August 18, 2015

Australia’s Vast Geothermal Energy Resources Represent Thousands of Years Worth of Untapped Power

by @ 12:09 pm. Filed under Green Energy

Temperature readings taken in existing oil and gas bore holes indicate a huge amount of geothermal energy below the surface of Australia.

By Loz Blain

Solidarityeconomy.net via Gizmag

July, 5 2015 - Temperature readings taken in existing oil and gas bore holes indicate a huge amount of geothermal energy below the surface of Australia. (Credit: Australian Geothermal Energy Association)

Australia is sitting on top of some of the world's most potent geothermal energy sources, according to government estimates. Just one percent of the hot rock energy less than 5 km under the surface would be enough to meet the whole country's entire power needs for 26,000 years if it was tapped. So why aren't we seeing more movement on it?

Geothermal energy is a very handy, virtually inexhaustible clean energy source for those areas lucky enough to find themselves on top of it. Massive amounts of hot rock just below the Earth's surface can be used to heat water and drive steam turbines for reliable electricity generation with virtually no emissions or environmental impact.

Where wind and solar tend to generate power at inconvenient or uncontrollable times, geothermal can be easily regulated and is ready to go 24/7. Surveys testing the available heat in existing bore holes down to a depth of 5 km (3 miles) below the surface indicate that Australia is sitting on some seriously large hot rock resources, as shown in our lead image.

So why is this enormous resource apparently so underdeveloped?

Part of the answer is geographic. Much of Australia's hot rock is simply not conveniently located close to major cities. The big red splotch of prime red geothermal activity to the centre right of the map is more or less on top of a large, barren desert area several hundred kilometres from Sydney or Adelaide, and large scale power transmission can be an expensive proposition.

Another part is geological. Australia has a ton of hot rock, but not a lot of the highly porous rock that makes for easy power extraction. To generate power, you need to be able to pump large amounts of water into a deep rock hole and let the water filter through pores and cracks in the rock, picking up heat as it goes, and then pump the heated water back to the surface on the other side.

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July 1, 2015

Brick-Laying Robot Can Build a Full-sized House in Two Days

by @ 5:54 am. Filed under Cybernation, High Design

The Hadrian robot can lay up to 1,000 bricks per hour

High Design Revolutionizing Productive Forces in Construction

By David Nield
Solidarityeconomy.net via Gizmag


June 30, 2015 - As robots get smarter, cheaper and more versatile, they're taking on a growing number of challenges – and bricklaying can now be added to the list. Engineers in Perth, Australia, have created a fully working house-building machine that can create the brick framework of a property in just two days, working about 20 times faster than a human bricklayer.

    Hadrian is expected to go into action next year
    The boom is auto-corrected 1,000 times per second
    The robotic arm will eventually sit on a truck

Named Hadrian (after Hadrian's Wall in the UK), the robot has a top laying speed of 1,000 bricks per hour, which works out as the equivalent of about 150 homes a year. Of course there's no need for the machine to sleep, eat or take tea breaks either, giving it another advantage over manual laborers.

At the heart of Hadrian is a 28 m (92 ft) articulated telescopic boom. Though mounted on an excavator in the photo below, the finished version will sit on a truck, allowing it easier movement from place to place. The robot brick-layer uses information fed from a 3D CAD representation of the home for brick placement, with mortar or adhesive delivered under pressure to the head of the boom.

The boom auto-corrects itself 1,000 times per second to prevent interference from vibrations or sway. The concept is similar to the additive manufacturing process used by 3D printers, and it's several steps up from the Tiger Stone paver we've featured in the past, which is able to lay out a pattern of bricks on a flat road.

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June 20, 2015

China to Design New Russian High-Speed Railway

by @ 1:13 pm. Filed under China, High-Speed Rail, Mass Transit

 

An employee works on a high speed train model RH380B at a final assembly line of China CNR's Tangshan Railway Vehicle's factory in Tangshan, China. China is in talks with 28 countries including the United States, Russia and Brazil about high-speed rail projects. Photo: KIM KYUNG-HOON/REUTERS

Russia forced to look east for development knowhow after fallout with West

By Paul Sonne
Wall St Journal

June 19, 2015 - ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—China has signed up to design a high-speed railway between the Russian cities of Moscow and Kazan, one of the first concrete examples of the new business with China that Russian officials have been pursuing with renewed vigor since falling out with the West.

A unit of Russia’s state-owned JSC Russian Railways signed a contract Thursday with the design unit of China’s state-controlled China Railway Group to come up with the plans for a 770 kilometer high-speed rail between the two Russian cities. The Chinese firm will work alongside two Russian companies for on the designs for a total cost of 20.8 billion rubles ($383 million) over the next two years, according to Russian Railways.

Once the designs are developed, a separate tender will be held for the actual construction of the rail link, which Russian Railways expects to cost 1.06 trillion rubles ($19.5 billion). It is “likely” China’s rail developers will land that massive contract as well, but it isn’t guaranteed, Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin said in an interview Friday at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

“It is quite likely,” Mr. Yakunin said. “Of course the one who is participating in the planning has an advantage. This is obvious.”

Still, he said the final decision will be based not on who participates in the design stage but rather on what kind of financing, loans and other guarantees are on offer from the bidders. He said the tender would take place once the design is done.

Since falling out with the West over the crisis in Ukraine, the Kremlin has fostered a new era of close relations with China, turning to the east in search of finance, energy and infrastructure investment amid crimped options in Europe and the U.S.

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June 9, 2015

Why the Military-Industrial Complex is Bad for the Working Class

by @ 5:26 pm. Filed under militarism, Unemployment

They Are All Implicated: In the Grip of a Permanent War Economy

By Seymour Melman
SolidarityEconomy.net via Counterpunch

March 15, 2003 - Now, at the start of the twenty-first century, every major aspect of American life is being shaped by our Permanent War Economy.

Civilian manufacturing industries are being swept away as a war-focused White House and a compliant Congress sponsor deindustrialization of the U.S. (1) They favor production--in Mexico and China, where government powers bar independent unions. As production of both consumer goods and capital goods is moved out of America, unions and whole communities are decimated. Ghost towns are created across the country. That process is far along in industries that once invented machine tools, radios, and even TV's. Now the decay proceeds in "new economy" industries like computers and "Palm" type devices. The U.S. firms that sell such equipment typically assemble components that are manufactured elsewhere.

Capital goods have special importance in all this, for those are the tools and machines used to produce everything else. Jon Rynn has calculated that by 2004, 50% of all the production equipment required in the United States will have to be imported, mainly from Germany and Japan. (2)

Meanwhile, government financing is lavished without stint to promote every kind of war industry, and foreign investing by U.S. firms. The war priorities have depleted medical and education staffs. U.S. medical planning now includes programs to recruit large numbers of nurses from India. (3) Shortages of housing have caused a swelling of the homeless population in every major city. State and city governments across the country have become trained to bend to the needs of the military--giving automatic approvals to its spending without limit. The same officials cannot find money for affordable housing.

The Permanent War Economy of the United States has endured since the end of World War II in 1945. Since then the U.S. has been at war--somewhere--every year, in Korea, Nicaragua, Vietnam, the Balkans, Afghanistan--all this to the accompaniment of shorter military forays in Africa, Chile, Grenada, Panama.

So it should come as no surprise that there is no public "space" for dialogue on how to improve the quality of our lives. Such topics are subordinate to "how to make war". Congress under both Republican and Democratic control has voted the same war priorities into the federal budget.

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May 4, 2015

Seeds of Real Communism: Workerless Factories

Robots with intelligent sensors is examining the products. (Photo/Gov.cn)

Manufacturing hub starts work on first zero-labor factory

China Daily
May 04, 2015

A manufacturing hub in South China's Guangdong province has begun constructing the city's first zero-labor factory, a signal that the local authorities are bringing into effect its "robot assembling line" strategy.

Dongguan-based private company Everwin Precision Technology Ltd is pushing toward putting 1,000 robots in use in its first phase of the zero-labor project, China National Radio reported. It said the company has already put first 100 robots on the assembly line.

"The 'zero-labor factory' does not mean we will not employ any humans, but what it means is that we will scale down the size of workers by up to 90 percent," said Chen Qixing, the company's board chairman.

After the work on smart factory started, Chen predicted that instead of 2,000 workers, the current strength of the workforce, the company will require only 200 to operate software system and backstage management.

Under the current pressure of labor shortage, calls to use smart robots in cities around the Pearl River Delta (PRD), including Foshan and Dongguan, are becoming louder.

"It is necessary to replace human workers with robots, given the severe labor shortage and mounting labor costs," said Di Suoling, head of Dongguan-based Taiwan Business Association.

(more…)

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April 23, 2015

Steal This Idea: City Water Generating Green Power

by @ 9:43 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Design

A previous LucidPipe installation, with one of the turbines visible inside the pipe (Photo: Lucid Energy)

Portland to Generate Electricity Within Its Own Water Pipes 

By Ben Coxworth
SolidarityEconomy.net via Gizmag

Feb17, 2015 - There's a lot of water constantly moving through the municipal pipelines of most major cities. While the water itself is already destined for various uses, why not harness its flow to produce hydroelectric power? Well, that's exactly what Lucid Energy's LucidPipe Power System does, and Portland, Oregon has just become the latest city to adopt it.

LucidPipe simply replaces a stretch of existing gravity-fed conventional pipeline, that's used for transporting potable water. As the water flows through, it spins four 42-inch (107-cm) turbines, each one of which is hooked up to a generator on the outside of the pipe. The presence of the turbines reportedly doesn't slow the water's flow rate significantly, so there's virtually no impact on pipeline efficiency.


A diagram of the system (Image: Lucid Energy)

The 200-kW Portland system was privately financed by Harbourton Alternative Energy, and its installation was completed late last December. It's now undergoing reliability and efficiency testing, which includes checking that its sensors and smart control system are working properly. It's scheduled to begin full capacity power generation by March.

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April 16, 2015

Call the Midwife: A Green New Deal Struggles To Be Born

by @ 10:28 am. Filed under Climate, Green Energy

Is the Age of Renewable Energy Already Upon Us?

By Michael Klare
SolidarityEconomy.net via TomDispatch.com

April 16, 2015 - Consider the extremes of our present climate moment by the numbers. Recently, Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the former chief economist of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, did a little calculating. He was curious to find out just how much the planet’s temperature might rise if we managed to burn all the fossil fuel reserves that “can be extracted with today’s technology.”

Without beating around the (burning) bush, the answer he came up with was a staggering 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in perspective, climate science suggests that unless we keep the temperature rise from the burning of fossil fuels under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) catastrophic changes are likely to occur, including, as Greenstone points out, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which will reshape human life on this planet in grim ways. And even that 3.6-degree mark might be too high. Add in another nearly 13 degrees of warming and you could have the definition of an uninhabitable planet (at least by humans).

It should give us all the chills -- or more appropriately, leave us with fever dreams of a future in which humanity was incapable of getting itself together, dealing with entrenched fossil fuel interests, and saving a planet that had for so many tens of thousands of years been the rather habitable home of our species.

On the other hand, look at Spain: as Juan Cole reported recently at his Informed Comment website, that country is now getting almost 70% of its electricity in ways that do not generate carbon dioxide. That’s little short of extraordinary. It’s possible that somewhere down the line that country could even become “the first net-carbon-zero G-20 state”! As of this March, it received 22.5% of its electricity from wind power (with solar trailing badly behind), 17.5% from hydro power, and 23.8% from nuclear power (which will make some environmentalists uneasy). And the country hopes to almost double its wind power contribution to 40% in the next five years.

In other words, depending on what you care to look at, this planet offers a grim vision of humanity preparing to scourge and flood its own home or -- and this is a new development -- a more hopeful one. In that, humanity, under pressure and moving too slowly by half, is nonetheless beginning to reshape our world yet again in unexpected ways, using new technology that is quickly becoming ever cheaper and easier to employ.

TomDispatch energy expert Michael Klare suggests today that while nothing may be settled, damage is clearly being done, and the fossil fuel machine remains deeply entrenched and determined, there are nonetheless unexpected signs that we, like the cavalry of movie fame, may finally be saddling up to ride to our own rescue. This is the sort of news that should stir the blood and soul in all of us. It should leave us thankful for the years of toil in the wilderness by climate activists like those at 350.org who have worked so hard to bring us to awareness of the dangers ahead, and of activists like those in the fossil fuel divestment movement who want to shake what may be the most profitable industry in history to its core. –Tom

Here’s Klare..

Don’t hold your breath, but future historians may look back on 2015 as the year that the renewable energy ascendancy began, the moment when the world started to move decisively away from its reliance on fossil fuels. Those fuels -- oil, natural gas, and coal -- will, of course, continue to dominate the energy landscape for years to come, adding billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon to the atmosphere.  For the first time, however, it appears that a shift to renewable energy sources is gaining momentum.  If sustained, it will have momentous implications for the world economy -- as profound as the shift from wood to coal or coal to oil in previous centuries. (Continued)

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April 9, 2015

There’s an Emerging Right-Wing Divide on Climate Denial. Here’s What It Means (And Doesn’t)

by @ 8:29 am. Filed under Environment, Right wing

 

By David Roberts
SolidarityEconomy.net via Grist.org

April 8, 2015 - For as long as climate change has been a public agenda item — let’s date it back to 1988, when James Hansen testified to Congress — there has been a large faction within the public that refuses to accept it, composed primarily (not entirely, but primarily) of conservative white men.

It’s difficult to remember these days, but that faction did not always dominate the Republican Party. Establishment Republicans from George H.W. Bush to George W. Bush acknowledged that climate change is a real problem requiring a policy solution. John McCain put forward his own cap-and-trade plan when he ran against Obama in 2008.

But denial was always closer to the conservative heart than acceptance was. When the Tea Party swallowed the GOP in 2010, it eradicated the last shreds of accommodationism on climate. Since then, the party, at least the public face of the party, has been almost entirely dominated by old-school, unapologetic denial. The few remaining “moderates” in the party quickly fell in line and went silent (including courageous “maverick” John McCain).

The somewhat maddening truth is that denial worked for a long time. As long as the public was disengaged on the subject and only elites were pushing it, denial delayed action at effectively no political cost. The public didn’t care enough to make a fuss and neither, for the most part, did political journalists.

But climate has continued to worm its way into public consciousness. Business types are starting to worry about the financial risks; military types are worrying about the potential for resource conflicts; outdoor types are worrying about changes in seasons and species; farmers are worrying about shifts in growing conditions; ordinary consumers are getting interested in renewable energy and electric cars. Obama has nudged climate onto the agenda again and again, with EPA regs, the China climate deal, and a whole series of small executive-branch initiatives. Large majorities of the public favor climate action. (Continued)

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April 1, 2015

Co-ops Enable Low-Income Women to Work as Owners and Decision Makers

 

By Eleanor J. Bader
SolidarityEconomy.net via Truthout

March 30, 2015 - At Cooperative Home Care Associates, in their state of the art training facilities, these workers in training are finding eachothers pulses with the help of their training instructor (seen to the right). (Photo: Jordanna Rosen)At Cooperative Home Care Associates, in their state of the art training facilities, these workers in training are finding each others pulses with the help of their training instructor.

Co-ops not only give low-income and immigrant women a way to enter an often unwelcoming - and in some cases, hostile - economy, but also give them a way to exert some control over their work lives and simultaneously support themselves and their families. They have consequently been some of the early adopters in the not-yet-critical-mass movement of worker-owned cooperative businesses that has begun to catch fire in towns and cities throughout the United States.

Melissa Hoover, executive director of the Democracy at Work Institute, estimates that there are presently between 300 and 400 worker-owned businesses operating domestically. The fledgling cooperative movement is diverse. There are co-op bakeries, catering companies, tortilla-makers and cafes; bike repair shops; taxi companies; dog-walking and cat-sitting services; and upholsterers. There are also worker-owned farms, elder- and child-care agencies, tutoring programs, and factory and construction businesses.


A growing number of co-ops have been established as a way for low-income and immigrant women to earn a living.

What's more, they run the gamut in terms of size. Some have just three to five members while the largest, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, has 2,100. And while most involve both men and women, a growing number of all-women co-ops have been established as a way for low-income and immigrant females to earn a living. (Continued)

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March 23, 2015

Who Needs a Boss?

by @ 8:14 am. Filed under Economic Democracy, Mondragon, Unemployment

By SHAILA DEWAN
New York Times Magazine

March 25, 2015 - If you happen to be looking for your morning coffee near Golden Gate Park and the bright red storefront of the Arizmendi Bakery attracts your attention, congratulations. You have found what the readers of The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alt-weekly, deem the city’s best bakery.

But it has another, less obvious, distinction. Of the $3.50 you hand over for a latte (plus $2.75 for the signature sourdough croissant), not one penny ends up in the hands of a faraway investor. Nothing goes to anyone who might be tempted to sell out to a larger bakery chain or shutter the business if its quarterly sales lag.

Instead, your money will go more or less directly to its 20-odd bakers, who each make $24 an hour — more than double the national median wage for bakers. On top of that, they get health insurance, paid vacation and a share of the profits. “It’s not luxury, but I can sort of afford living in San Francisco,” says Edhi Rotandi, a baker at Arizmendi. He works four days a week and spends the other days with his 2-year-old son.

Arizmendi and its five sister bakeries in the Bay Area are worker-owned cooperatives, an age-old business model that has lately attracted renewed interest as a possible antidote to some of our most persistent economic ills. Most co-ops in the U.S. are smaller than Arizmendi, with around a dozen employees, but the largest, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, has about 2,000. That’s hardly the organizational structure’s upper limit. In fact, Arizmendi was named for a Spanish priest and labor organizer in Basque country, José María Arizmendiarrieta. He founded what eventually became the Mondragon Corporation, now one of the region’s biggest employers, with more than 60,000 members and 14 billion euro in revenue. And it’s still a co-op.

In a worker co-op, the workers own the business and decide what to do with the profits (as opposed to consumer co-ops, which are typically stores owned by members who shop at a discount). Historically, worker co-ops have held the most appeal when things seem most perilous for laborers. The present is no exception. And yet, despite their ability to empower workers, co-ops remain largely relegated to boutique status in the United States.  (Continued)

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March 18, 2015

On the Far Horizon: Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Supporters believe fully automated luxury communism is an opportunity to realize a post-work society, where machines do the heavy lifting and employment as we know it is a thing of the past

By Brian Merchant
SolidarityEconomy.net via The Guardian /UK

March 18, 2015 - At a time when robots crowd factory lines, algorithms steer cars and smart screens litter the checkout aisles, automation is the new spectre. The robots, they say, are coming for our jobs.

Let them, reply the luxury communists.

    The new age offers a number of undeniable boons and advancements ... that promise to make drudgery redundant

Cybernetic meadows and machines of loving grace

Located on the futurist left end of the political spectrum, fully automated luxury communism (FALC) aims to embrace automation to its fullest extent. The term may seem oxymoronic, but that’s part of the point: anything labeled luxury communism is going to be hard to ignore.

“There is a tendency in capitalism to automate labor, to turn things previously done by humans into automated functions,” says Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media. “In recognition of that, then the only utopian demand can be for the full automation of everything and common ownership of that which is automated.”

Bastani and fellow luxury communists believe that this era of rapid change is an opportunity to realise a post-work society, where machines do the heavy lifting not for profit but for the people.

“The demand would be a 10- or 12-hour working week, a guaranteed social wage, universally guaranteed housing, education, healthcare and so on,” he says. “There may be some work that will still need to be done by humans, like quality control, but it would be minimal.” Humanity would get its cybernetic meadow, tended to by machines of loving grace. (Continued)

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March 15, 2015

The Harder Question: Is Green, Rational and Efficient Transport Possible Under Capitalism?

How the U.S. Transportation System Can Save $1 Trillion, 2 Billion Barrels of Oil, and 1 Gigaton of Carbon Emissions Annually

By Jonathan Walker, Greg Ruck & Jerry Weiland
Rocky Mountain Institute

In the United States each year, our cars alone cost us well over $1 trillion, burn about 2 billion barrels of oil, and emit about 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide—one quarter of all U.S. emissions.

The indirect societal cost of these vehicles, including pollution, lost productivity (sitting in traffic), land use for roads and parking lots, road construction and maintenance, and injuries and fatalities cost us another $2 trillion per year, bringing the annual total to a staggering $3 trillion.

A big part of the problem is our cars and how we use them. Today’s vehicles are overdesigned, underutilized, underloaded, inefficient, polluting, and—thanks to the drivers behind the wheel—dangerous.

The average personal vehicle sits idle (i.e., parked) for 95 percent of its life. When we do drive our mostly parked cars, we tend to drive alone (more than 75 percent of American commuters are solo drivers) even though our vehicles are designed for four, five, or more occupants (empty third-row seat, anyone?). This leads to so much traffic that we spend 38 extra hours per year sitting in a purgatory of our own making.

In addition, tens of thousands of Americans are killed and hundreds of thousands are injured in car accidents each year. And finally, gasoline engines burn relatively expensive fuel inefficiently, as only ~20 percent of potential energy is converted into useful power for a standard internal combustion engine vehicle.

Thus the average American car owner spends an estimated $0.59 per mile to operate a personal vehicle, which adds up to a yearly cost of about $15,000 per household. Year after year, personal transportation is the second-highest expense for the typical American family, behind only housing and greater than food and leisure combined.

Public transportation systems are also underutilized in many U.S. markets. This often results in taxpayer subsidy, a crucial leg of support to combat transportation inequality since such public transportation often offers the only inexpensive option for those who cannot afford cars.

Reimagining the U.S. Transportation System

But there is a better way. A paradigm shift in our transportation system can drop per mile costs from $0.59 to $0.15, and when combined with public transit unlocks annual savings of $1 trillion. Or, if you’re business minded, you might see that substantial savings as value creation, for oil’s loss is another’s gain, in the form of new mobility service solutions that fill the gap between today’s fossil-fueled cars and tomorrow’s mobility paradigm. (For that matter, consumers too should be salivating. Someone who drives 12,000 miles per year could see his or her annual transportation costs slashed by more than $10,000 for two-car households.)

In addition to the monetary boon, the paradigm shift can reduce U.S. oil consumption by 50 percent (shaving off the full 2 billion barrels associated with our light-duty vehicles), and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1 gigaton per year. Cities, businesses, and entrepreneurs would be hard-pressed to find another arena with so much money on the table paired with so much potential societal benefit.  And the public, you, and us stand to gain the most from this value creation opportunity.

Forget Cars—and Transportation—As You Know Them Today

The transportation paradigm of the potentially not-too-distant future (e.g., starting in earnest by 2020) will look a world apart from the landscape of today, in which the Ford F150 remains the best-selling consumer vehicle in the U.S. Instead, tomorrow’s transportation system will involve shared, electrified, autonomous, lightweight, serviced-based vehicles. This will of course implicate our beloved American obsession with automobiles, but is not entirely synonymous with cars.

(more…)

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March 5, 2015

Why We Need a Green Energy Majority in Congress

This solar array at White Sands, New Mexico, is the largest of the U.S. Army's solar photovoltaic systems. The $16.8 million project includes nearly 15,500 sun-tracking solar panels spread across 42 acres.

Markets, States, and the Green Transition

By Fred Block
American Prospect

March 5, 2015 - If you believe in the perfect efficiency of free markets, then any government intervention, by definition, has to make things worse. Evidence is of no consequence.

I once participated in a debate on innovation with two panelists from two of Washington’s most market-oriented think tanks. When I pointed out that a government program—the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—had created the Internet, my opponent was hardly fazed. He responded, in effect, by saying we don’t know whether the private sector might have done it faster and better had the government not been interfering.

Of course, we cannot know, but the historical experience of many other technologies that were accelerated by spending on warfare suggests that there is a strong connection between government investments and big technological breakthroughs. World War II alone was responsible for jet airplanes, the mainframe computer, radar, atomic energy, and it laid the groundwork for much of the space program that followed.

War and preparation for war loom so large for many breakthroughs because war offers the rare occasion for major government intervention in a society that otherwise professes belief in free markets. Ideology is waived because of the presumed urgency of national defense, and surprising technical breakthroughs often follow. Government needs to play the same role in the transition to a green economy.

In wartime, government action is so potent because it intervenes simultaneously by increasing both the supply and the demand for new technologies. As with the Manhattan Project, the military convenes large groups of scientists and gives them substantial resources, to see if a concept can actually be turned into something that adds to the military’s capacity. Then the military orders a lot of the new creation, so that the often slow and painful process of scaling up to mass production is done very quickly with no risk for private firms.

 

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March 3, 2015

A ‘Single Payer’ Approach to Local Green Energy

by @ 8:10 am. Filed under Green Energy, Infrastructure

 

California communities seize control of their energy futures

By David Roberts

SolidarityEconomy.net via Grist

Feb 25, 2015 - An energy revolution is breaking out in California and a few other states, one that could radically increase the amount of renewable energy available to citizens and end the tyranny of foot-dragging utilities. Outside of the rapidly falling costs of solar power, it’s just about my main source of domestic optimism these days.

I’m talking about community choice, or, in the horrid legalese, “community choice aggregation.” I’ve discussed it before in passing, but it’s starting to seriously catch on, so I want to take a closer look.

Say a town, city, or county is dissatisfied with the power it gets from its utility — it’s too expensive, or too dirty. One option would be for each municipality to leave its utility and form its own “municipal utility.” That has its advantages, but it’s a pretty huge step, since the municipality would have to take over not only power procurement but grid operation and maintenance, billing, customer service, etc. In many smaller towns, it’s not practical.

The other, emerging option is community choice aggregation, whereby a county or municipality takes over only the job of buying and selling power, leaving grid management and billing to the utility. It aggregates customers from every participating city, town, and county and uses their collective purchasing power to procure exactly the kind of electricity it wants.

The two main motivations to opt for CCA are cheaper power and cleaner power. At least to date, those two goals have not come into conflict. In most cases, CCAs get power that’s cheaper and cleaner than what they were getting from their utility. (Whether those goals conflict in the future will be of keen interest.)

CCA must be enabled by legislation and it has been in six states: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island. According to the website Local Power, which tracks these things:

Today, 5% of the U.S. population is under CCA service for electricity in 1300 municipalities, including well-known population centers like City of Chicago, Cincinnati, Cape Cod, Sonoma County as well as hundreds of less known small towns and rural counties. CCA formation by municipal ordinance or local election is allowed and provided for under state laws governing 25% of the U.S. electricity market.

California has been particularly on the ball. Marin County started the state’s first CCA program — it now serves 125,000 customers. Sonoma County has followed suit.

(more…)

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February 23, 2015

Workplaces of the Future: High Design, Fewer Workers

by @ 9:42 am. Filed under High Design, High Road Economics

Breakthrough Factories Making Innovation

The hubs of advanced manufacturing will be the economic drivers of the future because innovation increasingly depends on production expertise.

By Nanette Byrnes
MIT Technology Review

Sept 16, 2014 - Visitors to the Crosspointe Rolls-Royce facility in Prince George County, Virginia, have to don safety glasses and steel-tipped shoes, just as they would at any traditional factory. But then things start to look different. Past the cubicles filled with programmers and support staff sits a 140,000-square-foot factory with spotless white concrete floors, bright lighting, surprisingly quiet equipment, and very few human beings.

Opened in 2011, Crosspointe is the kind of factory that makes a good backdrop to a political speech about advanced manufacturing, as President Barack Obama knew when he arrived less than a year later. It’s global: the U.S. operations center of a U.K. company, it uses titanium forgings from Scotland, Germany, or the United States; shapes them into fan disks; and, after milling, polishing, and testing, ships them off to England, Germany, or Singapore. Once there, each disk will become one of 10,000 parts in a typical engine.

It’s also highly automated: $1.5 million machines made by DMG Mori Seiki do the initial milling of the disks, following steps directed by Siemens software with a minimum of human interference. On a day in early summer, eight machines were being monitored by three operators. Computer screens in front of the machine displayed instructions in pictures and text, flashing warnings when a part had not met specs or the machine needed to be serviced. Later an automated measurement machine with a probe on the end would spend eight hours inspecting 1,000-plus distinct dimensions of the part. For the next 25 years, Rolls-Royce will keep data on each part, starting with exactly how it was made. Sensors in the engine will track how the engine and its parts are holding up, and maintenance and flight data will be carefully recorded.

It’s not just pristine floors, scarce workers, and a global network that make Crosspointe emblematic of manufacturing today. It’s also the ecosystem surrounding the facility. Just down the road is the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a research center whose members include Airbus, NASA, and the University of Virginia.

There, Rolls-Royce staff who know the challenges and details of manufacturing work with researchers and suppliers to improve the factory and its products, says Crosspointe manufacturing executive Lorin Sodell. “Often a great idea for a new manufacturing process won’t ever make it into production because that connection is missing.”

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