Thursday, December 13, 2012

Zombie LDK Stops Production, Fires Thousands

Zombie LDK Stops Production, Fires Thousands
by Sneha Shah

LDK Solar (NYSE:LDK)which used to be the biggestsolar wafer producer has completely stopped production ofpolysilicon and sharply reduced shipments to preserve cash. Thecompany is effectively bankrupt and surviving due the largesse ofstate owned Chinese banks which have given $3 billion in loans tothe company. LDK has almost no chance of paying down thismonstrous debt given that it has been operating on negative grossmargins for the last few quarters.

LDK cost structure is way too high compared to itscompetitors
LDK has a much higher cost structure in most solar segments. Itswafer processing cost is 25c/watt compared to 12c/watt forRenesola (NYSE:SOL),its polysilicon cost is around $30/kg compared to $23/kg forRenesola and $17/kg for GCL Poly (3800.HK).Given that even Renesola and GCL are making losses, the situationfor LDK is dire. LDK has diversified into production of cells,modules as well as solar plant construction. However these effortslike the others have also failed spectacularly with its Germanacquisition also near bankruptcy.

LDKs Giant Polysilicon Plant stops Production
LDK’s biggest failure has been in building up its polysiliconproduction. The plant took too much time and too much money to getbuilt and never managed to reduce its costs to a competitivelevel. Despite building a plant with 15000 tons of capacity makingit one of the top polysilicon players, the company has nevermanaged to ramp production to make decent profits. Not its plantlies idle as polysilicon prices have crashed to $15/kg almost halfthat of its cost of $30/kg. It remains to be seen whether thisplant will ever restart. The only chance for it to do that is ifthe Chinesegovernment imposes duties on imports of polysilicon.
LDK Management has no clue what to do
The Management of LDK Solar has performed disastrously right frombuilding the polysilicon plant to diversification into thin filmsolar panels (Best Solar), acquiringsolar system companies (Germany, USA), managing debt etc.They kept on spending money and building capacity even as thewhole house of cards collapsed around them. Even as recently aslast year , they signed a deal to build a massive polysiliconplant in China’s Inner Mongolia province even as they could notrun their poly plant profitably. The company had forecast morethan $2.5 billion in sales at the beginning of the year and nowthey have reduced it to less than $1 billion.

LDK has fired thousands of employees this year and willcontinue to do so
The company in its latest quarterly results reported a sharp decline in cash as the company continued to burn cash. LDK management has fired 2500 workers as its utilization fell sharplyand has fired almost 9,000 workers or 40% of its workforce thisyear. Given its uncompetitive structure, the company will continueto fire workers. LDK has almost 4 GW of wafer capacity and hasused less than 50% of that capacity this quarter.

LDK is Bankrupt but the Chinese Government does not wantto let go
LDK is bankrupt and one can easily make that out going throughits balance sheet. The company has almost $3.7 billion of plantassets which in reality are of much lower value. If the company takes even a 10% asset writedown of its PPE, it will have anegative worth given that it has only $50 million of equity listedon its balance sheet. LDK has more than $3 billion in loans and ithas been reported that a small bank Shanghai Rural Commercial Bankfor overdue loans worth 100 million yuan has already sued LDK torecover that loan. LDK recently sold a 20% equitystake for a pittance to a state owned vehicle Heng Rui XinEnergy and changedits management structure. The Xinyu government has alsogiven it a grant. But given its massive problems all loans andgrants will only prolong the pain given that LDK has no chance ofcoming out of this downturn unless a miracle happens.

View the original article here

Sunday, December 9, 2012

US Energy Production Outpacing Consumption

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[Editor's notes at the end.]
The US Energy Information Administration has just released its “Annual Energy Outlook 2013
” report with projections for US energy markets through to 2040. The report shows that growth in the country’s energy production is outpacing the growth of consumption.
Specifically, the report found that the growth of renewable energy is much faster than the use of fossil fuel.

“EIA’s updated Reference case shows how evolving consumer preferences, improved technology, and economic changes are pushing the nation toward more domestic energy production, greater vehicle efficiency, greater use of clean energy and reduced energy imports,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski. “This combination has markedly reduced projected energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.”
Some key findings:

Crude oil production, particularly from tight oil plays, rises sharply over the next decade. The advent and continuing improvement of advanced crude oil production technologies continues to increase projected domestic supply. Domestic production of crude oil increases sharply in AEO2013, with an annual growth averaging 234 thousand barrels per day (bpd) from 2011 through 2019, when production reaches 7.5 million bpd (Figure 1). The growth results largely from a significant increase in onshore crude oil production, particularly from shale and other tight formations. After about 2020, production begins declining gradually to 6.1 million bpd in 2040 as producers develop sweet spots first and then move to less productive or less profitable drilling areas.Motor gasoline consumption is lower in the AEO2013 relative to the level in AEO2012, reflecting the introduction of more stringent corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards; growth in diesel fuel consumption is moderated by increased use of natural gas in heavy-duty vehicles. AEO2013 incorporates the greenhouse gas (GHG) and CAFE standards for light-duty vehicles (LDVs) through the 2025 model year, which raise the new vehicle fuel economy requirement from 32.6 miles per gallon (mpg) in 2011 to 47.3 mpg in 2025. The increase in vehicle efficiency reduces gasoline use in the transportation sector by 0.5 million bpd in 2025 and by 1.0 million bpd in 2035 in AEO2013 compared to the AEO2012 Reference case (Figure 2). Furthermore, the improved economics of natural gas results in an increase in the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in heavy-duty vehicles that offsets a portion of diesel fuel consumption. The use of petroleum-based diesel fuel is also reduced by the increased use of diesel produced using gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology. Natural gas use in vehicles reaches 1.7 trillion cubic feet (including GTL) by 2040, displacing 0.7 million bpd of other motor fuels. 

The United States becomes a larger exporter of natural gas than projected in the AEO2012 Reference case. US natural gas production increases throughout the projection period (Figure 3), outpacing domestic consumption by 2020 and spurring net exports of natural gas. Higher volumes of shale gas production in AEO2013 are central to higher production volumes and an earlier transition to net exports than was projected in the AEO2012 Reference case. US exports of LNG from domestic sources rise to approximately 1.6 trillion cubic feet in 2027, double the 0.8 trillion cubic feet projected in AEO2012; the United States becomes a net exporter of LNG in 2016

Renewable fuel use grows at a much faster rate than fossil fuel use. The share of electricity generation from renewables grows from 13 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2040. Electricity generation from solar and, to a lesser degree, wind energy sources grows as recent cost declines make them more economical. However, the AEO2013 projection is less optimistic about the ability of advanced biofuels to capture a rapidly growing share of the liquid fuels market than AEO2012. As a result, biomass use in AEO2013 totals 4.2 quadrillion Btu by 2035 (compared to 5.4 quadrillion Btu in AEO2012) and 4.9 quadrillion Btu in 2040, up from 2.7 quadrillion Btu in 2011.With improved efficiency of energy use and a shift away from the most carbon-intensive fuels US energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions remain more than 5 percent below their 2005 level through 2040 [Editor's note: recall, from our post moments ago, that "energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions" is a very deceiving term that hides simultaneous growth in CO2 emissions from natural gas flaring, among other things].

The projected growth rate for US energy-related CO2 emissions has declined successively in each Annual Energy Outlook since AEO2005, reflecting both market and policy drivers (Figure 4). Emissions from motor gasoline demand in AEO2013 are lower than in AEO2012 as a result of the adoption of fuel economy standards, biofuel mandates, and shifts in consumer behavior. Emissions from coal use in the generation of electricity are lower as power generation shifts from coal to lower-carbon fuels, including natural gas and renewables. The story is somewhat more complex for natural gas. Emissions from natural gas use are higher in the industrial and electric power sectors in AEO2013 than in AEO2012 as a result of increased consumption; however, the increase is partially offset by lower emissions from natural gas use in the residential and commercial sectors in AEO2013 as a result of the implementation of efficiency standards for energy-using equipment and other changes that affect demand.

Other AEO2013
 Reference case highlights:The Brent spot crude oil price declines from $111 per barrel (in 2011 dollars) in 2011 to $96 per barrel in 2015. After 2015, the Brent price increases, reaching $163 per barrel in 2040, as growing demand leads to the development of more costly resources. World liquids consumption grows from 88 million bpd in 2011 to 113 million bpd in 2040, driven by demand in China, India, Brazil, and other developing economies.Total US primary energy consumption grows by 7 percent in the AEO2013 Reference case, from 98 quadrillion Btu in 2011 to 108 quadrillion Btu in 2040. The fossil fuel share of primary energy consumption falls from 82 percent in 2011 to 78 percent in 2040 as consumption of petroleum-based liquid fuels falls, largely because of the incorporation of new fuel efficiency standards for LDVs.In the AEO2013 Reference case, energy use per capita declines by 15 percent from 2011 through 2040 as a result of improving energy efficiency (e.g., new appliance standards and CAFE) and changes in the way energy is used in the US economy. Energy use per 2005 dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) declines by 46 percent from 2011 to 2040 in AEO2013 as a result of a continued shift from manufacturing to services (and, even within manufacturing, to less energy-intensive manufacturing industries), rising energy prices, and the adoption of policies that promote energy efficiency. CO2 emissions per 2005 dollar of GDP have historically tracked closely with energy use per dollar of GDP. In the AEO2013 Reference case, however, as lower-carbon fuels account for a bigger share of total energy use, CO2 emissions per 2005 dollar of GDP decline more rapidly than energy use per 2005 dollar of GDP, falling by 56 percent from 2005 to 2040, at an annual rate of 2.3 percent.Net imports of energy decline both in absolute terms and as a share of total US energy consumption. The decline in energy imports reflects increased domestic petroleum and natural gas production, increased use of biofuels, and lower demand resulting from rising energy prices and the adoption of new efficiency standards for vehicles. The net import share of total US energy consumption is 9 percent in 2040, compared with 19 percent in 2011. (The share was 29 percent in 2007.)

[Editor's notes: There's a lot of data above, and I'm sure much of it is confusing to the average reader. So, I'm just going to pull out a few underlying points and add some of my own:

It's pretty clear that the EIA is predicting a huge natural gas boom, not just in the coming years, but the coming decades. Whether or not this will come about is unclear, but that's the track we are currently on. The EIA is quite 'biased' in its energy projections because it gives a lot of credence to what has been happening in the past year, what is happening at the moment, and not so much what is likely to happen as wind and solar policies and innovation make them more and more attractive from a financial perspective.Natural gas is arguably much better than coal or oil. However, several researchers have also put up huge red flags regarding methane leaks and the true result of natural gas flaring, red flags which imply natural gas may not be so much better after all, and may not be better at all in a worst case scenario.The projected increase of renewable electricity from 13 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2040 seems like a joke. If we had that small of an increase in that time, I'd be shocked. I'd bet all my savings that projection is way off. And, again, it's a result of the EIA's narrow approach to making these projections. However, it is based on something -- a US Congress that has been completely horrid at doing what the public wants, which is climate action and a strong promotion of renewable energy production. Let's hope we don't stick in a grid-locked Congress and society on this matter for long... and certainly not as long as the EIA is projecting!
Those are my main thought chime in with your own if you have them.]
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Are the Near-Term Climate Pearl Harbors?

So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent…. Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger….  The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close.  In its place we are entering a period of consequences….  We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now….
– Winston Churchill, November 12, 1936, House of Commons
What kind of climatic mini-catastrophes might move public and policymaker opinion over the next decade?  Please share your thoughts below.

“The battleship USS Arizona belches smoke as it topples over into the sea during a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a Dec. 7, 1941 file photo. The ship sank with more than 80 percent of its 1,500-man crew, including Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. The attack, which left 2,343 Americans dead and 916 missing, broke the backbone of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and forced America out of a policy of isolationism.” (AP Photo/File)
Yesterday marked the 71th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  In the wake of the extreme weather in the past two years, including superstorm Sandy — all of which served to increase concern about global warming among the public and some politicians — I’m updating my post from 3 years ago, “What are the near-term climate Pearl Harbors?” (which I had updated already last year).
The genesis of the original piece started with an October 2008 post, “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 7: The harsh lessons of the financial bailout.”  It concluded that a key driver of serious government action is “bad things must be happening to regular people right now.”  Shortly after that I wrote a post on the paper “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” by Hansen et al
.  I noted the authors conclude:
The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture CO2, is herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.
A NY Times
blogger posed this question, “What kind of wake-up call does Mr. Romm think is conceivable on a time scale relevant to near-term policy?”
My reply was “Multiple Pearl Harbors over the next decade — half or more of these happening
” followed by a list of 9 items.
Before repeating that list, let me note that I pointed out that one of the media’s greatest failings is ‘underinforming’ people that “Bad things are
happening to real people right now thanks in part to human-caused climate change — droughts, wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, and on and on.” I listed a perfect example: “My article criticizing the NYT on the bark beetle story“.  Things hadn’t changed much by last December but the U.S. weather has been so relentlessly extreme that media coverage has improved a tad in recent months (see the July post, Every Network Gets Extreme Weather Story Right, ‘Now’s The Time We Start Limiting Manmade Greenhouse Gases’ — ABC.)

If FDR had said, “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked. But we’re still working to identify the perpetrators.”  Well, not bloody much would have happened.
Of course, the U.S. military had some warnings, but there was a massive volume of intelligence signals (“noise”) coming in.  Roberta Wohlstetter wrote in 1962: “To discriminate significant sound against this background of noise, one has to be listening for something or for one of several things….   One needs not only an ear but a variety of hypotheses that guide observation.”

The Japanese commander of the attack, Mitsuo Fuchida, was quite surprised he had achieved surprise.  Before the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, the Japanese Navy had used a surprise attack to destroy the Russian Pacific Fleet at anchor in Port Arthur.  Fuchida asked, “Had these Americans never heard of Port Arthur?“

So if you have the right hypothesis or worldview, you can make sense out of “noisy” warnings.  If you don’t, then you will be oblivious even to signs that in retrospect will seem quite obvious.  Certainly future generations will be stunned by our obliviousness.

In the case of the almost non-stop series of “off the charts” extreme climatic events that many opinion leaders seem shocked about over and over again — they aren’t merely “explainable and predictable” after the fact.  They were very often predicted or warned about well in advance by serious people.  The powers that be simply choose to ignore the warnings because they don’t fit their world view.

Unfortunately for the nation and the world, there is no American Churchill on climate.  Quite the reverse:
That lack of statesmenship means the country is not going to act on the basis of the increasingly dire warning of scientists (see Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”).
No, things are going to have to get worse.  And it certainly will take more than one climate Pearl Harbor.  I fear it will take most of these happening over the span of a few years:

Arctic goes [virtually] ice free before 2020. It would be a big, visible global shock.Rapid warming over next decade, as Nature and Science articles suggest is quite possible (posts here and here)Continued (unexpected) surge in methaneA [multi-year] megadrought hitting the SW [and Great Plains] comparable to what hit southern Australia.More superstorms, like Katrina.A heatwave as bad as Europe’s 2003 one [Russia's in 2010] but hitting the U.S. breadbasket.Something unpredicted but clearly linked to climate, like the bark beetle devastation.Accelerated mass loss in Greenland and/or Antarctica, perhaps with another huge ice shelf breaking off, but in any case coupled with another measurable rise in the rate of sea level rise.The Fifth Assessment Report (2012-2013) really spelling out what we face with no punches pulled.
And no, to preempt comments similar to one I had in the original post, I’m not “hoping” for those things to happen. Quite the reverse.  I have have been proposing strong emissions reductions for many, many years to minimize the chances of catastrophic impacts. In any case, hope can’t change what is to come — only strong action now can.

That was my original list [only slightly modified].  I think it holds up, except for number 9.  The IPCC has not only undermined its credibility but demonstrated time and time again that it is incapable of spelling out what we face with no punches pulled — see “Blockbuster IPCC Chart Hints at Dust-Bowlification, But Report Is Mostly Silent on Warming’s Gravest Threat to Humanity” and “IPCC’s Planned Obsolescence: Fifth Assessment Report Will Ignore Crucial Permafrost Carbon Feedback!”

The drought the U.S. has been experiencing is slowly getting to the level that can change thinking — let’s hope it doesn’t get to that level, though such Dust-Bowlification is inevitable if we don’t act soon.
I think it’s a little clearer what scale monster heat wave starts to change people’s thinking (see Russian President Medvedev: “What is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past”).  We know that there’s an 80% Chance Russia’s 2010 July Heat Record Would Not Have Occurred Without Climate Warming.  We also know that the Monster crop-destroying Russian heat wave is projected to be once-in-a-decade event by 2060s (or sooner).

Two years ago, Lester Brown explained to me that when the real food instability comes — if, for instance, the U.S. breadbasket gets hit with the type of 1000-year heat wave Russia did — then the big grain producers will ban exports, to make sure their people are fed.  In this scenario, if you don’t have your own food supplies or an important export item to barter — particularly oil — your country is going to have big, big problems feeding its people.  That might wake folks up a tad.

That may well be the biggest evolution of my thinking in the past 3 years, that it is food insecurity — and the daggers that climate change threaten it with — that will ultimately force action (see “My Nature
Piece On Dust-Bowlification And the Grave Threat It Poses to Food Security“).
Your ideas are welcome.  You can read the original reader comments here.

I did note in the original piece that preferably these “mini-catastrophes”  would not themselves be evidence that we had waited too long and passed dangerous, irreversible tipping points.

One can argue that a big surge in methane would be evidence that we had waited too long (see “Climate Experts Warn Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation!“), but the likely rate of emissions from the tundra don’t change the nature of the actions, only their scale, which are already quite intense (see “The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm“).
If you want 350 ppm — or if you want 450 ppm in a (likely) world where the permafrost has begun to turn into the permamelt — then because we have listened to the siren song of delay for so long, we will need a WWII-style and WWII-scale effort.  As I noted in the conclusion to my book:
This national (and global) re-industrialization effort would be on the scale of what we did during World War II, except it would last far longer. “In nine months, the entire capacity of the prolific automobile industry had been converted to the production of tanks, guns, planes, and bombs,” explains Doris Kearns Goodwin in her 1994 book on the World War II homefront, No Ordinary Tim
e. “The industry that once built 4 million cars a year was now building three fourths of the nation’s aircraft engines, one half of all tanks, and one third of all machine guns.”
The scale of the war effort was astonishing. The physicist Edward Teller tells the story of how Niels Bohr had insisted in 1939 that making a nuclear bomb would take an enormous national effort, one without any precedent. When Bohr came to see the huge Los Alamos facility years later, he said to Teller, “You see, I told you it couldn’t be done without turning the whole country into a factory. You have done just that.” And we did it in under five years.
But of course we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor, the world was at war, and the entire country was united against a common enemy. This made possible tax increases, rationing of items like tires and gasoline, comprehensive wage and price controls, a War Production Board with broad powers (it could mandate what clothing could be made for civilians), and a Controlled Material Plan that set allotments of critical materials (steel, copper, and aluminum) for different contractors.
How ironic that denial, driven in large part by conservative fear of big government, has created an “era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays” that will ultimately require somewhat bigger government (for several decades) to prevent catastrophe or, if the deniers truly “triumph,” then staggeringly huge government (for a century and probably much more) to “adapt” to [through a combination of abandonment, triage, and misery] a ruined world (see “Don’t believe in global warming? That’s not very conservative”).

Finally, Pearl Harbor #1 is increasingly likely (see Death Spiral Watch: Experts Warn ‘Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer’ In A Decade If Volume Trends Continue). The fact that what’s happening in the Arctic (and its implications for sea level rise, the tundra, and our weather) isn’t one of the major media stories of the year — comparable to the fiscal cliff — may be the clearest evidence that the media is under- and mis-reporting the story of the century.

What I didn’t realize when I wrote the original list is that the shockingly fast loss of Arctic ice would itself lead to more superstorms and extreme weather (see “NOAA Bombshell: Warming-Driven Arctic Ice Loss Is Boosting Chance of Extreme U.S. Weather“). So the current bout of extreme weather is likely the “new normal.”

The Pearl Harbors are here. The Churchills and FDRs aren’t.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Man Lights House with Toyota Prius

An enterprising New Jersey man used his Toyota Prius as a generator to run his home’s lights, laptops, and a television because he lost power due to the recent Sandy outages. For one week he used an inverter and some extension cords to produce power for his home while only using 75% of one tank of gas.

At one point, as you probably know, millions of homes were without power in New York and New Jersey.

There are instructions online explaining how to use a Prius as a generator. WikiHow has a six-step process, including a tip about proper ventilation, because car exhaust can be deadly if it accumulates in a space where people or animals are breathing.

The New Jersey man is not the only person to have used a Prius to power devices in his home. Last year, a man in Massachusetts did as well. “When it looked like we were going to be without power for awhile, I dug out an inverter (which takes 12v DC and creates 120v AC from it) and  wired it into our Prius… These inverters are available for about $100 many places online,” the man said. He only used five gallons of gas to power his home appliances for three days.

Many backup generators use two-cycle engines, which are known to create large amounts of air pollution, though they certainly are much cheaper than a Prius. Some electric vehicle owners also have solar panels on their homes and generate all or a portion of their own power.
The 2012 Prius has been rated at 536 miles per tank.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

New Chemical Process Produces Biofuel Strong Enough to Power Jets

Thanks to scientists harnessing the power of chemistry, you may one day soon fly in a plane fueled by plants. An article published in the journal Nature last week describes a new technique developed by researchers at UC Berkeley that can create biofuels powerful enough to be used as jet fuel. Created using bacterial fermentation and chemical catalysis, the amped up biofuel is ten times more powerful, and it can serve as a viable power source for large industrial vehicles and airplanes.

The researchers have created a two-step process that drastically increases the potency of biofuels. First, plant sugars are broken down through fermentation using the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum,
producing acetone ethanol. Then, the resulting product is run through chemical catalysis in order to increase the amount of carbon in each molecule.

This new process ratchets up the amount of carbon present in normal ethanol by ten times, making it as powerful as diesel and jet fuel made from petrochemicals. The next challenge for the researchers is to find a way to duplicate their new methods on an industrial scale.

View the original article here

Monday, November 12, 2012

Natural Gas – Is It Stunting Innovative Thinking?

Let’s admit it, infrastructure is a boring word.   There’s nothing sexy about it.  It implies disruptions to our lives as we deal with delays and detours for construction and repair projects.  Yet it is absolutely necessary, and infrastructure is what needs to be upgraded in our water, gas, and electric grids.

My previous articles discussed investments that are ongoing or needed in the electrical grid to modernize generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption.  However, the same issues exist for gas and water too.  In some aspects, the needs are even more striking.  But how we build our infrastructure and what we build for our infrastructure also says a great deal about how innovative is our thinking.  And unfortunately, right now that thinking is “like for like”, and merely replicates existing energy models with known weaknesses in reliability and resiliency instead of building infrastructure based on new models.

Natural gas is seen by some in the energy business as a panacea to all energy concerns.  It’s domestic.  It’s cleaner than coal.  However, it requires significant infrastructure investments.  No matter how much innovation you put into the extraction technologies for fossil fuels (which by the way had HUGE federal government assistance), the supply chains still require buildouts of pipelines to transport it to refineries and on to points of consumption.  We simply don’t have sufficient pipeline capacity to transport it to all the places that want it in the USA.  It’s an infrastructure play that has a number of challenges.

The natural gas that is extracted must be processed, just like oil must be refined, or electricity must be generated.  These industrial operations expend lots of energy in processing gas into what is considered pure gas for end use consumption.  The transport of processed natural gas in pipelines requires more energy to compress it and move it in pipelines, and compressor stations, like electricity substations, are placed along major transmission corridors to boost pressure.  This map shows the interstate natural gas pipelines that transmit highly compressed natural gas.  Pipelines have physical constraints – there is only so much space available for gas, and they require electricity to compress the gas in the pipelines.  Therefore, when there is a significant electricity outage in a region, it can also impact the transmission and distribution of natural gas.
According to the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety

Administration records, there are over 2 million miles of distribution pipeline.  As we saw in San Bruno, California two years ago, failure to properly monitor and maintain distribution pipelines has consequences.  Smart Grid technologies including the colorfully named PIGS (Pipeline Insertable Gauges) that can monitor and transmit measurements within pipes can help reduce the odds of similar mechanical, technical, and human failures.

But with natural gas, we are once again relying on a model of centralized production, large-scale transport, and wide-scale distribution.  It has all the weaknesses of today’s electrical grid.  Acts of nature and human causes can cause disruptions.  And because natural gas is a conveniently transportable fuel, that also means it is a very exportable fuel.  Sine we won’t see any federal or state laws that require that natural gas produced in the USA must be consumed in the USA – it will go to the highest bidder – on or offshore.  While gas is inexpensive now, it hasn’t always been, and if history is our guide, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be in the future.

So at the cusp of grid modernization, we are placing much of our energy future in a source that we hope will remain cheap and be readily available at any point it is needed, which requires committed investments in new infrastructure and enhancements to existing infrastructure.  It is an energy source that also generates concerns about potential environmental degradation and seismic destabilization.  And somehow, this all looks better than clean domestic renewables that require a different infrastructure investment, but avoid those troubling questions about price fluctuations, exportability, and environmental impacts.  Yes, we have too much “like for like” thinking about infrastructure going on when we need truly revolutionary thinking.

View the original article here

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Voltaic DIY Solar Charger Kits: Off-Grid Power Your Way

Voltaic Systems makes some of the highest quality solar charging accessories on the market today. We’ve featured many of their gadgets in the past, from solar charging backpacks to iPad cases. Now they’ve launched a new line of products aimed at the DIY enthusiast: a selection of solar charging kits which allow users to design their own portable power systems.

One size fits all is so 1990's. Today’s consumers, even the conscious kind, want customization. The market has responded, giving us the ability to have everything, from cars to hamburgers, “our way”. While it may seem a little self-absorbed, there is some wisdom in building customization into today’s product designs. When people can customize, there’s less waste, and we come away more confident that our unique needs will be met. Voltaic’s newest products are designed to make it easier for people to create their own solar chargers based on their own power, cost and form factor requirements.

The new solar charging kits build on the path forged by Voltaic’s Fuse, a 10 W solar panel that comes with a strap system so it can be attached to any type of backpack. Especially convenient if you love your current backpack and don’t want to shell out $200+ for one with the panels already embedded.

Each DIY solar charging kit includes waterproof solar panels, connectors, and a universal battery. Kits range in size from 2 Watts of solar power for basic smartphone and small device charging, to 16 Watts for laptop, tablet and digital camera charging. Single panel kits can be connected directly to a Voltaic battery for power storage. Those looking for more juice can build multi-panel kits need to use a circuit box (below) which includes two inputs for solar panels, an output for an LED wire (optional) and two power output cables.

“We’ve discovered that one size doesn’t fit all. Our customers charge hundreds of different devices in wildly different conditions all over the world.” said Shayne McQuade, CEO of Voltaic Systems. “We created these solar charger kits so our customers can build solar systems tailored to their specific power, weight cost, and form factor requirements.” Small kits start at $25.