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June 28, 2006

Wind farm gives shape to alternative energy dream - Fiji Times

Wind farm gives shape to alternative energy dream
Fiji Times, Fiji - Jun 27, 2006
THE dream of providing electricity through an alternative source of energy will soon be realised with the construction of a wind farm in Sigatoka. ...

Posted by dymaxion at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

Global warming appeal fails against mines - ABC Online

Global warming appeal fails against mines
ABC Online, Australia - 14 hours ago
A north Queensland conservation group has lost its bid to force the Federal Government to consider global warming when approving new coal mines. ...

Posted by dymaxion at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)

Bush admin to offer $170 mln for solar energy - ABC News

Bush admin to offer $170 mln for solar energy
ABC News - 6 hours ago
... Reuters) - The Bush administration said on Wednesday it would offer $170 million to public and private partnerships to make solar energy more competitive with ...
Bush admin to offer $170m for solar energy Stuff.co.nz
Bush administration to unveil solar energy effort Reuters.uk
US announces solar energy initiative United Press International
ABC News - all 12 related

Posted by dymaxion at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2006

Twin Peaks

The Big Squeeze: Peak Oil and the Global Climate

Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is bringing the word to many Americans about something in which there is little dispute in the scientific community: global climate change can no longer just be called a threat; rather, it is real and its impact is both apparent and profound. Last year, the carbon energy industry through it's lobbying force and the Bush Administration was unsuccessful in its attempt to silence one of the government's chief climatologists on the subject of Global Warming. We had the chance to hear him --he, by the way, is James Hansen, Director of NOAA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies--   not too long ago at the Sustainable Energy Forum 2006 Conference in DC "Peak Oil and the Environment",  offer his stark prediction that unless we reserve the emission of greenhouse gases (produced mainly through our consumption of carbon-based fuel), the world will reach a point of no return on global warming within a decade.  And just yesterday, we got official confirmation from another government agency, the National Research Council, that the last two decades were Earth's hottest for at least the last 400 years and possibly since Nero recited poetry in the glow of a burning Rome.  The study was done at Congress's request and relied on scientifically reliable data from tree rings and ice core samplings.

Already there is a growing consensus that warming oceans are to blame for an apparently growing trend in climate turbulence.  But the accelerating shrinking of glaciers from the Alps to Kilimanjaro to the polar regions portends even greater dangers, particularly to coastal regions where rising water levels could impact hundreds of millions of people.

For most of us, the problem alone, given the global cooperation required to alter it, seems daunting if not intractable. But that intractability, put into the context of the greatest geopolitical crisis of out time, something called Peak Oil, may just be insurmountable. Oil, and its twin underground energy resource, natural gas, emit carbon dioxide when they are converted to energy. However, they are both relatively clean fuels  that can be consumed in highly efficient manners. Now imagine a Peak Oil/Gas world in which oil and gas grows ever more costly as the market absorbs the implications of a supply that is already half exhausted at the same time as two thirds of the population has the expectation that they too will achieve a standard of living that has been built on the premise of an unending supply of cheap energy.

Carbon dioxide emission (C02} is the major greenhouse gas component) is a growing worldwide phenomenon but the developed world, and particularly the US are critical to the present state of affairs. Today the US represents just 4% of the world's population but it, alone, consumes 25% of the world's energy production. 

And energy is the world's largest economic sector. Last year, just petroleum  --not the service or chemical  industries around it nor other forms of energy-- accounted for sales of $3 trillion.  Put in prospective, the US economy, the world's largest,  (GDP) was $11.3 trillion and the next largest economy, that of Japan was $4.3 trillion.  

For contemporary economies, there is a direct correlation between energy consumption and economic expansion. If present economic trends continue --and that, of course, is a huge if, given the pitfalls that lie ahead-- by mid-century a recent Goldman Sachs study projects that the 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians will have a economies totaling twice the US's projected $36 trillion ($44.5 and $27.8 trillion, respectively).  The implication is that the world will be consuming four times the amount of energy it consumes today in order to merely meet a steady level of growth in energy demand.

In contrast,  according to the World-Watch Institute oil extraction has already exceeded discoveries of new oil by a factor of three over the past two decades. It's not only the constant growth in the consumption in energy that mirrors world economic growth but the resulting emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. 

Peak Oil, measures the moment we find ourselves increasing our rate of consumption faster than our rate of production capacity. For the US, that tipping point is now estimated to have occurred somewhere in the early 1970's, very close to the timeline predicted by the legendary oil industry geologist, M. King Hubbert. Since then, the US has increasingly become a net importer.  It is also no coincidence that US geopolitical involvement in the Persian Gulf greatly increased in that period.

 Kenneth Deffeyes, is a Professor Emeritus at Princeton who has authored several books on Hubbert. Using Hubbert's methods --which, against all the common wisdom of the day turned out to be uncannily accurate--  Diffeyes has projected that global Peak Oil occurred some time in 2005.  Diffeyes is one of only a handful of  scientists world wide who have long focused on the ins and outs of proven petroleum reserves.  More optimistic projections put global peak oil occurring somewhere between today and the year 2020.  Deffeyes also spoke at the Sustainable Energy forum, and several interesting stories emerged, at least for us; Diffeyes points out the astounding fact that most of the publicly available information on "proven" oil reserves is actually based on estimates from some pretty shaky and biased sources. Most oil producing countries, including the principal suppliers like Saudi Arabia and Russia, keep that information as a state secret; on the public side, over the last few years, stockholders have been informed by Shell, an oil giant second only to Exxon, in its Annual Reports that its own calculations of proven reserves have had to be lowered in each of the last three consecutive reports. In essence, Shell has had to admit three years running that it has less "proven" oil reserves than it said it had the year before!

In this financially and politically charged atmosphere of secrecy a number of misconceptions have been allowed to flourish.  Up until a few short years ago, industry pundits through the media often alluded to an abundance of natural gas both in the US and around the world. By the way, Deffeyes also believes that we have reached global peak in natural gas. Despite what we hear from some optimistic analysts, it seems that on the defining issue of our time, we are flying in the dark when it comes to how much oil and gas is still tappable!

An oil squeeze, that is, a coming world in which oil and gas prices rise, could be considered a good thing for those worrying about global climate change as it provides a firmer economic basis for investments into alternative energy sources, including renewables. But there is an equally looming danger to the environment, coal, and coal is cheap and relatively abundant. The recent rash of coal mine accidents is all too clear a symptom of what's happening here in the US on that front. Smaller, less productive mines are being rushed into production and crews are already working around the clock to mine the rock carbon. In contrast to the carbon based petroleum and natural gas fuels that have been in use in this country over most of the last century for heating, electricity generation and transportation, coal is, of course, a dirtier alternative. Not only does coal produce greenhouse gases in abundance, it also produces a number of pollutants that are dangerous to be flora and fauna populations and to the environment as a whole. In the last week the New York Times has run an article on Chinese coal production and its environmental impact: Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow  and another on Europe's growing use of coal:  Europe's Image Clashes With Reliance on Coal:

Europe likes to think of itself as a place that has moved beyond its sooty industrial past, with energy that comes from the windmills that dot the Dutch countryside and the Danish coastline or the carbon-free nuclear plants that dominate France's power industry.

But with oil prices soaring and worries rising about the reliability of gas piped from Russia, Europe must depend heavily on that great industrial-age relic, coal: a cheap, plentiful fuel, but one that emits twice the carbon dioxide of natural gas. Coal-fired plants generated half the power in Germany and Britain during the chilly winter just past.

 Ironically the burning of "dirty" fuels might even initially mitigate global warming through a process called global  dimming --something that was measurable in the week after 9/11 when planes were forced out of US skies--  but the damage of a corrosive atmosphere produced by burning coal will only multiply climatic problems.  There are coal advocates who argue that coal can be scrubbed and that even the production of carbon dioxide can be mitigated by storing the gas in the underground caverns left by abandoned mines. The danger is that the "stored" gases will eventually find their way into the atmosphere. The short time fix would just push another problem down to the next generations

Another area for disinformation swirls around ethanol and biomass. Ethanol made from corn is being heavily touted in the US. Superficially corn-based ethanol might seem attractive, but its main momentum comes from its boon to farm state politicians. However, it's estimated, generously it seems, that it takes a gallon of petroleum to produce 1.2 gallons of ethanol and that ethanol burns at about 80% of the efficiency of petroleum.  Corn ethanol is being subsidized by tax breaks.  But the ethanol equation, unless we are talking about natural biomass byproducts, has some other environmental pitfalls.  Agricultural production, be it corn or more efficient crops, eventually leads to a host of other emerging societal problems like food shortages, soil depletion, pesticide pollution. Industrial style agriculture also relies on petroleum-based fertilizers. Farming, particularly in marginal areas, is a massive consumer of water.  In many parts of the US and the world, there is already a growing struggle over the availability of usable water. Growing populations are also putting pressure on that limited resource. 

There are other biomass products that may be more economical than cultivated crops of corn, rapeseed or even sugar. There is growing interest in wild grasses or even certain hardwoods. However, it's notable that none of the Sustainable Energy Forum speakers believes we will be  able to grow our way out of this conundrum.  At best, biomass will be one component in a combination of technologies.

There's also renewed talk about restarting up nuclear energy production in the US and abroad. Nuclear also has big business proponents who give it particular momentum. They argue that because nuclear produces no greenhouse gases it thus becomes an apparent solution to both the energy problem and global warming.  But as we are well aware nuclear --as its used at its best today-- comes with its own very heavy environmental baggage mainly associated with safety and  the safe disposal of the highly poisonous wastes that are its byproduct. The giant nuclear dump that has been built at enormous expense and against rigid public resistance at Yucca Flats has still not yet been opened despite the crisis in "temporary" storage methods but it is already projected that it will be full within the first decade of operation. That means the US will have to locate and get local permission to go ahead with another "suitable" site  Getting another suitable site for the dump in the contiguous 48 will be hard enough but nuclear waste has to be transported from the reactor sites to the dump which means a difficult and dangerous process of handling and transporting on public byways.  Imagine the throughways and railroads packed with containers of this most toxic of stuff. With all this movement it is not only probable that serious accidents will happen but it's also possible that the materials will get into the hands of malevolent forces who could, at the very least, exact great leverage with a technically easy to make, dirty bomb. Nuclear reactors also have to be built near water sources. How many communities today in a Homer Simpson world are ready to accept the presence of a nuclear plant?

Claudio Filippone, a physicist at the University Maryland argues against the feasibility of going ahead with conventional nuclear plants.  He does believe, however, that future breakthroughs can be made in alternative methods of producing nuclear energy that eliminate the waste problem. Like other technological breakthroughs in fields as related or varied as photovoltaics, electricity storage, and nanotechnology will no doubt appear on the horizon.

But given this fast emerging dilemma we're calling the "twin peaks",  it is hard to find many optimists in the field. People like Michael Klare --another Peak Oil  and the Environment conference speaker-  for example, have focused on the geopolitical stresses that Peak Oil brings on and that many believe are already in full evidence in US/Iraq and US/Iran interactivities.  Klare's most recent book is called Blood and Oil.

To understand what's at play, ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas believes that in the case of Iraq, which officially claims 112 billion barrels of reserves, there are probably reserves of 80 billion barrels. At today's price, that's $5 trillion. Iraq is one of the big pools left but put in prospective, at today's rates, the world consumes about 85 million barrels a day. Just as the global problems of HIV Aids or the portent of a deadly flu pandemic are played out against a background of geopolitics, it's important not to underestimate what stresses on the system peak oil and global climate change pose in an already fragile, highly suspicious world.

Not everyone in the long-time environmental community is wholly pessimistic.  One exception, is Lester Brown, who has received a MacArthur Fellowship and 20 honorary degrees for his work on environmentalism. Brown believes that we already have sufficient technology and firm economic motivation to pursue a path that quite rapidly leads us out of our dependence on a carbon-based energy economy.  He points to a history of thirty odd years of development in alternative energy technology that he believes provides a sufficient foundation for the advances that can be made in the next few years. Brown believes that a combination of solar, hydro and wind power along with behavioral changes is well within our powers of achievement.  

Christopher Flavin, the President of the WorldWatch Institute argues that " The same technological revolution that created the Internet and so many other 21st Century wonders can be used to efficiently harness the world's vast supplies of wind, biomass and other forms of solar energy --which are 6,000 times greater on an annual basis than the fossil resources we now rely upon.  Technologies such as solar cells, fuel cells, biorefineries and wind turbines are in about the same place today that the internal combustion engine and electromagnetic generator occupied in 1905. These key enabling technologies have already been developed and commercialized, but they are just now entering the world's largest markets.........Roughly $30 billion was invested in advanced biofuels, giant windfarms, solar manufacturing plants and other technologies in 2004.

In Gore's powerpoint that he has given thousands of times over the last few years, he equates our present predicament to that of a frog in a heating pot.  As the water gradually warms, the frog's senses adapt, it continues to swim around right up until it gets cooked. Bending to some feedback he got from his audiences, Gore now plucks the amphibian out of the hot water just in time! 

The clear consensus at the Sustainable Energy Forum 2006, Peak Oil and the Environment was that wind power, an inherently clean technology, holds the greatest immediate potential to fill a significant portion of the gap as new technologies come into play. Unfortunately, along with the opposition to nuclear, even windfarms pose difficult political problems.  Take environmentally friendly Massachusetts, where a proposed off-coast wind farm has been bitterly opposed by a constituency full of donors to environmentally friendly causes. Other proposed wind farms around the country have also raised the fears of bird and bat lovers. 

Inexpensive solar collectors are another area of hope.  Just this week a Palo Alto based company announced that it was building the largest solar cell production facility in the country using a technology it compared to "printing" the cells.  Present solar technology relies on silicon wafers that are much more costly to produce. Recently, there's been a shortage of these wafers even as demand mounts.

However, if Jim Hansen is right about the tipping point, and more coal in the mix will only accelerate that date, those folks up around Hyannisport better stop worrying about their binocular views, they might want to visit the Netherlands or New Orleans for a look at what their future might look like close up.


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Posted by dymaxion at 04:18 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2006

Palo Alto’s Nanosolar raises $75M, plans Bay Area factory 

Palo Alto’s Nanosolar raises $75M, plans Bay Area factory
Solar energy company Nanosolar Inc. said Wednesday that it plans to build the world’s largest solar cell factory in the Bay Area.

PG&E Offers $300,000 in Grants to Habitat for Humanity Chapters
Continuing its long-standing commitment to clean and renewable energy, as well as to support the communities it serves, Pacific Gas and Electric Company today announced plans to give $300,000 in grants to Habitat for Humanity chapters to cover the installation costs of solar generation systems on homes built for low-income families.

Posted by dymaxion at 11:36 PM | Comments (0)

Tesla Motors Inc. Nears Launch of First Vehicle

Tesla Roadster is 100% electric, not hybrid. Four wheel drive (in-wheel motors) make it faster than most sports cars; and it has a 250+ mile range. Major VC backed ($40 million) company will be showing off the car July 12 in Santa Monica. (PESWiki; June 12, 2006)

Posted by dymaxion at 11:29 PM | Comments (0)

Sanyo to Invest $350 million in Solar Over 5 Years

Japanese electronics maker Sanyo Electric Co. said on Wednesday it would invest more than $350 million in its solar cell business over five years, aiming to cash in on growing demand for renewable energy.

Posted by dymaxion at 11:27 PM | Comments (0)

UPDATE 1-California sets "clean energy" oil tax on ballot - Reuters

UPDATE 1-California sets "clean energy" oil tax on ballot
Reuters - 4 hours ago
... in November on a ballot measure proposing a constitutional amendment that would tax oil production to fund a range of alternative energy efforts, Secretary of ...
California sets "clean energy" oil tax on ballot Reuters
Initiative levying tax on oil companies qualifies for the ballot San Jose Mercury News
Oil tax measure qualifies for November ballot San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle - all 29 related

Posted by dymaxion at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

Hawking: Global warming to make Earth like Venus - Jerusalem Post

Washington Post
Hawking: Global warming to make Earth like Venus
Jerusalem Post, Israel - 13 hours ago
Stephen Hawking provoked a group of Chinese students on Wednesday saying he was "very worried about global warming." He said he was afraid that Earth "might ...
Stephen Hawking says global warming could make Earth a fiery ... KVOA.com
Stephen Hawking Charms Chinese Students ABC News
Stephen Hawking Charms Chinese Students Los Angeles Times
Hindu - all 55 related

Posted by dymaxion at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

Report: Calif.'s global warming emissions surge - San Jose Mercury News

Technology News Daily
Report: Calif.'s global warming emissions surge
San Jose Mercury News,  USA - 13 hours ago
LOS ANGELES - California's global warming emissions leaped 85 percent between 1960 and 2001, according to a report by an environmental group. ...
West Virginia global warming pollution up 115 percent since 1960 WOAY-TV
California’s Global Warming Pollution Up 85% Since 1960 California Progress Report
US adds fuel to global warming Biloxi Sun Herald
Boston Globe - Environment California - all 74 related

Posted by dymaxion at 11:20 PM | Comments (0)

Russia to build floating nuclear power station

Russia is to shrug off environmental concerns about 'floating Chernobyls' and press ahead with construction of the world's first floating nuclear power station. The Kremlin has approved the project and a shipyard in the far north of Russia that usually turns out nuclear submarines will begin construction work next year.

Rosenergoatom, Russia's nuclear power agency, says it intends to build up to six floating power stations and that the first one will be ready in 2010. They will supply heat and electricity to far-flung corners of Russia's Far East and Far North where it is difficult and expensive to ship coal and oil. Russia has made no secret of the fact that it would also like to sell the controversial mobile power units to other countries such as China and India. The power stations have a service life of forty years, require a crew of 69 people, and generate enough heat and electricity to power a medium-sized town.

Posted by dymaxion at 10:53 PM | Comments (0)

Quebec unveils carbon tax

Quebec plans to adopt tough vehicle emissions standards and will become the first province to levy a "carbon tax" on oil and gas companies as part of an ambitious plan to fight global warming. The tax will raise about $200-million a year over six years, provincial government officials said yesterday, and will finance a $1.2-billion Green Fund to make reductions in greenhouse gas emissions called for under the international Kyoto accord. Environmental groups welcomed the measures, but a petroleum industry spokesman said the tax will be passed on to consumers...Mr. Bchard called the oil industry's reaction "odious."

Quebec's plan also calls for new vehicles sold after 2010 to produce less greenhouse gases. Tough standards similar to those enforced in California will apply to cars and trucks sold in Quebec.

Posted by dymaxion at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

China to assess its wind and solar energy potential - SciDev.net

China to assess its wind and solar energy potential
SciDev.net, UK - Jun 20, 2006
[BEIJING] China has opened a new centre to assess its potential to generate wind and solar energy. The Centre for Wind and Solar ...
PCs beat solar and wind power as fave tech Silicon.com
all 2 related

Posted by dymaxion at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2006

LA's South Central Farm under police siege right now

Cory Doctorow: The police have closed on South Central Farm, the largest community garden in the USA. The farms were planted after the Rodney King uprising, when the land was given to the neighborhood, and it has been reclaimed and cultivated by 350 families. The city reneged on its promise and sold the land to a developer, who has now moved on it with bulldozers and a riot squad.
The South Central Farm is currently under attack. An early morning raid began this 5-hour long eviction that is still in process. Trees are being cut down, bulldozers are leveling the families’ food, hundreds of protesters are on site rallying with tears in their eyes as the nation’s largest urban farm is destroyed before them. The L.A.P.D. is on tactical alert as fire ladders and cherry pickers are being brought in to remove the tree-sitters. The 350 families created this oasis 14 years ago in the wake of the 1992 uprising when this land was offered to the community by the then Mayor as a form of mitigation.
Link, Flickr's southcentralfarm tag (Thanks to everyone who wrote in with this link)

Update: Elan sez, "the land for the farm was originally taken from Ralph Horowitz through eminent domain with the intension of using it for a trash incinerator. When the incinerator fell through, the city was required to sell it back to the Horowitz (after a ten year period of first refusal)."

Posted by dymaxion at 10:49 PM | Comments (0)

Renewable Energy to Power New Antarctic Research Station

The International Polar Foundation (IPF) unveiled the final plans for Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Antarctic research station, to be built during the International Polar Year 2007-08 (IPY). The station will enable Belgium, and other nations participating in its science program, to carry on research on climate change and Antarctica's key role as part of the global climate system. And fittingly, the structure will be powered almost entirely through a combination of renewable energy technologies including wind, solar thermal, and solar photovoltaic.

Posted by dymaxion at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

Nanotube Super Capacitor Battery

MIT researchers are developing a battery based on capacitors that utilize nanotubes for high surface area, enabling near instantaneous charging and no degradation. Estimating ~5 years to commercialization. (PESWiki; June 10, 2006)

Posted by dymaxion at 09:59 PM | Comments (0)

Construction Starts On Largest Solar-electric Plant

Portugal is breaking ground on the worlds single largest photovoltaic (solar cell) electricity power plant. The plant, situated in Serpa, will cost €58 million to construct. It will have a peak power rating of 11 megawatts spread out over 60 hectares.

Portugal gets quite a lot of sun − not as much as Murcia or Sicily, but still a lot. According to RETScreen's database Evora (the closest inland location to Serpa in the database) gets 2.82 MWh/m2 per annum with the use of a two-axis tracking system. I did a quick calculation with RETScreen and came up with a 25.8 % capacity factor. That correlates to a annual power production of 25000 MWh. If amortized over 25 years, the facility will produce power for a rate of €0.093/kWh plus maintenance costs.

Posted by dymaxion at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)


... FETZER TO BE LARGEST SOLAR-POWERED WINERY By Matt Marshall Mercury News Fetzer Winery is poised to become the largest solar energy winery in the nation. The Mendocino winery is planning to install a 901-kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel system on the roofs of the bottling facility and red wine barrel room at Fetzer's winery in Hopland. By ...
GrapeVine Trail | Bringing the wine country home View Technorati URL search

Posted by dymaxion at 09:30 PM | Comments (0)