Monday, May 30, 2011

The unbearable crisis of being comfortably well off

Micheal Pascoe (below) covers a report from The Economist about Australia - specifically how despite the past ~20 years of good economic performance - the Australian political class has become a degenerate pack of populist petty crisis merchants. While there are problems (potentially crises) that do need addressing, supreme populists like Tony Abbott prefer to focus on their own self imagined crises for which they are ready to regurgitate there own predigested ideologically laced solution. Bending over for the big end of town is also a popular hobby.

This reminds me of the Adam Cutis film The Power of Nightmares1. One of the central themes in the film is that the goal of the modern politicrat is not to provide true leadership; articulating and enabling the hopes and dreams of citizens - rather it is to protect us from the dark (imagined?) forces out to destroy "us".

In the Australian context Tony Abbotts dark imagined dangers include such terrible foes as The Greens.

Lucky country out of luck with its leaders
Sydney Morning Herald, May 30th.

The cover story for this week's Economist magazine is a special report on Australia, The Next Golden State. It's a folly of cultural cringe to take too much notice of what some foreigner might think of us, but it also can be instructive to view ourselves through the considered opinion of an outsider's fresh eyes. And it's not hard to take when it's basically a rave review by a prestigious publication.

According to The Economist, about the only major negative, the only threat to realising our even greater potential, is our politics. This from the magazine's editorial:

“Many Australians do not seem to appreciate that they live in an unusually successful country. Accustomed to unbroken economic expansion - many are too young to remember recession - they are inclined to complain about house prices, 5 per cent unemployment or the problems that a high exchange rate causes manufacturing and several other industries. Some Australians talk big but actually think small, and politicians may be the worst offenders.

“Its current political leaders, with notable exceptions, are perhaps the least impressive feature of today's Australia. Just when their country has the chance to become influential in the world, they appear introverted and unable to see the big picture. ..."

The section of the report specifically on politics finds plenty to criticise on both sides, plus some of the usual bipartisan problems about the brevity of our electoral cycle, the rise of poll-driven political henchmen and our inconstancy.

Unlike the days of Menzies and Howard, Abbott's party “seems to have no philosophical principles at all” ...

“In any event, the level of political discourse is not high. That is partly the fault of the media, but also the fault of the politicians, some of whom at least are happy to join battle, mouthing jibes and slogans (Let's move Australia forward, Stand up for Australia, The real Julia, Stop the boats, End the waste), seldom bothering to explain a policy or answer a question without short-term political gain being uppermost in their minds.”

Carbon pollution

The scare campaign over pricing carbon is hurting more. The point nobody seems to get – and that Abbott discourages anyone getting and Gillard is apparently incapable of selling – is that pricing carbon in Australia really isn't about saving the planet, but is all about saving Australian industry.

If we have not already begun the process when the emerging nations and the US join Europe in taking it seriously, we'll be in very serious danger of being hung out to dry.

Keep shouting that the Government is taking Australia down the drain, that our macro economic policy is a total failure, and some people will be silly enough to believe it. The mindless simplification of budget policy into “surplus good, deficit bad” has been effectively debunked by Ross Gittins but don't expect most of the media to understand it.
The Adam Curtis blog above provides a link to an interesting interview with Errol Morris - discussing such things as the fallacy of the balanced viewpoint;

People criticized my film by saying things like, “Why aren’t you balanced? What aren’t you putting in the other views?” And my response was, “What if the other view is wrong?” That’s the real problem of the balanced view - what's called ‘perceived wisdom.’

and notional moles;

EM: Ron Rosenbaum, a friend of mine, has written a number of articles on James Jesus Angleton and the CIA. [Angleton was the head of counter-intelligence during the height of the Cold War.]

EM: He talked about “notional moles” in the article. And the notional mole – according to Rosenbaum – is that you make the other side believe that you’ve planted a mole in their midst without ever having actually planted a mole. ... You drive them insane.

AC: Because they're looking for something that doesn’t actually exist.

1. Interestingly, the film either has not been shown or had great difficulty in being shown in the US.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rectify this

Below is a cut and paste “review” of the idea behind light rectification as an alternative method of deriving electrical power from solar energy. To preempt comments, this is not a magic bullet solution, it is some way yet before it may be useful (if ever) and I am not suggesting that “all our energy problems are over hip hip hooray”. However, IF advances keep apace, the possibility of being able to mass print such a device as envisioned below may be a welcome development.

Rectification is part of the process of converting an AC signal into a DC signal. Simple half wave rectification uses a diode that allows the forward going current to pass and blocks the reverse going current. Additional components are then used to “smooth” the resulting signal. Full rectification uses a bridge rectifier (essentially a collection of diodes) arranged in such a way that both the input forward and reverse currents appear at the output of the circuit in the same direction. Again, when smoothed this becomes a DC current.

Rectification is not a new technology. The simple “cats whisker” rectifier (a piece of wire in contact with a semiconducting crystal) of simple crystal radio sets – perhaps a novelty for the Nintendo generation – was the heart of the detector.

Rectification of microwaves is achievable at high power and is one of the technologies behind schemes to transmit solar power from space to ground based receivers. It has also been demonstrated as a means of wireless transmission.

In theory, the same principle should be applicable to shorter wavelength radiation, if some fundamental limitations can be overcome.

Dig the heat

Geothermal power development is moving a little more slowly than either governments or investors would like.

Geothermal industry defends its record
Sydney Morning Herald 20th May.

Australia's geothermal sector has responded to criticism it is not progressing fast enough, saying major new geothermal projects can take as long to develop as a liquefied natural gas plant.

Opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane said recently the geothermal industry had stalled.

He singled out Geodynamics Ltd as being "no further advanced than it was five, ten years ago".

Geodynamics chief executive Geoff Ward says the criticism is unwarranted, especially considering technical issues that have plagued the projects are being overcome.

"There is a view that the industry exists through government funding alone," Mr Ward told AAP.

"We've raised in excess of $400 million over ten years and spent nearly $300 million in the ground but only $11 million has come from government funding."

Panax Geothermal Ltd managing director Kerry Parker said talk of the sector surviving on grants was "rubbish".

"It's an industry that, you've got to be honest, is suffering at the moment," Mr Parker said.

In Indonesia, Panax is working on conventional geothermal projects, which target volcanic-based hot aquifers. They don't require fracturing rocks, like projects in SA, and are hence easier to develop.

Indonesia was a ready market for Panax, given the nation's goal was to expand geothermal energy production by about 4,000 megawatts (MW) by 2015, from 1,400 MW currently, to meet an energy shortfall.

Both Geodynamics and Petratherm Ltd still remain committed to SA, with Petratherm expecting to deliver Australia's first commercial supplies of hot rock power from its Paralana project by the end of 2012.

This would be three years later than initially expected, following drilling problems at the project including fluids flowing into the well.

He said the greatest risks were principally financial.  Other than deep pockets, patience was needed as a geothermal development was similar in scope to a large LNG project, Mr Ward said.

"My view of the energy future of this world is we'll see progressively more gas, more renewables and less coal.

"And it's inevitable the nuclear issue will come up for serious debate and so it should."

Indonesia is struggling to keep up with demand for improved infrastructure, electricity being a prime example. Rolling blackouts, three times a day where I live, were a challenge while I completed my thesis two years ago. In response to the demand, Indonesia appears to be considering any option. The government has given geothermal some favorable treatment, but apparently sometimes not favorable enough for some investors.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

MBD Energy Moving Forward with Tarong Algae Plant

The Climate Spectator reports that algae biomass hopeful MBD Energy (the subject of reports in the SMH and Australian in recent years) is moving forward with its demonstration plant at the Tarong power station in Queensland - Supersize Me.
Algae oil developer MBD Energy has placed an order for a large-scale algae extraction system with the US-based OriginOil for installation at its demonstration plant at Tarong power station in Queensland. The equipment, one of the largest extraction systems to be produced to date, will allow up to 1,100 litres of algae culture to be produced per minute, according to OriginOil. “This milestone places OriginOil at the forefront, globally, of delivering high scale, energy-efficient dewatering and extraction of algae, one of the most critical issues facing algae production today,” said OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckelberry.

The 1 hectare project at Tarong will begin production later this year. MBD will use the power station's CO2-laden flue-gas to feed a Bio-CCS Algal Synthesizer. It will serve as proof of concept for a larger, second stage facility of up to 80 hectares before being progressively expanded to a much larger third stage facility. MBD Energy will use the algae biomass to produce fuel, feedstock and other products.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Why are Australian petrol prices so high ?

I noticed an interesting little campaign on Facebook recently, which noted the strangely high level of Australian petrol prices compared to the last spike, given the much stronger Australian dollar and relatively subdued oil price.
Petrol is $1.45 a litre yet the Aussie Dollar is at $1.05 US and Oil Is $99 a barrel, yet last time we paid this much the Aussie dollar was around 70 US cents and oil was $145 a barrel, we should be paying about 90 cents a litre for petrol. we are being ripped off - copy and paste this on your face book page as the oil companies will realise with numbers we are on to them. Wheres the ACCC?

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Australian Energy generators betting on a shale gas future ?

The recent (optimistic) EIA report into global shale gas resources has local gas producers wondering if a repeat of the coal seam gas boom may be on the cards in Australia, particularly in South Australia and West Australia. The Australian reports on Santos’ interest in this other form of unconventional gas - Energy generators bet on shale gas future.
THE hype about shale gas increased yesterday when Santos chief executive David Knox revealed he is planning to drill an onshore well in the next month to test for the unconventional gas, which has turned US domestic energy markets on their heads.
The move comes on the back of a report by the US Energy Information Agency that said Australia was sitting on the world's fifth-biggest reserves of shale gas and was ready to become a major producer. A revolution in shale gas technology has turned the US from a net importer of gas to one with a surplus in just the past five years, capping gas prices and dashing a host of planned liquefied natural gas import terminals.

The EIA, which is the US Energy Department's respected statistics and analysis arm, completed a study of global shale gas prospects last month and found Australia was one of the most prospective countries for development. "With geologic and industry conditions resembling those of the US and Canada, the country is poised to commercialise its gas shale resources on a large scale," the EIA said.

Santos is planning to drill in the Cooper Basin, which straddles the South Australia/Queensland border. Beach Energy, which claims it has more prospective shale ground than Santos, has already drilled there and is planning to do a frac test -- where the shale is fractured to release gas -- this quarter.

Gas captured in shale does not flow as easily as conventional gas, which is released from the rocks it is found in by pressure alone. The recent technology breakthroughs of the last decade mean the shale can be fractured underground to release the gas relatively economically.

While the Cooper Basin has a good chance to become Australia's first commercial producer of the gas, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on companies such as New Standard Energy and Buru Energy. which have grabbed early ground in Western Australia's big Canning Basin. The EIA says the Canning, in the northern part of the state, has 229 trillion cubic feet of risked recoverable reserves, compared to 85tcf in the Cooper and 69tcf in the Perth Basin, where AWE has shale ground.

If the EIA is correct and approximately 385 tcf of gas can be extracted from shale in Australia, this would extend the lifespan of domestic gas production even under a scenario of greatly increased consumption to over a century (thus further undermining any arguments to restrict exports based on resource nationalism - though obviously environmental issues remain, particularly given the experience in the US with unconventional gas extraction).

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fukushima was always worse than thought

[Update - 25th]
Meltdowns confirmed at Fukushima reactors
Shinichi Saoshiro,

"Now people are used to the situation. Nothing is resolved, but normal business has resumed in places like Tokyo," said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Tokyo's Sophia University.

Nakano said that by confirming the meltdowns now, Tepco may be hoping the news will have less impact. The word "meltdown" has such a strong connotation that when the situation was more uncertain more people would likely have fled Tokyo, he said.

Japan nuclear plant confirms meltdown of two more reactors


[Update - 24th]
Fukushima owners failed to follow emergency manual - report
NZ Herald, 23rd May

It appears likely that the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant did not follow the procedures to prevent a hydrogen explosion, NHK World reports.

NHK obtained the manual for the No.1 reactor, where the hydrogen blast occurred on March 12th, one day after the tsunami destroyed the reactor's cooling system.

The manual calls for releasing air from the vessel when the pressure is projected to rise to 853 kilopascals - double the operating limit.

The manual NHK has obtained shows that the pressure inside the vessel was close to the level that requires a venting operation 13 hours before the explosion occurred.

But the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), did not start the operation until 6 and a half hours before the explosion, and the operation was carried out just one and a half hours before the blast because it was hampered by high-level radioactivity.

[Update, 20th May]
Scandals in Japan have a familiar pattern. Revelation is followed by reassurance, which on further disclosure, is soon followed by denial, and dissembling before a scapegoat is produced and symbolically offered up to the public for (hopefully) a ritual cathartic closure. It's a kind of theater.
Japanese nuclear boss quits over $15bn loss
Al Jazeera, 20th May.
"I wanted to take managerial responsibility and bring a symbolic close,'' he told reporters, bowing during the news conference. "We are doing our utmost to settle the crisis."

Tepco also announced it will be permanently shutting down its four damaged reactors at the Fukushima plant.

"Today’s loss figures do not account for the huge amount of compensation that is going to have to be paid out to more than 80,000 people who have been directly affected by the disaster, having to be relocated outside the 20-30km zone," our correspondent said.

Tepco has not made an estimate for the likely cost of compensating all victims. Analyst forecasts have ranged from around $25bn up to $130bn, if the crisis at the nuclear complex drags on.

Tepco president resigns over Japan nuclear crisis
Telegraph (UK), 20th May.
Fuel rods appear to have largely melted at three of the plant's reactors after a March 11 earthquake triggered a tsunami that knocked out cooling systems...

"I am resigning for having shattered public trust about nuclear power, and for having caused so many problems and fears for the people," Mr Shimizu told reporters, bowing in a traditional Japanese apology during a news conference.

Mr Shimizu's resignation was widely anticipated because heads of major Japanese companies are expected to step down to take responsibility for even lesser scandals and problems.
Insurance not withstanding (see BNC comments below) TEPCO shares are now one level above junk bond status as the costs mount.
Moody's cuts Tepco to one notch above junk on compensation plan
Reuters, 16th May.
[end update]

While a prominent Australian based pro nuclear site went in hard and fast (prematurely) extolling the safety of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor and its operators; decrying any popular press report of dangers as alarmist, two months on a clearer picture begins to emerge.

Several themes were proposed about the failure in the face of the massive earthquake that struck the Tohoku region. But one, which increased in height with time, was that no one could have foreseen the danger presented by the Tsunami. This has now been revealed as false. It was foreseen; TEPCO was warned.

Japan govt body detailed tsunami risks before March 11:documents
Reuters, May 15

A government body conducted analyses on the damage tsunamis of various scale would inflict on a nuclear power plant, according to documents made public on Sunday, adding to allegations that Japan and its largest utility failed to heed warnings.

The latest revelation, reported by the Mainichi daily, emerged as the government prepares to help Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) compensate victims of the crisis at the tsunami-crippled nuclear Fukushma Daiichi plant.

The government and Tokyo Electric Power have repeatedly described the combination of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the ensuing 15-meter (46.5 foot) tsunami on March 11 as beyond expectations.

The institution affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, however, analyzed the dangers of tsunamis ranging from 3 meters to 23 meters in a report originally published in December.

"Our analysis shows that a tsunami of a certain height (some 7 meters in the absence of a seawall and some 15 meters if one were present) or higher would have almost a 100 percent chance of damaging the reactor core...," the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization said in the report.

[presumably this means if the reactor were at or near sea level - as the Fukushima plant is ~10 meters above it]

"We presume a tsunami of at least 7 meters would destroy the functions of a seawater pump and that of at least 15 meters would destroy outside equipment such as an electrical transformer."

Through out the early phase of the disaster BNC continued to claim that no damage had occurred to the containment. Many fancy annotated pictures (the site loves them) with big arrows were posted. In fact investigators are now conducting an inquiry reassessing the time-line of events and now believe that the reactor containment may have been damaged by the earthquake. This is not totally surprising given the size of the earthquake.It also explains the later leaks.

Tokyo Electric: reviewing records of how nuclear crisis unfolded
Reuters, Mon May 16

Japanese officials have said until now that the apparent meltdown in three of the reactors at Fukushima was caused by the loss of power to cooling systems when the tsunami knocked out backup diesel generators.

A finding that the reactors were damaged by the quake itself could complicate the growing debate on the future of nuclear power in Japan at a time when Tokyo is under pressure from local officials to tighten safety standards.

"We want to review the data from the 40 to 50 minutes between the time of the earthquake and when the tsunami struck,"

Kyodo news agency quoted an unnamed source at the utility on Sunday as saying that the No. 1 reactor might have suffered structural damage in the earthquake that caused a release of radiation separate from the tsunami.

The utility said on Sunday that a review of data from March 11 suggested that the fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor were completely exposed to the air and rapidly heating five hours after the quake.

By the next morning - just 16 hours later - the uranium fuel rods in the first reactor had melted down and dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel, the cylindrical steel container that holds the fuel at the core.

The No. 2 and No. 3 reactors are expected to have gone through a similar process and like No. 1 are leaking most of the water being pumped in a bid to keep their cores cool.

In parliament on Monday, government officials were grilled by an opposition lawmaker over their immediate response to the nuclear crisis.

"We can certainly say that if the venting took place a little earlier, we could have prevented the situation from worsening," Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Haruki Madarame told parliament.

Both Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said that they had instructed Tokyo Electric to go ahead with the venting but that the company had taken time to act.

"We had instructed them to go ahead with the vent and I think Tokyo Electric was trying to do this. Even though we asked them repeatedly to vent, it did not happen and so we decided to issue an order. All of us there, including the prime minister and myself had said it should be done as soon as possible,"

Personally1, this does not completely surprise me. Most Japanese do not live up to the myth of the Samurai. Japan is very hierarchical.

Much is made of the "defense in depth" strategy adopted by nuclear power plants. But defense in depth surely means more than just repeating the same (potentially flawed) subsystem over and over. Two examples. Almost all of the diesel generators were located in the basement. Mainichi Daily termed this a "lack of diversity".

Nuclear power plant disaster highlights importance of diverse safety measures
Mainichi Daily, May 16

After the crisis emerged at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, I heard experts lamenting that Japan had multiple safety measures in place but lacked an important factor: diversity.

Take, for example, the power generators at the plant. Altogether there were 13 diesel-powered generators designed to start up in the event of a power cut. Even if some failed, there would be spares. But almost all of these generators were set up in the same way, below ground level...

If the plant had adopted a diverse safety plan and placed some of the generators on higher ground, the situation may have been different. Of course it may not have been the perfect solution, but it seems like the obvious thing to do.

Researchers have in the past warned of the possibility of multiple facilities being crippled by a single cause -- such dangers were pointed out in a lawsuit aiming to halt operations at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant. But why didn't officials count this as a real risk at Fukushima?
Why indeed? Because credentialed promoters of nuclear power are all convinced of the safety of the measures they propose and tend to argue that dissenting views are alarmist. Up until the explosion, the engineers at Chernobyl apparently held the same belief.
One possible underlying cause is that the group promoting nuclear power plants in Japan lacks diversity itself, and is exclusive.
Sound familiar?
In Japan, nuclear power plants have been promoted by a group comprising the government, electric power companies, manufacturers and universities. It is a body propped up by the official stance that Japan's nuclear power plants will not succumb to a major disaster. In the past, when the minority warned of the dangers, this body branded them "anti-nuclear" and dismissed their opinions as "extreme arguments."

But the safety of nuclear power plants is a scientific issue dealing with risks, not a matter of ideology. Scientifically, "absolute safety" is not possible.

Just substitute "Australia", "University of Melbourne" (or at least one of its most prominent graduates, Z. Switkowksi) and "Mining Industry" - which sometimes appears to be the defacto government anyway ;-)

Back to the matter of the water levels. TEPCO has only now, two months after the event, managed to obtain an accurate measurement of the actual water depth in the reactor cores - its not near the top.

I am not an engineer, but losing and not having an operable back up, of perhaps one of THE most important control system sensors for the duration of the disaster does not sound like adequate defense in depth.

More importantly, if true, this means that the technicians running the plant were flying partially blind. A point that was made by previously at The Union of Concerned Scientists after examining pictures of the control room after the event and here.

What does this say about all TEPCOs reassurances of a stable water supply?

Probably LUCK as much as design prevented a worse fate.

Compare these revelations to some of the early cocky statements from BNC.
cold shutdown within a few days
Now anticipated by the end of year.
The nuclear reactor containments were undamaged by the tsunami or earthquake
Obviously wrong.
There will be no breach of containment and no release of radioactivity beyond, at the very most, some venting of mildly radioactive steam to relieve pressure.

3. The only reactor that has a small probability of being ‘finished’ is FD unit 1. And I doubt that, but it may be offline for a year or more.

4 Yes, they are insured. No, the costs won’t be $50 billion, more like <<$1 billion depending on what needs to be repaired, and this will all be on-site work. I am happy to be quoted forever after on the above if I am wrong… but I won’t be. Barry Brooke, 12th March.

All wrong.
The emphasis since has been on radiation deaths, which, if they occur will not be for some time, and difficult to prove.

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” Albert Einstein.

1. I lived there for a while.

LEDS be realistic

Australia announced its ban of the old incandescent in 2007 and since last year (2010) they are no longer allowed to be sold. Did the ceiling fall in? No.

Incandescent lights used for novelty (decoration) and specialty (fridges/ovens/UV-Vis Spectrophotometers) uses are of course still available.

So I don't understand why banning the wire in a bottle is being reported as such a burning issue in the US. Is it that much of an icon of US invention?

The immediate successor is the CFL, but LEDs are making rapid progress.

Image from Hwa A. Lim, “Eco-fficiency: Green this and green that”, Symbiosis, May/August, 2010.

The life time savings in both energy AND mercury emissions are obvious.
All lights flicker when used on AC so that can't be a real issue, and CFLs and increasingly LEDs are available in a range of colours and improved colour rendering ability.

LED Bulbs Hit 100 Watts As Federal Ban Looms

Two leading makers of lighting products are showcasing LED bulbs that are bright enough to replace energy-guzzling 100-watt light bulbs set to disappear from stores in January.

Their demonstrations at the LightFair trade show in Philadelphia this week mean that brighter LED bulbs will likely go on sale next year, but after a government ban takes effect.

The new bulbs will also be expensive — about $50 each — so the development may not prevent consumers from hoarding traditional bulbs.

Creating good alternatives to the light bulb has been more difficult than expected, especially for the very bright 100-watt bulbs. Part of the problem is that these new bulbs have to fit into lamps and ceiling fixtures designed for older technology.

The big problem with LEDs is that although they don't produce as much heat as incandescent bulbs, the heat they do create shortens the lifespan and reduces the efficiency of the chips. Cramming a dozen chips together in a tight bulb-shaped package that fits in today's lamps and sockets makes the heat problem worse. The brighter the bulb, the bigger the problem is.

However, LED prices are coming down quickly. The DoE expects a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb to cost $10 by 2015, putting them within striking range of the price of a compact fluorescent bulb.
And from CNET

Philips switches on bright LED bulb

CNET, May 16

The EnduraLED A21 will be the first general-purpose LED bulb to give off as much light as a 75-watt incandescent bulb, according to Philips. It will be rated at 1,100 lumens and an efficiency of almost 65 lumens per watt.

The bulb will have a rated life of 25,000 hours, or about 17 years with four hours of daily use. The color rendering index, a measure of light quality, is 80 and the color temperature is 2,700, or a warmer yellow light meant to be similar to incandescents.

There are about 90 million 75-watt incandescent bulbs sold every year in the U.S., and switching to LEDs would eliminate the carbon emissions of almost 1 million cars, according to Philips.

Budget LEDs debut on Amazon
CNET, April 22

I suspect the people who now complain about the amount of Hg enclosed in a CFL might be the same people who oppose banning mercury thermometers - and most people don't put a CFL in their mouth OR elsewhere!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

SRREN Policy Makers Guide

Selected extracts from the Special Report on Renewable Energy sources policy makers summary.

The Message: The scenarios used to achieve CO2 stabilization may be achieved using renewable energy at a cost of 1% Global GDP per year.

I have tried to distill what I think are some of the most important statements from the 26 page summary, and to include some of the graphics not published in mainstream media. See the original (link above) for detailed explanations.

Integrating sustainable development with renewable energy adoption is a theme of the paper which I have highlighted.

The full report will be out at the end of the month.

On a global basis, it is estimated that Renewable Energy (RE) accounted for 12.9% of the total 492 Exajoules (EJ) of primary energy supply in 2008 (Box SPM.2) (Figure SPM.2). The largest RE contributor was biomass (10.2%), with the majority (roughly 60%) being traditional biomass used in cooking and eating applications in developing countries but with rapidly increasing use of modern biomass as well.

Traditional biomass (17%), modern biomass (8%), solar thermal and geothermal energy (2%) together fuelled 27% of the total global demand for heat.

share of world total energy sources - highlighted segment shows biomass

Deployment of RE has been increasing rapidly in recent years (Figure SPM.3). Various types of government policies, the declining cost of many RE technologies, changes in the prices of fossil fuels, an increase of energy demand and other factors have encouraged the continuing increase in the use of RE.

Despite global financial challenges, RE capacity continued to grow rapidly in 2009 compared to the cumulative installed capacity from the previous year, including: wind power (32% increase, 38 Gigawatts (GW) added), hydropower (3%, 31 GW added), grid-connected photovoltaics (53%, 7.5 GW added), geothermal power (4%, 0.4 GW added), and solar hot water/heating (21%, 31 GWth added).

Of the approximate 300 GW of new electricity generating capacity added globally over the two year period from 2008 to 2009, 140 GW came from RE additions.

The use of decentralized RE (excluding traditional biomass) in meeting rural energy needs at the household or village level has also increased, including hydropower stations, various modern biomass options, PV, wind or hybrid systems that combine multiple technologies.

installed capacity of renewables in two graphs lower graph shows rapid increase in photovoltaics but still small absoluate amount

The global technical potential of RE sources will not limit continued growth in the use of RE. A wide range of estimates are provided in the literature, but studies have consistently found that the total global technical potential for RE is substantially higher than global energy demand. The technical potential for solar energy is the highest among the RE sources, but substantial technical potential exists for all six RE sources. Even in regions with relatively low levels of technical potential for any individual RE source, there are typically significant opportunities for increased deployment compared to current levels.

In the longer term and at higher deployment levels, however, technical potentials indicate a limit to the contribution of some individual RE technologies. Factors such as sustainability concerns, public acceptance, system integration and infrastructure constraints, or economic factors may also limit deployment of renewable energy technologies.

global technical potential for renewable energy generation - potential exceeds current levels by orders of magnitude

The levelized cost of energy for many RE technologies is currently higher than existing energy prices, though in various settings RE is already economically competitive. Ranges of recent levelized costs of energy for selected commercially available RE technologies are wide, depending
on a number of factors including, but not limited to, technology characteristics, regional variations in cost and performance, and differing discount rates. Some RE technologies are broadly competitive with existing market energy prices. Many of the other RE technologies can provide competitive energy services in certain circumstances, for example, in regions with favourable resource conditions or that lack the
infrastructure for other low-cost energy supplies.

Monetizing the external costs of energy supply would improve the relative competitiveness of RE. The same applies if market prices increase due to other reasons.

The cost of most RE technologies has declined and additional expected technical advances would result in further cost reductions. Significant advances in RE technologies and associated long-term cost reductions have been demonstrated over the last decades, though periods of rising prices have sometimes been experienced (due to, for example, increasing demand for RE in excess of available supply).

rapid decrease in the cost of silicon PV modules shown as a function of cumulative capacity: price could reach 1 USD per watt

As infrastructure and energy systems develop, in spite of the complexities, there are few, if any, fundamental technological limits to integrating a portfolio of RE technologies to meet a majority share of total energy demand in locations where suitable RE resources exist or can be supplied. However, the actual rate of integration and the resulting shares of RE will be influenced by factors, such as costs, policies, environmental issues and social aspects.

Renewable energy and sustainable development

Historically, economic development has been strongly correlated with increasing energy use and growth of GHG emissions and RE can help decouple that correlation, contributing to sustainable development (SD). Though the exact contribution of RE to SD has to be evaluated in a country specific context, RE offers the opportunity to contribute to social and economic development, energy access, secure energy supply, climate change mitigation, and the reduction of negative environmental and health impacts. Providing access to modern energy services would support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

- RE can contribute to social and economic development.

- RE can help accelerate access to energy, particularly for the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity and the additional 1.3 billion using traditional biomass.

- RE options can contribute to a more secure energy supply, although specific challenges to integration must be considered.

- In addition to reduced GHG emissions, RE technologies can provide other important environmental benefits.

o Lifecycle assessments (LCA) for electricity generation indicate that GHG emissions from RE technologies are, in general, significantly lower than those associated with fossil fuel options, and in a range of conditions, less than fossil fuels employing CCS.

o Most current bioenergy systems, including liquid biofuels, result in GHG emission reductions, and most biofuels produced through new processes (also called advanced biofuels or next generation biofuels) could provide higher GHG mitigation.

o The sustainability of bioenergy, in particular in terms of life cycle GHG emissions, is influenced by land and biomass resource management practices. Proper governance of land use, zoning, and choice of biomass production systems are key considerations for policy makers.

o RE technologies, in particular non-combustion based options, can offer benefits with respect to air pollution and related health concerns.

o Water availability could influence choice of RE technology. Conventional water cooled thermal power plants may be especially vulnerable to conditions of water scarcity and climate change.

Life cylce carbon emission analysis of different energy sources - nuclear and solar comparable on this graph 

From this point on the report is uses projections based on scenarios.

Mitigation potentials and costs

A significant increase in the deployment of RE by 2030, 2050 and beyond is indicated in the majority of the 164 scenarios reviewed in this Special Report11. In 2008, total RE production was roughly 64 EJ/yr (12.9% of total primary energy supply) with more than 30 EJ/yr of this being traditional biomass. More than 50% of the scenarios project levels of RE deployment in 2050 of more than 173 EJ/yr reaching up to over 400 EJ/yr in some cases.

More than half of the scenarios show a contribution from RE in excess of a 17% share of primary energy supply in 2030 rising to more than 27% in 2050. The scenarios with the highest RE shares reach approximately 43% in 2030 and 77% in 2050.

RE can be expected to expand even under baseline scenarios. Most baseline scenarios show RE deployments significantly above the 2008 level of 64 EJ/yr and up to 120 EJ/yr by 2030. By 2050 many baseline scenarios reach RE deployment levels of more than 100 EJ/yr and in some cases up to about 250 EJ/yr.

The scenario review in this Special Report indicates that RE has a large potential to mitigate GHG emissions. Four illustrative scenarios span a range of global cumulative CO2 savings between 2010 and 2050 from about 220 to 560 Gt CO2 compared to about 1530 Gt cumulative fossil and industrial CO2 emissions in the IEA World Energy Outlook 2009 Reference scenario during the same period.

Scenarios do not indicate an obvious single dominant RE technology at a global level; in addition, the global overall technical potentials do not constrain the future contribution of RE. Although the contribution of RE technologies varies across scenarios, modern biomass, wind and direct solar commonly make up the largest contributions of RE technologies to the energy system by 2050.

Individual studies indicate that if RE deployment is limited, mitigation costs increase and low GHG stabilization concentrations may not be achieved.

A transition to a low-GHG economy with higher shares of RE would imply increasing investments in technologies and infrastructure. The four illustrative scenarios analyzed in detail in this Special Report estimate global cumulative RE investments (in the power generation sector
only) ranging from USD2005 1,360 to 5,100 billion for the decade 2011 to 2020, and from USD2005 1,490 to 7,180 billion for the decade 2021 to 2030.

Increasing the installed capacity of RE power plants will reduce the amount of fossil and nuclear fuels that otherwise would be needed in order to meet a given electricity demand.

The annual averages of these investment needs are all smaller than 1% of the world GDP.

Policy, implementation and financing

Barriers to RE deployment include:
- institutional and policy barriers related to existing industry, infrastructure and regulation of the energy system;
- market failures, including non-internalized environmental and health costs, where applicable.
- lack of general information and access to data relevant to the deployment of RE and lack of technical and knowledge capacity; and
- barriers related to societal and personal values and affecting the perception and acceptance of RE technologies.

Although not explicitly stated in this summary, converting the traditional biomass faction of current energy production to some combination of modern biomass, solar, wind (etc) seems to be a priority for several reasons.  Obviously to lower the GHG emissions, but also to reduce the health effects of particulate smoke and increase the transfer of technology to developing countries as part of the millennium development goals. As the populations using traditional biomass are frequently not connected to a centralized system, that objection/barrier is not a consideration in the implementation cost for adopting decentralized RE approaches. Obviously, nuclear is not an option for these people (numbering some 1.4 billion - see above).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology (one of my favorite reads) has some interesting articles on the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for the production of fuel and plastics precursors. While still in the research stage there is some hope that mixing and matching novel genes from different species coupled with appropriate control of gene expression can induce bacterial cultures to produce useful quantities of either fuel or bioplastics (or there precursors). The first article (below) is explained in some detail in a press release from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US.

Metabolic Engineering of Clostridium cellulolyticum for Production of Isobutanol from Cellulose

Wendy Higashide, Yongchao Li, Yunfeng Yang, and James C. Liao

Producing biofuels directly from cellulose, known as consolidated bioprocessing, is believed to reduce costs substantially compared to a process in which cellulose degradation and fermentation to fuel are accomplished in separate steps. Here we present a metabolic engineering example for the development of a Clostridium cellulolyticum strain for isobutanol synthesis directly from cellulose. This strategy exploits the host's natural cellulolytic activity and the amino acid biosynthesis pathway and diverts its 2-keto acid intermediates toward alcohol synthesis. Specifically, we have demonstrated the first production of isobutanol to approximately 660 mg/liter from crystalline cellulose by using this microorganism.

From the Oak Ridge (edited) press release:

BESC scores a first with isobutanol directly from cellulose (March 2011)

In the quest for inexpensive biofuels, cellulose proved no match for a bioprocessing strategy and genetically engineered microbe developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center.

The team's work, published online in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, represents across-the-board savings in processing costs and time, plus isobutanol is a higher grade of alcohol than ethanol.

"Unlike ethanol, isobutanol can be blended at any ratio with gasoline and should eliminate the need for dedicated infrastructure in tanks or vehicles," said Liao. "Plus, it may be possible to use isobutanol directly in current engines without modification."

“Compared to ethanol, higher alcohols such as isobutanol are better candidates for gasoline replacement because they have an energy density, octane value and Reid vapor pressure - a measurement of volatility - that is much closer to gasoline”, Liao said.

While cellulosic biomass like corn stover and switchgrass is abundant and cheap, it is much more difficult to utilize than corn and sugar cane. This is due in large part because of recalcitrance, or a plant's natural defenses to being chemically dismantled.

While some Clostridium species produce butanol, these organisms typically do not digest cellulose directly. Other Clostridium species digest cellulose but do not produce butanol. None produce isobutanol, an isomer of butanol.

"In nature, no microorganisms have been identified that possess all of the characteristics necessary for the ideal consolidated bioprocessing strain, so we knew we had to genetically engineer a strain for this purpose," Li said.

Also at Science Daily - Inexpensive Biofuels: Isobutanol Made Directly from Cellulose

In a later edition of AEM, US and Japanese researchers (including some of the same team above) engineered E. coli to produce 1-Butanol in even higher quantities. This paper is open access.

Driving Forces Enable High-Titer Anaerobic 1-Butanol Synthesis in Escherichia coli

Claire R. Shen, Ethan I. Lan, Yasumasa Dekishima, Antonino Baez, Kwang Myung Cho and James C. Liao

1-Butanol, an important chemical feedstock and advanced biofuel, is produced by Clostridium species. Various efforts have been made to transfer the clostridial 1-butanol pathway into other microorganisms. However, in contrast to similar compounds, only limited titers of 1-butanol were attained. In this work, we constructed a modified clostridial 1-butanol pathway in Escherichia coli to provide an irreversible reaction catalyzed by trans-enoyl-coenzyme A (CoA) reductase (Ter) and created NADH and acetyl-CoA driving forces to direct the flux. We achieved high-titer (30 g/liter) and high-yield (70 to 88% of the theoretical) production of 1-butanol anaerobically, comparable to or exceeding the levels demonstrated by native producers. Without the NADH and acetyl-CoA driving forces, the Ter reaction alone only achieved about 1/10 the level of production. The engineered host platform also enables the selection of essential enzymes with better catalytic efficiency or expression by anaerobic growth rescue. These results demonstrate the importance of driving forces in the efficient production of nonnative products.

The introduction can be read to get the general idea but what it means in simpler language is…

The researchers genetically modified E. coli so that it could produce enzymes that made 1-butanol, the same enzymes used by Clostridia. But increased yield only occurs under special conditions (‘high driving force’). To force the organism to produce higher amounts of butanol several anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolic pathways (energy producing) were deleted. By deleting these pathways the organism accumulated increased levels of a chemical (NADH) which is required to produce the butanol. To make this work another enzyme system had to be modified. Thus genes from another species were introduced. Finally a gene from Clostridia that may limit the reaction was deleted. If you did high school chemistry this is essentially  Le Chatelier's Principle. Increasing the concentration of NADH and lowering the activation energy increases the production of butanol. The produced butanol was continually removed by gas sparging – thus also favouring production of more butanol.

Two important points to note: in this paper the team produced 30g/L of butanol compared to ~0.6g/L in the first paper, and in this second paper the source was not Cellulose but glucose. Once these two concepts are linked than we can expect the first small scale trials to quickly follow.

In the same edition, another team has some of the latest research in the production of bio-plastic using Palm Oil as feed stock.

Production of Poly(3-Hydroxybutyrate-co-3-Hydroxyhexanoate) from Plant Oil by Engineered Ralstonia eutropha Strains

Charles F. Budde, Sebastian L. Riedel, Laura B. Willis, ChoKyun Rha, and Anthony J. Sinskey

The polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) copolymer poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyhexanoate) [P(HB-co-HHx)] has been shown to have potential to serve as a commercial bioplastic. [deleted]

Our group has engineered two R. eutropha strains that accumulate high levels of P(HB-co-HHx) with significant HHx content directly from palm oil, one of the world's most abundant plant oils. The strains express a newly characterized PHA synthase gene from the bacterium Rhodococcus aetherivorans I24. [deleted]

This study resulted in two engineered strains for production of P(HB-co-HHx) from palm oil. In palm oil fermentations, one strain accumulated 71% of its cell dry weight as PHA with 17 mol% HHx, while the other strain accumulated 66% of its cell dry weight as PHA with 30 mol% HHx.

Whether or not using Palm Oil as the feed stock  is a good thing… I’m not sure.

And finally, my personal observation is that somewhere between 20 – 30% (maybe more) of men do not wash there hands (at all or well) after going to the toilet (including #1s and #2s). In any case, if the toilet uses a bulk refill type detergent dispenser then washing hands may actually increase bacterial contamination!

Bacterial Hand Contamination and Transfer after Use of Contaminated Bulk-Soap-Refillable Dispensers

Carrie A. Zapka, Esther J. Campbell, Sheri L. Maxwell, Charles P. Gerba, Michael J. Dolan, James W. Arbogast, and David R. Macinga

Bulk-soap-refillable dispensers are prone to extrinsic bacterial contamination, and recent studies demonstrated that approximately one in four dispensers in public restrooms are contaminated. The purpose of this study was to quantify bacterial hand contamination and transfer after use of contaminated soap under controlled laboratory and in-use conditions in a community setting. Under laboratory conditions using liquid soap experimentally contaminated with 7.51 log10 CFU/ml of Serratia marcescens, an average of 5.28 log10 CFU remained on each hand after washing, and 2.23 log10 CFU was transferred to an agar surface. In an elementary-school-based field study, Gram-negative bacteria on the hands of students and staff increased by 1.42 log10 CFU per hand (26-fold) after washing with soap from contaminated bulk-soap-refillable dispensers. In contrast, washing with soap from dispensers with sealed refills significantly reduced bacteria on hands by 0.30 log10 CFU per hand (2-fold). [deleted]

These results demonstrate that washing with contaminated soap from bulk-soap-refillable dispensers can increase the number of opportunistic pathogens on the hands and may play a role in the transmission of bacteria in public settings.

Possibly conducted to support sales of sealed soap refills.

Friday, May 6, 2011

IPCC renewables report out soon.

Reuters has had a preview of an upcoming IPCC report on the impacts of renewables on climate change mitigation.

Renewable energies to leap, costs fall: U.N.

Renewable energies such as wind or solar power are set to surge by 2050, and expected advances in technology will bring significant cost cuts, a draft United Nations report showed on Wednesday.

The most comprehensive U.N. overview of the sector to date said renewables excluding bioenergy, which is mainly firewood burned in developing nations for cooking and heating, could expand by three to 20 times by mid-century.

"The cost of most renewable energy technologies has declined, and significant additional technical advancements are expected," the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a draft obtained by Reuters, based on a review of 164 scenarios.

In 2008 renewable energy production accounted for about 12.9 percent of global primary energy supply and was dominated by bioenergy with 10.2 percent, followed by hydro power, wind, geothermal, solar power and ocean energy.

The projected expansion is likely to continue even without new measures to promote a shift from fossil fuels as part of a U.N.-led fight against climate change, it said.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Peter Newman: The beginning of the end for cars ?

The ABC's "Science Show" this weekend will feature Peter Newman talking about peak oil and the possible implications for transport - The beginning of the end for cars?. Are there any stats showing we have hit "peak cars" ? I might be able to believe this is true in OECD countries - but globally I find this stretches credibility...
Even in Gridlock Central, the city of Sydney, car numbers are falling. The same holds around the world, according to Professor Peter Newman of Curtin University in Perth. It's the price of petrol, changed urban planning, sheer inefficiency and much else. Prof. Newman tells The Science Show that following peak oil, we are now witnessing peak cars and the aftermath.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Australia expects to have first delivery of commercial geothermal power in 2012

Xinhua (!) has a report on optimism that Petratherm will commence operating Australia's first commercial geothermal power plant next year - Australia expects to have first delivery of commercial geothermal power in 2012. There were some snippets about this in a couple of local media outlets, but nothing worth quoting.
Australia can expect its first delivery of commercial geothermal power by the end of 2012 from Petratherm's Paralana project in northern South Australia, local media reported on Wednesday.

In January, Petratherm successfully completed an initial test at its Paralana-2 well, where an injection of a small volume of water detected micro-seismic event as far as 300 metres out from the well hole.

A more major test is now scheduled for June, using higher volumes of water at higher pressure. The test will be critical, and by achieving it will help determine the company's ability to get a commercial flow rate going between the injector and the eventual Paralana-3 production well. ...

Petratherm plans to drill the deep Paralana-3 production well in the second half of 2011 and complete the final tests during the first half of 2012. It said this would allow the commercial commissioning of the power plant by the end of 2012. If so, the company will commission a 3.75 megawatt power plant.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Protean power - affordable wave power ?

The Australian has an article on another wave power hopeful from Australia called Protean Energy, who are claiming dramatically low costs for their design - All’s swell for new wave energy.
THE Eureka moment for Perth inventor Sean Moore, 41, came when his Protean wave energy device achieved its sixth degree of freedom. The discovery gave Mr Moore's low-cost buoy system the greatest efficiency possible to generate electricity from harnessing the perpetual motion of the sea.

Unlike other wave power technologies that generate electricity from only one or two degrees of movement out of a possible six -- heave, surge, sway, yaw, pitch and roll -- Mr Moore's Protean device captures the lot. Based on well-known ocean buoy technology, it is easy to deploy, able to withstand rough seas and designed to operate on the surface, where the power of the ocean is greatest before falling exponentially with depth. ....

If the Protean buoy moves, it will generate electricity, desalinate water or perform a host of other functions for a lower cost than other wave technologies and solar and is comparable to other renewable energies.

A review of the technology by Sinclair Knight Mertz found the Protean system could generate electricity at 9.5c a kilowatt hour at the point of generation, which is competitive with wind. A five megawatt unit located in 150m of water 5km offshore can deliver electricity to shore at 17c a kW/h, which is competitive with offshore wind. This is still dearer than other baseload options such as coal or gas, but it is ideally suited for rapid deployment to remote areas and islands, which may now be paying as much as 60c a kW/h for electricity using diesel generators. ...

Protean chairman Paul Niardone said the firm would start selling the units to off-grid and fringe-of-grid applications. … "To a small coastal community, a 5-megawatt installation for 5000 houses can change the economics of the community. They can start new industry, they have got a means of revenue generation, they can sell back into the grid and subsidise other programs."

Cross posted from Peak Energy.