July 29 News: Japan Plans For Reduced Dependence on Nuclear Energy; Stable, Thermal Energy Storage?

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.Japan’s New Energy Strategy Calls For Reduced Dependence On Nuke Power

In line with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s call for phasing out atomic power in the country, the government has drawn up a new energy strategy aimed at lowering the proportion of nuclear-generated electricity.

Japan’s Kyodo News Agency reported on Friday that the draft strategy envisages a set of measures to cope up with power shortages caused by the nuclear crisis. The government hopes to get the new strategy approved by the year-end.

However, the report did not specify the proposed limit on the dependence on nuclear power.


The draft policy also mentioned the merits of other measures, including the corporate separation of power generation and transmission, Kyodo said.

Kan made the call for reduced dependence on nuclear energy amid mounting public wrath over the persisting crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, triggered by the nation’s worst nuclear accident.

At a news conference on July 13, Kan said the country should work toward a society that will not depend on nuclear power, but harness renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. However, he did not propose a time-frame for his plan.

The beleaguered Premier said the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station made him to realize the huge risks nuclear power plants could bring to a society.

Canadian campaign puts the spin on ‘ethical oil’

Tar sands website promotes a binary world where Canadian oil is ‘ethical’ and the rest is produced by ‘oppressors’.

You’ve got to hand it to Alykhan Velshi: for such a tender age, he seems to be remarkably well-versed in the dark arts of spin and misdirection.

Many people outside of Alberta believe the Canadian state’s tar sands industry to be the most environmental destructive energy extraction industry in the world. But not Velshi, a 27-year-old neocon political communications adviser, who, until a few months ago, was the right-hand man to Canada’s immigration minister. This week, he has relaunched a website aimed at extolling the virtues of, ahem, Canada’s “ethical oil”.

The term “ethical oil” was first coined two years ago in a book by a conservative activist and pundit called Ezra Levant. But Velshi has picked up the term and, well, not just run with it, but sprinted off towards the horizon at a pace that would shame Usain Bolt. Click on to’s new homepage and you soon get a taste of Velshi’s reasoning as to why Canada’s tar sands industry is so virtuous. He begins by framing it in the binary context of goodies and baddies, whereby Canada gets to play the good guy and any “conflict oil”-producing nation that isn’t a “liberal democracy” gets to play the baddie:

Huntsman laments ‘heroin-like addiction’ to foreign oil, touts conservation

GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman lamented what he called the nation’s “heroin-like addiction” to foreign oil imports Thursday, calling for policies that boost alternative-fuel vehicles and energy technology research.

Speaking at a Republicans for Environmental Protection event, however, Huntsman avoided any significant discussion of climate change, an issue that has become politically dangerous for the GOP presidential candidate.

Huntsman only mentioned the words “climate change” once during his remarks.

“I also believe that science should be driving our discussions on climate change,” he said.

Instead, Huntsman focused on broad-brush energy policy issues. He argued that states are “incubators” of good energy policy, touting Utah’s advancements in natural-gas vehicle technology during his time as governor.

Still, by speaking in front of the organization Republicans for Environmental Protection, Huntsman waded into a fiery political debate over energy policy. Republicans in Congress are waging war on the Obama administration’s energy and environmental policies, pushing measures to block or delay a slew of Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department regulations.

But Huntsman was careful to position himself as a defender of the environment without weighing in on controversial issues like offshore drilling or EPA climate regulations.

“Conservation is conservative,” Huntsman said. “I’m not ashamed of being a conservationist.”

California Poll Shows Air-Quality Concerns High Among Latinos

Four out of every 10 Hispanics in California see regional air quality as a major problem, joining blacks in expressing the most concern about the issue, a survey showed.

According to a statewide survey published Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California, blacks (42 percent) and Hispanics (41 percent) were more likely than Asians (28 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (19 percent) to cite regional air pollution as a big problem.

Half of Californians, meanwhile, see air pollution as a more serious health threat in lower-income areas than in other parts of the state, the poll found, with Latinos (66 percent) and blacks (64 percent) more likely to hold this view than Asians (55 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (37 percent).

When asked about changes in air quality over time, 61 percent of Latinos and blacks said air pollution is worse today than 10 years ago, while the proportion of Asians (46 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (30 percent) giving that assessment was lower.Meanwhile, two out every three Hispanics and 76 percent of blacks said they had cut down on their automobile use due to the high cost of gasoline, while the proportion of non-Hispanic whites (55 percent) and Asians (54 percent) who drove less was smaller.

Whistleblowers Say Nuclear Regulatory Commission Watchdog Is Losing Its Bite

When he retired after 26 years as an investigator with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of the Inspector General, George Mulley thought his final report was one of his best.

Mulley had spent months looking into why a pipe carrying cooling water at the Byron nuclear plant in Illinois had rusted so badly that it burst. His report cited lapses by a parade of NRC inspectors over six years and systemic weaknesses in the way the NRC monitors corrosion.

But rather than accept Mulley’s findings, the inspector general’s office rewrote them. The revised report shifted much of the blame to the plant’s owner, Exelon, instead of NRC procedures. And instead of designating it a public report and delivering it to Congress, as is the norm, the office put it off-limits. A reporter obtained it only after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan has thrust the NRC’s role as industry overseer squarely in the spotlight, but another critical player in U.S. nuclear safety is the NRC’s Office of the Inspector General, an independent agency that serves as watchdog to the watchdog.

21st century, stable, thermal energy storage

The “dawn of new idea” may be a cliché that is appropriate to recent developments in photo chemical energy storage. Researchers at MIT have been working on ways to store the sun’s energy in chemical bonds. These developments have been characterized as a “heat battery” or a “solar fuel.” This development could very likely see another MIT spin-off in the energy storage business (like A123 systems).

The claim of a “game-changing” or “disruptive” technology should not be made lightly. Also, we should be reasonable in our expectations. Cell phones, personal computing and the Internet were certainly game-changing technologies, but they arrived on the scene in a virtual vacuum. As we begin to wake up to the advantages of energy storage, we find that the scene is also crowded with competing technologies. Heat energy storage is also as old as the Earth. The uniqueness of MIT’s research becomes clear with a little background.

Energy & Energy Storage

Some forms of energy have an associated storage capacity. The mechanical energy in a clock’s movement can be stored in a spring or the weight of a pendulum. Other forms of energy are more complex. Electrical energy we can store as a charge on a capacitor or we can convert it to chemical energy that will produce electricity in a storage battery. When transferring energy from one form to another, there are typically also losses of efficiency.

Heat is a form of energy that we use a great deal. In some northern climates, only about 15% of residential energy is for electricity while more than 65% is used for heat and hot water. Indirectly, we use heat to drive machines and produce electricity. The sun’s energy comes to us in the form of heat and light. With PV panels, we turn the light into electricity. With concentrated solar power plants, we much more efficiently turn the sun’s heat into electricity.

Tequila gives new biofuel crops a shot

Study finds ethanol derived from agave plants could provide a substitute for petrol and be grown without displacing food crops.

The desert plants used to distil tequila could cut emissions from transport by providing an important new biofuel crop, according to new research.

“Agave has a huge advantage, as it can grow in marginal or desert land, not on arable land,” and therefore would not displace food crops, said Oliver Inderwildi, at the University of Oxford.

Much of the ethanol used as a substitute for petrol is currently produced from corn, especially in the US, and has been criticised for driving up grain prices to record levels. A recent inquiry found that laws mandating the addition of biofuels to petrol and diesel had backfired badly and were unethical because biofuel production often violated human rights and damaged the environment.

But the new study found that agave-derived ethanol could produce good yields on hot, dry land and with relatively little environmental impact. The agave plant, large rosettes of fleshy leaves, produces high levels of sugar and the scientists modeled a hypothetical facility in the tequila state of Jalisco in Mexico which converts the sugars to alcohol for use as a fuel.

Inderwildi said the research, published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is the first comprehensive life-cycle analysis of the energy and greenhouse gas balance for agave-derived ethanol. The team found the production of agave-ethanol led to the net emission of 35g of carbon dioxide for each megajoule of energy, far lower than the 85g/MJ estimated for corn ethanol. In comparison, burning petrol emits about 100g/MJ and some estimates of corn ethanol suggest it is worse than petrol.

For Offshore Wind to Thrive, Collaboration A Must

If the European Wind Energy Association projections prove accurate, offshore capacity across the continent will leapfrog past traditional onshore wind developments sometime after 2030. By 2050, it predicts, offshore will be the dominant form of wind development. There’s no reason to believe that this trend will play out any differently in other parts of the world as the industry sets out to take wind energy farther and deeper than its ever been.

If it’s true that the winds of change are coming to the wind industry, and that developments will move farther offshore behind technologies currently in the research stage, the question remains: Who will lead this emerging sector of the industry?

To answer that, start with the current leader — in this case, the United Kingdom.

According to a report from EWEA released in this week, Europe added 883 MW of offshore capacity in 2010, giving the continent 2,964 MW in total capacity. A bit less than half of that rests off the U.K. coast. The U.K. is the global leader with a total of 1341 MW, followed by Denmark (854 MW), The Netherlands (249), Belgium (195) and Sweden (164).