Monthly Archives: March 2013

Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement..

Paul Gilding – March 20 2013

Paul is an independent writer, advisor and advocate for action on climate change and sustainability. An activist and social entrepreneur for 35 years, his personal mission and purpose is to lead, inspire and motivate action globally on the transition of society and the economy to sustainability. He pursues this purpose across all sectors, working around the world with individuals, businesses, NGOs, entrepreneurs, academia and government.

Paul Gilding

There are signs the climate movement could be on the verge of a remarkable and surprising victory.  If we read the current context correctly, and if the movement can adjust its strategy to capture the opportunity presented, it could usher in the fastest and most dramatic economic transformation in history. This would include the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries from the economy in just a few decades and their replacement with new industries and, for the most part, entirely new companies. It would be the greatest transfer of wealth and power between industries and countries the world has ever seen.
To understand this incredible potential we first have to step back and understand the unique structure of this social change movement, which may rank among the most influential in history.  It is simplistic to characterise it as an alliance of grass roots organisations and activists pitched against a rich and well connected adversary. While that is part of the story, it is more accurately understood as an idea whose tentacles reach into every tier of government, the world’s largest companies and financial institutions, and throughout the academic and science communities.
Because of this, it is winning the battle from within: Its core arguments and ideas are clearly right; being endorsed by the world’s top science bodies and any significant organisation that has examined them.
Far from being at society’s margins it has the support, to various degrees, of virtually all governments, and many of the world’s most powerful political leaders, including the heads of state of the USA, China and other leading economies. It counts the CEO’s of many global companies and many of the world’s wealthiest people as active supporters – who between them direct hundreds of billions of dollars of capital every year towards practical climate action. And of course, this comes on top of one of the most global, best funded, broadly based and bottom up community campaigns we have ever seen.
That is the reality of the climate movement – it is massive, global, powerful, and on the right side of history.
So why, many ask, has it so far not succeeded in its objective of reducing CO2 emissions? Much has been written on this topic but most of it is wrong. It is simply an incredibly big job to turn on its head the global economy’s underpinning energy system. And so it has taken a while. Considering how long other great social movements took to have an impact – such as equality for women or the end of slavery and civil rights movements – then what’s surprising is not that the climate movement hasn’t yet succeeded. What’s surprising is how far its come and how deeply it has become embedded in such a short time.
And now is the moment when it’s greatest success might be about to be realised – and just in time.
We are at the most important moment in this movement’s history – in the midst of two simultaneous tipping points that create the opportunity, if we respond correctly, to win – eliminating net CO2 emissions from the economy and securing a stable climate, though still a changed one.
I have come to this conclusion after reflecting on a year when an avalanche of new knowledge and indicators made both tipping points clear. The first and perhaps the best understood is the rapid acceleration in climate impacts, reinforcing the view many hold that the scientific consensus on climate has badly underestimated the timing and scale of climate impacts. The melting of the Arctic Sea Ice, decades before expected, was the poster child of this but extreme weather and temperature records across the world, notably in the USA, suggested this Arctic melting is a symptom of accelerating system change.
It also became clear that this was literally just the “warm up” act – that we are currently heading for a global temperature increase of 4°C or more, double the agreed target.
In response came a series of increasingly dire warnings from conservative bodies like the International Energy Agency, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Perhaps most colourfully, the IMF chief and former conservative French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, said that without strong action “future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled”. The World Bank was similarly blunt about the economic consequences of our current path: “there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”
These and other reports laid out the evidence that the only option was transformational economic change because the alternative was simply unmanageable. Action was no longer a preferred outcome but an essential one. As the World Bank said “the projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur”.  Even the IEA, historically a kind of advocate in chief for the fossil fuel industry, came on board, pointing out that a stable climate and economy requires the majority of the global reserves of fossil fuels to never be burnt.
It is an extraordinary turn around when key mainstream economic institutions lay out the case for dismantling what is arguably the world’s most powerful business sector.
Of particular note in all this, observing both the message and the messengers, is that what was predominantly an ecological question is now primarily an economic one. This is a profoundly important shift, as economic risk is something society’s elites take very seriously.  It also unleashes another major potential tipping point which we seen signs of but is not yet in full flight. When non-fossil fuel companies understand the broad economic risk posed by the lack of climate action, they will become genuine and strong advocates demanding climate action – in their own self-interest. This is one to watch carefully as it will see a major shift in the politics when it comes.
The second tipping point in 2012 was the clear evidence that a disruptive economic shift is already underway in the global energy market. There are two indicators of this, with the first being the much noted acceleration in the size of the renewable energy market with dramatic price reductions and the arrival of cost competitive solar and wind. It is hard to overstate the significance of this as it changes the game completely, as various recent reports have shown.
Rooftop solar for example has grown so fast it is now eroding the profitability of major utilities by taking away their high margin income – peak pricing – and reducing demand. This is already seeing major economic disruption to companies and national economic infrastructure as this report from UBSon developments in Europe shows, with major shutdowns of coal plants now inevitable.
Of equal importance, and partly triggered by these market shifts, is the awakening of the sleeping giant of carbon risk, with open discussion in mainstream financial circles of the increasing dangers in financial exposure to fossil fuels. This has been coming for several years because of the financial risk inherent in the carbon bubble. As Phil Preston and I argued in a paper in 2010 and I further elaborated in The Great Disruption, the contradiction between what the science says is essential and the growth assumptions made by the fossil fuel industry is so large it represents a systemic global financial risk. This has been well articulated and more deeply explored by groups like Carbon Trackerwho have been taking the argument to the mainstream finance sector.
In 2012 this hit home, with significant economic and financial players like the IEA, HSBC and S&Ptalking about the concept of unburnable carbon and the financial risks in both investing in fossil fuels and in lending to coal, oil and gas projects. HSBC forecast a market value loss of 40 – 60% for oil and gas majors if the world acted to keep below 2 degrees. The IEA forecast the revenue loss in that scenario for the global coal industry would be  $1 trillion every year by 2035.
Combined, these two tipping points present the opportunity for the broad climate movement to achieve success, if they are understood and responded to appropriately by the activist, policy and business communities. But first they must be seen for what they are  – indications we are poised on the edge of a truly historic economic transformation – the end of fossil fuels and the building of a huge new industry sector.

  • To summarise:
  • – The science shows how we are not just failing to slow down climate change, but are in fact accelerating towards the cliff.
  • – In response, mainstream organisations focused on the global economy are becoming increasingly desperate in their calls for action, fearing the economic consequences if we don’t.  They are arguing that the only way the world can avoid the risk of breakdown is to transform the economy urgently and dramatically.
  • – Our capacity to do so is now real and practical, with the technologies required already being deployed at very large scale and at competitive cost. The size of the business opportunity now on offer is truly breathtaking.
  • – In response, the financial markets are waking up to the transformation logic – if the future is based in renewables and these are price competitive without subsidy, or soon will be, the transformation could sweep the economy relatively suddenly, even without further government leadership.
  • – This then puts in place an enormous and systemic financial risk – in particular investments in, or debt exposure to, the multi-trillion $ fossil fuel industry.
  • – This risk is steadily being increased by activist campaigns against fossil fuel projects (worsening each projects’ financial risk) and arguing for fossil fuel divestment (putting investors reputation in play as well).
  • – In response investors and lenders will reduce their exposure to fossil fuels and hedge their risk by shifting their money to high growth renewables.
  • – This will then reinforce and manifest the very trend they are hedging against.
  • – Thus it’s game on.

Is that it? Can we now sit back and expect the market deal with this?
Most definitely not.  It is probably true that the market would sort this out by itself if we had 60 years for it to do so. But we don’t. The science is clear that we have less than 20  – and this is where the opportunity for the climate movement emerges and why the choice of focus and strategy is now is so important. The task at hand is clear for policy makers, for business and investors as well as for the activist community.  It’s acceleration of existing momentum – to slow down fossil fuels and speed up clean energy. To make the 60 year process, a 20 year one.
It is now realistic to imagine removing the coal, oil and gas industries from the economy in less than 20 years.  Doing so is required if we are to have an 80% or greater likelihood of preventing the climate warming past 2 degrees C, a point past where the system could spin out of control.
What we are now hearing from major international economic institutions is that this is a binary choice. Either this happens or we head for social and economic breakdown. As the World Bank argues, the latter “must not be allowed to occur”.
Timing is the key shift the world needs to make in its thinking – this is no longer about the future, it’s about now. We don’t have 20 years to decide to act; we have 20 years to complete the task. If we follow the science, then in 20 years we must have removed the coal, oil and gas industries from the economy and replaced them.  It’s simple, it’s urgent and perhaps most importantly, it’s now achievable.
History gives us many examples of dramatic economic shifts – like the arrival of the computer chip and with it, the internet, the emergence of communications technologies and other facilitators of globalisation. We also have many examples of “whoops” moments – points when we realise after the event something was a very bad idea. Like tobacco, asbestos, lead in fuels and paint, ozone depleting CFCs and various other chemicals. Collectively, this tells us something very important. While each case is different, we are capable of transformational economic change and while it’s often disruptive and always fiercely resisted, we regularly do it.  This is much larger in scale but the same processes apply.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that this kind of economic transition is OK. That’s how markets works and while it will be challenging and require huge effort, it will work out. Yes, huge amounts of wealth will be lost and gained in the process, industries, countries and cities will face massive economic and practical restructuring challenges and many people will suffer in the process. But that’s how market shifts happen.
Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase “creative destruction” to describe this process and to explain why it’s the underpinning strength of capitalism, calling it:  ”A process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”
But while we can be comfortable that this process will deliver the required outcome, it’s not going to be smooth or pleasant for many participants. It will rather be messy, highly controversial and see huge amounts of value and employment both destroyed and created as the economy restructures around the necessary reality of a post fossil fuel economy.  I’m neither relaxed about this nor naïve about the scale of the challenge.  I just accept that it’s now inevitable. I also know we can do it and that we simply have no choice.
Of course, the losers will fight all the way to the end, using every argument, manoeuvre and delay they can think of. We should expect nothing else of them and, realistically, most of us would do likewise faced with similar circumstances. But they will still lose.
I do not however think we should demonise the fossil fuel industry or the people involved in it. The job to remove this industry has to be done – the future of civilisation literally depends on it – but we can do this firmly and clearly without making it personal.  As I’ve said in recent speeches on this topic – with some humour but a serious message – “we have to remove the coal, oil and gas industries from the economy with love and compassion.” This is the tough love of responsible parenting – the kids don’t like it but it’s still the right thing to do.
So with some surprise, this is where we find ourselves. It still won’t happen without focused and determined effort, but for the first time, we can envisage victory in the decades long fight on climate change. The science is clear, the technology is ready, significant sections of the elite are on side and the financial momentum is with us.
And this time, the economics is playing on the same side as the environment. Just in time.

The $10 cell phone has arrived – and with it, economic opportunity

By Channtal Fleischfresser | March 18, 2013, 3:10 AM PDT
On a recent trip to Shenzhen, China, a group of MIT students discovered that you can buy a cell phone there for as little as $10. While the cost of mobile phones has continued to decrease over time, the fact that you can buy a gadget that can make phone calls and send text messages (and has a working battery) for that price is pretty astonishing. The head of MIT’s Media Lab, Joi Ito, reckons that these are likely the world’s cheapest phones.

A $10 price tag means that virtually anyone in the world can afford a mobile phone. Moreover, in parts of the world where basic phones are still more predominant than the “smart” variety gaining steam in the developed world, local infrastructure makes these gadgets more powerful than even smartphones in rich countries.
In Kenya, more than 30 percent of its GDP is fueled by M-Pesa, a mobile payments system that operates via text message. (See a video about M-Pesa here.) Though they may make life easier, smartphones in developed countries have not yet become anywhere near as important to driving economic growth.
Despite the rapid proliferation of smartphones in many countries, basic mobile phones still account for the majority of those used around the world. And given the tremendous economic possibilities for mobile payment systems to create economic growth, perhaps the most basic, cheapest cell phone might make it the world’s most useful.
Photo: Flickr/Erik Hersman
via [Quartz]  Extract from:

Growth in wireless-only subscribers heralds changes for Internet access

By Mari Silbey | March 13, 2013, 2:05 AM PDT


A significant percentage of American consumers have no wired broadband connection at home, relying instead on smartphones to connect to the Internet. If the trend continues, it heralds a substantial near-term change in Internet access patterns.
John Horrigan, a vice president at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says an estimated 7 percent of U.S. consumers already are dependent on smartphones for Internet access.
That number may not sound high, but if the growth at all parallels the shift from landline voice service to cellphones across American households, the access market could be on the cusp of radical change.
A report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in December found that more than one-third of households were cellphone-only for voice service as of the first half of 2012, the latest period for which data are available.
There are plenty of reasons to expect a continued rise in wireless-only broadband consumers, too.
More people are buying smartphones. The analyst firm International Data Corporation (IDC) projects that vendors will ship 918.6 million smartphones in 2013, an amount that takes total smartphone shipments past those of feature phones for the first time.
And wired service is expensive. A report by the Federal Communications Commission notes that the average cost of a standalone broadband plan advertising speeds of between 5 and 15 megabits per second is $44 per month in the United States.
At the same time, telecommunications companies are prioritizing investments in wireless broadband service over wired. Verizon has virtually stopped its FiOS fiber-to-the-home deployments, and AT&T is in the process of phasing out its copper-based DSL business.
While paying for one broadband service as a consumer is cheaper than paying for both home and mobile Internet access, the wireless-only option has its disadvantages.
Horrigan, who contributed to the U.S. government’s 2010 National Broadband Plan for improving Internet access across the U.S., says people do a narrower range of activities online when connecting from a phone. The smaller screen size and slower speeds factor into that reality but so, too, do mobile data caps. Limits on monthly mobile Internet usage are drastically more restrictive than the limits on usage for fixed broadband connections. Many mobile data plans cap users at two gigabytes per month, while in contrast, Comcast, the largest Internet service provider (ISP) in the United States, currently sets a ceiling of 300 gigabytes per month for home broadband subscribers.
Horrigan believes that if the wireless trend continues, it will inevitably lead to new broadband business models.

“My hunch going forward, aside from data caps, is people will — whatever means they go online — more than likely, people are going to want to have the opportunity to experience Internet on screens larger than smartphone screens today. And I think consumer preferences are going to drive service offerings in that directions, and I think … we should probably be thinking in terms of the multiplicity of access devices people may have as opposed to just having one tablet, or a laptop, or ultimately a smartphone… Given the multiplicity of devices, it is going to have to be a fairly unconstrained way of providing service.”

What Horrigan is suggesting is that providers will have to come up with a solution that affords wireless-only users the ability to do more online than their current mobile plans allow.
There’s a tremendous upside to mobile broadband service, including the potential to make Internet access more broadly available to the public.
However, it’s far from a technology panacea, and it could lead to a new type of digital divide; one where some users enjoy premium Internet service, and the rest make do with the limitations of a wireless connection.
Image credit: vernieman’s Flickr photo stream
Courtesy of:

Why carbon capture and storage will never pay off ………..

By Chris Nelder | March 6, 2013, 1:50 AM PST

Article extracted from: 


Will carbon capture and storage (CCS) ever pay off?

For many years, we’ve been told that CCS systems and processes will allow us to reduce carbon emissions and stop global warming while continuing to use fossil fuels. CCS has been a key assumption of the “450 Scenario” in the International Energy Agency’s annual energy outlook reports, in which the world can meet its energy needs while keeping atmospheric carbon concentration below 450 parts per million (ppm). If you read the news, you might even think CCS systems are well on their way to becoming a commercial reality.

But the fact is, they aren’t. And current trends suggest they never will be.

The main reason is the cost. Finding good data on the cost of CCS is difficult, because it simply doesn’t exist. No commercial-sized power plants equipped with the technology have been built yet. All of the cost data we have are estimates based on engineering designs, which are notorious for being much lower than reality.

Two things are clear: Since 2004, the cost of building a new power plant equipped with CCS has been escalating rapidly along with the costs of all construction commodities (like oil and steel). And those costs are now rising above the cost associated with power generation from renewables.

High costs

CCS is really a catch-all term for a variety of technologies and processes. The first part, carbon capture, usually imagines that devices will be integrated into the exhaust end of coal- or natural gas-fired power generation plants, removing some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The second part, storage (aka sequestration), imagines that the captured CO2 will be compressed into a liquid, then either buried permanently underground or sold for use in industrial processes. For example, CO2 is used to make soft drinks fizzy, and to loosen up oil from old reservoirs as part of “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR) operations.

Various kinds of CCS have been imagined for capturing CO2 out of ambient air, as a way to deal with widely dispersed emissions from things like vehicles, but those ideas really belong in the category of “geo-engineering” and would be far more expensive and difficult than capturing concentrated CO2 straight out of a power plant. CCS has also been eyed for emissions from cement factories, blast furnaces for steel production, fertilizer factories, and other industrial facilities, but the main focus is on power plants. If we can’t make CCS work for power plants, we probably can’t make it work anywhere, so I am focusing on that here.

Cost estimates for CCS vary widely, by whether the capturing technology is to be added to an existing plant as a retrofit, or built into a new plant; by the type of power plant (such as a “supercritical” or “ultra supercritical” coal plant, or an “integrated gas combined cycle” plant); by the type of fuel (usually coal or natural gas); by when the carbon is captured (post-combustion, pre-combustion, or “oxy-fuel,” in which coal is burned in pure oxygen rather than air to produce purer CO2 emissions); by the type of CO2 transport (pipeline or another method); and by the type of storage (porous underground saltwater formations, EOR projects, depleted oil and gas reservoirs, unmineable coal seams, and so on).

Given all the variations, one 2011 study from the Global CCS Institute, a group whose membership “covers more than 80 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions from energy and industrial sources,” offered a cost range of $38 to $107 per tonne of captured CO2, which isn’t terribly helpful.

Many CCS cost studies cite data from 2009 and earlier, so they don’t reflect current costs (after the commodity boom). The most recent cost data I was able to find was in a June 2012 paper from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “Federal Efforts to Reduce the Cost of Capturing and Storing Carbon Dioxide,” which analyzed five engineering studies on building a new coal-fired power plant equipped with CCS.

In addition to ruling out retrofits, which are generally deemed to be cost-prohibitive, the CBO report focused exclusively on the post-combustion approach, “because that technology is the only one that is compatible with the most commonly used designs for electricity-generating plants.”

The summary results are shown in the following table.


The right way to compare different power generation technologies is on a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) basis, which gives the average cost of producing electricity over the lifetime of a plant, including the costs of construction, financing and operation. Adjusted for inflation, the CBO chart shows that the LCOE of a new coal plant with CCS is about $90 to $150 per megawatt-hour (MWh) in 2013 dollars, or $0.09 to $0.15 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

The main reason CCS is expensive is that it takes a lot of equipment to capture, purify (if the CO2 is to be sold), liquefy, transport and bury CO2. According to the CBO analysis, the average capital cost of a CCS-equipped coal plant would be 76 percent higher than a conventional plant and the LCOE for a CCS-equipped plant would average 76 percent more than for a conventional plant.

All that equipment consumes a lot of energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the energy requirements of post-combustion carbon capture reduce the plant’s efficiency by 20 to 30 percent. A 2007 study from MIT foundthat a CCS retrofit of an existing subcritical pulverized coal plant would reduce the plant’s electrical output by more than 40 percent. Reduced energy output means higher prices for the energy that’s not consumed by the plant itself.

Cheaper alternatives

How does the $0.09 to $0.15/kWh cost of a CCS coal plant compare with competing alternatives, such as conventional natural gas-fired power plants not equipped with CCS or renewables?

According to the Annual Energy Outlook 2012 from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the cost of power from a conventional natural gas power plant without CCS is $0.0686/kWh, making it the cheapest clean(-ish) way to generate power. This is one reason why natural gas has been pushing coal off the grid, as I detailed last year in “Regulation and the decline of coal power.”

Now consider the cost of utility-scale solar power, which has been dropping like a stone in recent years. That data can be hard to come by, since the price of power embedded in a power purchase agreement (PPA) isn’t usually disclosed, but we do have numbers from a few new PPAs.

In the California Public Utility Commission’s Renewable Portfolio Standards report for the first and second quarters of 2012, the weighted average price of approved contracts for 140 MW of distributed solar PV was less than $90/MWh ($0.09/kWh).

On Jan. 8, 2013, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported, “Currently, the cost of solar energy through a power purchase agreement from a large solar power plant over 200 MW [megawatts] is about $0.095/kWh.”

On Feb. 2, 2013, Greentech Media reported that the PPA price for the 50 MW Macho Springs solar project in New Mexico was $0.0579/kWh; after including the state production tax credit, the price was $0.0849/kWh.

Recent plants under contract in Michigan are coming in at about $0.091/kWh, according to Energy Fact Check.

Greentech Media solar analyst Scott Burger gave me a few final data points. The 23 MW SunEdison project in Hemet, Calif., came in at around $0.08/kWh, he estimated. Generally, his organization is seeing PPAs in the $0.07 to $0.09/kWh range.

At that price, a new coal plant is already a non-starter. Michigan’s Public Service Commission estimates that a new coal plant would cost ratepayers around $0.133/kWh, and Bloomberg saysthe average price of power from a new coal plant is $0.128/kWh.

Meanwhile, the cost of CCS keeps going up, and the cost of solar keeps going down.

Massive subsidies needed

The fossil fuel industry and its partners in government realize that CCS isn’t going to work without massive public sector investment.

In answer to my questions about Shell’s Quest CCS project in the Alberta tar sands, a PR spokesperson with Edelman Digital Public Affairs in Washington, DC, told me that “current carbon prices do not support the economics of the project, which is why government support is required for the project to proceed.” But Shell hopes that “as the costs of the technology come down and the price of carbon increases, CCS will become more economic.”

“Without government support, CCS will not become economic,” echoes ICO2N (the Integrated CO2 Network), a group of Canadian companies representing the coal and tar sands industries. They hope that with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment by the Canadian government into CCS research, CO2 sales for EOR will make the economics work in the meantime.

But the CBO study questions whether CCS could ever scale up to the point where it could stand on its own. It would take more than 200 gigawatts (GW) of new generating capacity equipped with CCS to reach that point, the report suggests, and “under current laws and policies, utilities are unlikely to build that much new generating capacity. . . or invest in adding CCS technology to much of their existing capacity for many decades.”

All these studies agree that carbon emissions allowances must be priced much, much higher for CCS to become economically viable.

The Global CCS Institute estimates that CO2 would have to be priced at $23 to $92 per tonne. In a 2011 paper, the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants found that coal-fired CCS power plants would be “close to becoming commercially viable” only at €35 ($46) per tonne of CO2.

The non-industry view is much less optimistic. A new research paper by Richard Middleton of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Adam Brandt of Stanford University estimates that “significant capture and storage occurs only above $110/tonne CO2 in our simulations.”

Unfortunately, global carbon markets aren’t pricing CO2 emissions anywhere near these levels.

The current price for carbon in the EU Emissions Trading System is just €5 per tonne. The new California CO2 allowance is $13.62 per ton, and the proposed U.S. carbon tax would be about $20 per ton.

With the future of carbon policy so uncertain in the United States and abroad, it’s not at all clear that carbon prices will rise to the point where investing in CCS makes sense.

At the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January, I asked Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the IEA, what would happen to their 450 Scenario if CCS didn’t work out. “We need at least 10 large demonstration projects to scale up from pilots to commercial installations,” she acknowledged. “But nevertheless you can see it has slipped down the political agenda. It’s true. It’s costly, there are too many other issues at stake, people are afraid of it sometimes because they don’t want to have it stored underground, because it’s ‘terrible,’ it’s something they are afraid of. So in some way or the other at this moment CCS doesn’t fly. It doesn’t.”

Cancellations and delays

A handful of demonstration-scale CCS projects are in progress, with most of them hoping to become operational over the next several years.

Aside from the Shell project, a December 2012 update by Politifact lists six more that are well under way, including the roughly $200 million Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage project in Decatur, Ill.; the $2.88 billion Kemper Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant in Kemper County, Miss.; the $2.5 billion Texas Clean Energy Project in Penwell, Texas; the $2.8 billion Hydrogen Energy California Project in Bakersfield, Calif.; and the $1.65 billion FutureGen 2.0 project in Meredosia, Ill., a revival of the original (and much-ballyhooed) FutureGen plant that was scotched in 2011 over escalating costs.

But the recent cancellation of several large projects doesn’t bode well.

The $278 million Swan Hills Synfuels project and the $1.4 billion TransAlta project, both in Canada, have been scrapped due to cost and cheap natural gas. American Electric Power’s $668 million Mountaineer Station in New Haven, West Va., which used gasified coal, was recently cancelled due to the “current uncertainty of U.S. climate policy and the continued weak economy.” FutureGen 2.0 is reportedly months behind schedule. SourceWatch lists many other delayed or cancelled projects around the world.

These may sound like big-ticket items, and they are. One wonders if that money wouldn’t be better spent on building already-cheaper renewables, and it would. But the coal companies and tar sands operators are fighting for their lives, and spending a few billion here or there on a saving grace like CCS probably seems like a relatively small price to pay.

I am doubtful that CCS will ever pay. The cost curves for renewable power suggest that solar and wind will undercut the cost of CCS on new or retrofitted gas and coal plants before 2020, when CCS proponents hope that it will become economically viable.

One new analysis by UBS found that the LCOE from unsubsidized new rooftop solar photovoltaic in the United States is $0.24/kWh, making it cheaper than grid power in 11 European countries. And U.S. utility-scale solar power priced at less than $0.09/kWh (and falling) is very tough to beat.

Unless the world decides to price carbon aggressively before those renewable cost curves fall much lower, CCS looks like a dead man walking.

Photo: eyeliam/Flickr

* Correction: Several cost/kWh figures were incorrectly stated in the original version of this article. They have been corrected. I regret the errors.

Facebook updates the News Feed: Everything businesses need to know (and you really need to know it)

Extract from:

Friday, 08 March 2013 10:35
Patrick Stafford

More Sharing Services

The latest updates to Facebook’s News Feed are not only crucial progress from the company as it faces more competitors, but a call to action for SMEs, experts warn.

With more emphasis on photographs and the ability for users to divide their News Feeds into separate categories, social media experts are now saying combining your updates with larger, high quality photographs is more important than ever.

The change – which incorporates elements from other networks such as Google+ – is also set to possibly make Facebook advertising more appealing.

“The majority of people using Facebook are on mobile devices and so visual is definitely the key,” warns CP Communications head Catriona Pollard.

“And that goes for personal pages and company pages as well. Status updates which have images or that are visually appealing tend to get shared more than ones which don’t have images.”

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage last night to announce one of the biggest updates to the Facebook News Feed in its history.

The announcement is significant – the News Feed is the heart of the Facebook product. This is not only where users see updates on posts, comments and their friends’ activity, but it’s also where company status updates are posted.


More importantly, the News Feed is a space advertisers value most.

“What we’re trying to do is give everyone in the world the best personalised newspaper,” Zuckerberg said. He’s referring to the ability to now separate News Feeds based on content.

Users can now switch between feeds for photographs, music, links, and friends’ activity. You can also read a specific News Feed just for updates from companies you’ve “liked”, which means every post a business makes now has to stand out even more.

Zuckerberg was very clear to draw a line between the types of posts shared by our friends, and from publications. Users can even make more lists of their own.

The update will be brought to mobile as well, so users will be able to view categories of News Feed updates on the go.

But the biggest update businesses need to worry about is pictures. Now, posts which feature pictures are given more prominence on the News Feed by increasing in size. Pictures were already the premium way to share content, ad users are more likely to share a visual than text-based message, but now, experts say, it’s even more important.

“The posts that are the ones which get the most reads and most clicks are those that have an image which relate to the story, and have some content that relates to what the article is about,” Pollard says.

When publications and businesses post a photo, the text is no longer posted separately. Now, the text is put on top of the photo, which makes snappy, more interesting captions all the more relevant.

The update is big news for advertisers, whose ads will be much bigger on the News Feed. With Facebook struggling to increase its mobile revenue, this may be a way of clawing more cash from the smartphone format.

The takeaway here for SMEs is how they can make their content more engaging. If businesses are already updating fans with rich, creative content, they shouldn’t stop, but simply try to find ways to marriage that content with high-quality images.

And if businesses are thinking of advertising, now’s the time to jump in. Bigger images may make the ads more effective.

“Ultimately, it’s all about the advertisers,” says Pollard. “The visual stuff is good for the users, but ultimately, the question for Facebook is how it can make that content more engaging.”

Tablets overtake smartphones as preferred web browsing device

Friday, 08 March 2013 10:20

Andrew Sadauskas
Consumers using tablets now drive more traffic to websites than smartphone users, according to new figures from Adobe.
However, the figures, posted on Adobe’s digital marketing blog, also show that a remarkable 84% of traffic comes from desktop and laptop PCs, compared to 7% from smartphones and 8% from tablets.
However, Adobe’s figures also appear to show that the US and UK appear to be leading the trend, with Australian tablet traffic falling slightly under the amount of traffic sent by smartphones.
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