Renault will remotely lock down electric cars  

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"Karsten On Free Software" has a troubling post on electric vehicle controls - Renault will remotely lock down electric cars. Perhaps the Bhutanese should put some regulations in place to prevent this before they go fully electric...

For a long time, cars were a symbol of freedom and independence. No longer. In its Zoe electric car, car maker Renault apparently has the ability to remotely prevent the battery from charging. And that’s more chilling than it sounds.

When you buy a Renault Zoe, the battery isn’t included. Instead, you sign a rental contract for the battery with the car maker. In a Zoe owner’s forum, user Franko30 reports that the contract contains a clause giving Renault the right to prevent your battery from charging at the end of the rental period. According to an article in Der Spiegel, the company may also do this when you fall behind on paying the rent for the battery.

This means that Renault has some way of remotely controlling the battery charging process. According to the Spiegel article, the Zoe (and most or all other electric cars) collect reams of data on how you use them, and send this data off to the manufacturer without your knowledge. This data tells the company where you are going, when, and how fast, where you charge the battery, and many other things besides. We already knew that Tesla was doing this with its cars since the company’s very public spat with a journalist who reviewed one of their cars for the New York Times. Seeing the same thing in a mass market manufacturer like Renault makes clear just how dangerous this trend is.

This sort of thing fits well into the dystopian picture which Cory Doctorow paints in his 2011 talk “The coming war on General Computation” (which you really must watch, if you haven’t already), where he argues that “we don’t have cars anymore, we have computers we ride in”. The question then becomes who is in control of this computer: You, the manufacturer, or someone else?

German Government Targets 55% to 60% Renewables by 2035  

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The German Energy Blog reports the governing coalition of conservatives and social democrats has agreed on a target of 55% - 60% renewable energy over the next 2 decades - CDU/CSU and SPD Present Coalition Agreement – 55% to 60% Renewables by 2035 and More.

The conservative CDU/CSU, the winners of the Federal Election of 22 September 2013, and the Social Democrats (SPD), who emerged second in the election, have presented a coalition agreement for a grand coalition in Germany that provides inter alia for a binding expansion corridor of 55% to 60% renewable energy by 2035.

Recovery rates for shale oil in the Eagle Ford to Rise to 20% ?  

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There has been a flurry of articles on Devon Energy's acquisition of a large amount of acreage in the Eagle Ford shale play. Shale Energy Insider has an example - Devon Energy to acquires assets in Eagle Ford for US 6bn. More at Reuters - Devon strikes Texas oil deal, plans to sell assets and Proactive investors - Oil Column: Eagle Ford shale to account for 15% of BHP Billiton’s cash flows.

Devon Energy has reached an agreement to acquire GeoSouthern Energy’s assets in the Eagle Ford oil play for $6 billion. The acquired assets include current production of 53,000 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day and 82,000 net acres with at least 1,200 undrilled locations. The risked recoverable resource is estimated at 400 million barrels of oil equivalent, the majority of which is proved reserves.
The BS had an interesting snippet as it considered the implications of the deal for BHP, noting a massive increase in the recovery rate predicted for oil in the shale formation. Whether or not this is actually feasible I'm unsure - BHP US shale outlook improves.
The potential jump comes from much-improved expectations for how much oil the company can expect to get from its Texas holdings. BHP's partner in the Eagle Ford holdings, Devon Energy, has revealed that it expects recovery rates of 20 per cent of the oil in the shale, up from previous forecasts of only 7 per cent.

Those recovery rates not only bode well for cash output, but also in offsetting BHP's production costs. The figures were released as part of Devon Energy's $US6 billion ($A6.53 billion) purchase of BHP's 50 per cent partner GeoSouthern.

Belgium Claims World’s Largest Offshore Wind Turbine  

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IEEE SPectrum has an article on the increasing size of offshore wind turbines - Belgium Claims World’s Largest Offshore Wind Turbine.

The largest offshore wind turbine on the planet is now spinning off of the coast of Belgium at the Belwind site. Alstom produced the six-megawatt Haliade turbine and installed it off of the Ostend harbor last weekend.

The blades stretch out more than 73 meters and the turbine towers more than 100 meters above sea level. The turbine does not have a gearbox but instead uses a permanent-magnet generator. Fewer mechanical parts means less maintenance and higher reliability, according to Alstom.

Ontario Cleans Its Hands Of Coal  

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Cleantechnica has an encouraging report from Canada - Ontario Cleans Its Hands Of Coal.

The Ontario government announced on Friday that it will introduce legislation next week to ban the burning of coal and the building of new coal plants. The Canadian province expects to have completely outgrown coal by 2014, thanks to a combination of efficiency, nuclear, natural gas and an ambitious renewables program – and to save C$4.4 billion per year (US $4.2 billion) in “externalities” like health costs, from having done so. Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/2013/11/25/ontario-cleans-hands-coal/#d2tMrPePLzIp2Tfg.99

RNE reports that a huge coal mine planned for Central Queensland is continuing to be heckled by doubters - Galilee Basin coal struggles against high debt and falling markets.

Queensland Resources Council chief, Michael Roche – who at a Monday press conference described a “perfect storm of a collapse in coal prices, a stubbornly high Australian dollar and very high costs – has questioned Greenpeace’s motivations, as well as its position “to make a call on whether it’s a good time or not a good time to be investing in a new coal mine.”

But as Greenpeace’s Julien Vincent and Erland Howard noted in RenewEconomy last month, they are not the only ones. “Investment banks and analysts such as Macquarie, who have been close to companies pursuing coal projects in the Galilee Basin have described the chances of the Galilee being opened up to coal mining as ‘increasingly remote’.”

Matthew Trivet, a coal market analyst at stockbrokers Patersons, agrees. “In the thermal market, it’s going to be quite difficult to see a lot of these greenfield or peripheral basins coming on line,” he told ABC’s Lateline. “You are going to need significantly higher prices to justify the huge amount of [capital expenditure] and the long lead times.”

Fisker Gives Up the Ghost: Will Karma Survive?  

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GTM has an update on the demise of electric car company Fisker Automotive - Fisker Gives Up the Ghost: Will Karma Survive?.

Fisker hasn’t built a car since July 2012. Pummeled by bad reviews and reports of vehicle fires and recalls based on problems with its battery packs from A123 Systems (another bankrupt, DOE-backed firm), Fisker struggled early on to gain traction. Last year’s Hurricane Sandy destroyed a warehouse containing $30 million worth of Fisker’s already-built Karma sports cars, and founder Henrik Fisker, a former car designer for Aston-Martin and BMW, left the company in March.

Australian Government Slumps In Polls  

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The new Australian Government has been on the receiving end of large amounts of criticism lately, with their performance resulting in a large reversal of fortune in the opinion polls. The SMH reports - Labor storms ahead. Is it time for the double dissolution over the carbon tax that the PM has threatened ?

The first Fairfax Nielsen poll since the September 7 election has charted a rapid recovery for the ALP, with the opposition shooting to a 52-48 per cent lead over the government on the preferences of respondents - the quickest poll lead achieved by any federal opposition after losing an election. It is also the first time Labor has led on the two-party-preferred vote in more than three years.

The result will be seen as a wake-up call to the Abbott government as it struggles to maintain public confidence in its tough stop-the-boats policy while refusing to reveal the most basic details on the grounds of operational security.

Labor's primary vote has recovered to 37 per cent, up 4 percentage points since the election, while the Coalition's primary support has fallen by 5 points to 41 per cent. The Greens also picked up support, rising from 9 per cent to 11 per cent. ... Respondents also expressed overwhelming belief in the reality of climate change, with nearly 87 per cent judging the 2020 target of a 5 per cent emissions reduction as either about right (46 per cent) or too low (41 per cent).

Rebuilding Fuller’s Dymaxion Car  

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The BBC has a report on efforts to build Bucky Fuller's Dymaxion car - Rebuilding Fuller’s Dymaxion.

Some concept cars influence decades of automotive engineering. Some concepts never catch on. Some simply catch fire.

The Dymaxion car, designed by the visionary US architect and all-round polymath R Buckminster Fuller, may be the rare prototype for which all of these things are true. Buckminster Fuller

“It’s full of unique and different technologies,” says Jeff Lane, director of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. “It was a failure commercially, but it tried lots of different things that have had big influence on car design.” It was a big enough influence on Lane that, 80 years later, he’s in the final stages of recreating Fuller’s first prototype.

When the first zeppelin-shaped vehicle debuted in 1933, it broke every automotive design convention save the use of round wheels. Nearly 20 feet (6.1 metres) long, it could transport 11 people and return 30mpg thanks to wind-tunnel-tested aerodynamics and lightweight aluminium-skin construction. Its engine was rear-mounted but powered the front wheels, and it was steered with a single back wheel, a less-than-intuitive arrangement that may have contributed to a fatal crash that occurred during its demonstration at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Can geothermal industry gather steam in Canada ?  

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The Globe and Mail has an article looking at the prospects for geothermal power in Canada - Can geothermal industry gather steam in Canada?.

Geothermal’s advantage over wind and solar is that it doesn’t stop running. “You get geothermal power 24 hours a day,” says John Carson, CEO of Vancouver-based Alterra Power Corp., which runs geothermal plants in Iceland and the United States. “It’s baseload power, and that’s what makes it extremely valuable.”

But where many other countries have well-developed geothermal industries, Canada has yet to open a commercial plant. One roadblock is that most provinces and territories don’t even allow geothermal projects. Also, because geothermal is relatively expensive to develop and there’s no domestic production, investors remain hesitant to commit. “What we’re up against is getting the first successful project up and running,” says Tim Weis, Edmonton-based director of renewable energy and efficiency policy at the non-profit Pembina Institute.

Alison Thompson, founder and chair of Calgary-based industry group the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA), wants governments to step in and help the industry gather steam. “There’s what we call an artificial border at the 49th parallel,” Ms. Thompson says. “The resource doesn’t end; there’s policies in place in our country that are preventing it from going forward.” CanGEA estimates that Canada could have 5,000 megawatts of installed geothermal power by 2025.

One place geothermal power is thriving is East Africa - The Guardian has an update - Kenya's energy revolution: full steam ahead for geothermal power.

East Africa is undergoing an energy revolution driven by massive offshore natural gas finds in Tanzania and notable oil discoveries in Kenya and Uganda, all in the past three years. Energy from these hydrocarbons is yet to be realised, however. The domestic shortfall is a major hindrance to growth, leaving millions of people literally living in the dark.

About 16% of Kenya's population has access to electricity, according to World Bank data, and demand is outstripping supply. Rationing is a daily reality for many. "The [national grid] service is unreliable and costs business owners large amounts in backup infrastructure and fuel," says Harrison Leaf, managing director of access:energy.

Several private companies like Leaf's are developing off-grid micro-solutions to supplement national supply. But geothermal has become the darling of on-grid solutions for Kenya, and plenty of other countries are keen to benefit.

Kenya's state-owned power producer, Kengen, has been asked to provide consultancy services to Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania. According to the Geothermal Energy Association, Kenya will become the world leader if its planned projects are completed on time.

The country has set the ambitious target of producing 5,000 megawatts (MW) by 2030, which will power millions of homes: all energy generated is fed into the national grid to increase the percentage of households served. The World Bank estimates that geothermal from east Africa's Rift Valley could power 150m homes.

Progress is steaming ahead at the country's largest geothermal site, 80km north-west of Nairobi. Kirimi has lost count of how many wells he has drilled. His eight rigs with giant cylindrical shafts and diamond teeth are drilling wells at a rate of more than 40 a year. One well has the power to produce 18MW annually; by July 2014, Kirimi hopes to be generating 280MW – and working towards the site's next target of 560MW.

Study Finds Emissions of Methane in U.S. Exceed Estimates  

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The NYT has an article on a new study of methane emissions into the atmosphere - Emissions of Methane in U.S. Exceed Estimates, Study Finds.

Emissions of the greenhouse gas methane due to human activity were roughly 1.5 times greater in the United States in the middle of the last decade than prevailing estimates, according to a new analysis by 15 climate scientists published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The analysis also said that methane discharges in Texas and Oklahoma, where oil and gas production was concentrated at the time, were 2.7 times greater than conventional estimates. Emissions from oil and gas activity alone could be five times greater than the prevailing estimate, the report said.

Andrew Revkin at "Dot Earth" has a look at some new films about the shale gas boom - A Fresh Look at America’s Gas Lands.

I’ve been meaning to post for awhile on “Gas Rush Stories,” a series of simple, but captivating short films on America’s gas drilling boom made by Kirsi Jansa, a Finnish video journalist currently living in Pittsburgh.

The time is right because Jansa is in the running for a $10,000 grant from the Sprout Fund that could help her sustain and refine this effort to portray the many meanings and realities surrounding hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, in Pennsylvania communities scattered over the gas-rich Marcellus Shale.

The Answer to Climate Change Is Renewable Energy, Not Nuclear Power  

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The Huffington Post has an article on the pros and cons of nuclear power vs renewable energy - The Answer to Climate Change Is Renewable Energy, Not Nuclear Power.

There are a number of reasons that nuclear power is a bad solution to the climate crisis. The first is that the technology is really not available. Nuclear power plants are capital-intensive, technologically complex to manage, and difficult, if not impossible, to site. These are not minor issues. Investors would rather put their money elsewhere and communities intensely resist siting a plant in their backyard.

This means that even though we know how to generate electricity this way, and we have many decades of experience doing it, in the U.S. these plants will never be built in sufficient quantity to reduce global warming. In other parts of the world, we might pay attention to the lessons we should be learning in Iran. There is a thin line between the technology of nuclear power generation and the technology of nuclear bomb development. While it's too late to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, let's stop pretending that human political systems or organizational processes can manage the risks of this technology.

There are other issues associated with current nuclear technologies that render them problematic as well. The toxicity of its fuel and waste, for example, should not be ignored. Catastrophic accidents may be rare, but when they occur, their impact is intense and long-lasting. While a well-managed plant poses little real danger, it is difficult to judge the danger posed by a poorly managed one. One also cannot dismiss the possibility of sabotage. Terrorists taking over a plant and threatening to allow an accident to occur could hold a city hostage.

Electric utilities, like water and sewage utilities, are natural monopolies that require government regulation. The investment in infrastructure to generate and transmit electricity is so massive that it makes little sense to allow more than one system per city. This investment in infrastructure and equipment reinforces the tendency of electric utilities to be highly centralized, vertically integrated organizations. These utilities tend to be rigid, unimaginative and monopolistic. While most other elements of our economy have moved into decentralized networks of organizations, the energy sector remains highly centralized. This is true of oil companies as well as electric utilities. These organizations outsource, but they are far less network-dependent than many other private organizations. It should not surprise us if the energy sector is insular and resists innovation. Instead of embracing renewable energy, many, though not all, are fighting it.

Renewable energy could change the energy business. While some large-scale organizations will always be part of the energy industry, we are seeing the start of decentralized, distributed generation of energy. Although the conventional wisdom tells us that solar power, battery technology, and smart grids are far in the future, we are only a breakthrough or two away from a new age of decentralized energy technology. While none of us can predict the future, and technological breakthroughs cannot be assumed, the risk of nuclear power is not difficult to predict.

The price of solar energy continues to come down, as the number of solar cells continues to grow. Breakthroughs in nanotechnology have the potential to shrink the size of these cells, making it possible to imagine smaller, more inexpensive installations of solar arrays. While some of the discussion of solar technology imagines utility-scale centralized power stations, my own view is that improved solar cells coupled with improved battery technology makes it possible to imagine a far more decentralized approach to energy generation

3D Printing Batteries  

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Technology Review has an article on new inks and tools that allow 3-D printing of lithium-ion technology - Printing Batteries.

By making the basic building blocks of batteries out of ink, Harvard materials scientist Jennifer Lewis is laying the groundwork for lithium-ion batteries and other high-performing electronics that can be produced with 3-D printers.Although the technology is still at an early stage, the ability to print batteries and other electronics could make it possible to manufacture new kinds of devices. Think of self-powered biomedical sensors, affixed to the skin, that would continuously transmit vital signs to a smartphone. Or existing products could be made more simply and efficiently.For example, the plastic shell of a hearing aid is already 3-D printed for a custom fit inside a wearer’s ear. But the electronics are manufactured separately, and the batteries are often the type that must be replaced frequently. If the electronics and a rechargeable battery were printed together, the final product could be made more rapidly and seamlessly.

Politics take puff out of wind farm building in New Zealand  

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The NZ Herald reports that after a good track record of building wind power and geothermal power plants over the past decade, construction of wind farms in NZ has ground to a halt - Politics take puff out of wind farm building. The report blames political uncertainty in spite of high court decisions in favour of wind farm developments.

The decade-long surge in big wind farm building in New Zealand is nearing an end with no new projects in the pipeline as the sector booms around the world. Industry leaders here are worried political uncertainty in the electricity market will stall further long-term development.

Wind farms account for more than 4 per cent of installed generation in New Zealand and the completion of the last big project, Meridian Energy's Mill Creek scheme near Wellington scheduled for next year, will boost this close to 5 per cent.

The partly privatised company accounts for about 61 per cent of the country's wind farms. Its chief financial officer Paul Chambers said although the economics of wind power were improving, there were no plans for more projects.

Flat electricity demand, due to reduced consumption by big industrial users and households, meant new generation wasn't needed in the near future but planning for renewable energy projects was hard hit by political and regulatory uncertainty.

Energy Matters has an update on Meridian's wind farms in Victoria - Mt. Mercer Wind Farm Starts Cranking Power.

On Tuesday, the first electricity was generated at the Mt Mercer Wind Farm near Ballarat in Victoria. The 64-turbine wind farm is being constructed by New Zealand's Meridian Energy. Mt Mercer will have a capacity of 131 MW, bringing the company's total operating portfolio in Australia to 201 MW. Mt Mercer, which will generate enough electricity for 74,000 average Australian homes (and enough to power the entire city of Ballarat), is the third wind farm project that Meridian has been involved with in Australia.

Meridian also owns and operates the 70MW Mt Millar wind farm; located approximately 100km south-west of Whyalla on the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia. The company was also involved with the 420 MW Macarthur Wind Farm in Western Victoria; but sold its stake earlier this year.

FT: Oil industry sums do not add up  

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Mark Lewis has an article at The FT on this year's IEA World Energy Outlook - Toil for oil means industry sums do not add up - noting it highlights that high oil prices and massive increases in capital spending by oil firms are not resulting in significant increases in production (probably the best harbinger of peak oil).

Lewis notes this "should be a reality check for those now hyping a new age of global oil abundance".

Natural Gas Sets Off a Distributed-Energy Boom  

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IEEE Spectrum has an article on cogeneration and other forms of distributed energy generation - Natural Gas Sets Off a Distributed-Energy Boom.

Rooftop solar has long been the poster child of distributed energy, but experts say the boom in the natural gas supply and memories of large-scale outages are also playing a big role in moving electricity generation out of the hands of big utilities.

Different gas-fueled technologies—fuel cells, microturbines, reciprocating engines, and turbines—are now competing for a spot in the basements of businesses. “People are genuinely waking up to their options,” says Kerry-Ann Adamson, research director at Navigant Research. “Distributed-generation technology can be better than the current option of centralized power on the grid.”

Depending on local electricity prices and government incentives, natural gas–powered distributed energy can be less expensive than grid power over the lifetime of the equipment. This is most often true if it’s a combined heat and power unit—also called a cogeneration unit—in which the heat from electricity generation is captured as hot water or steam. There can be environmental benefits as well: Many of these technologies can run on gas from landfills or biomass digesters. When both heat and electricity are used, system efficiency can top 80 percent.

Bhutan Goes Electric  

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The Diplomat has an article on Bhutan's plans to convert the nation to electric cars - Bhutan Goes Electric.

The small and exotic kingdom, with a population of around three quarters of a million people, rarely makes news headlines, even in its region. This week Bhutan, however, announced plans to convert the capital city’s entire vehicle fleet to electric cars, according to the Financial Times. This would make Thimpu the first capital city in the world to go electric.

The plan involves the participation of Renault-Nissan, and specifically the company’s electric car, the Nissan Leaf. The Bhutanese government’s entire fleet of official vehicles will be replaced by Nissan’s electric model by March 2014. Then, the city’s population of 120,000 will gradually have their vehicles (and the many taxis that most people rely on to get around) converted to electric alternatives after this initial target is completed.

The plan makes quite a bit of sense for Bhutan. The country produces a surplus of electricity from abundant renewable (hydroelectric) sources, and exports a significant amount of this electricity to India. A significant portion of the foreign exchange earned from this is used to import fossil fuels back into the country – much of which is used for the old fashioned gasoline-powered vehicle fleet. Using electricity directly for this task is an entirely rational plan.

As the Financial Times article reports, Bhutanese government officials report that taxi drivers in Thimpu currently spend around 800 ngultrum ($13) a day on fuel, whilst switching to electricity (and presumably ignoring the costs of installing the infrastructure and electric vehicle grid) would slash the daily price to no more than 10 ngultrum.

Nissan has confirmed that it is in talks over Bhutan’s plan, both with regard to the supply of vehicles and the electric vehicle grid necessary to support them. There are also reports that Bhutan has had talks with Tesla on the issue.

Global Solar PV Installations Will Double, Hit Grid Parity By 2020  

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Cleantechnica has an article on a growth forecast for solar power, with the global market, predicting annual capacity growth will double by 2020 - Global Solar PV Installations Will Double, Hit Grid Parity By 2020.

Continually declining solar photovoltaic (PV) prices will continue to power an international market surge, with annual installations doubling by 2020 en route to grid parity around the world.

Is coal the new tobacco for investors ?  

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The Globe and Mail has an article on the "stranded asset" issue facing fossil fuel companies - Oil’s biggest problem? A new ‘peak’ worry.

The peak demand theory, while plausible, is a little too pat. That’s because the oil markets face a bigger known unknown (to borrow an expression used by former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld) in the form of unburnable carbon. What is known is that burning carbon is raising carbon-dioxide levels to potentially catastrophic levels as the planet warms. In May, an atmospheric station in Hawaii recorded an atmospheric reading of 400 parts per million of CO2 equivalent, a 25-per-cent increase over 55 years and a rate of increase three times faster than it was in the early 1960s. Climate scientists say the CO2 must be stabilized at 450 ppm to limit global warming to two degrees above the temperature that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution.

What is not known is how much oil and coal will have to be left in the ground to prevent runaway carbon-dioxide buildup in the atmosphere. Earlier this year, the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics and a not-for-profit research group called Carbon Tracker issued a paper titled “Unburnable carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets.” It concluded that about two-thirds of the Earth’s estimated oil, gas and coal reserves would have to stay in the ground if the two-degree goal is to have any chance of being achieved. The International Energy Agency agrees.

Some pension funds are already worried that the enormous stored wealth of the hydrocarbon players – their reserves – is a mirage. Last month, the managers of 70 pension funds with assets of more than $3-trillion wrote a letter to the top 45 oil, gas, coal and utility companies asking them to explain how climate change would affect their business. “As long-term investors, we see the world moving toward a low-carbon future in which fossil-fuel reserves that companies continue to develop may actually become a liability,” Jack Ehnes, head of California’s State Teachers’ Retirement System, said in a Washington Post article.

Put the peak demand and a yet another “peak” – peak carbon – together and you have a scenario that should send waves of anxiety through oil and coal companies and their investors. The share prices do not reflect either of the two risks, suggesting that investors rightly do not believe oil use will fall, or that they’re deluded. Energy was always a volatile investment, prone to cycle swings. The next swing could be down forever.

The SMH has an article on the campaign to divest from fossil fuel companies - Is coal the new tobacco for investors ?.
About $8 trillion of known coal reserves lie beneath the earth’s surface. The companies planning to mine and burn them are being targeted by a growing group of investors concerned with the greenhouse gases that will be made.

Storebrand ASA, which manages $US74 billion of assets from Norway, sold out of 24 coal and oil-sands companies since July including Peabody Energy, the largest US coal producer, citing a desire to cut fossil-fuel industry holdings. This month Norway’s opposition Labour Party proposed banning the country’s $US800 billion sovereign wealth fund from coal investments.

“Maybe we’ve hit some kind of nerve in the debate,” Christine Torklep Meisingset, Storebrand’s head of sustainable investments in Oslo, said by telephone. “Hopefully, other investors will be acting along the same lines. There could be an interesting parallel to tobacco.”

The movement is an offshoot of a campaign by more than 70 investors to pressure all fossil-fuel industries on climate change. It harks to the 1990s anti-tobacco push and is gaining help from unlikely partners. The International Energy Agency, a 28-nation group promoting energy security, is lobbying increasingly to limit the release of heat-trapping gases.

CSIRO in new alliance to advance home-grown energy storage technology  

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RNE has a post on investment in ionic liquid energy storage technology - CSIRO in new alliance to advance home-grown energy storage technology.

Australia’s CSIRO has formed a partnership with US liquid battery developer, Boulder Ionics, to further the development of a new cost effective energy storage technology aimed at enabling the delivery of 24/7 renewable electricity.

The alliance was announced by ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht on Wednesday, along with an investment of around $530,000 in the Colorado-based company, made through the Southern Cross Renewable Energy Fund, which was established under the former Gillard government’s ARENA’s $100 million Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund Program.

Boulder Ionics says the funds will be used to support a collaborative research program and license arrangement with the CSIRO, and to create an Australian subsidiary of Boulder Ionics. More specifically, said Frischknecht, the project aims to create a pathway to market for the CSIRO’s home-grown liquid battery technology with applications for a variety of battery storage uses, including renewable energy.

Doubts raised over CSG well capacity to feed Curtis Island LNG plants  

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Mining News has an article quoting an American drilling services company that claims there are poor results for coal seam gas drilling to support Queensland LNG plants - Doubts raised over CSG well capacity to feed Curtis Island LNG plants. Santos and Origin are rejecting the claims.

Doubts have been raised over whether Queensland’s coal seam gas fields can produce enough to feed Curtis Island’s LNG export plants, with claims that many wells are not meeting production expectations. Houston-based drilling suppler, Superior Energy Services, said it is forecasting growth in the sunshine state on the back of poor well performance. The company, which employs more than 14,000 people worldwide and boasts a turnover of $US4bn says its eastern Australian business is set for a growth spurt, The Australian reported.

"When we are talking to the operators in Queensland, we hear from them that the coal-seam gas (wells) that currently have been drilled are actually not meeting the production expectations," SES head of Asia Pacific, Ruud Boendermaker, told investors last week. "So what they have to do is to drill a lot more CSG wells in the next few years because of the commitments to the LNG trains that they are currently building in the north of Queensland."

Boendermaker said the coal seams are not as homogeneous or permeable as expected, claiming this has led to poor well performance. SES did not say which projects needed more wells, or which areas in the state were experiencing issues, however the company’s Toowoomba office contracts to drillers rather than to the LNG proponents directly.

The calls comes as a former executive for one of the projects told The Australian that the gas fields’ "sweet spots" had not been as large as anticipated.

Costa Rica to build 3 geothermal electricity plants with Japanese funding  

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The Tico Times has a report on plans to expand geothermal power in Costa Rica - Costa Rica to build 3 geothermal electricity plants with Japanese funding.

Costa Rica hopes that the additional electricity generated by steam from the volcanic area will help the country reach its goal of generating 95 percent of its electricity with renewable resources by 2014. ...

The first of the proposed plants, Pailas II, will have an electrical generation capacity of 55 megawatts and will cost more than $333 million to build, according to a statement from Casa Presidencial. The costa Rican Electricity Institute, or ICE, will construct two other 50-MW power plants, Borinquen I and II, 40 kilometers away from the Pailas geothermal plants. “This is 165 MW of reliable [electricity generation]; that is to say, they will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is clean, renewable and reliable energy, as reliable as any conventional thermal electrical power plant,” said ICE Executive President Teofilo de la Torre.

Australia's LNG nuclear bomb  

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The BS's Alan Kohler has an article on the repeal of the carbon tax - Australia's LNG nuclear bomb.

The LNG export boom will make it virtually impossible for Australia to meet the government’s carbon emissions reduction target. The high price of gas in Australia has made replacing coal-fired power stations with gas uneconomic and “fugitive emissions” from the LNG plants mean that reducing overall emissions within Australia by 5 per cent by 2020, as government policy states, will require much bigger cuts in other industries.

Tony Abbott will have to either drop the promise to cut emissions by 5 per cent or the promise to repeal the carbon tax – both together will be impossible without massive government spending under the proposed “direct action” policy of paying companies to reduce emissions.

Actually previous government policy was for a 15 per cent reduction in emissions if the rest of the developed world also took action on climate change. That’s happening, so the 15 per cent would have applied. The Coalition said it would match Labor’s emissions reduction target, but the figure of 15 per cent doesn’t seem to appear in its policy – only 5 per cent.

Anyway, not trying to reduce carbon emissions at all would put Australia at odds with the rest of the world, including China and the US, and endanger trade agreements, so the prime minister and Treasurer Joe Hockey will be, or at least should be, desperately hoping that the Senate never allows the repeal of the emission trading scheme legislation, so it’s not exactly a broken promise – at least they tried. ...

The emissions trading scheme currently in place would eventually produce revenues to the government of up to $10 billion a year. It’s understood Treasury has estimated the eventual cost of the Coalition’s direct action plan at $10 billion.

That’s a $20 billion turnaround and makes climate change a “nuclear bomb” in the federal budget, as Professor Ross Garnaut says and as he puts in his book Dog Days, it would end up “distracting the government and the polity from the great economic challenges facing Australia”.

Like Australia, the United States has enjoyed a huge boom in gas supplies by exploiting smaller and tighter reservoirs – in their case in shale, in ours coal seams.

However the US banned LNG exports and is now allowing them on a case-by-case basis, resulting in a collapse in the domestic gas price to about a third of what it was. The result is wholesale replacement of coal-fired power stations – new and existing -- with lower carbon emitting gas.

In Australia, export pricing has led to a huge increase in the domestic gas price despite the big lift in available supply, with the result that gas is still uneconomic as a replacement electricity fuel for coal.

Pentland Firth: building the multi-array dream  

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Tidal Today has an update on the tidal power project in Scotland's Pentland firth - Pentland Firth: building the multi-array dream.

Work is now set to begin on the largest turbine proposal in Europe, after the Scottish Government gave the consent to begin the 86MW Pentland Firth tidal energy project.

Initially construction will begin on a demonstration array consisting of six turbines, located in the Inner Sound off Pentland Firth, starting in the early months of 2014 with the turbines to be commissioned the following year. The aim is that the demonstration device will provide important data on environmental surroundings, and the future of the development phases to implement the full project.

Eventually it is hoped that the array will produce up to 398MW, this has the potential to power over 40,000 homes.

Australia Heads Backwards On Climate Change  

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The actions of the new Australian Government have been far more predictable than Sydney's increasingly odd weather patterns. What started out as a local wipeout of anything related to climate change science or clean energy has now extended to the global climate talks in Poland.

The media has been full of stories on climate change once again as a result, which is in some ways a pleasant change from the last few years of Tony Abbott promising to "Axe the (carbon) tax". I wonder what excuse will be used when electricity prices fail to drop after carbon pricing goes (presumably they'll follow the model they are using with their other main policy - "Stop the boats", which is also lurching towards total failure - and simply refuse to discuss it at all).

Climate Spectator - What price the carbon price?. A brief history of the carbon price in Australia.

ReNew Economy - All the bad news the energy industry doesn’t want to hear. Examining the absence of media coverage of the Climate Change Authority's (not to be confused with the crowdfunded Climate Council) report into carbon caps and targets.

ReNew Economy - Fossil fuels and Pole dancing at Warsaw climate talks. Apparently Poland is to be renamed "Coal-land"

ReNew Economy - Tony Abbott and his ministry of the misinformed. Comparing German energy policy to Australian energy policy.

ReNew Economy - Poland builds electronic wall to keep out German renewables.

The SMH's economics editor Ross Gittins has a column apologising to future generations for not spending more time talking about the linkage between climate and the economy - Climate change: Dear grandchildren, I can only say sorry.

If the Liberals under their new leader, Tony Abbott, had opposed action against climate change outright, Liberal voters who accepted the need for action would have been forced to choose between the party and their beliefs.

Instead, Abbott focused his opposition on the Labor government's main instrument for gradually bringing about a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, an emissions trading scheme whose price would be fixed by the government for the first year or two.

Abbott insisted the Coalition remained committed to Australia's international undertaking to reduce emissions by at least 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, and by 15 per cent or 25 per cent provided other countries were taking comparable action.

The big difference was that, rather than using Labor's ''carbon tax'' to achieve the target, the Coalition would rely on ''direct action'', such as offering monetary incentives to farmers and others to reduce emissions.

This left Abbott free to run an almighty scare campaign about how Labor's ''great big new tax on everything'' would greatly increase the cost of living for ordinary Australian families and impose big costs on Australian businesses, which would impair their ability to compete.

Abbott associated with outright climate-change deniers and said things that seemed to brand him as one of them, while always adding, sotto voce, that he accepted human-caused climate change and the need to do something about it.

Apart from attracting voters away from Labor and its frightening carbon tax, the result of making climate change an issue of party dispute was to give Liberal supporters a licence to stop worrying about climate change - if the leaders of my party aren't worrying, why should I? - while providing a fig leaf for those Liberals who retained their concern.

The business lobby groups' initial position had been: if it's inevitable we do something, let's get on with it and make future arrangements as certain as possible. But with their side of politics inviting them to put their short-term interests ahead of the economy's long-term health, most business people found it too tempting to resist.

To be fair, some businesses stuck with their schemes to reduce their own emissions and some pressed on with repositioning their business for a world where the use of fossil fuels had become prohibitively expensive as well as socially disapproved of.

You will find this hard to believe, but in the mid-teens, it was still common to think about ''the economy'' in isolation from the natural environment which sustained it. Economists, business people and politicians had gone for two centuries largely ignoring the damage economic activity did to the environment.

The idea that, eventually, the environment would hit back and do great damage to the economy was one most people preferred not to think about. At the time, it was fashionable to bewail the lack of action to increase the economy's productivity. Few people joined dots to realise the climate was in the process of dealing a blow to our productivity, one that would significantly reduce the next generation's living standards.

At the time, we rationalised our selfishness - our willingness to avoid a tiny drop in our standard of living at the expense of a big drop in our offspring's - by telling ourselves half-truths and untruths about the global nature of climate change.

We told ourselves there was nothing Australia could do by itself to affect climate change (true), that at the Copenhagen conference in 2009, countries had failed to reach a binding agreement on action to reduce emissions (true) and that the world's two biggest polluters, China and the US, were doing nothing much to reduce their emissions.

We had no excuse for not knowing this was untrue because successive government reports told us the contrary. One we got just before the carbon tax was abolished, from the Climate Change Authority, said the two superpowers were stepping up their actions to reduce emissions. ''These measures could have a significant impact on global emissions reductions,'' it concluded.

I recount this history to explain how my generation's dereliction occurred, not to defend or justify it. We knew what we should have done; we chose not to do it. I never fell for any of these spurious arguments.

Did I ever doubt that climate change represented by far the greatest threat to Australia's future economic prosperity? Never. Should I have said this more often, rather than chasing a thousand economic will-o'-the-wisps? Yes.

More Evidence That America May Have Reached ‘Peak Car’  

Posted by Big Gav in

Greentech Media has an update on the peak car theory - More Evidence That America May Have Reached ‘Peak Car’.

Three years ago, I lived in rural New England and drove my vehicle to get to most places -- particularly in the winter. But like a lot of Millennials, I moved to Washington, D.C. after the recession into a booming local economy.

I quickly ditched my car for a number of reasons: easy access to public transportation, high auto insurance rates in D.C., and the general hassle of owning a car in a city. There's also the thrill of riding a bicycle through gridlocked traffic, a feeling that any urban bicyclist will describe with glee.

I'm certainly not alone. According to research from the Public Interest Research Group, young Americans between the ages of 16 and 34 are driving 23 percent less than they did in 2001. All Americans are driving less, but the decline is even steeper for Millennials.

In study after study, the trend is stark. But researchers are still trying to figure out whether the decline in driving is due to a post-recession hangover, or caused by structural long-term changes that mean "peak car" has arrived.

In his latest of a series of studies on the issue, Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute doesn't definitively conclude that America has reached its driving peak. But he adds yet more compelling data to the mix hinting at a long-term trend.

In two earlier studies from earlier this year, Sivak reported that light-duty vehicles per person, per licensed driver and per household had all peaked before the economic turmoil in 2008, suggesting that "other societal changes" like public transportation, urbanization and telecommuting were core drivers of the trend.

Sivak's most recent research adds fuel consumption to the mix. He found that fuel consumption rates per person, per household and per vehicle all peaked in 2004, well before the economy tanked. Sivak also noted that fuel consumption is dropping faster than miles driven, which shows that fuel efficiency standards are working.

Carnegie Wave raises funds to fast-track CETO 6  

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RNE has an update on wave power company Carnegie Wave Energy - Carnegie Wave raises funds to fast-track CETO 6.

ASX-listed ocean energy developer Carnegie Wave Energy Limited has completed a capital raising of $4 million, part of which will go towards fast-tracking the design of its CETO 6 project – the WA-based company’s next generation CETO unit, which is expected to have at least twice the capacity of the CETO 5 unit. Carnegie’s CETO 5 is being manufactured for the Perth Wave Energy Project, which once completed will be Australia’s first commercial-scale CETO grid-connected wave energy system.

Solar Thermal Power to Double in 2013  

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Climate Central has an article on the recent growth spurt of solar thermal power in the US - Electricity Generated Using Solar Mirrors to Double in 2013.

The EIA projects that the solar thermal generating stations expected to come online this year, each funded by U.S. Department of Energy loans, will generate about 641 megawatts of electricity, which will add to the current 476 megawatts of solar-thermal capacity in the U.S. prior to the new plants starting operations. Later this year and in 2014, a total of six new solar thermal projects are expected to begin operating, generating a total of 1,257 megawatts of new power generating capacity. Those projects will represent 4 percent of all new additions to U.S. electric generating capacity for 2013 and 2014, according to EIA data.

The two largest solar thermal power plants beginning operation this year are Abengoa Solar’s 250-megawatt Solana power plant in Gila Bend, Ariz., and BrightSource Energy’s 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert. Both plants are larger than any other solar thermal generating station ever built in the U.S. “They’re a new breed,” said EIA solar power analyst Gwen Bredehoeft. “There’s going to be a lot of interest in watching how they perform.”

Until the technology and economics of solar thermal are proven, little growth in capacity is exp

Eyrie  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

I quite enjoyed reading Tim Winton's new book "Eyrie" last week, which takes a jaundiced look at my home state of Western Australia.

Port of Fremantle, gateway to the booming state of Western Australia. Which was, you could say, like Texas. Only it was big. Not to mention thin-skinned. And rich beyond dreaming. The greatest ore deposit in the world. The nation's quarry, China's swaggering enabler. A philistine giant eager to pass off its good fortune as virtue, quick to explain its shortcomings as east-coast conspiracies, always at the point of seceding from the Federation. Leviathan with an irritable bowel.

The great beast's shining teeth were visible in the east, through the kitchen window. Not that he was looking. But he could feel it at his back, the state capital looming out there on the plain in its sterile Windexed penumbra. It was only half an hour up the Swan River, as close and as incomprehensible as a sibling. For while Perth had bulldozed its past and buried its doubts in bluster, Fremantle nursed its grievances and scratched its arse.

Winton is frequently compared to Australia's other great writer, Richard Flanagan, though Winton's gaze tends to remain firmly focussed on his local space and time compared to Flanagan's wider range of vision.

For me reading a Winton book is always an exercise that mixes the nostalgia generated by descriptions of places and people I grew up with combined with the general sense of loathing that these tend to inspire in me (not universally I should add).

The protagonist is Eyrie is a burnt out environmentalist, recently divorced and unemployed, and now weakly attempting to remain viable in a downtrodden apartment building in Fremantle - Winton's home neighbourhood these days and one he does a good job of describing. I enjoyed the series of caustic paragraphs describing the dog walkers of south beach, the weekend visitors to the cafe strip and the ugly sprawl of suburbia across Perth's coastal plain.

I didn't think Eyrie was quite as strong as Winton's last book, "Breath", but enjoyed it nevertheless.

Crikey had an article on Winton's recent tour promoting the book - Tim Winton wants this taboo lifted.

Tim Winton, politely but insistently, would like a recently imposed taboo to be lifted. This taboo is taking away people’s opportunities and may crimp the “life and mind” of Australia, he argues. So what is it?

“It’s politically incorrect to talk about class,” Winton told a Melbourne audience last night. “You’re not allowed to talk about it.”

The popular Fremantle-based author argues the constraints imposed by social class, after a hiatus caused largely by Whitlam-era policies, are creeping back — but with the added burden that people are now not permitted to discuss (or rail against) class stratification. Such critics are now labelled as whingers who indulge in the politics of envy, he says — a label he has attracted himself.

And Winton reckons this is a problem because as the chains of class quietly settle back into place due to regressive government policy, no one is really talking about the implications. ...

As he sees it, Gough Whitlam’s prime ministership, much maligned for its perceived economic chaos, heralded an opening, a pulling down of fences via free education and other policies. This brought an age of prosperity and expanded “the life and the mind” of the country. But more recently, those very people who benefited from free education have been “putting the fences back up” as soon as they get into cabinet, via regressive policies on education, single mothers’ payments, etc.

A Timeline of Google’s Clean Energy Investment  

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Greentech Media has a look at Google's renewable energy investment history - A Timeline of Google’s Clean Energy Investment.

2011: Google announces an end to RE less than C, citing cost drops in solar PV

After four years of experimentation in CSP and EGS, Google finally decided to end its ambitious RE less than C initiative. Some in the press wrongly reported that Google had "abandoned" renewable energy. Instead, the company cited the steady cost drops in photovoltaics, saying that it would rather focus on project financing rather than R&D.

Shortly after announcing the end to RE less than C, Google dropped more than $350 million into funds for solar service companies Clean Power Finance and SolarCity. And in the subsequent years, it has scaled its project financing from $580 million to more than $1 billion.

Spring 2010 to present: Google expands its investment bonanza

Since arming itself with the ability to act like a utility and phasing out its R&D efforts, Google has supported fourteen projects worth more than 2 gigawatts of capacity.

GTM's Herman Trabish assembled a list of some of the top plays Google made in one year alone:

  • $75 million in a fund operated by Clean Power Finance (CPF) that will finance 3,000 rooftop solar home installations
  • $280 million in a fund operated by SolarCity that will extend that company’s lease program to some 8,000 new system owners
  • $168 million in BrightSource Energy’s Mojave Desert utility-scale CSP solar power tower facility that will supply 392 megawatts of electricity to California power suppliers SCE and PG&E (following an initial $10 million investment in the company itself)
  • 37.5 percent early equity stake in the Atlantic Wind Connection, a transmission backbone that will ultimately cost approximately $5 billion and deliver 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind-generated electricity from a 2,000-megawatt-capacity, high-voltage, direct-current, 250-mile transmission path between southern Virginia and northern New Jersey
  • $157 million in 270 megawatts of wind being built at the Alta Wind Center in Southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains
  • $100 million in the 845-megawatt Shepherd’s Flat project in Oregon, the biggest on-land wind farm in the world
  • $38.8 million in two North Dakota wind farms with a total capacity of 169.5 megawatts, the first production tax credit deal done after the 2008 economic crash
  • €3.5 million (~$5 million) for 49 percent of an 18.65-megawatt PV solar installation in Brandenburg, Germany

This list will likely get quite a bit longer in the coming years. As Kojo Ako-Asare, head of corporate finance for Google, wrote on the company's blog yesterday, the tech giant has every intention of becoming a renewable energy giant.

"You’d think the thrill might wear off this whole renewable energy investing thing after a while. Nope -- we’re still as into it as ever," wrote Ako-Asare.

The World's Biggest Oil Companies, 2013  

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Forbes has a weird article on the oil industry, simultaneously pooh-poohing peak oil while repeating a litany of facts the average doomer would be comfortable quoting (how does one manage to say that the "era of cheap energy" appeared to be over when oil was under $30, but that this was clearly wrong given that today oil costs more than 3 times as much - do you have to undertake some sort of double-speak training to become a Forbes reporter ?) - The World's Biggest Oil Companies, 2013.

Pemex has slid down the rankings due to the dramatic death of its offshore giant Cantarell, which peaked at 2.2 million bpd in 2003 and has since plunged to 450,000 bpd. Long-anticipated energy reforms championed by President Enrique Peña Nieto could breathe new life into Pemex.

Back in 2003 motorists were shocked when gasoline prices hit an all time high of $1.75 a gallon. We wondered how Americans could maintain their way of life with crude oil so “expensive” at $30 a barrel. That led to endless handwringing that the United States, and soon the world, would surpass that tipping point of Peak Oil, after which prices would skyrocket and outright oil shortages would be commonplace. It didn’t look good for natural gas then either. Instead of the glut of gas we enjoy today, back then energy companies were trying to figure out how to import gas in the form of LNG from the likes of Qatar. The era of cheap energy appeared to be over.

So much has changed in 10 years. Now oil is comfortably at $100 a barrel and the world has not ended. ...

The oil giant that has lost the biggest portion of its output is BP. Back in 2003 BP’s output was 3.9 million bpd. By the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 that had inched up to 4 million bpd. Since then, BP under CEO Bob Dudley has sold $38 billion in assets. And Dudley in recent weeks has pledged $10 billion more in sales the next two years. As a result, BP is now down to 3.1 million bpd, and falling. ...

The simple truth is that it’s getting ever more expensive for the big publicly traded oil companies to get access to the remaining hordes of “easier” oil controlled by the state-owned giants. In the third quarter of 2013 earnings for the big integrated oil companies were down about 25% over the previous year. Why? Because costs are going up for exploration and production while refining margins have been lackluster. As oil prices rose into 2008 the supermajors very much enjoyed counting their profits on their stable of conventional projects, where the cost of building out a field averaged $7 to $10 per barrel. But developments have gotten more and more complex, and now it can cost $30 or more per barrel in build-out capex, according to Bernstein Research. The supermajors’ average net income these days amounts to $14 per barrel produced.

Consider Kashagan, the megafield in Kazakhstan, where a consortium led by Exxon, Total, Eni and Shell has spent a decade and more than $50 billion on the build out, and still can’t get it right. The snafus resulting from too many cooks in the kitchen has delayed startup and infuriated the government. ConocoPhillips wisely sold out its piece of Kashagan for $5 billion a couple years ago.

Many shareholders would welcome an end to Big Oil’s profligate capital spending. This year Shell expects to invest $45 billion, ExxonMobil $38 billion, Chevron $36 billion. ...

As long as oil prices stay strong, the supermajors may feel justified in spending ever more cash to drill deeper, trickier wells. But the more that they stumble over new plays like Shell, the more likely it becomes that Big Oil will reach an inflection point where they realize that the chase just isn’t worth it anymore, that a better strategy may be to return cash to shareholders and simply be satisfied with milking the cows they have.

The Guardian also has an article on peak oil, quoting some recent research from the University of Maryland - Imminent peak oil could burst US, global economic bubble - study.

A new multi-disciplinary study led by the University of Maryland calls for immediate action by government, private and commercial sectors to reduce vulnerability to the imminent threat of global peak oil, which could put the entire US economy and other major industrial economies at risk.

The peer-reviewed study contradicts the recent claims within the oil industry that peak oil has been indefinitely offset by shale gas and other unconventional oil and gas resources. A report by the World Energy Council (WEC) last month, for instance, stated that peak oil was unlikely to be realised within the next forty years at least. This is due to global reserves being 25 per cent higher than in 1993. According to the WEC report, 80% of global energy is currently produced by either oil, gas or coal, a situation which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The new University of Maryland study, in contrast, conducts a review of the scientific literature on global oil production and argues that the bulk of independent, credible studies indicate that a "production peak for conventional oil [is] likely before 2030", with a "significant risk" it could occur "before 2020." Unconventional oil such as Canadian tar sands is "unlikely to expand enough to fill the gap", and this also applies to "shale oil and gas." Shale wells, the study argues, "reach their maximum production levels (peaks) much earlier than conventional ones and are therefore difficult to operate profitably."

The battery storage system that could close down coal power  

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ReNew Economy has an article on a German energy storage technology company - The battery storage system that could close down coal power.

You don’t have to go far inside the headquarters of German battery storage company Younicos, or even their website for that matter, to find out what they are about. “Let the fossils rest in peace,” the logo suggests. Another sign at their technology centre east of Berlin proclaims: “You are now leaving the CO2 producing sector of the world.”

This sign is designed to mimic those which adorned the checkpoints that separated the various sectors of east and west Berlin before the wall was torn down. Younicos believe they have a technology that is equally disruptive, and can break down one of the last barriers to 100 per cent renewable energy: the need to run fossil fuel generation to control the “frequency” of the grid, and the other system services such as voltage control.

The company, based in Berlin Adlershof, on the eastern outskirts of the capital, is developing 10MW-sized battery parks, using battery systems that it says can stabilise the grid faster, cheaper and with greater precision that conventional generation.

It says that these systems can substitute 10 times the capacity from conventional generation – coal, nuclear and gas – and at a fraction of the cost. According to Younicos spokesman Philip Hiersemenzel, each battery park can be installed at around € 15 million, which means that for an investment of €3 billion, conventional generation in Germany’s 80GW would no longer be needed – at least for frequency and stability purposes.

This is critical is Germany. The sheer scale of their solar PV installations – it has more than 35GW – means that on some days it already produces more than half the country’s electricity needs. But baseload generators have to keep running for the sake of frequency control and system stability, this has caused spot prices to plunge well below zero.

For an 80GW grid, it needs about 20GW and 25GW of “must run” balancing to maintain frequency and keep the grid stable. Younicos says 2GW of its battery parks would render this need redundant. Around 200 of it battery parks could be installed around the country at a total cost of around €3 billion.

(Of course, that is not the only impediment to 100 per cent renewables – enough solar and wind power needs to be built, and other storage is needed, battery storage to respond to variations in load on a minute by minute and hour by hour basis, and longer-term or “seasonal” storage, which can take excess production and store it – synthetic diesel, hydrogen etc.).

3D Printed Clothing  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Charlie Stross has a post on the new frontier for 3D printing - making clothing - The revolution will not be hand-stitched.

Via MetaFilter, I stumble across the latest development in 3D printing (now that 3D printed handguns have gone mainstream). Mad props go to another printing startup, although that's not what they're marketing themselves as: Fabrican ...

Fabrican is a unlikely-sounding spin-off of the Department of Chemical Engineering, at Imperial College (which in case you're not familiar with it is one of the top engineering/science colleges in the UK; formerly part of the University of London)—at least, it's unlikely until you begin thinking in terms of emulsions, colloids, and the physical chemistry of nanoscale objects. It's basically fabric in a spray can. Tiny fibres suspended in liquid are ejected through a fine nozzle and, as the supernatant evaporates, they adhere to one another. If at this point you're thinking The Jetsons and spray-on clothing, have a cigar: you've fallen for the obvious marketing angle, because if you're trying to market a new product and raise brand awareness among the public, what works better than photographs of serious-faced scientists with paint guns spray-painting hot-looking models with skin-tight instant leotards? (Note: the technical term for this sort of marketing gambit is, or really ought to be, bukake couture.)

The real marketing value pitch is less ambitious, and buried further down the page. Fabrican currently amounts to spray-on felt; a loose mat of unwoven fibres that adhere to one another and naturally entangle. This is brilliant if you're an auto manufacturer, who wants to do away with the laborious hand-fitting of carpets in your cars (just have the paint shop spray the carpet on the floor panels), or a furniture manufacturer who wants to soften the image of those cheap plastic chairs you sell for lecture theatres or buses and commuter rail.

But the implications go much further, because this is just step one. What we're looking at is the first sign of the shift to 3D printing of clothing.

North Dakota's Salty Fracked Wells Drink More Water to Keep Oil Flowing  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

National Geographic has an article on the water demands of North Dakota's shale oil wells - North Dakota's Salty Fracked Wells Drink More Water to Keep Oil Flowing.

It's well known that water has been key to the shale oil and gas rush in the United States. But in one center of the hydraulic fracturing boom—North Dakota—authorities are finding that the initial blast of water to frack the wells is only the beginning.

The wells being drilled into the prairie to tap into the Bakken shale need "maintenance water"—lots of it—to keep the oil flowing.

So while the water first pumped down the hole to crack rock formations and release the underground oil and natural gas typically totals 2 million gallons (7.5 million liters) per well, each of North Dakota's wells is daily drinking down an average of more than 600 gallons (2,300 liters) in maintenance water, according to recent calculations by North Dakota's Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). Without water, salt buildup forms and restricts the flow of oil.

Tinfoil tents  

Posted by Big Gav

This post from Bruce Schneier made me laugh - apparently US President Obama has a tinfoil tent - Security Tents.

The US government sets up secure tents for the president and other officials to deal with classified material while traveling abroad.
Even when Obama travels to allied nations, aides quickly set up the security tent -- which has opaque sides and noise-making devices inside -- in a room near his hotel suite. When the president needs to read a classified document or have a sensitive conversation, he ducks into the tent to shield himself from secret video cameras and listening devices.

[...]

Following a several-hundred-page classified manual, the rooms are lined with foil and soundproofed. An interior location, preferably with no windows, is recommended.

Orica's gas deal could ignite a price surge  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The BS reports that explosives company Orica are looking to avoid manage their exposure to rising natural gas prices by contracting future gas supplies - Orica's gas deal could ignite a price surge. Orica's Ian Smith was on the ABC's Insiders program this morning talking about the deal and noting that while mining services companies that are involved in construction are in trouble with the end of the mining boom, other mining services companies (like Orica) that are involved in ongoing production are actually benefiting from decreasing quality of ore grades, with more explosives being required to extract the same volume of iron.

Ian Smith isn’t relying on governments or a breakthrough in the impasse over exploitation of NSW’s coal seam gas reserves to secure Orica’s gas supplies. Today he added a conventional arrangement with Esso and BHP Billiton to an earlier and rather less conventional deal to get access to gas.

The three-year agreement with Esso and BHP enables Orica to acquire up to 42 petajoules of gas over three years, beginning in 2017, from the Bass Strait partners. There is provision for the agreements to be extended into the next decade.

Earlier this year, Orica unveiled a very different kind of arrangement under which it signed a gas off-take deal with Strike Energy. This enabled it access to 150 petajoules of gas at an ‘’affordable’’ price over the next two decades by making pre-payments of $52.5 million to help fund commercialisation of Strike’s coal seam gas project in the southern Cooper Basin in South Australia.

Smith said today discussions were also underway with a number of parties over the supply of 3.5 petajoules a year to Orica’s Yarwun ammonium nitrate facility in Queensland. The Esso/BHP deal will meet the gas requirements of its Kooragang Island facility in NSW.

Smith has made it very clear that he isn’t going to leave Orica exposed to the outcome of the inconclusive debate about ‘’reserving’’ gas in Australia, nor risk the eventual outcome (if any) of the highly-politicised debate about the development of NSW’s extensive coal seam gas resources.

That determination to lock in his group’s energy requirements flows from the knowledge that the contracts that had under-pinned the access to gas for large domestic customers will fall away over the next couple of years just as the domestic gas market in Australia undergoes fundamental structural changes.

It is the development of the coal seam gas-fed export LNG projects at Gladstone in Queensland that has fundamentally changed the nature of the market. From next year, BG Group will begin exporting LNG, with the other two big facilities owned by the Santos and Origin Energy-led consortia not far behind.

That will divert a lot of gas that might otherwise have been sold into the domestic market offshore and expose domestic gas consumers, used to a market where there was a surplus of gas, to export-related prices for the first time. (In fact, recent gas contracts have reflected the oil-linked LNG prices, less the cost of liquefaction and transport, with the price rising from around $4 per gigajoule into the high single digits.)

Ex Japanese PM Koizumi Speaks Out Against Restarting Nuclear Power  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Bloomberg reports that ex-LDP leader Koizumi in Japan is advocating against restarting the country's closed nuclear reactors - Abe Mentor Koizumi Reignites Post-Fukushima Nuclear Debate.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces another prominent opponent to his plans to return to nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, as a former political mentor called for Japan to immediately abandon its reactors. Former Liberal Democratic Party Premier Junichiro Koizumi spoke out against atomic power today in his highest profile speech since retiring from politics in 2009. He joins three other former leaders who have turned against the industry that once provided more than a quarter of Japan’s electricity, with all of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors now off-line.

Arrow LNG project put on notice  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The BS has an article about the possibility of one one Queensland's coal seam gas LNG projects being cancelled - Arrow LNG project put on notice. I guess this could help limit gas price rises on the east coast for a time, with the excess supply needing to be soaked up somewhere.

The owners of the Arrow coal-seam gas project in Queensland have ordered the project's team to tighten its costs or Arrow will not go ahead, according to The Australian. The ultimatum from Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina to the project's team casts further uncertainty on the outlook for Australia's liquefied natural gas (LNG) outlook.

Why Are Petrol Prices Falling?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Atlantic has a look at the stalling price of petrol in the US - Why Are Gas Prices Falling?.

During the big run up in oil and gas prices that you can see in the charts above, some analysts contended that we were up against a geophysical limit on how much oil could be produced. It wasn't that we were running out of oil, but that we wouldn't be able to produce more, even if demand went up.

So far, however, that has not proven to be the case ...

That said, oil is getting harder to find and extract, requiring greater and greater investments of time, money, and energy. That's why, despite the relatively sunny outlook in latest edition of the IEA's World Energy Outlook, the agency cautioned that the "new oil resources" do not "mean the world is on the verge of an era of oil abundance."

Forest change mapped by Google Earth  

Posted by Big Gav in

The BBC has an article on research by the University of Maryland into deforestation - Forest change mapped by Google Earth.

A new high-resolution global map of forest loss and gain has been created with the help of Google Earth. The interactive online tool is publicly available and zooms in to a remarkably high level of local detail - a resolution of 30m. It charts the story of the world's tree canopies from 2000 to 2012, based on 650,000 satellite images by Landsat 7.

In that time, the Earth lost a combined "forest" the size of Mongolia, enough trees to cover the UK six times. Brazil's progress in reducing deforestation was more than offset by losses in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay and Angola, according to a study in the journal Science.

Self-Regenerating Polymer  

Posted by Big Gav

Transmaterial has a post on a polymer that can repair itself - Self-Regenerating Polymer.

Researchers at Spain’s Center for Electrochemical Technologies (CIDETEC) have created a polymer capable of self-repairing at room temperature without the need of any catalysts or any external stimulus. After being cut in half, the material is able to regenerate itself in just two hours, fully recovering its mechanical properties.

Atlantis buys out 398MW tidal project  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

ReNew Economy has an update on tidal power company Atlantis - Atlantis buys out 398MW tidal project as it aims for Asia market.

The Australian-founded and managed tidal energy company Atlantis Resources Corp has bought 100 per cent of the 398MW tidal wave energy project in Scotland, the largest in Europe.

Atlantis, a marine turbine company which was formed in Australia but moved to Singapore to better access finance, bought the outstanding shares from GDF Suez and Morgan Stanley, the investment bank which owns a majority stake in Atlantis. ... MeyGen recently received offshore planning consents from the Scottish government, which aims to be 100 per cent renewable by 2020. The first turbines are expected to be installed in 2015.

Riding Into A Million Mask March  

Posted by Big Gav

I had a weird experience yesterday as I was locking up my bike after my morning ride into the city.

Just as I'd finished locking it to a pole a very solidly built guy in a suit came up and commented "I wouldn't leave it there - someone might damage it".

As I was running late for a meeting I wasn't particularly inclined to debate my choice of parking spot with some random crazy man on the street - however he had the very direct manner of someone with a police or military background which had me particularly puzzled as to why he would care where my bike was parked.

I looked him in the eye and thanked him for his concern - he clocked that I was telling him politely to get lost and repeated his point, this time noting "I've seen people come up and stomp on the wheels and buckle them - its a nice bike and you shouldn't leave it there".

If he wasn't so obviously some sort of security guy I would have assumed he was a psycho looking to pick a fight, but I found myself unable to work out what his angle was so I thanked him again for his concern and then waited patiently for him to move on, which he did.

As I headed off to my meeting the best explanation I could come up with was that he was on his way to the law courts up the road and felt like being bossy, but it didn't feel very convincing.

A little later I could hear some noise coming from the street below the building I was in and looked out the window to see a tide of demonstrators moving down the road towards NSW state parliament. No one seemed to know what they were demonstrating about but their head-to-toe black clothing had most of the watchers (including me) guessing they were Muslims.

Before I moved away from the window I noticed that they were being particularly disciplined about staying together and had observers in high-vis jackets marching along each side of the column filming everything which seemed rather sophisticated for a protest march - most of them being fairly disorganised rabbles from my observations.

I spent the rest of the day trying to work out what Muslims would be protesting en-masse about. The afternoon news didn't mention anything about a march but did note NSW Parliament had voted down a same-sex marriage bill - but it was hard to imagine the local arm of the Taliban would be marching arm in arm with Alan Jones to oppose this.

My puzzlement was finally relieved today when I saw an article about "Anonymous"s "Million Mask March". The Guardian has a report - Protesters gather around the world for Million Mask March.

Protesters wearing the white-faced Guy Fawkes masks that have become synonymous with the Occupy movement and the hacktivist grouping Anonymous have taken part in hundreds of gatherings around the world in opposition to causes ranging from corruption to fracking. Demonstrations in more than 400 cities had been planned as part of the event - billed as the "Million Mask March" - that coincided with Guy Fawkes Day.

One of the largest protests of Tuesday night took place in central London, where the comedian and advocate of "complete revolution" Russell Brand was pictured among crowds of people wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. "Whatever party they claim to represent in the day, at night they show their true colours and all go to the same party," said Brand on Twitter, using the #MillionMaskMarch hashtag. ...

In the US, protesters in Washington DC gathered at the Washington Monument before walking to the White House to raise awareness of causes including opposition to mass surveillance and genetically modified foods. Other protests, of varying size, took place in cities including Vancouver, Tel Aviv, Dublin, Paris, Chicago and Sydney. One of a number of Facebook pages for the event described it as a "Call for Anonymous, WikiLeaks, the Pirate Party, Occupy and Oath Keepers to defend humanity".

Needless to say, my bike was untouched when I emerged from the building later in the day...

ASPO USA Pipeline  

Posted by Big Gav in

The ASPO USA site now has a discussion forum to accompany their news feed called "Pipeline" which seems to be trying to recreate the old "Drumbeat" community from "The Oil Drum" - Pipeline.

Recollecting the false messiah of peak oil ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

The FT's Alphaville blog has an article celebrating the death of peak oil on the basis of oil prices only being up 5% over the last year and the comments of some financial newsletter seller who apparently thinks he is clever because he calls people fools and can repeat mindless slogans like "low prices are the cure for low prices" - Recollecting the false messiah of peak oil.

Is it really that hard to understand that prices are driven by demand, the marginal cost of production and the cost of switching to alternatives (and its the second of these that indicates where we are heading regarding peak oil) ?

Perhaps our newsletter expert would like to define "low" prices...

An oil crash is on its way and we should be ready  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

New Scientist has a rather pessimistic article by Jeremy Leggett on peak oil and related topics - An oil crash is on its way and we should be ready.

FIVE years ago the world was in the grip of a financial crisis that is still reverberating around the globe. Much of the blame for that can be attributed to weaknesses in human psychology: we have a collective tendency to be blind to the kind of risks that can crash economies and imperil civilisations.

Today, our risk blindness is threatening an even bigger crisis. In my book The Energy of Nations, I argue that the energy industry's leaders are guilty of a risk blindness that, unless action is taken, will lead to a global crash – and not just because of the climate change they fuel.

Let me begin by explaining where I come from. I used to be a creature of the oil and gas industry. As a geologist on the faculty at Imperial College London, I was funded by BP, Shell and others, and worked on oil and gas in shale deposits, among other things. But I became worried about society's overdependency on fossil fuels, and acted on my concerns.

In 1989, I quit Imperial College to become a climate campaigner. A decade later I set up a solar energy business. In 2000 I co-founded a private equity fund investing in renewables.

In these capacities, I have watched captains of the energy and financial industries at work – frequently close to, often behind closed doors – as the financial crisis has played out and the oil price continued its inexorable rise. I have concluded that too many people across the top levels of business and government have found ways to close their eyes and ears to systemic risk-taking. Denial, I believe, has become institutionalised.

As a result of their complacency we face four great risks. The first and biggest is no surprise: climate change. We have way more unburned conventional fossil fuel than is needed to wreck the climate. Yet much of the energy industry is discovering and developing unconventional deposits – shale gas and tar sands, for example – to pile onto the fire, while simultaneously abandoning solar power just as it begins to look promising. It has been vaguely terrifying to watch how CEOs of the big energy companies square that circle.

Second, we risk creating a carbon bubble in the capital markets. If policymakers are to achieve their goal of limiting global warming to 2 °C, 60 to 80 per cent of proved reserves of fossil fuels will have to remain in the ground unburned. If so, the value of oil and gas companies would crash and a lot of people would lose a lot of money. ...

Third, we risk being surprised by the boom in shale gas production. That, too, may prove to be a bubble, maybe even a Ponzi scheme. Production from individual shale wells declines rapidly, and large amounts of capital have to be borrowed to drill replacements. This will surprise many people who make judgement calls based on the received wisdom that limits to shale drilling are few. But I am not alone in these concerns.

Even if the US shale gas drilling isn't a bubble, it remains unprofitable overall and environmental downsides are emerging seemingly by the week. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, whole towns in Texas are now running out of water, having sold their aquifers for fracking. I doubt that this is a boom that is going to appeal to the rest of the world; many others agree.

Fourth, we court disaster with assumptions about oil depletion. Most of us believe the industry mantra that there will be adequate flows of just-about-affordable oil for decades to come. I am in a minority who don't. Crude oil production peaked in 2005, and oil fields are depleting at more than 6 per cent per year, according to the International Energy Agency. The much-hyped 2 million barrels a day of new US production capacity from shale needs to be put in context: we live in a world that consumes 90 million barrels a day.

It is because of the sheer prevalence of risk blindness, overlain with the pervasiveness of oil dependency in modern economies, that I conclude system collapse is probably inevitable within a few years.

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