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The end of this year’s climate bill 2010-Jul-26 at 13:18 PDT

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Yes, yes, I know… the climate bill is now a mere shadow of itself, with no cap-and-trade, and no requirements for new renewable energy sources.

And that means that the forces of greed and cowardice have won again, right?  (My apologies in advance for linking to a column from Dr. Doom himself.)

So… is it too late?  Has the U.S. Senate doomed the entire planet to a slow-cooked death?

Well… not exactly.

Ultimately, any energy solution that requires end-users to change their behavior is destined to fail.  Anything that requires companies and individuals to cut back, to buy from other sources, to pay more in taxes (which cap-and-trade is)… that’s just not going to get the job done.

Why?  Because we have to include a developmental perspective on climate solutions.  So, let me ask you a question: do you think egocentric Red or ethnocentric Blue is able to think in worldcentric terms?  In other words, do you think that the vast majority of people in the world (don’t forget to include China, India, and Africa) will, for this one issue, magically rise above their current level of development and make what some others would consider “the right choice”?

If you do… hell, you’re even more optimistic than I am.  Because I just don’t see it happening.  I see those billions of people far more interested in improving their families’ standard of living than I see them interested in whether or not an iceberg is bigger or smaller this year than last.  And that’s not a bad thing.  And it’s not a good thing.  It’s just a developmentally appropriate thing.  There’s no reason to get upset about it, and we already know that there’s every reason to expect it to be that way, because at an Integral level of development we understand developmental psychology.  This is what Red and Blue look like.  No judgments, just understanding.

And there remains every reason to open our hearts with love at the play of this beautiful spiral of development, flowing through every human being on Earth.

This is why I’m personally opposed to any sort of limitations or laws based on changing end-user behavior.  It’s a well-meaning but futile attempt to change things.

The only way we’re going to change the use of energy on Earth, and therefore move away from the sources that contribute to global warming (assuming that such theories are accurate) is to deal with it on the supply side.  We have to take a systemic view of our energy supply, and we have to change the way it’s generated in the first place.  Only through massive changes on the supply side will we be able to deliver virtually unlimited amounts of electricity to the billions of people in Asia and Africa who are poised to join the global economy, through the spread of globalization, in the next four decades.

Fortunately, those massive changes are coming.  Developments in nanotechnology-based manufacturing, solar, and battery are all on track to be able to supply 100% of the world’s need for energy within 20 years… whether the Senate passes a bill with cap-and-trade or not.  And government investment in these technologies?  Well… there’s so much profit to be made by whomever figures these out that government investment just isn’t necessary.  We already know that it’s a global business that’s worth trillions of dollars.

And it’s not the United States that’s going to lead this anyway.  So, relax… it’s OK.  The Senate didn’t just doom the planet.  Not that I think it’s a particularly wise institution at this moment in history, but in this case, we’re going to be just fine.

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The most powerful energy storage outside of nuclear 2010-Jul-07 at 14:16 PDT

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Solar power, is, as I constantly point out, right on schedule to be able to support all of Earth’s energy needs within 20 years (think exponential growth curves in nanotechnology-based manufacturing).  Along with solar, though, has to come a corresponding improvement in battery technology, since, you know, the sun doesn’t shine at night.

From Super battery is most powerful energy storage ever (besides nuclear power), by Boonsri Dickinson, 06-July-2010:

Washington State University researchers created a super battery.

Using similar pressures to what is found in the center of the earth, the researchers created a new material that could store unprecedented amounts of energy.

“If you think about it, it is the most condensed form of energy storage outside of nuclear energy,” says Choong-Shik Yoo, a WSU chemistry professor and lead author of results published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Is this ready for consumer production?  Of course not.  Is this yet another indication of the advances that continue to speed up in researching these topics?  You bet it is.

We need battery just as much as we need solar, and this is the kind of advancement that’s going on today, all over the world, in pure materials research.

The oil spill is not Ken Salazar’s or Barack Obama’s fault 2010-May-30 at 14:25 PDT

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Time for Salazar to go?, by Mark Hertsgaard, 27-May-2010

No, it’s not.  And this accident is not the President’s fault.  And there’s nothing he could have done to prevent it.  And there’s nothing the government could have done to stop the flow of oil by now.  This is an unprecedented disaster — one mile below sea level — and there is no known technology to deal with it, so engineers are inventing solutions right now.  It sucks, but that’s the situation.  BP and Halliburton screwed up in terms of building the well, they didn’t have the kind of mission-critical safeguards they should have had, and it led to a total systems failure.  My only complaint here is in terms of BP’s own processes to ensure that this kind of failure would never, ever, ever happen, which just weren’t nearly good enough.

And the only way that government regulators ever learn about these kinds of problems is in a reactive way, through some sort of systems failure.  It seems to me that those who think otherwise are unfamiliar with culture and structure in large organizations.  The bad hand we all got dealt is that, in this case, the level of failure that regulators could learn from wasn’t much smaller.  With a partial failure, for instance, we would have been able to change the inspection regime to make sure that something this big would never happen.  Unfortunately, the first failure was the biggest possible one.

We’ve seen this movie before with Obama. When Wall Street nearly crashed the global economy, Obama responded by listening to advisers—notably chief White House economic adviser Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner—whose sympathies lay with the megabanks that gamed the system rather than with the ordinary Americans who paid the price in the form of unemployment slips and foreclosure notices. The bailout plan Obama ended up backing was a great deal for Wall Street, a terrible deal for Main Street. What’s more, the president allowed himself to be seen during the bank bailout drama as taking the side of the villains rather than the victims—a damaging and unnecessary political choice.

Now, Obama is in danger of making the same mistake with the BP oil disaster. Substitute Salazar for Geithner, substitute continued offshore oil drilling after the worst environmental disaster in history for continued lax banking regulation after the worst financial breakdown in decades, and the parallel is complete. In his final remark of the press conference, Obama drew the parallel himself, saying, “As in the financial markets, when big crises happen, it forces us to do some soul-searching.” Obama signaled today he wants to look tough on BP and demand exemplary behavior from the oil industry in general. But credibly standing up to Big Oil is difficult when your administration’s point man on the issue has long been the industry’s chief cheerleader and shows few signs of changing his views. If Obama truly wants to chart a new course in dealing with the BP disaster and accelerating America’s transition to a clean energy future, he should start by requesting Ken Salazar’s resignation.

The parallels being drawn in these last two paragraphs between the financial crisis and this crisis are so distorted as to be laughable.  The assumptions are silly, and then the comparisons made between those silly assumptions and this situation stretch credulity.  Calling Salazar “the [oil] industry’s biggest cheerleader”? C’mon.

No one is happy about this, and this kind of knee-jerk search for the guilty is what I’d expect from both the extreme left- and right-wing publications (such as The Nation), but a moderate point of view allows us calmly to realize that we’re just in uncharted territory here, and we’re making it up as we go.

Is this a wake-up call about alternative energy sources?  I mean, sure, whatever.  There was already enough profit motive behind moving to renewable energy (particularly solar) before this incident to have it developing as quickly as it could.  It won’t come any sooner after this than it otherwise would have.  It’s not about government investment in it, it’s about private investment and research, and it’s coming right on time, and much faster than most people realize.

President Obama loses exactly none of my support around this issue.  He’s as frustrated and pissed as all of us are.  If there was a reasonable solution that involved using the U.S. Navy Submarine fleet, or divers, or sinking a decommissioned ship over the hole, or detonating a mine down there, or anything that the military could do, it would have been done already.  There’s nothing more that he can personally do… it’s up to the experts and the engineers now.  And they’re doing everything they can think of.

Quantum dot amplifiers… that go up to 11 2010-May-28 at 17:21 PDT

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Moore’s Law reaches its limit with quantum dot amplifier, by Dana Blankenhorn, 25-May-2010

A Russian-Japanese team has created a quantum dot amplifier, an “artificial atom” that can amplify an electronic signal, a central electronic function. The announcement follows by three years the same team’s creation of a quantum dot laser.

Quantum dots are often called artificial atoms because, while they are made up of multiple atoms, they can be treated in theory like single atoms, and their electron shells can be manipulated.

The ultimate goal of quantum dot researchers is the construction of a quantum computer — replicating all of a computer’s functions on a nano-level. But the dots have other uses as well. As I wrote here in January they can make nifty solar cells, too.

They don’t really go up to 11.  But they do start to address a fundamental limit to Moore’s Law: namely, that even though we’re making chips with smaller and smaller electronic pathways (Intel is manufacturing as small as 32nm right now), when we finally reach the size of individual atoms, we can’t go any smaller with current silicon-based technology.

Quantum computers take us off that path of miniaturization of existing technology, on to a whole new set of technologies that sidestep the problem, and carry us forward into a newer, far more powerful computing future.

And, like he said… this is good for the development of solar cells too.

The smoking gun on BP 2010-May-27 at 01:10 PDT

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BP Used Riskier Method to Seal Oil Well Before Blast, by Ian Urbina, 26-May-2010

Several days before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, BP officials chose, partly for financial reasons, to use a type of casing for the well that the company knew was the riskier of two options, according to a BP document.

The concern with the method BP chose, the document said, was that if the cement around the casing pipe did not seal properly, gases could leak all the way to the wellhead, where only a single seal would serve as a barrier.

Workers from the rig and company officials have said that hours before the explosion, gases were leaking through the cement, which had been set in place by the oil services contractor, Halliburton. Investigators have said these leaks were the likely cause of the explosion.

I try not to get too involved in the details of any of these big, horrible examples of Corporations Behaving Badly, because… well, I know.  I know they’re going to do it.  I know that some corporate cultures encourage it more than others.  I know that it’s inevitable, almost without regard for the developmental center-of-gravity of the company.  I just think that they’re the exceptions, not the rules.

And then you get an incident like this.  Simply put, the worst ecological disaster in the history of the United States.

It’s just such a punch in the gut, when you really let it sink in.  The worst ecological disaster, ever, and it happened on our watch.

We thought we were past this kind of thing.  We thought something of this magnitude would never happen now… that it was something from grainy video of the 1980’s, not from our world.

So now we’re seeing some of the problems that crop up when we let Orange/Achiever run amok, deregulated and even unregulated, in our financial systems, and our energy systems… and our food systems….

And the natural move over the coming years will be for more regulation, and Orange/Achiever will scream bloody murder the entire way, but we have to support Green/Individualist policies – shaving off the rougher edges – but moving us beyond the Orange/Achiever worldview into something that wishes to give a value to things not quantifiable.

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In the meantime… this is the outline of the case against BP, and it’s fairly damning.  I know it’s painful to dig into the details, but if you want to read just one article to explain quickly and succinctly what led up to the explosion of the oil rig, and at the same time allowed the automatic cut-off systems to fail, this is the one.

Jesus, it’s bad.  Let me just say, as someone who has spent a bit of time thinking about mission-critical systems, that this entire scenario is an unimaginable failure of risk planning and mitigation strategies for something that can’t ever, ever, ever fail.

Once it had failed, I do think that BP did everything it could think of doing to fix it, with no success thus far.

But once it had failed, it was too late.  There was no amount of cost savings on an individual well that would be worth the incalculable risk of complete system failure, and BP, through its culture, showed that it didn’t understand that simple fact… and therefore didn’t live up to its responsibility as a global corporation.

What kind of international legal treatment does a company that just screwed up this badly, this systematically, deserve?  What kind of legal responsibility do the Chairman and CEO have?  Is this the first international “death sentence” for a company we somehow hand down?

No, of course not – the Europeans don’t do capital punishment, right? – but the name “BP” is, for several generations, going to be associated first and foremost with an ecological disaster so awful it replaces the Exxon Valdez as the canonical example of one.

And in the meantime, this is going to be a very difficult time to be working at BP.  For years.  And whatever it has coming to it, from every legal system on Earth, it deserves.  But it’ll survive.

Until solar.

Samsung to invest $21B in new technology businesses 2010-May-10 at 23:41 PDT

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Samsung to invest US$21 billion in solar cells, LEDs, more, by Dan Nystedt, 11-May-2010

The 23.3 trillion Korean won (US$21 billion) investment is aimed at developing five new businesses that the company expects to create 45,000 new jobs and generate 50 trillion won in annual revenue for affiliate companies by 2020, Samsung said in a statement Tuesday.

The company has earmarked 6 trillion won [$5.3B] of the amount for solar cells, using crystalline silicon technology and thin film technology. Another 5.4 trillion won [$4.7B] will be used for rechargeable batteries for hybrid electric vehicles and 8.6 trillion won [$7.6B] will go to LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology for a range of power-saving applications, from computer screen backlights to car electronics and indoor/outdoor lighting.

On the medical side, Samsung will invest 2.1 trillion won [$1.8B] in biopharmaceuticals and 1.2 trillion won [$1.0B] in electronic healthcare equipment, starting from external diagnostic tools such as blood testing devices.

Let’s go over this again.

Five new multi-billion dollar business to step up and own these important emerging markets… markets that will be important over at least the next four decades.  This is exciting stuff.

Can you name a U.S. company that’s going to do anything like this?  I’ll be honest, I can’t.  But it’s important to know where we are as a nation right now in terms of being competitive in these areas, isn’t it?

Inexpensive solar panels coming from Lowe’s 2010-Apr-03 at 16:23 PDT

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Lowe’s move to sell solar panels will accelerate renewables, by John Dodge, 10-Dec-2009

The Andalay panels cost $893 each and the full 4,000 kilowatt system I have been envisioning would require 20-25 panels. But Andalay bills them as plug and play, suggesting easy installation and easy expansion as you go – you know, the stuff so-called experts will tell you can’t be done. Now it’s up to the utility companies to make tying into the grid plug and play.

This is the inevitable march of progress on solar energy.  In a few years, even this system will seem low-end, but know that a power grid completely run on solar is coming.