A conspiracy to stiff gas consumers ?  

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Michael West has an article in the SMH posing the question "are rising Australian domestic gas prices the result of a conspiracy" - A conspiracy to stiff gas consumers.

Coal prices have crashed, the carbon tax has gone, yet the cost of electricity continues to rise. Oil prices have halved, yet the price of gas, which is linked to oil, is going up 17 per cent.

This used to be a country which thrived on an abundance of low-cost energy. Now virtually every consumer and every business is shackled by spiralling energy prices. ...

About 34,000 homes had their electricity cut off and there were more than 24,000 who had their gas cut off. There is a vicious circle in this, because the fewer people there are on the grid the more the networks charge each customer to recoup their costs.

And charge they do. Even as inflation has ebbed in recent years, and even as actual demand has receded too, the networks have kept pushing regulators for their 10 per cent returns. ...

The gas lobby has been running the line, talking about a "cliff" in gas supply. Unless new coal seam gas projects were urgently bought on the east coast would literally run out of gas. This scare campaign has been the impetus for the dramatic rise in gas prices.

Yet there is no hard evidence for it, because the gas cartel does not reveal even to the government how much there is in the way of gas reserves or what is actually contracted and at what price.

It is no secret though that, despite Australia's enormous reserves, prices have been driven up by the rush to export the stuff to Asia. Local consumers are being forced to pay international prices and the producers have diverted supply to the Gladstone plants to be turned into LNG and shipped offshore.

That, too, is now unravelling. Credit Suisse sallied forth with a report this week which pointed out gas prices had halved, in line with plunging oil, and that the Gladstone LNG projects were in financial disarray.

Personally I'd find it ard to blame rising gas prices on anything other than the linkage of domestic prices to the international export market - as long as Asian prices are higher than domestic prices once were, we'll have to pay out more. The only real solution to this, as a coalition of manufacturers have argued, is reserving a percentage of gas production for the domestic market and regulating the price (then ignoring the howls from the gas producers about missing profit opportunities). In the longer run solar power will make the issue largely irrelevant, other than for industries that need gas as a feedstock.

The SMH had an earlier article talking about the effect of exports on local prices - Local gas prices set to soar as exports to Asia get under way.

In late December, British energy giant BG Group sent the first ever shipment of liquefied natural gas from Australia's east coast, using gas from the state's booming coal seam gas industry. Granted, it sounds far removed from everyday life for most of us. But this cargo load is the start of a trend that will dramatically increase how much households pay for gas used for hot water, cooking, or heating.

It is predicted to push up many households' utility bills by a similar amount to the carbon tax, but there are no plans for compensation. And as you'd expect with a jump in the cost of living of this size, this one is producing some seriously flimsy economics.

First though, back to that shipment. Not only was it the first time that CSG has been converted into LNG, the exportable form of gas. More importantly for consumers, it was the first time gas has been exported from the east coast of Australia at all, and there is much more to come. Origin Energy and Santos this year also hope to start pumping cargo loads full of the stuff, to be sold to buyers across China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and other Asian nations.

Economists are keeping an eye on these projects – and others in WA – as there are predictions they could make Australia the world's biggest exporter of LNG by 2018, overtaking Qatar. LNG looks set to become our second biggest export behind iron ore. But what will affect households directly is how this massive new industry transforms the domestic gas market.

Now that the east coast is able to export gas (WA has been doing it since 1989) producers have the option of selling to buyers in Asia, who are willing to pay much, much more for it than we have been.

Historically, the east coast gas market was insulated from the rest of the world, and the domestic wholesale price was stable at about $3 to $4 a gigajoule. Now, there are buyers across Asia prepared to pay $12 or $13, even when energy markets are in turmoil as they are at the moment.

ReNew Economy has an article on the dismal future for natural gas fired power generation - Record low solar prices heralds power shift from fossil fuels.

It should be a little ironic – given the dramatic plunge in the oil price that is said to have been driven by Saudi Arabian supply tactics – that a Saudi company should set two global records for cheap solar power in the past two weeks.

But to energy analysts it is yet another sign of the energy transition taking place across the world, and one that could be accelerated, rather than slowed, by the collapse in the oil price because of the cancellation and deferral of tens of billions of dollars in uneconomic fossil fuel reserves.

ACWA Power, a water and power developer based in the Saudi capital Riyadh, last week won the world’s largest ever solar tender with the cheapest ever price for a large scale solar project.

It will build – with the help of Spanish group TSK and technology from US-based First Solar – a 260MWp solar PV plant at the Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai, at a cost of just $US0.058/kwh, of $US58.4/MWh.

That’s how much it will receive as a fixed tariff over 25 years for what will be – for the moment – the largest solar plant in Middle East. The price it bid is 20 per cent cheaper than the previous benchmark for solar tenders. What’s more, it is 30 per cent cheaper than the price of gas that is currently used for nearly all of the electricity generation in the United Arab Emirates.

Makani: Google’s Energy Harvesting Kites  

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Cryptogon points to a new video on Google's Makani wind power kites (covered in one of the more popular posts here many years ago Alternative wind power experiments) - Makani: Google’s Energy Harvesting Kites.

Makani is working to accelerate the shift to clean, renewable energy by developing energy kites, a new type of wind turbine that uses lightweight electronics, advanced materials, and smart software to generate more energy with less materials—all at lower cost.

Kevin seems to have a love-hate relationship with Google, also pointing to this piece of investigative journalism on Medium - How the CIA made Google.

INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project, breaks the exclusive story of how the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. Seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, Google was merely the first among a plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain ‘information superiority.’

The origins of this ingenious strategy trace back to a secret Pentagon-sponsored group, that for the last two decades has functioned as a bridge between the US government and elites across the business, industry, finance, corporate, and media sectors. The group has allowed some of the most powerful special interests in corporate America to systematically circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law to influence government policies, as well as public opinion in the US and around the world. The results have been catastrophic: NSA mass surveillance, a permanent state of global war, and a new initiative to transform the US military into Skynet.

Why has nearsightedness more than doubled in 50 years ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

TreeHugger has a post on research into the increasing incidence of myopia - with lack of exposure to sunlight being a possible cause - Why has nearsightedness more than doubled in 50 years?.

Sixty years ago, 10 to 20 percent of the Chinese population was nearsighted, now up to 90 percent of teenagers and young adults have trouble seeing distance. In other parts of the world the story is similar: Half of the young adults in the United States and Europe now have myopia, double the number of half a century ago. And some are predicting that by 2020, one-third of the world’s population could be diagnosed with the condition. ...

But surprisingly, it’s not the reading and computers and smartphones that are to blame. Now researchers believe that it’s the very act of spending too much time inside that is causing the problem. After a great deal of research and eliminating other factors, scientists now think that it boils down to exposure to light. Regardless of what kids are doing – whether sports, or playing, and even those who continue to do “close work” (like reading) outside – what seems to be key is the eye's exposure to bright light.

So while our kids are losing their connection to nature – while they’re becoming increasingly unfamiliar with the feeling of grass underfoot, mud in the hands, the sound of birds, the smell of dirt – they’re also losing the ability to see.

France decrees new rooftops must be covered in plants or solar panels  

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The Guardian reports that rooftops on new buildings built in commercial zones in France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels, under a law approved on Thursday - France decrees new rooftops must be covered in plants or solar panels.

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