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13 April 2013

Press review 13-04-2013

Last weekend the political setting in Portugal went one notch up on dramatisation on the wake of a decision by the Constitutional Court, that deemed four measures in the 2013 budget unconstitutional. Sunday the Prime Minister declared war on the people and Monday the Finance Minister froze all public administration expenses. The Parliament pretends everything's normal and the President is happy not to get directly involved. Democracy is suspended for the moment in Portugal, a country that has become this quiet powder keeg that everyone know will blow up some day.

This is why the following interview becomes relevant. Current policies implemented in Europe are totally unsustainable, and if for some the crisis has been quite profitable, it isn't hard to see the profiteering will end soon.

Der Spiegel
Peer Steinbrück: 'Merkel's One-Sided Crisis Management Is a Mistake'

SPIEGEL: Hollande blames Europe's austerity policy, which Germany, in particular, has been pushing.

Steinbrück: The very one-sided crisis management pursued by Mrs. Merkel's government, which is geared solely toward cutting costs, is a mistake. As a result, entire countries have entered a vicious circle of sharply declining growth, higher unemployment, especially among young people, declining tax revenues and rising deficits, which they can hardly refinance anymore. Then their ratings are downgraded and the screw tightens even further. We have to be careful that this crisis management doesn't end up costing us Germans more money than it appears to be costing at the moment.

SPIEGEL: In contrast to Germany, wages have risen sharply in these countries in recent years, while productivity has stagnated. This is why European Central Bank President Mario Draghi argues that there is no getting around a strict austerity policy.

SPIEGEL: I disagree. Reforms are necessary and mistakes have to be corrected. But the mix of consolidation and growth enhancement, of demanding and encouraging, isn't correct. As a result, social tensions are building in these societies.

SPIEGEL: In the end, your argument amounts to a call for Germany to spend more money for Europe.

Steinbrück: Well, saying that in Germany, at any rate, has long been a taboo for the current government.

SPIEGEL: Then you now have the opportunity to break the taboo.

Steinbrück: I'm not saying this for the first time: We must tell people the plain truth. Overcoming the European crisis will cost money. And Germany will always only do well if its neighbors are doing well.
What Mr Steinbrück means exactly is that the money flowing from the south to Germany or Scandinavia wont last forever. Nor can Germany continue enjoying the benefits of a currency artificially depressed by persistent uncertainty. At some point the trend must revert, larger states have to stop issuing debt on behalf of smaller states, to whom sovereign bond investors must return.

Mr Steinbrück's pragmatism is refreshing, but I'm still not that fond of him. His election to lead the SPD charge to the next Federal election was quite a surprise, most of the time it feels like he just landed on the wrong party. The share SPD gets in polls has foundered, another term with Conservatives and Liberals in power is becoming a real possibility. Will any of those parties eventually reveal the same deal of pragmatism?

The obvious unsustainability of present policies brought financial guru George Soros to Germany. It comes to show, yet again, how important is the next Federal election in the largest economy of the Eurozone, and the one with the widest commercial superavit. Soros makes the mistake of confusing Germans for neo-liberals, the Portuguese Government is also unwilling to have Euro-bonds, no matter how irrational that sounds.
Soros: ‘Germany should accept Eurobonds or leave the euro’

All eurozone governments need to issue bonds jointly to ensure that the common currency survives the sovereign debt crisis, investor George Soros said on Tuesday (9 April).

Soros, a liberal philanthropist who rose to fame as an investor on a big bet against the British pound in 1992, said the sovereign debt crisis was "a tragedy of historic proportions" that only Germany can resolve by allowing for joint bond issuance in the common currency area.

If it refuses, it should instead choose to leave the euro, he added.

"There is a strong case for Germany to make a definitive choice whether to accept (joint) Eurobonds or to leave the euro," Soros said in a speech at the University of Frankfurt.

"The danger of default would disappear and so would the risk premiums... Most of the seemingly intractable problems would vanish into thin air," he added.
Shifting now to energy, the gas storage situation in the UK is still cause for concern. It went remarkably "below empty" last week, leaving the country fully reliant on the spot market. Luckily the Spring is here, but the consequences for next winter are starting to become clear; and in the continent we won't go unscathed either.
Peak Oil Update
UK long-range gas storage drained
Mike Pepler, 05-04-2013

Yesterday (4 April 2013) afternoon, the UK long-range gas storage facility at Rough went 'below empty' for the first time. This is possible because Centrica normally leaves some 'cushion gas' in the depleted Rough reservoir to make sure there’s enough pressure to keep it flowing properly. Here's the status, taken from the Prevailing View page, showing figures valid for 6am on the 3 and 4 April 2013:

The 4pm udpate today gives the Long Range stock level as -132 GWh, a negative stock level! I got this from the spreadhseet on this page, as the Prevailing View is being a bit slow to update today - maybe it's struggling over what to do with a negative stock level?
The Commission is supporting shale gas ever more openly, apparently foregoing its banner CO2 emission reduction targets. It might just be the realisation of an impeding disaster. I'd like to know what are the liberalised markets they so much promoted doing for us now.
EU's chief science advisor gives shale gas go-ahead

The EU’s chief scientific advisor has said that evidence allows the go-ahead for extracting shale gas, the energy source at the centre of a European policy tug-of-war. [...]

Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard has adopted a less favourable tone on shale gas, believing its extraction in Europe bears little comparison with the United States.

“We do not expect that it will be so easy in Europe: geological conditions are different, and so are environmental rules and the activity of soils,” she told reporters at the launch of the Commission green paper last month.

But Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, contradicted this view and gave a scientific green light to shale.

Speaking at a debate on science and policy-making in Brussels on 9 April, she said: “As with all energy production, there will be risks involved whether that is wind or coal power,” Glover told the audience at the debate, organised by the European Policy Centre, a think tank.
A study recently published by the Stanford University confirms low EROEI estimates for PV technologies. The contrast with prices may appear paradoxical, but there is more to this story than meets the eye. A deeper reflection on this matter is due some other time.
Environment News Service
Global Solar Photovoltaic Industry Becomes Net Energy Producer

The rapid growth of the solar power industry over the past 10 years may have worsened the global warming situation it was meant to ease, as the energy used to manufacture the millions of solar panels now generating electricity around the world came from burning fossil fuels.

Stanford University researchers have calculated that imbalance is now history and the global PV industry could pay off its debt of energy as early as 2015, and no later than 2020.

REC Solar employees Brian Webster, left, and Mario Richard install PV modules on a Englewood, Colorado home. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL)

For the first time, the electricity generated by all of the world’s installed solar photovoltaic panels last year “probably surpassed the amount of energy going into fabricating more modules,” said Michael Dale, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Global Climate & Energy Project, GCEP.

“This analysis shows that the industry is making positive strides,” said Dale, who developed an innovative way of assessing the industry’s progress globally in a study published in the current edition of the journal “Environmental Science & Technology.”
To the technology. Here's Shodan, the search engine that tells everything about your electronic gadgetry that you never wanted to know.
Shodan: The scariest search engine on the Internet
David Goldman, 08-04-2013

It's stunning what can be found with a simple search on Shodan. Countless traffic lights, security cameras, home automation devices and heating systems are connected to the Internet and easy to spot.

Shodan searchers have found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan.

What's really noteworthy about Shodan's ability to find all of this -- and what makes Shodan so scary -- is that very few of those devices have any kind of security built into them.

"It's a massive security failure," said HD Moore, chief security officer of Rapid 7, who operates a private version of a Shodan-like database for his own research purposes.
This week news surfaced of a record plunge in personal computer sales. There is the crisis, the tablet and the smartphone, but part of media is not shying away from blaming it outright on the huge catastrophe Winblows 8 has been. It shows the amount of respect Microsoft has lost over this failed operating system.
Deutsche Wella
Personal computer sales fall to record low, Windows 8 partly to blame

Global shipments of personal computers have fallen to a record low in the first quarter, according to two research firms. Experts have partially attributed the slump to Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system.

Personal computer sales fell a record 13.9 percent in the first quarter, the largest decline since research firm International Data Corp (IDC) started tracking the sales in 1994. The research group said the decline was twice as large as expected.
The truth is that personal computers may already be something of the past, and Microsoft is struggling to adapt. Since neither Google nor Apple are yet to take on the business side of palm size computing, Microsoft can still entail a comeback, but one thing is certain: Linux will soon dominate all market segments through its multiple distributions.
Gartner Says Worldwide PC, Tablet and Mobile Phone Combined Shipments to Reach 2.4 Billion Units in 2013

Traditional PC Market Predicted to Decline 7.6 Percent as Change in Consumers' Behavior Drives Transition to Tablets and Ultramobiles

Worldwide devices (the combined shipments of PCs, tablets and mobile phones) are on pace to total 2.4 billion units in 2013, a 9 percent increase from 2012, according to Gartner, Inc. Device shipments are forecast to continue to grow, reaching more than 2.9 billion units in 2017, but the mix of these devices will significantly change over the forecast period.

The proliferation of lower-priced tablets and their growing capability is accelerating the shift from PCs to tablets. "While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. "As consumers shift their time away from their PC to tablets and smartphones, they will no longer see their PC as a device that they need to replace on a regular basis."
Have a nice weekend. Drive safely, I'll be out on the road.

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