See this article for more detials: Back to the Future: Can Nuclear Energy Save the World?
USA Today: Plastic made from pollution hits U.S. market
This is pretty amazing!
... Industry experts told them it was a fool's errand. For good reason. Scientists had spent decades trying to capture carbon and use it to make plastic but couldn't do it cheaply enough. The two friends cracked the code by developing a ten-times more efficient bio-catalyst, which strips the carbon from a liquefied gas and rearranges it into a long chain plastic molecule.
The result? Today, the 31-year-old co-founders of California-based Newlight Technologies have two factories that take methane captured from dairy farms and use it to make AirCarbon — plastic that will soon appear in the form of chairs, food containers and automotive parts. Coming next year: cellphone cases for Virgin Mobile. ...
Video at 1:56:
"... The idea is these products are actually able to match on the performance of oil based plastics but in fact out compete on price, so what we have is a market driven carbon capture process, which is really exciting for us....
... We recently had a third party independent analysis done that verified that each on of our grades of plasctic actually sequester more carbon in the production process than they emit. So every single grade that we make is a carbon sink. So this product here, and this product here ... this is all actually pulling carbon on a net basis, including the energy, out of the air."
Washington Post: Can we sever the link between energy and economic growth?
This is a very important story that is easily overlooked. Why?
People genuinely concerned about global economic growth frequently default into a Malthusian thought process. It goes something like this. We have X amount of economic activity today and that economic activity requires Y amount of energy and resources. If the whole world grows to our level of economic activity, then there must also be proportional growth in the amount of energy and resources consumed. (Economic growth and resource use are perfectly coupled.) It will exhaust the earth's reserves of energy and resources. The global economy will collapse. We must stop growth and embrace natural limits. Now this is true only given one very huge assumption that most people make without thought. The assumption? GDP (economic output) and the rate of energy/resource consumption are inextricably linked. Is this true?
Economic records for the United States show that food production and acreage of land devoted to food production were strongly linked prior to 1910. There were 310 million acres in production in that year. The United States population would triple over the next century. If you took Dr. Who's Tardis back to 1910 and told them this tripling was coming, they could easily tell you how much land would be needed to feed the extra mouths: 300 million multiplied by 3 equals 900 million acres … equivalent to all the land area east of the Mississippi. How many acres were in production 2010? There were 310 acres, just as in 1910. Food production and acreage usage decoupled. Improvements in farming techniques and technology not only fed the extra mouths with the same amount of land but created surpluses that could be shipped abroad.
What this chart suggests is that the same thing is happening with energy usage. The things we use are becoming more energy efficient. For instance, appliances use half the electricity of their counterparts from thirty years ago. Energy used in manufacturing and distribution just keeps getting more energy efficient. As shown in the graph, GDP and energy use were coupled until about the 1980s. Since that time, it appears they are decoupling. It is conceivable that in the next century or so that we could have a growing economy while actually having stabilization, even decline, in energy usage. (I don’t totally dismiss the objections by environmental economist like those mentioned in the article but I am skeptical that the limitations are as severe as they claim.)
I suspect that before very long we will see a similar decoupling of GDP from natural resources. Technology like 3-D printing, still in its infancy, holds the promise of reducing waste in the manufacturing and construction processes. Nanotechnology, using robots about 15 times bigger than an atom, is capable of breaking down substances and recombining the pieces into new substances at the molecular level. It is possible to imagine a day when almost everything we use comes from renewable substances or from nonrenewable substances that are endlessly reconfigured. Furthermore, it is likely that more of the global economy will be about services and digital products instead of physical products.
Now here the growth opponents will raise concerns about the impact these changes will have on the nature of work and on our communities. There are questions about endless consumerism, attempting to fill our lives with stuff and evermore exhilarating experiences. These are important questions but they are questions apart from the question of unsustainability, the idea that accelerated growth will of necessity lead to exhaustion of energy and material resources, as well as destruction of the environment. The latter is true only if you assume no innovation and creativity, the very traits that have been the hallmark of the global economy in recent generations. Moralists may be right that we should reign in our desires and change our relationship to possessions but we need not do so because of inevitable collapse. Appreciating this is critical to useful reflection on what it means to be the church in the twenty-first century.
Washington Post: 40 charts that explain the world
Our friend and colleague Max Fisher over at Worldviews has posted another 40 maps that explain the world, building on his original classic of the genre. But this is Wonkblog. We're about charts. And one of the great things about charts is that they show not just how things are -- but how they're changing.
So we searched for charts that would tell not just the story of how the world is -- but where it's going. Some of these charts are optimistic, like the ones showing huge gains in life expectancy in poorer nations. Some are more worryisome -- wait till you see the one on endangered species. But together they tell a story of a world that's changing faster than at arguably any other time in human history. ...
As the author notes, we have challenges but we hardly descending into some global dystopia. I think these charts give a pretty holistic view. Here are a three examples.
It was commonly believed that primitive societies were more peaceful and that modern civilization gave rise to unprecedented violence. This chart compares death rates by war in primitive societies as calculated by anthropologists to the death rates for Europe/USA in the 20th century.
And then there is this:
The graphs point to environmental protection and adaptation as the biggest problems in the days ahead. Those challenges are not insurmountable. Energy sources like natural gas and nuclear power can be used in the interim on the way to practical renewable technologies. Genetically modified crops can help to reduce water consumption, increase yield, and improve hardiness. Innovations in fields like biotechnology, nanotechnology, and 3-D printing hold the promise of revolutionizing the world economy into a less wasteful and more affordable human existence for everyone. There is work to do but there is also much reason for hope of a better world.
Jan 16, 2014 in Demography, Economic Development, Economics, Environment, Generations & Trends, Globalization, Health, Poverty, Religion, Science, Sociology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution), Weatlh and Income Distribution | Permalink | Comments (0)
New York Times: When America Stops Importing Energy
... The numbers tell the story: U.S. oil production has reversed its 30-plus year decline; U.S. imports from OPEC producers have fallen more than 20 percent in the past three years; U.S. natural gas reserves and production are up significantly and prices have dropped 75 percent in the past five years. The International Energy Agency forecasts that the United States could become the world’s largest oil producer by 2020 and may be energy self-sufficient by 2035. That’s a game changer.
While this is not a free lunch, it should not be feared. The production process is complicated and expensive, and if the industry is not careful there can be risks to the environment. But the potential is staggering. Significant domestic job growth and economic expansion has begun.
But let’s look beyond the impact on the United States and consider a few of the more profound implications for the rest of the world, because this revolution is also a game changer for international politics and the global economy. ...
... Like all revolutions, America’s new energy bonanza raises some fascinating questions. How might a lighter U.S. presence and heavier Chinese involvement change the world’s most volatile neighborhood? What can the next generation of Saudi leaders expect for their country’s future in a world where OPEC has lost much of its market power? Will Qatar’s support for Muslim Brotherhood governments in other Arab states and China’s interest in using the United Arab Emirates as an offshore trading center for its currency leave the Saudis dangerously isolated? Can Iran’s revolution survive the need to build a more modern economy?
A world in which the United States is less involved in answering these questions is a new world indeed.
Energy Biz: Cleaning Coal May be Possible
"... Eliminating 99 percent of the pollution from coal, the Coal-Direct Chemical Looping (CDCL) technique will have a significant impact on the rate of global warming. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that in 2010, coal-burning power plants were responsible for about one-third of the country's carbon dioxide, equivalent to 2.3 billion metric tons. If energy can be obtained from coal without burning it, this number should drop considerably.
Liang-Shih Fan, a chemical engineer and director of Ohio State's Clean Coal Research Laboratory, explains the process, "We found a way to release the heat without burning. We carefully control the chemical reaction so that the coal never burns--it is consumed chemically, and the carbon dioxide is entirely contained inside the reactor." The metal from the iron-oxide is recyclable and the only waste products are coal ash and water. If everything goes according to plan, Fan is confident that his discovery can be used to power energy plants within the next 10 years. ..."
Christian Science Monitor: Fuel from carbon dioxide: Is it too good to be true?
Researchers have found a way of using microorganisms to turn atmospheric carbon dioxide into energy, Ingram writes, essentially replicating the processes found in plant life. Fuel from carbon dioxide has promise, he adds, but isn't yet developed into something that can work on a large scale.
... Biomass Magazine reports the researchers have found a way of using microorganisms to turn atmospheric CO2 into energy--essentially replicating the processes found in plant life.
During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into sugars that the plants use for energy.
The same process takes place in a microorganism called Pyrococcus furiosus--the poetically-named "rushing fireball". Its name stems from its preferred home--next to super-heated geothermal vents in the oceans.
By manipulating the rushing fireball's genetic material, the Georgia team has created an organism that is able to feed at much lower temperatures, on carbon dioxide.
"We can take carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and turn it into useful products like fuels and chemicals without having to go through the inefficient process of growing plants and extracting sugars from biomass," explains the University of Georgia's Michael Adams. ...
1. The Economist has an interesting graph showing the captialism has led to greater happiness in member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union countries excluding the three baltic countries.)
2. AEI has an informative piece on economic mobility in the United States: How’s the American Dream doing? Well, which one?
There are two ways to define economic mobility: 1) absolute mobility, whether each generation is financially better off than the one before; and 2) relative mobility, whether you can change your income rank vs. your parents. Most Americans probably think both measures important. We want to be more prosperous than mom and dad, but also be able to change our circumstances and make our dreams come true. ...
... A San Francisco Fed study – using data tracking families since 1968 — looks at both versions of the American Dream, finding one healthier than the other. Looking at absolute mobility, researchers Leila Bengali and Mary Daly find the United States “highly mobile.” Over the sample period, 67% of US adults had higher family incomes than their parents, including 83% of those in the lowest birth quintile, or bottom 20% (versus 54% for children born into the top quintile, or top 20%.) ...
3. Concerning gender income inequality, Mark Perry says ‘Studies’ that compare average wages by gender, without controlling for demographic factors, can’t be taken seriously
4. Clive Crook thinks an ownership society may be the answer to reducing wealth inequality: Liberals Should Embrace the Ownership Society
... It’s true that conservatives’ standard proposals for privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare would shift risk onto beneficiaries -- but this plainly isn’t a necessary consequence of the basic principle. I agree with Konczal that adequate insurance against economic risk, underwritten by the government, is essential. I also agree that most conservatives aren’t interested in providing that guarantee. That’s exactly why liberals ought to take up the ownership society themselves.
Ownership entails risk, it’s true, but insurance can minimize it. Ownership also provides control, independence and self-respect -- things it wouldn’t hurt liberals to be more interested in. And when it comes to inequality and stagnating middle incomes, ownership can give wage slaves a stake in the nation’s economic capital.
Done right, an equity component in government-backed saving for retirement could be the best idea liberals have had since the earned-income tax credit (oh, sorry, that started out as a conservative idea as well). ...
5. Scientific American: Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform Higher Education and Science
6.Scientific American also has interesting piece on how Brain Researchers Can Detect Who We Are Thinking About
FMRI scans of volunteers' media prefrontal cortexes revealed unique brain activity patterns associated with individual characters or personalities as subjects thought about them.
7. Gizmodo reports that Sex in Space Could Be Deadly.
Researchers already knew humans, animals and plants have evolved in response to Earth's gravity and they are able to sense it. What we are still discovering is how the processes occurring within the cells of the human and plant bodies are affected by the more intense gravity, or hypergravity, that would be found on a large planet, or the microgravity that resembles the conditions on a space craft.
According to estimations, engineers expect the the store to generate around 265,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. Store operation will only require 200,000 kWh, so perhaps that extra wattage could be pumped back into the grid or used to power nearby utilities.
9. CNN reports on How online ruined dating ... forever
When people can browse potential dates online like items in a catalog, geo-locate hook-ups on an exercise bike just seven feet away, arrange a spontaneous group date with the app Grouper or arrange a bevy of blind dates in succession with Crazy Blind Date, it makes me wonder if all this newfound technological convenience has, in fact, made romance that much more elusive. Now, we may be more concerned with what someone isn't rather than what they are. And as that twenty-something entrepreneur reminded me over coffee, services like OkCupid, and even Facebook, sap a lot of the mystique out of those first few dates. So, sure, it may be easier than ever to score a date, but what kind of date will it really be?
10. Interesting piece on Why Do People Use Nope Even Though No Is Shorter?
11. Is the New Pope More Liberal Than the Last Two? Why It's Hard to Tell. Emily Chertoff offers some insightful analysis.
12. Michael Bird offer this quote from Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew's "The Drama of Scripture" in his post The Importance of the Narrative of Scripture.
Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits – theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But when we read the Bible in such a fragmented way, we ignore it’s divine author’s intention to shape our lives through its story. All humanity communities live out some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history and gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. Idolatry has twisted the dominant cultural story of the secular Western world. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of Scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Hence the unity of Scripture is no minor matter: a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers! (p. 12).
13. Scot McKnight has a great piece on what constitutes legalism: Legalism: Old and New Perspectives
14. Thom S. Rainer on Ten Things Pastors Wish They Knew Before They Became Pastors
Read the whole thing.
15. Joseph Sunde rates the 5 TV Shows That Demonstrate the Importance of Ordinary Work
1. The United States had its financial bubble. Europe is having one too. Is China next? If it is, it could reshape the global economy and radically reshape Chinese government. Here is an interesting piece about China's real estate bubble.
2. Robert Tracinski thinks we are in midst of a Third Industrial Revolution.
... I like the idea of a breaking the Industrial Revolution into stages, but I would define them in more fundamental terms. The first Industrial Revolution was the harnessing of large-scale man-made power, which began with the steam engine. The internal combustion engine, electric power, and other sources of energy are just further refinements of this basic idea. The second Industrial Revolution would be the development of interchangeable parts and the assembly line, which made possible inexpensive mass production with relatively unskilled labor. The Third Industrial Revolution would not be computers, the Internet, or mobile phones, because up to now these have not been industrial tools; they have been used for moving information, not for making things. Instead, the rise of computers and the Internet is just a warm-up for the real Third Industrial Revolution, which is the full integration of information technology with industrial production.
The effect of the Third Industrial Revolution will be to collapse the distance between the design of a product and its physical manufacture, in much the same way that the Internet has eliminated the distance between the origination of a new idea and its communication to an audience. ...
3. Tyler Cowen has some thoughts about the impact our technological revolution as well Are we living in the early 19th century?
... Eventually all of the creative ferment of the industrial revolution pays off in a big “whoosh,” but it takes many decades, depending on where you draw the starting line of course. A look at the early 19th century is sobering, or should be, for anyone doing fiscal budgeting today. But it is also optimistic in terms of the larger picture facing humanity over the longer run.
4. You may have seen a deeply flawed viral video about wealth inequality this past week. I working on my own response but here is economist Mark Perry's response. In response to the viral ‘Wealth Inequality in America’ video
5. What are the contours of income inequality in the United States? This 40 minute video by Emmanuel Saez offers some important insights.
6. Futurist Ray Kurzweil is a little too sensationalist for my taste but this vid offers interesting food for thought about nanotechnology and the future sports. We will even be able to have meaningful sports competition?
7. Atlantic takes up at a frequently perpetuated myth. 'Women Own 1% of World Property': A Feminist Myth That Won't Die
The recovered wealth - most of it from higher stock prices - has been flowing mainly to richer Americans. By contrast, middle class wealth is mostly in the form of home equity, which has risen much less.
10. When looking at decisions in your own context, Seth Godin explains why Macro trends don't matter so much
Whether or not you think science is wonderful, the stereotype of all scientists being atheists is unrealistic. There is, however, a special dance.
12. I consider this good news. Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution
More Christian parents are asking for mainstream science in their children's curricula.
13. Remember to keep Syria and Egypt in your prayers. Nearly 1 in 20 Syrians are now refugees
Mar 09, 2013 in Asia, China, Current Affairs, Economic Development, Economics, Religion, Science, Sports and Entertainment, Technology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution), Weatlh and Income Distribution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
1. I love maps and charts. Naturally I was drawn to this: 36 Maps That Explain The Entire World. Here is just one example:
2. Roger Pielke, Jr., says It's Time to Bury the Easterlin Paradox.
"The Easterlin paradox suggest that in terms of human happiness -- a
squishy concept to be sure -- there is a limit to economic growth beyond
which there really is just no point in attaining more wealth. Further, a
decoupling between income and happiness at some threshold would imply
that GDP would not be a good measure of welfare, we would need some
A recent paper (PDF) by Daniel Sacks, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argues that the Easterlin paradox is also wrong. ..."
3. John Danforth thinks We Need Less Religion in our Politics and Less Politics in our Religion.
"Why isn't there more outrage about the president's unilateral targeted assassination program on the left?"
5. Arnold Kling with an interesting piece on the role of Jews in the rise of the modern urbanized economic order. The Unintended Consequences of God
"In those days, most people were farmers, for whom literacy’s costs generally outweighed its benefits. However, in an urbanized society with skilled occupations, literacy pays off. As urbanization gradually increased in the late Middle Ages, Jews came to fill high-skilled occupations. Botticini and Eckstein argue that literacy, rather than persecution, is what led Jews into these occupations."
6. New Geography wants to know Is Urbanism The New Trickle-Down Economics?
"But while progressives would clearly mock this policy [trickle-down economics], modern day urbanism often resembles nothing so much as trickle-down economics, though this time mostly advocated by those who would self-identify as being from the left. The idea is that through investments catering to the fickle and mobile educated elite and the high end businesses that employ and entertain them, cities can be rejuvenated in a way that somehow magically benefits everybody and is socially fair."
7. NPR has nice piece on mini-reacters. Are Mini-Reactors The Future Of Nuclear Power?
8. Mark Perry excerpts a quote from green libertarian John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market.
“Capitalism is the greatest creation humanity has done for social cooperation. It has lifted humanity out of the dirt. In statistics we discovered when we were researching the book, about 200 years ago when capitalism was created, 85% of the people alive lived on $1 a day. Today, that number is 16%. Still too high, but capitalism is wiping out poverty across the world. 200 years ago illiteracy rates were 90%. Today, they are down to about 14%. 200 years ago the average lifespan was 30. Today it is 68 across the world, 78 in the States, and almost 82 in Japan. This is due to business. This is due to capitalism. And it doesn’t get credit for it. Most of the time, business is portrayed by its enemies as selfish and greedy and exploitative, yet it’s the greatest value creator in the world.”
9. Economist Gavin Kennedy with some interesting thoughts on the relationship between the state and the economy in developing nations:
The problem is to achieve the right balance between a competitive market economy and an effective state: markets where possible; the state where necessary.
10. Climate Change: Key Data Points from Pew Research. Highlights some interesting shifts in the public's priorities.
11. Great piece about yet another way family life is changing. Yes, I’m a Homemaker
I’m a guy. My wife works. We’ve got no kids. I’m a stay-at-home dude.
"... What a sweet picture this conjures: the stay-at-home dad nurturing his children, looking after the house and helping support his wife in her budding career and shelving his own big ambitions for later. Now it gets a little awkward. There is no adorable kid, nor plans to have one. No starter home that needs knocking into shape. I'm not just doing this temporarily until I find something meaningful to do. I’m actually a full-time homemaker ... not stay-at-home dad but stay-at-home dude. A conversational pause. Where do you mentally file this guy? Usually I just change the subject. ..."
12. The Atlantic reports that Women Are Often Remarkably Reluctant to Ask for Help Around the House
A new study shows that high-earning women are more likely to let their houses be messy than to hire a housekeeper or get their husbands and kids to pitch in. ...
... "You can purchase substitutes for your own time, you can get your husband to do more, or you can all just do less," Killewald says. "Whether women outsource housework in particular has less to do with resources, but whether or not paid labor is viewed as an appropriate strategy for undertaking domestic work.
Doing less housework seems to be a popular option. ...
13. Business insider reports on a finding that comes as no shock to me: Men Really Do Have A Harder Time Reading Other People's Emotions.
Psychiatrists have concluded that males take longer to assess facial expressions as their brains have to work twice as hard to work out whether another person looks friendly or intelligent.
14. Daniel Kirk with a thoughtful piece Homosexuality under the Reign of Christ
In particular, researchers found that 40% of people say they would avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook, while 50% say they would not avoid a person who unfriended them. Women were more likely than men to avoid someone who unfriended them, the researchers found.
... Libraries are responding to the decline of print in a variety of creative ways, trying to remain relevant – especially to younger people – by embracing the new technology. Many, such as New York’s Queens Public Library, are reinventing themselves as centers for classes, job training, and simply hanging out. In one radical example, a new $1.5 million library scheduled to open in San Antonio, Texas, this fall will be completely book-free, with its collection housed exclusively on tablets, laptops, and e-readers. “Think of an Apple store,” the Bexar County judge who is leading the effort told NPR. It’s a flashy and seductive package.
But libraries are about more than just e-readers or any other media, as important as those things are. They are about more than just buildings such as the grand edifices erected by Carnegie money, or the sleek and controversial new design for the New York Public Library’s central branch. They are also about human beings and their relationships, specifically, the relationship between librarians and patrons. And that is the relationship that the foundation created by Microsoft co-founder’s Paul G. Allen is seeking to build in a recent round of grants to libraries in the Pacific Northwest. ...
17. 3-D Printing just gets more amazing. A 3D Printer That Generates Human Embryonic Stem Cells
3-D printers can produce gun parts, aircraft wings, food and a lot more, but this new 3-D printed product may be the craziest thing yet: human embryonic stem cells. Using stem cells as the "ink" in a 3-D printer, researchers in Scotland hope to eventually build 3-D printed organs and tissues. A team at Heriot-Watt University used a specially designed valve-based technique to deposit whole, live cells onto a surface in a specific pattern.
Feb 09, 2013 in Capitalism and Markets, Culture, Economic Development, Economics, History, Male and Female, Politics, Public Policy, Religion, Social Media, Sociology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wall Street Journal: Bjorn Lomborg: Climate-Change Misdirection
Fear-mongering exaggeration about effects of global warming distracts us from finding affordable and effective energy alternatives.
In his second inaugural address on Monday, President Obama laudably promised to "respond to the threat of climate change." Unfortunately, when the president described the urgent nature of the threat—the "devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms"—the scary examples suggested that he is contemplating poor policies that don't point to any real, let alone smart, solutions. Global warming is a problem that needs fixing, but exaggeration doesn't help, and it often distracts us from simple, cheaper and smarter solutions.
For starters, let's address the three horsemen of the climate apocalypse that Mr. Obama mentioned.
Historical analysis of wildfires around the world shows that since 1950 their numbers have decreased globally by 15%. Estimates published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that even with global warming proceeding uninterrupted, the level of wildfires will continue to decline until around midcentury and won't resume on the level of 1950—the worst for fire—before the end of the century.
Claiming that droughts are a consequence of global warming is also wrong. The world has not seen a general increase in drought. A study published in Nature in November shows globally that "there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years." The U.N. Climate Panel in 2012 concluded: "Some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, in particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, in central North America and northwestern Australia."
As for one of the favorites of alarmism, hurricanes in recent years don't indicate that storms are getting worse. Measured by total energy (Accumulated Cyclone Energy), hurricane activity is at a low not encountered since the 1970s. The U.S. is currently experiencing the longest absence of severe landfall hurricanes in over a century—the last Category 3 or stronger storm was Wilma, more than seven years ago. ...
... In the long run, the world needs to cut carbon dioxide because it causes global warming. But if the main effort to cut emissions is through subsidies for chic renewables like wind and solar power, virtually no good will be achieved—at very high cost.
Instead of pouring money into subsidies and direct production support of existing, inefficient green energy, President Obama should focus on dramatically ramping up investments into the research and development of green energy. Put another way, it is the difference between supporting an inexpensive researcher who will discover more efficient, future solar panels—and supporting a Solyndra at great expense to produce lots of inefficient, present-technology solar panels.
When innovation eventually makes green energy cheaper, everyone will implement it, including the Chinese. Such a policy would likely do 500 times more good per dollar invested than current subsidy schemes. But first let's drop the fear-mongering exaggeration—and then focus on innovation.
Associated Press: Practically human: Can smart machines do your job?
... To better understand the impact of technology on jobs, The Associated Press analyzed employment data from 20 countries; and interviewed economists, technology experts, robot manufacturers, software developers, CEOs and workers who are competing with smarter machines.
The AP found that almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. Jobs that form the backbone of the middle class in developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia.
In the United States, half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession paid middle-class wages, and the numbers are even more grim in the 17 European countries that use the euro as their currency. A total of 7.6 million midpay jobs disappeared in those countries from January 2008 through last June.
Those jobs are being replaced in many cases by machines and software that can do the same work better and cheaper.
"Everything that humans can do a machine can do," says Moshe Vardi, a computer scientist at Rice University in Houston. "Things are happening that look like science fiction." ...
... So machines are getting smarter and people are more comfortable using them. Those factors, combined with the financial pressures of the Great Recession, have led companies and government agencies to cut jobs the past five years, yet continue to operate just as well.
How is that happening?
-Reduced aid from Indiana's state government and other budget problems forced the Gary, Ind., public school system last year to cut its annual transportation budget in half, to $5 million. The school district responded by using sophisticated software to draw up new, more efficient bus routes. And it cut 80 of 160 drivers. ...
... -In South Korea, Standard Chartered is expanding "smart banking" branches that employ a staff of three, compared with an average of about eight in traditional branches. ...
... -The British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto announced plans last year to invest $518 million in the world's first long-haul, heavy-duty driverless train system at its Pilbara iron ore mines in Western Australia. The automated trains are expected to start running next year. The trains are part of what Rio Tinto calls its "Mine of the Future" program, which includes 150 driverless trucks and automated drills.
Like many technologically savvy startups, Dirk Vander Kooij's furniture-making company in the Netherlands needs only a skeleton crew - four people ...
... -Google's driverless car and the Pentagon's drone aircraft are raising the specter of highways and skies filled with cars and planes that can get around by themselves. ...
... "Trying to keep it from happening would have been like the Teamsters in the early 1900s trying to stop the combustion engine," Lavin says. "You can't stand in the way of technology."
The upside of emerging technology is that most will make goods and services less expensive. That improves our living standard. The downside is that much of the work we used to do in order to earn the wages to buy goods and services is rapidly changing. As the last sentence of the article notes, this is not the first time we have been in these circumstances. Years ago I read that in 1885, approximately 80% of everything we consumed in the U.S. was produced at home. By 1915, 80% was produced outside the home. It created massive economic dislocations. Each time these disruptions occur it has been hard for the people living at that time to foresee what the new economic order would look like.
It is critical that Christian thinkers wrestle with the challenges of technological innovation. Creative destruction (the market dynamic where jobs and industries are destroyed in the wake of creating new ones) has always been a difficult one for ethics. It is painful but the social cost of other alternatives is also quite high. Anti-technological calls to abandon consumerism or, conversely, just saying that “the market will sort it all out,” are not legitimate responses. I think topics like this should be at the center of our theological reflection about human labor and the economy.
Jan 24, 2013 in Capitalism and Markets, Economics, Generations & Trends, Technology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
… FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite billions of dollars in new infrastructure, power interruptions are chronic in India. Consumers large and small rely on backup systems, at huge cost to both the environment and economy, says energy expert Kirit Parikh. He traces the problem to policies that never really took into account the cost of power and gave it away to some consumers.
KIRIT PARIKH, energy expert: We started out with saying that farmers should get cheap and free electricity. This was 30 years ago, when we wanted farmers to really adopt more modern technologies. It was considered a good way to promote green revolution.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Power was distributed cheaply or free to farmers and other groups whose votes politicians courted. Little effort was made to meter it. That prompted many people to hook themselves up illegally. Parikh says a third of all power is stolen off the grid. …
… FRED DE SAM LAZARO: … But to anywhere from a third to a half of them, it really didn't matter, because they have never been hooked up to the electric grid.
Vast swathes of rural India remain off the grid or get minimal, unpredictable service from it. …
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ratnesh Yadav has tried to tackle at least this part of the problem. He and a partner founded a company called Husk Power. Their idea? Village-based micro-grids.
At this one in the village of Patelli (ph) in the northeastern Bihar state, tractors arrive with rice husks, the byproduct of milling this region's staple crop. It is poured into a hopper, about 100 pounds per hour, and gassified to run a simple turbine. Each evening, 700 customers have access to power for five hours. …
… MAN (through translator): We used to work with a gas light. This is much cheaper. We used to stay open until 9:00 in the evening. Now we stay open until 10:00 or 10:30, so it's a benefit. …
… FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In five years, Husk Power has installed 75 of these simple plants. Their networks cover an area no bigger than a couple of square miles, with wires strung on poles made from bamboo, a renewable resource like the rice husk fuel.
RATNESH YADAV: The good thing about this rice husk is, it has no alternate uses. It doesn't burn easily, so you can't use it for cooking. You cannot feed it to cattle because it has high silica in it. So it is a waste. It has no value for anybody else. And that is why -- and it is in plenty. …
… ERIC BERKOWITZ, investor: As people increase income, which hopefully they will, that will create new livelihood opportunities, they will have opportunities to incrementally increase electricity that they will take from these kind of solutions, and maybe add maybe two lights, three lights, a radio, a TV, a refrigerator.
It's not the only solution. There's other solutions that involve solar technologies. And Husk Power is actually looking at those kind of solutions as well.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Renewable fuel plants also qualify for subsidies from India's government and possibly credits in a global carbon trade. Power expert Parikh appreciates what micro-plants can provide, but he doesn't see them as a long-term solution. …
The Chinese are running away with thorium energy, sharpening a global race for the prize of clean, cheap, and safe nuclear power. Good luck to them. They may do us all a favour.
... The aim is to break free of the archaic pressurized-water reactors fueled by uranium -- originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s -- opting instead for new generation of thorium reactors that produce far less toxic waste and cannot blow their top like Fukushima. ...
... The thorium story is by now well-known. Enthusiasts think it could be the transforming technology needed to drive the industrial revolutions of Asia -- and to avoid an almighty energy crunch as an extra two billion people climb the ladder to western lifestyles.
At the least, it could do for nuclear power what shale fracking has done for natural gas -- but on a bigger scale, for much longer, perhaps more cheaply, and with near zero CO2 emissions. ...
... The beauty of thorium is that you cannot have a Fukushima disaster. Professor Robert Cywinksi from Huddersfield University, who anchor's the UK's thorium research network ThorEA, said the metal must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the process. "There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam," he said. ...
... Yet it leaves far less toxic residue. Most of the mineral is used up in the fission process, while uranium reactors use up just 0.7pc. It can even burn up existing stockpiles of plutonium and hazardous waste.
Cambridge scientists published a tantalising study in the Annals of Nuclear Energy in February showing that it is possible to "achieve near complete transuranic waste incineration" by throwing the old residue into the reactor with thorium.
In other words, it can help clean up the mess left by a half a century of nuclear weapons and uranium reactors, instead of transporting it at great cost to be encased in concrete and buried for milennia. It is why some `greens' such as Baroness Worthington -- a former Friends of the Earth activist -- are embracing thorium. Though there are other reasons.
The thorium molten salt process takes place at atmospheric pressures. It does not require the vast domes of conventional reactors, so costly, and such an eyesore.
You could build pint-size plants largely below ground, less obtrusive than a shopping mall, powering a small town the size of Tunbridge Wells or Colchester. There would be shorter transmission lines, less leakage, and less risk of black-outs. The elegance is irresistible....
Business Insider: There's Been An Incredible Drop In Projected US Carbon-Dioxide Emissions
... From 2009 to 2013, key changes in the AEO [Annual Energy Outlook] include:
Power sector transformation, based on decarbonization of the generation mix, occurs because natural gas and renewables gain market share at the expense of coal, reflecting:
The first crack in a firewall that has protected big coal for decades.
Since the 1990s, small bands of Appalachian residents, regional environmental groups, and more recently the EPA have fought what often seemed like a futile battle against mountaintop-removal mining, the radical practice of blowing the tops off mountains to get at the coal seams underneath. The coal companies, backed by local political establishments and conservative jurists skeptical of possible regulatory overreach, have fended off multiple attempts to shut down mountaintop operations. As a result, an ever-widening swath of Appalachian peaks and valleys has been obliterated: approximately 2,200 square miles, according to the EPA, in what is likely a conservative estimate because the footprint often extends beyond the permit zones. That’s an area almost the size of Delaware.
That expanse kept growing as the battles mostly went in coal’s favor. Until this month, that is, when environmental groups won a decisive legal victory over a coal company. It may prove to be turning point in the war over the mountaintops, and for the future of coal.
On Nov. 15, St. Louis-based Patriot Coal agreed to phase out its mountaintop excavations and redirect its efforts back to underground mining. Adding a symbolic punch, Patriot agreed to decommission its two draglines—enormous boom excavators that do the actual mountaintop demolitions—and can sell them only on the condition that they’re never used in the Appalachian coalfields again. Coal executives usually shrug off complaints about mountaintop-removal impacts as the grumbling of dilettantes and naysayers who don’t understand the need for mining jobs. Yet here was the practically unheard-of spectacle of Patriot’s CEO, Ben Hatfield, acknowledging that mountaintop removal affected both people and ecology: “Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximizing the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbors," Hatfield said in court. "We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint." ...
Two weeks ago I posted this graph in my post Divergent Life Expectancies in the U. S.
As you can see, some of the worst declines in life expectancy are in moutain top mining areas of Kentucky and West Virginia. Allen Johnson of Christians for the Mountains makes the, as does this article, that this strongly connected to the mining operations.
Finally, the United States is beginning to take energy efficiency seriously. ...
... The Negawatt is the general principle of cutting electricity consumption without necessarily reducing energy usage through things like energy efficiency. Lovins first introduced it in the keynote address to the 1989 Green Energy Conference in Montreal:
Imagine being able to save half the electricity for free and still get the same or better services! … You get the same amount of light as before, with 8 percent as much energy overall—but it looks better and you can see better. … In the space conditioning case—heating and cooling—you get improved comfort. ... It is doing more with less.
The Negawatt itself is a theoretical unit of power measuring energy saved—Lovins came up with the idea after seeing megawatt misspelled with an n and deciding that this was a potentially useful conceptualization. It sounds self-evident now that you could reduce electricity consumption not by cutting back on energy usage but by improving energy efficiency standards and modernizing antiquated power sources. But the concept was revolutionary at the time. A major problem with getting people to understand the environmental and cost-savings benefits of energy efficiency was a perverse incentives structure that rewarded power companies based on amount of electricity sold, not for how much of a needed service it was providing. Lovins described the dilemma as such:
There isn't any demand for electricity for its own sake. What people want is the services it provides. … Nonetheless, most of our utilities have gotten into the habit of thinking they're in the kilowatt-hour business, so they should sell more. … For some reason, it's hard for them to get used to the idea that it's perfectly all right to sell less electricity, and so bring in less revenue, as long as costs go down more than revenues do.
Though Lovins brought the idea to the fore of the environmental policy discussion, he wasn’t the first to articulate the issue: In 1982, California devised an inspired solution, called decoupling, to this problem. The idea was that the state would reverse the incentive structure by establishing the revenue rate that the power company would need to meet in order to return a profit, along with a separate target for electricity production needed. Any revenue over the target amount would be returned to customers, while anything below would be added on to the following year’s bills. This meant that greater efficiency could actually return greater profit.
Decoupling is largely credited with making California the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly state in the country. But a mere disincentive to keep utilities companies from pegging profits to electricity usage was not enough, so the state launched a second program called “decoupling plus” in 2007 in order to incentivize power companies to lower their electricity production. Through this program, regulators set savings targets, and customers are asked to pay fees to help provide the down payment for power companies to meet these targets. Regulators then calculate long-term economic savings of this efficiency. If the utilities meet or surpass their targeted electricity savings, they get a cut of the projected savings. If they don’t meet the targets, the utilities pay a fine.
In 2007, California was still the only state in the union to have even a basic decoupling system in place. In the last five years, though, there has been a decoupling revolution across the country. By the start of 2011, 27 states and the District of Columbia had adopted gas decoupling, electric decoupling, or both. While the incentive programs are not yet in place in the vast majority of these states, at least the initial roadblock of the bad incentive structure has been largely removed.
What energy technology is portable, powerful and prefabricated? Small modular reactors are generating buzz as federal officials co-fund a project that could transform the U.S. nuclear industry.
12:26PM EST November 27. 2012 - A new generation of nuclear reactor is scheduled to launch in the United States within a decade, potentially transforming the U.S. nuclear industry. But critics question its safety, given last year's meltdown of Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and recent flooding from Superstorm Sandy.
These small modular reactors (SMRs), about a third the physical size of traditional ones, would be portable and built mostly in factories. They got a boost last week from the Department of Energy, which announced it would pay up to half the cost to design and license the first ones for the U.S. commercial market. ...
... "You can put them together like Legos on a job site," Mowry says. "The industry likes building blocks of this size," he says, likening the heft of each to a tanker truck. He expects a two-reactor plant generating a total of 360 megawatts of power to cost $1.5 billion to build — about a tenth of the projected cost of a two-reactor, 2,000-megawatt plant the NRC approved earlier this year for Georgia.
Another benefit, Mowry says, is safety. He says it can operate for two weeks without outside power and has fewer parts and pipes so is less likely to malfunction. "Our reactor is totally underground," he says, adding it's not disturbed by hurricanes and tornadoes. ...
... TerraPower, a start-up partially funded by software mogul Bill Gates, is developing a larger, 500-megawatt, "traveling wave" reactor. Company CEO John Gilleland says it's on track to deploy its first reactor in the 2020s.
Genoa says U.S.-based companies are furthest along in developing small reactors, which he says many countries want. He says the U.S. has a chance to recapture its lead in nuclear technology, adding, "'This race is ours to lose."
Orange County Register: Anti-nuclear madness grips developed world
Gwynn Dyer, an independent journalist, writes:
After the loss of 10 million American lives in the Three-Mile Island calamity in 1979, the death of 2 billion in the Chernobyl holocaust in 1986 and, now, the abandonment of all of northern Japan following the death of millions in last year's Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, it is hardly surprising that the world's biggest users of nuclear power are shutting their plants down.
Oh, wait a minute. Nobody died in the Three-Mile Island calamity, 28 plant workers were killed, and 15 other people subsequently died of thyroid cancer in the Chernobyl holocaust, and nobody died in the Fukushima catastrophe. In fact, northern Japan has not been evacuated after all. But never mind all that. Governments really are shutting down their nuclear plants. ...
She explains that Japan has closed their 50 nuclear reactors for inspections and the government promises to close them permanently by 2040, replacing them with renewable energy. Angela Merkel wants to close German plants by 2022. France is proposing to scale back their nuclear sector.
The Greens prattle about replacing nuclear power with renewables, which might happen in the distant future. But the brutal truth for now is that closing down the nuclear plants will lead to a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
Fortunately, their superstitious fears are largely absent in more sophisticated parts of the world. Only four new nuclear reactors are under construction in the European Union, and only one in the United States, but there are 61 being built elsewhere. Over two-thirds of them are being built in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), where economies are growing fast.
But it's not enough to outweigh the closure of so many nuclear plants in the developed world, at least in the short run. India may be aiming at getting 50 percent of its energy from nuclear power by 2050, for example, but the fact is that only 3.7 percent of its electricity is nuclear right now. So the price of nuclear fuel has collapsed in the past four years, and uranium mine openings and expansions have been cancelled.
More people die from coal pollution each day than have been killed by 50 years of nuclear power operations – and that's just from lung disease. If you include future deaths from burning fossil fuels, closing down nuclear power stations is sheer madness. Welcome to the Middle Ages.
Many of the existing plants, like Fukushima, are second generation nuclear power. Third generation nuclear power is much safer. Fourth generation, projected to come online in about twenty years will be even safer, more efficient, and generate wasted that must be protected a few hundred years instead of millennia. There is reason to believe that even better methods are in the offing. What an irony that those countries that have been the most adamant about reducing greenhouse gas emissions may become the biggest stumbling block to curbing them.
In recent months, I've linked a graph that shows that CO2 emissions from energy production have dropped to 1990 levels in the United States, mostly because of natural gas replacing coal power. That's the good news if you want to reduce CO2. But here is the challenge presented in the two graphs by Jordan Wiessmann.
MIT Professor Donald Sadoway’s lectures were good enough to convince Bill Gates to invest in his startup called Liquid Metal Battery. Now you can watch a glimpse of a mini lecture by Sadoway, because the TED conference just released Sadoway’s 15 minute TED talk. It’s worth a watch!
The Hill's Congress Blog: Small modular reactors provide path forward for nuclear power
... So, what do we do? One path forward for the nuclear industry is through the construction of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs are nuclear reactors that are intentionally designed to be less than 300-megawatts, or about one-third of the size of conventional large reactor. By making them small, they have several key benefits not available to large reactors. These issues are discussed at length in a new American Security Project (ASP) report, “Small Modular Reactors: A Possible Path Forward for Nuclear Power.”
First, SMRs offer flexibility. Since they are small, they can be added to the electric grid incrementally. Slow incremental additions better match the slow energy demand growth in the United States, which is projected to be less than 1% per year. Utilities have little interest in building a huge nuclear reactor when demand is not rising quickly enough to justify the investment.
Second, SMRs are designed with several safety features that are an improvement over large reactors. By using simpler designs with fewer coolant pipes and components, the risk of a safety accident declines.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, SMRs have an advantage in cost over large reactors. While a typical large reactor can cost between $6 and $9 billion, an SMR has an estimated price tag of only $250 million for a 100-megawatt reactor. With smaller upfront costs and shorter construction timeframes, utilities can get loans with lower interest rates.
Despite these advantages, no SMR has been constructed to date. Why isn’t the industry building SMRs right now? The biggest obstacle for SMRs is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has licensed no SMR design.
A second impediment is the lack of a track record on performance. Without an example to point to, the burden is on the nuclear industry to prove that the advantages of SMRs discussed above are indeed an improvement over conventional reactors. Until the first plant moves ahead, uncertainty remains.
A third problem is low natural gas prices. The nuclear industry remains bullish on their prospects over the long-term, and with assets that last 60 years, it is essential to not get swept up in the latest hype. However, low natural gas prices present real problems for industry, at least in the near-term. ...
Many have been inspired by Star Trek to become scientists, and some are starting to make its gadgetry a reality.
Destination Star Trek London has kicked off at the ExCeL exhibition centre, and I'm willing to bet that among those heading down for a weekend of pointy-eared fun, there'll be a high proportion of scientists and engineers.
Many have been inspired by Star Trek to take up a career in science, technology or engineering. I think the franchise deserves more respect as a science popularisation medium – how many other prime-time TV shows would allow their characters to toss out phrases like "I performed a Fourier analysis on the harmonics, Captain"?
Since its inception in 1966, Star Trek has familiarised us with the lingo and applications of science. At least, that was the case for me. I felt pretty disenfranchised from science at school: it wasn't until I discovered science fiction that I realised I could understand "difficult" technical concepts.
Since the show began, many of us have become more tech-savvy than we could possibly have imagined at school. More than that, we're now seeing emergent technology here on Earth that was once little more than a Star Trek scriptwriter's dream. To get you in the mood for this weekend's festivities, here's a roundup of some of the best Star Trek-inspired technology.
Replicators - ... Three-dimensional printers have been on the open market commercially for most of the 21st century. ...
Transporters - Earlier this year, Nature reported that photons had been teleported 89 miles, between La Palma and Tenerife. OK, it wasn't exactly transportation ...
Bioneural circuitry - ... And in February of this year, the Scripps Research Institute published details of a DNA-based biological computer based on an original design by Alan Turing. ...
Cloaking devices - ... In January, our first real "invisibility cloak" was unveiled at the University of Texas. ...
Nanites - ... They've constructed a set of nanorobots, with inbuilt chemical sensors, that can silence genes within cancerous cells. ...
Androids - Japanese scientists have created some remarkably human-looking androids, though they wouldn't beat Data in a game of three-dimensional chess. ...
Of course, we all ready have personal communication devices. But as someone recently pointed out, while we all have communication devices, we don't see people in Star Trek constantly looking down at them and running into things. ;-) Warp drive would be pretty cool. Any other Trekkie devices that you want to see?
Oct 22, 2012 in Generations & Trends, Science, Technology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: 3D-Printing, Androids, Bioneural circuitry, cancerous cells, chemical sensors, Cloaking device, emergent technology, Hyposprays, invisibility cloak, Nanites, nanorobots, Replicators, science fiction, Star Trek, Star Trek-inspired technology, teleport, Transporters, Tricorders, warp drive
Project Syndicate: Bjorn Lomborg on Scaring People Into Action
PRAGUE – Campaigners on important but complex issues, annoyed by the length of time required for public deliberations, often react by exaggerating their claims, hoping to force a single solution to the forefront of public debate. But, however well intentioned, scaring the public into a predetermined solution often backfires: when people eventually realize that they have been misled, they lose confidence and interest.
Last month, there were two examples of this in a single week. On September 19, the French researcher Gilles-Eric Séralini attempted to fuel public opposition to genetically modified foods by showing the public how GM corn, with and without the pesticide Roundup, caused huge tumors and early death in 200 rats that had consumed it over two years. ...
Lomborg highlights the throughly bogus nature of the study and it funding and notes:
Moreover, Séralini’s results contradict the latest meta-study of 24 long-term studies (up to two years and five generations), which found that the data do “not suggest any health hazards” and display “no statistically significant differences” between GM and conventional food.
Why is this important?
This debacle matters because many GM crops provide tangible benefits for people and the environment. They enable farmers to produce higher yields with fewer inputs (such as pesticides), so that more food can be produced from existing farmland. That, in turn, implies less human encroachment into natural ecosystems, enabling greater biodiversity. But, of course, Séralini’s pictures of cancer-addled rats munching GM corn have instead been burned into the public imagination.
Then there was a climate change report:
The Séralini fiasco was only a week old when, on September 26, the Climate Vulnerability Forum, a group of countries led by Bangladesh, launched the second edition of its Global Vulnerability Monitor. Headlines about the launch were truly alarming: Over the next 18 years, global warming would kill 100 million people and cost the economy upwards of $6.7 trillion annually.
These public messages were highly misleading – and clearly intended to shock and disturb. The vast majority of deaths discussed in the report did not actually result from global warming. Outdoor air pollution – caused by fossil-fuel combustion, not by global warming – contributed to 30% of all deaths cited in the study. And 60% of the total deaths reflect the burning of biomass (such as animal dung and crop residues) for cooking and heating, which has no relation to either fossil fuels or global warming.
In total, the study exaggerated more than 12-fold the number of deaths that could possibly be attributed to climate change, and it more than quadrupled the potential economic costs, simply to grab attention. ...
He goes on:
Likewise, overcoming the burden of indoor air pollution will happen only when people can use kerosene, propane, and grid-based electricity. If the Global Vulnerability Monitor’s recommendation to cut back on fossil fuels were taken seriously, the result would be slower economic growth and continued reliance on dung, cardboard, and other low-grade fuels, thereby prolonging the suffering that results from indoor air pollution.
When confronted with their exaggerations, the authors claimed that “if you reduce hazardous air pollution, it is difficult to not also reduce warming emissions.” But, for both indoor and outdoor air pollution, the opposite is more likely true: lower carbon emissions would mean more air pollution deaths.
When scare tactics replace scientific debate, whether about GM crops or climate change, nothing good can come of it. We all deserve better.
Ridley leads of this piece noting:
Generally, technologies are judged on their net benefits, not on the claim that they are harmless: The good effects of, say, the automobile and aspirin outweigh their dangers. ...
He goes on to explain that despite sensationalist stories about the negative impact of GM foods, the scientific peer-reviewed scientific data doesn't support it. The substantial benefits get short shrift:
... So to redress the balance [of negative coverage], I thought I'd look up the estimated benefits of genetically modified crops. After 15 years of GM planting, there's ample opportunity-with 17 million farmers on almost 400 million acres in 29 countries on six continents-to count the gains from genetic modification of crop plants. A recent comprehensive report by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot for a British firm, PG Economics, gives some rough numbers. (The study was funded by Monsanto, which has major operations in biotech, but the authors say the research was independent of the company and published in two peer-reviewed journals.)
The most obvious benefit is yield increase. In 2010, the report estimates, the world's corn crop was 31 million tons larger and the soybean crop 14 million tons larger than it would have been without the use of biotech crops. The direct effect on farm incomes was an increase of $14 billion, more than half of which went to farmers in developing countries (especially those growing insect-resistant cotton). ...
He goes on to note benefits like less fuel usage, better health and safety for workers, shorter growing cycles, better quality of food, and nearly 1 billion less pounds of pesticide being used. Furthermore, because of several factors, there is less carbon-diosice emission. His final paragraph is the kicker.
There is a rich irony here. The rapidly growing use of shale gas in the U.S. has also driven down carbon-dioxide emissions by replacing coal in the generation of electricity. U.S. carbon emissions are falling so fast they are now back to levels last seen in the 1990s. So the two technologies most reliably and stridently opposed by the environmental movement-genetic modification and fracking-have been the two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions.
And to that final paragraph I might add the observation that many of those who are the most adamant about catastrophic anthropogenic climate change being unassailable science are most resistant to science that points the great benefits and relatively small downsides of things like GM crops and fourth generation nuclear power.
Homeland Security News Wire: DOE promotes small-nuclear reactors (SMRs)
South Carolina’s Savannah River Site (SRS) located in Aiken, along with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), have announced three partnerships to develop three small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at the SRS facility; SMRs produce less energy than a regular reactor, but they produce enough energy to power small cities and remote areas.
South Carolina’s Savannah River Site (SRS) located in Aiken, along with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), have announced three partnerships to develop three small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at the SRS facility. ...
... Helen Belecan, DOE’s deputy assistant manager for infrastructure and environmental stewardship at the SRS facility, told Government Technology the goal of the reactors are “to apply the nuclear knowledge and expertise that we have from over 60 years of supporting the nation in its defense-type operation in nuclear material production and help these companies develop the technology and manufacturing capability in the United States so that the United States can take on a leadership role in the manufacturing of these small modular reactors.”
DOE will focus on the advancing SMRs in the United States. $450 million “will be made available to support first-of its kind engineering, design decertification and licensing for up to two SMR designs over five years, subject to congressional appropriations,” DOE says. ...
... A SMR is about one-third the size of a regular nuclear reactor and is built at a fraction of the cost. A traditional single-unit nuclear reactor costs roughly $8 billion dollars to build and that number jumps to $14 billion for twin reactors. SMRs produce less energy than a regular reactor, but they produce enough energy to power small cities and remote areas.
Thomas Sander, an associate laboratory director for the Clean Energy Imitative and the Savannah River National Laboratory, told Government Technology the first SMR will cost almost $1 billion, but the price will drop down the line.
“If you are talking about the 100th, my expectation is that cost is going to be reduced significantly as a result of advance factory manufacturing and just a learning process and the licensing process.”
“If you are going after the old coal replacement market, you are looking at 150 to 200 megawatts on average,” Sander said, “but if you are looking at the Alaskan market for small cities or island market or export market for developing countries, you are talking 45 to 100 megawatts.” ...
... A team at Rice University has made a battery from paint. They created a lithium ion battery which they are able to paint onto virtually any surface.
In tests they combined the battery with a small solar cell and found that the system worked as a perfect energy generating unit. In one test the batteries were even able to power light-emitting diodes that spelled out "RICE" for six hours, with a steady 2.4 volts.
Neelam Singh, the team leader, said that she can already imagine integrating paintable battery technology with paintable solar cells.
They have already filed for a patent, and are now looking to use the technology to create batteries that can be connected together like LEGO and attached to anything.
Worldwatch: Gathering Waste and Making Good of It
... Sanergy, for example, is a company launched by a group of students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management. The group has designed low-profile sanitation centers that can be constructed anywhere to provide hot showers and clean toilets. These facilities can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials. Waste from the centers is deposited into airtight containers that are collected daily. Then it’s brought to processing facilities that can convert it into biogas. The biogas generates electricity, while the leftover material is made into fertilizer.
The company won a USD $100,000 grant from MIT and has been building its first units in Nairobi. It charges a low pay-per-use fee and hopes to grow by franchising the operation of its units, creating an income opportunity for enterprising residents. As the number of toilets proliferates, so too will the amount of energy the company is able to generate from its processing facilities. It hopes to eventually generate enough energy that it can sell its power to the national grid.
The company’s unique and innovative approach is notable for the way it combines the decentralization of waste collection with the centralization of waste processing. Retrofitting the slums with proper sewage drains is a near impossibility and can be an expensive and potentially politically volatile effort in areas where landownership is at best ambiguous. The self-contained units grant access to sanitary facilities to even those far off the grid. But by centralizing the processing of waste, Sanergy’s facilities will take advantage of the economies of scale present in the waste conversion process. ...
Slate: A Fracking Good Story
Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are at their lowest level in 20 years. It’s not because of wind or solar power.
... But, beyond this well-trodden battlefield, something amazing has happened: Carbon-dioxide emissions in the United States have dropped to their lowest level in 20 years. Estimating on the basis of data from the US Energy Information Agency from the first five months of 2012, this year’s expected CO2 emissions have declined by more than 800 million tons, or 14 percent from their peak in 2007.
The cause is an unprecedented switch to natural gas, which emits 45 percent less carbon per energy unit. The U.S. used to generate about half its electricity from coal, and roughly 20 percent from gas. Over the past five years, those numbers have changed, first slowly and now dramatically: In April of this year, coal’s share in power generation plummeted to just 32 percent, on par with gas. ...
... The reduction is even more impressive when one considers that 57 million additional energy consumers were added to the U.S. population over the past two decades. Indeed, U.S. carbon emissions have dropped about 20 percent per capita, and are now at their lowest level since Dwight D. Eisenhower left the White House in 1961. ...
... This flies in the face of conventional thinking, which continues to claim that mandating carbon reductions—through cap-and-trade or a carbon tax—is the only way to combat climate change.
But, based on Europe’s experience, such policies are precisely the wrong way to address global warming. Since 1990, the EU has heavily subsidized solar and wind energy at a cost of more than $20 billion annually. Yet its per capita CO2 emissions have fallen by less than half of the reduction achieved in the U.S.—even in percentage terms, the U.S. is now doing better. ...
... Climate economists repeatedly have pointed out that such energy innovation is the most effective climate solution, because it is the surest way to drive the price of future green energy sources below that of fossil fuels. By contrast, subsidizing current, ineffective solar power or ethanol mostly wastes money while benefiting special interests. ...
(Reuters) - The European Union will impose a limit on the use of crop-based biofuels over fears they are less climate-friendly than initially thought and compete with food production, draft EU legislation seen by Reuters showed.
The draft rules, which will need the approval of EU governments and lawmakers, represent a major shift in Europe's much-criticized biofuel policy and a tacit admission by policymakers that the EU's 2020 biofuel target was flawed from the outset.
The plans also include a promise to end all public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, effectively ensuring the decline of a European sector now estimated to be worth 17 billion euros ($21.7 billion) a year. ...
Growing installations of rooftop solar panels are increasing concern that U.S. utilities may refuse to buy power generated by the systems, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Utilities are required to purchase electricity generated by solar panels installed on consumers’ homes under so-called net- metering policies, an arrangement that may become less viable as solar systems become more common, said Rhone Resch, chief executive officer of the Washington-based trade group.
California, the largest solar market, capped the amount of panels utilities are required to connect to their grids and other states are considering similar policies. Some utilities see the requirement to buy solar power from every rooftop system as a threat to their profitability, Resch said.
“Net metering works for us now, but we’re going to see a backlash from utilities as solar penetration increases over the next few years,” Resch said today in an interview at the Solar Power International conference in Orlando, Florida.
California regulators capped the amount of rooftop solar that may be connected to the grid at 5 percent of a a utility’s power needs, and is studying the long-term impact upon their profits. ...
New York Times: The Growing Might of Solar Power
From California to New Jersey, the summer sun was hot this year — and so was the solar industry. While the business of solar energy is still small enough and young enough to record firsts at the fearsome pace of a toddler, the milestones are getting more substantial. ...
... The number of megawatts installed in the second quarter of this year
was around 742, more than double the 343 megawatts installed in the
first quarter of 2011, according to a report released Monday that was commissioned by the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The same report, showed that the United States now has 5.7 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, enough to power one million homes, according to the the report, which was prepared by GTM Research, a Boston-based consulting company.
Then again, even in California, where more than one-third of the new installations were located, the new high-water mark for daily solar power production represents only 1 percent of total demand. Wind energy — which is counter-cyclical with solar energy, as the wind is weakest when the sun shines brightest — represented 3.7 percent of demand on the day of peak solar-energy generation. ...
... It may be worth noting that amid all the news about solar expansion and milestones, the federal Energy Information Administration reported on Monday that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined 2.5 percent from 2010 to 2011.
“Electric power generation from natural gas, the least carbon-intensive of the fossil fuels, increased by 3 percent, while generation from coal declined by 6 percent,” the agency reported, noting that carbon dioxide emissions from burning natural gas are around half those that result from burning coal.
“Power generation from renewable sources continued to rise, mostly because of record-breaking supplies of hydroelectricity and increasing generation from wind, solar, and other renewable sources,” the agency’s report added.
More evidence of the Kruse Plan at work. Switch to natural gas as a near-term intermediate step, while giving alternative energy and nuclear power a chance to emerge.
SunTech Connect: How Hybrid Solar Energy Systems Empower Remote Communities
In my previous blog post, we discussed the potential and need to drive the adoption of hybrid solar energy systems to empower remote communities in developing nations with reliable access to electricity.
In this blog, I will focus on some communities who have successfully implemented such hybrid solar energy systems.
Mali is a landlocked country in Western Africa, and suffers from acute electricity shortage. Although a number of generation plants are planned, most of these plants will only start generating after 2017 due to constraints. However, Ouelessebougou city in the Koulikoro region of the country decided to take matters in their own hands to assuage this issue. The city used two diesel generators that generated 440 kilowatts of electricity to power a water pumping station and scores of surrounding households. To reduce their reliance on costly diesel and increase power generation capacity, the city invested in a 216-kilowatt solar energy system.
The results were remarkable as the city managed to reduce their reliance on diesel generators by 75%.
In another example, ...
New York Times: From Engineering Marvels, a Turnaround in U.S. Oil Output
... Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have been around for years, but over the last five years, engineers have fine-tuned these and other techniques, even as many environmentalists worry about their impact on water and air.
Computer programs have been developed to simulate wells before they are even drilled. Advanced fiber optics permit senior engineers at company headquarters to keep track of drillers on the well pad, telling them when necessary where to direct the drill bit and what pressure to use in injecting fracking fluids. Seismic work has become far more sophisticated, with drillers dropping microphones down adjacent wells to measure seismic events resulting from a fracking job so they can more accurately determine the porosity and permeability of rocks when they drill nearby in the future.
Just a decade ago, complete wells were fracked at the same time with millions of gallons of water, sand and chemical gels. Now the wells are fracked in stages, with various kinds of plugs and balls used to isolate the bursting of rock one section at a time, allowing for longer-reaching, more productive horizontal wells. A well that once took two days to drill can now be drilled in seven hours. ...
... But new adhesives and harder alloys have made diamond cutters and drill bits tougher in recent years. Meanwhile, Apache experimented with powerful underground motors to rotate drilling bits at a faster rate. Now, a well that might have taken 30 days to drill can be drilled in just 10, for a savings of $500,000 a well. ...
... “We’re having a revolution,” said Steve Farris, Apache’s chief executive. “And we’re just scratching the surface.” ...
... Environmentalists are critical because burning more fossil fuels contributes to climate change.
“Life needs to be protected and global warming is the most profound threat to life on earth.” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is pushing the federal government to protect wildlife from the effects of drilling in the Permian Basin, the Gulf of Mexico and the Alaskan Arctic. ...
Fortune: Harnessing the sun's power
Ever since cold fusion flopped spectacularly, the idea of finding an affordable way of replicating the sun's method of generating energy has become almost a joke. That may be about to change. Yes, the two major fusion reactor designs being explored in the research world -- one is called a tokamak and the other is inertial confinement systems -- show promise, but they are 20 to 30 years off. Also, they require either gigantic superconducting magnet systems or extra-fierce laser arrays and will cost tens of billions at best.
A small Canadian company called General Fusion has a new technology called magnetized target fusion, which could end up costing a fraction of what the other designs do. ...
... General Fusion's design shares aspects of the other two but aims to pull off fusion reactions using far simpler and cheaper hardware. The company's reactor draws on work begun more than 30 years ago at the U.S. Naval Research Lab. It uses 200 very powerful pneumatic pistons inserted through holes in a spherical metal vessel that Richardson compares to a "wiffle ball." Firing the pistons at precisely the right moment creates an acoustic shock wave that compresses hot liquid lead and lithium swirling around inside. Then, the injected deuterium-tritium gas encounters such heat and pressure that a fusion reaction briefly occurs. General Fusion brought the Navy's original idea to life by engineering control systems for the pistons that weren't possible a few decades ago. ...
... The toilet they threw open is Sanergy, a year-old for-profit social enterprise that manufactures high-quality, yet low-cost and compact toilets for urban slums in the developing world and then uses human waste to produce energy and fertilizer. It is an “affordable, accessible and hygienic sanitation” solution for millions that live in places without sewage or electricity. They are places where the street is the bathroom. And that’s precisely the problem.
According to the World Toilet Organization, (yes, there really is one) 2.5 billion people worldwide lack access to a toilet. Relieving themselves in rivers, roadsides and impromptu and poorly built latrines, this results in high levels of disease, notably diarrhea and cholera. The recent cholera scourge in Haiti that killed thousands is sobering evidence. It is estimated that 1.6 million children die as a result of these diseases. Statistics show that hundreds of millions lose approximately 60 days of work.
David Auerbach and Ani Vallabhaneni, two of Sanergy’s young entrepreneurs, didn’t need stats to know how the absence of toilets affected the poor. The two graduating MIT-Sloan of Management school students experienced first hand the challenges of no sewage or sanitation when they lived and worked in rural China and India respectively. “Going to the bathroom isn’t a popular topic that comes up at the dinner table in the West,” Auerbach, a former policy hand at the Clinton Global Initiative (and my former colleague at Endeavor), says. “It’s flush and forget for us. That’s not the case in much of the developing world.” ...
... What they found was that Kenya’s poor were interested in having compact stalls that could fit into the tight spaces of their usually one-room homes, rather than large community outhouses. They wanted a “permanent” feel to the stalls rather than the flimsy feel of a porta-potty. As a result, Auerbach, Vallabhaneni and their Sanergy team that includes engineers, architects and designers drew up plans for a 3×5 toilet made out of thin shell cement that is locally produced for $200 per unit. Each toilet is designed for a 100 uses per day. They are units, which also collect waste in double-sealed 30L containers, rather than pits, or septic tanks “that are then drained into waterways.” It is this waste collection that is key.
More than where to go to the bathroom, how to dispose of human waste is, as Auerbach points out, a primary reason that no one touches the issue of toilets. That was Sanergy’s opportunity. Recognizing that, though “messy,” human waste can be converted through anaerobic digestion to produce fertilizer or electricity. It is also where the Sanergy team recognized that it could generate revenue.
Sanergy produces toilets that are franchised to local operators who charge around $0.06 per use. Currently the company has two toilets serving approximately 150 each day. One is at Bridge International school (a for-profit school supported by the Omidyar Network), the other in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. These local operators keep all revenues. That, Auerbach says, is an incentive for them to clean, maintain and “market” the toilets. The operators then work with groups who collect the waste daily and bring it to facilities where it is converted to energy. “The waste from each toilet generates Sanergy revenues of $1250 per year.” The waste from 10 million creates a potential market of $178 million per year. Brown gold. ...
Christian Science Monitor: Where solar power can't fly, artificial photosynthesis might
... One emerging option [for aircraft fuel] is artificial photosynthesis – after all, if fuel is a better way to store energy, then why not turn sunlight directly into fuel instead of electricity?
Nathan Lewis, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, has built PV cells that split water molecules to generate hydrogen gas, a fuel. His cells convert sunlight into chemical energy 10 to 40 times more efficiently than most crops.
"It's reasonable to say that within our first five years we will have working prototypes that can be manufactured at scale," says Mr. Lewis.
The challenge will be combining that hydrogen with carbon dioxide to form hydrocarbons found in diesel or jet fuel. It's chemically possible, but might require a dozen steps. ...
Christian Science Monitor: New nuclear plants may have withstood the Japan earthquake
The 9.0 Japan earthquake was dire but the current meltdown might have been avoided by new advances in nuclear plant technology.
The latest nuclear reactor designs could help avoid the overheating and explosions that have occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan following the powerful earthquake and tsunami that struck on Friday. Newer reactor designs propose the use of passive cooling systems that would not fail after a power outage, as happened in Japan, as well as other novel approaches to managing reactor heat. ...
... The reactors at the nuclear plant, built in the early 1970s, rely on active cooling systems that require electricity. Newer plant designs would lessen or eliminate the need for active cooling, making use of natural convection or a "gravity feed" system to cool reactors in the event of an emergency.
In one design, for example, the relatively new Westinghouse AP1000, water is suspended over the reactor housing. If pressure within the system drops, this allows the water to fall into the reactor area, submerging it in enough water to keep it cool.
While passive systems could be better in the event of electrical failures, they might not always be the safest systems. Kadak says that in an active system, it's easier to ensure that coolant gets exactly where it needs to be—it's simply pumped to the right location. Designing passive systems, on the other hand, requires complex models of how fluids will behave in a system that could be rendered incorrect if the system is damaged.
Kadak says that even more advanced reactor designs could overcome these issues. ...
The world may have twice as much natural gas than previously thought, according to the rich nations' think tank the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The world may have 250 years of gas usage at current levels thanks to "unconventional gas" from shale and coal beds, Anne-Sophie Corbeau, senior gas expert at the IEA told BBC News.
Estimates may even be revised upwards.
Studies are underway into newly-recoverable sources, Ms Corbeau said.
But she stressed that the totals were highly uncertain, and depended on price, technology and the accessibility of supplies.
"The gas story is huge," she told BBC News.
"A few years ago the United States was ready to import gas. In 2009 it had become the world's biggest gas producer. This is phenomenal, unbelievable." ...
Detnews.com: Nuclear power needed now
... These nuclear plants will pump out power for economic growth without creating smog or loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.
The United States already operates the largest fleet of nuclear power plants in the world with 104 reactors producing about 20 percent of our nation's electricity, but there hasn't been a groundbreaking for a new plant since 1973. Although utilities are seeking licenses to build and operate about 30 new reactors, the challenge lies in the financing of new plants. In the current economic climate, it's difficult to obtain private financing.
But nuclear power's revival in the United States is inevitable. It is paved not only by the need for more generating capacity but also by favorable cost comparisons with other fuels, concern about climate change, and improved licensing procedures.
To be sure, we also need to consider all forms of renewable energy as they become cost-effective, but the unavoidable truth is that nuclear plants occupy a small fraction of the land required for solar and wind power. And while nuclear plants produce electricity about 90 percent of the time, wind turbines generate power, on average, only 30 percent of the time and require back-up electricity from fossil fuel turbines on days when the weather isn't cooperating. Solar energy is less efficient, providing electricity only 20 percent of the time.
Nuclear power, therefore, must play a larger role in maintaining our nation's energy security and reducing atmospheric pollution and acid rain. Nuclear power also has economic benefits, as it provides a stimulus for new jobs and revenue. ...
There are other factors that make nuclear power attractive.But it is interesting to me that many of those are infactic about the causes of global warming and its coming consequences based on irrefutalbe science are the same ones who reject scientists claims about the safety of nuclear power plants.
New York Times: Bringing Clean Light to Poor Nations and Moving Beyond Charity
... The poorest people on the planet together spent almost $40 billion last year on kerosene and other rudimentary and dangerous fuel-based lighting. Scientists say fuel-burning lanterns release 190 million tons of carbon dioxide each year: about the equivalent of 30 million cars.
Now leaders in the field of solar portable lighting believe they can push kerosene lamps out of markets in much of the developing world and make a profit while they're at it.
"If you compare what the poor spend on kerosene, it's 10,000 times more than what we pay when we use basic electricity from the grid. It's crazy when you think that the poorest people spend the most, and get so much poor light and poor health in return" said Patrick Avato, an energy specialist in Kenya with the International Finance Corp. (IFC). ...
... Ned Tozun, president and co-founder of the portable solar lighting company D.Light, said nonprofit groups have done tremendous work bringing solar lighting to poor villages. But he also argued that the charity route can't sustain the infrastructure communities need -- like maintenance education or supplies of new batteries -- if they are going to stick with the clean lighting.
"It's inherently non-scalable," Tozun said. He described visiting villages where people had been given free solar lamps, only to return to kerosene when the batteries ran out and no one in the village sold new ones. ...
... Avato said he's convinced it can happen. Companies already are well on their way to helping Lighting Africa meet its short-term goal of delivering 500,000 high-quality lanterns by 2012. World Bank officials note that just two years ago, there were only a handful of products available for the African market, most costing more than $50. Today, there are 79 products, a growing number of them costing less than $25.
According to a marketing trends report issued this year, the World Bank estimates that the African market for off-grid renewable lighting will double by 2015, and as many as 6 million households on the continent will own solar portable lights.
"These products have momentum and are reaching a tipping point in a number of African markets which justifies focused study and effort in commercializing their use," the authors wrote, adding: "The solar portable light market is poised for rapid growth over the next five years." ...
Fortune: China charges into electric cars
... China has just launched an Apollo moon shot of sorts: The government recently decreed that 5 million electric cars will be traveling the nation's roads by 2020 -- up from basically none today. According to banking giant HSBC, that will equate to 35% of the global electric-vehicle market.
What that means is that China, which last year rocketed past the U.S. as the world's largest market for new-auto sales, is also determined to become its most innovative. As part of the country's 12th five-year plan (2011--2015), Beijing has pledged that it will do whatever it takes to help the Chinese car industry take the lead in electric vehicles (See: China vs. the U.S. in electric vehicles). (Its long-term plan also calls for building bullet trains, subways, and electric buses to alleviate traffic congestion.) "The Chinese are trailing in the development of internal-combustion engines," says Bill Russo, a senior adviser at Booz & Co. in Beijing who covers the car industry. "They figure, Why not leapfrog that technology and become a dominant global purveyor of battery-powered vehicles?"
Building an electric-car infrastructure won't be easy. Vehicle makers must work with a jumble of different players -- from the utilities, which will provide the power and smart-grid networks, to local governments, which will provide public charging stations. Standards must be set. But China, an authoritarian state, is particularly well positioned to help make the electric car a reality. "China's government is supporting electric-car technology more than any other country on earth," says Kevin Wale, head of GM China Group. ...