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28 June 2013

Press review 28-06-2013

I'll start this review with concerning news from Portugal. Earlier in the week several French newspapers reported that the budget deficit for the first quarter of 2013 could surpass 10% of GDP. Friday the national statistics institute (INE) confirmed a deficit of 10.6%. It includes aids to one of the country's largest banks, amounting to more than 1% of GDP, but it is still an ugly figure, the largest since the international aid programme was set in place 2 years ago. Thursday the fourth general strike in the same period was held, with armies of workers and unemployed taking to the streets. The government claims that the 5.5% of GDP target for the year's deficit is still attainable, but no one really believes it.

Portugal: le déficit à la fin mars pourrait dépasser 10% du PIB

Le déficit public du Portugal pourra dépasser les 10% du PIB au premier trimestre si les autorités statistiques tiennent compte de l’injection de fonds publics dans la banque Banif, a indiqué mardi le ministre des Finances, Vitor Gaspar.

«Si ce reclassement comptable a lieu, le déficit pourrait dépasser les 10%», a déclaré M. Gaspar devant une commission parlementaire, précisant toutefois que le déficit s’établirait «autour de 8,7%» du PIB si 700 millions d’euros prêtés à la Banif n’étaient pas pris en compte.

Dans le cadre du plan de recapitalisation de cette institution financière, qui occupe le huitième rang parmi les banques opérant au Portugal, l’Etat a injecté dans la Banif 1,1 milliard d’euros de fonds publics, dont 700 millions par la souscription d’actions et 400 millions en obligations convertibles.
Matching the strike, the government commissioned an article to the international press blaming public servants for the woes lived by the country. Those public servants that were lucky to retain their jobs have lost between 30% and 45% of their income since 2011. Unlike what the government claims, the divide that heats up the discourse these days in Portugal is the taxation of retirements and pensions, that is impoverishing many of the elderly.
Portugal Throws Open Europe’s Them-And-Us Austerity Divide
Henrique Almeida, 26-06-2013

When it comes to sharing the burden of austerity, some Portuguese feel more equal than others.

Half way through his four-year term, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is trying to curb popular resentment over what opponents say is a widening gulf between private employees and about 600,000 public workers who have mostly stayed immune to mass job cuts. Portugal’s two biggest unions scheduled a general strike for tomorrow, the second since the country asked for international aid in April 2011, to protect benefits, including a 35-hour working week and early retirement.

“It’s unfair for the public sector to have certain benefits that don’t exist in the private sector,” said Francisco Rodrigues, 78, who runs a clothing store opposite the parliament building in Lisbon.
The aid programme has failed in all fronts, especially in the core issues it was supposed to solve: budget deficit and debt. Sovereign debt grew from 95% to 130% of GDP and should go over 140% during the next 12 months. The situation seems everything but under control.

On international politics there is a growing buzz about Jordan's involvement in the Syrian conflict. Several media outlets reported the training of Sunni forces in the country, by US and French operatives. There are also reports of weaponry being flown to Jordan from the US, again to arm the Sunni forces. It is the proverbial wood into the fire.
Russia Today
CIA and the US military operatives train rebels in Turkey and Jordan – report

The CIA and US special operational troops and have been secretly training Syrian rebels at bases in Jordan and Turkey since November 2012. Up to 100 from all over Syria have gone through courses in the last month alone, according to US media reports.

At the two-week courses trainees are taught to use Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter anti-tank rifles, anti-tank missiles, as well as 23-millimeter anti-aircraft weapons, Los Angeles Times reported citing anonymous US officials and rebel commanders.

One of such US covert training session, conducted by American, Jordanian and French, has allegedly been taking place in Jordan for the last month or so, the newspaper cited Brig. Gen. Yahya Bittar, the head of intelligence for the Free Syrian Army.
Shifting now to energy, PV panel manufacturers seem to be adapting fast to the recently introduced anti-dumping tariffs imposed on China by the EU. This is an obvious outcome of a globalised market, no state or government in particular is responsible for supply, rather companies or corporations.
China Solars Move Factories Overseas to Avoid EU Duties
Stefan Nicola & Gelu Sulugiuc, 24-06-2013

As Europe slaps duties on $15 billion of solar panels, their Chinese producers are preparing to counterattack with devices assembled from South Africa to Istanbul that will avoid the import taxes.

Trina Solar Ltd., JinkoSolar Holding Co. (JKS) and Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ) are among Chinese companies preparing to shift manufacturing abroad, dodging penalties imposed by the European Union in the bloc’s biggest ever anti-dumping action.

China is pivoting as the EU this month set provisional tariffs on solar goods of 11.8 percent, a rate set to quintuple in August. At stake are imports from Yingli Green Energy Holding (YGE), the world’s largest panel maker, and more than 100 other Chinese makers of silicon-based panels, cells and wafers.
There's a rather comical spat going on between Georges Monbiot (a famous British cornucopian) and Jeremy Leggett (solar technology entrepreneur close to ASPO). Both men bet years ago on PV reaching grid parity by now; Monbiot is presently claiming victory and Leggett strangely acknowledging defeat. The studies I published in this blog show that grid parity was reached years ago across Europe. The only explanation I have for this end to this bet is it being relative to a particular place where there isn't much sunshine, say Scotland or Norway.
The Guardian
Solar power still better than nuclear in the fight against climate change
Jeremy Leggett, 24-06-2013

George Monbiot claims in a gentlemanly article to have won our £100 bet, made three years ago, that solar PV would be at grid parity – the same cost as conventional retail electricity – by 2013.

The very good news is that over the past three years, the actual average price of installed residential solar PV has come down some 60%, while the cost of new nuclear has gone up 70% and is still rising. I base the former on the real achievement at my company Solarcentury and the latter on a recent compilation in Le Monde of data for EDF's Flamanville EPR reactor, the type of nuclear plant nuclear advocates like George want to foist on the UK economy at great cost to the public, starting at Hinkley Point.

The slightly bad news is that I probably lost my bet. Solar-industry people have been e-mailing me pleading that I argue the toss, pointing out that solar markets like the Netherlands are already at grid parity, and that by using somewhat lawyerly points I can defend my ground when it comes to the UK. I can't be bothered, because anyone studying the pattern of play in any detail will know that if I lost, it wasn't by much.
Recently there has been a strain of articles in the press glorifying a discovery at Stanford University that should induce wide adoption of zinc-air batteries. While I personally see great promises in this technology, the way the media hypes every small step in the way always irks me. Among all the hype there was an article well worth the time, the author sharply points that the hype can be itself a symptom that mobile electric storage is not there yet.
IEEE Spectrum
Nanomaterial Introduces Zinc-Air Batteries to the EV Party
Dexter Johnson, 31-05-2013

It seems both the commercial markets and the research community are coming to terms with the idea that the energy density (the amount of energy stored per unit volume) of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries will keep them from ever becoming a completely satisfactory solution to powering all-electric vehicles (EVs).

The market’s turn towards this realization is evidenced by the demise of two high flying manufacturers of Li-ion batteries based on nanotechnology: Ener1 and A123 Systems. The research community is also coming around to this notion and shifting its focus to alternative battery technologies as evidenced by the recent improvements to the lithium-air battery.

Along these lines, researchers at Stanford University are now reporting that they have used nanocrystals made from non-precious metal oxide and combined them with carbon nanotubes to make a hybrid material that works as a catalyst to improve the performance of zinc-air batteries.
Enjoy the weekend and don't forget the umbrella.


  1. Nice article - but George Monbiot is hardly a cornucopian. I don't agree with some of the things he says but he does at least walk the talk and lives in a small cottage, grows and catches his own food and is a proponent of re-wilding.

    As for grid parity calculations, in my opinion the whole systems is so distorted by various factors as to render the concept more or less meaningless.



    1. Monbiot's discourse is not any different from those of Michael Lynch or the IIASA.