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.”



February 13, 2015

High Design: The Future Is Now in Green Homes

by @ 10:16 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Design

This Remote-Controllable, Rearrangeable House Uses Almost No Energy

We still don't have flying cars (not quite, anyway, despite some works in progress). But the 1950s vision of the futuristic home is fairly close to reality.

Inspired in part by mid-century designs like the flying saucer-shaped Futuro house and a "home of the future" designed for the 1956 Ideal Home Show, a new house in the Netherlands is remote-controllable, energy-efficient, and can adapt as a family changes through an open, petal-shaped design.

"It's flexible," says Ben van Berkel, founder of UNStudio, the architecture firm that created the new house. "The rooms are designed with no columns in the spaces. If the client wants to turn living rooms in bedrooms or a working environment, that's all possible."

Everything electrical in the house can be controlled by smartphone. Minus the app, it's eerily similar to this prediction from a 1950 newspaper:



February 11, 2015

Cooperatives On the Path to Socialism?

by @ 5:46 pm. Filed under Economic Democracy, Marxism, Socialism

By Peter Marcuse

SolidarityEconomy.net via Monthy Review

Clarifying what Karl Marx thought of the role of cooperatives is useful, not to receive the “correct” answer to what that role will be, but to help think through what alternatives answers might be and how they might color today’s expectations of the cooperative movement. If one sees a non-capitalist or socialist organization of society as ultimately desirable, then how should we answer the following questions in the present day:

  1. Are co-ops in production, worker-owned enterprises, desirable experimental improvements to the organization of production over standard capitalist practices, in the direction of immediate social welfare?
  2. Are such co-ops in production also little islands of a different future, models of socialism within a capitalist society?
  3. Are they beachheads of socialism, politically practical steps along the road to bringing forth such a possible alternative society?
  4. Will they ultimately also be the foundations of such a society, if it develops?
  5. All in all, what is their importance, their role, in daily struggles?

The answer suggested here to the first three questions is: Yes. Co-ops today are experiments whose potential is not yet exhausted, certainly improvements over most existing capitalist arrangements which have perhaps portents for the future, but which have limitations that must be recognized.

The first four questions do not present mutually exclusive alternatives, in the sense that they could, but do not necessarily, provoke fundamental questions about the desirability of further change. They show that workers can run factories themselves, democracy in the workplace is possible, and capitalists are not necessary for the organization of production.

The answer to the fifth question, as to the net importance of co-ops today, of course depends on the strength of the answers to the first four questions, and on whether or not the goal is seen as a fundamental social transformation. Fundamental social transformation is used here to refer to a movement toward socialism, an alternative to the present capitalist social formation. Marx’s conception of socialism was of such an alternative, but one whose details could vary significantly as long as it was non-captialist.

Because Marx represents a clear starting point for a history of experience with the modern forms of worker co-ops, this article looks at some of his comments in this regard to set the context to a more contemporary evaluation.

Are Worker Co-ops Immediate Social Welfare?

Yes, worker co-ops are clearly superior to the conventional capital-owned and managed form of enterprise organization, for two reasons. First, they replace the capitalist with the democratic association of the workers—as Marx says, the workers become their own capitalists, they can thus arrange operations amongst themselves to the extent they wish. The workers’ welfare is materially enhanced, since the profits that the capitalist would have made as a result of ownership of the firm become incomes of the 99%, which are proportionately increased as that of the 1% is relatively decreased.



February 10, 2015

Automation: The Gravedigger of Capitalism and, with Socialism, the Emancipator of the Working Class

by @ 4:05 pm. Filed under Capitalism, Cybernation, Unemployment

More Robots Coming To U.S. Factories

By Paul Davidson
SolidarityEconomy.net via USA TODAY

Feb 10, 2015 - Manufacturers will significantly accelerate their use of robots in U.S. factories over the next decade as they become cheaper and perform more tasks, constraining payroll growth, according to a study out Tuesday.

The development is expected to dramatically boost productivity and slow the long-standing migration of factories across the globe to take advantage of low-cost labor, says the Boston Consulting Group report.

"Advanced robotics are changing the calculus of manufacturing," says Harold Sirkin, a senior partner at the management consulting firm.

A handful of nations, including the U.S. and China, are poised to reap the biggest benefits of the automation wave.

About 1.2 million additional advanced robots are expected to be deployed in the U.S. by 2025, BCG says. Four industries will lead the shift — computer and electronics products; electrical equipment and appliances; transportation; and machinery — largely because more of their tasks can be automated and they deliver the biggest cost savings.

About 10% of all manufacturing functions are automated, a share that will rise to nearly 25% in a decade as robotic vision sensors and gripping systems improve, BCG says.

Meanwhile, costs are tumbling. The cost to purchase and start up an advanced robotic spot welder has plunged from $182,000 in 2005 to $133,000 in 2014, with the price forecast to drop another 22% by 2025.



February 5, 2015

In the Green Energy Business, ‘Doable’, Unfortunately, Is Not the Same as ‘Make It So’

by @ 11:53 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Design, High Road Economics

CEOs Call For Zero Emissions Goal In Paris Climate Deal

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of high-profile CEOs on Thursday called on world leaders to agree to bring the balance of greenhouse gas emissions to zero by mid-century in a global climate change deal to be finalized in Paris in December.

The leaders of B Team, a coalition about 12 CEOs and policymakers including Virgin [VA.UL] founder Richard Branson, Unilever chief Paul Polman and Tata International's [TATAI.UL] Ratan Tata, said a global net-zero emissions goal by 2050 will prompt businesses to embed new investments and clean energy research into their business strategies.

Branson told Reuters in an interview the lofty goal - one of the options for a long-term climate goal being considered for the Paris draft negotiating text - is "doable" with private sector help.

"The politicians in Paris need to know business is behind them taking the right decisions and they are not going to damage the world economically by taking these decisions," he said.



February 2, 2015

War Is the New Normal

by @ 1:33 pm. Filed under militarism


Seven  Deadly Reasons Why America’s Wars Persist

By William Astore

Feb 1, 2015 - It was launched immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when I was still in the military, and almost immediately became known as the Global War on Terror, or GWOT.  Pentagon insiders called it “the long war [4],” an open-ended, perhaps unending, conflict against nations and terror networks mainly of a radical Islamist bent.  It saw the revival of counterinsurgency doctrine, buried in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam, and a reinterpretation [5] of that disaster as well.  Over the years, its chief characteristic became ever clearer: a “Groundhog Day [6]” kind of repetition.  Just when you thought it was over (Iraq [7], Afghanistan [8]), just after victory (of a sort) was declared, it began again [9].

Now, as we find ourselves enmeshed in Iraq War 3.0, what better way to memorialize the post-9/11 American way of war than through repetition.  Back in July 2010, I wrote an article for TomDispatch on the seven reasons [10] why America can’t stop making war.  More than four years later, with the war on terror still ongoing, with the mission eternally unaccomplished, here’s a fresh take on the top seven reasons why never-ending war is the new normal in America.  In this sequel, I make only one promise: no declarations of victory (and mark it on your calendars, I’m planning to be back with seven new reasons in 2019).

1.  The privatization of war: The U.S. military’s recourse to private contractors [11] has strengthened the profit motive for war-making and prolonged wars as well.  Unlike the citizen-soldiers of past eras, the mobilized warrior corporations [12] of America’s new mercenary moment -- the Halliburton [13]/KBRs (nearly $40 billion [14] in contracts for the Iraq War alone), the DynCorps [15] ($4.1 billion to train 150,000 Iraqi police), and the Blackwater/Xe/Academis [16] ($1.3 billion in Iraq, along with boatloads of controversy [17]) -- have no incentive to demobilize.  Like most corporations, their business model is based on profit through growth, and growth is most rapid when wars and preparations for more of them are the favored options in Washington.

"Freedom isn’t free," as a popular conservative bumper sticker puts it, and neither is war.  My father liked the saying, “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and today’s mercenary corporations have been calling for a lot of military marches piping in $138 billion in contracts for Iraq alone, according to [18] the Financial Times.  And if you think that the privatization of war must at least reduce government waste, think again: the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated in 2011 that fraud, waste, and abuse accounted for up to $60 billion [19] of the money spent in Iraq alone.

To corral American-style war, the mercenaries must be defanged or deflated.  European rulers learned this the hard way during the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century.  At that time, powerful mercenary captains like Albrecht von Wallenstein [20] ran amok.  Only Wallenstein’s assassination and the assertion of near absolutist powers by monarchs bent on curbing war before they went bankrupt finally brought the mercenaries to heel, a victory as hard won as it was essential to Europe’s survival and eventual expansion.  (Europeans then exported their wars to foreign shores, but that’s another story.)

2.  The embrace of the national security state by both major parties: Jimmy Carter was the last president to attempt to exercise any kind of control over the national security state.  A former Navy nuclear engineer who had served under the demanding Admiral Hyman Rickover [21], Carter cancelled the B-1 bomber and fought for a U.S. foreign policy based on human rights.  Widely pilloried for talking about [22] nuclear war with his young daughter Amy, Carter was further attacked for being “weak” on defense.  His defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980 inaugurated 12 years of dominance by Republican presidents that opened the financial floodgates for the Department of Defense.  That taught Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council [23] a lesson when it came to the wisdom of wrapping the national security state in a welcoming embrace, which they did, however uncomfortably.  This expedient turn to the right by the Democrats in the Clinton years served as a temporary booster shot when it came to charges of being “soft” on defense -- until Republicans upped the ante by going “all-in” on military crusades in the aftermath of 9/11.

Since his election in 2008, Barack Obama has done little to alter the course set by his predecessors.  He, too, has chosen not to challenge Washington’s prevailing catechism of war [24].  Republicans have responded, however, not by muting their criticism, but by upping the ante yet again.  How else to explain House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March [25]?  That address promises to be a pep talk for the Republicans, as well as a smack down of the Obama administration and its “appeasenik [26]” policies toward Iran and Islamic radicalism.

Serious oversight, let alone opposition to the national security state by Congress or a mainstream political party, has been missing in action [27] for years and must now, in the wake of the Senate Torture Report fiasco (from which the CIAemerged [28] stronger, not weaker), be presumed dead.  The recent midterm election triumph of Republican war hawks and the prospective lineup of candidates for president in 2016 does not bode well when it comes to reining in the national security state in any foreseeable future.



January 31, 2015

Greece Proves Populist Movements Can Fight And Win

by @ 4:31 am. Filed under Economy
By Terrance Heath Campaign for America's Future Jan 27, 2015 - After five years of protests, demonstrations and strikes, Greek citizens voted to throw off five years of crushing austerity. Their victory has emboldened populist parties across Europe, and should inspire Americans to resist austerity here at home. The victory of Greece’s leftist anti-austerity Syriza party, and Alexis Tsipiras’ ascension to prime minister ushers in a government that will push back against the austerity measures devised by the troika of Greece’s international creditors and the International Monetary Fund, and accepted by the country’s economic elite, after the crash of Greece’s economy in 2009. Greece’s new leaders left little doubt about their intentions as they celebrated victory. Alexis_Tsipras“Greece leaves behind the austerity that ruined it, at least behind the fear, leaves behind five years of humiliation, and grease moves forward with optimism and hope and dignity.” ~ Alexis Tsipiras, Greece’s new prime minister “We are going to destroy the basis upon which they have built, for decade after decade, a system, about a network that viciously sucks the of energy and economic power from everybody else in society. ” ~ Yanis Varoukis, Greece’s new prime minister, on Greece’s oligarchy. The International Monetary Fund assumed the Greek government could impose austerity without significant impact on economic growth and unemployment. In fact, the IMF assumed Greece’s economy would grow as a result of the 2010 aid package, for which the troika and the IMF demanded austerity measures. The results were disastrous. Greece’s economy shrunk by 25 percent, and wages dropped about the same amount. Along with shrinking the economy, austerity increased Greece’s national debt. Unemployment has reached depression levels. Overall unemployment is at 28 percent. Youth unemployment stands at 60 percent — even after the government lowered the minimum wage for youth by 32 percent, to encourage job creation. Wealthy Greeks got off scot-free. Cocooned in suburbs, austerity cuts didn’t touch them until mid–2013, when the government ruled that wealthy Greeks were no longer entitled to free police bodyguards. Since 2009, businessmen and journalists threatened by anarchist groups received personal police protection. The burden of austerity cuts fell mostly upon middle- and working-class Greeks. Three million Greeks are living on or below the poverty line. Nearly every family has suffered. Many have survived by queuing up at soup kitchens, and scavenging rubbish bins for food. Austerity devastated the health of Greece’s economy and its people. The national health budget was cut by 40 percent. As a result, 35,000 doctors, nurses, and other health workers lost their jobs. Hospitals lack basic supplies and enough staff. Infant mortality went up by 40 percent.


January 30, 2015


by @ 6:35 am. Filed under Economy


January 6, 2015

Green High Design: Ocean Current as Underwater Wind Power

by @ 7:55 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Design

The floating underwater marine-current turbine uses two counter-rotating blades. It is fixed to the seabed and sails like a kite supported and driven by the ocean current.

IHI and Toshiba partner to develop underwater turbines

By Paul Dvorak

SolidarityEconomy.net via Windengineering.com

Dec 30, 2014 - IHI and Toshiba have developed a unique floating underwater marine-current turbine to generate electricity. Their research is to demonstrate the feasibility of generating ocean energy and creating a framework for the industry, and improve energy security for Japan.

The floating underwater marine-current turbine uses two counter-rotating blades. A pair would be fixed to the seabed and sail like a kite supported and driven by the ocean current.

The floating underwater marine-current turbine uses two counter-rotating blades. It is fixed to the seabed and sails like a kite supported and driven by the ocean current. IHI is the leading company in the joint research project and will manufacture the turbine and the floating structure. Toshiba will provide electrical equipment such as generators and transformers.

Ocean currents, such as the Kuroshio Current, are natural energy resource. If Japan succeeds in converting the enormous energy of ocean currents, it will provide the island nation a large-scale, stable energy source. IHI and Toshiba have been working with the University of Tokyo and Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute since 2011.

Electricity generation from ocean energy of currents, temperature differences, tides, waves, and so on has been explored in Europe and the United States.

NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization)  promotes R&D projects in the field of marine-energy technology with the aim to develop world-leading technologies and contribute to the reduction of CO2 since 2011 in Japan. This project will continue into 2017.




January 5, 2015

New York Times Assesses Xi Jinping as a Turn to the Left in China

by @ 7:44 am. Filed under China, Marxism, Socialism

Maoists in China, Given New Life, Attack Dissent

New York Times

JAN. 4, 2015 - HONG KONG — They pounce on bloggers who dare mock their beloved Chairman Mao. They scour the nation’s classrooms and newspapers for strains of Western-inspired liberal heresies. And they have taken down professors, journalists and others deemed disloyal to Communist Party orthodoxy.

China’s Maoist ideologues are resurgent after languishing in the political desert, buoyed by President Xi Jinping’s traditionalist tilt and emboldened by internal party decrees that have declared open season on Chinese academics, artists and party cadres seen as insufficiently red.

Ideological vigilantes have played a pivotal role in the downfall of Wang Congsheng, a law professor in Beijing who was detained and then suspended from teaching after posting online criticisms of the party. Another target was Wang Yaofeng, a newspaper columnist who voiced support for the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and then found himself without a job.

“Since Xi came to power, the pressure and control over freethinkers has become really tight,” said Qiao Mu, a Beijing journalism professor who was demoted this fall, in part for publicly espousing multiparty elections and free speech. “More and more of my friends and colleagues are experiencing fear and harassment.”

Two years into a sweeping offensive against dissent, Mr. Xi has been intensifying his focus on perceived ideological opponents, sending ripples through universities, publishing houses and the news media and emboldening hard-liners who have hailed him as a worthy successor to Mao Zedong.

In instructions published last week, Mr. Xi urged universities to “enhance guidance over thinking and keep a tight grip on leading ideological work in higher education,” Xinhua, the official news agency, reported.

In internal decrees, he has been blunter, attacking liberal thinking as a pernicious threat that has contaminated the Communist Party’s ranks, and calling on officials to purge the nation of ideas that run counter to modern China’s Marxist-Leninist foundations.

“Never allow singing to a tune contrary to the party center,” he wrote in comments that began to appear on party and university websites in October. “Never allow eating the Communist Party’s food and then smashing the Communist Party’s cooking pots.”



December 23, 2014

High Design: Green Energy House at ‘Net Zero’

by @ 11:01 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Design, Solar

The Taoshouse in New Mexico, US, is expected to run entirely on electricity generated by i...

The Taoshouse in New Mexico, US, is expected to run entirely on electricity generated by its solar power system A home built in New Mexico, US, is expected to run entirely from the electricity generated from energy harvested by its nine 230 W solar panels. The Taoshouse also has a number of design features to help keep power usage to a minimum.

Taoshouse home's energy needs expected to be met by solar array

By Stu Robarts

SolidarityEconomy.net via Gizmag

Like the Active House prototype in Missouri, US, the Taoshouse is designed to look and feel like a normal home and not some futuristic box. Located in a senior co-housing community in the town of Taos, the Taoshouse has a clean interior aesthetic with plaster walls and floor-to-ceiling bamboo casement work. Both projects show the potential for net-zero energy housing.

Project designer Needbased says that part of the brief for the Taoshouse design was to ensure that it would achieve Passive House Certification and meet the highest level of the National Association of House Builders (NAHB) green building standard. According to Needbased, the house has achieved both of these goals and, as such, is one of only a handful of North American buildings to be certified by the Passive House Institute in Germany.

The Taoshouse kitchen

The Taoshouse has an internal area of 1,632 sq ft (152 sq m) and covers a total area of 2,870 sq ft (267 sq m). It can pull electricity from the grid if needs be, or feed any surplus back into the grid. To date, the home has had an energy usage of 1.87 kWh / sq ft (20.13 kWh / sq m).

"Over the past ten months since the project was completed, the house has used 3,100 kWh and generated 2,800 kWh," Jonah Stanford of Needbased tells Gizmag. "The first year of energy use is expected to be higher than the norm due to the latent energy of the moisture of all the building materials used. I expect the overall energy use to come down slightly after the building has fully dried out."

The house is kept cool using passive shading and night-sky cooling. In order to minimize heat loss, it is highly insulated in the walls, under slab and roof and employs high performance Zola windows.

An energy recovery ventilator is used to condition incoming air with air that is being exhausted from the building. This means incoming air can be warmed and dehumidified, for example. An underfloor hydronic radiant system, meanwhile, is used to heat the building.

The Taoshouse was completed earlier this year.

Source: Needbased


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
SolidarityEconomy.net 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

SolidarityEconomy.net 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.



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