Category Archives: Green Energy

‘Ethical’ funds still pouring money into coal, oil and gas, new report finds

Rupert Jones reports for The Guardian:

‘Should ethical investment funds be putting millions of pounds of people’s money into oil, gas and coal companies?

A new report says too many UK ethical funds are still invested in fossil fuels and heavily polluting industries, at a time when growing numbers of people are looking to reduce their exposure to these sectors.

Launched to coincide with Good Money Week (the new name for National Ethical Investment Week), which kicks off on Sunday 19 October, the report from ethical independent financial adviser firm Barchester Green names the “sinners” and “winners” of the multibillion-pound ethical and environmental funds industry.’


More US Communities Opting to ‘Go Local’ with Greener Power Supply

Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams:

‘In the face of a mounting carbon crisis and the lack of action by commercial utility companies to adopt greener energy solutions, communities across the nation are opting to take hold of the power—literally!—and switch to more local, less polluting energy sources.

Reporting from Sonoma County, California on Tuesday, LA Times reporter Evan Halper highlights this growing trend known as Community Choice Aggregation. Established by law in six states thus far, including California, CCA allows communities to pool their energy load and then direct the purchase of their energy supply while working in partnership with existing utilities, who then deliver the power.

Established by law in six states thus far, CCA is an energy supply model that works in partnership with the region’s existing utility which continues to deliver power, maintain the grid, and provide customer service and billing.’


Business Insider’s 18 Most Innovative Cities

Drake Baer writes for Business Insider:

Cape Town, South Africa‘Cities might be humanity’s greatest invention — if you listen to Harvard economist Ed Glaeser, author of  “Triumph of the City.”

“So much of what humankind has achieved over the past three millennia has come out of the remarkable collaborative creations that come out of cities,” he said in an interview. “We are a social species. We come out of the womb with the ability to sop up information from people around us. It’s almost our defining characteristic as creatures. And cities play to that strength.”

Indeed, many modern metros are pushing the limits of industry, design, and urban planning, while rethinking the way people live and work.’


Report: World faces water crises by 2040

Renee Lewis reports for Al Jazeera:

‘Globally, there has been a three-fold population increase in the past century and a six-fold increase in water consumption, the report said. If trends in population and energy use continue, it could leave a 40 percent gap between water supply and demand by the year 2030. In most countries, including the United States, energy production is the biggest source of water consumption — even larger than agriculture, researchers said. In 2005, 41 percent of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. was for thermoelectric cooling, according to the study.

Power plants produce excess heat, requiring cooling cycles that use water. Only wind and solar voltaic energy production require minimal water. “If we keep doing business as usual, we are facing an insurmountable water shortage — even if water was free, because it’s not a matter of the price,” Sovacool said.  Researchers said nuclear power and coal — the most “thirsty” power sources — should be eventually replaced with more efficient methods, especially renewable sources like wind and solar, the report said.’


Oil-producing Iran looks to solar power

Ali Akbar Dareini reports for the Associated Press:

‘President Hassan Rouhani’s government has quintupled its spending on solar power projects in the last year, taking advantage of Iran’s 300-odd days of sunshine a year that make its vast sun-kissed lands one of the best spots on earth to host solar panels. While being good for the environment, the panels also offer rural Iran steady power amid uncertainty over the country’s contested nuclear program as it negotiates with world powers.

And as the Islamic Republic cuts back on subsidies that once made gasoline cheaper than bottled mineral water, a push toward self-sustaining solar power could help the government save money and bolster its sanctions-battered economy. “A big change is in the making in Iran,” said Saman Mirhadi, a senior official in charge of solar projects. Iran, home to some 77 million people, is a fossil-fuel powerhouse, even in the crude-oil rich Middle East. It is home to both the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves and massive natural gas reserves. However, sanctions have cut into the country’s refining and production capabilities.’


Pop-up solar station can take electricity, water and shelter anywhere

Becky Crew reports for Science Alert:

power‘How do we quickly get power to a remote village sitting miles off the grid or a bunch of homes hit by a natural disaster? “Not very easily”, would usually be the answer, but now we have ’the PowerCube’, a new ‘pop-up’ solar station that can be transported via shipping container and installed anywhere with the push of a button.

Developed over the past seven years by Ecosphere Technologies, a technology and licensing company in the US, the PowerCube is completely self-contained, remotely monitored and controlled, and can be manufactured in three different sizes to match standard shipping container varieties. The first model will be released this month.’


Nature inspired futuristic cities and living space

What Does a City of the “Third Industrial Revolution” Look Like?

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan reports for Gizmodo:

What Does a City of the "Third Industrial Revolution" Look Like?

This, apparently.

After several months of debate, officials in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana have chosen a final design for the massive site that will host the World EXPO 2017. The sprawling, wind- and sun-powered neighborhood was designed by Chicago architects Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the designers of Kingdom Tower—the forthcoming world’s tallest building in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.


Sonnenschiff: Solar City Produces 4X the Energy it Consumes

Andrew Michler writes for Inhabitat:

Although net-zero projects have been creating a lot of buzz lately in the field of green building, the Sonnenschiff solar city in Freiburg, Germany is very much net positive. The self-sustaining city accomplishes this feat through smart solar design and lots and lots of photovoltaic panels pointed in the right direction. It seems like a simple strategy — but designers often incorporate solar installations as an afterthought, or worse, as a label. Designed by Rolf Disch, the Sonnenschiff (Solar Ship) and Solarsiedlung (Solar Village) emphasize power production from the start by smartly incorporating a series of large rooftop solar arrays that double as sun shades. The buildings are also built to Passivhaus standards, which allows the project to produce four times the amount of energy it consumes!


The World’s Largest Solar Plant Just Started Creating Electricity

From Gizmodo:

The World's Largest Solar Plant Started Creating Electricity Today

Take 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors, each 7 feet high and 10 feet wide. Control them with computers to focus the Sun’s light to the top of 459-foot towers, where water is turned into steam to power turbines. Bingo: you have the world’s biggest solar power plant, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.

Long-mired by regulatory issues and legal tangles, the enormous solar plant–jointly owned by NRG EnergyBrightSource Energy and Google–has opened for business.


What if it’s a big hoax…?

Biggest Emitter China Best on Climate, Figueres Says

From Bloomberg:

China, the top emitter of greenhouse gases, is also the country that’s “doing it right” when it comes to addressing global warming, the United Nations’ chief climate official said.

The nation has some of the toughest energy-efficiency standards for buildings and transportation and its support for photovoltaic technology helped reduce solar-panel costs by 80 percent since 2008, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg News headquarters in New York.

The country is facing growing public pressure from citizens to reduce air pollution, due in large part to burning coal. Its efforts to promote energy efficiency and renewable power stem from the realization that doing so will pay off in the long term, Figueres said.

“They actually want to breathe air that they don’t have to look at,” she said. “They’re not doing this because they want to save the planet. They’re doing it because it’s in their national interest.”

China is also able to implement policies because its political system avoids some of the legislative hurdles seen in countries including the U.S., Figueres said.


Japanese engineers plan to turn the moon into a giant solar panel station

From The Independent:

It sounds like a tale from a science fiction novel, but a team of Japanese engineers really is hoping to turn the moon into a giant solar panel.

Shimizu, a giant civil engineering and construction firm, plans to install a ‘solar belt’ around the moon’s equator.

To be built almost entirely by remote-controlled robots, the Luna Ring would run around the 6,800 mile lunar equator and be 248 miles in width.

The solar energy collected would converted and beamed back to earth as microwaves and laser, where it would then be converted into electricity and then potentially supplied to the national grid.

Shimizu says the Luna Ring could generate a massive 13,000 terra watts of energy. The Sizewell B nuclear reactor in Suffolk produces 1,198 megawatts (MW).


Organic Lights and Solar Cells Straight from the Printer

From Science Daily:

Flickering façades, curved monitors, flashing clothing, fluorescent wallpaper, flexible solar cells — and all printable. This is no make-believe vision of the future; it will soon be possible using a new printing process for organic light-emitting diodes.

Time is slowly running out for bulky television sets, boxy neon signs and the square-edged backlit displays we all know from shops and airports. It won’t be long before families gathering together to watch television at home will be calling out: “Unroll the screen, dear, the film’s about to start!” And members of the public may soon encounter screens everywhere they go, as almost any surface can be made into a display. “These may just be ideas at the moment, but they have every chance of becoming reality,” says Dr. Armin Wedel, head of division at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm. The first curved screens were on display at this year’s consumer electronics trade show (IFA) in Berlin. The technology behind it all? OLEDs: flexible, organic, light-emitting diodes.


Brazil Cools on Nuclear Power Plans; Favors Wind

From Reuters:

Brazil will probably scale down its plans for new nuclear plants due to safety concerns following the 2011 radiation leak in Japan and pick up some of the slack with a “revolution” in wind power, the head of the government’s energy planning agency said.

Mauricio Tolmasquim, chief of the Energy Research Company, told Reuters it was “unlikely” the government would stick to its plans to build four new nuclear plants by 2030 to meet rising demand for electricity.

He declined to specify how many might be built instead.

Tolmasquim’s comments, part of a broad assessment of Brazil’s long-term strategic plans for electricity generation, highlighted continued global doubts regarding nuclear power more than two years after an earthquake and tsunami led to an accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.


British Gas profits hit £22 per second but firm refuses to rule out further price rises

From The Mirror:

British Gas today refused to rule out a price RISE – despite making a £356million profit in the first half of the year.

The bumper haul – equivalent to £22 a second – was fuelled by a 13% jump in gas use as households cranked up the heating to keep warm over the winter and angered customers and critics.

It also followed a 6% price increase last November.

Despite the profit, up more than 3% on the same time in 2012, it hinted that bills could rise again before next winter.

Nick Luff, finance director at British Gas owner Centrica, said: “We will keep prices as low as we can for as long as we can.

“If prices do have to go up, we will delay it for as long as possible.”

The company put the blame on Government green taxes which are added to all bills.

It warned the scheme, which has landed it with a £1.4billion cost, would “inevitably impact on customer bills ultimately”.

However, critics slammed the firm after it was revealed half-year profits at Centrica leapt by 9% to £1.58billion.


Lib Dems plan to ban most cars by 2040 causes outrage

Lib Dems plan 'to ban all cars by 2040' causes outrage (© Toyota)From MSN:

The Liberal Democrats are aiming to ban most cars from the roads by the year 2040, according to a party policy proposal. This would see only “ultra-low carbon vehicles permitted on UK carriageways for non-freight purposes”.

The party’s plans also include introducing a road pricing scheme, an initiative already mooted under the current Lib Dem-Conservative coalition government.

These new proposals, set to be discussed at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow next month, reveal how some party members want to outlaw all but the most environmentally friendly, low emissions private vehicles.

This could mean that the car you drive today – maybe even the cars you buy within the next decade – would not be allowed on UK roads by law in 2040. A focus on emissions, moving towards low-carbon vehicles by the year 2020 is already a current government policy.

However, sales of mass-produced ultra-low carbon vehicles – classed as electric or hydrogen-powered cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles – have yet to record any meaningful numbers.


Arizona’s biggest power utility wants to tax solar

From Tree Hugger:

Arizona’s biggest power utility, Arizona Public Service (APS), has announced their intention to implement what would effectively be a tax on the sun. The whole idea behind net-metering is that if you install a solar system on the roof of your house or business, you can buy power from the grid when you need it, and sell extra power when you have a surplus. Often these rates are advantageous to provide an incentive for renewable energy adoption, a very fair thing considering all the subsidies, direct and indirect, that fossil fuels have had for decades.

But APS would like to start charging a monthly fee to sell clean power back to the grid (in their Orwellian language, they call it a “convenience charge”). A source says that that the fee could be of around $100/month or $1,200/year, enough to change the economic attractiveness of small systems. It’s not entirely clear if the fee scales up for larger systems, but that seems likely.



Fridges could be switched off without owner’s consent to reduce strain on power stations ~ Telegraph

by Melanie Hall
The Telegraph

‘White goods such as electric ovens would be affected by the proposals to fit all new appliances with sensors that could shut them down when the UK’s generators struggle to meet demand for power.

The measures proposed by the UK’s National Grid, along with its counterparts in 34 European countries, to install the controversial devices are backed by one of the European Union’s most influential energy bodies.

They are pushing for the move because green energy sources such as wind farms are less predictable than traditional power stations, increasing the risk of blackouts

The proposals are outlined in documents drawn up by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), and has been agreed by the EU-wide body of energy regulators.

The proposals were sent to the European Commission on March 27, and it is set to deliver its verdict on the proposals within three months.’


Bristol Elections 2013: Greens have candidate standing in every seat as their popularity rises ~ This Is Bristol

THE Green Party in Bristol have launched their line up of candidates for the local elections.

The party has seen a rise in popularity in Bristol politics during the last year with Daniella Radice overtaking the Liberal Democrat vote in Bristol West in the mayoral election and Councillor Gus Hoyt being given a place on Bristol mayor George Ferguson’s cabinet.

The Greens have put up a candidate for every seat which is being contested.


Italian Police Seized $1.7 Billion Dollars In Cash And Property From A Single Person ~ BBC

Carbon floor price launches at £16 per tonne ~ Business Green

by Jessica Shankleman

The government has imposed a minimum price for companies emitting carbon, despite concerns that the measure will drive up energy bills while having a negligible impact on global greenhouse gas emissions.

The new carbon floor price, which came into effect today, will see firms charged £16 per tonne of CO2 for fuels used for power generation this year.

The move is designed to provide a long-term price signal for low-carbon investors and will increase gradually every year to reach the Treasury’s goal of £30 per tonne by the end of the decade, and £70 per tonne in 2030.

But businesses and green groups have consistently warned that in setting a carbon floor price that is significantly higher than in the rest of Europe, the Treasury will simply drive heavy energy users out of the UK, a problem dubbed “carbon leakage”.

According to figures published last week by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), an average energy intensive business will pay £130,000 for the carbon floor price in 2013, rising to £1.1m in 2020.

The EU Emissions Trading System has been in meltdown over the past 12 months, caused by the economic crisis and a surplus of carbon allowances. Prices are currently languishing well below €5 per tonne, compared to a €37.78 high in 2008.


Councils say energy-saving lights are too dangerous for binmen ~ Daily Mail


Fears: One of the low-energy lightbulbs that are classed as 'hazardous waste'Councils across the UK are refusing to pick up low-energy lightbulbs from homes as they contain toxic mercury, which gives off poisonous vapours.

But confused consumers are putting the new bulbs – classed as hazardous waste – in their dustbins when they burn out, potentially putting the safety of thousands of binmen at risk.

Previously, the public disposed of traditional lightbulbs, used in Britain for 120 years, in a domestic bin.

However, they are being phased out under a European Union ruling and are being replaced with energy-saving bulbs, many of which contain mercury.

Last night UNISON, the union which represents thousands of rubbish collectors across Britain, said it was concerned at the risks binmen are facing.

A spokeswoman said: ‘We are worried as most people do not know these bulbs are not to be put in dustbins. The Government is not doing enough to make people aware of the risks.’

The most common types of low-energy bulbs are known as ‘compact fluorescent lamps’.

A study by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency found that when one of them breaks, it emits levels of toxic vapour up to 20 times higher than the safe guideline limit for an indoor area.

If a bulb is smashed, the UK’s Health Protection Agency advice is for householders to evacuate the room and leave it to ventilate for 15 minutes.

People are also advised to wear protective gloves while wiping the area of the break with a damp cloth and picking up fragments of glass – which should be placed in a plastic bag and sealed.

The advice then states the lightbulb should be taken to a council dump and placed in a special recycling bank because councils do not collect hazardous waste.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed many councils will not collect the bulbs. A spokesman said last night: ‘If a low-energy lightbulb breaks, the mercury contained in it does not pose a health risk to anyone exposed.’

Last week a Mail on Sunday survey revealed the lightbulb market had been thrown into chaos since the traditional bulbs began to be phased out.

We found it was almost impossible to find a direct replacement for old-style lightbulbs from the vast array of bulbs of different shapes and sizes, power and prices now on offer.


Man Invents Car That Runs On Air ~ ABC

How Hemp Threatens the Corporatocracy ~ Breaking the Set


Abby Martin takes a look at the real reason why hemp is illegal in the US, the truth might surprise you.

LIKE Breaking the Set @
FOLLOW Abby Martin @

Is Smart Making Us Dumb? ~ WSJ


[SB10001424127887324503204578320413880968212]Would you like all of your Facebook friends to sift through your trash? A group of designers from Britain and Germany think that you might. Meet BinCam: a “smart” trash bin that aims to revolutionize the recycling process.

BinCam looks just like your average trash bin, but with a twist: Its upper lid is equipped with a smartphone that snaps a photo every time the lid is shut. The photo is then uploaded to Mechanical Turk, the Amazon-run service that lets freelancers perform laborious tasks for money. In this case, they analyze the photo and decide if your recycling habits conform with the gospel of green living. Eventually, the photo appears on your Facebook page.

You are also assigned points, as in a game, based on how well you are meeting the recycling challenge. The household that earns the most points “wins.” In the words of its young techie creators, BinCam is designed “to increase individuals’ awareness of their food waste and recycling behavior,” in the hope of changing their habits.

BinCam has been made possible by the convergence of two trends that will profoundly reshape the world around us. First, thanks to the proliferation of cheap, powerful sensors, the most commonplace objects can finally understand what we do with them—from umbrellas that know it’s going to rain to shoes that know they’re wearing out—and alert us to potential problems and programmed priorities. These objects are no longer just dumb, passive matter. With some help from crowdsourcing or artificial intelligence, they can be taught to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible behavior (between recycling and throwing stuff away, for example) and then punish or reward us accordingly—in real time.

And because our personal identities are now so firmly pegged to our profiles on social networks such as Facebook and Google our every interaction with such objects can be made “social”—that is, visible to our friends. This visibility, in turn, allows designers to tap into peer pressure: Recycle and impress your friends, or don’t recycle and risk incurring their wrath.

These two features are the essential ingredients of a new breed of so-called smart technologies, which are taking aim at their dumber alternatives. Some of these technologies are already catching on and seem relatively harmless, even if not particularly revolutionary: smart watches that pulsate when you get a new Facebook poke; smart scales that share your weight with your Twitter followers, helping you to stick to a diet; or smart pill bottles that ping you and your doctor to say how much of your prescribed medication remains.

But many smart technologies are heading in another, more disturbing direction. A number of thinkers in Silicon Valley see these technologies as a way not just to give consumers new products that they want but to push them to behave better. Sometimes this will be a nudge; sometimes it will be a shove. But the central idea is clear: social engineering disguised as product engineering.

In 2010, Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette told an Australian news program that his company “is really an engineering company, with all these computer scientists that see the world as a completely broken place.” Just last week in Singapore, he restated Google’s notion that the world is a “broken” place whose problems, from traffic jams to inconvenient shopping experiences to excessive energy use, can be solved by technology. The futurist and game designer Jane McGonigal, a favorite of the TED crowd, also likes to talk about how “reality is broken” but can be fixed by making the real world more like a videogame, with points for doing good. From smart cars to smart glasses, “smart” is Silicon Valley’s shorthand for transforming present-day social reality and the hapless souls who inhabit it.

But there is reason to worry about this approaching revolution. As smart technologies become more intrusive, they risk undermining our autonomy by suppressing behaviors that someone somewhere has deemed undesirable. Smart forks inform us that we are eating too fast. Smart toothbrushes urge us to spend more time brushing our teeth. Smart sensors in our cars can tell if we drive too fast or brake too suddenly.

These devices can give us useful feedback, but they can also share everything they know about our habits with institutions whose interests are not identical with our own. Insurance companies already offer significant discounts to drivers who agree to install smart sensors in order to monitor their driving habits. How long will it be before customers can’t get auto insurance without surrendering to such surveillance? And how long will it be before the self-tracking of our health (weight, diet, steps taken in a day) graduates from being a recreational novelty to a virtual requirement?

How can we avoid completely surrendering to the new technology? The key is learning to differentiate between “good smart” and “bad smart.”

Devices that are “good smart” leave us in complete control of the situation and seek to enhance our decision-making by providing more information. For example: An Internet-jacked kettle that alerts us when the national power grid is overloaded (a prototype has been developed by U.K. engineer Chris Adams) doesn’t prevent us from boiling yet another cup of tea, but it does add an extra ethical dimension to that choice. Likewise, a grocery cart that can scan the bar codes of products we put into it, informing us of their nutritional benefits and country of origin, enhances—rather than impoverishes—our autonomy (a prototype has been developed by a group of designers at the Open University, also in the U.K.).

Technologies that are “bad smart,” by contrast, make certain choices and behaviors impossible. Smart gadgets in the latest generation of cars—breathalyzers that can check if we are sober, steering sensors that verify if we are drowsy, facial recognition technologies that confirm we are who we say we are—seek to limit, not to expand, what we can do. This may be an acceptable price to pay in situations where lives are at stake, such as driving, but we must resist any attempt to universalize this logic. The “smart bench”—an art project by designers JooYoun Paek and David Jimison that aims to illustrate the dangers of living in a city that is too smart—cleverly makes this point. Equipped with a timer and sensors, the bench starts tilting after a set time, creating an incline that eventually dumps its occupant. This might appeal to some American mayors, but it is the kind of smart technology that degrades the culture of urbanism—and our dignity.

Projects like BinCam fall somewhere between good smart and bad smart, depending on how they’re executed. The bin doesn’t force us to recycle, but by appealing to our base instincts—Must earn gold bars and rewards! Must compete with other households! Must win and impress friends!—it fails to treat us as autonomous human beings, capable of weighing the options by ourselves. It allows the Mechanical Turk or Facebook to do our thinking for us.

The most worrisome smart-technology projects start from the assumption that designers know precisely how we should behave, so the only problem is finding the right incentive. A truly smart trash bin, by contrast, would make us reflect on our recycling habits and contribute to conscious deliberation—say, by letting us benchmark our usual recycling behavior against other people in our demographic, instead of trying to shame us with point deductions and peer pressure.

There are many contexts in which smart technologies are unambiguously useful and even lifesaving. Smart belts that monitor the balance of the elderly and smart carpets that detect falls seem to fall in this category. The problem with many smart technologies is that their designers, in the quest to root out the imperfections of the human condition, seldom stop to ask how much frustration, failure and regret is required for happiness and achievement to retain any meaning.

It’s great when the things around us run smoothly, but it’s even better when they don’t do so by default. That, after all, is how we gain the space to make decisions—many of them undoubtedly wrongheaded—and, through trial and error, to mature into responsible adults, tolerant of compromise and complexity.

Will those autonomous spaces be preserved in a world replete with smart technologies? Or will that world, to borrow a metaphor from the legal philosopher Ian Kerr, resemble Autopia—a popular Disneyland attraction in which kids drive specially designed little cars that run through an enclosed track? Well, “drive” may not be the right word. Though the kids sit in the driver’s seat and even steer the car sideways, a hidden rail underneath always guides them back to the middle. The Disney carts are impossible to crash. Their so-called “drivers” are not permitted to make any mistakes. Isn’t it telling that one of today’s most eagerly anticipated technologies is a self-driving car, now on its way to being rolled out by Google?

To grasp the intellectual poverty that awaits us in a smart world, look no further than recent blueprints for a “smart kitchen”—an odd but persistent goal of today’s computer scientists, most recently in designs from the University of Washington and Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan.

Once we step into this magic space, we are surrounded by video cameras that recognize whatever ingredients we hold in our hands. Tiny countertop robots inform us that, say, arugula doesn’t go with boiled carrots or that lemon grass tastes awful with chocolate milk. This kitchen might be smart, but it’s also a place where every mistake, every deviation from the master plan, is frowned upon. It’s a world that looks more like a Taylorist factory than a place for culinary innovation. Rest assured that lasagna and sushi weren’t invented by a committee armed with formulas or with “big data” about recent consumer wants.

Creative experimentation propels our culture forward. That our stories of innovation tend to glorify the breakthroughs and edit out all the experimental mistakes doesn’t mean that mistakes play a trivial role. As any artist or scientist knows, without some protected, even sacred space for mistakes, innovation would cease.

With “smart” technology in the ascendant, it will be hard to resist the allure of a frictionless, problem-free future. When Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, says that “people will spend less time trying to get technology to work…because it will just be seamless,” he is not wrong: This is the future we’re headed toward. But not all of us will want to go there.

A more humane smart-design paradigm would happily acknowledge that the task of technology is not to liberate us from problem-solving. Rather, we need to enroll smart technology in helping us with problem-solving. What we want is not a life where friction and frustrations have been carefully designed out, but a life where we can overcome the frictions and frustrations that stand in our way.

Truly smart technologies will remind us that we are not mere automatons who assist big data in asking and answering questions. Unless designers of smart technologies take stock of the complexity and richness of the lived human experience—with its gaps, challenges and conflicts—their inventions will be destined for the SmartBin of history.


What if it’s a big hoax?

Energy in the UK: the coming crunch ~ Independent


Britain’s polluting coal-fired power stations must be kept open to “get us through” dramatic rises in wholesale gas prices over the next seven years – that is the unpalatable opinion of the outgoing head of Ofgem, the energy watchdog. Alistair Buchanan has warned that Britain faces five years of rapidly increasing electricity costs because of rising global gas prices at a time when new sources of energy generation such as renewables and nuclear are not sufficiently developed.

Ministers might need to look at extending the life of some of Britain’s coal-fired power stations unless they could facilitate a “revolution” in energy efficiency, he adds.

Mr Buchanan admitted that his warning on energy prices make him sound like the “grim reaper” but said it was important that consumers had the information they needed to make savings before bills rose: “We want to alert consumers to the fact that around 10 per cent of our (power stations) are coming off-line that could have been running to 2016. There is nothing being actively being built at the moment (and) even if the first new gas plant were to be started now it would not be in operation for four years. Things are going to be very tight in three years’ time.”

Britain currently has around 15 per cent of spare generating capacity but that will fall to below 5 per cent within the next three years. “People have been asking ‘where’s the new nuclear, where’s the clean coal, where’s the carbon capture’. It’s not there and it won’t be there this side of 2020.”

Mr Buchanan, who steps down in June after 10 years in the post, said it was inevitable that prices will rise as supply struggles to keep up with demand: “We’ve got to go shopping around the world for our gas. It’s just horrendous serendipity that just as we have a squeeze on our power and turn to gas, the global markets have a squeeze.”

Mr Buchanan said that part of the problem facing the UK was that environmental commitments to decarbonise the energy sector had been made before the financial crisis.

As a result the cost of capital to build a new generation of green energy has increased considerably and there have also been delays in raising capital.

This means there is now a gap between the point at which the Government is committed to shutting down old power stations and when their replacements will begin working. Combined with a predicted spike in gas prices due to rising demand from countries such as China and temporary restrictions in supply, this will result in significantly higher energy costs.

Mr Buchanan said that to get round this the Government needed to facilitate a “revolution in consumer habits” and encourage people to use programmes like the Green Deal to reduce demand. But he also suggested that the Government could provide incentives to ensure that some coal power stations could be have their life extended.


Obama gives Congress climate ultimatum: back me, or I go it alone ~ Reuters

President Barack Obama Delivers the State of the Union AddressPresident Barack Obama on Tuesday gave Congress an ultimatum on climate change: craft a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the dangers of a warming world, or the White House will go it alone.

“If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Congress should consider putting a price on climate-warming carbon emissions, Obama said, briefly nodding to his failed, first-term plan to confront climate change. Republican opposition means the president’s best chance to confront the issue will mean flexing executive power.

He vowed to push for more and cheaper solar and wind energy, and pledged to cut red tape to encourage more drilling for domestic natural gas, which he said had driven down fuel prices in the United States.

“But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water,” the president said.