Remaking the industrial economy  

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KcKinsey Quarterly has a look at closed-loop "cradle to cradle" style industrial manufacturing systems which it calls the "circular economy" - Remaking the industrial economy. MKQ also has a related interview with the CEO of Phillips - Toward a circular economy: Philips CEO Frans van Houten.

Visualize, for a moment, the industrial economy as a massive system of conveyor belts—one that directs materials and energy from resource-rich countries to manufacturing powerhouses, such as China, and then spirits the resulting products onward to the United States, Europe, and other destinations, where they are used, discarded, and replaced. While this image is an exaggeration, it does capture the essence of the linear, one-way production model that has dominated global manufacturing since the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

Increasingly, however, the linear approach to industrialization has come under strain. Some three billion consumers from the developing world will enter the middle class by 2030. The unprecedented size and impact of this shift is squeezing companies between rising and less predictable commodity prices, on the one hand, and blistering competition and unpredictable demand, on the other. The turn of the millennium marked the point when a rise in the real prices of natural resources began erasing a century’s worth of real-price declines. The biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression briefly dampened demand, but since 2009, resource prices have rebounded faster than global economic output. Clearly, the era of largely ignoring resource costs is over.

In light of volatile markets for resources, and even worries about their depletion, the call for a new economic model is getting louder. In response, some companies are questioning the assumptions that underpin how they make and sell products. In an effort to keep control over valuable natural resources, these companies are finding novel ways to reuse products and components. Their success provokes bolder questions. Could economic growth be decoupled from resource constraints? Could an industrial system that is regenerative by design—a “circular economy,” which restores material, energy, and labor inputs—be good for both society and business? If the experience of global automaker Renault is any indicator, the answer appears to be yes.

A circular economy replaces one assumption—disposability—with another: restoration. At the core, it aims to move away from the “take, make, and dispose” system by designing and optimizing products for multiple cycles of disassembly and reuse.2 This effort starts with materials, which are viewed as valuable stock to be used again, not as elements that flow through the economy once. For a sense of the scale involved, consider the fast-moving consumer-goods industry: about 80 percent of the $3.2 trillion worth of materials it uses each year is not recovered.

The circular economy aims to eradicate waste—not just from manufacturing processes, as lean management aspires to do, but systematically, throughout the various life cycles and uses of products and their components. (Often, what might otherwise be called waste becomes valuable feedstock for successive usage steps.) Indeed, tight component and product cycles of use and reuse, aided by product design, help define the concept of a circular economy and distinguish it from recycling, which loses large amounts of embedded energy and labor.

Moreover, a circular system introduces a strict differentiation between a product’s consumable and durable components. Manufacturers in a traditional economy often don’t distinguish between the two. In a circular economy, the goal for consumables is to use nontoxic and pure components, so they can eventually be returned to the biosphere, where they could have a replenishing effect. The goal for durable components (metals and most plastics, for instance) is to reuse or upgrade them for other productive applications through as many cycles as possible. This approach contrasts sharply with the mind-set embedded in most of today’s industrial operations, where even the terminology—value chain, supply chain, end user—expresses a linear view.

Swanbank shut-down a swan song for gas fired power in Australia  

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Tristan Edis at the BS has a look at how LNG exports from Queensland are killing gas fired power generation - Swanbank shut-down a swan song for gas.

Queensland government-owned Stanwell has announced it will be mothballing its gas-fired 385 megawatt Swanbank E power station in October for up to three years. Meanwhile, it will restart one of its two mothballed units at the coal-fired Tarong Power station instead but, critically, is yet to give a firm indication on timing.

This announcement marks a pivotal point in the east coast National Electricity Market – the end of gas’ rise and the beginning of a major fall as a source of power generation. According to Stanwell’s chief executive officer Richard Van Breda, “With subdued market conditions and increasing gas prices expected to continue, Stanwell can earn more revenue from selling our gas rather than using it in electricity generation.” ...

As the chart below, from Pitt & Sherry’s Hugh Saddler, shows gas has experienced a steady rise in output from June 2006 to December 2013 while black coal and, more recently, brown coal have suffered.

Back around 2006 it all looked very bright for gas as the low carbon bridging fuel to renewables. It was thought that gas would steadily increase its share of power generation while coal declined on the back of policies to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Lots of new gas had been discovered within Queensland coal seams that meant there was little risk of the east coast running short. Gas prices at around $3.50 per gigajoule plus power plant construction that was quicker and lower cost meant that there was only a relatively small difference in the economics of a new coal versus a gas power plant. A relatively moderate carbon price of around $20 to $30 was all that was needed for coal to lose out to gas in baseload operation, not to mention coal’s inferior flexibility and larger minimum size that increased its risk profile.

The Queensland 13% Gas Target and NSW’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme were already in place, providing a clear precedent for what many saw as an inevitable national emissions trading scheme. A dash for gas, like what had been seen in Europe and the US, seemed to be on the horizon. But then Santos announced it planned to build a plant to liquefy Queensland coal seam gas and export it overseas. It changed everything, although at the time the consequences were not entirely clear.

Now they are. Gas contracts are now being struck at prices of $9 per gigajoule rather than the $3.50 price of the past. There is also talk of gas shortages because of a huge surge in demand from a range of LNG plants coming online within short succession.

Ground Broken At First Utility-Scale Solar Project On Tribal Land  

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Climate Progress has an article on the transition from coal fired power to solar power in the south west US - Ground Broken At First Utility-Scale Solar Project On Tribal Land

Ground has been broken on the first utility-scale solar-power plant in the country to be built on tribal land. The Moapa Southern Paiute Solar project about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas will be built by Moapa Southern Paiute Solar, a subsidiary of First Solar Electric. The construction project will employ 400 people and, when completed in 2015, will generate 250 megawatts or enough energy to power 93,000 homes in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has contracted to buy power from the plant for 25 years. By 2015, LADWP has indicated that it will stop using power from coal entirely, much of which currently comes from the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona. LADWP has a target of supplying its customers with 33 percent renewable energy.

For the tribe, which owns 29,137 hectares in Nevada, the new solar project represents a triumph in a long-fought battle with dirty energy and hope for a cleaner, healthier future. For over half a century, the Reid-Gardner coal-fired power plant just outside of town has been dumping ash laced with mercury, lead, and arsenic into the community, which has been plagued with health problems.

Carnegie to test CETO 6 at world-leading wave energy hub  

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ReNew Economy reports that Australian wave power Carnegie Energy is to test it's CETO technology at the UK wave hub - Carnegie to test CETO 6 at world-leading wave energy hub.

ASX-listed wave energy developer Carnegie Wave Energy has won a berth at the world’s largest purpose built wave energy demonstration facility in the south west England, to test its CETO 6 commercial-scale technology.

The berth – and the generous tariff being paid for a demonstration plant – means that Carnegie could have two full scale projects underway with the latest version of its technology. This comes after the Clean Energy Finance Corporation allocated a $20 million loan facility if it built a similar plant in Australia. However, the UK deal provides Carnegie with a ready-made, grid-connected berth at the “Wave Hub” in Cornwall, to deploy and test an array of CETO 6 Units in open water conditions.

Weighing in at 1MW, the CETO 6 array will have a power capacity some four times that of the current CETO 5 generation being deployed in a world first 3 unit array in Carnegie’s Perth Project in Western Australia.

RNE also has a report on the demise of wave power company Oceanlinx - Wave energy company Oceanlinx goes into receivership.

Australia’s Oceanlinx, whose home-grown, commercial-scale wave energy converter technology was unveiled with some fanfare last October, has been placed in receivership after the Sydney-based company hit troubled waters in February.

Rahul Goyal, one of two receivers appointed to the case from KordaMentha, said the company had “suffered financially” after an incident at sea several weeks ago delayed the final installation of its 1MW GreenWave wave energy converter – billed, at the time, as the world’s first such machine to be deployed.

The commercial-scale unit was damaged en route to its destination of Port MacDonnell, in the south-east of South Australia. This caused delays in funding, said Goyal, which was dependent on meeting installation deadlines.

Oceanlinx’s plan had been to install the 24m by 21m, 3,000 tonne unit 3km offshore and transfer the electricity it generated to the grid via a subsea cable. Once operational, the 1MW turbine was expected to produce enough electricity to power 1000 homes. Instead, the commercial-scale unit, which sits on a base of prefabricated reinforced concrete, was towed into shallow waters at Carrickalinga, where it remains.

Formed more than 15 years ago, Oceanlinx was a promising player in Australia’s ocean energy sector, having a number of wave power prototypes, including three units off the NSW coast, and had plans to expand to North America, Asia and Europe.

Carbon Delirium The Last Stage of Fossil-Fuel Addiction and Its Hazardous Impact on American Foreign Policy  

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TomDispatch has Michael Klare's latest look at American fossil fuel dependency - Carbon Delirium : The Last Stage of Fossil-Fuel Addiction and Its Hazardous Impact on American Foreign Policy

It should be obvious to anyone who has followed recent events in the Crimea and Ukraine that increased U.S. oil and gas output have provided White House officials with no particular advantage in their efforts to counter Putin’s aggressive moves -- and that the prospect of future U.S. gas exports to Europe is unlikely to alter his strategic calculations. It seems, however, that senior U.S. officials beguiled by the mesmerizing image of a future “Saudi America” have simply lost touch with reality.

For anyone familiar with addictive behavior, this sort of delusional thinking would be a sign of an advanced stage of fossil fuel addiction. As the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality evaporates, the addict persists in the belief that relief for all problems lies just ahead -- when, in fact, the very opposite is true.

The analogy is hardly new, of course, especially when it comes to America’s reliance on imported petroleum. “America is addicted to oil,” President George W. Bush typically declared in his 2006 State of the Union address (and he was hardly the first president to do so). Such statements have often been accompanied in the media by cartoons of Uncle Sam as a junkie, desperately injecting his next petroleum “fix.” But few analysts have carried the analogy further, exploring the ways our growing dependence on oil has generated increasingly erratic and self-destructive behavior. Yet it is becoming evident that the world’s addiction to fossil fuels has reached a point at which we should expect the judgment of senior leaders to become impaired, as seems to be happening.

The most persuasive evidence that fossil fuel addiction has reached a critical stage may be found in official U.S. data on carbon dioxide emissions. The world is now emitting one and a half times as much CO2 as it did in 1988, when James Hansen, then director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned Congress that the planet was getting warmer as a result of the “greenhouse effect,” and that human activity -- largely in the form of carbon emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels -- was almost certainly the cause.

If a reasonable concern over the fate of the planet were stronger than our reliance on fossil fuels, we would expect to see, if not a reduction in carbon emissions, then a decline at least in the rate of increase of emissions over time. Instead, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that global emissions will continue to rise at a torrid pace over the next quarter century, reaching 45.5 billion metric tons in 2040 -- more than double the amount recorded in 1998 and enough, in the view of most scientists, to turn our planet into a living hell. Though seldom recognized as such, this is the definition of addiction-induced self-destruction, writ large.

For many of us, the addiction to petroleum is embedded in our everyday lives in ways over which we exercise limited control. Because of the systematic dismantling and defunding of public transportation (along with the colossal subsidization of highways), for instance, we have become highly reliant on oil-powered vehicles, and it is very hard for most of us living outside big cities to envision a practical alternative to driving. More and more people are admittedly trying to kick this habit at an individual level by acquiring hybrid or all-electric cars, by using public transit where available, or by bicycling, but that remains a drop in the bucket. It will take a colossal future effort to reconstruct our transportation system along climate-friendly lines.

For what might be thought of as the Big Energy equivalent of the 1%, the addiction to fossils fuels is derived from the thrill of riches and power -- something that is far more difficult to resist or deconstruct. Oil is the world’s most lucrative commodity on the planet, and a source of great wealth and influence for ruling groups in the countries that produce it, notably Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. The leaders of these “petro-states” may not always benefit personally from the accumulation of oil revenues, but they certainly recognize that their capacity to govern, or even remain in power, rests on their responsiveness to entrenched energy interests and their skill in deploying the nation’s energy resources for political and strategic advantage. This is just as true for Barack Obama, who has championed the energy industry’s drive to increase domestic oil and gas output, as it is for Vladimir Putin, who has sought to boost Russia’s international clout through increased fossil fuel exports.

Here’s why B.C.’s carbon tax is super popular — and effective  

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Grist has a look at the "best tax ever" - British Columbia's carbon tax - Here’s why B.C.’s carbon tax is super popular — and effective.

Suppose that you live in Vancouver and you drive a car to work. Naturally, you have to get gas regularly. When you stop at the pump, you may see a notice like the one above, explaining that part of the price you’re paying is, in effect, due to the cost of carbon. That’s because in 2008, the government of British Columbia decided to impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, enacting what has been called “the most significant carbon tax in the Western Hemisphere by far.”

A carbon tax is just what it sounds like: The B.C. government levies a fee, currently 30 Canadian dollars, for every metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions resulting from the burning of various fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and, of course, coal. That amount is then included in the price you pay at the pump — for gasoline, it’s 6.67 cents per liter (about 25 cents per gallon) — or on your home heating bill, or wherever else the tax applies. (Most monetary amounts in this piece will be in Canadian dollars, which are currently worth about 89 American cents.)

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the B.C. carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa. That’s apparently because the tax hasn’t just had an economic effect: It has also helped change the culture of energy use in B.C. “I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw,” says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada. “It made climate action real to people.”

It also saved many of them a lot of money. Sure, the tax may cost you if you drive your car a great deal, or if you have high home gas heating costs. But it also gives you the opportunity to save a lot of money if you change your habits, for instance by driving less or buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. That’s because the tax is designed to be “revenue neutral” — the money it raises goes right back to citizens in the form of tax breaks. Overall, the tax has brought in some $5 billion in revenue so far, and more than $3 billion has then been returned in the form of business tax cuts, along with over $1 billion in personal tax breaks, and nearly $1 billion in low-income tax credits (to protect those for whom rising fuel costs could mean the greatest economic hardship). According to the B.C. Ministry of Finance, for individuals who earn up to $122,000, income tax rates in the province are now Canada’s lowest.

McKinsey On The disruptive potential of solar power  

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McKinsey Quarterly has a look at the momentum of the solar power industry - The disruptive potential of solar power.

These cost reductions will put solar within striking distance, in economic terms, of new construction for traditional power-generation technologies, such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. That’s true not just for residential and commercial segments, where it is already cost competitive in many (though not all) geographies, but also, eventually, for industrial and wholesale markets. Exhibit 1 highlights the progress solar already has made toward “grid parity” in the residential segment and the remaining market opportunities as it comes further down the curve. China is investing serious money in renewables. Japan’s government is seeking to replace a significant portion of its nuclear capacity with solar in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident. And in the United States and Europe, solar adoption rates have more than quadrupled since 2009.

While these economic powerhouses represent the biggest prizes, they aren’t the only stories. Sun-drenched Saudi Arabia, for example, now considers solar sufficiently attractive to install substantial capacity by 2032,2 with an eye toward creating local jobs. And in Africa and India, where electric grids are patchy and unreliable, distributed generation is increasingly replacing diesel and electrifying areas previously without power. Economic fundamentals (and in some cases, such as Saudi Arabia, the desire to create local jobs) are creating a brighter future for solar. Business consumption and investment

Solar’s changing economics are already influencing business consumption and investment. In consumption, a number of companies with large physical footprints and high power costs are installing commercial-scale rooftop solar systems, often at less than the current price of buying power from a utility. For example, Wal-Mart Stores has stated that it will switch to 100 percent renewable power by 2020, up from around 20 percent today. Mining and defense companies are looking to solar in remote and demanding environments. In the hospitality sector, Starwood Hotels and Resorts has partnered with NRG Solar to begin installing solar at its hotels. Verizon is spending $100 million on solar and fuel-cell technology to power its facilities and cell-network infrastructure. Why are companies doing such things? To diversify their energy supply, save money, and appeal to consumers. These steps are preliminary, but if they work, solar initiatives could scale up fast.

As for investment, solar’s long-term contracts and relative insulation from fuel-price fluctuations are proving increasingly attractive. The cost of capital also is falling. Institutional investors, insurance companies, and major banks are becoming more comfortable with the risks (such as weather uncertainty and the reliability of components) associated with long-term ownership of solar assets. Accordingly, investors are more and more willing to underwrite long-term debt positions for solar, often at costs of capital lower than those of traditional project finance.

Leggett:"global market shock" from "oil crash" could hit in 2015  

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The Guardian has an article on Jeremy Leggett's new book "The Energy of Nations: Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance" - Ex govt adviser: "global market shock" from "oil crash" could hit in 2015.

In a new book, former oil geologist and government adviser on renewable energy, Dr. Jeremy Leggett, identifies five "global systemic risks directly connected to energy" which, he says, together "threaten capital markets and hence the global economy" in a way that could trigger a global crash sometime between 2015 and 2020.

According to Leggett, a wide range of experts and insiders "from diverse sectors spanning academia, industry, the military and the oil industry itself, including until recently the International Energy Agency or, at least, key individuals or factions therein" are expecting an oil crunch "within a few years," most likely "within a window from 2015 to 2020."

Despite its serious tone, The Energy of Nations: Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance, published by the reputable academic publisher Routledge, makes a compelling and ultimately hopeful case for the prospects of transitioning to a clean energy system in tandem with a new form of sustainable prosperity.

The five risks he highlights cut across oil depletion, carbon emissions, carbon assets, shale gas, and the financial sector:

"A market shock involving any one these would be capable of triggering a tsunami of economic and social problems, and, of course, there is no law of economics that says only one can hit at one time."
At the heart of these risks, Leggett argues, is our dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuel resources. His wide-ranging analysis pinpoints the possibility of a global oil supply crunch as early as 2015. "Growing numbers of people in and around the oil industry", he says, privately consider such a forecast to be plausible. "If we are correct, and nothing is done to soften the landing, the twenty-first century is almost certainly heading for an early depression."

This Is What the Utility Death Spiral Looks Like  

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Greentech Media has an article on the impact renewable energy is having on utilities that haven't prepared for it - This Is What the Utility Death Spiral Looks Like.

The German mega-utility RWE provided another dismal reminder today of the painful transition European power companies are undergoing.

According to 2013 financial results, the utility lost more than $3.8 billion last year as it cycled down unprofitable fossil fuel plants due to sliding wholesale prices. The yearly loss is actually quite historic; it's RWE's first since 1949 when the German Republic was formed.

This follows poor earnings news from Vattenfall, a Swedish utility with the second-biggest generation portfolio in Germany, which saw $2.3 billion in losses in 2013 due to this same "fundamental structural change” in the electricity market.

The problem is well documented: high penetrations of renewables with legal priority over fossil fuels are driving down wholesale market prices -- sometimes causing them to go negative -- and quickly eroding the value of coal and natural gas plants. At the same time, Germany's energy consumption continues to fall while renewable energy development rises.

RWE's CEO Peter Terium called it "the worst structural crisis in the history of energy supply."

To make matters worse for utilities, their commercial and industrial customers are increasingly trying to separate themselves from the grid to avoid government fees levied to pay for renewable energy expansion. According to the Wall Street Journal, 16 percent of German companies are now energy self-sufficient -- a 50 percent increase from just a year ago. Another 23 percent of businesses say they plan to become energy self-sufficient in the near future.

It's a real-world example of the "death spiral" that the industry has so far only considered in theory: as grid maintenance costs go up and the capital cost of renewable energy moves down, more customers will be encouraged to leave the grid. In turn, that pushes grid costs even higher for the remainder of customers, who then have even more incentive to become self-sufficient. Meanwhile, utilities are stuck with a growing pile of stranded assets.

When unveiling today's dismal earnings, RWE's Terium admitted the utility had invested too heavily in fossil fuel plants at a time when it should have been thinking about renewables: "I grant we have made mistakes. We were late entering into the renewables market -- possibly too late."

Redflow targets 40% cut in battery storage costs by 2015  

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RNE has an update on Redflow's flow battery technology - Redflow targets 40% cut in battery storage costs by 2015.

Redflow, a Brisbane-based developer of unique zinc-bromine “flow” batteries, says it is targeting a 40 per cent cut in the capital cost of energy storage systems by the end of next year.

In a market presentation released on Thursday, Redflow says it estimates the capital cost of its technology – developed originally at the University of Queensland –a t $875/kWh. This,is says, is comparable with some lithium-ion batteries, half the price of vanadium, and while expensive than some lead acid batteries, it will have greater applications.

However, full-scale manufacturing will commence later this year in a previously announced deal with global group Flextronics, and Redflow says this will lead to a cost reduction of 40 per cent by 2015. ...

Redflow’s core product is a “flow battery” that avoids some of the charging issues and limitations that affect other battery technologies, such as lead acid and lithium-ion. The company says the daily deep charge and discharge capability makes it ideal for storage and shifting of intermittent renewable energy, and managing peak load or supporting off-grid systems.

Citigroup says the ‘Age of Renewables’ has begun  

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RNE has an article on a Citigroup report on renewable energy - Citigroup says the ‘Age of Renewables’ has begun.

Investment banking giant Citigroup has hailed the start of the “age of renewables” in the United States, the world’s biggest electricity market, saying that solar and wind energy are getting competitive with natural gas peaking and baseload plants – even in the US where gas prices are said to be low.

In a major new analysis released this week, Citi says the big decision makers within the US power industry are focused on securing low cost power, fuel diversity and stable cash flows, and this is drawing them increasingly to the “economics” of solar and wind, and how they compare with other technologies.

Much of the mainstream media – in the US and abroad – has been swallowing the fossil fuel Kool-Aid and hailing the arrival of cheap gas, through the fracking boom, as a new energy “revolution”, as if this would be a permanent state of affairs. But as we wrote last week, solar costs continue to fall even as gas prices double.

Citi’s report echoes that conclusion. Gas prices, it notes, are rising and becoming more volatile. This has made wind and solar and other renewable energy sources more attractive because they are not sensitive to fuel price volatility.

Citi says solar is already becoming more attractive than gas-fired peaking plants, both from a cost and fuel diversity perspective. And in baseload generation, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydro are becoming more economically attractive than baseload gas.

It notes that nuclear and coal are structurally disadvantaged because both technologies are viewed as uncompetitive on cost. Environmental regulations are making coal even pricier, and the ageing nuclear fleet in the US is facing plant shutdowns due to the challenging economics.

IPCC report: climate change felt 'on all continents and across the oceans'  

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The Guardian has an article on an upcoming report from the IPCC - IPCC report: climate change felt 'on all continents and across the oceans'.

Climate change has already left its mark "on all continents and across the oceans", damaging food crops, spreading disease, and melting glaciers, according to the leaked text of a blockbuster UN climate science report due out on Monday. Government officials and scientists are gathered in Yokohama this week to wrangle over every line of a summary of the report before the final wording is released on Monday – the first update in seven years. ...

But governments have already signed off on the critical finding that climate change is already having an effect, and that even a small amount of warming in the future could lead to "abrupt and irreversible changes", according to documents seen by the Guardian. "In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans," the final report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will say.

Some parts of the world could soon be at a tipping point. For others, that tipping point has already arrived. "Both warm water coral reef and Arctic ecosystems are already experiencing irreversible regime shifts," the approved version of the report will say.

Three Geothermal Plants With 62 MW to Go On Line in Indonesia This Year  

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The Jakarta Globe has an article on the steady expansion of geothermal power in Indonesia - Three Geothermal Plants With 62 MW to Go On Line in Indonesia This Year.

Three geothermal power plants with total capacity of 62 megawatts will go on line this year, as Indonesia seeks to tap more of the renewable energy source amid rising fuel costs.

Indonesia, which has the largest geothermal resource in the world, has been tapping only 1.4 percent of its potential due to high costs of development and restrictive regulation that bars geothermal exploration in protected forests.

Rising energy prices in the past decade have made geothermal more competitive in pricing to conventional energy sources such as diesel and coal.

Sugar Battery With Unmatched Energy Density Created  

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CleanTechnica has an article on some battery research at Virginia Tech - Sugar Battery With Unmatched Energy Density Created.

A new “sugar battery” possessing an “unmatched” energy density has been created by a research team from Virginia Tech. The researchers think that their new battery — which, it bears repeating, runs on sugar — could potentially replace conventional forms of battery technology within only the next couple of years.

The researchers argue that their sugar batteries’ relative affordability, ability to be refilled, and biodegradability, are significant advantages as compared to current battery technologies, and should give it the edge in competition. They are currently aiming for the technology to hit the market sometime within the next few years.

“Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature,” stated researcher YH Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. “So it’s only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery.”

Record-breaking inflatable wind turbine to float 1000 feet above Alaska  

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Trehugger has a post on an airborne wind turbine idea being trialled in Alaska, with the device being filled with helium to raise it into the atmosphere - Record-breaking inflatable wind turbine to float 1000 feet above Alaska.

While ground-based wind turbines remain a practical system for generating clean electricity, the future of low cost wind power for remote areas might be found in high altitude wind turbines (HAWTs), which are deployed high above the Earth, where they can take advantage of stronger and more consistent winds.

We previously covered the prototype of Altaeros Energies inflatable Airborne Wind Turbine, which was claimed to be able to produce double the power at half the cost of wind turbines mounted at conventional tower heights, but the company has just announced their plans to deploy the next generation of the device at a height of 1000 feet off the ground.

The new version of their high altitude turbine is called the Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), and when deployed at the end of the 18 month demonstration project, this device is expected to break the world's record for the highest wind turbine, beating the current record set by a Vestas V164-8.0-MW installed at the Danish National Test Center for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild.

Global warming melts edge of Greenland ice sheet  

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The SMH has a look at monitoring of the melting of Greenland's glaciers - Global warming melts edge of Greenland icesheet.

The last edge of the Greenland ice sheet that had resisted global warming has now become unstable, adding billions of tonnes of meltwater to rising seas, scientists say. In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, they say a surge in temperature from 2003 has eased the brakes on a long "river" of ice that flows to the coast in northeastern Greenland.

Known as an ice stream, the "river" takes ice from a vast basin and slowly shifts it to the sea - in the same way the Amazon River drains water.

In the past, the flow from this ice stream was constrained by massive buildups of ice debris choking its mouth. But a three-year spell of exceptionally high temperatures removed this blockage - and like a cork removed from a bottle helped accelerate the flow, the study said.

Two New Ideas in Wave and Tidal Power  

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IEEE Spectrum has an article on some new ocean energy technologies - Two New Ideas in Wave and Tidal Power.

The wave power idea is closer than the tidal energy one to rollout, with a planned open-water test for this summer. M3 Wave dispenses with all the problems that come with buoys or other above-and-below-the-surface designs by mooring a simple device to the ocean floor. The device, pictured above, involves two air chambers: as a wave passes over the top of the first chamber, the pressure inside increases, forcing air through a passageway to the second chamber. Inside the passageway is a turbine, so the passing air is actually what generates the electricity. As the wave continues on, it raises the pressure inside the second chamber, pushing the air back through the turbine—importantly, it is a bidirectional turbine—and back into the first chamber. Another wave, another cycle. Repeat.

The primary selling point here is its simple and small footprint. There is no impact on ocean view, on shipping or fishing traffic, and rough seas above won't endanger the system in any way. M3 is selling it as "expeditionary" wave power, meaning it might be brought along on a ship and deployed for things like disaster relief; the company suggests such a deployment could produce 150 to 500 kilowatts. The system will undergo open-water testing at a U.S. National Guard facility, Camp Rilea in Oregon, in August.

On the other side of the country, a group at Brown University has developed what they call an oscillating hydrofoil, intended to minimize some of the impacts of tidal power devices and increase efficiency. The hydrofoil is mounted on to the sea floor—it resembles a car's spoiler attached to a pole, essentially. As the water flows past that spoiler it oscillates, generating electricity. It is designed so that the pole can actually fold down and out of the way if necessary, allowing for ships or even wildlife (detected with sensors on the device) to pass by without incident. The team received US $750 000 in funding from ARPA-E in 2012, and will soon move to a phase II involving a medium-scale, 10-kw prototype. They have calculated that the device can achieve much better energy conversion efficiencies in tides flowing very slowly than any of the devices that are on or close to market.

Chevron cuts production outlook, raises oil price view  

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Reuters has an article on lower oil production by the oil majors and higher price forecasts (isn't there supposed to be a oil production boom going on in North America ?) - Chevron cuts production outlook, raises oil price view.

Chevron Corp, the second-largest U.S. oil company, cut its 2017 production forecast on Tuesday by 6 percent, citing project delays and asset sales, while saying high prices have pushed its new baseline for oil to north of $100 a barrel.

The company, like many of its peers, has seen mixed results from heavy spending to lift oil and natural gas production, and shareholders in the sector are pushing for more cost discipline.

Chevron trimmed its 2017 production outlook to 3.1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) from a previous forecast of 3.3 million boepd, but stuck to plans to spend $40 billion this year on capital projects, about as much as last year. ...

Despite the more cautious production forecast, Chevron raised the oil price used in its planning models to $110 a barrel from $79. Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. oil company, is using a similar level of $109 a barrel in its budgets, based on 2013 average prices.

Solar costs to halve as gas prices surge  

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RNE has a look at the fading competitiveness of gas compared to solar power - Solar costs to halve as gas prices surge.

Another of the world’s leading solar PV manufacturing giants has underlined the potential for yet more substantial falls in the manufacturing cost of solar modules, even as the cost of fossil fuels – and gas in particular – surges in the opposite direction.

Beyond the near-term revenue forecasts that obsess market analysts, one of the big take-outs of First Solar’s annual market day in New York this week was its predictions about the cost of solar modules over the next five years. In short, First Solar expects its average manufacturing cost to nearly halve – from an average $US0.63/watt in 2013, to $US0.35/W in 2018. That will bring the total installed cost of a module (including racking and inverters) from around $1.59/W to below $1/W by 2017 – so meeting the US Department of Energy’s ambitious Sunshot Initiative goals at least three years ahead of time.

This is significant because as solar prices are coming down, fossil fuel prices are headed quickly in the opposite direction. The US has been hailed as the nation of cheap gas, but that is proving to be an illusion betrayed by rapid depletion rates of wells and the growing challenge of deeper and more complicated reserves. Not to mention the water and other environmental considerations.

As this story from EnergyWire states, wholesale prices in the north-east grid in the US jumped 55 per cent in 2013, thanks mostly to a 76 per cent jump in the price of gas to $US6.97/MMBTU, which is now back above its pre GFC, pre-fracking boom levels. (Bookmark the graph, and point it out to the next person that tells you how the fracking boom has guaranteed low electricity prices into the future. It’s bunkum).

The future of large-scale solar was in balance just a year ago, mostly because many of the initial big projects had been funded by California’s ambitious renewable energy target, and a strong solar mandate. But First Solar now sees this large-scale market rebounding, mostly because interest is turning to solar because of those rising gas prices. Power purchase agreements, according to Deutsche Bank analysts, are in the range of $US50-$US70/MWh (helped by a tax credit because the LCOE of most utility scale solar is still probably above $100/MWh.

Update on Ambri’s Liquid Metal Grid-Scale Battery  

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Greentech media has an update on Ambri's liquid metal battery - Update on Ambri’s Liquid Metal Grid-Scale Battery.

Ambri hopes to have its first scaled 20-kilowatt-hour units operational early this year, with 35-kilowatt-hour commercial units coming in 2015. A larger system will reach 200 kilowatt-hours in 3 cubic meters. The 10-ton weight of that unit will serve as an effective theft deterrent, joked Bradwell.

The company's pilot project in Hawaii will have two cores installed this year in partnership with First Wind and HECO, with funding from the DOE- and ONR-sponsored Hawaii Energy Excelerator. The goal is to improve integration of solar power and reduce wind curtailment.

Another project at Joint Base Cape Cod will see deployment of a 35-kilowatt-hour prototype to improve grid security and reliability.

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