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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is What the Utility Death Spiral Looks Like  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redflow targets 40% cut in battery storage costs by 2015  

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

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

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

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

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

Citigroup says the ‘Age of Renewables’ has begun  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar Battery With Unmatched Energy Density Created  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global warming melts edge of Greenland ice sheet  

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

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

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

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

Two New Ideas in Wave and Tidal Power  

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

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

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

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

Chevron cuts production outlook, raises oil price view  

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

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

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

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

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

Solar costs to halve as gas prices surge  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on Ambri’s Liquid Metal Grid-Scale Battery  

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

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

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

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

Edward Snowden: Here's how we take back the Internet  

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The Guardian has an article on Edward Snowden's recent (virtual) appearance at the SXSW conference - Snowden told me the NSA set fire to the web. Silicon Valley needs to put it out

You are the firefighters,” National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden told a tech savvy audience here yesterday, during my conversation with him at the SXSW festival. “The people in Austin are the ones who can protect our rights through technical standards.”

Ed’s comments were a call to arms for the tech community to protect its users from indiscriminate mass surveillance by the NSA and the insecurity it creates. Despite the talk from Washington DC regarding cybersecurity threats – and you’ll hear more of it today during a confirmation hearing for the would-be next head of the NSA – it is now clear that the NSA’s mass surveillance efforts are not meant for good. Whether it’s systematically undermining global encryption standards, hacking communications companies’ servers and data links or exploiting so-called zero-day vulnerabilities, the nation’s cyberspies are focused on attacking online privacy and weakening the security of systems that we all trust.

Forget all the government rhetoric on cybersecurity: the NSA simply isn’t here to make the Internet more secure. But that doesn’t mean the agency has to win. The global tech community can fight back, if developers ramp up efforts to build privacy and security into their products. By zeroing in on practical steps Ed and I discussed in our conversation here, we can build a more open, free and secure Internet.

Unfortunately, for far too long, security has been an afterthought. Even for a lot of my fellow geeks here at SXSW.

Julian Assange also made a virtual appearanc at SXSW - Julian Assange tells SXSW audience: ‘NSA has grown to be a rogue agency’.

The Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Saturday told an audience in Texas that people power is the key to rolling back the power of the National Security Agency and other surveillance agencies.

“We have to do something about it. All of us have to do something about it,” he said, in an interview at the SXSW conference in Austin. “How can individuals do something about it? Well, we’ve got no choice.”

Assange was speaking in a “virtual” conversation conducted by video from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been confined since June 2012. The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald will appear in similar sessions over the coming days.

Interviewed by Benjamin Palmer of the marketing agency the Barbarian Group, Assange discussed issues including government surveillance, online democracy and the future of the internet.

On life within the embassy, he said: “It is a bit like prison. Arguably prison is far worse in relation to restrictions on visitors, for example, and the level of bureaucracy involved.” Noting that at any given point there are about a dozen police officers stationed outside, he said: “The UK government has admitted to spending $8m so far just on the police surveillance of the embassy.”

Asked for his views on what governments should be doing, after the NSA revelations, about the way surveillance agencies interact with people, Assange said: “The NSA has grown to be a rogue agency. It has grown to be unfettered … the ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost there, and arguably will be there within a few years. And that’s led to a huge transfer of power from the people who are surveilled upon, to those who control the surveillance complex.”

Assange talked about a historical “PR campaign based on not existing” for the NSA, which he said had been swept away by the revelations prompted by Snowden’s leaking of thousands of documents to media outlets including the Guardian.

Snowden also recently appeared (via telepresence robot) at TED - Edward Snowden: Here's how we take back the Internet.

Appearing by telepresence robot, Edward Snowden speaks at TED2014 about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it. "Your rights matter,” he says, "because you never know when you're going to need them." Chris Anderson interviews, with special guest Tim Berners-Lee.

In Iceland, Magma Used To Create Geothermal Power For First Time  

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Climate Progrss has a post on a new technique for creating geothermal power in Iceland - In Iceland, Magma Used To Create Geothermal Power For First Time.

After accidentally drilling into a chamber of molten lava more than a mile underground in 2009, researchers in Iceland have now found a way to use the magma to create geothermal energy.

This new method of producing geothermal energy could be especially valuable in Iceland, where geothermal power already makes up about two-thirds of the energy use and around 90 percent of homes are heated using geothermal.

Researchers from the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) used the magma to generate high-pressure steam at temperatures over 450 degrees Celsius, beating the world record for hottest geothermal heat. According to the measured output, the magma generated about 36 megawatts of electricity.

Normal geothermal energy is generated by pumping water into heated ground, boiling it and then using the steam to generate electricity. This experiment in Iceland is the first time molten magma instead of solid rock has been used to create the steam.

“This could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal projects in the future,” Wilfred Elders, professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Riverside, who’s written about the Icelandic innovation, told The Conversation.

When the rivers run black  

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Medium has a look at the problem of coal ash - When the rivers run black.

The most toxic byproduct of coal-fired power isn’t carbon dioxide. It’s the residue that’s left over. When coal is burned in a plant, just like in a home, it produces two kinds of ash: fly ash, which rises, and bottom ash, which sinks to the floor of the furnace. Together, they comprise coal ash. In a power plant, all that ash has to be put somewhere.

For many years Kingston was the largest coal plant in the United States, which meant the facility produced a lot of coal ash. It was mixed with water to stop it from blowing around and dumped into the retaining pond, which quickly swelled with the waste. As the region grew, demand for electricity soared, more coal was burned, and the TVA built the walls of the pond higher and higher. By 2008, they stood 60 feet tall, and the pond held more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry.

Shortly before 1 A.M. on December 22, 2008, the walls broke.

One corner of the dike, exhausted after a half-century of pressure and decay, collapsed. The coal ash sludge poured out, tearing a hole that kept on growing. Once outside, the slurry built up force and barreled over a sequence of outer dikes. ...

The TVA is the largest public power provider in the country, serving nine million people across seven states.

Like many other power companies, it has slowly been expanding its energy portfolio, but coal remains its backbone. And, like the rest, it has been upgrading that infrastructure, forced by the Environmental Protection Agency to make its plants run cleaner and more efficiently. Usually, that means installing scrubber systems in the smokestacks, which clean the emissions of pollutants like mercury, toxic metals, and acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide.

The result is that the exhaust that emerges today is far cleaner than it was decades ago. But cleaning up the airborne emissions means that the solids remaining after the burn are far dirtier than before. In fact, coal ash is often loaded with arsenic, mercury, lead, and other contaminating elements. A 2012 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that cleaner air emissions are traded for “significant enrichments of contaminants in solid wastes and wastewater discharged from power plants.”

According to the American Coal Ash Association, the nation churns out nearly 65 million tons of coal ash annually. However, despite the fact that it is replete with toxins, coal ash is essentially unregulated by the federal government, with oversight meant to happen at state level. Yet most states handle the material with less precaution than your standard household garbage.

The “best” use for coal ash, say scientists, is to recycle it and use it in cement, which means the contaminants get locked in and cannot leach out. But there are a range of other recycling methods, including using it in asphalt and wallboard, spreading it as a soil amendment, or using it as a substitute for salt on icy roads. One particularly novel method of disposal is dumping it into abandoned mines. Most coal ash, though, is simply carted off to landfills or placed in retaining ponds like the one at Kingston. Many of the ponds, including Kingston’s failed one, are not just built to contain the coal ash, but actually use it as a construction material in their dams and dikes.

In Kingston, it was the dike that broke, but spills and contamination can happen in all kinds of ways. In 2005, a log wall broke in a basin at a Pennsylvania power plant, spilling at least 100 million gallons of coal ash into the Oughoughton Creek and Delaware River. In October 2011, a bluff at a Wisconsin power plant collapsed, spilling coal ash into Lake Michigan.

Environmental groups dislike pond storage, arguing that wet ash is more likely to leach contaminants into nearby water supplies, as well as being a far greater risk for catastrophic spills. A draft EPA risk assessment released in 2010 showed that coal ash ponds pose greater risk to human health due to leaching than landfills.

Charles Norris of Geo-Hydro Inc, a scientist from Denver who has testified before Congress on the subject of coal ash, says things are made even worse by using it as a construction material. Not only does this let even more contaminants leach out, but over time it compromises the structural integrity of the pond. Kingston, Norris believes, is unlikely to be the last incident of its kind. “The use of this as a construction material is new enough that we’re probably just looking at the beginning few failures,” he says.

A combination of safety light and camera, the Fly6 watches the backs of cyclists  

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The Age has an article on an interesting crowd funded invention for recording badly behaved motorists from the rear of a bike - A combination of safety light and camera, the Fly6 watches the backs of cyclists.

A slingshot projectile in the bum, followed by frustration about the idiocy of some road users, inspired two Australian entrepreneurs to invent a device that will watch the backs of vulnerable cyclists on the road.

Called the Fly6, it is a combination video camera and flashing rear light that promises to make riders more visible while recording what happens behind them. It is fitted to the bike's seat post.

The inventors say it could also help to determine who is responsible when a motor vehicle hits a bicycle from behind – one of the most common causes of serious injury or death among cyclists. ...

The inspiration was at first to make "people who do stupid things like that" more accountable, but they soon felt it could have a preventive effect. "If motorists just thought there was a camera potentially on a bike, they would take it easy and we’d have a much better time on the road," says Hagen. The Fly6 has a camera lens in the centre of the flashing bulb cluster on what looks like a standard cycling safety light. It records at 720 x 1280 definition, with a 130-degree field of view, while capturing 30 frames per second. The device is waterproof and also records audio. Recharged by USB, its lithium-ion battery runs for more than five hours.

It comes with an 8GB class-10 microSD card, which holds some two hours of footage. The camera automatically overwrites old files on a loop, so riders don't need to delete old video.

In an accident, a switch inside the unit shuts the camera down if it lies at an angle of 40 degrees for more than four seconds – which prevents the crash data from being overwritten. For the weight-conscious sports cyclist, it tips the scales at just over 100 grams.

In recent years, cyclists – and motorists – have been using video cameras to record their road movements, to use for legal or insurance purposes in the case of an accident. Attempts to determine responsibility often boil down to the driver’s word against the cyclist – if the cyclist wasn’t killed.

Liquefied Air to Store Energy on U.K. Grid  

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IEEE Spectrum has an article on a variant of compressd air energy storage being trialled in the UK - Liquefied Air to Store Energy on U.K. Grid.

U.K.-based Highview Power Storage last week said that it has been awarded an £8 million grant from the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change to build a commercial-scale facility that uses liquified air to store energy. Highview is already running a smaller pilot plant, but the full-scale version will be able to store enough energy to deliver five megawatts of power for three hours. That puts it on a scale that would entice utilities to use the technology, says company CEO Gareth Brett. ...

Liquid air energy storage is similar to compressed air energy storage in that air is compressed and released to store and then generate power. With Highview’s technology, though, ambient air is compressed, then cooled and liquified. That liquefied air, which is almost -200 °C, is stored in large tanks.

When power is needed, the liquid air is released and pumped to high pressure. That causes the liquid to evaporate, turning it into a high-pressure gas which is then run through a turbine to generate power. The planned demonstration plant will be located at a waste processing center. Heat from the waste plant’s gas turbines, which run on captured landfill methane, will be piped in to improve the efficiency of the evaporation process.

One of the advantages of liquid air storage is that it uses off-the-shelf equipment. The tanks for storing liquid air, for instance, are the same as those used in the industrial gas industry.

Exxon CEO Sues Against Fracking  

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Forbes has an amusing article on opposition to fracking from Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson - Exxon CEO Profits Huge As America's Largest Natural Gas Producer-But Frack In His Own Backyard And He Sues!.

Sometimes, the hypocrisy expressed in real life is so sublimely rich that one could never hope to construct a similar scenario out of pure imagination.

Meet Rex Tillerson, the CEO of oil and gas superstar ExxonMobil Corporation—the largest natural gas producer in these United States of America—and a newly emerging giant in the world of exquisite hypocrisy.

A key and critical function of Mr. Tillerson’s day job is to do all he can to protect and nurture the process of hydraulic fracturing—aka ‘fracking’—so that his company can continue to rack in billions via the production and sale of natural gas. Indeed, so committed is Rex to the process of fracking that he has loudly lashed out at those who criticize and seek to regulate hydraulic fracturing, suggesting that such efforts are a very bad idea, indeed.

According to Tillerson, “This type of dysfunctional regulation is holding back the American economic recovery, growth, and global competitiveness.”

Thus, according to Rex Tillerson, nobody should have much of a reason to be disturbed or concerned when ExxonMobil comes knocking on your door to deliver the news that fracking is about to become a part of your daily life…unless, or course, you happen to live in Mr. Tillerson’s neighborhood.

In that case, the rules are, apparently, very, very different.

You see, while Tillerson believes that the inevitable noise pollution that accompanies the fracking process—not to mention the potential for water contamination and other dangerous side-effects even when it is done safely (and some would strenuously argue that it is not possible to frack safely)— is of no real significance when it affects someone else’s neighborhood, he surely thinks it to be a pretty big deal when someone dares to get involved in fracking in Rex Tillerson’s neighborhood.

So much is this the case that Tillerson—ExxonMobil CEO and proud proponent of fracking as a key to both America’s and his company’s great energy future—has joined a lawsuit seeking to shut down a fracking project near Mr. and Mrs. Tillerson’s Texas ranch.

Running on empty: Australia’s dependence on imported fossil fuels  

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RNE has an article on a recent study commissioned by the NRMA into Australia's liquid fuel security - Running on empty: Australia’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Australia’s dependence on traditional and imported liquid fuel sources and transport technologies is putting our national security – and very way of life – at risk, a new study has found. Yet Australia continues to ignore alternative fuel strategies, that could include more renewable energy and electric vehicles.

An NRMA-commissioned report on the nation’s liquid fuel security, released on Monday, warns that Australia’s severely declining oil refining industry, and increasing demand for liquid fuels, could result in a scenario in 2030 where it has less than 20 days worth of fuel in reserve, and 100 per cent imported liquid fuel dependency.

The report says there are potential scenarios that could put the daily lives of Australians at risk, yet “there is no plan to stop our dependency growing to 100% or to halt the further decline of our fuel security.”

The report, written by retired Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn, finds that Australia’s dependence on imported liquid fuel and oil for transport has grown from around 60 per cent in 2000 to 90 per cent today, with no plan or public government policy to stop this blowing out to 100 per cent.

Such a lack of capacity, says Blackburn, “puts at risk our national security and lifestyle should there be a major event that impacts our liquid fuel supply chain.”

AGL Energy wind farms running near 50% capacity  

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RNE has a look at some impressive capacity factors for wind power in southern Australia - AGL Energy wind farms running at near 50% capacity.

AGL Energy says some of its wind farms in South Australia have been operating at nearly 50 per cent capacity factors in the past six months, a very high rating for a wind farm and higher than many coal-fired generators.

This graph included in AGL Energy’s December half accounts show that the 95MW Hallett 1 and 71MW Hallett 2 wind farms – both located near the village of the same name in the state’s mid north region – achieved capacity factors of 48 per cent and 49 per cent respectively from July 1 to December 30.

Tesla's Battery Giga Factory  

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Greentech Media has an article on Tesla's massive "giga factory" for producing batteries - Tesla Giga Factory: $4B to $5B Price Tag, With Battery Production Slated for 2017. More at GigaOm - Tesla confirms huge battery factory plan, will ship 35K Model S cars this year.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk provided some more details on the company's proposed battery factory:

* The company just announced a $1.6 billion convertible debt offering. Tesla looks to offer $800 million of convertible senior notes due in 2019 and $800 million due in 2021 to build the world's largest battery factory.
* Musk predicts that the new factory will produce batteries for 500,000 vehicles by 2020.
* Tesla expects to send the kilowatt-hour price of batteries down by 30 percent.
* The plan is for construction to start in 2014, with production beginning in 2017. ...

Musk also said that Panasonic, currently supplying hundreds of millions of cells to Tesla, would likely join in on the new factory. Samsung has been mentioned as a potential partner. I'll throw in Apple as a potential partner; computers and tablets need lithium-ion batteries (albeit in different form factors), and there's been talk of recent Apple-Tesla meetings.

The Tesla CEO envisions "a plant that is heavily powered by renewables, wind and solar, and that has built into it the recycling capability for old battery packs." “It is going to be a really giant facility. [...] We are doing that something that’s comparable to all lithium-ion production in the world in one factory," said Musk in a previous earnings call.

Investment bank Barclays writes, "For the time being, our model does not reflect the additional cost of building out a giga factory, or the significant potential revenue that Tesla could generate from non-automotive sources such as grid storage. Optionality could provide upside for the stock, as investors consider the potential upside to revenue from non-automotive sources."

“We believe the days when Tesla was known as purely an auto company are numbered,” wrote Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas in a January research note, adding, "We are witnessing the most disruptive intersection of manufacturing, innovation and capital experienced by the auto industry in more than a century.” Jonas also opined that “Tesla may be in position to disrupt industries well beyond the realm of traditional auto manufacturing. It’s not just cars."

Bloomberg also has an older article on Tesla's sister company Solar City which looks like being a big customer for batteries from the Gigafactory - Tesla's Industrial-Grade Solar Power Storage System.

It’s weird to see the big, red Tesla Motors “T” logo hanging from the side of a house or a building. But it’s the real deal. The company’s march from the automobile to the home, office, and factory has begun.

This week, SolarCity, which sells and installs solar panels for residential and commercial customers, began offering an industrial-grade power storage unit produced by Tesla. The system mounts on a wall and looks something like a white mini-fridge with Tesla’s distinctive logo in the upper left corner. It contains hundreds of the same lithium-ion batteries that Tesla’s Model S sedan needs to run and, in fact, has about one-eighth of the juice found in Tesla’s top-of-the-line battery pack. “If you go to the end of the manufacturing line at the Tesla factory where they put the battery pack on, you will see these storage systems being assembled,” says Pete Rive, the co-founder and chief technology officer at Tesla.

The purpose of the storage system is twofold. It lets solar customers shift off the grid during times when energy companies charge their highest rates, and it provides a backup system during power outages. SolarCity has been offering these systems to consumers on a limited basis—a few hundred customers so far—and, as of this week, began selling it to commercial customers as well. Customers do not have to pay upfront for the hardware but will need, instead, to commit to a 10-year service agreement with monthly payments.

The battery pack would cost about $15,000 without financing. “Our long run goal is to include a storage system with every solar system we sell,” says Rive.

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