UBS urges investors to join the renewables revolution


Click to enlargeVillage of Eitting near Munich, Germany

Big power stations in Europe could be redundant within 10-20 years as electric cars, cheaper batteries and new solar technologies transform the way electricity is generated, stored and distributed, say analysts at the world’s largest private bank.

In a briefing paper sent to clients and investors this week, the Zurich-based UBS bank argues that large-scale, centralised power stations will soon become extinct because they are too big and inflexible, and are “not relevant” for future electricity generation. Instead, the authors expect it to be cheaper and more efficient for households and businesses to generate their own energy to power their cars and to store any surplus energy in their own buildings even without subsidies.

In language more closely associated with green NGOs, the bank with assets of more than $1.5tn says it expects a paradigm shift away from large-scale conventional power plants. “Power is no longer something that is exclusively produced by huge, centralised units owned by large utilities. By 2025, everybody will be able to produce and store power. And it will be green and cost competitive, ie, not more expensive or even cheaper than buying power from utilities,” say the authors, who urge their financial clients to “join the revolution.”

“Solar is at the edge of being a competitive power generation technology. The biggest drawback has been its intermittency. This is where batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) come into play. Battery costs have declined rapidly, and we expect a further decline of more than 50% by 2020. By then, a mass [produced] electric vehicle will have almost the same price as a combustion engine car. But it will save up to $2600 a year on fuel cost, hence, it will begin to pay off almost immediately without any meaningful upfront ‘investment’. This is why we expect a rapidly growing penetration with EVs, in particular in countries with high fossil fuel prices.”

The expected 50% reduction in the cost of batteries by 2020 will not just spur electric car sales, but could also lead to exponential growth in demand for stationary batteries to store excess power in buildings, says UBS. “Battery storage should become financially attractive for family homes when combined with a solar system and an electric vehicle. As a consequence, we expect transformational changes in the utility and auto sectors,” it says. “By 2020 investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe…”

By 2025, falling battery and solar costs will make electric vehicles cheaper than conventional cars in most European markets. “As a conservative 2025 scenario, we think about 10% of new car registrations in Europe will be EVs. Households and businesses who invest in a combined electric car, solar array and battery storage should be able to pay the investment back within six to eight years,” UBS says. “In other words, based on a 20-year technical life of a solar system, a German buyer should receive 12 years of electricity for free.”

But the bank does not expect power companies or the grid to disappear: UBS says they have a future if they develop smart grids which manage electricity demand more efficiently and provide decentralised back-up power generation.

But, hey, your SUV is running OK. Cousin Ernie’s Chevy pickup truck does everything it should do. If our public utilities need to be modernized – well, that’s what we have state legislatures and regulatory commissions to take care of. Right?

Leading Americans in the direction of renewable, cheaper, cleaner sources of electricity is probably as unnecessary as eventually converting the Affordable Care Act to a single payer system. This all may save money and improve our quality of life; but, isn’t it all a little too foreign for Americans to adopt?

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Applying for a job? – You may have to take a meaningless test

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world…An estimated 2 million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that makes and markets the test makes somewhere around $20 million each year.

The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.

“There’s just no evidence behind it,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who’s written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”

The test claims that, based on 93 questions, it can group all the people of the world into 16 different discrete “types” — and in doing so, serve as “a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation, and achieving excellence.” Most of the faithful think of it primarily as a tool for telling you your proper career choice.

But the test was developed in the 1940s based off the untested theories of an outdated analytical psychologist named Carl Jung, and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community. Even Jung warned that his personality “types” were just rough tendencies he’d observed, rather than strict classifications. Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people’s success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.

Yet you’ve probably heard people telling you that they’re an ENFJ (extraverted intuitive feeling judging), an INTP (introverted intuitive thinking perceiving), or another one of the 16 types drawn from his work, and you may have even been given this test in a professional setting.

RTFA. It goes through the stereotypes, explains why these labels are meaningless — and why no one in the 21st century should rely on the test for anything.

I had fun with the test before I moved to the Southwest. Interested in a job with a dynamic high tech startup, I applied to see what they might offer – and ran into this test. The HR dude was in love with its self-fulfilling prophecies. After all, if you tell people how to define their lives and lifestyle long enough and thoroughly enough – and they follow your so-called wisdom – then, results become appropriate. Even if they’re nothing more than imitation.

I drove him nuts answering segments of the test with two completely contradictory personality styles. He was dying to hire me; but, was equally afraid I might turn out to be an axe murderer.

Children prescribed antibiotics twice as often as needed

Pediatricians prescribe antibiotics about twice as often as they’re actually needed for children with ear and throat infections, a new study indicates.

More than 11 million antibiotic prescriptions written each year for children and teens may be unnecessary, according to researchers from University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital. This excess antibiotic use not only fails to eradicate children’s viral illnesses, researchers said, but supports the dangerous evolution of bacteria toward antibiotic resistance…

Antibiotics, drugs that kill bacteria or stop them from reproducing, are effective only for bacterial infections, not viruses. But because doctors have few ways of distinguishing between viral or bacterial infections, antibiotics are often a default treatment.

Based on the prevalence of bacteria in ear and throat infections and the introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine that prevents many bacterial infections, the researchers estimated that about 27 percent of U.S. children with infections of the ear, sinus area, throat or upper respiratory tract had illnesses caused by bacteria.

But antibiotics were prescribed for nearly 57 percent of doctors’ visits for these infections, the study found.

Thousands die unnecessarily every year from illness caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There are no legitimate reasons for over-prescription. Only marketing and social pressures which should have nothing to do with the practice of medicine.

Thanks, Mike

Fossil fuel electricity under real threat from solar and wind power

windfarmsea
Click to enlargeStiftung OFFSHORE-WINDENERGIE

Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.

It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States.

Germany’s relentless push into renewable energy has implications far beyond its shores. By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago.

Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.

Professional naysayers, bought-and-paid-for skeptics, conservative ideologues rooted to political failures like Ayn Rand see the fruit of their labors rejected by economic reality – as usual. Solid facts, real advances are beginning to progress as predicted – or better. That won’t shut them up. The money tap remains wide open. But, ordinary folks, working class, middle class, however you slice and dice your class analysis, are starting to reap the benefits of the new means of renewable energy production.

No one is more tradition-bound than public utilities. They function like constipated manure machines. They’ve been producing cowshit for research and analysis for so many generations they are incapable of changing their business model to match a dynamic economic landscape.

Meanwhile, globalized competition encouraged by the group of nations acting responsibly to counter climate change are affecting the cash flow and profits of corporations sitting around like children in a temper tantrum – demanding the people who recognized the need for change now spend tax dollars to bail them out of their self-generated disaster.

They should be replaced by common sense, scientific, economic solutions. Send them away. Build them a leaky rest home next to one of the Koch Brothers coal heaps.

Feds agree disaster coming to North American birds from climate change

A day after the National Audubon Society released a report saying that about half of North America’s 650 bird species will be threatened by climate change, a report released Tuesday by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies concluded that nearly one-third of American birds are in trouble.

The State of the Birds, a comprehensive study by nearly two dozen government agencies and conservation groups that tracks species loss and the effectiveness of conservation efforts, found species in moderate to steep decline across habitats and ecosystems. But it also highlighted that conservation projects could be successful, as with wetland species, like mallards and blue-winged teals, which saw a 37 percent bump in population since 1968.

“Conservation in one part of the country is not enough,” said Daniel M. Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “We have to see the larger picture of conservation.”

We must have more than one portion of the electorate, more than a coalition of the willing in Congress, coming together with the majority of our nation’s population in a serious effort to combat the effects of climate change.

That won’t begin to happen until a significant number of bought-and-paid-for politicians are removed from office. Most of them Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats. The sort of political hacks who make a career of power and policy directed by the almighty dollar.

I only hope folks will stand up for the world we live in before these greed-driven thugs cause irreparable damage.

Thanks, Mike

Drunken narc shoots pals in tussle over gun


One of the two shooting victims on the way to hospital

Cops swatted a .40-caliber Glock out of a drunken state narcotics agent’s hand Friday night after he shot two drinking buddies on the Upper West Side, authorities and witnesses said.

Amsterdam Ave. erupted in gunfire and blood-curdling screams just after 9 p.m. when Victor Zambrano Jr., 49, shot a 31-year-old woman in the left foot and the woman’s 42-year-old boyfriend in the right calf during an argument over his weapon…

The three pals had been drinking together and were walking on Amsterdam Ave. near W. 82nd St. when the woman asked the New York State Bureau of Narcotics enforcement agent for his pistol, a police source said.

Zambrano handed it over, but quickly demandegd it back, cop sources said. As the argument became increasingly heated, the agent fired a round. The bullet ricocheted off the concrete and hit both the woman and her boyfriend…

As diners along Amsterdam Ave.’s restaurant row ducked for cover, the narcotics investigator bolted.

The boyfriend chased after him, and Zambrano allegedly turned to shoot but misfired — causing a live round to fall to the ground as he ran toward W. 83rd St., stunned witnesses said…

It was not entirely clear why the woman wanted Zambrano’s gun, but early reports suggested she was concerned about his intoxication level.

Someday, I hope to read a stupid tale like this and no one will try to excuse dangerous behavior by saying, “he was just drunk and things got out of hand!”

You have some sort of idea what happens when you drink – or drink too much. You have the responsibillity and supposedly enough smarts to make decisions on your own. Like should I drink or not? Should I bring my gun with me when I’m out drinking? You are responsible for your own decisions.

He gave his parents a present of genetic testing — and then a divorce

I’m a stem cell and reproductive biologist. I fell in love with biology when I was in high school. It was the realization that every cell in my body has the same genome and DNA, but each cell is different. A stomach cell is not a brain cell is not a skin cell. But they’re reading from the same book of instructions. With 23andMe, you get your personal genome book, your story. Unless you have an identical twin somewhere, that genetic makeup is unique to you…

I had spent many years looking at the genes of other animals — particularly mice — but I never looked at my own. Because I was so excited about it, I got two 23andMe kits for my mom and dad as gifts. It’s a lot more fun when you can incorporate your family because you can trace not just the chromosomes but individual alleles on the chromosome so you don’t just see them, but where they came from. Also, I felt I had a good handle on my family’s medical history so I was very interested in confirming any susceptibility to cancers that I heard had run in my family, like colon cancer. I wanted to know if I had a genetic risk.

I found out I don’t have any genetic predisposition to any kind of cancer, which was a great relief to me. But I also discovered through the 23andMe close relative finder program that I have a half brother, Thomas.

…We figured out that at the very bottom of your profile, there’s a little box that says “check this box if you want to see close family members in this search program.”…Dad checked it, and Thomas’ name appeared in his list. 23andMe said dad was 50 percent related with Thomas and that he was a predicted son

At first, I was thinking this is the coolest genetics story, my own personal genetics story. I wasn’t particularly upset about it initially, until the rest of the family found out. Their reaction was different. Years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that have torn my nuclear family apart. My parents divorced. No one is talking to my dad. We’re not anywhere close to being healed yet and I don’t know how long it will take to put the pieces back together.

Sometimes, the truth really can hurt.

RTFA, wander through the twists and turns of this very modern tale. It’s not all unhappy. The anonymous author’s half-brother, Thomas, was adopted and had searched years for either of his birth parents. He has a daughter of his own who wondered about her family’s medical history.

Still…

Stupid gun nut trick of the day!

granny gun

Sheriff’s deputies in Colorado arrested a 60-year-old woman who pointed a rifle at her neighbor’s 11-year-old son as he played his clarinet in the backyard…

Officers were called to an address in the Rocky Mountain city of Grand Junction after Cheryl Pifer allegedly told the boy, who was doing his music class homework for school, to “get his ass back inside,” the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office said.

According to an arrest affidavit, there were five other children aged one to eleven in the backyard at the time of Wednesday’s incident, and it said the boy’s grandmother told them all to return to the house.

“When they were coming inside they saw Cheryl at the door with the gun aimed at them. (The boy) stated Cheryl yelled ‘fire in the hole.’ He stated all of the kids ran into the house and called 911,” the affidavit added.

The deputy who filed the report, who said she was “very familiar” with Pifer and her address, said the woman appeared drunk when officers arrived, and that they found a 7 mm Mauser rifle by the door with two rounds in its magazine.

She was booked into jail on four counts of felony menacing, seven counts of reckless child abuse/no injury, and one count of prohibited use of a weapon. She was released on a $5,000 bond on Thursday…

No one is surprised at gun nuts having an understanding of life’s priorities roughly akin to a demented jihadist. Understanding incompetence doesn’t excuse endangering the lives of others folks, children or otherwise.

Throw away the key.