Flashback 2008 : Who Pays for the Re-Powering ?

2nd November 2008

Browsing at a newsagent on a mainline railway station…

The question on the front cover of Fortune magazine, Europe edition Number 20, November 2008, already on the stands is “Who Pays for The Bailout ? You do, of course”. Of course, as this Credit Crunch means Bailout argument plays out, the issue of Energy and Climate Change is lost. But the question should be all about how to create a new green economy. Who pays for the re-powering ?

A sign of the greening times – another story teaser on the Fortune magazine advises “10 Green Stocks to Own Now”, and the front of the Independent on Sunday quotes Obama claiming that Energy is his “number one priority” in his bid for presidential election, with his “Apollo” project :-

“Obama’s green jobs revolution : Democrat will lead effort to curb world’s dependence on oil; Plans to create five million new posts in clean energy projects : By Geoffrey Lean in San Francisco and Leonard Doyle in Washington : Sunday, 2 November 2008 : Obama has pledged to create five million new ‘green collar jobs’ if elected : Barack Obama is promising a $150 billion “Apollo project” to bring jobs and energy security to the US through a new alternative energy economy, if his final push for votes brings victory in the presidential election on Tuesday. “That’s going to be my number one priority when I get into office,” Mr Obama has said of his “green recovery” plans. Making his arguments in a radio address yesterday, the Democratic favourite promised: “If you give me your vote on Tuesday, we won’t just win this election. Together, we will change this country and change the world.”…”

Meanwhile…Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband (and Peter Mandelson) get off the plane in Saudi and beg for investment into green energy in the UK :-

“Gulf petrodollars help UK go green : Brown calls for Saudis to give more cash to IMF : Gaby Hinsliff, political editor : The Observer, Sunday 2 November 2008 : The fight against climate change will get an unexpected boost today from oil-rich Gulf states which will pledge to invest some of their petrodollar profits in British green energy projects. The surging oil price over the past year has left parts of the Middle East awash with cash as the rest of the world is squeezed by the credit crunch, making Arab royals some of the few active investors worldwide. The Gulf states have enjoyed a $1.4 trillion windfall from higher oil prices since 2003. Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday with Gordon Brown at the start of a tour of the region. He said some of that cash would now ‘help our firms reap the rewards from going low carbon and providing green energy to thousands of families’ under a so-called ‘green Gulf deal’ to be announced today…”

But that’s not the real reason why they are there. Ostensibly, the delegation’s serious business is about asking Saudi and other Arab oil states to contribute more towards the International Monetary Fund :-

“Gordon Brown in the Middle East : Brown hopeful of Saudi cash for IMF : Allegra Stratton in Riyadh, guardian.co.uk, Sunday 2 November 2008 15.30 GMT : Gordon Brown said today he was hopeful of success in his attempts to persuade dollar-rich Gulf states to prop up ailing national economies through a massive injection of capital into the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The prime minister spent three hours in one-to-one talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, trying to persuade the monarch to invest in a revamped IMF. On the first leg of a four-day visit to the Middle East, and aiming to secure hundreds of billions of dollars for the fund, Brown called off a planned dinner with business leaders accompanying him so as to allow maximum negotiating time with the Saudi king. The IMF currently has around $250 billion in its emergency reserves but there are fears that, with Hungary, Iceland and Ukraine having already sought assistance and more nations expected to follow, the sum might not be sufficient. Brown hopes to persuade Gulf leaders to use some of the estimated $1 trillion they have made from high oil prices in the last few years to boost the reserves, indicating that he would like to see the current sum increased by “hundreds of billions” of dollars. The prime minister said following the talks that he was hopeful of having secured Saudi backing…”

But hang on, what’s this ? :-

“…Brown, who is accompanied by a high-level trade delegation seeking Gulf investment, including the CEOs of BP and Shell…”

What on earth are BP (formerly British Petroleum) and (Royal Dutch) Shell doing in a delegation to the Arab states begging for the IMF charity fund and green energy investment ? Is it that BP and Shell won’t pay for green energy and it’s too hard to ask the British people to pay extra tax, so they’re coming to the Arab countries for a green energy bail-in ? What is going on here ? If OPEC countries are all in the “Axis of Evil”, and no foreign oil and gas companies can get a toehold, why are BP and Shell in the government delegation to Saudi ?

Paying for new energy systems can be expensive. The European Union Emisssions Trading Scheme is saying they want 100% of carbon emissions auctioned by 2013 to pay for larger projects – Carbon Capture and Storage and new Nuclear Power. However, the costly deadweight “white elephant in the room” is not nuclear power, but dead wells.

Are they all talking about Peak Oil in the OPEC Gulf, and proposing business opportunities to the King of the House of Saud to offset the Middle East’s future total loss of business as the wells empty – offering them compensation in the form of green investment deals ? Asking the Saudis to join the green energy race now and get ahead ?

BP and Shell have benefited from the recent rise in the price of oil, profiting even as the oil price has hit millions and created impoverishment. But they’re going to have to spend a very large amount on exploration for new oil and gas from now on. So why is there still resistance to spending more on renewables ? Can BP and Shell ever be convinced to go green ? Would a barrel load of toxic news work ? No. BP and Shell can’t pay for green energy because they have to maintain the profits of their shareholders. Pensions are going to be bad enough without forcing major “British” oil companies to pay for such things as bioethanol, algae biodiesel, solar panels and wind farms.

Action to tackle climate change must be a “tight shadow” on Peak Oil and its fall – tighter than the 9.1% depletion of the largest wells projected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) To reverse the oil decline, and more so to take action on climate change, investment is required. Banks are becoming owned by oil-rich nations, but this is simply a natural outcome of poor financial regulation that led to the Credit Crunch. However, it doesn’t mean that the future will be oil and gas necessarily. This new layer of ownership of financial bodies is not significant, as it will not seriously impact the greening of energy, if people are serious about it.

What is of value here is not banking but energy itself, which underpins the entire economy. The scenario is this : Saudi Arabia will not admit in public that it’s going down because of “Peak Oil”. They would prefer to keep up the revenue, but they’re not “engineering” a reduction of supply. It’s reducing anyway.

From their perspective, allowing supplies to weaken, by not doing any new investment into raising production, would be protecting their reserves to sell in future. A good strategy – even more so as prices rise against losses of supply but strong demand (even despite the blooming recession).

I figure that what BP and Shell are doing in the Middle East is making the case to the major oil-producing states to keep on pumping.

I guess that what Gordon Brown is doing is making the Saudis an offer they can’t refuse – either the major western states will implement measures to control oil prices which would make OPEC lose revenue, or the Saudis can underwrite the global bailout.

This mission is not about green energy investment. It’s about keeping the oil flowing.

Selling Thorium to China

Kirk Sorensen, formerly of Teledyne Brown Engineering, now of Flibe Energy

To: Claverton Energy Research Group
From: Jo Abbess
Date: 24 June 2011
Subject: “Don’t believe the spin on thorium being a ‘greener’ nuclear option”‏

Hi Clavertonians,

As you are, I’m sure, aware, context is everything.

I was so sure we’d escaped the clutches of the “Thorium Activist Trolls” a few years ago, but no, here they are in resurgence again, and this time they’ve sucked in George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stephen Tinsdale, all apparently gullible enough to believe the newly resurrected Generation IV hype campaign.

They should have first done their research on the old Gen IV hype campaign that withered alongside the “Hemp will Save the World, No Really” campaign and the “Biodiesel will Save the World, AND You Can Make it at Home” brigade. Oh, and the Zero Point Energy people.

I was, I admit, quite encouraged by both the Hemp and Biodiesel drives, until I realised they were a deliberate distraction from the Big Picture – how to cope with the necessity of creating an integrated system of truly sustainable energy for the future.

Hemp and Biodiesel became Internet virally transmitted memes around the same time as the Thorium concept, but where did they come from ?

Where does the Thorium meme originate from this time round ? I found some people took to it at The Register, where they spin against Climate Change science a lot – watch the clipped video :-

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/01/china_thorium_bet/

I would suggest that there are connections between the Thorium campaign and the anti-Climate Change science campaign, and I have some evidence, but I’m too busy to research more in-depth just now, so I’m not going to write it all up yet.

The key issues with all energy options is TIME TO DELIVERY and SCALEABILITY, and I think the option presented by the Thorium fuel cycle fails on both counts.

Yeah, sure, some rich people can devote their life savings to it, and some Departments of Defense (yes, Americans) and their corporate hangers-on can try selling ANOTHER dud technology to China (which is the basis of some Internet energy memes in my view).

Remember Carbon Capture and Storage ? The British Government were very keen on making a Big Thing about CCS – in order to sell it to the miscreant Chinese because (WARNING : CHINA MYTH) China builds 2 !! coal-fired !! power stations a week/day/month !!

THORIUM – A Brief Analysis
TIME TO DELIVERY – 20 to 50 years
SCALEABILITY – unknown
USEFULNESS ASSESSMENT – virtually zero, although it could keep some people on the gravy train, and suck in some Chinese dough

The Tyndall Centre say that global emissions of greenhouse gases have to peak AT THE LATEST by 2020. We should be thinking about rolling out the technology WE ALREADY HAVE to meet that end.

Don’t believe the hype,

jo.

PS What other evidence do we have that the Thorium meme is most likely just a propaganda campaign ? Nick Griffin of the British National Party backs it, and the BNP are widely alleged to promote divisiveness…

Energy for Democracy

Dropping The Campaign Wrecking Ball

Intelligent commentators, authors and policy people are often suspicious of campaign groups. At the back of their minds they are drawing on a cultural discourse, primarily conducted in the media, that equates campaigners with mini-Hitlers – spreading disinformation and cult behaviour.

It is true that – as Mein Kampf reveals – the National Socialists in Germany used the latest communications tools to coerce and channel the energy of democracy towards their goals.

Some of the Nazi ambition was for democratic engagement, involvement in the process of rebuilding the country. Yet some of the methods were perverse, and caused an inexorable descent into the abuse of power.


When people like Mark Lynas accuse Greenpeace and other green campaign organisations of failings, there is any underlying theme – accusations of manipulation – both of facts and people. The sub-text harks back to the combat against fascism and Nazism in Europe.

We’re never going to make any progress on climate change if those advocating for energy change are equated to early 20th Century dictators and totalitarians.

Energy is a Social Good

I recently wrote an essay called “Energy for Democracy” making a first attempt at connecting the dots on grassroots democratic mobilisation and energy change. The subject set was in the field of “Environmental Communication”, and so I went back and looked at the development of mass media, advertising and public persuasion. I then went on to think about how propaganda and governance are interrelated. And I also looked at philosophy, and politics. I looked at the early 20th Century ideological splits in Europe, and the part that industrial development played. I looked at how democratic and other forms of socialism dealt with the problem of energy.

I posited that, since energy is produced for the Common Good, it should be subject to democratic management. I found myself “channelling” the spirit of Ramsay Macdonald, and going back to the questions of society and the integration of new industries that were pervasive before the two so-called “World Wars”.

Energy Of A Similar Wavelength

And today I find this very theme picked up by Ulrich Beck in The Guardian newspaper, along with the expression “energy change”, which is a term I am using increasingly to encapsulate the pivotal and essential response to climate change :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/20/germany-nuclear-power-renewable-energy

“Germany is right to opt out of nuclear”, he headlines, “The rejection of nuclear power is a result not of German angst but of economic thinking. We must invest in renewable energy”.

I was gladdened when he stepped from economics to democratics :-

“…Ultimately, the rejection of nuclear is not a result of German angst but of economic thinking. In the long run, nuclear power will become more expensive, while renewable energy will become cheaper. But the key point is that those who continue to leave all options open will not invest…People everywhere are proclaiming and mourning the death of politics. Paradoxically, the cultural perception of the danger may well usher in the very opposite: the end of the end of politics…what is denounced by many as a hysterical over-reaction to the “risks” of nuclear energy is in fact a vital step towards ensuring that a turning point in energy generation becomes a step towards greater democracy…The novel coalition between the state and social movements of the kind we currently see at work in Germany now has a historic opportunity. Even in terms of power politics, this change of policy makes sense…”

The British are stumbling towards democracy, too, but they keep tripping over old divisiveness, and create new divisions too, just to complicate matters.

People Power – Not Potty Nor Puny

The Climate Camp has just been a baby step on the pathway to democratic movement on energy. Camping in coal trucks and dropping banners from power station cooling stacks has been a sign that democracy has been ailing – if there were genuine engagement between the governments, private enterprises and “campaign” groups over the future scenarios for energy, then people wouldn’t need to camp outside banks and coal-fired power plants.

As a consumer of mainstream media, all you see is the blockade of a Biofuel refinery, or people gluing themselves to the entrance of the Royal Bank of Scotland, or the occupation of a plant nursery at the site of a proposed runway. If you think “what a ramshackle bunch of unwashed hippies, straining the last of their voices, railing at the State, in a vain attempt to roll back the tide of industry, progress and Thorium reactors”, then you haven’t understood the bigger picture.

People want to be engaged in the decisions made about energy in this country – properly engaged. People want to use their knowledge to influence decisions. If the only means they have of expressing their democratic will and their opposition to hydraulic fracturing is to D-lock themselves to Shale Gas drilling equipment, then perhaps they might just do that. This might happen in Poland too. The alternative would be a proper discussion between the people groups and the governments. Where’s the European Union environmental legislature while all of this is happening ? Shale Gas could destroy Poland.

Energy Collectives – Expressing Collective Democratic Will

Groups like Fair Pensions are building momentum between people groups and investing institutions – raising the flag for clean energy. This isn’t about fighting – let’s drop the battlefield language, including that word “campaign”, which is so often used in a derogatory, dismissive, belittling way. This is about getting people working together on a new, sustainable future, and it requires all the righteous anger rising up to be channelled into a positive, productive movement, fully expressing the will of the people.

Consultations and placard-waving demonstration protests are not the way forward – we need energy change, and that’s going to require a whole lot more democratic energy. People don’t want dirty energy, and they don’t want nuclear power. Dirty energy should be asked to leave the building, nicely, politely. Firm but fair.

Group Thinking – Democratic Intelligence

Investment in renewable and sustainable energy is creating long-lasting assets for the UK and other countries. We don’t need and we don’t want dirty, radioactive energy any more. A thousand cheers for German democracy !

The Cost of a Tankful

[ UPDATE : The windfall tax on the oil and gas companies is going to amount to £2 billion, not £10 billion – and George Osborne is going to watch them “like a hawk” to make sure there’s “no funny business” and that they don’t pass on the cost of the tax to their vehicle fuel customers. Yeah, right. Like, when are people going to wake up and realise market tinkering won’t help ? We need “big number” public investment in sustainable fuels and sustainable vehicle technologies, not efforts to massage fuel duty to appease vocal petrolheads. ]

Let’s see now…how’s the price of a gallon of fuel today ?

Well, the fuel duty escalator has been scrapped for the rest of this UK Parliament.

Plus, fuel duty has been decreased by 1 pence per litre.

This will gladden the hearts of many who have campaigned against the scorching taxes on fuel costs to motorists.

But Value Added Tax for fuel hasn’t been brought down – because the UK Government said it would be illegal under EU law to cut VAT specifically for fuel.

None of these measures announced in today’s UK Budget will stop the price of vehicle fuel from rising further with the markets, unfortunately, so nobody who depends on their personal vehicle should be rejoicing.

The £10 billion or so that will be extracted from the North Sea oil industry via a raise in production tax (apparently to pay for cancelling the fuel duty increase) will no doubt be charged back out to vehicle fuel customers one way or another…the price of ICE Brent Crude for forwards contracts dipped a little today, but the average has shot up over the last 3 months.

Minor adjustments to the price of vehicle fuel will not resolve the fundamentals driving crude oil price changes – and hence the price of diesel and petrol and the pump.

The major shake-up in the price of crude oil shows that suggestions to tinker with taxes or levies to try to adjust consumption for environmental reasons will be a totally failed strategy even before it begins.

So why oh why has George Osborne instituted a Carbon Price Floor for electricity emissions in the power generation sector ? The “price signal” this is supposed to give, an “incentive” to reduce high carbon generation and invest in low carbon generation, will be totally lost amongst the increasing operating costs for electricity production – not least because nuclear power is about to get much, much more expensive because of the response to safety concerns raised by the Fukushima Daiichi Japan Nuclear Accident.

It is time to admit that green taxation doesn’t change behaviour because it is always small compared to other price effects.

It is also time to recognise that proactive investment in such things as low carbon fuels, vehicle fuel efficiency and small electric vehicles, small fuel cell vehicles, more public transport, lower driving speeds, fully inflated tyres, de-centralisation of employment and re-localisation of public services are key to tackling Climate Change for the transport sector.

So…how’s the Green Investment Bank shaping up, then, George Osborne ?

Algae BioDiesel Report Card : Fail

The New York Times blog asks, plaintively, when algae biofuels will be economically viable :-

http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/the-future-of-algae-fuels-is-when/

“January 25, 2011 ; The Future of Algae Fuels Is … When? : By TOM ZELLER JR. : As I write in Tuesday’s Times, a new study from the Rand Corporation, the global policy think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif., and formed more than 60 years ago to advise the American government on military issues, suggests that Department of Defense is wasting its time exploring alternative fuels. It raised particular questions about the near-term viability of algae-based fuels, which the study’s authors considered to be more or less laboratory-level stuff — and certainly not likely to scale up to any significant extent in the next 10 years. Given that the military has gone to great lengths to publicize its ongoing efforts to go green, and in particular, algae-green, the report did not sit well with with everyone…”

The eagerness around algae biodiesel seems to stem largely from those who want something to invest in, now that fossil fuels are starting to look like a liability :-

“…Certainly a number of investors continue to bet on the promise of squeezing oil from algae in amounts substantial enough to put a dent in the use of petroleum-based fuels. And dozens of companies and academic labs are busy chasing that dream. Despite all this, the Rand study’s lead author, Jim Bartis, remained steadfastly skeptical that the technology would be ready for prime time within the next decade — and certainly not ready for widespread military use…”

Highly crucially, hypothetical research has shown that the return on investment may not be very high :-

http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/2011/01/the-eroi-of-algae-biofuels.html

“…What Colin discovered was that the EROI of the Reduced Case and Literature Model were 0.13 and 0.57, respectively. This shows that we have much to learn for the potential of making viable liquid fuels. Additionally, Colin’s calculations for the experimental setup (and Reduced Case analysis) show that 97% of the energy output resides in the biomass, not the bio-oil For his idealized Literature Model, 82% of the energy output was in the biomass. While these results seem discouraging, we do not have much ability to put these results into context of the rate of development of other alternative technologies and biofuels. How long did it take to get photovoltaic panels with EROI > 1 from the first working prototype in a lab? We have somewhat of an idea that it took one or two decades for the Brazilians to get reasonable EROI > 1 from using sugar cane for biomass and biofuel production (Brazilian sugar cane grown and processed in Sao Paulo is estimated near EROI = 8)…”

Can it be that venture capital is chasing an imaginary rabbit down a virtual warren ?

For just $250 (ker-ching !) you can purchase a copy of an informative report, that just might explain it all :-

http://www.oilgae.com/ref/report/digest/digest.html

Interestingly, it is noted, “The yields of oil and fuels from algae are much higher (10-25 times) than competing energy crops”. Those “energy crops” would be the genetically modified food crops that are intended for the BioEnergy agri-industry, then.

And what at the food crops that the GM scientists want to splice with ?

I think we need to understand who has intentions for which crops :-

http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/gene_stack_increases_biofuel_crop_productivity

“Gene stack increases biofuel crop productivity : Thursday, January 20, 2011 : By Jim Lane : In Illinois, Chromatin announced the successful first demonstration that genes can be assembled, stacked, and expressed in sugarcane using the company’s mini-chromosome technology…Developers, however, want to insert genes that offer improvements in multiple traits – when an organism has more than one gene inserted in this process – for example, for disease resistance, insect resistance, herbicide resistance – this is called a gene stack. In 2007, for example, Monsanto and Dow introduced an eight-gene stack (SmartStax) that contained eight herbicide tolerance and insect-protection genes, including Dow’s Herculex I and Herculex RW; Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2 and YieldGard VT PRO, Roundup Ready and Liberty Link tolerance genes. Gene stacking, thereby, is foundational in the drive for higher productivity from land crops…”

“…Not every plant genome is stable enough to support extensive cross-breeding in order to introduce desired genes. One of those is sugar cane. So, let’s say you wanted to introduce several genes, not just one – for example, insect resistance, herbicide resistance, disease resistance, higher sugar concentrations, and enzymes to enable better bagasse digestion. If you could do it at all in cane – and it would be a monumental, unprecedented achievement in cross-breeding, it would take, say 13 years or so to accomplish it. It has made changes at this level uneconomical. So that’s what the Chromatin breakthrough is all about. Creating a method to bring the sort of possibilities that have materially advanced yields in, say, corn and soy, to a whole new array of energy and food crops. Opening up the door for more rapid improvement of the underlying per-acre yields. Thereby reducing the amount of acreage needed to support, say, a cellulosic ethanol or renewable diesel processing technology. Increasing thereby the radius over which biomass can be transported at economically viable rates. Making the processing plants larger, and more cost effective. Speeding up the point at which a given technology can achieve parity with fossil oil. Pushing us faster towards the scaling of energy crops and biofuels…”

“Sugarcane and other feedstocks : Chromatin has wrapped itself into a worldwide exclusive with Syngenta in sugarcane – so, for improvements in the sugarcane genome, that’s where they will come from in so far as this technology is concerned. Meanwhile, Chromatin is pretty well wrapped up in terms of licenses for its technology in corn, soy, canola and cotton. And, Chromatin said last year that it would pursue opportunities in sorghum as a developer. But there are the energy canes, and the energy grasses like switchgrass and miscanthus. Or the woods like eucalyptus or poplar. Or the aquatic species, like algae. For those platforms, this is a licensable technology…”

Tampering with the genes of some of the most important crops in the world. That’s bold. Will we accept that ?

Syngenta are going to mess with sugarcane, all in the name of Climate Change alleviation.

And where will this sugarcane be grown ? In Brazil.

And who will be farming this sugarcane for BioEthanol use ? Dirt-poor people from the landless underclass, just as now.

So, corrupting the gene pool of one of the world’s most important food crops for some dubious possible gains in energy productivity, and still not resolving the human rights issues of how this is farmed.

What a revolution !