globe sees fourth warmest July on record; Oceans tie for warmest July.

The average global temperature in July was the fourth highest on record for any July since records began in 1880, according to NOAA. This is after two months of record warm global temperature in May and June. So far, 2014 is the third warmest year on record, with an average temperature 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average.

In addition to NOAA’s analysis, the Japan Meteorological Agency ranks July as the second warmest July on record. It ranked as the fifth warmest July in the satellite record, which dates back to 1979, according to the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Combined land and ocean temperature was 1.15 degrees above the 20th century average of 60.4, NOAA says. On land, 32 countries across every continent had at least one station report a record warm month of July. In Norway, the average July temperature was an astonishing 7.7 degrees above average, which made July the warmest out of any month for the country, beating the old record by 1.8 degrees.

US shale: What lies beneath  

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The FT has a pair of pieces on the shale oil industry - one in-depth article comparing the optimistic and skeptic views of the shale oil boom / bubble and another letter to the editor declaring the shale boom the oil industry's "retirement party" - US shale: What lies beneath and Shale: last act at retirement party.

The skeptic view features long-time peak oil proponent Dave Hughes and Bill Powers.

The letter to the editor notes "The crippling problems of shale oil production remain, which are a depletion rate 10 times worse than a conventional well, to produce oil at a 10th of the rate, via wells that cost vastly more to drill than a conventional (land-based) well. Better perhaps than an offshore well, but with a desperate race to drill thousands of wells each year, every year to maintain present production levels."

How Badly Is the Wave and Tidal Industry Struggling? Likely Worse Than You Thought  

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GTM has a look at the woeful performance of the ocean energy industry (though it's probably worth noting that South Korea has had some big successes) - How Badly Is the Wave and Tidal Industry Struggling? Likely Worse Than You Thought.

Nearly a decade after the surge of attention in marine energy technologies, the industry has not been able to overcome severe technical and financial challenges. As a result, installations have remained at pilot scale, while financing has been largely limited to government programs for testing and demonstrations.

And new projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) show that the market for marine energy will be inconsequential for years to come.

According to BNEF, tidal power installations are expected to hit 148 megawatts by 2020, down 11 percent from forecasts made just a year ago. Wave power will be even smaller, with global capacity expected to reach 21 megawatts by the end of the decade -- a 72 percent downward revision from earlier forecasts.

To put that in perspective: SolarCity is installing more solar PV every seventeen days in America than the entire global installed base of wave power through 2020.

The promise of the technology is alluring. The International Energy Agency estimates that wave resources could theoretically provide 29,500 terawatt-hours per year, and tidal could produce more than 1,200 terawatt-hours per year. That's a little bit more than the total primary energy use of the U.S.

But the commercial deployments promised over the last ten years have largely failed to materialize. Between 2007 and 2010, numerous "landmark" projects were scrapped due to faulty equipment and high costs.

Gizmag reports that hope springs eternal in the Severn Estuary, with another plan being floated for a tidal power project in the area - Huge world-first man-made tidal lagoon could power over 155,000 homes.

Energy trade association RenewableUK calls the UK "the undisputed global leader in marine energy." If plans for a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay go ahead, that claim will be reinforced. Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay would be the world’s first man-made energy-generating lagoon and could power over 155,000 homes.

Renewable energy is, of course, an area of huge importance and growth. A 2011 study by researchers at University of California-Davis and Stanford University suggests that the world could be powered completely by clean energy within 20-40 years.

Of the renewable options available, tidal is particularly intriguing. Renewable UK says wave and tidal energy could produce around 20 percent of the UK’s current electricity needs, and that the ongoing reduction in its technology costs will make it increasingly viable from a commercial perspective.

The lagoon would be used for a variety of activities other than energy generation Swansea Bay has a high tidal range of up to 10.5 m (34 ft), making it an ideal location for tidal power generation. The proposal would see a 9.5 km (6 mi) lagoon wall constructed, halfway round which would be a 550 m (1,804 ft) turbine housing. The turbine housing would provide a means of allowing water to flow in and out of the lagoon as the tide rises and falls. Up to 26 turbines would be contained in the housing and would be driven with the flow of water in and out of the lagoon.

The Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay) development group says the lagoon would provide an energy production capacity of 320 MW and would provide sustainable and predictable electricity for 120 years of operation.

Hawaii utilites capitulate on solar, in 65% renewables plan  

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RNE has a look at moves in Hawaii to shift from oil-fired power generation to solar power - Hawaii utilites capitulate on solar, in 65% renewables plan.

Just months after being ordered to lift their game on distributed, grid-connected solar, Hawaii’s investor-owned electric companies have revealed plans to triple the amount of rooftop solar installed on the island state by 2030.

Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light, collectively known as HECO, announced on Wednesday plans to upgrade the grid and boost solar as part of a broader goal to achieve a minimum of 65 per cent renewable energy generation and to cut electricity bill costs by 20 per cent – also by 2030.

In late April, HECO came under direct pressure from Hawaii’s energy regulator, which ruled the utilities were not moving fast enough to address key sources of customer frustration, namely challenges connecting solar PV systems to the grid.

Mobile Security Robot To Be Mass Produced  

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Factor has a look at a new "night watchman" robot - BOTS ON PATROL: MOBILE SECURITY ROBOT TO BE MASS PRODUCED.

In a move that will rock the job security of night watchmen everywhere, the world’s first commercially available security robot is set for mass production in the US.

Designed by Denver-based Gamma 2 Robotics, the robot will now be manufactured entirely in the States, with a process that can be scaled up to full mass production as demand grows.

The robot, which is known as the Vigilant MCP (mobile camera platform), features a digital camera and an array of sensors to detect the presence of unauthorised intruders, and will activate the alarm and send out an alert should it find someone where they shouldn’t be.

It is being pushed as a solution to night security in particular, with proposed industries including retail, warehouses, data centres and convention centres.

Personally i think a better design would look like this :

Watts happening? Electricity demand falling as prices continue to rise  

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Ross Gittins at the SMH has a look at the strange dynamics being exhibited by the Australian power market - Watts happening? Electricity demand falling as prices continue to rise.

We know the two great certainties in life are death and taxes, but many thought there was a third: the inexorable rise in consumption of electricity. As the population grew and each of us got a little more prosperous each year, we'd use more power. The mighty electricity industry was built on that certainty.

Except that electricity consumption has been falling for the past four years. To say this has taken the industry by surprise is an understatement. For well over a century – even during the Great Depression – the quantity of electricity used in Australia each year was greater than the year before. ...

There are few aspects of the economy – global or national – where change is more significant, more diverse or more interesting than energy supply and demand – where energy covers coal, gas (conventional and unconventional), petroleum, wind, solar and other renewables. Expect to hear more from me on the topic.

But there are few questions more interesting than exactly why the unthinkable, a fall in electricity consumption, has come about. Short answer: a surprisingly large combination of reasons ...

The best attempt to quantify the various factors involved comes from a report prepared by Dr Hugh Saddler, an energy expert with the Pitt and Sherry consultancy, for the Australia Institute. Saddler's modelling covers the years to 2012-13, but we know from reporting this week by Origin Energy and AGL that the fall continued in 2013-14.

Saddler focuses on energy produced and consumed from the National Energy Market, which covers the five eastern states and the ACT, but the decline is occurring also in Western Australia. After peaking in 2008-09, consumption from the national market in 2012-13 was down by almost 8 terawatt hours, or 4.3 per cent.

But that's only half the story. Just as important as why demand has fallen is why it hasn't continued growing, as continued growth in the population and the economy would lead us to expect. Saddler estimates that had demand continued growing from 2004 at its average rate of growth over the previous 20 years (2.5 per cent a year) it would have been 37 terawatt hours more than it actually was in 2012-13. ...

"All of the decline in consumption has been at the expense of coal-fired generators, with the result that many are now barely profitable," Saddler says. ...

So what has caused our power consumption to fall rather than rise? The biggest single reason is the introduction from the late 1990s of regulations to increase the energy efficiency of refrigerators, freezers and many other residential and commercial appliances, and to increase the energy efficiency of new buildings.

Saddler estimates this explains 37 per cent of the 37 terawatt-hour shortfall from what might have been.

The next biggest part of the explanation is structural change in the economy away from electricity-intensive industries. Over the year to September 2012, three major NSW industrial power users – Port Kembla steelworks, Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter and the Clyde oil refinery – were partly or completely shut down. This explains 10 per cent of the 37 terawatt-hour shortfall.

The evidence also suggests that power consumption by other major industrial users has been little changed over the three years to 2012-13. Saddler estimates that this failure to grow explains a further 14 per cent of the shortfall, taking the total contribution from structural change to almost a quarter.

The next most important part of the explanation is the response of electricity users, particularly residential users, to the higher prices they were being charged. Saddler finds that after 2010 there was "an abrupt change in consumer responsiveness to higher prices". ...

He further calculates that the growth in output from rooftop photovoltaic solar and other small, distributed generators accounts for about 13 per cent of the shortfall. This, of course, is a fall in the demand for electricity supplied by the major, mainly coal-fired generators, not a fall in the use of electricity as such.

Saddler notes that for the past three years the annual peak demand has been falling, not increasing, despite the huge investment to cope with ever-rising peaks. When will this additional capacity, which is now built and for which all electricity consumers are paying – and will continue to pay for some years to come – be required, if ever, he asks.

Peak Peak ?  

Posted by Big Gav

I thought declaring Peak Everything peaked a few years ago, but according to The Guardian peak peakism only recently passed by - Have we reached peak peak? The rise (and rise) of a ubiquitous phrase. Can't say I'm going to miss beards...

Rob Brooks is the Australian researcher who used the term "peak beard" back in April, triggering write-ups on news portals around the world and, eventually, when coverage had crested, the phrase "peak peak beard". The Guardian's report alone was shared 28,601 times on Facebook. But Brooks was not first to use the term peak beard. In 2013, the Guardian used the phrase in a story that was shared a humbler 926 times, which goes to show: you can peak too soon. In the late 16th century, peak beards – beards shaped like an isosceles triangle – had a moment. But nobody recalls those now. If they did, someone would have called peak peak peak beard: too many stories about the popularity of peak beards.

Not all peaks are bristle-related. Before beards there was "peak stuff", the title of a 2011 research paper by the environmental writer Chris Goodall. He says he came up with the phrase because "the characteristic meme among environmentalists is that everything is getting worse all the time. I started to notice that this wasn't the case. In fact, there's a lot of evidence that humankind's impact on the environment in mature economies has peaked." He cites "things such as the amount of waste we produce, the amount of fertiliser we throw on food, the weight of clothing we buy".

Where else had he seen or heard the phrase "have we reached peak ..."?

"I was hoping you were going to say that I was the first person to do this," he says. But by 2011, other peaks had already cut through: "peak times" (Urban Dictionary, 2010), for instance, or plain "peak" (2009), meaning very good or very bad. Further back in time, the references fall away. Before 2009, the only peaks in Urban Dictionary were "very erect nipples".

"Have we reached peak X?" belongs to a family of tropes known as snowclones – a templated phrase whose components offer tireless possibilities for adaptation and regeneration. Other examples are "X is the new Y", "We are all X now" and "How I learned to stop X and love Y".

The authority on Snowclones is the Language Log blog run by celebrated linguists Geoffrey Pullum and Mark Liberman. "This particular idiom is hard to track," emails Liberman, "because 'peak NOUN' is a commonplace expression, with head nouns denoting things that are (or can be) measured, eg 'peak performance', 'peak demand', 'peak power'." In other words, the usage is too broad, and the adjective too common to be traced on databases. It would be impossible to separate comic formulations from more serious peaks.

There is some good news, though. Liberman remembers the first time he noticed the phrase. It was in 2008, when the US writer John Cole blogged that "we may have hit and passed Peak Wingnut", a derogatory term for rightwingers.

Cole's post is nearly six years old, but can he recall what inspired the phrase? "I came up with 'peak wingnut' because I was shocked," Cole says. "The Republicans seemed to get crazier and crazier. The source of it is [US blogger] Kevin Drum. At the Washington Monthly, one of the things he was always talking about was peak oil."

Earning a living  

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Replacing coal with biogas  

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RNE has a look at some CEFC programs to increase the use of biogas in Australia - Major beef processor turns to biogas to halve power bills.

One of Australia’s largest meat processors – and a major regional employer, providing 830 jobs – is among the latest recipients of funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, in a deal to co-finance a major on-site energy project at northern NSW-based Bindaree Beef.

The CEFC announced on Tuesday it would provide up to $15 million, together with additional bank finance and an Australian Government Clean Technology Investment Program grant, to fund the installation of a biodigester and energy efficient rendering facilities to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of operations at Bindaree Beef.

As well as the biodigester, the funding will go towards development of an electricity generation facility using biogas (produced by the biodigester) as fuel, and a new more energy efficient rendering plant to replace the existing coal-fired plant and eliminate the use of coal. Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 10.37.13 AM

The new equipment is expected to halve the company’s power bills and cut its annual carbon emissions by three quarters. The biogas plant will also create a new business revenue stream through sales of organic fertiliser – a by-product of the energy conversion process.

Bindaree Beef Director John Newton said securing finance from the CEFC – a $10 billion Labor government initiative, which remains on the Abbott government’s chopping block – had been integral to securing the interest of additional private finance, which, along with the government grant, would cover the total project cost. ...

In March this year, the CEFC contributed $20 million to a funding deal with Quantum Power Limited – Australia’s leading biogas company – to catalyse up to $40 million in biogas infrastructure aimed at helping farmers and manufacturers cut costs and boost productivity in the face of rising electricity prices.

Global Gasoline Guzzling Set To Plummet  

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Cleantechnica has a post on some research into future oil demand for transport - Global Gasoline Guzzling Set To Plummet.

Policies designed to minimise and redefine dependence upon oil for transportation have been the talk of many towns around the world over the past several years, leading Navigant Research to posit that gasoline consumption for road transportation will fall by 4% from 2014 to 2035.

Policies intended to reduce fuel consumption have ranged from subsidising alternative fuels and alternative-fuel vehicles, making the development of new and economic biofuels a priority, as well as higher fuel-economy requirements for new vehicles. Each policy has been one step in a cleaner future, and another nail in the coffin of traditional fuel-oriented transportation.

“The anticipated effects of climate change are driving international cooperation on mitigation efforts, including reducing oil consumption in the transportation sector,” says Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant Research. “Markets for both vehicles and fuels have gradually begun to respond to these efforts, and alternative fuels ‑ including electricity, natural gas, and biodiesel ‑ are beginning to have an impact on global oil demand.”

How important is gas to China's energy mix?  

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The Climate Spectator has a pair of article on EIA research into China's appetite for natural gas. The first looks at where China currently gets its gas from - How important is gas to China's energy mix?.

China more than tripled natural gas production since 2003, producing 3.8 trillion cubic feet in 2012, and the government is targeting production to reach about 5.5 Tcf of natural gas per year by the end of 2015. Most of the anticipated production growth is from large onshore fields in the western and north central regions of China as well as from the offshore deepwater regions in the South China Sea. China's natural gas consumption has outstripped domestic supply since 2007, triggering rising imports of both liquefied natural gas and pipeline gas. China's natural gas consumption rose at an average annual rate of 17 per cent from 2003 through 2013, reaching nearly 5.7 Tcf in 2013.

In 2013, China imported nearly 1.8 Tcf of LNG and pipeline gas to fill the growing gap between supply and demand. Imported natural gas met 32 per cent of China's demand in 2013, up from 2 per cent in 2006. China is swiftly developing its LNG import capacity in the urban coastal areas and currently has 10 major regasification terminals with 1.7 Tcf/y of capacity. In 2012, China rose to become the third-largest LNG importer in the world, after Japan and South Korea, and in 2013, the country imported 870 billion cubic feet of LNG. Estimates for the first half of 2014 show LNG imports growing at faster levels than in previous years.

The second article looks at the supply situation from Russia - China's gas equation, post-Gazprom.

Russia's largest natural gas company, Gazprom, finalised a deal with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation in May. New natural gas production in Russia will mainly come from fields in eastern Siberia, which currently lack export infrastructure. The planned Power of Siberia pipeline will export gas south to China and east to a liquefied natural gas plant on Russia's east coast.

This contract is Gazprom's largest to date. Gazprom has a monopoly on pipeline natural gas export contracts made by Russia. The situation differs from that in LNG markets, where other companies such as Rosneft and Novatek may participate.

China's northern and eastern provinces have growing natural gas demand that cannot be met by existing pipelines or LNG, and the new Russian natural gas will mostly go to meet demand in these regions. China has also committed to purchasing 38 bcm (1.3 Tcf) per year of natural gas from Turkmenistan by 2016, increasing to 65 bcm (2.2Tcf) per year by 2020.

As a footnote, Technology Review has an article on China's problems trying to develop shale gas - China’s Shale Gas Bust.

In 2013 China became the third biggest user of natural gas behind the United States and Russia, consuming 166 billion cubic meters (bcm). By 2019, the International Energy Agency expects China’s annual natural gas consumption to grow 90 percent, to 315 bcm. Half of that increase is expected to be supplied by domestic gas production, which would come from multiple sources, including shale reserves.

That IEA estimate for gas consumption is much lower than the production target China had set for itself: 420 bcm of natural gas annually by 2020, with hydrofracturing, or fracking, being used to get 60 to 80 bcm from shale.

China is estimated to hold the largest technically recoverable reserves of shale gas in the world—nearly twice as much as the U.S. But the shale industry in China has struggled to get off the ground. Most projects are still in the exploration phase. In many cases the formations that hold gas are deeper than in North America and more expensive to reach. Further, Chinese shale tends to have more clay in it, which is an obstacle to extraction (see “China Has Plenty of Shale Gas, But It Will Be Hard to Mine”). These challenges led the government last week to reduce the 2020 shale-gas target to 30 bcm.

Even that would represent a huge increase. Of the 117 bcm of natural gas that China produced in 2013, only 0.2 bcm came from shale.

Nobel gurus fear globalisation is going horribly wrong ?  

Posted by Big Gav

While I rarely agree with Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's conclusions I generally enjoy reading his column in the UK Daily Telegraph as he does consistently ponder interesting topics. The start to his latest column - Nobel gurus fear globalisation is going horribly wrong - is somewhat baffling however it does improve as you get into it (ignoring a few red herrings like claiming globalisation has pushed up wages for some workers everywhere).

The idea that it could be surprising that globalisation is widening inequality everywhere (while the income differentials between countries as a whole narrow) is baffling. Global free trade and movement of capital forces labour forces everywhere to compete against one another, slowly equalising wages. Neoliberal capitalism itself creates a huge gulf in the incomes between the owners of capital and those with none. Surely this is simple to understand (and nowadays, to observe).

It is interesting, however, that he discusses income redistribution within rich countries to soften the blow on labour. I think there is a slow dawning of understanding amongst the elites that the current model is going to break at some point - and re-instituting some ideas from the past (public transport/ living wages / negative income taxes / shorter working weeks etc supplemented with some new ideas like paying people to keep their children in school) might have to be done to ensure the stability of the system...

David Ricardo's Theory of Comparative Advantage has broken down after 200 years, or so I learned at the Lindau forum of Nobel laureates in Bavaria.

The theory published in 1817 has been a guiding principle of free trade, taken as a given by every student of economics in the modern era. It has served us well, but just as Newton's theories ran into limits and were overtaken by Einstein's relativity, comparative advantage no longer explains the world.

Under Ricardo's model, inequality was supposed to narrow within countries as globalisation accelerated exponentially in the Nineties. Instead it is getting wider. The Gini coefficient measuring the spread between rich and poor is narrowing between countries, but is widening almost everywhere within countries, leading to a corrosive concentration of wealth.

"Globalisation today is very different from the 19th century," said Eric Maskin, winner of the Nobel Prize in 2007. Ricardo described a world where free trade in goods was opening up, but labour markets remained largely closed. This is no longer the case. Globalisation bids up the wages of high-skilled engineers or software analysts towards international levels wherever they live. ...

Prof Maskin said it would be a counsel of despair to turn away from globalisation. The last quarter-century has led to a surge in living standards for the emerging world as a whole. Yet it must be tamed. An answer lies in Brazil, one of the few countries to buck the trend and lower its Gini index.

One of the tricks was a scheme introduced twelve years ago to make "conditional cash transfers" to poor families provided their children stay in school up to the age of 17, and must be vaccinated. The idea is spreading to Africa and the Mid-East. Another trick is to build public transport linking the poorest slums with the places where the jobs can be found, usually far away. This is the task of microeconomics, one brick at a time.

The Maskin theory is not to be confused with "labour arbitrage", in which global multinationals take a greater share of the pie in profits by playing off cheap workers in Asia against blue-collar workers in the West – holding down wages in the US and Europe.

That too is going on. It may cure itself over time. It has not down so yet. Sir James Mirrlees, who won the Prize in 1996 for work on incentives, advocates outright subsidies for poorer workers in the West to stop them falling out of the bottom. "Just as you have social security taxes on employment, you could have negative taxes. Housing subsidies already work in this way in the UK," he told me.

Prof Mirrlees says capital controls may be needed to right the ship, warning Europe could be trapped in high unemployment for "years to come", unless they keep their capital at home for their own use. "The Europeans don't yet seem to have realised this," he said.

There is an enduring myth – a self-serving one – that inequality is a price we must pay to achieve higher growth. Advocates posit a trade-off effect. They argue that "levelling" pulls down everybody and damages the economy in the end.

Prof Joseph Stiglitz says the data proves otherwise. "We now realise that less inequality leads to greater stability, growth, and economic efficiency. They compliment each other," he told the Lindau forum. "We are seeing an ever-increasing concentration of wealth. It is fundamentally different from what occurred in the 19th century and up to the First World War, when real wages were rising. What we have seen with globalisation since the Eighties is stagnation in real wages," he said.

Prof Stiglitz, a former chief economist for the World Bank and winner of the Prize in 2001, said real median pay for full-time male workers has fallen back to levels last seen 40 years ago, yet productivity has risen 100pc over the same period. The workers have been excluded from all the gains, or as he puts it, we now live in an "inherited plutocracy" where the rich accumulate ever more in a perverse dynamic that will not necessarily self-correct. It may continue until we change the way society is organised, that is to say until we change our laws, spending policies, and taxation.

His preference is the "Scandinavian Dream" but there are many ways to skin a cat. It is not a Left/Right issue. It is common sense. Democracies will not last long with the wealth concentration of pre-modern despotisms.

The $500-a-day service charge designed to kill solar in Queensland  

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RNE has a look at moves in Queensland to shift from usage based pricing for electricity to a model with heavy "service charges" for grid connection, punishing on-premise generation - The $500-a-day service charge designed to kill solar.

Queensland businesses are being hit with daily service charges of more than $500 a day on their electricity bills, in a move the solar industry says is designed to kill the roll-out of commercial-scale rooftop solar across the state.

The charges were quietly unveiled by the Queensland Competition Authority and the state government in July. But their implications are only now being absorbed as business operators do the numbers on proposed solar installations. ...

The changes have horrified members of the solar industry, businesses looking to install solar, and those who have invested tens of thousands of dollar in energy efficiency measures such as LEDs or upgraded machinery.

That’s because, according to Steve Madson, director of Country Solar, one of the country’s largest installers of commercial-scale solar, the new tariffs reduce any incentive for businesses to lower consumption from the grid, either by installing solar panels for their own use, or by investing in more efficiency machinery and lighting.

Madson says the charges appear designed to stop the rollout of commercial-scale solar in Queensland. “The changes are clever in their design,” Madson told RenewEconomy. “They do not actually result in an increase in total electricity costs, and in some cases they actually cause a fall. But they kill the possibility of reducing the bills by installing solar. ”How can they charge $500 a day to read the meter, that is what the daily service charge is after all.”

The QCA, and the state government has long been accused of acting only to protect the interests of the network operators and retailers, and to boost the dividends paid to the government. Last year, as RenewEconomy reported, QCA came out in favour of special tariffs on residential solar customers, even though it admitted that they would be more costly, ineffective, unfair and possibly illegal. But they favoured the move because it would protect network revenues.

The raising of fixed charges has been a common response among utilities fearing the impact of rooftop solar and a “death spiral” of falling revenues on a fixed asset base.

Analysts such as Morgan Stanley have ridiculed the practice of imposing high fixed charges, saying it was ultimately self-defeating and could simply accelerate that death spiral, and encourage people to go off-grid, particularly when battery storage became commercially viable. “There may be a ‘tipping point’ that causes customers to seek an off-grid approach — higher fixed charges to distributed generation customers are likely to drive more battery purchases and exits from the grid,” the Morgan Stanley researchers wrote.

Madson agrees: “In three years’ time (when battery storage improves), this will also be enough for a mass exodus from the grid altogether.”

Humans Need Not Apply  

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The impact of massive automation of jobs seems to be one of the emerging concerns of the past few years - this video from CGP Grey is quite a good summary - Humans Need Not Apply.

Could hemp nanosheets topple graphene for making the ideal supercapacitor?  

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The American Chemical Society has a post on the possible use of hemp in creating supercapacitors - Could hemp nanosheets topple graphene for making the ideal supercapacitor?

David Mitlin, Ph.D., explains that supercapacitors are energy storage devices that have huge potential to transform the way future electronics are powered. Unlike today’s rechargeable batteries, which sip up energy over several hours, supercapacitors can charge and discharge within seconds. But they normally can’t store nearly as much energy as batteries, an important property known as energy density. One approach researchers are taking to boost supercapacitors’ energy density is to design better electrodes. Mitlin’s team has figured out how to make them from certain hemp fibers — and they can hold as much energy as the current top contender: graphene.

“Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin says. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from biowaste using a simple process, and therefore, are much cheaper than graphene.”

The race toward the ideal supercapacitor has largely focused on graphene — a strong, light material made of atom-thick layers of carbon, which when stacked, can be made into electrodes. Scientists are investigating how they can take advantage of graphene’s unique properties to build better solar cells, water filtration systems, touch-screen technology, as well as batteries and supercapacitors. The problem is it’s expensive.

Mitlin’s group decided to see if they could make graphene-like carbons from hemp bast fibers. The fibers come from the inner bark of the plant and often are discarded from Canada’s fast-growing industries that use hemp for clothing, construction materials and other products. The U.S. could soon become another supplier of bast. It now allows limited cultivation of hemp, which unlike its close cousin, does not induce highs.

South Australia wind energy jumps to 43% in July  

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RNE has a look at the relentless penetration of wind energy into the South Australian grid - South Australia wind energy jumps to 43% in July.

South Australia’s wind farms produced enough electricity to meet a record 43 per cent of the state’s power needs during July, and on occasions during the month provided all the state’s electricity needs. ... Combined with the state’s 550MW of solar power, it is likely that nearly half of the state’s electricity demand came from variable renewable sources such as wind and solar – a record for a major developed economy.

Spain, for instance, this week, said that in July solar made up 8 per cent of its power supply, spread evenly between concentrated solar thermal and solar PV – while wind energy contributed 16.8% of the overall energy generation mix.

“With more than 40 per cent of the state’s power demand provided by wind energy for the entire month, it is clear that large amounts of renewable energy can be added to the system without the need for extra backup generation to be built,” Clean Energy Council acting Chief Executive Kane Thornton said in a statement.

Solar Power Installations Jump to a New Annual Record  

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WorldWatch has a report on the global solar power market - Solar Power Installations Jump to a New Annual Record.

The year 2013 saw record-breaking growth for solar electricity generation as the photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) markets continued to grow. With over 39 gigawatts installed worldwide, the PV solar market represented one third of all newly-added renewable energy capacity, write Worldwatch’s Max Lander and Climate and Energy Intern Xiangyu Wu in the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend (

Solar PV installations nearly matched those of hydropower and, for the first time, outpaced wind additions. Even though photovoltaics continue to dwarf CSP capacity, the CSP market also had another year of impressive growth. By the end of 2013, a total of 19 countries had CSP plants installed or under construction.

Consumption of power from PV and CSP plants increased by 30 percent globally in 2013 to reach 124.8 terawatt-hours. Europe accounted for the majority of global solar power consumption (67 percent), followed by Asia (23.9 percent) and North America (8.1 percent). Worldwide, solar consumption equaled 0.5 percent of electricity generation from all sources. ... In July 2014, global PV module spot prices reached an all-time low of $0.63 per watt. For the first time, Asia overtook Europe as the largest regional market.

While global PV module production increased by only 3 percent over 2012, module shipments jumped by 24 percent, signaling an easing of oversupply problems.

Prospects are bright for solar development as prices continue to fall and approach grid parity in an increasing number of contexts. Rooftop solar is already less expensive per megawatt-hour than retail electricity in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, and Germany. Estimates now also show that PV has become price-competitive without subsidies in 15 countries. For2014, solar installations are estimated to reach 40–51 gigawatts.

Scientists may have solved the giant Siberian crater mystery - and the news isn't good  

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The SMH has a look at the recent appearance of mysterious giant craters in Siberia - Scientists may have solved the giant Siberian crater mystery - and the news isn't good.

Researchers have long contended that the epicentre of global warming is also farthest from the reach of humanity. It’s in the barren landscapes of the frozen north, where red-cheeked children wear fur, the sun barely rises in the winter and temperatures can plunge to 50 degrees below zero. Such a place is the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, translated as “the ends of the Earth”, a desolate spit of land where a group called the Nenets live.

By now, you’ve heard of the crater on the Yamal Peninsula. It’s the one that suddenly appeared, yawning nearly 60 metres in diameter, and made several rounds in the global viral media machine. The adjectives most often used to describe it: giant, mysterious, curious. Scientists were subsequently “baffled”. Locals were “mystified”. There were whispers that aliens were responsible. Nearby residents peddled theories of “bright flashes” and “celestial bodies”.

There’s now a substantiated theory about what created the crater. And the news isn’t so good.

It may be methane gas, released by the thawing of frozen ground. According to a recent Nature article, “air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6 per cent — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July, says Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179 per cent methane.”

The scientist said the methane release may be related to Yamal’s unusually hot summers in 2012 and 2013, which were warmer by an average of 5 degrees Celsius. “As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground,” the report stated.

Has The Gulf Of Mexico Hit Peak Oil?  

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DeSmog Blog has a look at oil production in the Gulf of Mexico - Has The Gulf Of Mexico Hit Peak Oil?.

There are enough articles on the “myth of peak oil” floating around the Internet to fill a book; and there are enough books on the subject to fill a small library. One of the common threads throughout these publications is their lack of credible sources, because not only is peak oil real, but we’re rapidly approaching that threshold.

An example that is smacking the United States and the oil industry in the face right now is floating in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to a new government report, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf has been steadily declining for the last decade. The report looked at oil production in the Gulf of Mexico on federal lands only, not any privately-held lands where production is taking place. Since 2010, according to the report, the annual yield of oil from the Gulf has fallen by almost 140 million barrels.

While the Gulf region still accounts for 69% of U.S. oil produced on federal lands, the dramatic decline in production tells a story that the oil industry doesn’t want us to hear. Peak oil is clearly beginning to play a role in U.S. exploration.

Contrary to what some of the peak oil deniers want the public to believe, peak oil does not mean that we’re about to run out of oil. What it means is that the United States is running out of easily accessible, financially viable oil. As that easy to retrieve oil disappears, companies have to drill deeper and deeper or in otherwise inaccessible places in order to get their oil.

This makes the process much more expensive and drives costs up to the point that profits are hard to come by. And this is what we’re beginning to see in the Gulf of Mexico.

It isn't because oil drilling is decreasing in the Gulf, either. In fact, oil drilling in the area has been accelerating in recent years, so the decline in production is not the result of fewer wells being drilled.

How Tesla could pull more consumers off the grid  

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RNE has a post on a Morgan Stanley report on tesla's potential to hasten the utility death spiral - How Tesla could pull more consumers off the grid.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley says the global electricity utility industry is still underestimating the potential of EV maker Tesla to achieve a dramatic reduction in battery storage costs, luring more and more consumers to go “off-grid.”

In a detailed report released in late July, Solar Power & Energy Storage, Morgan Stanley said that energy storage, specifically that being developed by Tesla in its so-called “giga-factory” could be disruptive in US and Europe, and elsewhere.

It does not mention Australia in the report, but Australia has all the ingredients of a market perfect for such disruption – excellent solar resources and high electricity costs, and more specifically, high network charges.

“Given the relatively high cost of the power grid, we think that customers in parts of the US and Europe may seek to avoid utility grid fees by going “off-grid” through a combination of solar power and energy storage,” Morgan Stanley’s leading energy analysts write in the report.

“We believe there is not sufficient appreciation of the magnitude of energy storage cost reduction that Tesla has already achieved, nor of the further cost reduction magnitude that Tesla might be able to achieve. once the company has constructed its “Gigafactory,” targeted for completion later in the decade.“

This, of course, has massive implication for the incumbent utilities, not to mention for other consumers. The immediate response for networks has been to seek to raise fixed charges to protect their revenue, an option that Morgan Stanley says will be counter-productive.

BMW Launches Its Answer to Tesla’s Supercharger Network  

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Wired has an article on BMW's foray into recharging networks for electric vehicles - BMW Launches Its Answer to Tesla’s Supercharger Network.

The biggest problem automakers selling electric cars face is limited range. No one wants to get caught without any juice. To get around this concern, Tesla, whose Model S offers the best range (up to 265 miles), is building a vast network of “Supercharger” stations that make it possible to take epic road trips. Now BMW is following suit, launching a network of charging stations to make owning its first all-electric car, the range-handicapped i3, more convenient.

The automaker announced last week that it has developed an impressively small, lightweight, and inexpensive charger that it is working to install around the country. BMW will sell the charger to “authorized partners”—starting with dealers—for $6,548. NRG eVgo, a private EV-charging company, will install at least 100 around California and offer free charging to i3 owners through the end of 2015.

The 24 kilowatt BMW i DC Fast Charger, developed with Bosch Automotive, can charge the i3’s battery up to 80 percent in 30 minutes. Compared to other chargers on the market, the BMW version is quite small: 31 inches tall, 19 inches wide and 12 inches deep. It weighs just 100 pounds, light enough to be mounted without reinforcing the wall or pouring extra concrete.

Shale gas: 'The dotcom bubble of our times'  

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The UK Daily Telegraph has a jaundiced look at the shale boom - Shale gas: 'The dotcom bubble of our times'.

Rather oddly, hardly anyone seems to have asked the one question which is surely fundamental: does shale development make economic sense?

My conclusion is that it does not.

That Britain needs new energy sources is surely beyond dispute. Between 2003 and 2013, domestic production of oil and gas slumped by 62pc and 65pc respectively, while coal output decreased by 55pc. Despite sharp increases in the output of renewables, overall energy production has fallen by more than half. A net exporter of energy as recently as 2003, Britain now buys almost half of its energy from abroad, and this gap seems certain to widen. ...

We now have more than enough data to know what has really happened in America. Shale has been hyped ("Saudi America") and investors have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the shale sector. If you invest this much, you get a lot of wells, even though shale wells cost about twice as much as ordinary ones.

If a huge number of wells come on stream in a short time, you get a lot of initial production. This is exactly what has happened in the US. The key word here, though, is "initial". The big snag with shale wells is that output falls away very quickly indeed after production begins. Compared with “normal” oil and gas wells, where output typically decreases by 7pc-10pc annually, rates of decline for shale wells are dramatically worse. It is by no means unusual for production from each well to fall by 60pc or more in the first 12 months of operations alone.

Faced with such rates of decline, the only way to keep production rates up (and to keep investors on side) is to drill yet more wells. This puts operators on a "drilling treadmill", which should worry local residents just as much as investors. Net cash flow from US shale has been negative year after year, and some of the industry’s biggest names have already walked away.

The seemingly inevitable outcome for the US shale industry is that, once investors wise up, and once the drilling sweet spots have been used, production will slump, probably peaking in 2017-18 and falling precipitously after that. The US is already littered with wells that have been abandoned, often without the site being cleaned up. Meanwhile, recoverable reserves estimates for the Monterey shale – supposedly the biggest shale liquids play in the US – have been revised downwards by 96pc. In Poland, drilling 30-40 wells has so far produced virtually no worthwhile production.

In the future, shale will be recognised as this decade's version of the dotcom bubble. In the shorter term, it's a counsel of despair as an energy supply squeeze draws ever nearer. While policymakers and investors should favour solar, waste conversion and conservation over the chimera of shale riches, opponents would be well advised to promote the economic case against the shale fad.

Intensifying ocean acidity from carbon emissions hitting Pacific shellfish industry  

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The SMH has a look at the toll carbon emissions are taking on the oceans - Intensifying ocean acidity from carbon emissions hitting Pacific shellfish industry.

For more than a century, Bill Taylor's family has used the calm, protected waters of Puget Sound to raise oysters, planting billions of larvae in underwater beds and then harvesting them to ship to some of the finest restaurants in the world.

But then something went wrong. After the hatchery produced peak levels of seven billion larvae in 2006 and 2007, the numbers began to drop precipitously. In 2008, it had just half as many larvae. By 2009, it produced less than a third of the peak.

Up and down the Pacific Coast, from California to British Columbia to Alaska, other shellfish farms experienced the same decline: Something was happening to their larvae at the formative stage of life when they build their shells. No one in the industry knew why "We didn't know that much about the water because we didn't have any problems," Taylor said. Once the larvae started dying off, they tested the water: It was much too acidic.

Scientists testing the water up and down the Pacific Coast found evidence of the same steep decline in pH. Studies have found more acidic water in Alaska is stunting the growth of red king crabs and tanner crabs. Plummeting pH levels across the Eastern Seaboard have been impacting the shellfish industry for decades.

The economic impacts of rising acidity can be devastating. At its peak in 1952, U.S. producers harvested 72 million pounds of eastern oysters, according to data collected by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In 2012, the last year for which data is available, farmers hauled in just 23.8 million pounds. Producers haven't harvested more than 30 million pounds since 1996.

In a new study published online in the scholarly journal Progress in Oceanography, a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found rural areas in southern Alaska are at high risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial and subsistence fishing stocks. Declining seafood harvests will impact about 20 per cent of Alaska's population, which relies on subsistence fishing for significant amounts of their diet, the NOAA report found.

The acidification of the world's oceans frightens scientists, who see it as evidence of a rapidly changing climate. Though not as evident as increasingly powerful storms or devastating droughts, ocean acidification may be the clearest example of man's impact on the changing climate.

Acidification happens as a result of increased carbon in the atmosphere. The top layer of the world's oceans, perhaps the first 100 metres, absorb the elements in the atmosphere. The more carbon, the more acidic the water becomes. Currents take that layer of surface water and plunge it into the depths of the Pacific; decades later, the water is forced back to the surface as it reaches the West Coast, a process scientists call upwelling.

Angst… that the Energiewende will work  

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Energy Transition has a look at the German "Energy Transition" to renewable energy and some of the misconceptions spread about it by its critics - Angst… that the Energiewende will work.

Unlike the Swedes and Italians, the Germans knew how to replace nuclear back in 2002 – and they have even replaced all of the lost nuclear power since 2011. The IER charges the opposite:

“Germans have turned to coal to back up their intermittent renewable technologies and to ensure that they have adequate power to satisfy electricity demand.”

This claim is based on a previous paper published by the IER itself (PDF). But as we demonstrate in our study German Coal Conundrum, the growth of renewables since 2011 has already outstripped the reduction in nuclear. And as regular readers of this blog know, demand from foreign countries for German power (the main two being the Netherlands and France in 2013) directly increases the residual load served by conventional plants; specifically, if we zero-out Germany’s record level of net exports in 2013, coal power and carbon emissions drop by around 2.5 percent. If anything, foreign countries have turned to German coal power at a record level; Germany does not need so much electricity from coal to meet its own demand.

We shouldn’t stop counting at the end of 2013, either. The roundup of changes by TWh in the first half of 2014 is in the chart below. Get ready for reports of Germany lowering its emissions this year.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013  

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This year's installment of Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Australian Museum has been and gone (once again this is a much delayed post - time seems to be getting away from me lately) - I thought this year's set of images was pretty good, although after 20+ years of attending I'm finding it hard to find a lot of novelty these days.

The high price of gas exports  

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The impact of LNG exports, particularly of coal seam gas, on Australian industry continues to be the topic of debate, with one recent report warning that there it will further destroy the local manufacturing industry (already reeling from Dutch disease) - High gas prices threaten thousands of jobs, billions of dollars: industry.

A new report warns the riches promised by exporting Australian gas may have a devastating impact on local industries, particularly manufacturing. A coalition of half-a-dozen industry groups commissioned the report by Deloitte Access Economics.

The report says domestic gas prices are rapidly rising as the market links in with international prices. It warns that, if the rise goes unchecked, the manufacturing sector alone will contract by as much as $118 billion by 2021, with nearly 15,000 jobs lost. The report also finds that mining might contract by $34 billion and agriculture by $4.5 billion.

The ABC has a background piece - The price of gas.

Australians pay close to the highest electricity prices in the world, and we’re about to start paying some of the world’s highest gas prices, too. That’s because we’re about to start exporting gas for the first time from the east coast, and there’s no limit to the amount of gas that can be sent overseas.

That means Australians have to compete with energy-hungry customers in Asia, who are prepared to pay top dollar for our gas. The message from the government is that if we want to use gas, we’re going to have to get used to paying top dollar, too.

‘Gas is now being sold in Australia at an international price. That’s the reality of a world market,’ says the federal minister for industry, Ian Macfarlane. ‘To protect one section of the Australian market to the detriment of those people who want to take the risk, and invest the billions of dollars it takes to develop a CSG (coal seam gas) project simply doesn’t make economic sense, and we’ll just see that investment go somewhere else.’

Australia is about to become the first country in the world to export coal seam gas—without the CSG boom in Queensland, exports on the east coast simply wouldn’t be viable. Equally, coal seam gas mining wouldn’t be feasible in Australia at the old price of $3-4 per gigajoule, because it costs a lot more to extract than conventional gas.

Customers in Asia are prepared to pay up to $18 per gigajoule for our gas. Since there’s no policy to disconnect Australia from these prices, our gas prices are now rising to meet what’s called the ‘netback’ price—the Asian price, minus the cost of processing and shipping.

For big industrial users, this is particularly bad news. ‘We're seeing prices leap from historical averages of sort of $3 to $4 a gigajoule to $9 to $12 a gigajoule or more,’ says Ben Eade, executive director of Manufacturing Australia. He says the impact of rising gas prices will ‘dwarf the impact of the carbon tax’.

A new report commissioned by industry groups and prepared by Deloitte Access Economics says skyrocketing gas prices will damage the Australian manufacturing sector to the tune of $118 billion over the next seven years, and lead to a loss of more than 14,000 jobs. ‘The fact is, high energy costs are killing industry in Australia,’ says Eade, ‘and high gas costs in particular.’

Even the companies who are willing to pay top dollar for gas are having a hard time finding it. That’s because around 80 per cent of Australia’s gas is now controlled by companies who are selling that gas to Asia. In fact, the big gas exporters have overcommitted to customers; according to Citigroup all three LNG hubs are having to buy gas from third parties in order to meet demand.

Elon Musk On The Colbert Report  

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Elon Musk recently appeared on the Colbert report - it was amusing watching him gently refuse to dumb his answers down - Elon Musk on The Colbert Report. The rocket landing again after take-off is pretty cool too.

The CSM reports that Tesla's "gigafactory" is likely to be in Reno, Nevada - Tesla Motors reveals 'potential' Gigafactory location in earnings report.
Tesla Motors has broken ground in Reno, Nev. for its $5 billion Gigafactory, according to their earnings report. But, Tesla Motors says it is a 'potential' location for the lithium-ion battery factory and the automaker is still looking at other possible sites.

Tesla Motors built 8,763 Model S electric cars and delivered 7,579 of them to customers during the second quarter, according to just-released second-quarter results. It expects to build about 9,000 cars this quarter, and deliver 7,800, largely due to a two-week production shutdown for retooling at its factory in Fremont, California--which cost it about 2,000 cars, it said. ...

Tesla still expects to be delivering at a rate of more than 100,000 cars by the end of 2015, when capacity expansion has been completed and its Model X crossover has joined the Model S in full production.

The good news, said the shareholder letter, is that demand for the Model S continues to grow. "Average global delivery wait times increased because our production growth was unable to keep pace with increased demand."

Bloomberg also has a look at Tesla's growth in foreign markets, noting China is becoming increasingly important - Tesla Seen Reporting Record Deliveries on China Expansion.

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) will probably report record electric Model S deliveries in the second quarter after it accelerated output and began shipping its flagship sedan to China and the U.K. ...

“Initial deliveries into China appear to have been successful,” said Andrea James, a Minneapolis-based analyst for Dougherty & Co. who rates Tesla a buy. While the company is contending with a trademark dispute there, that “may be the cost of doing business in China, which is a key market for Tesla,” she said.

Tesla is racing to boost international shipments of the Model S, priced from $71,000 in the U.S., until it can begin delivering the already-delayed Model X sport-utility vehicle in early 2015. The next challenge for Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, who is set to appear in an episode of “The Simpsons,” is deciding where to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery plant to start making cheaper cells needed for the less costly Model 3 sedan due by 2017

LEDs will slash energy use for lighting by 95%  

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RNE has a look at the energy efficiency revolution in lighting - LEDs will slash energy use for lighting by 95%.

A simple (but not perfect) measure for lighting efficiency is the number of lumens (a measure of light intensity) a lighting source produces per watt. A conventional incandescent bulb gets 13 lumens per watt to light your room, while a replacement LED bulb from Philips that can be bought at Coles or Woolworths achieves 80 lumens per watt (a compact fluorescent globe gets about 60 lumens per watt).

CREE (the industry leader who, it is speculated, may purchase the next best, Philips’ Lumileds division) has successfully demonstrated Light Emitting Diodes running at 300 Lumens per watt in the lab. CREE currently sell a $10, 9.5W bulb (available in the US), which produces 85 Lumens per watt and can directly replace an old style 60W globe.

Other breakthroughs and innovations are contributing to achieving higher efficiency’s in LED lighting, including a breakthrough by German researchers which will not only effect LED lights, but laptop and mobile phone chargers, cutting losses in today’s most efficient power supplies by half from 10% to just 5%.

Taking all this into consideration, according to the US Department of Energy SSL (Solid State Lighting) program we should be able to achieve wall plug efficiencies of 250 Lumens per watt by 2020 which means that a conventional bulb replacement in 2020 would be available using only a third of the electricity of today’s LED bulbs.

At that staggering rate of 250 lumens per watt, it will only take 3W to light a room, when it used to be done with 60 Watts of power. This represents a 95% reduction in energy required for lighting.

This will have a profound effect on the world’s requirement for lighting energy. We can expect - on an absolute basis – that 19% of the world’s electricity which is currently used for lighting to dramatically drop by at least 75%. On today’s numbers the reduction is the equivalent of the entire electricity consumption of the European Union.

In developed nations these huge efficiency gains from LEDs in the lighting sector will contribute to the continuing restructure of the electricity supply industry, which is currently facing a death spiral unless it can electrify the remaining residential energy services coming from fossil gas and supply a fast tracked electrification of the world’s vehicle fleet.

In developing countries, rooms that can be lit with 3W and task lights with even lower electricity consumption. This means that almost all the remaining 1.5Billion of the world’s population without an electricity supply will be able to access one at very minimal marginal cost in the next 5 years.

William Gibson: the man who saw tomorrow  

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The Guardian has an article on the 30th anniversary of William Gibson's "Neuromancer" being published - William Gibson: the man who saw tomorrow.

Prescience can be tedious for science-fiction writers. Being proven right about a piece of technology or a trend distracts from the main aim of the work: to show us how we live now. William Gibson knows this as well as anyone. Since the late 70s, the American-born novelist has been pulling at the loose threads of our culture to imagine what will come out. He has been right about a great deal, but mainly about the shape of the internet and how it filters down to the lowest strata of society.

In Neuromancer, published 30 years ago this month, Gibson popularised the idea of cyberspace: a "consensual hallucination" created by millions of connected computers. This network can be "jacked" into, while in the real world characters flit from Tokyo to the Sprawl, an urban agglomeration running down the east coast of the US. Gritty urban clinics carry out horrendous sounding plastic surgery. A junkie-hacker, Case, is coaxed into hacking the system of a major corporation. What once seemed impossibly futuristic is now eerily familiar.

"Neuromancer," says novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow, "remains a vividly imagined allegory for the world of the 1980s, when the first seeds of massive, globalised wealth-disparity were planted, and when the inchoate rumblings of technological rebellion were first felt. A generation later, we're living in a future that is both nothing like the Gibson future and instantly recognisable as its less stylish, less romantic cousin. Instead of zaibatsus [large conglomerates] run by faceless salarymen, we have doctrinaire thrusting young neocons and neoliberals who want to treat everything from schools to hospitals as businesses."


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