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21 December 2013

Press Review 21-12-2013

Perhaps it is the spirit of the season. This past week the mainstream media burst with optimism on petroleum production in North America: the United States are going to become the world's largest producer, dispensing imports of the stuff. And then there's Mexico, where the opening of the sector to private investment should bolster production to where it never went before. The continent will soon be drowning in the black stuff.

Down here on Earth things do not look as promising, but that's not really important, what matters are the market movements these news bursts create in the short term. In the United States, contrary to the rest of the world, it is news of plenty that attract investors; scarcity is not particularly seen as a valuable thing from the stance of whom owns the resource. In the process we get some amusement.

It is definitely time to celebrate.

11 December 2013

Photovoltaics: new policy challenges for Europe

"Photovoltaics: new policy challenges for Europe" is the title of an article of my authorship published by the Frontiers in Energy Systems and Policy journal. The abstract:
After the turn of the century governments across Europe set in place a series of programmes to expand investment on grid-connected solar power technology, especially photovoltaics (PV). But in face of rapidly declining costs most of these programmes have been tapered in recent months. Using a simple cost model this article shows that PV technologies can indeed supply electricity to the grid for less than 0.10 €/kWh in large swaths of the continent, apparently justifying this policy change. However, the roll back of fixed rates to PV suppliers will likely result in a market structure close to perfect competition, where profits are not expectable and the price should fall towards marginal generation cost: 0 €/kWh. Due to the scalable nature of PV, many consumers in Europe are now able to produce their own electricity at a cost considerably lower than the rates demanded by grid utilities. Investment on PV is thus set to continue in spite of recent policy changes, but henceforth on off-the-grid systems, conceived for self consumption. Long term this trend presents serious challenges to utilities and traditional electricity suppliers, putting at stake the existing electricity market framework.

07 December 2013

Pess review 07-12-2013

Iran and Iraq continue to be the source of the most interesting that has been happening in the energy world. The countries face complete opposite paths at the moment. Iran is readying its full return to internal markets with haste, with most of its previous suppliers and partners happy to join along. On its hand Iraq continues to dive on a spiral of violence that at some point may come to threaten its very existence.

Ironically, a successfull ending to the process around Iran's Nuclear programme may actually invest further pressure on the internal conflicts in Iraq, by bolstering the Shiite community in that country. The future map of the region may feature a smaller Shiite Iraq at the east, a central Sunni state embracing western Iraq and eastern Syria and another small Shiite state in western Syria. None of it will happen fast, and unlikely without war.

30 November 2013

Press review 30-11-2013

The international agreement on Iran's Nuclear programme has been making the news world go round this past week. It is a geo-political game changer for the region, leaving many happy and some unhappy. Speculation is rife on what may be behind this historical approach between the Persian power and the West, especially after it became public the secret negotiation between Tehran and Washington started right after prime-minister Rohuani took office.

What happens to petroleum prices then? Not much. For starters because the block on investments from international petroleum companies will remain in place for at least six more months (the period of trial of the agreement). And secondly because Iran is unlikely to displace on its own all the non-conventional petroleum presently feeding the market. Not even in the long term.

But Iran's resources are certainly cheaper than market prices and the country is wasting no time in reaping the profits from international trade that this agreement makes available.

27 November 2013

Help! My blog was plagiarised

Have you ever experienced that feeling when you reach for you briefcase and something is missing? Or arriving at home and understanding someone had been there before you? That feeling of being burglarised was what I felt when I accidentally bumped on an article with the breif title: The real problem with Solar: Panel Prices in Free Fall, and the Fuel is Free: Corporations don’t Know how to Make Money Here (Oprisko). It is published by an Australian web site named The Zero Room and its authorship attributed to George Oprisko, Executive Director of the Public Research Institute in the US.

As it happens, about one third of this article reproduces ipsis verbis parts of The Price of Solar Power post, one of the most popular in this blog, that was also published by the EuropeanTribune and TheOilDrum. Even section titles were copied, but I'm nowhere acknowledged as author. This is in clear breach of the EUPL v1.1 licence under which the contents of this blog are published.

23 November 2013

Press review 23-11-2013

The Iraq war started over a decade ago. The date of its terminus is debatable, some were bold enough to declare an end, but the killing and sectarianism have prevailed. For a few years it seemed the country was finding some sort of normality and the Petroleum industry seemed set for a fresh restart. But religious and ethnic tensions that the war only deepened are putting all at stake one more time. The civil war in neighbouring Syria has not only further contributed to the rift between Shia and Sunni, it threatens to overflow into Iraq on a large scale.

In spite of all the fuss around tight oil, Iraq is effectively the home to the most important Petroleum resource in the planet at this moment. If the Golden Horseshoe theory by the late Dr. Ali Bakhtiari is correct, the country could delay the decline of world Petroleum extraction for a good while, providing a smoother transition to a new economic paradygm. But peace in Iraq is not in everyone's agenda.

16 November 2013

Press review 16-11-2013

There are several pressing topics to cover in this edition of the press review, but I will start with one that has been almost absent from the Western media: Iraq. The country was invaded by a coalition leaded by the US and the UK more than 10 years ago and violence hasn't stopped since. So far 2013 is already one of the deadliest years since the invasion, flagging a clear degradation of the conflict. Obviously, this escalation is not unrelated to the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Up to 2008 the US government, leaded by George Bush, backed up the Shia, in detriment of the Sunni, eventually leading them to power in Iraq. But ever since Barak Obama took office the US government has clearly shifted support to the Sunni and Al Qaeda. This shift in policy is behind most conflicts in the Near East and North Africa: Lybia, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria; Iraq is simple collateral damage.

09 November 2013

Press review 09-11-2013

The post where I detail the address on Raw Materials at the scenario workshop held by INTESA has been getting some attention and is becoming one of the most visited ever in this blog. Thanks to Ugo Bardi and all the other folk that have linked to it. One of the points I made there is that beyond reserves, understanding the supply curve of a raw material can be far more important to identify limits to extraction growth. In recent days there have been a few notes in the press that point in the same way. While it is true that world petroleum production is at its highest, it is requiring increasingly higher expenditures from international petroleum companies. Although dealing with record cash flows, the profits these companies are able to pass on to shareholders are actually declining. This naturally means that these companies are exploring resources with lower returns on investment; the low hanging fruit is now mostly in the hands of state owned corporations.

I do not see this as the sign of a bleak future for the Petroleum Industry. Much to the contrary, these harder-to-get resources will require far more engineering and technology to be brought online. But these recent disappointing results show that the Industry must be careful not tap resources out of demand reach.

30 October 2013

Press review 02-11-2013

In Computing the term Trojan Horse is used in reference to a programme that is willingly installed by the user but that collects and sends user data elsewhere without user knowledge or consent. Such practice is absolutely illegal in Europe and has been fought for years by authorities and security experts.

In the past few weeks we slowly got to know that most of the systems we use for personal communication in Europe are themselves part of the greatest Tojan Horse ever built by Man. Computer operating systems, internet protocols, E-Mail services, mobile telephony services and protocols, all largely relyant on closed American products, are constantly feeding information of all kinds and sorts to the United States government. This week the public got to know that hundreds of millions of phone calls where tapped in Europe earlier this year, just during the short span of a few weeks. This level of data collection cannot possibly be justified by the fight on Terrorism; whatever are the intentions of these actions, they must go well beyond security concerns.

Obviously this means that our dependence on American IT corporations must come to and end. I hope this scandal triggers a definitive shift in Europe towards open source software and open standards; there simply isn't another way to guarantee citizens security and privacy.

26 October 2013

Press review 26-10-2013

This week there are good news and bad news; I'll start with the bad first and move on to the good.

There has been a strain of quiet signs from Brasil indicating that all is not right with the pre-salt endeavour. Rumours of lower than expected output rates, lower than expected reserves in place and higher than expected costs have percolated in various ways. This week the near failure of an auction to another pre-salt play put out in the open the bare truth: international oil majors seem to be abandoning ship. I recall what several Brasilian experts told the press back in 2007, when news of the first discovery in the pre-salt broke out, "it is surely an engineering challenge we can conquer, but the question is if it will be worth it".

19 October 2013

Address on Raw Materials

I was recently invited by the JRC's Institute for Environment and Sustainability (INTESA) to participate at a workshop entitled "Scenario Building for a Sustainable Europe". The goal was to provide INTESA with alternative views on previous long term scenario building experiences and examine key trends relevant to scenario development. According to the organisers this should happen "by debating conceptual alternatives to conventional growth". I was tasked with a 20 minute address on Raw Materials.

Unlike most other presenters, my address was mostly focused on what happened in the recent past. More than making forecasts I believe it is important to understand that the way we explore the Planet's resources has been changing deeply since the begining of this century.

Below the fold I reproduce this presentation and the main ideas accompanying each slide.

12 October 2013

Press Review 12-10-2013

During the past four weeks I was in three different countries and had little or no space to nurture this weblog; apologies if you have been waiting for the weekly reviews.

A lot went by these past few weeks, but what I feel to be the most important development is the unprecedented diplomatic exchanges between the US and Iran. The economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic apparently produced the desired effect, and without bloodshed or social unrest, ironically, all through a democratic process. This is by far the greatest foreign policy achievement for the Obama administration.

14 September 2013

Press Review 14-09-2013

This week started off with a turn of events for Syria, for the moment any direct military intervention from NATO members is adjourned sine die . Russia and its idiosyncratic President play the geopolitics chess masterfully, in face of NATO's reluctance and lack of strategy for North Africa and the Middle East. The risk of a rapid escalation seems put away, at least for now.

Later in the week come other important news, with the sad decease of Al Bartlett at age 90. A forewarn had already circulated of an impeding defeat against persisting illness, but we are now sure professor Bartlett won't lecture again on exponential growth. His writings and his famous hour long lecture where a great help when I started studying energy depletion issues. He had an outstanding gift to distil big issues into stark, short sentences. His most memorable quote: "sustainable growth is an oxymoron".

Below the fold, to watch or re-watch, the lecture that explains the root of most of our environmental problems.

10 September 2013

Why aren't software companies releasing their products for Linux?

profile for Luís de Sousa at Ask Ubuntu, Q&A for Ubuntu users and developers I have recently developed an addiction for AskUbuntu. The Ubuntu Fora have always been my preferred lieu d'exchange with the community, where I dealt with the initial struggles of a novice user trying Ubuntu on a novice piece of hardware. One day though a particular issue proved harder to solve than usual; out of despair I ended up leaving a question at AskUbuntu. Although not entirely convinced with the apparent community division along two different crowd support technologies, I finally got a solution there.

Some weeks ago I ended up at AskUbuntu again from some random web search. Lo and behold, alongside my user name there were these numbers and a funny icon. It happens the question I left had in the mean time got over 1 000 views; in consequence I was warded reputation points and "badges". Isn't that just great? In the fora only the number of messages is recorded, there is no interaction quality feedback. Suddenly AskUbuntu became a challenge, and I end up spending 10 or 20 minutes everyday helping anyway I can: answering questions, editing, commenting, all along piling up reputation points (this is in essence how a gift economy works, but I'll leave that for another time).

One of these days a user left a question that I imagine many Linux newbies probably have: why aren't software companies publishing their products for Linux? The answer was a bit longer than usual, thus worthy of logging.

07 September 2013

Press review 07-09-2013

The conflict in Syria seems bound to a hike in violence and complexity with the US, France and Russia committing to direct involvement. The first two through air strikes on Shia assets, the latter with unclarified support to the Shia in case these attacks take place. There is also speculation of increased material support to the Sunni from NATO. If Assad falls Syria will likely come into the hands of Al Qaeda and its allies; how then that plays with neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon is anyone's guess, but I'm not expecting peace to return to the region. But a strike by NATO members on Syria can have far more reaching consequences.

31 August 2013

Press review 31-08-2013

Feudalism is the name by which is known today the socio-economic structure that dominated in Europe during Mediaeval times. One of the pillars of the feudal system was land ownership: the state was divided into fiefs, each owned by a single person, the Lord. Everyone else living in the fief, the Peasants, were obliged to pay a tax to access the land, usualy in labour or kind. Peasants were mostly subsistence farmers, hence land was the most important productivity factor of the time. This economic aspect of Feudalism is also called Manorialism, and produced an highly unequal society with wealth concentrated on a very few (the Nobility).

These days the government of Spain is trying to instate Feudalism again, by imposing a tax on solar irradiation. Such is the content of a draft royal decree presented by the government late last month that tries to put an end to the growth of off-the-grid PV. I wrote before that governments could eventually try to make PV illegal, but this proposal defies imagination. If such absurdity ever comes to pass in Parliament a legal battle is sure to follow. It is not easy to see how it squares with the constitution of a modern democracy and even with European law.

27 August 2013

Why I had to quit using Chromium

Firefox or Chromium, which is better? I like both, and have used both in parallel for years. Chromium's interface is slightly more appealing, lean and easy to use. But Firefox has all those useful extensions, most especially Firebug, and other utilities like BYM. I got used to do programming related stuff on Firefox, like web app debugging, and leaving the personal or recreational stuff for Chromium. I was quite happy with this, until one day.

In one of those much-longer-than-could-possibly-render-it-useful meetings I noticed the laptop battery being drained much faster than usual. On light work it can last up to 8 hours; with more intensive tasks and internet browsing it can still last 4 hours. This time in two hours the battery was empty. It was easy to find the culprit: a Chromium process was cannibalising the CPU at 100%.

18 August 2013

Solar Power Cost Calculator - SPCC

The Solar Power Cost Calculator (SPPC) is a web application intended to help investors assess the end cost of electricity generated by a solar system. Using a series of inputs that characterise the system it produces a final figure in €/kWh, the same units used by grid operators to charge households and consumers in general. With this result the investor is furnished with a direct comparison to the cost of tapping electricity from the grid. This application is conceived for Photo-Voltaics (PV) but can also be used for other technologies that have similar cost structures.

SPPC is open source, released under the EUPL v1.1 license; the code is publicly available at GitHub. This post is presently using SPCC v1.1.

10 August 2013

Press review 10-08-2013

The European Commission took this time of slow business to track back on its intentions to impose import duties on solar panels manufactured in China. There is an half victory to celebrate: a lower limit to price and a top limit on yearly capacity imported. But has I have been writing, a globalised marked is not really complacent with this sort of tactics. On the one hand China has surely waved retaliative measures, on the other hand manufactures can simply shift production to other countries. As technology progresses these limits may soon become outdated and force further negotiations; the struggle of centralised governance structures against decentralised power supply has just began.

03 August 2013

Zinc-air electrical storage ready for grid testing

One of the technologies I have been following closer in recent times is metal air electricity storage. The principle seems simple enough: an aqueous solution (the electrolyte) containing metal particles (anode) that oxidate in contact with ambient air (cathode), thus releasing free electrons. Zinc-air batteries in particular have been in the market for long; cheap to produce and with high energy density, they are used in a myriad of applications. The only downside: once the metal in the solution has fully oxidated, the battery can at best end up in recycling.

Recently though there is an American company that has developed a rechargeable zinc-air battery design that promises to bring the electricity storage market up side down.

30 July 2013

The limit to China's coal growth

Coal extraction in China is the epitome of unsustainability. It tripled from 2000 to 2010, with double digits growth rates in some years, as in 2011. Consumption is growing even faster, and although China being the largest world producer, it has been a net importer since 2009. Round numbers, half of the coal extracted in the world is consumed in China.

Naturally, none of this can go on forever. Last week an outstanding piece of journalism published by Bloomberg points to what may be the definitive limit to China's coal growth: water. Although not my usual mondus operandi, I think it deserves its own log for a deeper reflection.
China Coal-Fired Economy Dying of Thirst as Mines Lack Water
Kevin Hamlin, 24-07-2013

Daliuta in Shaanxi province sits on top of the world’s biggest underground coal mine, which requires millions of liters of water a day for extracting, washing and processing the fuel. The town is the epicenter of a looming collision between China’s increasingly scarce supplies of water and its plan to power economic growth with coal.

28 July 2013

Soft Machine - 1972 - Fifth

In the Rock music world there are recordings that have become landmarks; decades may pass over its original production but a consensus perdures on its exceptional qualities, even among those that may have born long after. In other cases the consensus does not exit, by one reason or another, an outstanding work can push the limits in such a way that it alienates part of the listeners spectrum. It is one of these records I would like to board today: Fifth by Soft Machine.

Soft Machine was on of the bands emerging in Canterbury in the late 1960s towards international recognition. They took a particular approach to Rock, embedding elements of Jazz, in what would become known as Jazz-Rock. In spite of being one of the unavoidable precursors of the genre, Soft Machine remained for a few years well ahead of its peers, avoiding any fall into stereotypes. These first few LPs evolved around the trio composed by Mike Rutledge (organ), Hugh Hopper (electric bass) and Robert Wyatt (drums), later with the important addition of Elton Dean (alto sax). This core line up featured in the first four LPs of the band, each time diving further into Jazz, composing what are today its most appreciated recordings.

27 July 2013

Press review 27-07-2013

When I studied Economics at the University Demand and Supply where injective functions in the Cartesian Price vs. Quantity plane; the former with negative slope, the latter with positive. Now in Stanford University they seem to have found new Demand and Supply functions that are bijective, thus pretending to explain everything that went on in the oil market the past decade. They don't even try to clarify if the "peak" they refer to is relative to Quantity or Price, much less formalise the building of such awkward functions. Several media outlets picked up this piece of nonsense and diffused as if it was science; criticism is too much to asked from journalists these days.

24 July 2013

Shared work in a SVN versioned folder with Linux

Here's a test case: two (or more) users work on a common project that is versioned through SVN. Each user has the project checked out on their own environment and regularly commits to the SVN repository. Now the project has to be deployed to a server, being checked out at a particular location where some of its assets are served from. Both users must be able to regularly log on to the server and update the contents of the project folder from the repository. The catch is that neither of the users have admin rights over the server. With the default file system permissions every time a user checkouts the project from the repository the files are re-writen and its permissions attributed to the user, blocking access from other users, and most importantly, from any services depending on these files.

This post presents a recipe for this issue based solely on basic file system permissions. In the end both users should be able to work on the project folder without blocking access to each other.

13 July 2013

Press review 13-07-2013

Before diving into the review itself a quick note on Portugal. Wednesday things took an unexpected twist with a public announcement by the President, he tacitly rejected a fresh government by the ruling Conservatives/Liberals coalition and set on to seek an accord between all the parties that signed the initial aid programme (the coalition and the Socialists). My initial reading was this meaning a Monti style solution to take the Executive up the end of the programme (June of 2014), and along the way negotiate the terms of a now inevitable second aid programme. But the President's address was cryptic enough to allow for alternative interpretations. What is certain is that for now all negotiations with the lenders are suspended, and the relationship with them will change markedly. Also of note is the large indifference from the international media towards this evolving situation (with the clear exception of the Spanish media). In some cases, like the BBC, the President's message was simply misunderstood, with a small report clearly contradicting the facts. Jump to the EuropeanTribune for a slightly longer digest.

06 July 2013

Press review 06-07-2013

In last week's edition of this press review the highlight went to the deteriorating economic situation in Portugal. Monday morning the Minister of Finance resigned, publicly admitting the failure of his policies. Le Monde explains it with this simple graph:

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.

22 June 2013

Press review 22-06-2013

"There are relevant signs that Portugal will explore natural gas", that's how the State Secretary for Energy put it this week. In a follow up interview the Minister of Economy further detailed that 40 M€ have already been invested to assess the potential of the southern coast off the Algarve and that estimates of success stand now at 30%; exploratory drilling should start in 2014.

Speculation on natural gas reserves off the Algarve has been around for years, but this is the first time a government seems genuinely interested. The coverage by the Portuguese press has been so far rather poor; with no technical data reported, it is hard to distinguish this move from previous hypes on local fossil fuel production. One thing is certain though, whatever happens off the Algarve it won't benefit Portuguese consumers, all profits are to be taken solely by exploring companies themselves; they don't seem even obliged to sell the gas in the country.

Four or five years ago the hype was much stronger on the prospects of petroleum resources in deep waters of the western coast. Exploratory work commenced in 2012 and so far no one has judge it suitable to invest the hundreds of millions of euros required for a drilling campaign. I'll follow the situation in the Algarve with the same scepticism.

15 June 2013

Press review 15-06-2013

I have been quite busy lately and travelling a lot, time has been scant for in depth analysis of the press. In order to avoid another week in blank here is a quick round up of relevant news in the energy world.

Desertec made quite a splash a couple of weeks ago with the recognition that transmission lines from the Magreb to Europe are not going to happen easily, if ever. On the one side this is a result of the negligent foreign policy towards our closest neighbours; on the other hand this is a natural outcome of the internal renewable energy expansion in Europe. The project may continue, but now focused on local markets. The press has made no reference to the wind component of the project; the Atlas being one of the strongest wind resources in the world it is likely that it will too go forward, rest to know when.

01 June 2013

Press review 01-06-2013

I've been busier than usual the past few weeks and even following news has become difficult, thus shortened and belated press reviews. Several times in the past I've written that the conflict in Syria will end up re-designing the Near East boundary map and above all whom has control over which slice of land. The past few days the lifting of the weapons embargo from the EU to the Sunni has dominated the news. Under the surface however, the table seems definitely turning in favour of the Shia side.

25 May 2013

Press review 25-05-2013

This week the main focus is on the politics in Europe, the road ahead slowly narrowing.
China Daily
France's Hollande urges euro zone government

PARIS - French President Francois Hollande called on Thursday for an economic government for the euro zone with its own budget, the right to borrow, a harmonised tax system and a full-time president. [...]

Rebutting criticism that France has lost its leadership role in Europe because of its dwindling economic competitiveness, Hollande said he wanted to create a fully-fledged political European Union within two years.

"It is my responsibility as the leader of a founder member of the European Union... to pull Europe out of this torpor that has gripped it, and to reduce people's disenchantment with it," Hollande said.

"If Europe stays in the state it is now, it could be the end of the project." [...]

Hollande said a future euro zone economic government would debate the main political and economic decisions to be taken by member states, harmonise national fiscal and welfare policies, and launch a battle against tax fraud.

He proposed bringing forward planned EU spending to combat record youth unemployment, pushing for an EU-wide transition to renewable energy sources, and envisaged "a budget capacity that would be granted to the euro zone along with the gradual possibility of raising debt".

18 May 2013

Press review 18-05-2013

Today's focus is on electricity storage. The technology to support the decentralised grid paradigm that renewable energies are bringing about is not quite there yet - but getting there it seems. Sustained high petroleum and gas prices plus the fast decline of wind and solar PV costs are sparking research and development pretty much everyone. What strikes me at the moment is the number of different technologies that presently show the potential to arrive on the market in the next few years. For grid support at least a massification of electrical storage appears to be in arm's reach.

11 May 2013

Press review 11-05-2013

This week the most important piece of news is naturally the war on solar energy. Without surprises the Commission announced a 47% tariff on solar panels made in China. The goals of this measure are not those issued by the press: (i) almost all manufactured goods sold in Europe are fabricated by folk of the like that died last week crushed in Bangladesh - without changing the rules of international trade there's no way solar panels can ever be fabricated in Europe; (ii) in 2008 oil prices dropped clearly below production costs and no tariffs where imposed on OPEC; (iii) companies in Europe operating in the solar sector are installers and technical service providers - they will certainly be negatively hit. The goal of the Commission is simply to delay the growth of solar power in order to protect traditional electricity suppliers, nothing else. I'll now be waiting for similar measures on LNG imports from the US, where market gas prices are about half of production costs.

04 May 2013

Press review 04-05-2013

This week the media has been more attentive to the situation in Syria with both sides hiking the rhetoric. The US has threatened to directly supply warfare material to the Sunni, promptly matched by the Hezbollah with a promise of entering Syria to help the Shia. Meanwhile both sides accuse each other of employing chemical weapons. The good sense seems to be running out and the conflict might be about to unravel. The geography of the Near and Middle East may never be the same.

Something that has been out of the radar but that is far from buried is the Fukushima nuclear site in Japan. More than two years after the tsunami that led meltdowns in several cores, the situation seems to remain far from control. This apparent ineptitude of the managing company may itself explain why the accident took place in the first place.

27 April 2013

Press review 27-04-2013

This week the emphasis has to go to Iraq. If you have been following this blog this shouldn't come as a surprise, protests by the Sunni minority have grown into generalised clashes with the Shia army; a story in all similar to the early days of the civil war in Syria. If NATO decides to supply arms to the Sunni in the region we'll like witness the mother of all wars in the Near East. Meanwhile the western media has been more worried with the bombing of the French embassy in Lybia, another state that NATO recently broke apart.
Al Jazeera
Scores killed in two days of Iraq clashes

More than 100 people have been killed in two days of violence across Iraq after a raid on a camp of mostly Sunni Muslim protesters on Tuesday ignited the fiercest clashes since US troops left.

On Wednesday, fighting broke out for a second day between government troops and protesters in the country's north, after the deaths of at least 56 people at a protest camp in Kirkuk province on Tuesday.

Troops stormed the camp where Sunni Muslims have protested for months against what they see as their marginalisation under the Shia-led government, a raid that prompted Sunni tribal leaders to call for revolt.

Many of the victims were killed in ensuing clashes, which spread beyond the town of Hawija near Kirkuk, 170 km north of Baghdad, to other areas, reviving worries of a return to widespread intercommunal violence.

Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Baghdad, said clashes between fighters and the army were ongoing on Wednesday evening.

20 April 2013

Press review 20-04-2013

Ever since the Energy Commission put out the strategy that would later be approved and known as the 20-20-20 targets I've cautioned against the bio-fuels goals therein. First of all because it doesn't seem to be scalable, secondly due to the low EROEI figures and lastly because it promotes crops competing with food. This a week nothing short of a bomb fell on the head of the industry that grew on the back of this ill conceived policy: it is a massive money drainer.
Study: Biofuels took a €10 billion ‘Cyprus bailout’ in 2011

Public support for biofuels in Europe in 2011 added up to €10 billion, a sum equal to the EU’s bailout of Cyprus, according to new research by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The study is to be launched today (17 April), shortly before French MEP Corinne Lepage, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on EU biofuels legislation, is due to present a report, which is expected to recommend the introduction of sustainability criteria to account for greenhouse gas emissions, caused by indirect land use change (ILUC).

The ISSD paper totes the total support for the EU’s biofuels industry in 2011 at between €9.3 and €10.7 billion, a figure that exceeds the total amount of private capital invested in biofuels installations by some 60%.
In recent days a research project aimed at identifying new management strategies to accommodate renewable energies into the electrical grid has been popping in the specialised press. The research is pointing to a decentralised grid with a host of small producers acting in an electricity "cash" market. Technically it might feasible, but I very much doubt traditional power suppliers will easily yield to such market structure.
Is Renewable Energy's Biggest Problem Solved?
Paul Brawn, 05-04-2013

The research is funded by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment and is aimed at showing that the entire electricity grid could be run on renewable energy.

Dr. Kurt Rohrig, deputy director of IWES, said: "Each source of energy - be it wind, sun or biogas - has its strengths and weaknesses. If we manage to skillfully combine the different characteristics of the regenerative energies, we can ensure the power supply for Germany.”

The idea is that many small power plant operators can feed their electricity into the grid but act as a single power plant using computers to control the level of power (see our story of 20 January, Renewables: The 99.9% solution).
This week The Guardian published one more article echoing the fossil fuel cornucopia dogma coming out of the IIASA. It is fascinating to see something like this published in one of the countries presently with the greatest difficulties to furnish itself with enough energy; as if the author writes from a place or time far away. But it is the word of the IIASA, it can not be brought to question, and it must be repeated eternally until it is taken as truth.
The Guardian
Why can't we quit fossil fuels?
Duncan Clark, 17-04-2013

Despite the clean technology of the past decade, we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels more than ever before

We have far more oil, coal and gas than we can safely burn.[...]

There are three facts that tell you all you really need to know about climate science and politics.
On more mundane politics another bombshell was dropped, this time on the heads of the austerity ideologues. Beyond the political symbolism of this finding, I'd like to focus on a side issue that few seem to have noted: Microsoft Excel is being used to dictate the economic predicament of hundreds of millions of people. Excel shouldn't be trust not even to calculate the expected value of a statistical series; no one trying to do Science on it should be taken seriously.
Washington Post
Is the evidence for austerity based on an Excel spreadsheet error?
Brad Plumer, 16-04-2013

One of the more influential studies that’s often used to argue for austerity has come in for an extensive new critique.

The paper in question is Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s famous 2010 study ”Growth in a Time of Debt,” which found that economic growth severely suffers when a country’s public debt level reaches 90 percent of GDP. That 90 percent figure has often been cited in the past few years as one big reason why countries must trim their deficits — even if their economies are still weak.

But a new critique (pdf) by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin claims that this result may need revision. For one, the economists argue that Reinhart and Rogoff excluded three episodes of high-debt, high-growth nations — Canada, New Zealand, and Australia in the late 1940s. Second, they argue, Reinhart and Rogoff made some contestable assumptions about weighting different historical episodes.
Also of note the increasing recognition of the failure of austerity in Britain, this time admonished by the IMF. Intriguing is why is the IMF still pressing along with these policies in Greece and Portugal; perhaps because the aim is not really to tackle sovereign debt or address budget imbalances.
The Guardian
IMF puts pressure on George Osborne with criticism of cuts

George Osborne is under mounting pressure to moderate his austerity strategy after the International Monetary Fund went public with fears that the pace of budget cuts is too severe for Britain's ailing economy.

The fund said it would be holding talks with the chancellor about his tax and spending plans in the wake of gloomy forecasts that subjected the UK to the biggest growth downgrade of any developed country for 2013 and 2014.

Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist, singled out Britain as a country that needed to adopt a less aggressive approach to deficit reduction
Closing a stunning article at PCWorld claiming that open source is taking over the software world. Open source is now synonym with quality and innovation and is being largely embraced by the industry. The writing has been on the wall, but the debacle Windows 8 is, allied to the rise of mobile systems, is finally forcing a different regard from commercial agents in this market.
Open source is taking over the software world, survey says
Katherine Noyes, 17-04-2013

It's been only a few weeks since the Linux Foundation released its report that enterprise use of Linux continues to rise, but on Wednesday fresh data came out that suggests the same is true of open source software in general.

Specifically, Black Duck Software and North Bridge Venture Partners today announced the results of the seventh annual Future of Open Source Survey, which found that open source software has matured to such an extent that it now influences everything from innovation to collaboration among competitors to hiring practices.

"It's been recognized that software is eating the world,” said Michael Skok, general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners. “Our survey points to the fact that open source is eating the software world."
Have a nice weekend.

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.

06 April 2013

Press review 06-04-2013

This week's review is again dominated by Natural Gas, but the highlight goes to this chart:

30 March 2013

Press review 30-03-2013

Events in Cyprus eventually took a course not as bad as it looked a week ago. Small savers were spared, share holders and bond holders were hit first and mid to large savers got uneven slashes, depending on how bad was their particular bank. Painful, but way more logical than the brain-dead proposal that initially came out of the Eurogroup. Cyprus is now entering an impoverishment cycle that was likely unavoidable.

This new way of dealing with ailing banks, hitting lenders (into which savers are included) instead of simply offloading debt on sovereign states, marks a clear turning point in the European crisis. Time will tell if this is a good path or not; it is a two edged sword, if on the one hand it protects sovereign states from the risks of the financial sector, it also undermines trust on banks. In a few months time, when it will become clear that Portugal is insolvent, we shall see the real repercussions of this new policy.

Mid week the spotlight was turned on other small states that have economic models similar to Cyprus'. One of these states is Luxembourg, where I presently live, and the answer from the local government was quite interesting, even if somewhat obvious.

23 March 2013

Press review 23-03-2013

Amateurish. Of all the adjectives used to describe the "aid" package proposed by the EE/ECB/IMF triumvirat to Cyrpus this is probably the sharpest one. Beyond the legal question it raises and the social harm it can inflict, it is a huge strategic blunder. A bank run in Cyprus is now a certainty, rest is to know if it will percolate to other members of the Eurozone. I don't have a particular hunch, but the probability of contagion happening is now much higher than what it was a week ago. And above all, what I don't really get is why was this made without Russia and to a good extent against Russia. It seems like the folk inside the Eurogroup are completely unaware of what's going on outside their offices Unaware that the Russian Government and Gazprom have complete control over our energy system; if they get angry enough to close the gas tap we'll be back to the dark ages in days. I'll expect further developments before a deeper reflection on this mess (time permitting).

And it is precisely gas the inner page story that is important to highlight this week, yet again. Below the fold you'll find a presentation by Alistair Buchanan, head of Ofgem, the UK energy watchdog. Although a few months old, it is well worth the time it takes to listen, describing in great detail how perilous Britain's dependence on gas has become.

16 March 2013

Press review 16-03-2013

This week the Catholic Church got a new Pope, after the surprising resignation of Benedict XVI. The much awaited announcement habemum papam was followed by an also surprising name: Jorge Bergoglio. After weeks of speculation and many papable lists issued around, the elected is someone that few where aware even existed. It turns out Bergoglio had been the runner up when Benedict XVI was elected; just to show how clueless the media was, and is, on this particular subject, as it unfortunately is in many other domains. So far I'm well impressed with the new pope and I quite like his choice of Francis for a name. May God be with him.

On more material subjects, the news of the week was the weather (I'd never seen so much snow fall in my life). This meant more trouble for the UK, that continues to struggle with its gas supply. Record low reserves and record high prices again this week and the cold seems to set to continue.

10 March 2013

Nektar - 1972 - A Tab In The Ocean

If you're into Space Rock, like me, one day you'll end up bumping into this band called Nektar. In my case it took a few years but I eventually got there. There are all sorts of oddities about Nektar, starting with the fact of this being a British band based in Hamburg. They were well into the German progressive scene of the day and were of one of the first bands working with Dieter Dierks, along side names like Embryo, Gila, Wallenstein and Tangerine Dream. Naturally this has lead some folk to simply classify them as a Krautrock band; a closer look reveals otherwise.

Their second LP, A Tab In The Ocean, was recorded in 1972, with Dierks already well established as a master of the Krautrock scene. It proposes a surprising and exhilarating voyage through some futuristic landscapes never explored before. All wrapped in a recording very particular of its place and place. The strident sound of the guitar and especially some drum elements may make it a though hearing for some, especially those used to Hi-Fi quality. But with some effort the melodies eventually emerge and overwhelm the listener.

09 March 2013

Press review 09-03-2013

This was an eventful week, with two particular stories of great concern. First I'd like to highlight the intensifying situation in Syria. It was already known that Al Qaeda has been drafting Iraqi young men to fight along the Sunni factions; but on Monday Reuters published a piece confirming that Iraqis are also joining the ranks of the Shi'ite faction leaded by Assad. Later that same day the first armed operation linked to this conflict took place in Iraqi soil, with an Al Qaeda commando ambushing and executing dozens of Shi'ite soldiers that had surrendered to the Iraqi regular army.

The US and the UK seem very interested in fuelling the conflict by arming the Sunni factions; Al Qaeda will surely divert part of these weapons towards Iraq. On the current tack it seems impossible for both Syria and Iraq to emerge out of the conflict with the borders they have today. The effects on neighbouring countries and Petroleum production in the region is unpredictable.

02 March 2013

Press review 02-03-2013

The story of the week has been the elections in Italy. The English speaking media reacted like the world has ended and markets tanked, but I'm not that impressed. Neither Bersani nor Berlusconi can afford a return to the polls, especially the later. A grand coalition will eventually emerge, not very different from the one that backed Monti, but with Berlusconi back again into some position that can keep him out of jail. I'm not impressed by Grillo either, with his badly recycled Democratic Socialism tainted with some Nationalism. But EPP leaders must understand the forewarning: if they insist on their failed policies of austerity one day someone like Grillo is going to win a major election in Europe.

Thus I prefer to highlight other news, that may be more relevant in the long term.

27 February 2013

The mystery of disapearing comments

In the past few days several readers have complained that their comments on this blog are being deleted. Yesterday evening I posted several replies to the few comments in the Solar Price post, I got no error messages and all of them where still visible a few hours later; this morning only one was left. I have re-checked the comments settings and there are no constraint options in place, it is all left with the defaults. I'm very sorry for this but there is nothing I can do at the moment.

If you are being affected by this please leave a note at this thread in Blogger's help forum; don't forget to mention your operating system and web browser. In case there's something you really need to tell me please use my e-mail address (available in my profile).

Thank you for helping.

23 February 2013

Press review 23-02-2013

Back in 2010 at a public address on Peak Oil I took the liberty for some futurism. I told the audience that while Oil is the larger concern at the global scale, in Europe it is Gas that poses greater challenges in the short term. I ventured in saying that it wasn't hard to predict a serious supply issue in our continent in the following 5 or 6 years, especially in Britain and Ireland, that are at the tip of all piped gas routes. It turns out this was very close to happen last month.
The Telegraph
Keeping Britain's lights on will come at a price
Alistair Buchanan, 19-02-2013

On Wednesday January 16, due to unplanned outages and cold weather, National Grid had to find power to supply roughly a million homes to keep the lights on.

Fawley, an oil-fired plant in Hampshire, was one of the power stations that responded. Next winter Fawley will not be there. Indeed, about 10pc of our current generation stock goes next month as coal and oil-fired power stations close earlier than expected to meet environmental targets. [...]

Ofgem estimates that, by 2020, 60pc to 70pc of our generation may have to come from gas to fill the gap. That’s up from about 30pc today. The Government asked Ofgem to look at gas security of supply last year and we concluded that in all but the most extreme circumstances, supplies for domestic consumers should be secure. However, power stations and large industrial users may be affected in a squeeze. The big worry about gas for all consumers is what price will we have to pay to get it? Because just when we need more gas, world demand for gas is set to rise while our own supplies are predicted to fall by another 25pc by 2020.

18 February 2013

The Price of Solar Power

All across Europe feed-in tariffs and subsidies for solar power are being cut or even scraped. In Portugal and Spain these actions are justified with the debt crisis, even though they expand these states' trade deficit. This month the Spanish government took a decisive move to scare investors away and expel most renewable energies from the electric gird, particularly Solar.
Exclusive: Foreign investors set to sue Spain over energy reform

(Reuters) - Foreign investors in renewable energy projects in Spain have hired lawyers to prepare potential international legal action against the Spanish government over new rules they say break their contracts.

The Spanish Parliament approved a law on Thursday that cuts subsidies for alternative energy technologies, backtracking on its push for green power.

That measure, along with other recent laws including a tax on power generation that hit green energy investments especially hard, will virtually wipe out profits for photovoltaic, solar thermal and wind plants, sector lobbyists say.
Diving into the numbers what one finds behind this policy U-turn is something entirely different.

Update III: Follow up research on this topic has been published in the peer reviewed article Photovoltaics: new policy challenges for Europe.

Update II: The Solar Power Cost Calculator is an open source web application that implements the mathematical formulas used in this post.

16 February 2013

Press review 16-02-2013

Today's theme is the so called currency war. I've written regularly on this issue through the years, notably during the time of TheOilDrum:Europe. The international monetary system we have these days was the result of a gentlemen's agreement made at the New York Plaza Hotel back in 1985. When OPEC lost control of oil prices, in the 2004-2008 period, an essential pillar of this system was rocked. There are many more gentlemen at the table now, and with very different goals and perspectives on the world economy. Some sort of new agreement must be reached, but it is not at all evident how it can be beneficial for all the parties involved. Meanwhile, the competitive devaluation that the Plaza Accord put an end to is definitely back.

Global Currency War Could Get Nastier: Brazil

The global "currency war" could get even worse if Europe joins the fray, says the man widely credited with coining the term.

Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega told Reuters European countries should focus on reviving their economies with more investments, rather than trying to weaken the euro to protects jobs as France has suggested ahead of next week's meeting of G20 economic powers.

09 February 2013

Press review 09-02-2013

This post starts what I hope to be a weekly review of press articles. The idea is to have a collection of news pieces to read on a snowy Saturday morning or a hot Sunday afternoon. These are articles that usually don't make it to the front pages but that are relevant to our society in transition. Otherwise it may just things that are interesting.
Windfarms break energy record in Spain
Monday 4 February 2013 09.56 GMT

Over the last three months wind farms produced more electricity than any other power source in Spain for the first time ever, an industry group has said.

The country delivered over six terawatt hours of electricity from wind farms during January, according to data from grid operator Red Electrica de Espana, the Spanish Wind Energy Association said in a statement.

"Since November 1, wind has been the top technology in the electrical system," the group said in a blog posting. "The last time any technology exceeded six terawatt-hours of monthly generation was in 2010, when it was combined-cycle gas turbines."

24 January 2013

Migrate a SVN repository to Git preserving tags

I've used SVN for code versioning for as long as I can remember. Both on Windows as on Linux, it has been perfect to manage and store source code and documents, especially in a context where few users commit changes and public access is only considered at the later stages of a project. In the MUSIC project the context has been quite different, there's a multitude of code projects that compose a larger system and public access to the code has been a requirement early on. One of my collegues suggested us to start using Git for the purpose. I remember when initialy reading about it that Git was like colour TV, once you've seen it you'd never want to go back. Although Git is far more complex than SVN, making it easier to mess up, it is indeed quite more powerful. Beyond that, the GitHub web/social repository gives coding a whole new meaning.

So here's a use case: migrate a local SVN repositoy to Git, correctly keeping tags identifying releases and then push it to GitHub. This happened to be not so easy, so here's this log entry for future reference.

20 January 2013

Thomas Zwijsen - 2013 - Nylon Maiden

Oh no! not another Iron Maiden tribute. That's the case but there are great differences between this tribute and previous works that make it deserve this highlight. First of all it is not issued by a collection of old school rock bands trying to boost their retirement, nor a mangle of unknown wannabe tribute musicians. Neither does it come from established musicians in other genres that want to venture into the rock world and cash in dividends. And in second place because this LP avoids being the same boring parcours through the old school radio hit list.

Thomas Zwijsen is a very young classical guitar student that happens to be an Iron Maiden fan. He has studied Flamenco, Jazz and Classical, already achieving remarkable technical capacities. About one year ago he started producing arrangements of his favourite songs for the classical guitar; he uploaded some home recordings to YouTube and showed to his friends. A couple million views later he decided to go to studio and record these tracks properly; the end result is Nylon Maiden, released earlier this month and reviewed below.

06 January 2013

Ubuntu phone OS: a glimpse of the future

I came late to the laptop world. A couple of years into my first job I inherited a battered portable machine from a senior colleague. It weighted over 3 Kg and had a 14 inch screen, but had a profound impact on my relation with computers. It had all the CPU power I needed for my work and in a backpack it could be carried everywhere. Beyond that, at home I could use it to read books, or I could plug it to the Hi-Fi or the TV and use it as a CD/DVD player. Soon I understood that I'd never buy a desktop computer again.

That was some 10 years ago, and this past week I got the same feeling again. With the relatively surprising announcement of the Ubuntu phone OS I'm pretty sure I wont buy a laptop again. A new age in personal computing is dawning and Ubuntu seems to be riding on the crest of the wave. Below the fold is the video announcement of this new OS by Mark Shuttleworth, something that might have a serious impact on personal computing in the following decade.