Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear Vice-Chancellor

Academic enrollments are falling, placing some universities and departments under some stress. If you want to focus your displeasure at continued deliberate obfuscation (there can be no other term) then a letter to the VC of Charles Cook or Adelaide Uni might have a small influence. Target the bottom line – enrolments. Draft letters and contact details are provided below.

There are two prominent academic “skeptics” in Australia,  Dr Ian Plimer and Dr Bob Carter. Interestingly both from the fields of geology, both highly praised and both at the ends of their respective careers. Dr Plimer is not a disinterested party personally when it comes to climate change as he is in fact on the boards of several mining companies.

Both are also members or affiliates of that well known defender of the public good the IPA (Plimer, Carter).

Dr Carter recently had another opinion piece in The Age. It’s a sadly amusing read.

While both are free to express “their” opinion as they wish, so to are you. Should you need an avenue to do so I suggest the Vice Chancellors of the venerable institutes at whose publicly funded teat they are still attached – kind of hypocritical given the views of IPA.

Neither of these gentlemen need necessarily be “muzzled” from voicing their opinion, but on every such occasion that they do speak a disclaimer should be attached. They should be required to state publicly that their opinions are not supported by the universities that they represent nor the overwhelming majority of research on the issue. My thinking follows from Milgrams classic experiment on the acceptance of “authorities”.

Carters views were rebuffed later in the same paper.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Easier to create than Unobtainium, and with a longer half life than any of the transactinides, it is a powerful and necessary element in any public relations effort.

Myth creation is common during a crisis. Some of them are deconstructed below.

The first major myth concerns Japanese technological prowess. As a nation the Japanese have a strong technological history, but they are not alone in  having a long cultural history of avoiding (or outright denying) uncomfortable “truths”.

The first article below is an extensive cut and paste from the New York Times (follow the link for the complete story). I have edited out more from the start of the original piece and highlighted some of the more boring technical or “factual” statements that normally get relegated to the bottom of the journalists pyramid.

‘Safety Myth’ Left Japan Ripe for Nuclear Crisis

Norimitsu Onishi, NYTime, 24 June

SHIKA, Japan — Near a nuclear power plant facing the Sea of Japan, a series of exhibitions in a large public relations building here extols the virtues of the energy source with some help from “Alice in Wonderland.”

“It’s terrible, just terrible,” the White Rabbit says in the first exhibit. “We’re running out of energy, Alice.”

A Dodo robot figure, swiveling to address Alice and the visitors to the building, declares that there is an “ace” form of energy called nuclear power. It is clean, safe and renewable if you reprocess uranium and plutonium, the Dodo says.

“Wow, you can even do that!” Alice says of nuclear power.

See more images at Building Japan’s Nuclear ‘Safety Myth’ also from the NY Times

Over several decades, Japan’s nuclear establishment has devoted vast resources to persuade the Japanese public of the safety and necessity of nuclear power. Plant operators built lavish, fantasy-filled public relations buildings that became tourist attractions. Bureaucrats spun elaborate advertising campaigns through a multitude of organizations established solely to advertise the safety of nuclear plants. Politicians pushed through the adoption of government-mandated school textbooks with friendly views of nuclear power.

The result was the widespread adoption of the belief — called the “safety myth” — that Japan’s nuclear power plants were absolutely safe. Japan single-mindedly pursued nuclear power even as Western nations distanced themselves from it.

As the Japanese continue to search for answers to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, some are digging deep into the national psyche and examining a national propensity to embrace a belief now widely seen as irrational.

Because of this widespread belief in Japanese plants’ absolute safety, plant operators and nuclear regulators failed to adopt proper safety measures and advances in technology, like emergency robots, experts and government officials acknowledge.]

Banri Kaieda, who runs the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the nuclear industry, said at a news conference at an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna on Monday. “It’s a fact that there was an unreasonable overconfidence in the technology of Japan’s nuclear power generation.”

With radiation levels too high for workers to approach the reactors, the Japanese authorities floundered. They sent police trucks mounted with water cannons — equipment designed to disperse rioters — to spray water into the reactor buildings. Military helicopters flew over the buildings, dropping water that was scattered off course by strong winds, in a “performance, a kind of circus” that was aimed more at reassuring an increasingly alarmed Japanese population and American government, said Kenichi Matsumoto, an aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Japan lacked some of the basic hardware to respond to a nuclear crisis and, after initial resistance, had to look abroad for help. For a country proud of its technology, the low point occurred on March 31 when it had to use a 203-foot-long water pump — shipped from China

But perhaps more than anything else, the absence of one particular technology was deeply puzzling: emergency robots.

Japan, after all, is the world’s leader in robotics. It has the world’s largest force of mechanized workers. Its humanoid robots can walk and run on two feet, sing and dance, and even play the violin. But where were the emergency robots at Fukushima?

The answer is that the operators and nuclear regulators, believing that accidents would never occur, steadfastly opposed the introduction of what they regarded as unnecessary technology.

The plant operators said that robots, which would premise an accident, were not needed,” said Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, 77, an engineer and a former president of the University of Tokyo, Japan’s most prestigious academic institution. “Instead, introducing them would inspire fear, they said. That’s why they said that robots couldn’t be introduced.”

The rejection of robots, Mr. Yoshikawa said, was part of the industry’s overall reluctance to improve maintenance and invest in new technologies.

“That’s why the safety myth wasn’t just an empty slogan,” said Mr. Yoshikawa, now the director general of the Center for Research and Development Strategy at the Japan Science and Technology Agency. “It was a kind of mind-set that rejected progress through the introduction of new technology.”

After Chernobyl, the nuclear establishment made sure that Japanese kept believing in safety.

The plant operators built or renovated the public relations buildings — called “P.R. buildings” — attached to their plants. Before Chernobyl, the buildings were simple facilities intended to appeal to “adult men interested in technical matters,” said Noriya Sumihara, an anthropologist at Tenri University who has researched the facilities. Male guides wearing industrial uniforms took visitors around exhibits consisting mostly of wall panels.

But after Chernobyl, the facilities were transformed into elaborate theme parks geared toward young mothers, the group that research showed was most worried about nuclear plants and radiation, Mr. Sumihara said. Women of childbearing age, whose presence alone was meant to reassure the visitors, were hired as guides.

In Higashidori, a town in northern Japan, one of the country’s newest P.R. buildings is built on the theme of Tonttu, a forest with resident dwarfs. The buildings also holds events with anime characters to attract children and young parents…

Here in Shika, more than 100,000 guests last year visited the P.R. building where Alice discovers the wonders of nuclear power. The Caterpillar reassures Alice about radiation and the Cheshire Cat helps her learn about the energy source.

The nuclear establishment also made sure that government-mandated school textbooks underemphasized information that could cast doubt on the safety of nuclear power. In Parliament, the campaign was led by Tokio Kano, a Tepco vice president who became a lawmaker in 1998.

In 2004, under the influence of Mr. Kano and other proponents of nuclear power, education officials ordered revisions to textbooks before endorsing them. In one junior high school social studies textbook, a reference to the growing antinuclear movement in Europe was deleted. In another, a reference to Chernobyl was relegated to a footnote.

The nuclear establishment itself came to believe its own safety myth and “became entangled in its own net,” said Hitoshi Yoshioka, an author of a book on the history of Japan’s nuclear power and a member of a panel established by the prime minister to investigate the causes of the Fukushima disaster.

Will these events mark a transition to more questioning approach by the public to the otherwise supine acceptance of authoritarian opinion?

Survey shows disappointment, anger among Fukushima evacuees

Asahi Shimbun (, 25 June.

Disappointment toward Tokyo Electric Power Co. for its failure to guard the safety of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and anger at the central government's inept handling of the accident.

Those are the two major themes that emerge from the results of an interview survey of 407 evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear accident.

About 90,000 Fukushima residents have evacuated because of the nuclear accident, with about a third of that number moving outside of the prefecture entirely.

While TEPCO may have provided many Fukushima residents with jobs, the nuclear accident has turned many evacuees against nuclear energy.When asked their opinion on the use of nuclear energy, 70 percent of respondents said they were opposed while 26 percent said they were in favor of nuclear energy.While the survey methods and sample sizes are different, those results are much more anti-nuclear than a nationwide poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun in June in which 37 percent favored the use of nuclear energy and 42 percent opposed it.

Having young children was an obvious reason for not wanting to return to Fukushima.

A 37-year-old woman left her home in Minami-Soma with her husband and one-year-old son even before the region was designated as a potential emergency evacuation zone.

Whenever her son has health problems because of the unaccustomed evacuation life, the woman blames herself for giving birth at such a difficult time.

"No matter how much they say it is safe, there is no way we can believe them ever again," the woman said.The deep disappointment felt by many of the respondents is due to the fact that many believed TEPCO and other experts who repeatedly said Japan's nuclear power plants were safe and that no accident would ever occur.

Anger at the central government was due in major part to the confusion over evacuation instructions in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

A number of evacuees said they were given conflicting or incomplete instructions that made it difficult to understand where they should flee to.

A 72-year-old woman said, "Information that radioactive materials had spewed from the plant was only transmitted later. If I had known about it earlier, I would have evacuated much farther away."

A woman in her 60s from Namie said, "Not being informed about radiation, I was told to go to a location that had dangerously high levels of radiation."

As a result of such experiences, a total of 80 percent of respondents said the government's response was either totally inappropriate or somewhat inappropriate.

With life in evacuation centers now exceeding three months, close to half of the respondents said their health had worsened as a result.

When workers are put at risk they must be hailed as heros, whether they had a choice or not or new the risks.

Japan's 'throwaway' nuclear workers

Reuters, 24 June.

A decade and a half before it blew apart in a hydrogen blast that punctuated the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was the scene of an earlier safety crisis.

Then, as now, a small army of transient workers was put to work to try to stem the damage at the oldest nuclear reactor run by Japan's largest utility.

At the time, workers were racing to finish an unprecedented repair to address a dangerous defect: cracks in the drum-like steel assembly known as the "shroud" surrounding the radioactive core of the reactor.

But in 1997, the effort to save the 21-year-old reactor from being scrapped at a large loss to its operator, Tokyo Electric, also included a quiet effort to skirt Japan's safety rules: foreign workers were brought in for the most dangerous jobs, a manager of the project said.

"It's not well known, but I know what happened," Kazunori Fujii, who managed part of the shroud replacement in 1997, told Reuters. "What we did would not have been allowed under Japanese safety standards."

The previously undisclosed hiring of welders from the United States and Southeast Asia underscores the way Tokyo Electric, a powerful monopoly with deep political connections in Japan, outsourced its riskiest work and developed a lax safety culture in the years leading to the Fukushima disaster, experts say.

The repeated failures that have dogged Tokyo Electric in the three months the Fukushima plant has been in crisis have undercut confidence in the response to the disaster and dismayed outside experts, given corporate Japan's reputation for relentless organization.

Hastily hired workers were sent into the plant without radiation meters. Two splashed into radioactive water wearing street shoes because rubber boots were not available. Even now, few have been given training on radiation risks that meets international standards, according to their accounts and the evaluation of experts.

The workers who stayed on to try to stabilize the plant in the darkest hours after March 11 were lauded as the "Fukushima 50" for their selflessness. But behind the heroism is a legacy of Japanese nuclear workers facing hazards with little oversight, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former nuclear workers, doctors and others.

And finally,

Report From Tokyo: No News Is Good News?

Huffington Post, 23 June

Controlling information flow in a crisis is crucial to its outcome. So it should come as no surprise that much information received about how the crisis at Fukushima unfolded has been kept away from traditional and social media as long as possible. In the end, however, the truth does come out.

One of my favorite truths this week was the acknowledgment by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that 69 workers who worked at reactor #1 at the Daiichi Fukushima nuclear power plant in March "cannot be found." This means that these individuals, who may have been exposed to high doses of radiation, cannot be located for testing. Was this a case of "sloppy paperwork" or something else? Either way, one wonders how long and why this was kept from the public eye.

While many are no longer surprised to see this sort of thing occurring in Japan, it becomes even less palatable when it happens on the global stage. Take the case of International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) recent decision to hold talks about the Fukushima disaster behind closed doors.

But the picture emerging after three months of radiation release is nothing to laugh about. The June 17th edition of Science magazine reports that radioactive cesium (both 134 and 137) has spread over 100 miles from the plant and now affects an area southwest of the reactors with a large pocket of contamination further south to the outskirts of Tokyo.Not telling the truth gives traditional and social media pundits much to write about and makes the pain last longer when it is revealed. Let us hope that more of those with inside knowledge prioritize the people more than they do their entrenched interests.

For an amusing expat view from Japan of the events try Spike Japan. Read the article about Pluto kun (Plutonium Child) and the bizarre world of TEPCO PR aimed specifically at children  After the earthquake: So farewell then, Plutonium kun.

“I’m hardly absorbed by your stomach or intestines and I’m expelled by your body, so in fact I can’t kill people at all”.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A stroll in the mist – Side B

The photo essay Singapore - sustainability in the mist is still attracting some admirers. Below are some further photos and light commentary about my impression of Singapore with an eye to the environment and sustainability.

The first photo shows a different angle of the misty walk illustrating the large expanse of heat retaining concrete in this area. As mentioned in the previous photo essay, the cooling ability of the misting pipe is limited – especially given its height – and the amount of wind. Unfortunately, to work as hoped this sculpture needs to take the risk of actually inconveniencing the public with the possibility of actual dampness. On the opposite side of the bay is a purpose built stadium for the events planned for this area.  stroll in the mist sculpture singapore

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Zealand ETS did not produce cave dwelling hair shirt economy

The New Zealand PM is in Australia to talk about many things, of therapeutic goods and US ships and emission trading schemes.

New Zealand introduced its ETS three years ago, and despite what opinion writers in The Australian newspaper (pointedly not linked to) would have us believe, the NZ economy did not fall over in a heap, the populace reduced to cave dwelling hair shirted free lovin single parent pot smoking nihilistic godless hippies.

NZ leads on carbon pricing - Gillard

The Age, June 20.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has used a visit by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to praise his country for outdoing Australia by having "the guts" to price carbon.

Ms Gillard said she was determined Australia would catch up to New Zealand, which introduced an emissions trading scheme (ETS) in 2008.

Mr Key declined to comment on specifics of the Gillard government's plan to price carbon. "But what I can tell you about the ETS in New Zealand is, it's worked," he said. The ETS had driven growth in the renewable energy sector and slowed deforestation, he said.

The leaders agreed to establish a senior officials group to work on ways to link the two countries' schemes in the future.

Earlier, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott used a welcoming statement for Mr Key to take a pot-shot at Labor's plan to introduce an ETS.  Mr Abbott congratulated Mr Key for "watering down" the ETS his conservative government inherited.

But he said if the coalition in Australia inherited a trading scheme from the Gillard government it would be "rescinded" altogether.

"In this country your sister party will go further and do better," Mr Abbott told parliament.  "Should we inherit any carbon tax we won’t just reduce it - we will rescind it."

Tony is so tuff. And so is Julia.  Everything is such a tuff choice – in fact if it isn’t a tuff decision then it’s not worth taking that’s how tuff’n tough they both are.  I am so tired of relatively mundane decisions having to be framed in this ridiculous way.

Australia to follow NZ's carbon tax example

NZ Herald, June 20.

New Zealand is set to help Australia in its fraught bid to introduce a controversial carbon tax.

At a joint press conference with Prime Minister John Key this afternoon, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her officials would work with their New Zealand counterparts to link the countries' emissions trading schemes.

Mr Key said New Zealand and Australia had to work together to tackle climate change.

A scheme allowing carbon credits to be traded across the Tasman "makes sense", he said.

"Our economies are very closely linked and if we can work together on this problem of climate change that's a good thing."

New Zealand's ETS had been implemented effectively and was running in line with its estimated cost of $150 per household, he said.

The scheme was originally introduced by the Labour Government in 2008 and was substantially amended by National in 2009.

Reuters has a more in depth look at the scheme as it stands.

Analysis: NZ carbon scheme faces first challenge

Reuters, June 15.

From moribund to modestly active, New Zealand's carbon trading scheme has picked up since the entry of big polluters a year ago but faces a major challenge in how to ramp up pressure on firms to take more steps to cut emissions.

The emissions trading scheme, or ETS, remains the first national scheme outside Europe's $120 billion a year program.

Industry is questioning whether New Zealand should toughen its scheme given the glacial pace of U.N. negotiations on a new climate pact and slow progress in other competitors in bringing in a national price on carbon. Neighboring Australia is struggling to win support for its carbon pricing plan.

A toughening could boost trading of pollution permits in the ETS, deepening the market, which is currently limited by availability of tradable New Zealand Units, a price cap of NZ$25 for NZUs, lack of national emissions reduction target and a series of sweeteners for industry during the first phase to end-2012.

Each NZU represents a tonne of greenhouse gases.

The three-year old ETS was expanded on July 1, 2010, when the transport, industry and energy sectors, which account for about half of the country's emissions, were included.

Since then, average weekly trade of NZUs in the over-the-counter market has averaged about 300,000, according to data from Thomson Reuters Point Carbon. Forestry was the first sector in the ETS, which started in 2008.

Polluters such as coal-fired power generators, refiners and cement plants have to buy NZUs to meet government-set emissions obligations, while foresters are given NZUs for the carbon locked away in their trees. Exporters are given a large number of NZUs for free to equalize carbon costs with competitors.


[Climate Change Minister Nick] Smith declined to comment on changes the government will look at. But it is expected to include the possible extension of sweeteners, such as surrendering only one NZU for every two tonnes of emissions, beyond the current expiry date of 2013.

Agriculture, a major export earner and which accounts for almost half of emissions, enters the ETS in 2015. Dairy exporter Fonterra is New Zealand's largest company, and is still liable through its milk processing operations.

New Zealand was exposed to greater emissions costs than other agricultural producers, so it was imperative transition measures remain until competitors move to similar schemes…

State-owned Genesis Energy, which operates New Zealand's largest power station, said it also wants the transitional measures to continue, and it also want to see greater depth and liquidity in the market.

"What companies like ours need is certainty of policy and liquid markets in which to function," Genesis Public Affairs Manager Richard Gordon said. "We can cope with the ETS, we can live with it, but we need certainty."

Both Genesis and Fonterra said they have been active in the market since July last year, however both companies said there were issues with market liquidity, with too few credits coming to market.

Obviously, any thoughtful insight from a NZ contributor would be most appreciated. My perspective is as an expat Aussie current living in Asia.

In addition to the overlooked link pointed to below, there is a video and some notes at Robin Johnsons Economics Web Page.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Solar Dawn: Australian “Solar Flagships" winners announced

The Climate Spectator has a series of articles by Giles Parkinson on the announcement of the winners of the Australian Government’s “solar flagships" competition - Pride and prejudice.
Surely it wasn’t deliberate! But if the Labor government had wanted to further distinguish its clean energy policy from its predecessor's, then it would have got a fair bit of traction from the choices made in the first round of the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program.

The two consortia chosen to lead Australia into the era of large-scale solar energy facilities both contain technologies or business plans that had been forced to emigrate under the Coalition government because of a lack of support and incentive.

Dr David Mills developed his unique solar thermal technology at the UNSW, but was forced to pack up and go to California to seek investment backing and government incentive. Ausra, the company he founded, was bought by the French government-owned nuclear energy giant, Areva, for around $200 million early last year. Now Areva has been chosen to “bring the technology home" and build a $1.2 billion, 250MW solar thermal hybrid plant near CS Energy’s Kogan Creek power station in Chinchilla in south west Queensland.

BP Solar closed Australia’s only solar PV manufacturing facilities in 2008, although that had more to do with internal decision-making than local policy. But its consortium partner, Australia’s Pacific Hydro, pushed all its renewable energy development overseas in the mid 2000s after Howard refused to extend the renewable energy target. Now the consortium, along with Spanish solar giant FRV, attracted to these shores for the first time by the Flagships process, has been chosen to build a $923 million, 150MW solar PV plant in Moree in NSW.

There is a more in-depth look at Areva’s winning solar thermal power project at Chinchilla (close to another Areva solar / gas hybrid project at Kogan Creek) - Areva pushes the solar hybrid solution.
The $1.2 billion Solar Dawn project selected for funding under the Solar Flagships program will combine solar thermal energy from the unique compact linear Fresnel reflector (CLFR) conceived in Australia with gas-fired power, in what could be a template for future solar developments.

The plant to be developed by French nuclear giant Areva, with help from Wind Prospect CWP and operated by CS Energy, will have a capacity of 250MW, but will be boosted by gas-fired power to ensure it can provide a “firm" dispatch to the grid when the sun is not shining, an important consideration for utility customers.

Under the terms of the flagships criteria, gas will be limited to 15 per cent of its annual capacity, but in practice it could provide significantly more. A nearby facility using the same solar thermal technology at CS Energy’s Kogan Creek plant is using solar as a 44MW “booster" to coal fired power, and it is not yet clear which system will prove to be the most efficient or cost effective.

The Chinchilla plant will have thousands of mirrors spread over 200 hectares in a site that will total 500 hectares. It will be located adjacent to the Kogan Creek power station, and the Western Down substation. …

GP: Are you cheaper than the others, do you think?
AW: I think that there is definitely an element of lowest costs. Areva Solar’s compact linear fresnel reflector (CLFR) technology is based on a simple, durable design using commodity materials and it certainly has a significant level of local content through construction and supply that were no doubt attractive to the Government. Not just that, but the technology itself was pioneered here in Australia.

GP: Sure, by David Mills.
AW: And so it’s going to be a showcase internationally, not just for Areva, but also for Australian innovation in general .

GP: There has been some criticism when the shortlisted candidates were announced that linear fresnel was a bit like yesterday’s technology and that maybe the technology of the future was solar towers. How do you respond to that?
AW: I think that yesterday’s technology is probably the wrong description. Parabolic trough technology has been around for 25 years and I think that solar thermal is going in two separate directions: the first one is obviously the powered tower which is all about a fairly complex concentration on a single, small focal point. The other way that it’s going is the linear systems, like CLFR (compact linear fresnel reflector) which is what Areva has invested in, which is targeting the cost and performance trade off.
Now, the attractiveness of CLFR technology is that it’s direct steam generation, so it doesn’t require that balance of plant or heat exchanger equipment, it doesn’t have the environmental hazards of dealing with a thermal oil circuit and consequently it has a capital cost advantage. The Areva Solar technology is a very, very advanced technology that produces super heated steam. And I think that those comments about yesteryear technology do not understand the progress that Areva has made to technology.

GP: Indeed, we’ve written before that Areva has succeeded in a significant lift in temperature and I guess that improves its efficiency.
AW: That’s right. So, Areva’s technology is the only linear technology that generates super-heated steam and our temperatures are in excess of what is achievable by a parabolic trough plant. By producing super heated steam at a such a temperature and pressure, we increase the efficiency in a power generation application of using our technology, which improves the project economics.

GP: How much will this project cost?
AW: About $1.2 billion. It’s subject to finalisation at financial close which will occur before the end of the year, so that’s just an estimate as of today and once we go through the process over the next few months of bedding down all of the final agreements, then we’ll be able to come out with the final estimate.

GP: Ok. And you’re getting $464 million from the federal government and $75 million from Queensland. How much debt and equity will there be?
AW: The debt equity mix has yet to be finalised. We’re currently finalising our negotiations with the project financiers, but we do have over capacity in both debt and equity.

GP: So, does the project depend on a good PPA then?
AW: Yes. The project will require a power purchase agreement in order to attract finance and we’re finalising arrangements over the next couple of months on an agreement that has been pursued right through the process.

GP: And how confident are you with that, because it’s been impossible for wind producers to get a PPA and their costs are much lower than yours?
AW: Well, you’ve got to understand that wind producers don’t have the same characteristics of dispatch as the Solar Dawn project. We’re able to offer a thermal capacity into the market place as a result of having a solar thermal and gas hybrid. Consequently, that’s very attractive to an energy retailer because it’s capacity that they can rely on within their portfolio.

GP: Will it also be attractive because you’ll be dispatching into peak times or at least shoulder times?
AW: That’s right. So, the dispatch profile of solar correlates extremely well with the demand in the system which is driven by air conditioning loads.

GP: Tell us about this solar-gas hybrid concept? Does that mean that you have to build an extra gas boiler to go with it? How much capacity of gas will you be building with it or will you be using facilities already at Kogan Creek?
AW: So, part of the design of the project includes the incorporation of gas boilers, which are there to be able to augment the supply from solar. So, where the turbine has headroom available which has not been fuelled by steam producers on the solar fuel, we’re able to use a supplementary fuel source which is gas to be able to get maximum capacity from the plant. So, it gives the off-taker the ability to rely on that capacity within their portfolio and ensures that they’re able to manage the risk in the energy market.

GP: How many megawatts of gas will you be putting in?
AW: The plant will be able to independently operate on solar, or it will be able to independently operate on gas. The 15 per cent restriction is from the guidelines under the Solar Flagships Program related to the annual energy that was dispatched from the plant. It’s not an instantaneous calculation. It’s a yearly calculation. We will build a pipeline in the local region to a number of gas sources and that pipeline will then supply the gas to the plant, so at day one we will have the capability to generate on gas-fired capacity if the sun is not shining.

There is also a look at the PV project in Victoria along with an interview with BP Solar - Big solar PV begins charge to parity.
Australia’s first large scale solar photovoltaic energy plant will start producing electricity from its Moree facility in 2013. If all goes to plan, and solar PV costs become competitive with wind as predicted in the next five years, some several dozen such projects will be likely be scattered across Australia by the end of the decade, adding a capacity of more than 4.5 gigawatts of emissions-free energy to the country’s electricity grid.

Construction by BP Solar and its consortium partners Pacific Hydro and Spain’s Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) will be done in stages, with about 30MW coming on line in 2013, and the rest by 2015. By the time it is complete the 150MW facility will be unlike anything seen in Australia to date.

The 645,000 panels will stretch over an area 3.4km long by 3km wide, or around 600 football stadiums. The next biggest installation in Australia is a 1.2MW array on a garage roof at the University of Queensland. And unlike rooftop panels, these arrays will be able to follow the sun, lifting their capacity factor to around 28 per cent (from about 15 per cent), and extending the duration of dispatchable energy earlier into the morning and later in the afternoon.

There is also an interview witrh 2 of the other companies involved in the solar flagships program - Q&A: FRV & Pacific Hydro.
Spanish solar giant Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) says it intends to build up its capacity in Australia after its consortium won the solar PV funding round from the Solar Flagships program.

FRV’s head of business development, Javier Huergo, says FRV – which will hold an equity stake of more than 50 per cent in the 150MW project at Moree – hopes more opportunities will emerge in Australia, which he sees as one of the most prospective in the world, along with the US and South Africa.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An iron curtain for global development?

Environmental Science and Technology has an interesting paper that explores iron use and stocks in developed and developing countries.

The paper looks at iron, one of the essential enabling materials for economic development, from  both an energy and therefore greenhouse gas perspective, and explores the possibility of depletion should all countries attempt to reach the same level of iron use as developed countries. Luckily, the data suggests that developed countries have or will reach a plateau (on a per capita basis) of ~10 tonnes. However should all countries aspire to this goal then known global iron stocks are insufficient.

Developed countries now have enough processed  iron stocks in existing infrastructure that they are able to meet a large portion of present iron demand by recycling the existing stock.

Africa, as a continent, is out of luck. The map below shows that the continent does not have enough reserves to use iron to the same per capita levels as developed countries, and it has not accumulated sufficient stocks to grow or maintain economic activity at the levels of developed nations.

Patterns of Iron Use in Societal Evolution

Daniel B. Moller, Tao Wang, and Benjamin Duval

Environ. Sci. Technol., 2011, 45 (1), pp 182–188


A dynamic material flow model was used to analyze the patterns of iron stocks in use for six industrialized countries. The contemporary iron stock in the remaining countries was estimated assuming that they follow a similar pattern of iron stock per economic activity. Iron stocks have reached a plateau of about 8−12 tons per capita in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, but not yet in Japan, Canada, and Australia. The global average iron stock was determined to be 2.7 tons per capita. An increase to a level of 10 tons over the next decades would deplete about the currently identified reserves. A subsequent saturation would open a long-term potential to dramatically shift resource use from primary to secondary sources. The observed saturation pattern implies that developing countries with rapidly growing stocks have a lower potential for recycling domestic scrap and hence for greenhouse gas emissions saving than industrialized countries, a fact that has not been addressed sufficiently in the climate change debate.


The massive growth of global material use over the past years, particularly due to the rise of emerging market economies, has revived questions about the long-term prospects and sustainability of resource use and the possibilities to reduce energy use and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production. The iron and steel industry, for example, accounts for about 6% of global final energy use and about 6−7% of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. An effective way to reduce resource depletion, waste generation, energy use, and environmental impacts associated with resource use is to reuse products or components or to recycle scrap. Efforts to reduce these impacts in the medium- and long-term should therefore be informed by models that are capable of explaining and anticipating resource use and scrap availability.

Traditional resource models and are often based on the Environmental Kuznets curve (EKC), which hypothesizes that the relationship between per-capita income and environmental indicators has an inverted U-shape. Applied to resources, the hypothesis implies that the intensity of resource use (IU)—defined as the ratio of physical material use per income—grows rapidly in initial stages of industrialization, but eventually falls as income rises further.

The limitations of EKC-based resource models have been discussed widely and include the following: (i) EKC models are based on statistical correlation, lacking a systems perspective capable of explaining the mechanisms that shape the IU and other important variables in resource cycles, such as scrap flows or mine production; (ii) they implicitly assume that resource cycles are driven by production (flow from process 7 to process 8 in Figure 1) and tend to neglect the stocks of different service-providing product categories; (iii) they lack robustness, because IU is an abstract ratio of two flow variables that tends to fluctuate…

We propose here an alternative based on patterns of in-use stock evolution.

Iron is by far the most important metal used by man in terms of quantity and environmental impact. The trend in raw steel production over the past decades (Figure 2) shows two important phenomena: (i) industrialized countries experienced a similar pattern—a strong growth, followed by a slack (with different distinctness) and stabilization on a high level; (ii) the current level of steel production per capita varies by a factor of 4−5 among the countries shown here (U.K. ca. 200 kg/a, Japan ca. 900 kg/a).

A recent study demonstrates that the per-capita iron stock in use in the U.S. … reached a plateau around 1980.

iron use in china japan the US australia canada france and the UK in total and per capita

Fig 2 (reproduced from ES&T) Crude steel production 1900−2008: total production (top) and production per capita (bottom).

ACFB = Australia+Canada+France+United Kingdom; metric tons.

[Is] this apparent saturation … a transient phenomenon limited to the U.S., or [does] it [reveal] a more fundamental pattern of iron use in the path of a country’s development?

This implies the hypothesis that per-capita iron stocks in use indicate the level of industrialization:

they are negligible in agrarian societies,

they increase with industrialization, and

they remain on constant, high levels during transitions from industrialized to information or service-based economies.

Should this iron saturation hypothesis be supported by further research, patterns of iron stock evolution observed in industrialized countries could be used as benchmarks for emerging market economies and thereby provide a more solid basis to inform policies on long-term steel demand, scrap generation, and energy demand and emissions related to their production.

per capita iron stocks in use normalised on a per captia GDP basis

Fig 3. (reproduced from ES&T) Per capita iron stocks in use versus per capita GDP PPP.

The decomposition of the total iron stock indicates further similarities: all of the investigated countries employ most of the iron in Construction, followed by Machinery and Appliances, Transportation, and Others. Furthermore, the per-capita iron stocks are fairly similar for Machinery and Appliances (from 2 tons in France to 3 tons in Canada), Transportation (from 1 ton in U.K. to 2 tons in U.S.), and Others (from 0.3 to 0.6). However, there are large differences in the amount of iron employed in Construction (from 2.5 tons in France to 9−10 tons in Japan).

There are some interesting differences noted by the authors.

France reached saturation in per capita iron use in 60 years whereas Japan reached the same level of iron use in 20. Smaller countries tend to use less iron per capita than larger countries, but Japan uses significantly more. The authors speculate on the increased use being due to the earthquake prone nature of the country, the increased use of high rise construction and the hot humid climate. Both Canada and Australia have not reached per capita saturation and deploy more per capita than the UK and France (Canada more than the US). This may be due to the recent growth in  mining, processing, and transportation of ores and materials for export. Iron stocks in use tend to start growing at per capita incomes of $US1000 - $4000.

Global iron stocks in the ground (reserves) are estimated to be 79 Gt or 12 t/cap  (Figure 5 top). The largest iron stocks in reserves are found in Brazil (16 Gt), Russia (14 Gt), Ukraine (9 Gt), Australia (9 Gt), and China (7 Gt). In terms of per capita iron stocks in reserves, Australia (440 t/cap) leads before Sweden (240 t/cap), Kazakhstan (220 t/cap), and Ukraine (190 t/cap). Although China and India have substantial iron reserves in absolute terms, their large population leads to small per capita reserves (China 5 t/cap and India 4 t/cap).

In contrast, the global iron stocks in use have reached about 18 Gt or 2.7 t/cap, which is about 23% of the amount of the global reserves (Figure 5 bottom). The largest absolute in-use iron stocks are found in the U.S. (3.2 Gt), followed by China (2.2 Gt), Japan (1.7 Gt), Germany (0.7 Gt), and Russia (0.7 Gt). On a per-capita basis, Japan and Canada (12 t/cap) lead in front of the U.S. (11 t/cap). Although China’s per capita iron stock (2.2 t/cap) is only about 20−25% that of industrialized countries, due to its large population, it constitutes the second largest iron stock in use. India, which has a similar population multiplier, has about five times smaller iron stocks (0.4 t/cap) than China.

area equalising maps of iron reserves and iron in use stocks


Fig 5 (reproduced from ES&T) Density-equalizing maps of iron stocks in 2005 in ore reserves (top) and in use (bottom).

The interesting thing to note in this map is that whereas the US has “depleted” its reserves on a per capita basis (top) it has a large stock of iron in use on which to draw (bottom). The same is true of Western Europe. South America has large reserves on which to draw as it develops. China appears to be half way through its iron accumulation phase (if the model is valid) and it is fairly obvious from which reserve it draws. The race between India and China starts with China looking down the home straight.

Africa has drawn the short straw. Per capita reserves are generally low and the continent has not accumulated significant stocks. If the estimated global reserves presented in this paper are correct, then Africa will not reach the same levels of development as other nations… at least not using iron.

Africa, India and Indonesia may struggle to reach there respective development goals, unless they get there acts together post-haste. What are they going to trade to accumulate the iron they need? Can they outbid China or the energy rich central Asian countries?

The decreasing IU for steel observed for many industrialized countries …could be explained by a tendency for per-capita iron stocks to flatten off at a certain point while GDP remains growing. Speculations about an absolute decoupling in steel demand, however, cannot be supported by this study: none of the analyzed countries shows a shrinking per-capita iron stock in use, which would be needed for long-term absolute decoupling of steel demand. Given the stock patterns observed, a more plausible scenario is that postindustrial societies still need to maintain and replace substantial iron stocks in use.

The observed stock patterns demonstrate that the opportunities for recycling and therefore for reducing resource depletion and GHG emissions change dramatically during a country’s evolution. The potential for recycling domestic scrap is very low in emerging market economies where stocks are growing rapidly, while industrialized countries can benefit from stocks … built up earlier.

The concept of a circular economy remains an illusion for emerging market economies.

Assuming the global population and its iron stock in use stabilize, the amount of iron units exiting the use phase would be as large as the amount of iron units entering use. It is therefore possible to envision a system of iron and steel management that is entirely based on secondary resources, using the built environment as the key mine of the future. Such a scenario would not only avoid primary resource exploitation and mining wastes (tailings), but it would also significantly reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the iron and steel industry, mainly because the most energy- and CO2-intensive process, the blast furnace, could be avoided.

The authors close with cautions about over extrapolating these results. The style of economic development could change (eg less car use, rethinking priorities) and other materials may replace some of steels uses. However, the fundamental role that iron has played, and continues to play in current industrialization and development can not be ignored and needs to be considered in the areas of both climate and developmental policy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A chilled future for solar power ?

The Climate Spectator has an article on research into a solar powered air cooling system which could help reduce the spiralling cost of network transmission expansion required to meet the growing summer peak loads created by air conditioning units - A chilling future for solar power.
Everyone seems pretty comfortable with the idea that the energy from the sun can be captured to heat stuff and create electricity. But what if we were able to use it to address one of Australia’s greatest needs: how to cool things down, particularly the air inside your home; and one of its greatest challenges – reducing peak loads on the network?

This is one of the ideas being developed by the CSIRO at its Energy Research Centre in Newcastle. And the technology – known as Solar Cooling – is now at the point of commercialisation. And it is so simple it can be bolted on to the solar hot water systems that are already so prevalent in suburbia – and add space heating in winter and cooling in summer to the hot water that is already delivered by the solar collectors.

The irony of this development is that it offers the opportunity for a renewable energy source to provide a solution for a problem it is often blamed for creating – rising electricity costs.
The reality is that the greatest component of rising energy bills is the cost of network upgrades, and the biggest reason for these is the growth in peak energy demand, driven largely by the rush to install household air conditioning systems, which now account for around 50 per cent of peak demand on some networks.

Indeed, such is the scale of the rollout of domestic air-con, and its impact on networks, that it now qualifies as the most heavily subsidised sector of the electricity grid – far greater than rooftop solar, or large-scale wind farms.

For every $1000 invested in an air-conditioning system, it is estimated that another $3000 is required to upgrade the network. That translates into an added cost of $100 per year on the electricity bills of those who either choose not to have air-con in their home, or who can’t afford it.

Reducing peak demand is one of the biggest challenges facing energy market operators. In Australia, it is estimated that one quarter of the nation’s electricity costs go to catering for around 40 hours of peak demand – those occasions of extreme temperatures when everyone turns on their air-con at the same time and when the electricity demand is nearly doubled. If this technology based around solar panels on the roof can be rolled out at scale, it could offer one of the best opportunities to significantly lower those peak loads and reduce the need to upgrade and expand networks and help flatten the anticipated spikes in domestic electricity bills.

The principle behind Solar Cooling systems being developed by the CSIRO is simply to integrate technologies that are already understood – the rooftop panels on the roof that heat the water, and which can then be used to heat air; a desiccant wheel to dry the air; and evaporative systems to cool the air.

Stephen White, the manager of the CSIRO’s Energy for Buildings division, says the advantage of this system is that it can operate at relatively low temperatures – 50°C to 70°C – which are common for solar hot water systems.

Incoming hot, moist, humid air is dehumidified using a desiccant such as a silica gel on a rotating wheel to create a dry air stream which is then cooled using an evaporative cooler. The desiccant absorbs the moisture from the air. This material is then stripped of moisture (regenerated) using solar heat.

The CSIRO believes that electricity costs could be reduced by half – and would be a much more efficient use of resources, because the solar collectors would be in use all year round, while a conventional air conditioner system might be in use for just 7 per cent of the time.
“We see it as three in one solar thermal product for the home – a solar hot water system, and space heating in winter, and cooling in summer when the sun is shining the hardest," Dr White says. “It matches very nicely." It is likely that these systems will be able to bolt on to already installed solar hot water systems.

The CSIRO has already developed a prototype called REDEcool which can be used in households and is now looking for a manufacturing partner to help refine the design, and the costs, for mass production. Dr White says the capital cost of the system will be more than the $1000 that people pay for the air-con systems they buy from shops, but it should be cheaper than the $4000 network cost.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Its the bubbles of nothing that make it something…

What is ocean acidification and how is it related to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

Alan Jones recently claimed that CO2 is nothing, or as the SMH characterized it a bit of fizz that enlivens the brew.

The following simplified explanation is straight from the evil genius of  global warming swindler strongholds The Royal Society and The Annual Reviews of Marine Science.

Below is an equation and accompanying graph that describe the interaction of CO2 and water. From the left, the equation shows CO2 in the atmosphere in a dynamic equilibrium with CO2 dissolved in water. This CO2 then interacts with water to form carbonic acid which then dissociates (ie “breaks up”) releasing hydrogen ions (ie H+, ie acid) in two steps. Each of the double arrows means that the reaction proceeds in both the forward and reverse direction until an equilibrium is achieved (in theory). In practice an equilibrium may not be achieved (ie concentrations of all species may fluctuate slightly).


image The graph depicts the relative concentrations of the three forms of inorganic carbon as a function of pH. The pH range for seawater is shown, which depends on the concentration of CO2 over the ocean and the temperature of the water (among other factors). Another way of thinking about this diagram is to ask ;

“What happens if the concentration of CO2 over the water increases?”

Mauno Loa is the atmospheric station with the longest continuous CO2 record. Since 1990 pH in the ocean nearby has also been recorded and a strong correlation is seen between these adjacent sites. Note, these are not the longest time series measurements of pH.


Returning to the equation, if the CO2(atmosphere) (on the left)  increases this will have the effect of “driving” the reaction to the right, first increasing the CO2 dissolved in the water then the carbonic acid (H2CO3) then the bicarbonate etc… It should be clear from this equation that as the equilibrium is pushed to the right, the concentration of H+  and therefore the acidity increases. This shows up as a decrease in the value of pH. Note in passing that pH is a log scale (ie pH = –log[H+] where [ ] means concentration). The important point to note is that like the Richter scale a change of one unit represents an absolute change of 10 times magnitude (in this case in concentration).

In school we are all taught that pH 7 is “neutral” and that anything below this is acidic. The use of the word neutral does not mean “no effect”. It just means that at this pH the concentration of H+ and OH- are equal. The solubility of carbonate species begins to increase before the pH reaches or drops below 7. In the figure below at a pH of ~8 the concentration of Ca ions (from CaCO3 in water) is “only” ~ 120 mg/L but at pH ~ 7 this has increased to ~ 12 g/L (eyeballing this graph it is – if I’ve remembered right!).

image The species each side of a double arrow can be further considered in detail, and each represents a process that can be related to a constant – the solubility product (Ksp) – which is mostly dependant on temperature. These constants are not affected by how people feel about them or who they vote for. All of the other chemical reactions/equilibria in the ocean can be described with similar equations. The practical upshot being that given accurate measurements of the current concentrations of the important chemical species, it is relatively simple to project the consequences of increased CO2 concentrations on oceanic pH. There are far fewer uncertainties than experienced with atmospheric modeling.


This figure is the projected effect on the ocean for the next 1000 years as the oceans absorb a substantial amount of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels. Note that this is a simple box model representation of the whole ocean (ie global average effect). Local extremes in pH outside of the ranges shown here will occur.

image What does this mean? The acidity of the ocean affects the formation of shells by interfering with the formation of Ca minerals used by many marine species. Corals and other organisms that use aragonite (a form of carbonate mineral with a higher solubility) are more susceptible to stress as a result. The reefs of the world in turn support numerous diverse species. In purely economic terms, they are an important fishery and recreational area. For example,

The World Resources Institute (Burke et al 2004) has estimated that in 2000, Caribbean coral reefs alone ‘provided annual net benefits in terms of fisheries, dive tourism, and shoreline protection services with an estimated value between US$3.1 billion and US$4.6 billion’ (about £2 000 million and £3 000 million, using the exchange rate in May 2005); and that the loss of income by 2015 from these degraded reefs may be several hundred million dollars per annum.


Coastal reefs in Hawaii have been estimated to generate almost US$364 million each year in added value (Cesar et al 2002).


See a more detailed graphical version here.

There are winners and losers in this race - mostly losers - and what is not captured is the flow on affects as species abundances change. These stresses are on top of the stresses due to the already observed changes in ocean temperature.

One of the important debating reasons for being aware of ocean pH is that it is an independent effect of CO2 that can not be accounted for by alternative global warming theories. IE, the anthropogenic global warming due to atmospheric CO2 release model accounts for both temperature rise and pH changes. Alternative views (ie the sun did it) have to separately account for the pH changes.

I prefer Occam's Razor.

Ocean Acidification: The Other CO2 Problem, Annual Reviews of Marine Science.

Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, The Royal Society.

Fine tuning photons

Last month I did a rough cut and paste overview (using papers available via google scholar) on the topic of rectennas or nantennas finishing on the topic of the possible capture of infrared light for power generation. Now an article published last month in Science (Vol. 332 no. 6030 pp. 702-704 ) has demonstrated the capture of infrared radiation using nantennas constructed using silicon based semiconductors. While this is a significant advance, hold the champers. The fabricated device, while useful as a sensor, only converts ~0.01 % of the absorbed photons into a photocurrent over the wavelengths for which it is tuned. The authors suggest some methods to increase this to 2%. What is significant is that because it uses mature silicon technology devices could be fairly rapidly mass produced  IF the overall performance can be increased.
It's not solar nanvarna yet but… stay tuned!

nantenna or rectenna fabricated on silicon converts infrared light into electricity - low efficiency means only useful for a sensor at this stage

Photodetection with Active Optical Antennas  (free pdf)

Mark W. Knight, Heidar Sobhani, Peter Nordlander and Naomi J. Halas

Nanoantennas are key optical components for light harvesting; photodiodes convert light into a current of electrons for photodetection. We show that these two distinct, independent functions can be combined into the same structure. Photons coupled into a metallic nanoantenna excite resonant plasmons, which decay into energetic, “hot” electrons injected over a potential barrier at the nanoantenna-semiconductor interface, resulting in a photocurrent. This dual-function structure is a highly compact, wavelength-resonant, and polarization-specific light detector, with a spectral response extending to energies well below the semiconductor band edge.

More coverage at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

There's something about the mention of hot electrons that gets the chemist in me a bit excited.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mathew 7:16

The Drum at the ABC thoughtfully posted a part of the adjournment speech by Dr Peter Phelps, Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council. I admit having to recheck the post date of the article after having read it… but no, it wasn’t April.

Ignoring the leper's bell on climate change

2 June 2011

From the adjournment debate, New South Wales Legislative Council 1 June 2011:

I comment in this place on the latest adventures in the great global warming swindle that is gripping our nation and most of the formerly civilised world. I will assume that most people know that I am an historian by trade and I come from a time when, at universities, the humanities displayed a healthy scepticism for the self-assured absolutism of the sciences. However, nowadays it seems that the sciences have been corrupted by enough government money and political correctness to have them operating in parallel with their socialist brothers in the humanities. Government money is given to agitate for specific ends. Why are we surprised when the ocean acidification project suddenly finds that - guess what? - oceans are acidifying.

But we should not be so surprised that the contemporary science debate has become so debased. At the heart of many scientists - but not all scientists - lies the heart of a totalitarian planner.

I think we can see where this is going…

One can see them now, beavering away, alone, unknown, in their laboratories. And now, through the great global warming swindle they can influence policy, they can set agendas, they can reach into everyone's lives; they can, like Lenin, proclaim "what must be done".

And it is not a new phenomenon. We should not forget that some of the strongest supporters of totalitarian regimes in the last century have been scientists and, in return, the State lavishes praise, money and respectability on them.

Indeed, how different are today's global warming urgers from those in pre-war Britain, who looked forward to a Britain that would "be centralised and totalitarian"? Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. The present idolatry for pseudoscience, the claims of settled science and of a scientific consensus - these are the leper's bell announcing the approach of the would-be totalitarian. The bell was not heeded in the 1930s. It should be heeded now.

I’m not sure what he is implying above where he says “most of the formerly civilised world”. Is this some new shibboleth?

Previously the good Dr got into some trouble for this comment,

"You don't get news stories by trying to change perceptions, you get them by reinforcing stereotypes".

Should you wish to have your intelligence insulted again, you can contact him here.

Crikey has some background from 2007.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Turning solar towards the sun

A recent news article heralds a simple device to increase solar panels collection ability without using electricity.

Teen's invention makes solar panels 40% more efficient

The Vancouver Sun, June 5, 2011

Just 19, student inventor and entrepreneur Eden Full … recently received the Scotiabank EcoLiving Student Leadership Award for her invention, the SunSaluter.

"It was a very simple and inexpensive invention, yet it has a huge impact," said Green Living chief executive and president Laurie Simmonds. "Increasing and optimizing energy by 40 per cent — I mean, this is just remarkable that this young woman has done this."

Designed to increase the efficiency of solar panels by orienting them to always be perpendicular to the sun's rays, Full's device is driven by simple bi-metallic strips that expand during the day and contract as they cool at night.

As a result, it costs much less than comparable, motor-driven tracking systems and can be built using simple components available in developing countries.

According to Full, this is important for creating a system that can be sustainably maintained by the people who use it.

And from the entry posted at the competition website.

The SunSaluter: Maximizing Solar Energy Collection for $10

Dell Social Innovation Competition Website, Submitted By  efull,  Feb 13, 2011

The SunSaluter is a $10 solar panel rotating tracker that optimizes output by up to 40% through tilting the panel perpendicular to the sun. It is a simple mechanism using bamboo (or metal when used industrially), recyclable metal strips and the physical imbalance of the panel itself. Because of its basic assembly, The SunSaluter requires less maintenance than a traditional tracking system and does not use electricity as a motorized one would. In August 2010, two prototypes were deployed in Mpala, Kenya. Monthly reports indicate that The SunSaluters are improving the lives of one thousand Kenyans.

Large-scale solar panel manufacturers as well as emerging markets are the key beneficiaries of our tracking technology. Despite their economic status, the bottom of the pyramid spends $500 billion per year on energy to meet their cooking, lighting, communications, and general needs. Killing 1.6 million people per year, current energy sources in the third world are unreliable and hazardous to people's health. In established solar panel markets all over the world, there is a definite need for clean, cheap and efficient energy, possible with tracking. The SunSaluter is the only solution at present to fulfill this niche in the market.

Well she’s not afraid to blow her own trumpet, but it isn’t actually “the only” solution. This idea reminded me of a New Inventors episode some years ago where a just slightly more elaborate, but still non electrically powered device was presented.


New Inventors, Season 2, 2005, invented by Michael Patterson

The Hydrasolar is a solar tracking device, for solar panels, that does not rely on electric motors or computers to track the sun.

It is a new type of ‘passive’ solar tracker that uses a combination of direct sunlight (radiant heat) and shade (ambient air temp) to affect the thermal expansion and contraction of a liquid to make the solar panel rotate. The expansion of the liquid causes the panel to rotate toward the west during the day and the contraction causes the panel to rotate back towards the east at night, ready for the morning sunrise. The simple hydraulic system, ensures that the solar panel is angled towards the sun from dawn through to dusk - all year round.

You can see how the device works in the photo below taken from Make Online.

The bi-metallic strip version from Ms Full depends for part of its action on the weight of the solar panel, whereas this device does not.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Floating LNG: The Final Frontier Of The Gas Age

Shell recently announced that their Prelude floating LNG project off north west Western Australia has passed another milestone, with the $US12.6 billion ($11.8bn) project receiving final investment approval.

Prelude is expected to produce 3.6 million tonnes per annum of LNG, as well as 1.3 million tonnes of condensate and 400,000 tonnes of LPG.

The facility is scheduled to begin production in 2016. The gas will be cooled by cold water pumped from about 150m below the ocean’s surface - allowing around 50,000 m3 of cold seawater each hour to cool the gas.

The project will be the world’s floating LNG development and the facility will be the largest floating structure ever built. The vessel will be built by South Korea's Samsung Heavy Industries. At 488 metres long, 74 metres wide and 600,000-tonne in weight it will be longer than four soccer fields laid end-to-end and will be six times heavier than the world's largest aircraft carrier.

The vessel will be permanently moored about 200km off the coast for its 25 years of production and is designed to withstand severe category 5 cyclones (or a “one-in-10,000-year" tropical cyclone, as Shell executive director Malcolm Brinded put it).

Shell has self-insured the project, so its not clear what the view of maritime insurers is of the likelihood of the project suffering significant damage during its lifetime is.

In Australia we’ve seen onshore natural gas largely depleted, near offshore natural gas well developed (the north west shelf LNG operation has now been in operation for decades and long-stalled projects like Gorgon are now well underway), a boom in coal seam gas and emerging interest in exploiting shale gas (local producers seem to view speculation that US shale gas production will undermine Australian LNG export markets in Asia as unfounded, notwithstanding the strong Australian dollar) and biogas.

Research by the CSIRO in 2008 found that up to half Australia's natural gas resources (140 trillion cubic feet) could not be developed because they were too remote to be connected to onshore processing plants.

Floating LNG platforms remove this barrier and would seem to be the final stage of our entry into what has been dubbed by some (including the IEA [pdf]) as "The Gas Age" (I guess you could view the fossil fuel era as an act in 3 parts, similar to the era of the dinosaurs, with the coal age being analagous to the Triassic period, the oil age to the Jurassic and the gas age echoing the Cretaceous, with the end of the era approaching).

By adopting the offshore floating LNG solution Shell hopes to also substantially reduce the time and cost of the project development phase.

Global LNG demand is expected to double this decade and the introduction of floating storage and regasification vessels in recent years has enabled fast entry of new buyers such as Argentina, Brazil, Kuwait and Dubai in recent years, with Thailand and Singapore soon to join the club and Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and possibly the Philippines following along behind them.

Shell is already looking at a number of other locations for floating LNG projects, including the Greater Sunrise project in East Timor, and projects in Indonesia, Cyprus, East Africa and South America. Other companies are also interested in floating LNG with the BBC claiming Flex LNG and Hoegh LNG hoping to make final investment decisions shortly on projects in Papua New Guinea.

Jarand Rystad, founder of a Norway-based research consultancy for the oil industry says there are up to 160 gas fields where floating LNG could be applicable worldwide over the next decade.

The prospect of a number of floating LNG developments has Darwin excited, with the town hoping to be the base for servicing Prelude and up to 10 additional platforms over time.

The 10 platforms figure may have emerged from a statement from Samsung Heavy Industries estimating the size of the market last year.

Besides the PNG projects mentioned earlier, Woodside have been pushing for a floating LNG development for the Sunrise development between Australia and East Timor, and there has been some speculation that Woodside's Browse development could avoid opposition to plans to build an onshore LNG plant in the Kimberly region. There has also been speculation that Inpex's Abadi and Ichthys projects could be candidates.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.