July 27, 2013

Jiangsu might as well be the Chinese name for Detroit

Filed under: China,Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:02

The South China Morning Post on the economic troubles of the provincial, municipal and local authorities in Jiangsu:

The nightmare scenario for China’s leaders as they try to wean the country off a diet of easy credit and breakneck expansion is a local government buckling under the weight of its own debt. Few provinces fit that bill quite like Jiangsu, home to China’s most indebted local government.

Hefty borrowings through banks, investment trusts and the bond market by Jiangsu’s provincial, city and county governments have saddled the province north of Shanghai with debt far higher than its peers, public records show.

Many of the province’s mainstay industries, including shipbuilding and the manufacturer of solar panels, are drowning in overcapacity. Profits are dwindling, and the government’s tax growth is braking hard.


Little public information is available on the total debt of Chinese local governments. Indeed, earlier this month China’s Vice-Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said Beijing did not know the precise level of their debts either.

But from what ratings agencies and think-tanks can piece together, Jiangsu may be the standout debt risk among China’s 31 provinces.

Looking at bank loan books, they can see that China’s eastern provinces including Jiangsu have the highest concentration of government debt. Jiangsu then looms large because of its reliance on costlier and alternative forms of financing, which they said suggested that cheaper bank loans and land sales are not giving the authorities the funding they need.

The risk that Jiangsu might pose to the Chinese economy in a crisis is clear. On its own, the province would be a top 20 global economy with GDP greater than G20 member Turkey. Its 79 million population tops that of most European countries.

July 5, 2013

And now, a five-minute sales pitch for Thorium nuclear reactors

Filed under: Science,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:13

A short video of Kirk Sorensen taking us through the benefits of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, a revolutionary liquid reactor that runs not on uranium, but thorium. These work and have been built before. Search for either LFTRs or Molten Salt Reactors (MSR).

The main downsides/negatives to this technology, politics, corrosion and being scared of nuclear radiation. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors were created 50 years ago by an American chap named Alvin Weinberg, but the American Government realised you can’t weaponise the by-products and so they weren’t interested.

Another point, yes it WAS corrosive, but these tests of this reactor were 50 years ago, our technology has definitely improved since then so a leap to create this reactor shouldn’t be too hard.

And nuclear fear is extremely common in the average person, rather irrational though it may be. More people have died from fossil fuels and even hydroelectric power than nuclear power. I added this video for a project regarding Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, watch and enjoy.

No, it would not collapse the economy… just like the use of uranium reactors didn’t… neither did coal… This is because you wouldn’t have an instant transition from coal… oil… everything else to thorium. We could not do that. Simply due to the engineering. Give it 50 years we might be using thorium instead of coal/oil (too late in terms of global warming, but that’s another debate completely), but we certainly won’t destroy the earths economy. Duh.

And yes he said we’d never run out. Not strictly true… bloody skeptics … LFTRs can harness 3.5 million Kwh per Kg of thorium! 70 times greater than uranium, 10,000 greater than oil… and there is over 2.6 million tonnes of it on earth… Anyone with a calculator, or a brain, will understand that is a lot of energy!!

H/T to Rob Fisher for the link.

July 2, 2013

Better batteries through soy

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:07

The Economist on a promising new development in battery technology:

LITHIUM-ION batteries are hot stuff. Affordable, relatively lightweight and packing a lot of energy, they are the power source of choice for everything from mobile phones to electric cars. Unfortunately, the heat can be more than figurative. Occasionally, such batteries suffer malfunctions that lead to smoke, flames and even explosions. In gadgets, such meltdowns can be distressing and dangerous. In aircraft, they can be fatal. Earlier this year airlines grounded their entire fleet of Boeing’s next-generation 787 passenger jet after the lithium-ion batteries installed in two planes caught fire. Last month they have been permitted back in the air after being retrofitted with a protection system in the form of a tough steel box that vents directly outside in the event of a fire.

A more comforting solution, of course, would be to build a lithium-ion battery that could not burst into flames in the first place. Katie Zhong at Washington State University might have just such a device. For the last few years, she has been working on battery technology for flexible and bendable electronic gadgets. By blending a polymer called polyethylene oxide (PEO) with natural soy protein, she had made a solid electrolyte for lithium ion batteries that could be bent or stretched to twice its normal size without affecting its performance.

Like all batteries, lithium-ion rechargeables consist of two electrodes separated by an electrolyte. In a typical lithium-ion cell, the electrolyte is a solution of lithium salts and organic solvents. Charging drives lithium ions from the electrolyte into a graphite anode. On discharge, the reverse happens, with a balancing flow of electrons through the device being powered.

June 22, 2013

Generating electricity from “biomass” – bad economics and bad for the environment

Filed under: Britain,Economics,Environment — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

Matt Ridley explains why replacing natural gas (or even coal) electrical generation with biomass is an absurd “solution”:

Under the Government’s plan, biomass power stations will soon be burning much more wood than the country can possibly produce. There is a comforting myth out there that biomass imports are mainly waste that would otherwise decompose: peanut husks, olive pips, bark trimmings and the like. Actually, the bulk of the imports are already and will continue to be of wood pellets.

It is instructive to trace these back to their origin. Reporters for The Wall Street Journal recently found that the two pelleting plants established in the southern US specifically to supply Drax are not just taking waste or logs from thinned forest, but also taking logs from cleared forest, including swamp woodlands in North Carolina cleared by “shovel-logging” with giant bulldozers (running on diesel). Local environmentalists are up in arms.

The logs are taken to the pelleting plants where they are dried, chopped and pelleted, in an industrial process that emits lots of carbon dioxide and pollutants. They are then trucked (more diesel) to ports, loaded on ships (diesel again), offloaded at the Humber on to (yet more diesel) trains, 40 of which arrive at Drax each day.

[. . .]

Over 20 or 40 years, study after study shows that wood burning is far worse than gas, and worse even than coal, in terms of its greenhouse gas emissions. The effect on forest soil, especially if it is peaty, only exacerbates the disparity. The peat dries out and oxidises.

Yet the Government persists in regarding biomass burning as zero-carbon and therefore deserving of subsidy. It does so by the Orwellian feat of defining sustainability as a 60 per cent reduction in emissions from fossil fuels. As Calor Gas puts it: “This is a logical somersault too far, conveniently — for the sake of cherry-picking the technology — equating 40 per cent to 0 per cent.” (Calor Gas supplies rural gas and is understandably miffed at being punitively treated while a higher- carbon rival industry is subsidised. […]) Moreover, unlike gas or coal, you are pinching nature’s lunch when you cut down trees. Unfelled, the trees would feed beetles, woodpeckers, fungi and all sorts of other wildlife when they died, let alone when they lived. Nothing eats coal.

So, compared with gas, the biomass dash is bad for the climate, bad for energy security and dependence on imports, bad for human health, bad for wildlife and very bad for the economy. Apart from that, what’s not to like?

April 28, 2013

Reason.tv: Why the GOP Should Embrace Science

“What has always alleviated our scarcity? What has always alleviated our environmental problems? Technology. What breeds technological dynamism? Economic success,” explains Joshua Jacobs, co-founder of the Conservative Future Project, a new pro-science, pro-technology organization that’s trying to get the Republican Party to embrace an open-ended future filled with driverless cars, stem-cell research, and private space exploration.

If that sounds like a tall order for a party whose leading presidential candidates in 2012 waffled on whether they believed in evolution, you’re right. But Jacobs argues forcefully that the GOP is no less anti-science than the Democrats and actually has a long history of pushing scientific and technological innovation.

Nick Gillespie sat down with Jacobs in Reason‘s D.C. studio to talk about how conservatives might stop standing athwart history yelling stop and march boldly into the future.

April 18, 2013

Could this be the long-hoped-for breakthrough in battery technology?

Filed under: Science,Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:40

In The Register, Tony Smith discusses a new prototype battery that might be coming to your electronic devices … eventually:

Electronics continue to shrink to ever smaller sizes, but researchers are having a tough time miniaturising the batteries powering today’s mobile gadgets. Step forward, bicontinuous nanoporous electrodes.

Smartphones use smaller power packs than they did five years ago, it’s true, but that’s because their chips and radios are more power efficient, not because of any major new battery technology.

Now boffins from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reckon they have come up with a new pocket-friendly electricity supply.

Enter the “microbattery”, a compact power cell constructed from many three-dimensional nanoporous electrodes capable, its developers claim, of delivering both high power and a large energy capacity.

The negative cathode was devised by another team at the university, but graduate student James Pikul, working under Bliss Professor of mechanical science and engineering William King, figured out how to create a compatible anode and put the two into a battery.

[. . .]

The cathode design, devised by a team led by the University’s Professor Paul Braun, is fast charging. Pikul reckons building a battery out of it yields a rechargeable that can be filled up in a thousandth of the time it takes to charge a comparably sized regular rechargeable cell.

Building a battery in a lab is one thing. Working out how to manufacture it commercially at a price that makes it a realistic power source for future devices is another thing altogether. Pikul and King will be working on that next.

April 11, 2013

Ontario’s Green Energy Act is pushing the province to the top … of the retail electricity price table

Ontario loves to be at the top of rankings, but Ontario electricity users should be upset that we’re surging to the top of this particular ranking:

Ontario’s Green Energy Act (GEA) will soon put the province at or near the top of North American electricity costs, with serious consequences for the province’s economic growth and competitiveness, concludes a new report from the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian think-tank.

“Already, the GEA has caused major price increases for large energy consumers, and we’re anticipating additional hikes of 40 to 50 per cent over the next few years,” said Ross McKitrick, Fraser Institute senior fellow and author of Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario’s Green Energy Act.

“The Ontario government defends the GEA by referring to a confidential 2005 cost-benefit analysis on reducing air pollution from power plants. That report did not recommend pursuing wind or solar power, instead it looked at conventional pollution control methods which would have yielded the same environmental benefits as the GEA, but at a tenth of the current cost. If the province sticks to its targets for expanding renewables, the GEA will end up being 70 times costlier than the alternative, with no greater benefits.”

[. . .]

The study shows that the GEA’s focus on wind generation is particularly wasteful: 80 per cent of Ontario’s wind-power generation occurs when electricity demand is so low that the entire output is surplus and must be dumped on the export market at a substantial loss. The Auditor General of Ontario estimates that the province has already lost close to $2 billion on surplus wind exports, and figures from the electricity grid operator show the ongoing losses are $200 million annually.

The wind grid is also inherently inefficient due to the fluctuating nature of the power source. The report calculates that due to seasonal patterns, seven megawatts of wind energy are needed to provide a year-round replacement of one megawatt of conventional power.

“Consequently, the cost of achieving renewable energy targets for the coming years will be much higher than the Ontario government’s current projections,” McKitrick said.

March 28, 2013

British energy prices graphically explained

At The Register, Lewis Page debunks the propaganda from the government and shows the cost components of British energy prices from the government’s own published source:

The government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, with the current minister as mouthpiece, has just pushed out a report claiming that its green policies are saving us money now and will save us even more in coming decades. Can it be true? We can save the planet — or anyway reduce carbon emissions — and it not only costs nothing, but puts money in our pockets?

In a word, no: of course not. If that was true there would be no need for government action, we’d be acting to reduce carbon emissions on our own. And indeed, once you skip the foolish tinned quotes and bogo-stats in the executive summary, the report itself makes it very clear that in fact green policies are already to blame for most of the sustained climb in electricity prices we’ve suffered over the past decade — and that it’s going to get a lot worse.

The blue and brown bars are what you would pay without green intervention. The rest is thanks to the greens.

The blue and brown bars are what you would pay without green intervention. The rest is thanks to the greens.

So there you are, plain as day. The various green interventions in the UK and EU energy markets which have come in since the turn of the century are already costing you a hefty sum — the government have already forced up the price you pay for electricity today by nearly 20 per cent over where it would have been if they’d left matters alone. If they carry on as planned, by the year 2030 they will have managed to drive it up by more than a third over where it would normally be.

March 23, 2013

Human Achievement Hour 2013

Oh, right. It’s once again time for the Gaia-worshippers to do an hour’s penance for the crime of being alive in an industrialized society. The Competitive Enterprise Institute proposes a different way of using that hour:

On Saturday, March 23 at 8:30pm (local time), some people, businesses and governments around the world will choose to sit in the dark for one hour as a symbolic gesture to take action against climate change. The organizers of Earth Hour say that they [no] longer expect energy use to actually drop during the hour, but instead see it as a way for people to show their commitment to reducing energy use and taking action beyond the hour.

It’s absolutely every person’s right to decide if they want to conserve energy for whatever reason; they are free to sit in the dark as long as they want. However, it should not be their right to impose their beliefs or opinions on others. And that is what is at the heart of the environmentalist movement. While many participants in Earth Hour sincerely want a cleaner environment — a desire most of us share — the environmentalist movement whether implicitly or explicitly seeks to clamp down on human progress by reducing energy consumption whether through regulation and taxation. They want to make fossil fuels, which they see as dirty, more expensive to encourage the use of renewable “greener” energies.

Despite any good intentions, the ultimate result of environmentalist policies is not a healthier, cleaner environment. Instead we will see a population that is sicker and poorer. The only way we achieve technology that is “greener” is by building on older “dirtier” technology. As we make it harder and more expensive for those in the business of creating new technologies, all we do is slow progress and make it that much longer to reach more environmentally friendly solutions.

March 14, 2013

Reason.tv: Matt Ridley on How Fossil Fuels are Greening the Planet

Filed under: Environment,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen, Genome, The Rational Optimist and other books, dropped by Reason‘s studio in Los Angeles last month to talk about a curious global trend that is just starting to receive attention. Over the past three decades, our planet has gotten greener!

Even stranger, the greening of the planet in recent decades appears to be happening because of, not despite, our reliance on fossil fuels. While environmentalists often talk about how bad stuff like CO2 causes bad things to happen like global warming, it turns out that the plants aren’t complaining.

March 4, 2013

Solar power in a dark German winter

Filed under: Economics,Environment,Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:44

The German government is having to pay a lot of money in subsidies to solar power generators, but is also having to scramble to buy power from other European sources as the solar output is falling far below current demands:

The Baedeker travel guide is now available in an environmentally-friendly version. The 200-page book, entitled “Germany – Discover Renewable Energy,” lists the sights of the solar age: the solar café in Kirchzarten, the solar golf course in Bad Saulgau, the light tower in Solingen and the “Alster Sun” in Hamburg, possibly the largest solar boat in the world.

The only thing that’s missing at the moment is sunshine. For weeks now, the 1.1 million solar power systems in Germany have generated almost no electricity. The days are short, the weather is bad and the sky is overcast.

As is so often the case in winter, all solar panels more or less stopped generating electricity at the same time. To avert power shortages, Germany currently has to import large amounts of electricity generated at nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic. To offset the temporary loss of solar power, grid operator Tennet resorted to an emergency backup plan, powering up an old oil-fired plant in the Austrian city of Graz.

Solar energy has gone from being the great white hope, to an impediment, to a reliable energy supply. Solar farm operators and homeowners with solar panels on their roofs collected more than €8 billion ($10.2 billion) in subsidies in 2011, but the electricity they generated made up only about 3 percent of the total power supply, and that at unpredictable times.

December 23, 2012

We’re at “peak farmland”

Filed under: Economics,Environment,Health,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:17

Matt Ridley on an interesting paper from Jesse Ausubel and Iddo Wernick of Rockefeller University, and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station:

Globally, the production of a given quantity of crop requires 65% less land than it did in 1961, thanks to fertilizers, tractors, pesticides, better varieties and other factors. Even corrected for different kinds of crops, the acreage required is falling at 2% a year.

In the U.S., the total corn yield and the total corn acreage tracked each other in lock step between 1870 and 1940-there was no change in average yield per acre. But between 1940 and 2010, corn production almost quintupled, while the acreage devoted to growing corn fell slightly. Similar divergences appeared later in other countries. Indian wheat production increased fivefold after 1970, while wheat acreage crept up by less than 1.5 times. Chinese corn production rose sevenfold over the same period while corn acreage merely doubled.

Yet the amount of farmland in the world was still rising until recently. The reason is that increased farm productivity has been matched by rising demand for food, driven by population growth and swelling affluence. But the effects of these trends are waning.

[. . .]

Even with these cautious assumptions, the researchers find that over the next 50 years people are likely to release from farming a land area “1½ times the size of Egypt, 2½ times the size of France, or 10 Iowas, and possibly multiples of this amount.”

Indeed, the authors find that this retreat from the land would have already begun but for one factor so lunatic that they cannot imagine it will not be reversed soon: biofuels. If the world had not decided to subsidize the growing of energy crops on 3.4% of arable land, then absolute declines in the acreage of arable land “would have begun during the last decade.” The prospect of “the restoration of vast acreages of Nature” is enticing for nature lovers.

October 20, 2012

Instead of electric cars, how about nitrogen-powered cars?

Filed under: Technology,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

The Economist looks at the performance of electric cars, fuel-cell cars, and nitrogen-powered cars:

As long as its storage container is well insulated, liquid air can be kept at atmospheric pressure for long periods. But on exposure to room temperature, it will instantly boil and revert back to its gaseous state. In the process, it expands 700-fold — providing the wherewithal to operate a piston engine or a turbine.

Liquid nitrogen does an even better job. Being considerably denser than liquid air, it can store more energy per unit volume, allowing cars to travel further on a tankful of the stuff. Weight for weight, liquid nitrogen packs much the same energy as the lithium-ion batteries used in laptops, mobile phones and electric cars. In terms of performance and range, then, a nitrogen vehicle is similar to an electric vehicle rather than a conventional one.

The big difference is that a liquid-nitrogen car is likely to be considerably cheaper to build than an electric vehicle. For one thing, its engine does not have to cope with high temperatures — and could therefore be fabricated out of cheap alloys or even plastics.

For another, because it needs no bulky traction batteries, it would be lighter and cheaper still than an electric vehicle. At present, lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles cost between $500 and $600 a kilowatt-hour. The Nissan Leaf has 24 kilowatt-hours of capacity. At around $13,200, the batteries account for more than a third of the car’s $35,200 basic price. A nitrogen car with comparable range and performance could therefore sell for little more than half the price of an electric car.

A third advantage is that liquid nitrogen is a by-product of the industrial process for making liquid oxygen. Because there is four times as much nitrogen as oxygen in air, there is inevitably a glut of the stuff — so much so, liquid nitrogen sells in America for a tenth of the price of milk.

October 17, 2012

Dalton McGuinty’s “legacy”

All the media chatter about Premier Dalton McGuinty running for leader of the federal Liberals must be coming from folks who want to watch a national train wreck, says Michael Den Tandt:

Set aside that, with nine years as premier of Canada’s most populous province, constituting more than one-third of the national population, McGuinty would be past his best-before date at the best of times.

And let’s ignore his long track record of broken promises, beginning shortly after he was elected on a solemn vow to run balanced budgets and hold the line on taxes. He made that promise in writing. He broke it without a shred of visible remorse, blaming the other guys.

Let’s set aside the e-Health scandal, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. scandal, the eco-tax affair, and the continuing Ornge air ambulance scandal. While we’re at it, let’s wave off the abrogation of the rule of law in Caledonia. That’s all old news.

Forget the voluminous independent study by economist Don Drummond, who found, in a nutshell, that McGuinty’s entire approach to government in the previous eight years had been wrong-headed, slipshod and ruinously wasteful. Drummond recommended a radical course correction. McGuinty nodded sagely, kindly even, and ignored him.

We could even try — come on now, let’s do this — to ignore the Green Energy Act. This was the ideologically driven plan, still in place, to create an artificial market for “green” energy and erect thousands of 50-storey industrial wind turbines across Ontario, destroying the landscape for the sake of energy that only flows when the wind blows — that is, intermittently.

[. . .]

Let’s set aside, also, the cloying, nanny-state condescension of McGuinty’s approach to leadership — never a principle too firm to be melted into formless goo, never a controversy too sharp to be smothered in a warm quilt of apple-pie hokum. Never mind that, temperamentally, McGuinty is Mitt Romney without the millions. These are intangibles.

July 3, 2012

Bad news (for panicmongers, anyway)

Filed under: Economics,Environment — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:32

In the Guardian, George Monbiot (known to his detractors as “The Great Moonbat”) admits the terrible truth. He was wrong, again:

The facts have changed, now we must change too. For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil — the decline of global supplies — is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike.

Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case.

[. . .]

Peak oil hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen for a very long time.

A report by the oil executive Leonardo Maugeri, published by Harvard University, provides compelling evidence that a new oil boom has begun. The constraints on oil supply over the past 10 years appear to have had more to do with money than geology. The low prices before 2003 had discouraged investors from developing difficult fields. The high prices of the past few years have changed that.

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