Tagged: Germany

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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Fossil fuel electricity under real threat from solar and wind power

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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.

Germany 1 – 0 Argentina

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Mario Goetze scores the winning goal, 111th minute, 2nd of double overtime

I’m exhausted. The end of one of the best World Cups I’ve watched since [I'd say] 1982. Plenty of real sports columnists, proper football fans will write pages of stuff I’ll appreciate as much as you may.

Let me congratulate the German team, their coach, the national coaching scheme that brought them to this victory.

Political animal I am, let me note in passing a completely unremarkable moment in the stands photographed at the beginning of the match. Vladimir Putin sits next to Sep Blatter, Dilma Rousseff next to Angela Merkel. With the exception of Blatter all leaders in their own nations, all preparing for the BRICS Summit which starts tomorrow morning in Brazil.

The agenda ranges from trade to the establishment of a $100 billion commercial bank for the BRICS nations. Xi Jinping will probably kick in the lion’s share from China.

The folks in the photo below realize they all have something to gain in sorting economic and political futures together. Most educated adults in the world outside the United States are aware of the same. Our government, our nation continues down the primrose path of a dying imperial nation, a standard we took up from the Brits after World War 2. Our nation, our people, the TweedleDee and TweedleDumb parties that represent our wishes, our “style”, haven’t any more clue about what’s going on in this crowd than Fox & Friends or some Tea Party candidate in Texas. Football, economics or foreign policy.

The folks in the photo – know that.

Apologists say NSA spying won’t harm US business — Germany cancels Verizon!

Germany favors Deutsche Telekom AG to replace Verizon Communications as a network provider after deciding to end the American company’s contract in the wake of reports about spy surveillance by the U.S…

Germany is using an option in the current Verizon contract to end the arrangement next year, Tobias Plate said, declining to confirm whether the government had any evidence that the provider handed information from the network to the U.S. National Security Agency.

The move is the clearest sign yet that concerns in Europe about spying by the U.S. may harm the business of American companies in the region. The decision doesn’t bode well for communications providers such as Verizon and Dallas-based AT&T which have sunk billions of dollars into winning large clients outside the U.S., said Roger Entner…at Recon Analytics…

“Verizon is the victim here — they tend to be faster, more flexible and cheaper than local providers,” Entner said. “But now security is the trump card in the deck and that’s why Deutsche Telekom wins…”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government plans to combine three separate networks under one service provider, Plate said. A proposal to award the contracts to Deutsche Telekom has already been discussed in the parliament’s budget committee, though no contract has been signed yet, he said…

German prosecutors and lawmakers have begun investigating allegations that U.S. intelligence agents tapped Merkel’s phone, underscoring the effect on U.S.-German relations of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Merkel and President Barack Obama failed to end the dispute during talks at the White House in May, with Merkel saying “differences of opinion” persist and require further discussion.

It has pained me to see the degree to which the Snowden disclosures have created strains in the relationship” with Germany, Obama said…

It pains me to see how frequently our elected officials lie to the whole world, lie to our allies, lie to us. Yes, I know that’s nothing new; but, part of how Barack Obama was elected derived from his promises of change. Foreign policy and deceit worthy of a John Foster Dulles is not change. Protecting scum ranging from Countrywide Mortgage lenders to CIA torture specialists worthy of a Joe McCarthy is not change.

RTFA for a more expansive treatment. The fact remains that our liberal president is whining about the truth coming out, our corrupt practices exposed. That’s not progressive leadership. That’s business as usual in the White House.

Student gets stuck in giant vagina

What was meant to be a funny dare turned into an utter embarrassment for an American exchange student, who found himself trapped in a giant stone vagina in Germany.

Firefighters had to be called in to deliver the man, head-first, to safety after his feet became trapped in the large marble sculpture at Tubingen University in Germany.

The unnamed man is believed to have been dared to climb inside the sculpture, which sits outside the university’s institute for microbiology and virology.

But his legs soon became wedged in the carving and, despite labouring to free himself, the experts had to be summoned…

A total of 22 firefighters, five fire engines and a number of paramedics were sent to the scene, and quickly freed the man “by hand without use of equipment”, the newspaper reported… “The fire department was not really amused, and he was really embarrassed.”

The sculpture, by Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara, has sat outside the university for 13 years and was not damaged.

The few students of Freudian psychology remaining in the world get to use their smug looks.

Thanks, Honeyman

LEDs to revolutionize hi-tech greenhouse farming

It won’t come as a surprise to discover that consumers all over the developed world are increasingly demanding seasonal vegetables all year round, even when the local climate simply doesn’t allow that kind of growth. Particularly sought-after are tomatoes, cucumbers, and leaf vegetables. Which is why greenhouse farming has become a major factor in the food supply of the developed world.

Consequently, the number of commercial greenhouses and the area they occupy is rocketing. In the Netherlands, for example, greenhouses occupy around 0.25 percent of the land area of the entire country. And the Netherlands isn’t even the largest producer of greenhouse vegetables in Europe. That position is held by Spain. And the largest producer of greenhouse vegetables in the world is now China…

So an important question is how to minimize the energy it takes to grow these crops. One obvious answer is to convert greenhouses from the traditional incandescent lighting, usually high pressure sodium lamps, to more energy-efficient LEDs.

That might seem like an economic no-brainer but the industry has been slow to make this change because of the high initial cost of LEDs. The question that farmers have pondered over is whether they will ever recoup the upfront cost of a brand-new system of lighting.

Today, they get an answer thanks to the work of Devesh Singh and pals at the Hannover Centre for Optical Technologies at the University of Hannover in Germany. These guys have compared the life-cycle costs of traditional high pressure sodium lamps against those of LEDs for greenhouse lighting.

And they say the advantages are clear. They calculate that the cumulative cost of high pressure sodium lamps surpasses that of LEDs after just seven years and that after 16 years the cumulative cost of high pressure sodium lamps is more than double the equivalent cost of LEDs.

It’s not hard to see where this saving comes from. Although high pressure sodium lamps are individually cheaper than LEDs, they have to be changed every year compared to every 19 years for LEDs. And, of course, LEDs use considerably less electricity, wasting little as heat.

But the most interesting part of Singh and co’s analysis is in the potential of LEDs to change the way that vegetables are grown. High pressure sodium lamps emit light across the entire visible part of the spectrum and well into the infrared where much energy is lost as heat. By contrast, LEDs can be adjusted to emit light in very specific parts of the spectrum.

Plant physiologists have long known that chlorophyll absorbs mainly in the blue, green and red parts of the spectrum but absorbs a little in the orange and yellow. So it makes sense to produce light only in these parts of the spectrum. That’s easy with LEDs, of course, but impossible with sodium lamps.

The strategy seems clear: convert to LED lighting as quickly as possible. Conversion will pay for itself in a few years and the advantages influencing yields and the quality of output start with flipping a light switch – and taking the resulting veggies to market.

RTFA for a few more ways in which crop quality is improved – while saving on the cost of production.

German spies demand $400 million to catch-up to the NSA

Confidential documents from the BND, Germany’s answer to the NSA and GCHQ, suggest the agency could soon get major funding to improve its online surveillance and hacking capabilities.

Ah, Germany: the home of data protection law; a bastion for the privacy-minded in these crazy days of international surveillance and hackery. Or is it? The German government and intelligence services have already been sued over alleged privacy violations in cooperation with the NSA, and now leaked documents have described plans for monitoring social networks in real-time.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR have turned up secret documents belonging to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s counterpart to the NSA. It seems the BND is jealous of the digital espionage capabilities of the NSA and the U.K.’s GCHQ, and wants to up its game.

The documents warn that, if the BND doesn’t get the €300 million [$409 million] it needs to run expanded surveillance activities until 2020, Germany will fall behind even Italy and Spain in the spook stakes. They also suggest the spies hope to get their funding in the coming weeks.

According to the reports, the BND wants to analyze streaming data in real-time from forums and services such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, collect and store more mobile metadata, and use software vulnerabilities for targeted hacking. The reports state targets would be outside Germany — indeed, targeted data must have a foreign element if the spies are to remain compliant with German law…

They play the same games with semantics and ethics in Germany as American spies and politicians.

Earlier this week…it emerged that there would be no full investigation into mass surveillance nor the bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, due to lack of evidence. Prosecutors were unable to get any answers out of American or German spies, who pointed out that the most damning revelations about German surveillance came from one newspaper, Der Spiegel — and the newspaper refused to identify its sources (sometimes assumed to be Edward Snowden’s cache, but never confirmed or denied as such.)

Having lived through the missile gap, the space gap, sitting back and watching the self-serving creeps of counter-intelligence and their latest rationale – the Worldwide War on Terror – watching them demand more money to fund the subversion of basic human rights in order to keep up with the Big Brother Joneses of the NSA — it would be laughable if they weren’t all such hypocrites and liars.

U.S. won’t agree to a deal with Germany to end spying



The effort to remake the intelligence relationship between the United States and Germany after it was disclosed last year that the National Security Agency was tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone has collapsed, according to German officials, who say there will be no broad intelligence sharing or “no-spy” agreement between the two countries when Ms. Merkel visits the White House on Friday.

The failure to reach a broader accord has led to some bitter recriminations on both sides, with sharply diverging accounts from officials in Berlin and Washington about who was responsible for what was supposed to be a political solution to an embarrassing disclosure. But it also raises broader questions at a moment that President Obama and Ms. Merkel will attempt to show that they are in general accord on a strategy for both punishing Russia for its actions in Ukraine and containing President Vladimir V. Putin in the years ahead…

While the disclosure that the N.S.A. had listened to Ms. Merkel’s conversations for more than a decade was a passing story in the United States — one of many from the files that Edward J. Snowden took with him when he left Hawaii with the agency’s crown jewels — it has remained an issue in Germany. After the disclosure, Mr. Obama said the United States would not monitor Ms. Merkel’s communications, but he made no such commitment for any other German officials. And he said nothing about the future of the N.S.A.’s operations in Germany, including whether a listening station based in the American Embassy in Berlin, would stay intact.

For a number of months, German officials said the chancellor could not visit Washington until there was a resolution, including what they called a “restoration of trust” between the allies.

But the talks hit the rocks as soon as they began. Germany demanded a no-spy agreement that would ban the United States from conducting espionage activities on its soil. That led to a series of tough exchanges between the president’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, and her German counterpart, Christoph Heusgen.

Ms. Rice, according to American officials, said that the United States did not have no-spy agreements with any of its close allies, even with the other members of the so-called Five Eyes — the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — which share virtually all of their intelligence. She said any such agreement with Germany would set a precedent that every other major European ally, along with the Japanese, the South Koreans and others, would soon demand to replicate.

American officials said that in January, the Germans terminated…talks, saying that if an accord could not include a no-spy agreement — a political necessity for Ms. Merkel — it was not worth signing.

Democracy, transparency, constitutional freedoms. Big words used so often by our politicians – who haven’t the slightest inclination to honor them other than by deceit and arrogance – rejecting their meaning.

German cabinet agrees on $11.75/hr minimum wage


Demonstration by Confederation of German Trade Unions for minimum wage

Germany’s cabinet agreed on Wednesday to a national minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.75) per hour – a flagship project for the Social Democrats who share power with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The minimum wage will take effect in Europe’s biggest economy from 2015 but will not cover minors, trainees and some interns. Some employers can continue to pay their workers less until the end of 2016 if they are covered by certain collective agreements…

The Bundestag lower house of parliament is due to debate the law in June before passing it in July. The Bundesrat upper house is expected to wave it through after the summer break.

Employer lobbies say blah, blah, blah.

Of the 28 states in the European Union, 21 have minimum wages. EU states without minimum wages tend to have smaller low-wage sectors than Germany and a bigger proportion of their workers are covered by collective wage deals between unions and employers.

Then, we have the United States where our courageous Democrats are considered too radical for Republicans and the rest of the right-wing crowd for offering a proposal that wouldn’t match inflation since the last update years ago – by the time the change took place. Assuming it ever gets past the Party of No in Congress.

Just one more moment to look back over the half-century or so since the end of WW2 and consider our victory in the War in Europe and what the losers have achieved compared to the winners.