Floating an LNG revolution in Western Australia  

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The AFR has an article on Woodside's decision to opt for a floating LNG plant for the Browse Basin off north-west WA - Floating an LNG revolution in Western Australia.

If West Australian Premier Colin Barnett is looking for someone to blame for crushing his dreams to develop a massive gas processing hub near Broome he needs to go to The Hague. The seeds were sown in 1996, when a ­senior engineer at Shell’s headquarters ­jotted down an idea in an internal staff ­suggestion box. Why not liquify gas offshore rather than develop pipelines and convert gas into liquified natural gas onshore?

Nearly 20 years and 1.6 million man-hours later Shell is recruiting the first wave of workers for a massive vessel about 200 kilometres off the Kimberley coast, processing gas from its Prelude gas field. It will be the first vessel in the world that will be able to take gas from the reservoir below, liquify it and transfer the gas to cargo ships that will moor alongside the processing facility in the middle of the ocean.

It wasn’t that long ago that the technology, known as floating LNG, was viewed as an expensive option only to be used to unlock small or stranded gas fields like ­Prelude. This week the game changed. Woodside, Australia’s biggest oil and gas company, has thrown its support behind the technology, declaring it wants to be a world-leading floating LNG operator as it decided to unleash not just one, but three floating LNG ships to develop its Browse gas resources.

The Business Spectator has an interview with Woodside CEO Peter Coleman about Brows, Israel's Leviathan field and the possibility of shale gas exports from the US (something the Japanese seem keen to encourage). The BS's Robert Gottliebsen continuing his incessant anti-union / government diatribe (Coleman deftly ignored him thankfully) - KGB Interview: Woodside's Peter Coleman.

SB: Peter, looking at your presentation this week, you don’t seem particularly concerned about the potential impact of US shale-fed LNG hitting your markets. Could it have a material impact on prices or more particularly could it have an impact on the way LNG is priced?

PC: Well, there are probably two impacts of that. Firstly, the impact of US shale gas is quite clearly improving productivity in the US and making the US actually a more attractive place to invest, particularly for some industries around chemicals and plastics. And so, those energy intensive industries are actually moving back into the US and will soak up some of that excess supply. The supply that may get into LNG , and remember there’s not very much that has actually gone to FID yet …

AK: Sorry Peter, we’re getting some static.

PC: Yeah, so I was saying, the shale gas industry and the surge in gas available and into the US has really made the US attractive as an investment destination for those industries that are very energy intensive or turn gas into something else, being the chemicals and the plastic industry. The gas that’s left over and, you know, the gas that will be exported, you know, there are a couple of things there to consider. Firstly, there are a lot of projects at the moment on the drawing board. Not many have gone to a final investment decision. When you look at the total cost structure, the landed priced into Asia will be competitive but it won’t be low cost by any means. So, the headline price of $4 gas hitting Asia is just simply untrue. Now, the price is going to be in the low to mid-teens and it doesn’t really take very much of a rise in gas prices in the US to in fact make it marginal to uneconomic. So, I think that we a balance will occur, and an equilibrium point will occur, within industry within the next five to 10 years. What does that mean? There’s going to be an evolution in the market. The market is already evolving to become a more fungible commodity. I see trading hubs will be established. True training hubs will be established. Will that be in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong? I can’t say, but Woodside is preparing ourselves for the advent of trading hubs. So, all of those sorts of things will come into play. The consumer is starting to see. You’re starting to see a proliferation now of regasification terminals being put into Asia. As many terminals that as currently exist are now being built in Asia, so there are 40 currently underway. So, clearly the buyers can see that the market is changing. It’s becoming more commoditised. Henry Hub gas just simply puts another gas stream into that. I wouldn’t see Henry Hub any differently from gas that’s going to come out of East Africa or other parts of the world. It’s just another gas stream that’s going to come in.

Gottliebsen has been banging this drum forever it seems, though the BS getting sold to Rupert Murdoch last year hasn't helped matters. Crikey's Guy Rundle has some thoughts about Rupert's malign influence on the Australian election (I liked the Gus Fring comparison) - In Murdoch-land, sans-public sphere, it all sounds the same.
Getting out and about in Brisbane of a morning, you’re greeted with something you’ve forgotten: this is a one-owner town, newspaper wise. Looking at a news rack and seeing The Australian and The Courier-Mail side-by-side — and nothing else — it’s a sort of parody of pluralism. Yeah, I know it’s newspapers, and having a monopoly on them is a little like cornering the spats market, no one under 30, blah blah, etc, but it’s still the way a city talks to itself, the public face of its dialogue. And yes, there’s other TV networks — supposing that they differ in any significant fashion — and the ABC, etc, but still.

There’s a pseudo-pluralism at play that still rankles — would you like the broadsheet which does Kevin Rudd slowly, or the tabloid that sinks the slipper? The Courier-Mail runs with a “Does this man ever shut up?” cover while The Daily Telegraph has a “Mr Rude”, Mr Man parody, using allegations by a make-up artist from a debate run by Sky News — a broadcaster Rupert Murdoch owns a stake in — that Rudd was a bit of a grump. Such “front pages” are nothing of the sort. They’re propaganda posters which happen to be attached to the front of a newspaper, their purpose political as much as commercial. Knowing that people don’t buy newspapers, but still see them around, they go for the microsecond hit, the fast meme. Which may be enough, when aggregated for a Coalition win, without anything else whatsoever.

Really, to talk about the election without mentioning this — the framework of information within which people will make their decision — is really to aid and abet the process. The whole country has become a leagues club owned by a monolithic media corporation; pokies in the main room, a debate going on in the entertainment lounge, the ownership and core business a series of windfalls and rents — mining, sports rights — with the ultimate ownership arrangements a matter of mystery. But to mention this every time is the pathway to madness. So the debate cannot help but be skewed, every time we tap out a line about costings or paid parental leave or whatever. That’s really the genius of Murdoch taking to Twitter — he now hides in plain sight. When he was a mysterious presence behind the scenes, speculation on his motives and power were endless. Now he simply tells us in his weird telegrammatic/spoken-word style that he wants Rudd turfed — and pretty much nothing more can be said about it.

Thus, as soon as the campaign started, the Tele was off and running with its front-page propaganda campaign (even though some of the news within is played — or delivered — straight). Two weeks later, in its major market of western Sydney — perhaps the latest place with a large, old-style working class and literate tabloid readers, out of the social media/The Project/etc carnivale loop — Labor is suddenly tanking, its numbers running well below the national average. What a surprise! What could possibly have created this sudden shift, this bifurcation in the numbers, we go. Is it the boats? Is it the negativity? Is it being mean to TV crew? We know what it is, but we can’t talk about it because that would be the politics of how we do politics, of who controls the information on which we make our decisions. Rudd quite sensibly put his marker down on Murdochracy quite early — and then left it alone, also quite sensible. Because you either run on that, and nothing else, suggest an all-encompassing undemocratic process, and risk the charge that you are sledging the umpire, or you leave it alone — and try and deal with it by a series of guerrilla tactics.

The Oil Drum, peak oil and why some good blogs don’t last  

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The FT's Alphaville blog has a nice farewell to The Oil Drum which is fair more balanced and nuanced in its appraisal of the site than the dross that appeared elsewhere in the financial press (Platts being the honourable exception) - The Oil Drum, peak oil and why some good blogs don’t last (free registration required). No quote as they don't like any reposting of their content (and as they ask you politely to refrain if you do so I'm happy to oblige them).

Bean's Talk:  

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The Economist has an article on "nature's internet" - the ability of plants to communicate via mycellium - the roots of mushrooms - Bean's Talk.

THE idea that plants have developed a subterranean internet, which they use to raise the alarm when danger threatens, sounds more like the science-fiction of James Cameron’s film “Avatar” than any sort of science fact. But fact it seems to be, if work by David Johnson of the University of Aberdeen is anything to go by. For Dr Johnson believes he has shown that just such an internet, with fungal hyphae standing in for local Wi-Fi, alerts beanstalks to danger if one of their neighbours is attacked by aphids.

The experiment which suggests this was following up the discovery, made in 2010 by a Chinese team, that when a tomato plant gets infected with leaf blight, nearby plants start activating genes that help ward the infection off—even if all airflow between the plants in question has been eliminated. The researchers who conducted this study knew that soil fungi whose hyphae are symbiotic with tomatoes (providing them with minerals in exchange for food) also form a network connecting one plant to another. They speculated, though they could not prove, that molecules signalling danger were passing through this fungal network. ...

Broad beans, then, really do seem to be using their fungal symbionts as a communications network, warning their neighbours to take evasive action. Such a general response no doubt helps the plant first attacked by attracting yet more wasps to the area, and it helps the fungal messengers by preserving their leguminous hosts.

Construction Begins On Copper Mountain 3 Solar Plant  

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Think Progress has a post on the start of construction for the 250MW Copper Mountain 3 plant - Construction Begins On Massive Nevada Solar Plant That Will Power 80,000 Homes

Out in the Nevada desert, construction has begun on what will be the largest polycrystalline solar project in the world. The 250-megawatt (MW) Copper Mountain 3 solar plant is the third phase of the landmark Copper Mountain Solar complex, currently one of the largest photovoltaic (PV) solar plants in the U.S. ... Why are there transmission lines so far out in the desert? Because Boulder City essentially served as a government reservation during the Great Depression for the thousands of men who came to build Hoover Dam. Right now, the city is struggling and the growth of the solar industry is providing a critical boost to the local economy. Sempra estimates the Copper Mountain 3 project will create 300 construction jobs and, even more importantly for the city, bring in much-needed revenue.

Stuart Staniford On What The Oil Drum Meant  

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Stuart Staniford at Early Warning has a farewell to The Oil Drum, looking at the evolution of oil supply and price over the past decade - Stuart Staniford On What The Oil Drum Meant.

The popular peak oil blog The Oil Drum (TOD) began in early 2005. I joined as a contributor in mid 2005, later becoming an editor, and I left the site in early 2008. TOD continued in the meantime, at least up until now when the current editors have decided to transition to an archival format. They don't feel the quality and quantity of post submissions justify continuing. They asked a number of us old-timers to comment on the significance of TOD, and these are my reflections.

I start with the chart above. It shows, from 1950-2012, world oil production annually (red curve, left scale), and real oil prices annually (blue curve, right scale). I show in green boxes two regions of major disruption, and between them two regions of relatively calm behavior (in white).

The orderly region from 1950 to 1973 was characterized by very rapid growth in oil production that was achieved at very modest oil prices (around $20/barrel in 2011 dollars).

Then in 1973 came the Arab oil embargo, followed in 1979 by the Iranian revolution and then the Iraq-Iran war. These events caused a series of sharp but relatively short-lived contractions in the global oil supply. The result was huge price increases, and a permanent change in the way the world used oil.

After the dust settled in the mid eighties, oil production resumed growing fairly steadily, but never again at the frenetic pace of before the seventies - from now on society was more concerned with fuel efficiency and grew oil consumption more slowly. Prices fell into the $30 range, and remained there, give or take, for the next couple of decades. This was the second period of stability in the oil markets since WWII.

Then, in late 2004, global oil production largely stopped growing and entered a rough plateau. Prices began to shoot up, reaching well over $100/barrel within a few years, and largely staying there to this day (making allowance for a sharp downward fluctuation during the great recession).

There sprang up a large debate about the meaning of these events. The Oil Drum in particular I believe came to function as a central node in this debate, and one of the best places to hear a range of views that were based on a close analysis of the available data. The reason TOD is now coming to a close is that the need for this particular debate is over, at least for the time being. The data have spoken.

One extreme in this debate was what came to be known as cornucopians, epitomized by Daniel Yergin of the consultancy CERA. He made a long series of predictions that oil production would resume growing and prices would fall any day now. This was most famously satirized in a graph by Glenn Morton:

Obviously, this didn't happen. Oil production has not risen rapidly, and prices have not returned anywhere close to the pre-2004 idea of normal.

Another extreme in the debate were "doomers" who believed that global oil production would begin to fall very rapidly, very soon, because peak oil was upon us. "We're all gonna die" was the logical implication. One such forecaster was TOD contributor Ace who produced a series of forecasts like this one which showed oil production beginning a precipitous decline as of the date of the forecast:

The same piece forecast oil prices to rise rapidly and steadily and pass $200/barrel by the end of 2012. That didn't happen either.

I'm not sure anyone predicted the last eight years perfectly (including me). Still, on the whole, the various "moderates" in the debate came closest. What has actually occurred can best be seen in this graph which shows monthly oil production from a variety of data sources from 2002 onward.

The green curve is the EIA's estimate of the production of "crude and condensate" - C&C - which is a fairly narrow definition of oil that largely measures liquid hydrocarbons that flow out of the ground. The other curves show various estimates of "all liquids", which adds things like biofuels and "natural gas liquids" - compounds like propane and butane removed from natural gas production. These aren't really oil, but can substitute for it to varying degrees and so are often counted with it.

The crude-and-condensate curve is bumpy, but does slope upward slightly. The all liquids curve slopes up more, reflecting the fact that global natural gas production has increased steadily. High oil prices and government policies also induced a biofuel boom after 2005.

Thus we seem to live in a world in which, although traditional sources of oil are declining in many places, high oil prices (around $100-$120) are able to bring out enough low quality sources of hydrocarbon to offset this decline and just a bit more. Examples include oil fracced from very tight rocks in North Dakota, and tar sands production in Canada. These sources are difficult enough to bring on line that prices have not crashed, but are sufficient to prevent global oil production from actually declining. Clearly, we have not passed peak oil yet, and it's not at all clear when we will.

In the meantime, the situation has gotten quite dull. I compile graphs of oil production every month, and it's gotten somewhat akin to watching paint dry; every month, it's pretty much flat, and I tire of saying the same things over and over again.

On the other hand, we certainly don't live in the pre-2004 world any more. Oil prices are high, and there seems little prospect that they will ever fall below $100/barrel for any sustained period. If for no other reason, Saudi Arabia needs an oil price somewhere around there to balance its budget, and they are always in a position to force the price to stay above that threshold by modest decreases in their production.

Back to Basics: Direct Hydropower  

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The Oil Drum has a post by Kris de Decker, founder and writer at Low-tech Magazine, on "direct use" of micro hydro power - Back to Basics: Direct Hydropower.

All hydropower plants today produce electricity. Transforming energy to electricity seems to be the only way to harness water power, but it is not. For almost two thousand years, water wheels powered machines directly via mechanical transmission.

Some small direct hydro powered systems in South America present a strong case for combining the use of modern materials with old fashioned methods of water power mechanization. The higher efficiency of this approach means that less water is needed to produce a given amount of energy. This lowers the cost of hydropower and enables power to be produced by the use of very small streams. ...

In spite of these significant improvements, hydropower installations today are actually less efficient than those from earlier centuries. The culprit is electricity. Not long after the introduction of the water turbine, another change occured: Instead of using water-powered prime movers to run machinery directly (as had been the case for centuries), water turbines were (and still are) used to generate electricity. This modern approach has introduced an energy deficit that has nullified any progress behind hydropower design efficiency.

In a modern hydropower installation, a water turbine converts the energy in the moving water into rotational energy at its shaft, which is then converted into electrical energy by the generator that is coupled to the turbine. Next, the electrical energy is converted back into rotational energy by the electric motor of the machine that is being powered. Every energy conversion introduces energy loss. This loss of energy occurs due to friction, which is observable as heat, vibration and noise. Friction occurs at all levels of electrical transmission: In the turbine, the generator, and the motor. Additional components such as batteries, drive systems and inverters can further increase efficiency losses. ...

This means that a small, modern hydropower plant has a similar efficiency rating to a centuries old configuration using a wooden vertical overshot water wheel (50-60%), and that this modern counterpart is considerably less efficient than the iron water wheels of the 18th century (65-85%). In an old fashioned hydropower installation, there was only one conversion of energy; A water wheel converted the energy inherent to the water source into rotational energy at its shaft. The same shaft also moved the machinery, so that the only source of significant energy loss occured in the water wheel itself.

The Carbon Dioxide Problem Worsens  

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Robert Rapier has a post at Energy trends on the growth in carbon dioxide emissions - The Carbon Dioxide Problem Worsens.

Today’s post looks at carbon dioxide emissions, and if you are concerned about climate change the results aren’t good. The “highlights” are:
  • Global carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.9% to reach a new record high in 2012
  • China led all countries in the categories of most carbon dioxide emitted and the greatest increase in emissions
  • The US had the greatest decline of any country, with carbon dioxide emissions falling by 217 million metric tons from 2011 levels
  • However the US is responsible for 25% of the carbon emitted to the atmosphere over the past 50 years
  • Of the countries tracked, 25 saw decreased carbon dioxide emissions from 2011 levels and 39 countries experienced increased emissions

Global carbon dioxide emissions increased to 34.4 billion metric tons (BMT) in 2012. This was a new global record, 1.9% above the previous record set a year earlier. Over the past decade carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 32%. And since 2004 the increase in global emissions has been 5.9 BMT, which is an increase greater than total US emissions.

Norway opens doors for a major onshore wind power boost  

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Reuters has an article on an expansion of wind power in Norway - Norway opens doors for a major onshore wind power boost.

Norway's oil and energy ministry said on Monday it has granted licences to build eight wind power farms with a combined 1,300-megawatt capacity in a major boost for wind power development in the Nordic country. ... Norway gets most of electricity from hydro power plants and has 775 MW of installed wind power, far less than neighbouring Sweden, even though it enjoys stronger winds blowing from the Atlantic.

Peak car ?  

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The Australian has an article on declining interest amongst Gen Y for getting a drivers licence - Driving me crazy: Getting a licence a low priority for Generation Y.

In 1991, of NSW kids aged 20-24, 79 per cent had licences. By 2001 it had risen to 80 per cent. Yet by 2008 it had crashed to just 51 per cent and continues to decline. A new study in Victoria by Monash University shows the number of licence holders under 30 is dropping at more than 1 per cent a year.

Having a smartphone is more important to Gen Y than having a car in a world experienced increasingly online. They have less reason to leave their bedrooms than ever before. The once pervasive car culture of the US is also in decline. In 1978, nearly half of American 16-year-olds and three-quarters of 17-year-olds had driver's licences, according to Department of Transportation data. In recent years, that has fallen to 31 per cent of 16-year-olds and 49 per cent of 17-year-olds, with the decline accelerating since 1998. ...

This phenomenon fits neatly into the theory of "peak car", which posits that vehicle kilometres per person travelled has peaked in at least eight major developed countries, including Australia.

In December 2008, researchers from the Brookings Institute observed that total vehicle miles travelled in the US began to plateau in 2004 and fell in 2007 for the first time since 1980. Per capita driving was following a similar pattern.

Similar stories are appearing in the US - Cars In America: Is The Love Story Over? and Young adults and driving: 'Ain't nobody got time for that' - quoting this study - Timing of Driver’s License Acquisition and Reasons for Delay among Young People in the United States, 2012.

Studies show that teenagers are driving less, getting their licenses later, and waiting longer to purchase their first new car. NPR's Sonari Glinton recently hit the streets to find out why, and discovered not having a car or not being able to afford one, has become a lot more common. The negative stigma around not having a car has also seems to have waned. ...

Micheline Maynard, a veteran journalist who's covered automobiles and transportation issues, now oversees the website CurbingCars.com. She tells NPR's Don Gonyea that one of the most cited reasons behind this trend of young people waiting to get a car or their driver's license is simply not having the time. "Many states have now changed teen driving laws, so you have to spend a certain amount of time in the car with a parent," Maynard says. "And people just shrug and say, 'You know what, I don't need to get a license right now.' "

Another reason often cited is money. Maynard says the average cost of a new car is about $30,000, before factoring in car insurance. Add in the high price of gas in some places and owning a car is simply too expensive for a young person.

There are also more transportation options available for those without a car, Maynard notes, from bikes, to ride shares, hourly car services and public transportation. "Public transit is seeing record demand at this point in time," she says. "I think people are looking at transportation now as 'I use my car when I need it, but if there are other cheaper, faster ways to get somewhere I'll use that as well.'

Electric Vehicles and the Future of Personal Transportation  

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IEEE Spectrum has an interesting interview with former head of R&D for General Motors, Larry Burns, talking about increasing the energy efficiency of transport - Larry Burns on Electric Vehicles and the Future of Personal Transportation.

Susan Hassler: What kind of things is your group working on at the University of Michigan? And also, what kind of things are you doing with Google? Because then you’re talking about self-driving cars, right?

Larry Burns: Well, yes. Where it gets exciting is the holistic opportunity that surfaces when you combine connected vehicles. A connected vehicle is basically a vehicle that communicates with things along the roadway system and with other vehicles, and you can get content brought in. So OnStar is an example of a connected vehicle. You’ll hear the term “telematics” as well. But connectivity is here. It’s happening, whether it’s in your navigation system or your Bluetooth system, whatever it is, you’re connected as you’re moving.

You combine that with autonomous vehicles, and those are vehicles that literally drive themselves. And that’s what Google’s working on, as well as many other companies. General Motors, Toyota, Daimler, BMW, all of those companies are working hard to push the limits of how far we can take technology so that vehicles can drive themselves.

Then you marry that up with shared vehicle systems. So we’ve all heard of Zipcar, RelayRides, Car2go—those are examples of a conclusion which is, “Geez, why are people buying all these cars and then having them be parked 90 to 95 percent of the time?” Whereas if we shared those cars, we could have those cars utilized 70, 80 percent of the day and dramatically reduce the parking challenge.

Better yet, as a user of that vehicle, I can get dropped off at my door if I combine that with a driverless system. So now you put those things together, and you can begin to think about tailoring the designs of the vehicles to be much lower mass. Ninety percent of the trips in the U.S. are one- and two-person trips. So if we can design a vehicle that’s tailored to the one- to two-person trip, that happens to weigh less than 1000 pounds, that happens to be shared, that happens to not need a driver so you can use your time as you like, and it can reposition itself when it’s dropped you off and pick up somebody else, suddenly you begin to see this world of a totally different mobility system that could be far less costly.

The point I’m trying to make here is we need to think about transforming the entire mobility system as a system. That’s what the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center is focused on, and the work I do with Google is really part of the self-driving vehicle program.

Everything I’ve mentioned is starting to converge. We’ve got electric vehicles. We’ve got shared vehicles. We have connected vehicles. We know how to tailor designs. And autonomous is the next piece that will fall into that puzzle. And when that fits into that piece, I think we’re going to have a transformation. And for the heated debate, passion around “Are battery-electric vehicles green?” really I think is a small discussion compared to what is the opportunity that we see down the road to really begin moving ourselves around in ways that make much, much better sense than moving around with 4000-pound cars, whether they’re electric cars or combustion cars.

Argentina: energy boom or energy cliff ?  

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Resilience has an article on oil and gas production in Argentina (which indirectly explains why the Chileans are so interested in large scale solar power now), including a look at the reputedly large potential for shale oil production in Patagonia - Argentina: energy boom or energy cliff?.

At the end of the 20th century, Argentina started exporting gas to Chile, a mirage of the gas possibilities in this country. Both Argentina and Chile believed that the supply was going to be increasing forever. I visited Chile invited by Compañía de Petróleos de Chile (COPEC) in 2011. I also had the opportunity to meet with top officials of the energy sector and academic experts in energy. They all believed that Argentienan supplies would last for decades. I could not understand why very professional people had such a belief, when data on reserves and possible flows of their neighbour country was probably available to them.

In fact, they embarked in an ambitious plan to develop pipelines across the Andes to supply Chile from the Argentinean network and ordered a number of gas fired power plants, trying to avoid or minimize, for instance, the heavy smog of Santiago, and for other economic reasons. However, and without previous warning, Argentina reduced shipments to less than half. The obvious reason, as seen in the figures above, was the depletion pattern of the Argentinean gas and the need to prioritize their own domestic consumption. This left overnight the Chileans with big recently erected infrastructures idle and difficult problems to attend their growing internal energy demand, especially in electricity production for the extractive industries that they had expected to satisfy with the gas fired power plants.

They had to move fast to build a regasification plant in Quintero and now another in Mejillones. They did it in a record time, but certainly at a cost they had not imagined. This coincided with the sharp increase of fuel consumption that had started at the end of the past century. They needed to sign urgent contracts with LNG tankers and suppliers (i.e. Qatar), something that created for them what they called the perfect storm. Chile was in 2011 paying one of the most expensive electricity tariffs in the continent, partly due to this important bad planning.

Japanese Solar Energy Soars  

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National Geographic has an article on the solar energy boom in Japan - Japan Solar Energy Soars, But Grid Needs to Catch Up.

Hokkaido, Japan's second largest and northernmost island, is known for its beautiful wild nature, delicious seafood, and fresh produce. Now another specialty is taking root: Large-scale megasolar power plants that take advantage of the island's unique geography.

A new renewable energy incentive program has Japan on track to become the world's leading market for solar energy, leaping past China and Germany, with Hokkaido at the forefront of the sun power rush. In a densely populated nation hungry for alternative energy, Hokkaido is an obvious choice to host projects, because of the availability of relatively large patches of inexpensive land. Unused industrial park areas, idle land inside a motor race circuit, a former horse ranch—all are being converted to solar farms. (See related, "Pictures: A New Hub for Solar Tech Blooms in Japan.")

But there's a problem with this boom in Japan's north. Although one-quarter of the largest solar projects approved under Japan's new renewables policy are located in Hokkaido, the island accounts for less than 3 percent of the nation's electricity demand. Experts say Japan will need to act quickly to make sure the power generated in Hokkaido flows to where it is needed. And that means modernizing a grid that currently doesn't have capacity for all the projects proposed, installing a giant battery—planned to be the world's largest—to store power when the sun isn't shining, and ensuring connections so power can flow across the island nation.

Energy costs: Business-as-usual no cheaper than 100% renewables ?  

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ReNew Economy has a pair of posts on a report from the Australian government into transitioning to 100% renewable energy - Renewables future no more costly than fossil fuels and Energy costs: Business-as-usual no cheaper than 100% renewables?.

The Australian government appears to have made a remarkable concession following the release of the 100% renewables report by the country’s energy market operator – a renewables future will be no more costly than the largely fossil fuel alternative.

As we reported earlier this month, after the release of the Australian Energy Market Operator’s 100% renewables scenario, the estimated wholesale cost of electricity from a system based largely around wind, solar, geothermal and biomass would cost around $110/MWh and $130/MWh between 2030 and 2050 – depending on the speed of that transition.

A “community summary” posted on the Department of Climate Change website, highlights the fact that the various scenarios painted by Treasury, the CSIRO, the UNSW, and now the AEMO modeling suggests that wholesale prices – whatever the scenario – will fall in a generally narrow range of around $100/MWh to $130/MWh in 2030, and $110/MWh to $150/MWh in 2050.

German Biogas Monitoring Report 2013  

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One of the pillars of the German renewable energy program is biogas. the German Energy blog has a post on a report looking at progress on this front - Biogas Monitoring Report 2013: Targets Difficult to Reach, Despite Strong Growth.

According to the 2013 Biogas Monitoring Report presented from the Federal Network Agency, 108 biogas power plants fed 413 million m³ of biogas into the German gas grids in 2012, a 50% increase compared with 2011 (77 plants; 275 million m³). However, this represents only 6.9% of the target of feeding 6 billion m3 into the German gas grids by 2020 pursuant to Section 31 Gas Access Ordinance (GasNVZ).

Compared with the target of feeding 10 billion m3 into the German natural gas grids by 2030, only 4.13% had been reached so far, the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) said. Even if one assumed linear growth of biogas power plants, the targets would probably be missed, the agency added.

Upcycling: Driving sustainable transformation via the power of design  

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William McDonough (of "Cradle to Cradle" fame) has an article in The Guardian looking at progress in improving industrial production processes - Driving sustainable transformation via the power of design. McDonough and Braungart have a follow up book to C2C called "The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance".

The most successful companies embrace good design by loudly and clearly stating their positive intentions. When a CEO declares that his or her company will improve the water quality of an entire community or build a workplace that will generate more renewable energy than it requires, this statement alone can unleash enthusiasm, creativity and innovation. A statement of intention places values first. It stresses the good, such as 'we will use and generate only renewable energy,' rather than the more commonly stated less bad; 'we will reduce our use of fossil fuels.' ...

It sets an inspiring goal that tells people where the company wants to be. It signals a commitment to constant improvement, letting employees, customers, partners and shareholders know unequivocally that they are part of a creative, positive force in the world. Intention is powerful. Intention drives change. And values are valuable. Leading companies worldwide have come to understand that the damaging, often unaccounted-for repercussions of modern business – famously called externalities – such as atmospheric carbon, toxic materials and poisoned rivers, arise from design decisions and value judgements.

In other words, pollution and waste are the result of human errors; they are not an inevitable part of commerce. They signal design failure in product development, operations and corporate strategy and call for dramatic changes in how leaders think and how companies make things. That is a values-driven process, an upcycle, and it's proving to be good business. ...

Recognising that good design is about value creation, not risk mitigation, cleaning-products supplier Method made a company-wide commitment to cradle-to-cradle design principles in 2006. C2C certification recognises significant achievement in five categories of product quality: material health, social fairness, water stewardship, material recovery and renewable energy. Method already has developed 60 C2C-certified products. Not only do Method's products aspire to higher and higher C2C standards, but the company also has integrated cradle-to-cradle principles into its DNA: it's working "to create a new sector of the economy that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems."

Shaw Industries, an early adopter of cradle-to-cradle principles, is committed to making only C2C certified products by 2030. Currently more than 60% of its $4bn in total annual sales comes from certified carpet and hardwood flooring. Shaw's environmentally safe carpet tiles are separable into component materials for carpet-to-carpet recycling. Customers need only call the toll free number on each tile to have them picked up. In a marvellously convenient and cost-effective exchange, a customer can buy a new carpet while Shaw recovers the material value of a used one. It's a continuously improving system, a continuously upcycling flow of valuable renewable materials and energy.

In 1981, textile manufacturer Carnegie Fabrics introduced a polyethylene textile, Xorel, which became one of the few PVC alternatives for interior panels, wall coverings and upholstery. Soon after, Carnegie became the first company in its industry to go completely vinyl-free. Now, after a seven-year effort to redesign its signature product, it has created the world's first high-performance bio-based interior textile, Biobased Xorel. The fabric is sourced from rapidly renewable sugar cane. All its raw materials, colourants and additives are safe for human and environmental health, it's produced at a facility powered by solar and hydropower sources and it meets all the price, aesthetic and performance standards set by the original Xorel.

They have also set up a new institute to promote C2C innovation and certify products that meet their standards - Cradle to Cradle Certified.

Separating fact from fiction in Germany’s renewables revolution  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Amory Lovins has an article at Renew Economy on Germany's switch to - Separating fact from fiction in Germany’s renewables revolution.

I recently wrote about—and debunked—the renewables “disinformation campaign” that spreads misinformed and falsely negative stories about the growth of renewable energy. A special focus of such disinformation has been reportage on Germany’s efficiency-and-renewables revolution. The impressive success so far of the German Energiewende (energy turnaround) is an important existence proof for the world, because Germany is cloudy, high-latitude, heavily industrialized, highly competitive (it rivals America’s merchandise exports with one-fourth its population), and the world’s fourth-biggest economy.

Perhaps because German success would therefore belie the supposed necessity of fossil-fuel and nuclear energy, some media regularly report the Energiewende’s failure or supposed impossibility. As Ihighlighted, Germany’s renewables revolution is in fact highly successful and strong as ever, but that hasn’t stopped three myths from gaining traction in the media: 1) Germany’s supposed turn back to coal, 2) how renewables undermine grid reliability, and 3) how renewables subsidies are cratering the German economy. None of those are true, and here’s why.

The north’s future is electrifying: powering Asia with renewables  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Conversation has an article proposing an Asian supergrid supplied with renewable energy from Australia that reminded by a lot of the Grenatec proposal that has been floating around for a while now (but is still getting some press attention) - The north’s future is electrifying: powering Asia with renewables.

Imagine a project that could help Indonesia achieve energy security, dramatically cut energy poverty for hundreds of millions, catalyse renewable energy production in Assocation of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, cut regional carbon pollution, and transition Australia’s energy exports from risky fuels to renewable energy.

Sounds far-fetched? In fact, such a proposal has already been published in the international peer-reviewed literature. It takes several existing technologies already in widespread deployment, and joins them together in a new configuration on an unprecedented scale, in a region with enormous natural competitive advantage — north-western Australia.

Here’s the plan.

Take part (say 2,500 km2) of an existing cattle station somewhere near Lake Argyle and cover one third of it with solar panels on tracking arrays. Build a large reservoir upslope at least 300 metres above Lake Argyle, holding at least 1,000 gigalitres of water.

Build a 100 gigawatt power station that uses solar energy to pump water from the lake up to the upper reservoir. The water flows back down the hill through turbines at night, generating power to the grid 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Hundreds of “pumped hydro” schemes of this nature are already working well around the world, albeit not on this scale.

The “grid” in this case, would be an integrated south-east Asian supergrid, the spine of which would be a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable running from northern Australia along the Indonesian archipelago and up into the Philippines, Malaysia and Indochina, and then eventually into China.

The capital cost of building such a power station, storage and HVDC link and extending it as far as Jakarta is estimated at around US$500 billion. This compares with Indonesia’s current projections that it needs to invest US$1,000 billion in conventional (coal and nuclear) power stations to meet its energy needs over the next 40 years.

Tim from ECHELON, glimpsed back in 2000  

Posted by Big Gav in

Bruce Sterling has a slightly self-congratulatory post quoting his book "Distraction" published back in 2000 - Tim from ECHELON, glimpsed back in 2000.

Nowadays Tim from ECHELON goes by the handle “Tim from PRISM and XKEYSCORE,” but one thing’s consistent: Tim’s always been really hard to write about.

From: ZEITGEIST, a novel, by Bruce Sterling (Bantam Books, 2000), pages 254-257.

“Tim,” Starlitz said into the phone, “my associate’s kind of upset that you’re going through his private business affairs there.”

“F@ck him,” Tim said cheerfully, in the same flat voice. “What’s he gonna do about it? This Russian punk’s got no fucking options.” Tim tossed the wallet aside. “He’s broke. And he’s small time. He’s not of major surveillant interest.”

A look of frantic desperation entered Viktor’s eyes. He wasn’t taking this at all well.

“Viktor, chill out,” Starlitz said. “Let me pass you the word, man. This is ECHELON.”

“Did you say ECHELON?” said Viktor.

“Ever heard of it? Shall I spell it for you?”

“Of course I’ve heard of ECHELON!” Viktor protested. “ECHELON is the legendary capitalist global surveillance system. It’s the worldwide signals intelligence directorate! ECHELON is the crown jewel of the antiprogressive Dark Forces!”

“Uh, yeah. That would be the alleged phenomenon.”

“ECHELON is run by the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand. It uses undersea-cable taps, and surveillance satellites like ‘Aquacade,’ “Rhyolite,’ and ‘Magnum.’ It taps the Internet through its major routing centers and does comprehensive word searches on email traffic.”

“Hey, shut up,” Tim protested over the satellite phone. “That’s all totally classified.”

Starlitz put the phone on his shoulder and squinted in the sunlight. “Can you actually *see* Tim, Viktor? I can hear him over this satellite phone, but I can’t see a damn thing. It’s like the guy’s installed at hardware level and totally user transparent.”

“I can see a kind of black, hideous, paranoid shape,” Viktor reported. “It’s like some faceless, oozing nightmare that covers the whole earth.”

“What do *you* see, Zeta?”

“I can see him fine. I can hear him too. I can even smell him. He doesn’t change his clothes very much.”

“I’m a busy guy,” Tim complained.

“He looks just like my geeky math teacher. You know, the math guy who used to go out during recess and look up our skirts.” ...

‘Why did you bring a little girl to a Level Three national-security incident? That’s not professional. You clowns are lucky that I even showed up.”

“You’re not supposed to show up, Tim. I never called you. I don’t know why you’re here.” Starlitz shrugged.

“Well, then, let me get *you* up to speed, newbie,” said Tim briskly. “I mean, you can’t even *see* me, because I am, like, light-years beyond your shabby, street-level, hard-boiled little discourse. Because ECHELON is, like, the Olympus of networked globalization. We’re so far beyond your mental grasp that we’re literally unspeakable. Mere mundane user dorks like you can’t even *raise the topic* of ECHELON in any discussion of contemporary reality. Because at ECHELON we’re huge, omniscient, omnipresent, and totally technically capable. We’ve been secretly saving the bacon of the Anglo-American empire since Alan Turing was blowing guys in bus stations. We’re always taping everything, but we Never Say Anything. You get me so far?”

“Yeah, no, maybe.”

“So that means that a guy like me has no conventional path into the narrative. None at all. I’m *always* the deus ex machina. I mean, the twentieth-century master narrative just doesn’t work, unless I remain way behind the curtain, and always super-secret. If ECHELON’s abilities and activities become common knowledge and a public issue, the whole world is transformed. Outing ECHELON disrupts all the basic political and social assumptions. It throws the whole twentieth-century story straight off the rails. It’s like you’re filming some kind of BBC British teatime drama, and a giant writhing kraken comes up out of the Thames.”

“Cut to the chase, Tim. So, why do we have the honor?”

Fukushima Update  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

It’s been over 2 years since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima and it still seems to be making headlines (I'm sure officials were assuring us a few weeks after the disaster occurred that all was well and it couldn't possibly melt down) so I thought I'd do a little survey of recent news.

A few weeks ago I started noticing reports that there was something of a push to restart the Japanese nuclear industry (against the wishes of Japanese voters), which had been shutdown in the wake of the reactor meltdowns. The reports soon prompted speculation of a jump in uranium prices as yet another mini-nuclear renaissance was forecast.

Since then TEPCO has admitted that the plant was leaking 300 tons of radioactive water per day into the Pacific Ocean after denying the leak for months (as per their standard approach of denying any problem exists until doing so was no longer tenable).

The Japanese authorities have now raised the threat level for the plant to a level three "serious incident". It was this leak that led the the widely pilloried "ice wall" approach to be proposed as a solution.

The precise location of the leak has not yet been determined and may not be repaired for years. Besides the "ice wall" idea construction of a concrete seawall around the whole site is also being mooted (another leak has since been reported within the site).

In the aftermath of the disaster, alternative energy solutions have been gaining in popularity. Japan and China have been recording record demand for solar PV (forecast to reach 9GW in the second half of 2013) with a 100% increase on the first half of the year, and a 70% jump over the previous year. Japan's growth alone has been 150 per cent compared to 2012 and is forecast to be over 5GW mid-2014.

The Japanese are also experimenting with energy storage to supplement the expansion of wind and solar on Japan's electric grid with two large-scale battery systems being constructed in the north. A 60 MWh redox-flow battery will be installed on the island of Hokkaido along with a 20 MWh lithium-ion battery in the Tōhoku region.

The Green Tea Party  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Guardian has an article by ReNew Economy's Giles Parkinson on the emergence of the "green tea party" - libertarians who are in favour of decentralised energy generation - How the far right developed an unlikely interest in solar energy. I've always been baffled by "conservatives" who want state subsidies and guarantees for massive nuclear power plants for example, following in the footsteps of the French (and even Soviet) left who trod exactly the same path - though at least in their case it was compatible with their ideology as opposed to being total hypocrisy.

From the day in 1986 when president Ronald Reagan pulled down the solar array that had sat briefly atop the White House, conservative politicians in the US and elsewhere have had a growing antipathy towards renewables. Many conservatives, particularly those on the far right, simply refuse to believe solar can play a useful role in modern energy systems, and paint it as an unwarranted extension of government regulation.

It has frustrated many in the solar industry. “Let's make sure that before anyone paints me as some San Franciscan, solar-company-running, ultra-left-wing-fruitcake, please know that I am assuredly not,” David Lorens, the founder of solar company One Block Off The Grid, wrote last year.“I'm a fiscal conservative, I own a gun, and capitalism is the blood that runs through my veins. So back off.”

Now, in the state of Georgia, there has been a dramatic split in conservative attitudes. The local branch of the Tea Party has aligned itself with solar interests and environmental NGOs to force the monopoly utility Georgia Power to open its network to more solar power. Ironically, it has little to do with the need to with climate goals. It is being fought – as Lorens suggests – as a property rights issue, pitting private citizens against utilities, regulators and fixed rates of return.

This push to elevate solar energy as an individual right is being carried by the new economic case for solar power: the plunging cost of solar modules – they have fallen 80% in the last four years – means households can install rooftop systems and lower their electricity bills. The emergence of these "prosumers" is challenging the revenue and the profit pool for network operators and fossil fuel generators.

Even analysts at major investment banks describe the proliferation of solar as unstoppable. The Edison Electric Institute, a trade group that represents most investor owned utilities in the US, says solar is a direct threat to the centralised utility model, and could cause “irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects.”

This explains why lobby groups are dead set against the Georgia solar decision. Americans for Prosperity, which like the Tea Party have been nurtured and sponsored by the Koch brothers oil billionaires, is dismissing the Georgia faction as an aberration, or even more damming, as a “green Tea Party.” It has sought to turn the issue of rights on its head by arguing that rooftop solar will “infringe upon the territorial rights to the distribution grids” of the network operators.

It sets the stage for an intriguing clash of two strands of conservative thought – one that remains true to its ideology of individual rights against centralised control, and the other where ideology is cherry-picked and co-opted for the protection of vested and incumbent interests.

Scientists discover another cause of bee deaths  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

TreeHugger has an update on bee colony collapse disorder - Scientists discover another cause of bee deaths, and it's really bad news.

The researchers behind that study in PLOS ONE -- Jeffery S. Pettis, Elinor M. Lichtenberg, Michael Andree, Jennie Stitzinger, Robyn Rose, Dennis vanEngelsdorp -- collected pollen from hives on the east coast, including cranberry and watermelon crops, and fed it to healthy bees. Those bees had a serious decline in their ability to resist a parasite that causes Colony Collapse Disorder. The pollen they were fed had an average of nine different pesticides and fungicides, though one sample of pollen contained a deadly brew of 21 different chemicals. Further, the researchers discovered that bees that ate pollen with fungicides were three times more likely to be infected by the parasite.

The discovery means that fungicides, thought harmless to bees, is actually a significant part of Colony Collapse Disorder. And that likely means farmers need a whole new set of regulations about how to use fungicides. While neonicotinoids have been linked to mass bee deaths -- the same type of chemical at the heart of the massive bumble bee die off in Oregon -- this study opens up an entirely new finding that it is more than one group of pesticides, but a combination of many chemicals, which makes the problem far more complex.

Light Traffic  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

It's interesting (albeit mildly depressing) looking at the site traffic stats nowadays - while "peak oil" itself is just having a rest while the bottom of the barrel gets thoroughly scraped, interest in the topic (and related ones, like global warming) really has plummeted based on the traffic this blog is receiving.

A year ago (after a couple of years of little to no activity) I was still seeing well over 500 visitors a day coming to the site directly and a similar number via RSS. Lately the number is more like 220.

Admittedly its difficult to compare the numbers directly as the long period of inactivity has resulted in a dwindling number of inbound links and the site's Alexa rating dropping rapidly - so traffic from search engines is far lower than it used to be.

Nevertheless, my recent post on "Our Clean Energy Future" gave me some insight into how the other major energy sites are faring based on the volume of inbound traffic resulting from cross-posts.

When The Oil Drum was in its heyday it peaked at over 100,000 visitors in a single day. If I wrote something interesting and topical there I'd expect to see more than 10,000 readers for a single post and around 200 comments - perhaps 300 if the topic was hot.

Lately TOD seems to have dwindled to around 8,500 visitors per day - it still generated some referred traffic - perhaps another 250 visitors all up.

I also posted the article to Resilience (previously Energy Bulletin) and PeakOil.com.

Resilience's traffic isn't clear (I can't see Sitemeter or an equivalent on their pages) but they referred almost as many visitors as TOD - around 180 - so perhaps their daily readership is around 5,000 visitors these days assuming a similar proportion of readers click through.

PO.com only referred around 30 readers, so their traffic appears to have almost vanished (and judging by the comments made there, the remaining readership is still living in some doom-world circa 2005 that allows no new thought to enter - no wonder they drove JD insane during his long years in the wilderness there).

I tried to post to the Energy Collective as well but it didn't make it through moderation.

While the peak oil sites remain afflicted with a doom ridden view of the future one guy did pipe up at Resilience defending my article - weirdly enough from the IWW (I never imagined when I was younger that I'd be popular with the communists, but there you go). He posted a link to an interesting article of his - Capital Blight - Green Illusions or Malthusian Miasma?. Who knows what your PRISM / XKeyScore file will be tagged with if you click the link, but hey - you only live once...

A recent item on truth-out.org, published on April 8, 2013, features an interview by Steve Horn of Ozzie Zehner, author of the book Green Illusions: the Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism . Titled, “Power Shift Away from Green Illusions” the interview would have been more appropriately named, “Deep Dive into a Vat of Malthusian Miasma.”

The interviewee, author Ozzie Zehner, argues that the public is being offered a false choice between fossil fuel based civilization and a renewable energy / clean tech based alternative, and that “most environmentalists” have “jumped on board the bandwagon”.

In Zehner’s mind these are not choices at all but, in fact, the same choice, because renewable energy technology production, usage, and maintenance cannot exist without fossil fuels coexisting alongside of it throughout its usage cycle, from manufacturing, to deployment, to maintenance, and so forth.

“There’s no such thing as clean energy, but there’s such a thing as less energy,” he says. “There’s a misconception that once alternative energy technologies are off the ground they can fly on their own. But alternative energy technologies are better understood as a product of fossil fuels,” he continues, also declaring, “Our planet has bounded resources and limited capacity to absorb the impacts of human activities.” Zehner goes on to dismiss electric cars as being no better than conventional fossil fuel vehicle, asserting that electric cars “merely create a different set of side effects (than their fossil fuel counterparts). It’s just that those side effects didn’t come out of a tail pipe, where we are accustomed to looking for them." He finishes up by opining that, “Mainstream environmental groups seem transfixed by technological gadgetry and have succumbed to magical thinking about their pet fetishes.”

These arguments are hardly fresh or groundbreaking. They are, in fact, essentially the same that were made by Richard Heinberg in The Party’s Over: Oil, Water, and the Fate of Industrial Society, in 2003, by William R Catton Jr. in Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, in 1973, and by Paul Erlich in The Population Bomb, in 1968, and Zehner expressly considers Heinberg and Erlich his compatriots (though he doesn’t mention Catton).

In their minds, the source of industrial pollution (and just about all of society’s ills for that matter) can be traced to an excess of human population, which is itself the result of fossil fuel based technology which enables a false increase in the survivability of human beings that would otherwise not be possible in nature. This core assumption (of nature as a rather harsh and unforgiving mistress) itself is a rather twisted reinterpretation of the ideas of reactionary cleric Thomas Malthus.

Malthus is most famous for his essay On Population which essentially argues that human population expands until the available sources of food is scarce enough to induce starvation among its poorest and/or weakest members. Early naturalists, including Charles Darwin expanded this line of reasoning to other species, and it has long been assumed to be an ecological maxim, but in fact, this is not true.

Malthus was not an environmentalist, and were he alive today, he would have likely been vehemently hostile to most environmentalists, primarily because of the latter’s tendency towards antiestablishment beliefs. Malthus was a defender of the status quo, a deeply religious Anglican cleric, whose treatise had been written as a rebuttal to the ideas advocated by William Godwin, the “father” of modern anarchism. Godwin had married the radical feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, and their daughter, Mary Shelley wrote the original poem that became the story of Frankenstein, an allegory for class struggle based environmentalism if there ever was one.

Such ideas were an anathema to Malthus who defended class stratification as “God’s will” for punishing sin--though he never offered any coherent analysis on how the rich were somehow able to avoid it. If anything, Malthus was as antithetical to environmentalism as one could get, and Shelley much closer to it. Many an environmentalist invokes Frankenstein as a metaphor for the industrial technocracy they so vehemently oppose never grasping the sheer irony in doing so! ...

Energy Companies Try Arctic Shipping Shortcut Between Europe and Asia  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The WSJ has an example of a vicious circle in action - now global warming has melted half of the Arctic we can now ship hydrocarbons across it - Energy Companies Try Arctic Shipping Shortcut Between Europe and Asia.

Japanese and South Korean energy companies have begun shipping oil products through the Arctic's melting ice—adding credibility to a route that could slash costs while avoiding risks associated with ferrying cargo through the Suez Canal.

The ships are taking the so-called Northern Sea Route, traders and shipbrokers in Singapore said, a shortcut between Asia and Europe along Russia's Arctic Ocean coast. This marks the first time oil-derived products have been moved in such large volume through what maritime explorers of centuries past dubbed the Northeast Passage.

There have also been shipments by this route of gas condensate—a form of hydrocarbon—and iron ore in the past couple of years, and last year Russian gas giant Gazprom, OGZPY -1.25% in a test run, sent a load of liquefied natural gas to Japan.

Britain Detains the Partner Reporter Of Snowden Leaks  

Posted by Big Gav in

Stuart at Early Warning points to a NYT article about Glenn Greenwald's partner being detained by the British on a flight from Germany to Brazil (where Greenwald lives nowadays) - apparently people are very grumpy about the Edward Snowden story making the press (though they also seized all electronic devices in his possession so perhaps they were more interested in the information Greenwald has yet to report on) - Britain Detains the Partner Reporter Of Snowden Leaks. When I was growing up in the 1970's the West used to tell itself that it was good because it didn't do the totalitarian nonsense the Nazis had done in the past and the Eastern Bloc was doing at that time. How times have changed.

This detention of Glenn Greenwald's partner under British anti-terrorism laws, while flying from Germany to Brazil, is absolutely and completely outrageous. This is clearly harassment of journalists for publishing stories that authorities don't like, and strikes at the heart of freedom of speech. If you weren't already convinced that the intelligence/anti-terrorism apparatus in Western countries is out of control, I imagine this will push you a bit further in that direction.

Chart: 2/3rds of Global Solar PV Has Been Installed in the Last 2.5 Years  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Greentech Media - Chart: 2/3rds of Global Solar PV Has Been Installed in the Last 2.5 Years.

If you want to understand why people so often compare deployment trends in solar photovoltaics (PV) to Moore's law in computing, consider this statistic: two-thirds of all solar PV capacity in place worldwide has been installed since January 2011.

Let's put that into perspective. It took nearly four decades to install 50 gigawatts of PV capacity worldwide. But in the last 2 1/2 years, the industry jumped from 50 gigawatts of PV capacity to just over 100 gigawatts. At the same time, global module prices have fallen 62 percent since January 2011.

Even more amazingly, the solar industry is on track to install another 100 gigawatts worldwide by 2015 -- nearly doubling solar capacity in the next 2 1/2 years.

Nearly 40 New Advanced Energy Storage Projects Kicked Off in the First Half of 2013  

Posted by Big Gav in

ECMWeb has a post on the increasing volume of energy storage projects being built - Nearly 40 New Advanced Energy Storage Projects Kicked Off in the First Half of 2013.

New technologies, including capacitor battery technology, lithium titanate oxide, nickel-iron, and solar thermal, are swelling the pipeline of advanced energy storage projects. At the same time, new variants on older technologies, such as power-to-gas, are also coming online. These developments define an industry that is dynamic, if still not mature. According to a new tracker report, “Energy Storage Tracker 3Q13”, from Navigant Research, 38 new advanced energy storage projects were announced, deployed, or begun in the first six months of 2013. In total, there are now 633 energy storage projects operating or under development worldwide, the study concludes.

How The NSA Scours 75% Of The Nation's Internet Traffic - In One Chart  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Wall Street Journal has a nice graphic showing how the NSA's surveillance systems operate - How The NSA Scours 75% Of The Nation's Internet Traffic - In One Chart.

The NSA - which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens - has, according to the Wall Street Journal, built a surveillance network that covers more Americans' Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say.

The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say.

A Year Without the Internet  

Posted by Big Gav in

Grist's David Roberts, who has shown remarkable endurance blogging and tweeting non-stop for around a decade now, has finally burnt out and decided to take a sabbatical away from the internet. Someone should make him a case study - it will be interesting to see how he handles going cold turkey - Goodbye for now.

I began by writing daily news summaries and crafting funny headlines. Then, in late 2004, I started our blog, Gristmill. (Here’s my first post. I was complaining about presidential candidates ignoring climate change. Good thing I never had to write that one again!) Over time I transitioned into 100 percent writing, where I’ve been since.

As long as I’ve been here, Grist has extended me an extraordinary amount of trust and freedom. I have been able to wander from thing to thing, exploring interests in religious environmentalism, great places, social psychology, electric utilities, chilling out, and even the filibuster. I’ve never been told not to write about something, or that any subject is too complicated or wonky, or that I needed to get more clicks.

It has been a dream job. I’ve loved it. I still love it.

But I am burnt the fuck out.

I spend each day responding to an incoming torrent of tweets and emails. I file, I bookmark, I link, I forward, I snark and snark and snark. All day long. Then, at night, after my family’s gone to bed and the torrent has finally slowed to a trickle and I can think for more than 30 seconds at a stretch, I try to write longer, more considered pieces.

I enjoy every part of this: I enjoy sharing zingers with Twitter all day; I enjoy writing long, wonky posts at night. But the lifestyle has its drawbacks. I don’t get enough sleep, ever. I don’t have any hobbies. I’m always at work. Other than hanging out with my family, it’s pretty much all I do — stand at a computer, immersing myself in the news cycle, taking the occasional hour out to read long PDFs. I’m never disconnected.

It’s doing things to my brain.

I think in tweets now. My hands start twitching if I’m away from my phone for more than 30 seconds. I can’t even take a pee now without getting “bored.” I know I’m not the only one tweeting in the bathroom. I’m online so much that I’ve started caring about “memes.” I feel the need to comment on everything, to have a “take,” preferably a “smart take.” The online world, which I struggle to remember represents only a tiny, unrepresentative slice of the American public, has become my world. I spend more time there than in the real world, have more friends there than in meatspace.

And then there’s the grind, the pressure to interpret each day’s development through the lens of which team it will benefit. I spend a lot of my time being angry: angry at Republicans for being crazy assholes, angry at enviros for being so hapless, angry at the media, angry at random people on Twitter. It’s not just that U.S. politics involves daily offenses against decency and good sense, it’s that it just keeps offering the same offenses, over and over — same gridlock, same cranks and ideologues, same arguments, same grind.

I feel like I’ve had every discussion related to climate change or energy at least a million times. The “how to talk about it” discussion, the “is Obama a climate hero or the worst thing since Hitler” discussion, the “should climate scientists be advocates” discussion, the “carbon tax vs. cap-and-whatever vs. innovation” discussion, the “clean energy is intermittent” discussion, on and on and on. I’ve had them all so many times I’ve gotten to the point where I’m irritated and impatient with pretty much everything everybody says about anything.

And I feel bad about that. There are waves of new people coming into the climate and clean energy world, full of verve and ideas. They are going through the same process of discovery I went through. I have tried to provide them with perspective and context, insofar as I’m able, but lately I just feel like yelling at them to get off my lawn. That is unfair to them and unflattering to me. I don’t want to become a bitter person.

I need some time away from all of it: from climate change, the media, blogs, commenters, Twitter, the news cycle, the endless battle for a livable future. I need to clear my head.

So I’m going to. As of Labor Day, I’m uninstalling Twitter and shutting off my email account. No more news or climate doom or memes for me for a while.

Kenya joins the ranks of oil exporting nations  

Posted by Big Gav in

Bloomberg reports that Kenya has joined the ranks of oil exporting nations - Kenya From Nowhere Plans East Africa’s First Oil Exports.

Kenya is headed to become the first oil exporter in East Africa, moving in less than five years from being a have-not nation to the regional leader in cutting reliance on energy suppliers such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc. After Tullow Oil Plc (TLW) discovered oil last year, Kenya is set to start shipments in 2016, overtaking neighboring Uganda, where Tullow found crude more than seven years ago. The U.K. explorer plans to start pumping in Kenya as soon as next year, Chief Operating Officer Paul McDade said in an interview. Kenya’s deposits may top 10 billion barrels, according to the company, more than three times the U.K.’s remaining reserves.

The Most Intelligent Commuter Bike in the World  

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Inhabitat has a post on a new electric bike design - Vanmoof's New Electric Bike Will be the Most Intelligent Commuter Bike in the World.

Vanmoof’s 10 is a sleek new electrified bike that could make any commute incredibly easy and high tech. The Dutch bike company‘s electric-assist city bike features an array of gadgetry like smart sensors, GPS tracking, an onboard computer and of course an electric power-booster. The super smart bike uses Vanmoof’s lightweight frame and has an integrated 209Wh battery system for smooth riding.

Made from anodized aluminum, the Electrified looks like your typical stylish city bike. The bike’s front hub houses a 250W electrical motor which can power up to a speedy 37 miles per hour. The battery reaches its full charge in just three hours, making it easy to regain its power while you work.

A High-Renewables Tomorrow Today: King Island, Tasmania  

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RMI Outlet has a look at the path towards 100% renewables being trodden by Tasmania's King Island - A High-Renewables Tomorrow Today: King Island, Tasmania.

King Island, and especially greater Tasmania, face many challenges due to climate change including water availability, flooding of coastal settlements, a rise of bushfires, and decreased agriculture and aquaculture industries. Although Australia’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is small—and Tasmania’s even smaller, thanks in part to large amounts of hydro—the island has a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

Tasmania is on track to meet that target, thanks in part to lessons learned and the success at King Island. King is providing a significant demonstration of the potential opportunities for Tasmania through its King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project (KIREIP). Initiated by the government-owned electricity provider, Hydro Tasmania, KIREIP’s goal is to not only reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but also to help constrain power prices on the island.

Many islands use diesel to produce electricity. Although inefficient and expensive, it’s more accessible than other forms of fossil fuels for remote locales. Before any renewable energy technologies came to the island, King Island residents were consuming 4.5 million liters of diesel each year. By 2011, mainly through the use of wind turbines, that number was down to 2.6 million liters. KIREIP is hoping to reduce that number to 1.6 million liters, meaning that 65 percent of the annual electricity used on King Island will come from renewables, with shorter durations of 100-percent-renewables power. KIREIP, supported by both Tasmanian and Australian government funding, will use a mix of solar, wind, biodiesel, storage and smart grid technologies to accomplish this goal. ...

One of the most exciting projects in KIREIP is the installation of two diesel-powered rotary uninterruptible power supply (D-UPS) generators. When there is enough wind energy to meet the entire customer demand, the D-UPS switches off all diesel generators. Each D-UPS unit has a large mass flywheel, which uses excess wind energy rather than diesel power to maintain its motion. Without the D-UPS, if the wind generation were to reduce quickly the diesel generators would not be able to switch back on fast enough—resulting in a gap in power generation and a blackout.

The D-UPS—the first time ever being used in an island grid of this size—will allow for periods of 100-percent-renewable-energy penetration on King Island, which it achieved for the first time last month. “Although there are remote area power systems in some parts of the world that are capable of supplying the energy needs of single homes or small villages, this is the first remote system on this scale capable of supplying the power needs of an entire community, including industrial customers and an extensive distribution network, solely through wind and solar energy,” Simon Gamble, KIREIP project director, said in a press release. “Having established that zero diesel operation is possible, we are now looking to increase the duration for which we can operate in this mode.”

To extend those periods of 100-percent-renewable-energy penetration, and because there is often more wind power than can be used, Hydro Tasmania is installing energy storage. Its 3 megawatt/1.6 megawatt-hour UltraBattery storage system, the largest battery ever installed in Australia, will have the capacity to power the entire island for up to 45 minutes. Storing wind energy when there is excess generation and making it available when it is needed to meet demand will help maintain the stability of the power grid.

Buckminster Fuller-Inspired Gold Dome To Be Preserved As Historic Site in Oklahoma  

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Inhabitat has a post on a building inspired by Bucky Fuller - Buckminster Fuller-Inspired Gold Dome To Be Preserved As Historic Site in Oklahoma.

A 1958 geodesic dome based on Buckminster Fuller’s design has been purchased by an Oklahoma environmental engineering firm. The historic Gold Dome building had been in danger -- its previous owner decided to put the building on the market after finding it would cost $2.5 million to repair various problems with the building, including long-standing damage to its roof.

The Fracking Chickens Are Coming Home To Roost  

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CleanTechnica has a look at the headwinds facing the shale oil industry - The Fracking Chickens Are Coming Home To Roost. Grist has a similar artice - Fracking frenzy slows as oil and gas assets plummet in price.

This won’t be the first time we’ve heard whispers of impending doom for the natural gas fracking industry, but since this one is coming from Bloomberg it’s probably worth a listen, so here’s the deal. Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that the boom in gas field purchasing from 2009 to 2012 has turned into a whopper of a bust, leaving oil and gas companies with a belly load of depressed assets and “disappointing” wells to go with falling gas prices.

Largest Solar Rooftop In Europe Complete  

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Cleantechnica has a look at a solar roof in Germany that was completed in double quick time - 4 weeks - Largest Solar Rooftop In Europe Complete, In Germany!.

The largest self-consumption rooftop solar array in Europe has been completed, and it is of course located in Germany. It is eleven hectares in size, consists of 33,000 solar panels, and has a generation capacity of 8.1 MW (which could power up to about 1,846 homes).

Dishwasher-Sized Fuel Cells That Cost 90% Less Than Currently Available Fuel Cells  

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Forbes has an article on a new combined heat and power fuel cell that apparently costs far less than competing devices - Redox Power Plans To Roll Out Dishwasher-Sized Fuel Cells That Cost 90% Less Than Currently Available Fuel Cells.

Redox says that it plans to bring to market a fuel cell that is about one-tenth the size and one-tenth the cost of currently commercial fuel cells by 2014. The breakthrough solid oxide fuel cell technology is the brainchild of Eric Wachsman, the director of the University of Maryland’s Energy Research Center. Redox says that it will provide safe, efficient, reliable, uninterrupted power, on–site and optionally off the grid, at a price competitive with current energy sources. ...

The first generation has a nameplate capacity of 25 kilowatts, which can power a gas station or small grocery store, and is roughly the size of a dishwasher. The system can run at an 80% efficiency when used to provide both heat and power.

Our Clean Energy Future (2013)  

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This post was done to commemorate the end of the Oil Drum - in many ways it is a first draft of a longer post that I've been meaning to write for a number of years but never quite found the time to do.

I'm planning to make a number of changes and enhancements to it - however I'll leave this as a snapshot and let the post evolve at Our Clean Energy Future - with periodic updates being noted here at Peak Energy.

Following on my recent post bidding Farewell to The Oil Drum, I'd like to have a look at what I view as our longer term future for energy production and consumption.

As noted in my previous post, for the time being the combination of unconventional oil extraction and the ramping up of extraction of natural gas (from both conventional and unconventional sources) has continued to push the point of peak oil production out into the future, defying the predictions of the more pessimistic peak oil observers. During this period we have seen a boom in the research and development of solutions to help us eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels, which I'll explore in this post.

Solutions can be divided into 3 groups :

  • Renewable energy - solar power, wind power, geothermal power, hydro power, ocean energy and biomass derived power (including biofuels)
  • Distribution of renewable energy - energy storage and the electricity grid
  • Adopting alternatives to oil and other fossil fuels - electric transport, bioplastic, alternatives to fossil fuel based fertiliser and new models for manufacturing, construction and agriculture

Renewable Energy

The graphic below shows the energy available from renewable energy sources annually compared to global energy consumption. The numbers are intended to give a rough idea of relative scale - for any given energy source a wide range of estimates can be found in the literature so the numbers are indicative.

These numbers in some ways understate the amount of energy potentially available (ignoring solar power potential at sea or in space, for example, or wind power at high altitudes or far offshore, or geothermal power deep below the surface of the earth) but still serve the demonstrate that the renewable energy available to us is orders of magnitude larger than our current global energy consumption.

The contribution made by renewable energy to our energy needs is expected to exceed that made by gas (and double that made by nuclear power) by 2016, though progress needs to be accelerated if we wish to create a sustainable energy system.

Solar power

Solar power is the largest energy source available to us, dwarfing all other sources - renewable and non-renewable. Approximately 36,000 Terawatts of power could be captured by land based solar power generation - compared to current global energy use of around 16 TW. As a result, most of the plans floated for shifting to 100% renewable energy (examples include proposals by Mark Jacobson and Stuart Staniford and local plans for countries like Germany and Australia) rely primarily on solar power.

Solar power is not only the largest energy source available to us but it is also the fastest growing energy source, with solar power generation increasing by over 58% in 2012.

There are a number of options for harnessing solar power - power generation using solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and solar thermal arrays along with passive solar techniques such as solar hot water heaters.

I have been of the view that solar thermal power generation (also known as concentrating solar power or CSP) would become our most important source of power in the longer term. This view was based on a number of advantages that solar thermal possesses - it does not require rare or expensive materials (enabling it to scale without hitting resource limits), it can be built on (and is best suited to) arid land that has few other uses, it can incorporate energy storage (thus avoiding the intermittency issue), it is compatible with the existing centralised generation model and it can be combined with traditional sources of power generation (coal or gas) in hybrid power plants that allow an easy transition using existing connections to the electricity grid.

An area of desert around 250 km by 250 km covered with solar thermal power generation could supply all the world's current electricity demand.

To my continuing dismay, this hasn't happened yet (though it was our fastest growing energy source in 2012) - primarily due to the lack of progress in pushing down costs - the LCOE (levelised cost of energy) of solar thermal still being around twice that other renewable energy options.

I retain some hope given that solar thermal technology remains relatively immature - there was a very long gap between the original plant (SEGS) built in California in the 1980s and the next generation of plants built in Spain beginning in 2007 and the south west of the US shortly afterwards.

Construction of plants is now spreading around the globe, with plants being built in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Algeria (though at this point the immense Desertec proposal has fallen off the radar), South Africa, India, China and Chile.

While there are encouraging signs for solar thermal power, by and large it has been eclipsed by solar PV in recent years, with solar panel prices plummeting and manufacturing capacity surging. While thin film solar has also become competitive it is traditional silicon based solar PV that has dominated after years of being dismissed as being too expensive.

Research into improving solar PV remains vibrant, with new materials and concentrating solar power techniques looking to push the cost of solar PV below that of coal or gas fired power (the holy grail of solar grid parity).

Wind power

Wind power is the second largest renewable energy source available to us, with the potential supply also exceeding current global energy demand.

Wind power has also seen rapid growth over the past decade, with generation increasing by over 18% in 2012 and accounting for more than half of new renewable energy supply. In Denmark it now supplies more than 28% of electricity consumption.

Wind power is now the cheapest source of renewable energy, with the LCOE being competitive with coal or gas fired power in many locations. Thanks to the merit order effect, wind power can also help lower the cost of power paid by consumers. While wind power is now a relatively mature technology, advances in turbine size and electromagnet technology along with optimisation of wind farm sites are allowing the overall efficiency of generation to increase further.

Like solar power, wind power can coexist with other uses of land - and large wind farm developments can also be located offshore.

Also like solar power, wind power is criticised for its intermittency. While geographical diversity of generation (along with diversity of energy sources and expanded grids, which will be discussed later) can help to address this, energy storage can also be built into wind turbines, a technique used in new models from GE.

Hydro power

Hydro power is the most mature source of renewable energy (the burning of wood aside) and still accounts for more electricity production than solar, wind, and geothermal combined - however it has a growth rate (around 3% in 2012) lower than most other renewables.

Hydro power current provides 16% if global power generation - the 4 largest power stations in the world are all hydro power projects.

Large scale hydro power doesn't have a lot of room for growth in the developed world, though the Himalayan region and Africa both still have significant room for growth.

Microhydro power is an alternative that is underdeveloped and often has an LCOE quoted that makes it competitive with wind power and with fossil fuels - however I've never seen any useful figures outlining the energy potential from this source (if you look at some designs you'd guess that this is something that could be deployed very widely).

Geothermal power

Geothermal energy is unusual compared to other large renewable power sources, in that it provides "baseload" power (thus placating those suffering from the "baseload fallacy") unlike other more intermittent sources like solar, wind and ocean power. The potential supply of geothermal energy is approximately equal to current global energy demand.

The first geothermal power generation plant was constructed in 1904 in Larderello, Italy, followed by Wairakei, New Zealand in the 1950's then the Geysers in California in the 1960’s. In 2012, 24 countries operated geothermal plants for electricity production, generating around 12 GW in total.

In 2012, growth in geothermal power was less than 3%, leaving it very much a niche energy source. Geothermal power generation is currently concentrated in geologically active areas - the western US, Indonesia, The Philippines, New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, El Salvador and east Africa.

As well as active power generation from traditional geothermal power sources (including low temperature geothermal, ground source heat pumps can be used to provide direct heating.

The great white hope for geothermal power generation is known as "Enhanced Geothermal System" (EGS) (or sometimes Hot Dry Rock or Hot Fractured Rock) - generating power by drilling holes deep into the earth's crust to circulate water through. The energy potential for this type of geothermal energy is vast, however progress so far in terms of producing commercial power has been very disappointing.

Some early experiments were built in Switzerland but have been shut down due to concerns about earthquakes being caused by the drilling. The most promising experiment is being performed by GeoDynamics in Australia's outback - progress has been extremely slow, with numerous setbacks occurring before a 1 MW pilot plant was finally commissioned this year. On a positive note, operation of the pilot is beating expectations.

Ocean energy

Energy can be tapped from the oceans in 3 different ways - tidal power, wave power and the little known OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion).

While there is a significant potential resource in ocean energy - broadly equivalent to our current energy use - the technology for exploiting all 3 forms of energy remains immature and costly. Tidal power has been commercially generated since the 1960's, with France's 240 MW "La Rance" power station only recently being eclipsed in size by a South Korean project. South Korea is looking to greatly expand tidal power production over the next 5 years and a range of projects are proposed for the UK, Australia and the United States - however it appears unlikely that we will see large scale tidal power production in the next couple of decades.

Wave power and OTEC are even less advanced, however pilot projects are at various stages of development for both of them and interest will no doubt slowly build in size over time. Another even more exotic alternative is the generation of electricity using differences in salinity between bodies of water.

Biomass, Biogas and Biofuel

Photosynthesis provides a steady stream of material that can be used for energy - with the caveat that there are limits before this impacts on our ability to produce food and maintain a healthy environment.

There are a range of ways of harnessing organic material for energy (other than the traditional approach of burning it for heat - which the REN21 (pdf) report on renewable energy notes is still the dominant use for biomass - contributing almost 7% of global energy supply) - using biomass to generate power, producing biogas which can be used for heat, power generation or for transport, producing biofuels that can replace or supplement traditional liquid fuels and for pyrolysis which can generate biodiesel, fertiliser and biochar.

Biofuels have been the subject of widespread criticism (critics citing competition with food production and low EROI) and seem unlikely to be able to replace a significant proportion of our oil consumption. Production of ethanol and biodiesel has stagnated in recent years, with production declining by 0.4% in 2012.

Other advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol and algae based biofuels have failed to be produced in significant quantities thus far.

Biomass based power generation also has its critics, though most seem to agree that it is preferable to biofuel production. Global biomass power generation capacity was 58 GW in 2011 and is expected to grow to 86 GW by 2021. The industry seems to be suffering some headwinds, with the largest biomass power plant (Tilbury in the UK) recently being mothballed. Another large scale project in the UK (Drax still seems to be going ahead, and generation of power from waste is booming in Europe.

Biogas is the most promising of the biomass based energy generation approaches, with far fewer criticisms being leveled at it (most importantly, there is limited competition between food production and biogas production - the two are often complementary in fact - and the net energy available from biogas far exceeds that of biofuels). It can either be extracted from landfills or produced using "digesters" that process agricultural waste (or occasionally by exploiting natural sources of biogas).

The upper limits for biogas production are not clear, though some studies claim vast amounts can potentially be produced - for example, one European study said that all of Europe's gas needs could be met with biogas. Biogas power generation apparently produced about 14.5 GW in 2012.

Biogas is not only the most environmentally friendly of the biomass based energy alternatives it is also the most versatile, with the gas being able to be used for heat, power (or a mix of both - combined heat and power) or transport.

One last use for biomass is the production of biochar. Producers of biochar take dry biomass and bake it in a kiln to produce charcoal. Biochar is the term for what is left over after the energy is removed: a charcoal-based soil amendment. This process is called pyrolysis. Various gases and oils are driven off the material during the process and then used to generate energy. The charcoal is buried in the ground, sequestering the carbon that the growing plants had pulled out of the atmosphere. The end result is increased soil fertility and an energy source with negative carbon emissions.

Distribution of renewable energy

Smart Meters and Smart Grids

Renewable energy (primarily solar and wind power) is often criticised for being intermittent.

In the traditional model of electricity generation and distribution, large, centralised power stations were built with sufficient capacity to handle expected peaks in demand - with significant amounts of capacity idle during non peak parts of the day / year (and brownouts occurring if demand did happen to exceed supply). Consumers were charged a regulated price that ignored fluctuations in supply and demand - instead supply was adjusted as far as was practicable to meet demand.

Adopting a more dynamic (market based) pricing mechanism would allow energy users to have an incentive to shape their energy use to the available supply, thereby enabling fluctuations in supply to be dealt with.

The keys to making this possible are to provide electricity consumers with smart meters and the ability to alter their energy usage based on market price fluctuations. Smart grids are required for electricity distributors to create a more flexible grid incorporating a much more diverse range of power generators.

Supergrids and The Global Energy Grid

As well as making the grid more dynamic, interconnections between grids need to be expanded to enable a greater diversity of suppliers to be available across a wide region - this helps further address the issue of intermittency of supply - the sun may not be shining and the wind may not be blowing in one region however this won't be true across all regions making up a greater grid.

Proposals for extending regional grids into continent wide ones (usually by building HVDC connections between existing grids) tend to be dubbed "supergrids" - examples can be found for North America, Germany and the whole of Europe and between Europe and North Africa.

Buckminster Fuller took this idea to its logical endpoint and recommended the creation of a "global energy grid" as a step towards ending our dependency on fossil fuels.

Energy Storage

The final piece of transforming the electricity grid to distribute 100% renewable energy is building in sufficient energy storage to ensure that suppliers have the ability to react to swings in demand as well as vice versa.

Traditionally energy storage has been available in greater or lesser amounts (depending on what grid you are connected to) in the form of pumped hydro storage.

A wide range of other options have been proposed and explored over the years, ranging from Compressed air energy storage to batteries to flywheels to generating hydrogen (pumped hydro even has an ocean equivalent which is one of the more promising options).

Most battery storage being implemented today involves either lithium ion batteries or flow batteries - however further cost reductions are viewed as being necessary to enable wider availability of energy storage services.

One option receiving a lot of attention recently has been a proposal by MIT Professor Donald Sadoway to build liquid metal batteries.

Adopting alternatives to oil

While it is clear that we can replace all the energy we currently get from fossil fuels with renewable energy, the problem remains that electricity is not a direct substitute for liquid fuels - and that fossil fuels have some other important uses other than providing energy.

Transport

The most important use of liquid fuels is in transport. Increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles (around 3% per year) and substitution of natural gas for oil as a fuel for heavy vehicles has been constraining the growth of oil consumption for road transport in recent years, however this can only ever be a temporary solution - in the longer term we need to use either electricity .

Electrifying as much of the transport system as possible is the first step, with biofuels being used for those forms of transport that cannot be electrified (either liquid biofuel such as ethanol or biodiesel, or compressed biogas) such as large planes and ships.

Hybrid electric vehicles (including plug in hybrids and solar hybrids) are a maturing technology with over 5 million vehicles on the roads now.

These are providing the stepping stone to fully electric vehicles (which are already outselling plug in hybrids in the US). The journey towards fully electric cars has been a slow one with the star example so far being Tesla Motors (other promising projects such as Better Place have fallen by the wayside in recent years, though manufacturers such as Nissan are competing at the lower end of the market and a raft of car makers are building high end electric sports cars.

Three problems are holding up the transition to electric vehicles at this point - slow recharge times, "range anxiety" and the relatively high cost of electric vehicles compared to legacy internal combustion engine based vehicles. Tesla are looking to address both of the first two issues by pursuing both fast recharge technology (with various other schemes being implemented around the globe) and a battery swap system similar to that pursued by Better Place.

The IEA has set a target of 20 million electric vehicles by 2020, with further 50% increase in battery performance a key to achieving this goal, following on the 50% increase achieved in the past 3 years.

Cars aren't the only type of vehicle that requires fuel of course - heavier forms of of transport also consume oil. We are now starting to see electric trucks, electric buses and electric boats begin to appear out in the marketplace. Where heavy vehicles such as buses follow the same route on a regular basis they become candidates for recharging while in transit.

Of course, we don't have to simply substitute electric vehicles for existing liquid fuel powered ones. There is a wide range of alternatives available including:

  • Walkable communities
  • Cycling. Many journeys do not need to be made by car, particularly if cities are designed to enable transport by cycle (both by pedal powered bicycles and electric bikes) as well as by foot or rail transit.
  • Transit oriented development
  • Rail transport. Rail transport can be electrified where it isn't already and can provide both transit within cities and long distance travel as well (preferably via a high speed rail network)
  • Exotic options such as Personal rapid transit and Elon Musk's proposed Hyperloop

Bioplastic

Nearly all the plastics sold today come from petroleum, accounting for up to 5% of global petroleum consumption by some estimates. Recycled plastics are a good first step towards reducing oil consumption, however they can only be recycled two to four times, and only around 25% of plastics are actually recycled.

The sustainable alternative to traditional plastic is bioplastic. The cost of producing bioplastic has been falling thanks to improved processes, requiring lower temperatures. Combining this with the increasing cost of crude oil has made bioplastic prices competitive with regular plastics.

Bioplastic production is expected to reach 1 million tons in 2015, out of total global plastics production of around 300 million tons.

Leading manufacturers include Avantium, BASF, Braskem, Cereplast, Metabolix and Natureworks. Bioplastic feedstocks include vegetable oil, corn starch, plant cellulose and mycellium.

Bioplastic doesn't necessarily need to replace all current uses of plastic - other alternatives are materials that have been replaced by plastics in recent decades, including steel, wood, aluminum, glass, cardboard and paper.

Agriculture

Agriculture obviously requires transport to grow and distribute food products, however it also requires fertiliser (at least if we continue to follow the green revolution model), which is usually produced using natural gas.

This can be addressed via a range of techniques - by being more efficient with fertiliser use (which would have many environmental and health benefits), by adopting organic farming techniques, by growing food near where we live, by generating ammonia using air, water and renewable energy - or by getting to the root of the problem and enabling plants to fix nitrogen themselves.

Another way of reducing energy consumption from agriculture is to find new ways of producing food - efforts to produce artificial meat (or "cultured beef", as it is sometimes known) have the potential to reduce the amount of energy required to produce meat by 45%.

Manufacturing and Construction

Manufacturing is a major consumer of energy and raw materials. The amount of energy and other raw materials devoted to manufacturing can be reduced by optimising for recycling - in particular by adopting "cradle to cradle" design and manufacturing techniques.

Distributed manufacturing and 3D printing also have potential for reducing the amount of energy required to distribute manufactured goods.

The construction and ongoing operation of buildings is another major consumer of energy, with "green buildings" and energy efficient devices such as LED lighting that minimise energy consumption being an important part of our clean energy future.

Conclusion

The aim of this post was to demonstrate the following (or at least provide food for thought to irredeemable skeptics) - I hope you've found it thought provoking.

  • There is more than enough renewable energy available to meet all our needs - primarily using solar and wind power - and this can be done at a reasonable cost
  • The keys to shifting to renewable energy are to expand the interconnectedness of our electricity grids, to make electricity demand more dynamic (responding to changes in electricity supply / price) and to put more energy storage in place
  • That we need to be aware of the areas where we use fossil fuels and transform these to use renewable energy - to electrify our transport systems, to adopt alternatives to traditional plastics and to adapt our agricultural, manufacturing and construction processes to reduce the amount of energy required and to eliminate dependencies on fossil fuels

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