Apple now uses renewable energy for 75% of its needs  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

TreeHugger has a post on Apple's green power initiatives - Apple now uses renewable energy for 75% of its needs.

Apple has released its environmental report and, among other interesting things, it now states that is uses 100% renewable energy for its data centers and 75% for its needs overall, up from 35% in 2010. The end goal is 100% renewable energy use for all of the company's energy needs. Its likely that not all that clean energy will not be produced on site, Apple won't turn into a energy utility company, but the equivalent amount would be purchased from other sources and used on the grid, so the end result would be the same (energy is fungible, after all).

Of particular interest is the Maiden, North Carolina, data center (which mostly hosts iCloud stuff). It was designed from the ground up to be very energy efficiency and has earned LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Apple writes:

In 2012, we completed construction on the nation’s largest end user–owned, onsite solar photovoltaic array on land surrounding the data center. This 100-acre, 20-megawatt (MW) facility has an annual production capacity of 42 million kWh of clean, low-carbon, renewable energy. And we’re currently building a second 20-MW solar photovoltaic facility on nearby land that should be operational in late 2013. In addition, we’ve built an onsite 10-MW fuel cell installation that uses directed biogas and provides more than 83 million kWh of 24/7 baseload renewable energy annually — it’s the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the country. All told, Apple will be producing enough onsite renewable energy — 167 million kWh — to power the equivalent of 17,600 homes for one year.* These power sources are connected to the local energy grid and not only displace other dirtier forms of electricity that otherwise would have been used, but their environmental benefits are used only by Apple and are in addition to any locally mandated renewable energy requirements.

US shale boom starts to fade  

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The SMH has an article opining that prospects for US shale oil production are fading - US shale boom starts to fade.

For the past three years, the boom in the US shale oil industry has outstripped all expectations. Production surged far faster than any forecasts; drillers raced to secure space in new pipelines to get their crude to market. Now, at the periphery, that may be changing - at least for a while.

News from two of the country's less developed shale plays in Colorado and Ohio last week offer a reality check for the wave of euphoria that has washed across the industry. The stumbles mark a break from the past few years, when nearly every new project was an overnight success and output grew and grew.

On Thursday, Ohio, home to the Utica shale, finally released annual data on 2012 production that showed the state pumped less than 700,000 barrels of oil from its shale wells -- barely enough to fill a small oil tanker. North Dakota's Bakken shale pumps more than that every day. Even state officials said it the result was "lower than initially estimated."

The day before, NuStar Energy LP had said it would shelve a plan to reverse a pair of underused refined products pipelines to ship crude from Colorado's Niobrara shale oil play to Texas. It failed, twice, to garner enough commitments from potential customers to justify investing in the conversion. Neither development was a surprise to industry experts, and both were likely affected by extenuating circumstances.

A growing preference for rail shipments likely dimmed interest in long-term commitments to use NuStar's pipeline. Ohio's shale may yet offer up large volumes of liquid gas and condensate, if drillers can find new ways to coax it out.

Yet taken together they offered a sign that the flush of enthusiasm and rush of investment that piled into shale fields from one coast to the other has hit a curve. While the basic technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling was enough to coax an unexpected gusher of oil from shale rock in many regions, these more challenging seams may require incremental innovation to unlock.

Platts has an article boosting the prospects for the shale industry finding more plays like the Eagle Ford in Texas - Did the shale revolution already find its biggest oil field at the Eagle Ford?.
In case you didn’t catch it, investment house Credit Suisse had a wonderfully informative conference call for their clients last week on how they see the future of the shale revolution that has engulfed the oil patch in the last decade and become hyper-active especially in the last several years.

Among the bank’s conclusions: shale is a vital component of current US production which is growing at a huge clip — CS sees as much as 10 million b/d of US oil production in the next several years, up from 6.5 million b/d last year. CS also noted consistently improving well results from big plays such as the Permian Basin in West Texas and Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

Moreover, it’s not only the upstream that is exploding, but also companies that supply the technologies to eke out more oil in less time. Even ancillary services are exploding, such as technologies that can treat and dispose of water — a crucial component of well fracturing. And all this will require many billions of investment dollars into a shale economy still years away from the mature development stage.

But one other thing Credit Suisse said, which echoes the sentiments of many in the industry, was that it was “skeptical” a new large field on the order of the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas would happen. The Eagle Ford is one of the most prolific shale fields which boasts an estimated 943,000 b/d of liquids production and is forecast to produce 1.6 million b/d by late 2018. Instead, Credit Suisse said existing areas with “stacked” pay targets — i.e., layered formations –are better bets right now. When you consider how far industry has come in the last five years alone, it seems almost reactionary to make such a statement. And Credit Suisse is far from alone in that view: many executives share it — even from top shale producers.

Five years ago, the Eagle Ford Shale hadn’t even been discovered, at least not officially. Although a few companies were out there quietly working the field, it was Petrohawk Energy that announced a gas find there in October, 2008. By that time, other shale fields had already been discovered — the Haynesville in Louisiana, a gas field; the Bakken oil field in North Dakota; and of course, the granddaddy of them all, the Barnett in North Texas which sparked the widespread move by operators to shale exploitation in the early 2000s, although the field’s first wells were drilled in the early 1980s.

The Oil Drum has a skeptical look at the endless treadmill of drilling that shale oil / gas extraction requires- Is the Typical NDIC Bakken Tight Oil Well a Sales Pitch?.
In this post I present the results from dynamic simulations using the typical tight oil well for the Bakken as recently presented by the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC), together with the “2011 average” well as defined from actual production data from around 240 wells that were reported to have started producing from June through December 2011.

The use of the phrase “Typical Bakken Well” by NDIC as shown in Figure 01 is here believed to depict what is to be expected from the average tight oil well.

The results from the dynamic simulations show:

If the “Typical Bakken Well” is what NDIC recently has presented, total production from Bakken (the portion that lies in North Dakota) should have been around 1.1 Mb/d in February 2013.
Reported production from Bakken by NDIC as of February 2013 was 0.7 Mb/d.
Actual production data shows that the first year’s production for the average well in Bakken (North Dakota) presently is around 55% of the “Typical Bakken Well” presented by NDIC.
The results from the simulations anticipate a slowdown for the annual growth in oil production from Bakken (ND) through 2013 and 2014.

...

The production developments in Bakken and other tight oil plays are very much a function of monthly additions of producing wells, developments in well productivity, decline rates (for the growing population of “older” producing wells), development in costs, strategies deployed by the companies for development of their acreage, adequate infrastructure and not least the developments/expectations for the oil price.

The rise to power of the new sun kings  

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The SMH has a look at a couple of the key figures in the solar industry - The rise to power of the new sun kings.

As proponents of green energy go, Samuel Yang and Ben Waters could hardly be less alike. Samuel Yang, dubbed by the Chinese media the ''godfather of solar energy'', is a Buddhist vegan who befriended solar scientists while studying economics at Macquarie University in Sydney. He returned to China to found four of the largest solar photovoltaic companies in the world.

Ben Waters, director of Australia's sustainable business strategy for General Electric, sings in church choirs and, as a Hobart schoolboy, brooked bullying by opposing the Franklin River dam. He arrived at the giant corporation after years maintaining F/A-18 fighter jets.

GE's Ben Waters believes the Coalition might not scrap carbon tax. Photo: James Alcock Both Yang and Waters, though, share similar visions for the future of energy: the shift from large-scale, fossil-fuel power plants has to happen if we are to limit global warming, and the pace of the transition will surprise even supporters.

Of the two, Yang is arguably more of a revolutionary. As chief executive of Shanghai-listed Hareon Solar Technology, Yang is in the midst of a battle for survival in an industry that has soared about 50 per cent annually since 2002. Two of Yang's start-ups, JA Solar and Suntech, are among Chinese companies flooding global markets with low-cost solar PV. Suntech is also fending off creditors. ''This overcapacity is normal for any new industrial technology,'' Yang says on a visit to Melbourne this week. ''Solar technology is always advancing fast … and some companies will drop out.''

PV prices in Australia are now below 90¢ per watt, down as much as two-thirds in a couple of years. About one in eight Australian homes now have solar panels, and Yang says penetration rates could rise to 80 per cent in coming years given Australia's high electricity prices, ''such wonderful sun'', and the likely arrival of even cheaper solar PV and later low-cost batteries.

Yang won't say how much further prices will fall but any pause in the decline is likely to be temporary. Even the threat of European tariffs for alleged dumping is dismissed. ''It's a silly childish game,'' Yang says. ''I believe it won't last long.'' Yang bets European leaders will be wary of sparking a trade war with the growing Chinese market and losing jobs linked to the spread of cheap Chinese products. Yang's focus, though, is to expand his company into energy production itself. ''We have to invest in solar farms,'' he says. ''We should become energy suppliers.''

US industrial conglomerate GE, about 125 years old and worth about $250 billion, has investments in many industries but becoming a big power generator is not yet a priority. A major equipment supplier to fossil fuel industries such as coal and coal seam gas, GE also rivals Denmark's Vestas as the world's biggest producer of wind turbines. ''We're energy agnostic,'' Waters says. ''We want to be involved in the energy sector of the future and we're transitioning our business accordingly into distributed power, into renewables, into smart grids and energy storage.''

The spread of tri-generation, with plants generating heat, cooling and power to local precincts, is among GE's target businesses. The company is in talks with Queensland universities for campus-wide energy supplies and for Springfield, southeast of Brisbane, which will see its population surge five-fold to 100,000 over the next two decades.

The shift to locally supplied energy, potentially much more efficient to operate and with lower carbon emissions, means less future demand for power from the National Electricity Market. Power consumption from the NEM has been in decline for four years, and the loss of demand from aluminium smelters and other manufacturers - including Ford factories in Victoria from 2016 - is likely to see that trend continue.

GE, CSIRO and some 40 key power industry players are thrashing out future scenarios for the electricity sector. The Future Grid Forum, which includes an assessment of how the network can accommodate a much higher share of renewables over the next decade, will release its report in October - after the federal election.

Waters directs GE's ecomagination division in Australia, and chairs Sustainable Business Australia - which puts him at odds with firms opposed to a carbon price. GE imposed internal controls on carbon since 2005 and cut its footprint by 30 per cent since.

How Much Is Enough ?  

Posted by Big Gav

One of the things I've been doing over the past 6 months (while I've left this blog to fend for itself) is watching a couple of TV series (I hardly ever watch TV but I've found lately that good quality TV seems to have eclipsed movies in some ways and being able to download them makes watching them much more convenient) - namely Game of Thrones (like everyone else) and Breaking Bad.

It was good to see the concept of "how much is enough ?" getting some time in series 5 of Breaking Bad - I'm going to miss Walt when the series concludes later this year.

George Monbiot (flaky as he is) also has some ruminations on whether there ever is "enough" when it comes to money - Enough Already.

“I never did anything for money. I never set money as a goal. It was a result.”(1) So says Bob Diamond, formerly the chief executive of Barclays. In doing so he lays waste to the justification his bank and others (and their innumerable apologists in government and the media) have advanced for surreal levels of remuneration: to incentivise hard work and talent. Prestige, power, a sense of purpose: these are incentives enough.

Others of his class – Bernie Ecclestone and Jeroen van der Veer (the former chief executive of Shell) for example – say the same(2,3). The capture of so much wealth by the executive class performs no useful function. What the very rich appear to value is relative income. If executives were all paid 5% of current levels, competition between them (a questionable virtue anyway) would be no less fierce. As the immensely rich HL Hunt commented several decades ago, “money is just a way of keeping score.”

The desire for advancement along this scale appears to be insatiable. In March Forbes magazine published an article about Prince Alwaleed, who, like other Saudi princes, doubtless owes his fortune to nothing but hard work and enterprise. According to one of the prince’s former employees, the Forbes global rich list “is how he wants the world to judge his success or his stature.”(4) The result is “a quarter-century of intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening when it comes to his net worth listing.” In 2006, the researcher responsible for calculating his wealth writes, “when Forbes estimated that the prince was actually worth $7 billion less than he said he was, he called me at home the day after the list was released, sounding nearly in tears. ‘What do you want?’ he pleaded, offering up his private banker in Switzerland. ‘Tell me what you need.’”

Never mind that he has his own 747, in which he sits on a throne during flights. Never mind that his “main palace” has 420 rooms. Never mind that he possesses his own private amusement park and zoo and, he claims, $700 million worth of jewels. Never mind that he’s the richest man in the Arab world, valued by Forbes at $20bn, and has watched his wealth increase by $2bn in the past year(5). None of this is enough. There is no place of arrival, no happy landing, even in a private jumbo jet. The politics of envy are never keener than among the very rich.

This pursuit can suck the life out of its adherents. In Lauren Greenfield’s magnificent documentary The Queen of Versailles, David Siegel, “America’s timeshare king”, appears to abandon all interest in life as he faces the loss of his crown(6). He is still worth hundreds of millions. He still has an adoring wife and children, he is still building the biggest private home in America. But as the sale of the skyscraper that bears his name and symbolises his pre-eminence begins to look inevitable, he sinks into an impenetrable depression. Dead-eyed, he sits alone in his private cinema, obsessively rummaging through the same pieces of paper, as if somewhere among them he can find the key to his restoration, refusing to engage with his family, apparently prepared to ruin himself rather than lose the stupid tower.

To grant the rich these pleasures, the social contract is reconfigured. The welfare state is dismantled. Essential public services are cut, so that the rich may pay less tax. The public realm is privatised, the regulations restraining the ultra-wealthy and the companies they control are abandoned, Edwardian levels of inequality are almost festishised. Politicians justify these changes, when not reciting bogus arguments about the deficit(7,8), with the incentives for enterprise they create. Behind that lies the promise or the hint that we will all be happier and more satisfied as a result. But this mindless, meaningless accumulation cannot satisfy even its beneficiaries, except perhaps, and temporarily, the man wobbling on the very top of the pile.

The same applies to collective growth. Governments today have no vision but endless economic growth. They are judged not by the number of people in employment, let alone by the number of people in satisfying, pleasurable jobs, not by the happiness of the population or the protection of the natural world. Job-free, world-eating growth is fine, as long as it’s growth. There are no ends any more, just means.

In their interesting but curiously incomplete book, How Much is Enough?, Robert and Edward Skidelsky note that “Capitalism rests precisely on this endless expansion of wants. That is why, for all its success, it remains so unloved. It has given us wealth beyond measure, but has taken away the chief benefit of wealth: the consciousness of having enough. … The vanishing of all intrinsic ends leaves us with only two options: to be ahead or to be behind. Positional struggle is our fate.”

Banff Mountain Film Festival 2013  

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One of my yearly traditions is to go and see the Banff Mountain Film Festival. I found this year's set of movies a little repetitive (much as I like Alex Honnold climbing, Russ Sturges paddling and Danny MacAskill doing tricks on his mountain bike I've seen their stuff plenty of times before) - there were a few interesting films though.

The overall winner was a pair of Australian dudes wandering around Antarctica (less successfully than a random norwegian guy it must be said) - Crossing The Ice.

Aussie adventurers James Castrission and Justin Jones embark upon a perilous 2275km journey across Antarctica in a race to become the first people to man-haul their way from the icy continent's rim to the South Pole and back, completely unassisted. In the past, a handful of hopefuls have attempted the feat, but none have succeeded. Dragging their food and supplies across the unforgiving landscape, in temperatures as low as -40°C, the pair experiences the peaks and troughs of being alone and unsupported in one of the harshest environments on Earth. Their journey heats up when they discover their record attempt is in jeopardy; there's a Norwegian on the ice. He's more experienced, he's tackling same route, and he has a head start.

This dog had me (and most of the audience) laughing out loud - Lily Shreds Trailside.

Every serious mountain-bike rider needs a mascot, and Lily the Jack Russell Terrier is on the road to becoming just that. As the star of this film, Lily leaves only dust behind her as she does what she loves best: chasing bikes. Hot on the tail of a rider carving out new lines in Utah, USA, Lily clears a double jump, attempts a wall ride and ultimately, proves that downhill mountain-bike trails were not only made for wheels; paws can do the trick as well.

And lastly, the landscape at the bottom of the Grand Canyon held a lot of novelty value for me - Last of the great unknown.

One of the last places in the American West left to be explored, the Grand Canyon is an immense landscape filled with sweeping vistas. Almost unfathomable in scale, its vast wilderness is home to a labyrinth of concealed tributaries that hide some of the region's most remarkable formations. Led by Richard Rudow, who has clocked up some 70 first descents in the Grand Canyon, a team of seasoned canyoners ventures deep inside these slots to locations where no humans have set foot before.

News is bad for you ?  

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The Guardian has an essay arguing (unusually for something printed in a newspaper) that reading news is bad for you - News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier. Up to a point I'd agree - though I'd say it depends where you get your news from and how your interpret it....

In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don't really concern our lives and don't require thinking. That's why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

Harnessing the power of our oceans  

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I'm not entirely sure if the Australian Government's "Clean Energy Future" venture got some inspiration from this blog - nor am I sure if it will last the year out - however it's nice to see a post on ocean energy on their web site - Give us a wave – harnessing the power of our oceans.

As construction begins on a ground-breaking wave energy project in Perth, a report has been released which emphasises the huge untapped energy potential lying off Australia’s coastlines.

According to the Marine Nation 2025 report, released this week, Australia’s oceans could produce billions of dollars’ worth of clean energy in the form of electricity generated by wave power. The report says an initial assessment has identified world-class wave energy resources along the western and southern coastline, and valuable tidal energy resources in the North West of Australia.

Marine Nation 2025 was prepared by the Federal Government’s Oceans Policy Science Advisory Group and highlights the enormous potential of Australia’s oceans, as well as the challenges and opportunities involved with managing our vast maritime resources.

The report comes on the eve of the commencement of the Perth Wave Energy Project, which is due to begin next month. Located at Garden Island, near Perth, the project will start delivering green energy to the grid in 2014. The project will be Australia’s first commercial wave energy project connected to the electricity grid. An associated wave-powered desalination plant will be a world first.

A CSIRO study released last year revealed that ocean waves have the potential to power a city the size of Melbourne by 2050. CSIRO’s Ocean renewable energy: 2015-2050 report said Australia’s ocean waves could supply about 10 per cent of Australia’s electricity by the middle of this century.

Greenland - The Rare Earth Frontier  

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The Economist has a report on Greenland's rare earth potential - Why does Greenland’s election have global implications?.

The world may not often be very interested in Greenland but it is fascinated by what lies beneath it. As the country’s ice cap melts, hidden mineral wealth is coming tantalisingly within reach. The country’s riches include “rare earth” metals that are essential in the production of many electronic devices, from electric-car batteries to television screens. Metals such as cerium (used in glass manufacturing) and yttrium (which goes into electronic displays) are among those that are hidden under the ice. Many rare earths are not as scarce as their misleading name suggests, but they are scattered thinly and can be difficult to extract. In Greenland they are often mixed up with uranium, which under the country's current laws is illegal to mine. Most of the precious metals therefore remain underground. ...

Should Ms Hammond’s plans go ahead, and Greenland manage to ramp up its extraction of rare earths, it could deliver a jolt to the market for the valuable metals. At the moment rare-earth supply is dominated by China. In recent years China has restricted its exports of rare earths, citing environmental concerns. Extraction of the metals is dirty and dangerous, and stories of poisoning are common. But some see an ulterior motive in China’s cutbacks: by controlling the supply of high-value materials, China can also control their use in finished products. That could help it in its broader strategy to move from low- to high-value manufacturing. If Greenland becomes a big supplier of those same minerals, China’s grip on the market could loosen, and prices around the world may fall. Polar politics therefore matter to many more than the 57,000 people who live in Greenland.

Jorgen Randers: what the future will be  

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Ugo at Cassandra's Legacy has a post on a talk by the pessimistic Jorgen Randers (of "Limits To Growth fame) in Rome in April - Jorgen Randers: what the future will be.

Presenting his book, "2052", Jorgen Randers starts with a bold statement: "I will not tell you what the future could be, but what the future will be". You would think that this shows quite a bit of hubris but, if you follow Randers' reasoning, you'll see that he has a point.

Randers is one of the authors of the famous "The Limits to Growth" report to the Club of Rome. Published in 1972, the book caused quite a stir and was widely misinterpreted as a prophecy of doom. It wasn't so and, in his talk, Randers summarizes what he and the others did. They didn't make any prophecy but, rather, they created a 'fan' of 12 different scenarios for the future of the world up to 2100. Some of these scenarios involved decline and collapse of the economy, some involved stabilization and prosperity. Whether one or the other set of scenarios would unfold depended on whether humankind made the right or the wrong choices in dealing with pollution, resource exploitation, and population growth.

One problem with the "The Limits to Growth" was that the authors never specified by what mechanisms humankind could develop the consensus necessary to make the right choices, which all involved some sacrifices in the short term. After 40 years of work, Randers has arrived to a conclusion: there are no such mechanisms. The right choices were not made and never will be.

Today, Randers says, there is no more a fan of good and bad scenarios: there is only one; and it is not pleasant. It can only be the decline of our society, constrained by overpopulation, declining resource availability, and widespread damage caused by pollution and climate change. The start of the decline may come earlier or later; collapse may be faster or slower, but the shape of the future is determined.

Randers maintains that there is a simple way to describe the reasons that are taking us to this unpleasant future: people always make the choice that involves the least costs in the short term. The problem is all there: as long as we always choose the easiest road, we have no control on where we are going.

Imagine you are lost in a forest. Would you think that always choosing the easiest path in front of you could take you home? But this is what we are doing: even though we should know that this is not the way to go where we would like to be. We are unwilling, for instance, to invest in renewable energy as long as fossil fuels are even slightly less expensive and we can neglect their external costs in the form of pollution and climate change. But this choice is based on short term consideration and it will cause us terrible long term damage.

Why are we unable to do better? Here, Randers proposes that "short-termism" is deeply ingrained in people's minds and is reflected in our democratic decisional system. He has been accused to be against democracy, but he maintains that he has nothing against democracy: the problem is that democracy is the result of human short-termism. He makes the example of an enlightened politician who decides to introduce a carbon tax. Soon, voters discover that the carbon tax is making gasoline and electricity more expensive. As a consequence, that politician won't be re-elected. It is simple and it happens all the time.

Of course, you might object that if the public were to be educated about climate change, then people would accept a carbon tax - actually they would clamor for it. Maybe; but Randers is skeptical. He says that he has spent decades of his life training generations of decision-makers in sustainability and ecosystem science. And he has seen those trained generations taking exactly the same wrong decisions that the previous, untrained, generations were taking.

Human nature is difficult to overcome. Randers recounts how he and his colleagues had been discussing about the size of a natural disaster that would wake the public to the reality of ecosystem destruction. Then Hurricane Katrina came and, later on, Sandy. Both where disasters as big as they can be. But they fell flat as wake up calls: the public didn't react. Today, three Americans out of eight still think that global warming is a hoax.

Randers has seen the enemy and the enemy is us.

Extreme Weather Possibly Increasing Power Outages ?  

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Stuart at Early Warning has a post pondering if increasing extreme weather events are causing more frequent power outages - Extreme Weather Possibly Increasing Power Outages?.

I'm reading up on the economics of power outages at the moment, and I stumbled across the graph above in this National Wildlife Federation analysis. It shows the number of power outages caused by non-weather related factors, and weather related factors (from 1992-2010 in the US). There has been a material increase in both categories, but much more so in the weather related problems.

Interesting map of real-time wind patterns  

Posted by Big Gav

EHS News points to an interesting wind map of the US, at the time the Oklahoma tornado occurred recently - A humbling map of real-time wind patterns in... Energy map?.

A humbling map of real-time wind patterns in Tornado Alley

"Wind Map" is a stunning interactive datavisualization that presents wind patterns across the continental U.S. in real time. Picture above is what it looked like last night at 10:59 CDT, in the aftermath of yesterday's devastating Oklahoma tornado."

Partnership to build world's largest OTEC plant off China coast  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

PhysOrg has an article about a planned resort development powered by OTEC technology (a type of ocean energy) in China - Partnership to build world's largest OTEC plant off China coast.

Hong Kong based Reignwood Group and U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin have announced plans to build an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) electricity generating plant off the coast of China to power a planned resort community. Lockheed Martin is to build the facility and run it, while the Reignwood Group will be building the resort community that is to use the power generated. The new plant is expected to produce 100 percent of the power needs of the community.

OTEC plants generate electricity by taking advantage of the difference in water temperature at different ocean depths—warm surface water is used to boil a fluid (one that has a low boiling temperature such as ammonia) that in turn drives a turbine. Cold water brought up from below cools the liquid causing it to once again liquefy allowing the process to repeat over and over. To date, few such plants have been built due to the large expense involved in transporting cold water up from below. The new plant to be built off the coast of southern China will be a pilot project designed to not only supply electricity to the new resort community, but also to serve as a learning environment, helping lead the way to more efficient, and hopefully cheaper plant designs.

High costs drive Australian LNG projects offshore  

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The SMH has a look at an emerging trend in WA to consider floating LNG plants rather than onshore LNG plants - High wages drive LNG projects offshore.

The rising cost of building liquefied natural gas plants in Australia, where energy workers earn the highest salaries in the world, is forcing developers out to sea in search of billions of dollars in savings.

Exxon Mobil plans to use the world's largest ship to turn gas into liquid at an offshore field, eliminating the need for investment in pipelines and port facilities. Woodside Petroleum is studying sea-based technology since ditching plans this month for an onshore plant for its Browse project off Western Australia. After starting work on $175 billion in LNG terminals on land, developers are considering more than $80 billion in floating projects to keep Australia competitive with suppliers in North America and East Africa.

''A lot of people have been saying Australian LNG is now over, it's going to be priced out of the market by US LNG exports and competition from Canada and East Africa,'' said Citigroup analyst Mark Greenwood. ''In our view, we are going to see continued investment in Australia, just a different sort.''

The engineering challenges are massive. Shell's Prelude vessel, vying to be the first floating LNG facility in the world, will be as long as the Empire State Building and six times the weight of the largest aircraft carrier. Exxon proposes a vessel spanning 495 metres, or seven metres longer than the Shell plant.

Australian oil and gas workers earn about $160,000 a year on average, 35 per cent more than employees in the US and almost double the global average, according to a survey this year by recruiting company Hays and Oil and Gas Job Search.

Floating LNG may be almost 20 per cent cheaper than building a project on land for Woodside and its partners in the Browse project, including Shell. Using three offshore vessels to produce the gas would cost an estimated $35 billion, compared with a cost of $43 billion for a new development on land, John Hirjee, an analyst for Deutsche Bank, wrote in an April 12 report. That's a cost of $2.92 billion per million metric tonnes of output for a floating LNG project producing 12 million tonnes a year, compared with a $3.58 billion cost for a conventional plant.

Of the 90 million tonnes a year of new projects that need to be approved globally in the next three years to satisfy LNG demand by the end of the decade, as much as a third may come from proposed floating LNG plants and expansions of onshore developments in Australia, he said.

‘The filter is back’: Blocked site tells its story  

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Delimiter reports that the Australian internet filter may have been implemented in a roundabout way after all - ‘The filter is back’: Blocked site tells its story and ASIC blocked “numerous” sites over 9 months.

If you’ve been following the saga over the decision by Australia’s financial regulator ASIC to unlilaterally order the block of suspected fraud sites over the past week or so, you’re probably aware by now that the whole deal started when a little-known site named Melbourne Free University was mysteriously taken offline back in April. In a lengthy piece on the ABC’s The Drum website this afternoon, the convenors of the site tell their story and argue that the situation is just not good enough.

A Chat With Elon Musk  

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PandoMonthly has an interesting interview with Elon Musk, one of the few unarguable cleantech success stories over the past decade - Fireside Chat With Elon Musk

Sarah Lacy talked to Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX during PandoMonthly and went into detail on what other entreprenuers should do while raising venture capital, why he isn't going to be doing another Internet startup, his thoughts on CleanTech, the launch of SpaceX, and finally, his plans for the future.

On a related note, Technology Review reports that Tesla Automotive is now profitable - Even Without Accounting Gimmicks, Electric-Car Maker Tesla is Now Profitable.

As expected, Tesla Motors, the maker of the luxury Model S electric sedan, announced today that it was profitable for the first time in its ten-year history. During the first quarter of 2013 it had profits of $11 million. Total revenues were $562 million.

The profits came as Tesla cut costs and managed to sell more cars as it ramped up production at its factory in California. According to reports, Tesla’s Model S outsold electric vehicles from both GM and Nissan in the first quarter.

Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies  

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PhysOrg has an article on a paper suggesting high-fructose corn syrup could be a factor in bee colony collapse disorder - Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies.

Since approximately 2006, groups that manage commercial honeybee colonies have been reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder—whole colonies of bees simply died, of no apparent cause. As time has passed, the disorder has been reported at sites all across the world, even as scientists have been racing to find the cause, and a possible cure. To date, most evidence has implicated pesticides used to kill other insects such as mites. In this new effort, the researchers have found evidence to suggest the real culprit might be high-fructose corn syrup, which beekeepers have been feeding bees as their natural staple, honey, has been taken away from them.

Commercial honeybee enterprises began feeding bees high-fructose corn syrup back in the 70's after research was conducted that indicated that doing so was safe. Since that time, new pesticides have been developed and put into use and over time it appears the bees' immunity response to such compounds may have become compromised.

The researchers aren't suggesting that high-fructose corn syrup is itself toxic to bees, instead, they say their findings indicate that by eating the replacement food instead of honey, the bees are not being exposed to other chemicals that help the bees fight off toxins, such as those found in pesticides.

Specifically, they found that when bees are exposed to the enzyme p-coumaric, their immune system appears stronger—it turns on detoxification genes. P-coumaric is found in pollen walls, not nectar, and makes its way into honey inadvertently via sticking to the legs of bees as they visit flowers. Similarly, the team discovered other compounds found in poplar sap that appear to do much the same thing. It all together adds up to a diet that helps bees fight off toxins, the researchers report. Taking away the honey to sell it, and feeding the bees high-fructose corn syrup instead, they claim, compromises their immune systems, making them more vulnerable to the toxins that are meant to kill other bugs.

TreeHugger reports that the EU is testing if pesticides are to blame for bee population declines by banning suspected pesticides - Europe votes for 2-year ban on pesticides suspected in bee deaths.

British politicians may have sided with the insecticide lobby, but that hasn't prevented European campaigners from celebrating a major victory in the fight to save bees this week. As reported in the Independent, European politicians have just voted for a two-year precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on flowering crops attractive to bees:
Four nations abstained from the moratorium, which will restrict the use of imidacloprid and clothianidin, made by Germany's Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by the Swiss company, Syngenta. The ban on use on flowering crops will remain in place throughout the EU for two years unless compelling scientific evidence to the contrary becomes available.
More than 30 separate scientific studies have found a link between the neonicotinoids, which attack insects' nerve systems, and falling bee numbers. The proposal by European Commission - the EU's legislative body - to ban the insecticides was based on a study by the European Food Safety Authority, which found in January that the pesticides did pose a risk to bees' health.

As mentioned in the Independent article, the vote comes on the back of several studies linking bee deaths to neonicotinoid seed insecticide exposure, including a number that showed non-lethal doses increasing bees' vulnerability to other health threats like the nosema parasite.

With Bayer CropScience already on a charm offensive in relation to the beekeeping community, and even handing out "free seeds for bees" with its neonicotinoid products, it comes as no surprise that insecticide makers are less than happy about the decision. A spokesperson for Bayer previously slammed the European Commission's proposed ban as "draconian", while Luke Gibbs, Syngenta's head of corporate affairs for North Europe told the Independent that he was concerned it would overshadow the "real" reasons for bee declines, namely disease, viruses and loss of habitat and nutrition.

The proof now, of course, will be in the pudding. Will the EU ban, which is expected to be fully implemented by December, result in a recovery of bee populations or at least a slowing of their losses?

Breakthrough in solar efficiency by UNSW team ahead of its time  

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The SMH has a report on advances in solar cell efficiency at UNSW - Breakthrough in solar efficiency by UNSW team ahead of its time.

Australian scientists have found a way of hugely increasing the efficiency of solar panels while substantially reducing their cost. The University of NSW researchers have come up with improvements in photovoltaic panel design that had not been expected for another decade.

The breakthrough involves using hydrogen atoms to counter defects in silicon cells used in solar panels. As a consequence, poor quality silicon can be made to perform like high quality wafers. The process makes cheap silicon "actually better than the best-quality material people are using at the moment", the head of the university's photovoltaics centre of excellence, Professor Stuart Wenham, said. Silicon wafers account for more than half the cost of making a solar cell. "By using lower-quality silicon, you can drastically reduce that cost," he said. "We've been able to figure out what the secret is that enables hydrogen to sometimes work the way people want it to, and sometimes doesn't."

At present, the best commercial solar cells convert between 17 per cent and 19 per cent of the sun's energy into electricity. UNSW's technique, patented this year, should produce efficiencies of between 21 per cent and 23 per cent. ...

The price of solar panels has fallen by about 65 per cent in two years, partly due to a huge rise in production in China. Australians have been taking advantage of lower prices, with the number of homes with solar panels exceeding 1 million. The phenomenal growth has caused some casualties in the industry as companies have taken on massive debt to expand supply, then struggled with falling prices in saturated markets. Notable among them is the recent debt default by Suntech Power, once the world's largest solar-panel maker, founded by former University of NSW researcher Shi Zhengrong.

Panel prices are predicted to fall much further. European producers predict they will be 60 per cent cheaper by 2020. "Based on the technological advances we're making, we think that's certainly achievable," Dr Wenham said.

Eight commercial firms have signed up to be a partner in developing the technology to an industrial scale, including Suntech, which continues to operate from its base in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi and has a research unit in Sydney.

Cybersecurity awareness week: be aware you’re being lied to  

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Bernard Keane at Crikey has an entertaining tribute to cyber-security week - Cybersecurity awareness week: be aware you’re being lied to.

Did you know it’s national cybersecurity awareness week?

Everyone I’ve told has replied “I wasn’t aware of that”, which suggests we need an awareness week for the awareness week. It’s an annual event in which governments and companies work together to, well, “raise awareness” of cybersecurity. Tips will be offered, threats will be warned about and products will be advertised. China will be mentioned a lot.

In the US, they have cybersecurity awareness month. Everything sure is bigger over there.

And, yes, we should take cybersecurity awareness seriously. Because most of the things you are told about cybersecurity are lies. As Crikey has demonstrated many times, the actual threat of cybercrime is grossly exaggerated by governments, the corporate media and cybersecurity companies. They exaggerate it with the goal of lifting sales of security products and justifying increases in state control of the internet.

The Australian Financial Review for some months has run a series of beat-ups on the issue, which all follow the same format: claiming routine common-or-garden efforts to access servers as “attacks”, portraying minor breaches as major hacking successes (one article claimed that an effort to access a publicly available stats database at the ABS website was a successful breach by hackers), invoking the threat of Chinese hackers, and quoting cybersecurity consultants and executives who are only too happy to agree that government agencies should spend more on security.

And, it seems, next week’s Four Corners will be running the same line, with its PR plug for Monday’s edition, titled Hacked! (behold the exclamation mark), claiming “a deafening silence surrounds this issue”. The sort of deafening silence in which governments and the media never shut up about it, presumably.

Anyone pointing out the self-interested nature of commentary from the cybersecurity industry, or the obvious flaws in the corporate media narrative of major security breaches, invariably elicits the reaction that they are pretending there is no cybercrime problem at all. In Crikey’s case, this is exactly the opposite of the truth. Crikey is the only media outlet or company in Australia that has undertaken substantive, independent research into the prevalence of cybercrime and established the scale of the problem, with a costing based on verifiable data.

But, in cybersecurity awareness week, this is not yet another article explaining how cybercrime has been exaggerated. This is an attempt to identify the real threat. While corporate media and governments like our own and that of the US repeatedly (and correctly) blame China for much cyberespionage and online crime, in fact the biggest source of cybercrime on the planet is the US government, aided and abetted by governments like our own.

Yes, we’re not the hapless victims of China in any “cyberwar”, we’re every bit as much the aggressors as any other participant.

The US government is the biggest purchaser and producer of “cyberweapons” on the planet. A recent Reuters report by Joseph Menn contained comprehensive detail about how government agencies like the National Security Agency and the Pentagon are pouring money into “zero-day exploits”, vulnerabilities in commonly used systems and software.

US government agencies aren’t devoting significant resources to purchasing these exploits so that they won’t fall into the hands of criminals — they are purchasing them to use.

Hackers, operating at the behest of, or employed by, the Chinese government, the Chinese security establishment and Chinese companies, are indeed a significant threat to Western companies and governments. But the focus on China obscures the extent to which the US remains the most potent, aggressive state cyberpower.

And there’s a lesson from China that the media might do well to learn. The reason China has such a flourishing culture of cybercrime and hacking is because its government devotes enormous resources to controlling the internet and monitoring citizens’ use of it. Chinese hacking is a direct outgrowth of the fact that it is a surveillance state.

And a surveillance state is exactly what governments and corporations, crying “cybersecurity”, want us to become.

Be aware of that.

UN sounds alarm on record Arctic ice melt  

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The SMH has a report on last year's arctic ice melt - UN sounds alarm on record Arctic ice melt.

The Arctic's sea ice melted at a record pace in 2012, the ninth-hottest year on record, compounding concerns about climate change underscored by extreme weather such as Hurricane Sandy, the UN weather agency says. In a report on the situation in 2012, the World Meteorological Organisation said on Thursday that during the August to September melting season, the Arctic's sea ice cover was just 3.4 million square kilometres. That was a full 18 per cent less than the previous record low set in 2007.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud dubbed it a "disturbing sign of climate change." "The year 2012 saw many other extremes as well, such as droughts and tropical cyclones. Natural climate variability has always resulted in such extremes, but the physical characteristics of extreme weather and climate events are being increasingly shaped by climate change," he said. "For example, because global sea levels are now about 20 centimetres higher than they were in 1880, storms such as Hurricane Sandy are bringing more coastal flooding than they would have otherwise," he added.

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