December 16, 2014

News from France’s ‘Left Front’

by @ 7:52 am. Tags:
Filed under Environment, Left Unity, Socialism

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 'The Era of the People': 'Citizens’ Revolution' and Ecosocialist Vision

    [The people] are supposed to exercise power through parliamentary assemblies. But the financial oligarchy which rule our present situation have taken upon themselves the right to veto their decisions. This is why the system doesn’t fear the left, which it has been able to control … But it has a clear-headed fear of the people. Since it is the people who directly and physically contend with them for power with a spontaneous program that is the negation of the established order. -- Jean-Luc Mélenchon

By Liam Flenady
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Dec 10, 2014 - In October, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new book, The Era of the People (L’Ére du Peuple) was published. In it Mélenchon, until earlier this year the co-director of France’s Left Party (Parti de Gauche) and the 2012 presidential candidate for the Left Front (Front de Gauche), outlines “a theory of the citizens’ revolution” and the rationale for his new political project the Movement for the 6th Republic.

The relatively short tome (just under 150 pages) assembles sociological and cultural analysis, and reflections on geopolitical, economic and environmental themes in order to put the case that “the people” are the new social agent for the fundamental social change necessitated by the growing ecological crisis.

The Movement for the Sixth Republic (or M6R) is gaining support within France, with more than 70,000 now signed on to its online statement, including numerous public and political figures. Recent support from dissident Socialist Party members and Green Party members has broadened its support and legitimacy. On December 10, the new online social network was launched, which provides space for citizens to discuss, debate, propose ideas and actions, and organise themselves at a local level.

The campaign feeds into the heart of an ongoing debate in French politics that has threatened to destabilise the main political force to the left of the governing Socialist Party, the Left Front – a coalition of the Communist Party, the Left Party and other left forces. The debate initially centred on whether or not to form alliances with Socialist Party members during local elections, but now has become a fully fledged debate about the status of the established left and the strategy for anti-capitalist struggle and staving off the rise of the far right in France.

‘The left can die’

The first chapter is titled “The left can die”, ironically quoting Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and it opens with the provocation: “Here is the first political fact with which we must work: there no longer exists any global political force in the face of the invisible party of globalised finance.” The old left of social democracy is dead, welcome to the era of the people.

The general attack on social democracy quickly becomes a sharp critique of the ruling Socialist Party in France, with Mélenchon denouncing current president François Hollande for being worse than his right-wing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. Mélenchon spends some time apologising for his support for Hollande in the second round of the presidential elections in 2012, saying, “I would have never believed that he would betray his electors so quickly, so massively, so totally.”

Mélenchon savages Hollande, outlining a huge list of the president’s crimes, from immediately backing down on his promise to renegotiate the fiscal pact, to giving 40 billion euros to the CAC 40 (a French stock index), to allowing joblessness and homelessness to rise, increasing the pension age, blocking Bolivia’s President Evo Morales from French airspace at the behest of the US government, his support for Benjamin Netanyahou when Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza. Despite positioning himself, during his presidential campaign, as “an enemy of finance” Hollande has been one of the most active leaders in Europe opposing a tax on financial transactions.



December 7, 2014

Smart Grid: A Small Town in Germany Becomes a Testing Ground

by @ 5:03 pm. Filed under Green Energy, Solar

By Laurie Guevara-Stone via Rock Mountain Institute

Nov 5, 2014 - A small German town in southern Bavaria is participating in an interesting experiment proving that a high-renewables future is viable. Wildpoldsried (pop. 2,600) currently produces 500 percent more energy than it needs through renewable energy systems, and sells the surplus power back to the grid.

Though this is celebrated as a huge success in many circles, it’s not without its challenges, including how to integrate such a large local surplus of renewable energy into the greater grid while maintaining network stability. Which is why regional utility AÜW and Siemens chose Wildpoldsried to test out a smart grid that automatically stabilizes the power network.

Becoming prosumers

The story began in 1997, when Wildpoldsried mayor Arno Zengerle and the city council decided they wanted to revitalize the community and encourage growth without incurring debt. The town adopted the Innovative Leadership Plan, WIR-2020, to reinvent Wildpoldsried based on renewable energy, green building, and water resource protection. As part of the plan the town set a goal of producing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Things happened much faster than planned—17 years later, the town now has five biogas plants, almost 5 MW of solar PV, 11 wind turbines with a total capacity of more than 12 MW, a biomass district heating network, three small hydro power plants, and 2,100 square meters of solar thermal systems. While the first two wind turbines were partly financed by a small grant from the state of Bavaria, local residents—many of them dairy farmers—have financed all following turbines. Those turbines, which generated over 17,000 MWh of electricity in 2013, have a payback of 10 years, and then generate 80 percent of the earnings of the dairy farms.

All public buildings, 120 private residences, and 4 companies are connected to the district heating system. The biomass for the system is all sourced from waste wood from local forests and generates 8.2 MMBtu of heat each year. The majority of the PV systems in the town are on private residences—about 200 homes now have rooftop solar. Nine municipal buildings including the primary school, recycling facility, and sports center also have PV systems. The electricity generated from the solar, wind, and biomass is sold to AÜW under a fixed-price 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA).

IRENE to the rescue

While all this excess renewable energy is bringing in over $7 million a year in revenue, it was also causing a headache for AÜW, which has to maintain grid stability. So in 2010 AÜW chose Wildpoldsried as the site for a smart grid experiment. Meanwhile, Siemens was looking for a grid operator to test its new smart grid technologies. The two teamed up and launched a $6 million project called IRENE—Integration of Regenerative Energy and Electric Mobility.

The first step in IRENE was to install 200 measuring devices at renewable energy systems throughout the town. The devices measure different electrical variables such as current, voltage, and frequency, to determine who’s feeding energy into the grid, who’s consuming energy from the grid, and to find any problems affecting the network’s stability. Once any problems are identified, a variable transformer offsets voltage fluctuations. The town has also incorporated 138 kWh of battery storage into the system, which receives and discharges electricity to help stabilize the grid.
Keeping the grid stable with SOEASY

The key to the smart grid is a self-organizing automation system called SOEASY, which balances supply and demand to keep the grid stable. It is IRENE’s brain, so to speak. SOEASY considers weather, electricity prices, power quality, and other factors when deciding whether to send electricity into the grid or to storage. It’s actually more complex than the name makes it sound. SOEASY contains five different software modules—the personal energy agent, balance master, area administrator, network transport agent, and energy police.

    Personal energy agent—Every “prosumer” in the town has a personal energy agent. This small device allows the energy producer to dictate how much power he or she wants to sell, at what time, and at what minimum price, in 15-minute intervals. It is, in some sense, a distributed energy resource marketplace on the scale of one town embedded in a far larger grid.

    Balance master—The balance master is installed at AÜW and decides which personal energy agent offers it will accept to cover demand in the grid. It can plan adjustments up to a day in advance, and takes into account different parameters such as weather changes.

    Area administrator—The area administrator helps AÜW maintain network stability if too much energy is being fed into the grid. The area administrator can modify the input from different sources via commands to their personal energy agents, can send energy to storage, or can adjust the voltage through the variable transformer.

    Network transport agent—The network transport agent (NTA) collects data from the energy producers, consumers, and the grid, and supplies it to the area administrator, which intervenes if maximum voltage is exceeded, and to the balance master, which decides what power can be accepted without overloading the grid.

    Energy Police—The energy police makes sure that all energy producers supply the power promised by their personal energy agents, and that no power is illegally siphoned off.

Integrating EVs into the smart grid

One way to help balance the grid is to use electric vehicles to store excess energy. Wildpoldsried now has 32 electric vehicles that are leased to residents. When there’s an energy surplus, the vehicle’s batteries are given charging priority. The plan for the future is to have the vehicles return electricity to the grid in case of power shortages.

IRENE ended in 2013, and the developed smart grid now serves as the foundation for IREN2 (Future Viable Networks for Integration of Renewable Energy Systems). The goal of IREN2 is to study how energy systems with distributed power generation, battery storage, district heating, biogas plants, and diesel generators can be technically and economically optimized.

The renewable energy systems in Wildpoldsried have done more than help Germany move towards its renewable energy goals. The renewable energy systems have created 140 new jobs, led to construction of an ecological training center, and increased tourism, with over 100 delegations visiting the town each year. The increased revenue has allowed the town to have its own doctors, recreation center, fire station, and other amenities not available in many other towns of a similar size. And the success of the smart grid will enable places to develop even larger smart grids for all of Germany and the world.

Bildrechte Shutterstock.


November 27, 2014

High Design: Green Power from Waves

by @ 1:12 pm. Filed under Green Energy, High Design, Technology

WaveNET – the floating, flexible wave energy generator

WaveNET - a floating, flexible, modular and massively scalable wave power generation idea ...

By Loz Blain via Gizmag

Nov 26, 2014 - WaveNET - a floating, flexible, modular and massively scalable wave power generation idea under testing in Scotland

Scotland's Albatern is putting a new, modular spin on renewable energy generation. WaveNET is a scalable array of floating "Squid" generator units that harvest wave energy as their buoyant arms rise and fall with the motion of the waves. Each Squid can link up to as many as three others, effectively creating a large, floating grid that's flexible in every direction. The bigger this grid gets, the more efficient it becomes at harvesting energy, and the more different wave movements it can extract energy from. Albatern's 10-year target is to have 1.25 kilometer-long floating energy farms pumping out as much as 100 megawatts by 2024.

How it works

Each Squid unit in the WaveNET array consists of a central ballast pole, surrounded by three buoyant floats that connect to the central post with linking arms. The linking arms connect to the central post with a fully articulating pump unit at each end, thus any movement of the arms as the floats move in the water causes those pumps to create hydraulic energy.



‘Solidarity Economy’ Among Structural Reforms Needed for Ferguson and St Louis

What now? Three ways to tackle structural injustice

By Clarissa Hayward, Lynn Oldham and Laura Rosenbury

St Louis Post-Dispatch Op-Ed

Nov 24, 2014 - In the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the single most important question St. Louis faces is: “What now?”

How will we respond to this conflict that has gripped our city for the past three months? How will we change the longstanding racial and economic inequalities that fueled it? What will we do differently, going forward?

A satisfactory answer to these questions must begin by acknowledging that injustice in St. Louis is not just about Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. It is not just about the choices and the decisions that individual St. Louisans make. It’s also about the structures — the laws, the social, political, and economic institutions, the urban and suburban spaces — that inform and shape those choices.

Real change must be structural change. Specifically, St. Louis needs to tackle structural injustice head-on with institutional reforms that acknowledge our social and economic interdependence. Many in our community are already working to create more jobs, to reform our municipal court system, and to reconsider our approaches to policing, among other initiatives. All of this work is important. Yet we believe now is the time to be even bolder.

Throughout the region, concerned citizens are asking how St. Louis might be transformed with sufficient money, expertise and commitment. This year, the gross metropolitan product of the St. Louis region is $147.1 billion. We propose investing 1 percent of our region’s wealth to achieve three game-changing goals.

First, we must create what some call a “solidarity economy.” New investments in St. Louis will transform its economic landscape only if properly directed to those who have been consistently left at the bottom. We should invest in small, black-owned businesses, worker cooperatives that offer child care and other community services, mutual aid societies, barter clubs, and other groups developing alternative currencies. We should ensure that all members of our community have a guaranteed income that enables them to meet their basic needs.



November 18, 2014

Why Private Companies Grow Fast in Socialist China

by @ 6:30 am. Filed under Capitalism, China, Socialism


By John Ross via

Nov 16, 2013 - This structure explains why China, a socialist country, has the world's most rapidly growing private sector. China affirms the dominance of its state sector, but whereas in the West state and private companies are seen as counterposed, in China, for the structural reasons given, they are seen as complementary.

The economic structure of China has produced the greatest economic growth in world history. As Nicholas Lardy, one of the chief U.S. writers on China's economy, recently summarized: "China's growth since economic reform began in the late 1970s is unprecedented in global economic history. No other country has grown as rapidly for as long."

China's economic structure reinforces the world's most dynamic private sector. While the state should not own companies in sectors dominated by small scale competition, and in China it does not, this does not mean such companies do not require the state. Economic theory shows an efficient competitive market requires preconditions - perfect knowledge of market conditions, simultaneous price adjustments, and minimal or zero transport costs.



November 16, 2014

Radical New Economic System Will Emerge from Collapse of Capitalism

Domino effect

Current economic system is headed for collapse says Jeremy Rifkin. Photograph: Linda Nylind/Linda

Political adviser and author Jeremy Rifkin believes that the creation of a super internet heralds new economic system that could solve society’s sustainability challenges

By Jo Confino via The Guardian, UK

Nov. 7, 2014 - At the very moment of its ultimate triumph, capitalism will experience the most exquisite of deaths.

This is the belief of political adviser and author Jeremy Rifkin, who argues the current economic system has become so successful at lowering the costs of production that it has created the very conditions for the destruction of the traditional vertically integrated corporation.

Rifkin, who has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and heads of state, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, says:

No one in their wildest imagination, including economists and business people, ever imagined the possibility of a technology revolution so extreme in its productivity that it could actually reduce marginal costs to near zero, making products nearly free, abundant and absolutely no longer subject to market forces.

With many manufacturing companies surviving only on razor thin margins, they will buckle under competition from small operators with virtually no fixed costs.

“We are seeing the final triumph of capitalism followed by its exit off the world stage and the entrance of the collaborative commons,” Rifkin predicts.

The creation of the collaborative commons

From the ashes of the current economic system, he believes, will emerge a radical new model powered by the extraordinary pace of innovation in energy, communication and transport.

“This is the first new economic system since the advent of capitalism and socialism in the early 19th century so it’s a remarkable historical event and it’s going to transform our way of life fundamentally over the coming years,” Rifkin says. “It already is; we just haven’t framed it.”



November 13, 2014

US-China Climate Deal a Turning Point

by @ 10:34 am. Filed under China, Climate, Green Energy

Thank You, John Podesta!

President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China at a joint news conference Wednesday in Beijing, China. (Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images)

By Tom Hayden via

Nov. 12, 2014 - Top presidential aide, John Podesta, slipped off to Beijing last month to secretly negotiate the US-China climate agreement announced this week. One might say, borrowing from Naomi Klein, that "this changes everything." Podesta simply notes, "It's a big deal."

The climate strategy based on diplomacy with China has been pursued by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, California Governor Jerry Brown and environmental groups including NRDC, which has a staff of thirty there. The new announcement opens the path for a growing Green Bloc of regions building clean energy economies while waiting and wondering about the commitments of the greatest power emitters. Between them, China and the US are responsible for 40 percent of carbon emissions.

Regional grass-roots strategies have been the catalysts. In China, the angry residents of cities like Beijing are challenging the state over deadly smog. In the US, environmentalists and social justice activists have built constituencies in many states, led by California. Three Chinese provinces already are working on collaborative clean energy programs with California.

The US-China agreement overnight supercharges the quest for a global agreement by 2015 in Paris. It will raise expectations for the drafting meeting scheduled to begin in Lima December 1. It breathes new life into California's effort to find partners. California is being urged by environmentalists to at least double its pace on the road to a 100 percent renewable energy economy by mid-century.



November 12, 2014

Tapping Our Local Fusion Energy Reactor, Since Every Solar System Has One

by @ 2:51 pm. Filed under China, Green Energy, Green Industry, Solar

Looking Forward: the Sun Could Be the World's Top Source of Energy in 2050

The International Energy Agency predicts solar power will supply nearly 30 percent of the world's electricity.

By Kristine Wong via

Sept 30, 2014 - If the International Energy Agency is right, you just might want to invest in solar company stocks: According to the IEA, the sun could be the world’s No. 1 source of energy by 2050.

The agency predicts in two new reports that solar will meet nearly a third of the world’s electricity demand, with photovoltaic panels like those found on residential rooftops generating 16 percent of the planet’s power. Solar thermal power plants, which use the sun’s heat to create steam that drives a turbine, will supply another 11 percent.

Replacing fossil fuels with all that solar energy would avoid the release of 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide by mid-century. That’s nearly equivalent to the carbon emissions of all planes, trains, and automobiles worldwide, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.–based trade group.

“This report reiterates what we already know: Clean, renewable solar energy is poised to meet our electricity needs,” SEIA spokesperson Ken Johnson said in an email.

What’s driving the solar boom?

China, largely. The country is expected to account for 37 percent of the world’s solar capacity by 2050. The rapid expansion of the Chinese photovoltaic panel industry has helped make solar electricity increasingly affordable and competitive with fossil fuels. Solar panel prices, for instance, have fallen 80 percent in recent years, and by 2050, the IEA predicts the retail cost of solar electricity will drop by 65 percent.



November 6, 2014

Millionaire Grocery Clerks: The Amazing WinCo Foods Story

by @ 4:20 pm. Filed under Economic Democracy, Solidarity Economy

Customers bag their own groceries at a WinCo foods location (Credit: Joe Jaszewski/AP)

By Mary Josephs via Forbes

In Corvallis, Oregon, a couple miles north of the Oregon State University campus, sits a WinCo Foods discount supermarket and, unless you’re in need of groceries, you might drive by without noticing it. I assure you, however, it’s an extraordinary building, a laboratory of capitalism worthy of pilgrimages by the world’s great business schools.

Inside the store labor 130 employees of WinCo – grocery clerks, shelf stockers, display builders, bakery workers – and their combined retirement savings roughly comes to an astounding $100 million. And that figure is growing rapidly, such that in a few years the average wealth of these employees could easily exceed $1 million. Quite a few individual workers already have account balances above that level.

Outside of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, the WinCo store represents an unusually concentrated – and unlikely — grouping of millionaires. The secret to their wealth is employee ownership. Since 1985, WinCo, which operates 98 stores across eight states from its headquarters in Boise , Idaho, has been employee owned, with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, as the vehicle for its workers’ main retirement savings. (WinCo also has a 401k and about 70% of workers participate.)

The company is by all indications well managed, grows steadily and provides its clientele of families on a budget a combination of low prices, wide selection and efficient and friendly service. Sales for fiscal 2015 are expected at about $6 billion. Same store sales growth and expansion into new markets have propelled WinCo’s profits and thus its ESOP stock past competitors and, indeed, past most growth stocks. The shares have risen at a compounded annual rate of about 20% since 1986. Purchased for $10 million from its former owners in 1985, company workers today hold shares valued at close to $3 billion.



November 4, 2014

Chinese-led Consortium Wins Mexican High-Speed Rail contract

by @ 6:57 am. Filed under China, Green Industry, High Design, High-Speed Rail
Alternately, Why the US Is Crippled by Lack of a Green Industrial Policy

Chinese-led consortium wins Mexican rail contract

CRH380 (China Railway High-speed) Harmony bullet trains are seen at a high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province, early Dec 25, 2012. (Photo / Agencies)

By Xinhua

Nov. 4, 2014 - MEXICO CITY - A Chinese-led consortium has won the bid to build Mexico's first high-speed train project, local media reported Monday.

Mexico's Ministry of Communications and Transport (SCT) announced at a press conference that the group, which includes the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) and a handful of Mexican construction firms had been granted the contract.

The 50.8-billion-pesos (about US$3.7 billion) project involves building a bullet train line to connect the national capital of Mexico City with the growing industrial hub of Queretaro to the north by 2017. It is expected to shorten travel times from about 2 hours to less than one hour. 

"Today the results of the bidding on the Mex-Qro High-Speed Train were released (and) the winner is China's CRCC company," SCT head Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said via Twitter.

The SCT's director of Rail Transport, Pablo Suarez Coello, told reporters that "China's Exim Bank will finance 85 percent of the project," the daily Excelsior said.

A second high-speed train is being considered to link Mexico City with Toluca, the capital of the industrial central State of Mexico.


October 29, 2014

Methane Clouds: Yet Another Reason to Transition to Green Renewables

by @ 6:14 am. Filed under Environment, Green Energy

NASA Confirms A 2,500-Square-Mile Cloud Of Methane Floating Over US Southwest

By Mike G via desmogblog,com

When NASA researchers first saw data indicating a massive cloud of methane floating over the American Southwest, they found it so incredible that they dismissed it as an instrument error.
But as they continued analyzing data from the European Space Agency’s Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography instrument from 2002 to 2012, the “atmospheric hot spot” kept appearing.

The team at NASA was finally able to take a closer look, and have now concluded that there is in fact a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane—roughly the size of Delaware—floating over the Four Corners region, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all intersect.

A report published by the NASA researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters concludes that “the source is likely from established gas, coal, and coalbed methane mining and processing.” Indeed, the hot spot happens to be above New Mexico's San Juan Basin, the most productive coalbed methane basin in North America.

Methane is 20-times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, and has been the focus of an increasing amount of attention, especially in regards to methane leaks from fracking for oil and natural gas. Pockets of natural gas, which is 95-98% methane, are often found along with oil and simply burned off in a very visible process called “flaring.” But scientists are starting to realize that far more methane is being released by the fracking boom than previously thought.

Earlier this year, Cornell environmental engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea released the results of a study of 41,000 oil and gas wells that were drilled in Pennsylvania between 2000 and 2012, and found newer wells using fracking and horizontal drilling methods were far more likely to be responsible for fugitive emissions of methane.

According to the NASA researchers, the region of the American Southwest over which the 2,500-square-mile methane cloud is floating emitted 590,000 metric tons of methane every year between 2002 and 2012—almost 3.5 times the widely used estimates in the European Union’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research—and none of it was from fracking.
That should prompt a hard look at the entire fossil fuel sector, not just fracking, according to University of Michigan Professor Eric Kort, the lead researcher on the study:

“While fracking has become a focal point in conversations about methane emissions, it certainly appears from this and other studies that in the US, fossil fuel extraction activities across the board likely emit higher than inventory estimates.”


October 28, 2014

A Job Builder Worth Fighting For: City-Owned SuperFast and LowCost WiFi

Brad Shirley installs a wireless mesh access point in Foxwood Heights at the intersection of Peggy Lane and Line Street in  Chattanooga

32 US Cities Commit to Community-owned Broadband Internet Access

By Cat Johnson via Sharable

Oct 21, 2014 - This past Monday, a coalition of representatives from 32 cities across the U.S. joined together to address the pressing need for fast, reliable and affordable high-speed Internet. Organized by Next Century Cities, the bipartisan initiative is designed to help cities create their own community broadband networks because big telecom companies don’t provide broadband to all areas of the country.

Among the challenges facing city leaders trying to implement community broadband service are cost, infrastructure issues, and the reality that in many places there are laws that prohibit community broadband. As Jason Koebler, staff writer at Motherboard reports, “Throughout the country, companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, and Verizon have signed agreements with cities that prohibit local governments from becoming internet service providers and prohibit municipalities from selling or leasing their fiber to local startups who would compete with these huge corporations.”

The Next Century Cities coalition will work together to bring competitive, gigabit speed Internet to their cities as a way to create jobs, improve health care and education, offer residents vital infrastructure and attract business. Two of the member cities, Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee already have gigabit service and Austin, Texas has Google fiber. Their experience will be vital in helping other cities challenge big telecom business for the right to create community broadband.

In a statement, Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities said that the mayors are "rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done and that Next Century Cities will be there to support their goals."

“Across the country, city leaders are hungry to deploy high-speed Internet," she says, "to transform their communities and connect residents to better jobs, better health care, and better education for their children."

The plan for Next Century Cities is to “engage with and assist communities in developing and deploying next-generation broadband Internet.” In sharing best practices, information and strategies, participating cities will learn from each other and raise awareness of the fact that high-speed Internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessary utility.


October 22, 2014

Why It Matters if You Have a Green Industrial Policy vs. a Military-Industrial Policy

China’s High-Speed Bid for California

Oct.  22, 2014 - STATE-BACKED China CNR Corporation is making a pitch to sell its high-speed trains to California, signaling China’s growing export ambitions for such technology after building the world’s longest network in just seven years.

It marks the first concrete attempt by China to sell high-speed locomotives abroad and establish itself as a credible rival to sector leaders such as Germany’s Siemens, Canada’s Bombardier and Japan’s Kawasaki.

CNR, its unit Tangshan Railway and US-based SunGroup USA are submitting an expression of interest to California’s US$68 billion high-speed rail project for a contract to supply up to 95 trains that can travel up to 354 kilometres per hour, SunGroup said.

“We believe that high-speed rail is something that China does very well, and it’s a product that we can export across the world,” SunGroup spokesman Jonathan Sun said, adding that SunGroup, CNR and Tangshan Railway had been working together for four years.

Manufacturers are expected to send in expressions of interest by today’s deadline to the California High Speed Railway Authority, which will later issue formal requests for proposals. About a dozen firms from places such as Japan and Spain are expected to compete, it said.

California has been candid about its desire for Chinese investment in the 1,287-kilometer line from Los Angeles to San Francisco. US media reports said governor Jerry Brown met Chinese rail officials in April last year, including those from Tangshan Railway, to discuss the project.

No estimates for the contract’s value have been published, but in its 2014 business plan the California High Speed Railway Authority estimated each trainset would cost US$45 million, based on a purchase of 70 vehicles.

“We haven’t officially gone out to bid yet. This is us saying to the industry that we need trainsets. They have to meet these standards,” said Lisa Marie Alley, deputy director of public affairs at the High-Speed Rail Authority.

She added: “We’re asking: ‘Are you interested in learning more, and do you think you could do this for us?’”

China has made no secret of its desire to export its high-speed technology abroad, having built over 12,000 kilometers of track at home in less than a decade. CNR and CSR Corp are China’s largest locomotive makers, while China Railway Construction and China Railway Group build track.

The country has helped or indicated its interest to build thousands of kilometers of high-speed track in countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, though it has yet to sell a high-speed train abroad. Premier Li Keqiang has led a drive to promote the technology in Thailand, Britain, Russia and India.

A Chinese consortium was the only competitor to present a bid for a tender to build a 210-kilometer high-speed line in Mexico, the Mexican government said last week.

Project details published on SunGroup’s website show the consortium is putting forward the CRH380BL train, a model used on the Shanghai-Beijing line, which can travel as fast as 380kph.

Sun said an initial order would probably be about 18-20 trains and that they would open a factory to make the trains in California if they won the bid, as required by US law.


October 15, 2014

Robotics: How Capitalism Is Making Conditions for Its Own Demise

by @ 10:52 am. Tags:
Filed under Capitalism, Cybernation, Technology, Unemployment
For as Little $20,000, Machines Handle the Tedious—With No Lunch Breaks; 'Fred, Hand Me That Wrench'

Robots Working Their Way Into Small Factories 

Photo By Taylor Glascock, WSJ

By Timothy Aeppel via The Wall Street Journal

Sept. 17, 2014 - Robots aren't just for the big guys anymore.

A new breed of so-called collaborative machines—designed to work alongside people in close settings—is changing the way some of America's smaller manufacturers do their jobs.

The machines, priced as low as $20,000, provide such companies—small jewelry makers and toy makers among them—with new incentives to automate to increase overall productivity and lower labor costs.

At Panek Precision Inc., a Northbrook, Ill., machine shop, 21 shiny new robots hum as they place metal parts into cutting machines and remove the parts after they are done. It's a tedious and oily task once handled by machine operators who earn about $16.50 an hour.

One new robot doubled the output from a machine that was previously operated by a worker "because robots work overnight and don't take lunch breaks and they just keep going," says Gregg Panek, the company's president. In some cases, the robots, which are single articulated arms, can even hold a part while it's getting cut since there is no danger of injury.

Robots have been on factory floors for decades. But they were mostly big machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and had to be caged off to keep them from smashing into humans. Such machines could only do one thing over and over, albeit extremely fast and precisely. As a result, they were neither affordable nor practical for small businesses.

Collaborative robots can be set to do one task one day—such as picking pieces off an assembly line and putting them in a box—and a different task the next.

Some are mobile and able to range freely inside a factory. The use of advanced sensors means they stop or reposition themselves when a person gets in their way, solving a safety issue that long kept robots out of smaller factories.



October 8, 2014

In the Works: Totally Transparent Solar Cells Could Turn Our Windows Into Solar Panels

by @ 10:09 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Design, Solar

‘Ultimately, we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.’

By Ben Shiller via Fast CoExist 

In the future, you'll be able to charge your phone just by placing it in the sun, and you'll generate electricity through your windows, not just from the panels on the roof. How? By covering glass in a material that captures energy from the invisible parts of the light spectrum, but still lets in visible light. In other words: translucent solar cells.

"When you look at tall buildings, there is a tremendous amount of surface area. They can act as efficient collectors throughout the day," says Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Michigan State University. "In many buildings, we are already installing films to reject infrared light to reduce [heating and cooling] costs. We aim to do something similar while also generating power."

Molecules in the film absorb energy and "glow." The glowing infrared light is then pushed to the sides, where it's converted to electricity using edge-mounted strips of solar cells.

Lunt has co-founded a company, Ubiquitous Energy, to commercialize his team's work. He reckons we could see the first applications within five years.

It's likely the films won't be as efficient as solar panels, even today's relatively inefficient versions. At the moment, they convert only about 1% of incoming energy, compared to a typical rate of 20% for today solar panels. But the films could be cost-effective if spread over large areas--say on the side of skyscrapers. They could also be a useful addition to tablets and smartphones.

"Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there," Lunt says.

Ben Schiller is a New York-based staff writer for Co.Exist, and also contributes to the FT and Yale e360. He used to edit a European management magazine, and worked as a reporter in San Francisco, Prague and Brussels


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