News Article | December 28, 2016
President-Elect Trump’s choice of Rick Perry to run the Department of Energy is good news for people who believe–or want to believe–that the federal government’s Department of Energy was formed at the end of the 1970s because voters were tired of our abject dependence on foreign oil and its associated entanglements. It is likely to be a huge disappointment for those who are more comfortable with the DOE as it exists today, with very little in the way of energy production or innovative energy research attributable to the $30 billion taxpayers spend on its annual budget. Perry is the former three-term governor of Texas, which arguably has earned the title of “The Energy State.” Texas has been a world-renowned energy powerhouse since the Spindletop gusher first came in on January 10, 1901. Not only has it been a major source of oil and gas for the past century, but it also has lignite deposits, a large and growing wind industry, and two major nuclear stations. Texas has been home to independents, wildcats, majors and minors. Its Barnett Shale formation is the place where George Mitchell nursed his vision of combining horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing to release vast quantities of oil and gas from “tight” rocks. The dirty little secret known to many inside the energy industry and few outside of the industry is that less than 1/5th (18%) of the Department of Energy’s nearly $30 billion/year budget is spent on programs in the “Energy” category. The other 4/5ths is spent on programs in the categories of Nuclear Security (43%), Science (18%), and Environmental Management (19%) plus a hodgepodge of “Other (2%).” As Texas Governor, Perry might have had the opportunity to learn something about other areas of DOE responsibility. Texas is the home of the Pantex Facility in Amarillo, an important part of the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons complex. However, unlike his immediate predecessors, Perry isn’t a scientist. He has little experience with the national laboratories that trace their existence to the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission that was created after the explosive end of World War II. It almost goes without saying that a three term Texas governor supports the hydrocarbon industry and believes that fossil fuels will continue to be important tools for modern society for the foreseeable future. During his tenure as governor, Texas natural gas production increased by 50% while its oil production soared by 260%, returning to levels not seen since the 1970s. During Perry’s last five years as governor, booming oil and gas exploration and extraction helped Texas to lead the nation in new job creation. Other than the fact that Texas is where the gas is, it remains a popular place to poke holes partly due to a tax break that Perry signed into law in 2003. As a way to encourage frackers to invest in Texas drilling, the state created an exemption for “high cost” natural gas wells with a formula that can, in some cases, completely eliminate the 7.5% severance tax normally applied to Texas gas production. Though the exemption is temporary and only lasts for the first 10 years of a well’s life, hydraulically fracked wells typically produce 80-90% of their lifetime gas volume within the first few years after they are completed. According to a study conducted at the request of the state legislature, the “high cost” gas well exemption allowed producers to accumulate an additional $10.6 billion in net revenue during the period from 2006-2014. Stated another way, if the exemption had not been in place and the same production had occurred, the state would have collected an additional $10.6 billion in severance taxes. With the exemption in place, state collection of gas severance tax revenues has varied widely from year to year with changes in market prices and production levels, but over the past two decades the trend has been generally positive with collections increasing from about $700 million to $1.9 billion. Supply siders and Libertarians could draw the conclusion that lower tax rates helped increase revenues, but it’s also legitimate to wonder what could have been done with the extra billion or so each year that would have gone into the state Treasury if political leaders like Rick Perry had not decided to incentivize production activities that probably would have happened anyway. Though many environmentalists have expressed concerns that Perry’s selection provides more reasons to worry about a new boom in oil and gas drilling to the detriment of the environment, it is at least as plausible to believe that Perry’s experience taught him that too much drilling inevitably leads to a bust when prices fall as supply exceeds demand. Though part of the Texas economic bloom during Perry’s tenure came from innovations like fracking, a major portion was driven by globally high prices and the profit margins those prices allow. When the energy industry was talking about a Nuclear Renaissance, Texas was home to at least four serious development projects – Comanche Peak Units 3 & 4, South Texas Project Units 3 & 4, Victoria County Station Units 1 & 2 and Amarillo Power Units 1 & 2, with a total of eight new reactors. Governor Perry, whose terms ran from Dec 2000-Jan 2015, was in office during the beginning of the Nuclear Renaissance optimism, for the build up of development efforts, and during the eventual petering out of immediate interest in building new nuclear plants. He was in office when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff ruled – in both December 2011 and May 2013 – that the investment structure created for the South Texas Project prevented issuance of a Combined License (COL) because they believed that it was dominated by foreign investors. That decision was questionable and probably driven by antinuclear influencers. The license applicant in that case was–and remains–Nuclear Innovation North America (NINA). NRG, a US entity, owned 90% of NINA, but Toshiba, a Japanese company and a 10% owner of the project, was providing the financing for the licensing stage of the project. The monetary flows would have changed considerably during an actual construction project, but the NRC staff insisted that Toshiba was controlling the project since it was providing the money at the time. Perry was still in office in April 2014 when the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board overruled the NRC staff’s initial decision. Presumably, he had a opportunity to learn about the costs imposed by the NRC staff objections, the significant legal and financial efforts invested to placate the staff, the way that groups opposed to nuclear energy pushed their interpretation of the restrictions on foreign ownership, domination and control to stymie development and the discouraging effect that the delay had on investor interest. Perry was also in office during the issuance and renewals for numerous licenses required to operate the Andrews, TX low level waste repository and proposed site for a consolidated used fuel storage facility. He was there when the facility began receiving planned shipments after decades of delay. He had the opportunity to appoint all of the members of the TLLRWDC, the oversight commission for the facility. All indications are that the facility continues to operate smoothly and cost effectively, indicating that the commission members are doing their jobs. On his watch, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved a major expansion of the site’s capacity and allowed it to expand its customer base from two states (Texas and Vermont) to 36 states plus the Department of Energy. While some have pointed to Perry’s selection as an indicator that the Trump Administration might attempt to reinvigorate the Yucca Mountain project, it seems more likely that Perry would favor a process that found hosts that are willing and eager to gain the benefits of solid, long-term infrastructure investments and job creation that come from agreeing to watch over well behaved and potentially valuable used fuel. Though there might be some who believe that Yucca would be the right way to go, the remaining $300 billion that would be required to build and operate the facility and infrastructure described in the current DOE license application should be a substantial deterrent. During Governor Perry’s tenure as governor, Texas’s wind energy production soared from almost nothing when he entered office to more than 35 million MW-hrs in 2014, his last full year in office. If Texas was a country, its wind energy production would rank 5th in the world. Perry also worked hard to make sure that the wind power generated in the vast, lightly populated but windy areas of West Texas, could make it to power-hungry cities by supporting a $7 billion transmission corridor project called the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone. The network of more than 3,600 miles of new wires has helped Texas nearly eliminate the periods when congestion and high winds drove electricity prices in some areas to well below zero. The project has received accolades from the people that like the jobs and revenues that the federally subsidized wind industry brings to the state. Governor Perry has been sharply criticized by many environmentalists for his support for new coal fired power plants during the early part of his tenure as governor, but that support was given during a period when natural gas prices were sharply rising. Those rising gas prices were causing electricity prices in Texas to rise almost as fast. Gas producers might have been happy, but the negative effects of high cost electricity on the rest of the Texas economy were readily apparent to the Governor. Perry has continued to support investments in developing the technology needed to economically capture CO2 from power plant smokestacks. He appears most interested in projects where the captured CO2 is used for such purposes as stimulating additional oil and gas production and is not just sequestered. Not surprisingly, there are detractors who mistakenly focus on a widely known, but unrepresentative televised episode when Governor Perry had a “senior moment.” He was participating in a presidential debate in November 2011 and attempting to list the three agencies of the federal government that he thought could be eliminated based on his experiences with them as Governor. He couldn’t recall that the Department of Energy was on his normal stump speech list. The video clip of that embarrassing episode provides a better understanding of the episode than the snide summaries and references found elsewhere. Few people above the age of 40 have never had the experience of being in the middle of a talk or a conversation and drawing a complete blank on a word or phrase they know very well. They might have even temporarily blanked out on the name of good friends known for years. That behavior doesn’t indicate that someone is dimwitted, or a dufus, or experiencing the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not an uncommon occurrence among busy people of a certain age, especially if they are sleep-deprived, stressed, nervous or distracted. Another canard that’s being tossed around is that it isn’t appropriate to choose a person who once advocated for elimination of the Department of Energy as its appointed leader. For close observers of the way that the agency has performed its supposed focus of improving America’s energy supply, it’s not such a bad choice. Maybe an experienced politician who clearly recognizes the importance and value of energy production more than the basic science of particle physics can energize the agency that is supposed to help empower the country. As a supporter of nuclear energy, natural gas, wind and carbon capture and utilization, Perry might help reduce CO2 emissions more effectively than someone whose major qualification is that they have faith in the summary conclusions of 97% of a sample of peer reviewed papers on climate science. Just because someone asks questions about actions, extent, urgency and special interests does not mean they deny that human CO2 production is changing the Earth’s climate in some way. Note: A version of the above was first published on Forbes.com with the headline Special Interests Worried Rick Perry’s DOE Might Focus On Creating Sustainable U.S. Energy Policy. It is reprinted here with permission. The post Rick Perry might convert DOE into an ENERGY leader appeared first on Atomic Insights.
News Article | November 17, 2016
SALT LAKE CITY, UT--(Marketwired - Nov 16, 2016) - EnergySolutions and Valhi, Inc. ( : VHI) today announced plans to vigorously defend EnergySolutions' pending acquisition of Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) in response to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit seeking to block the transaction. The DOJ contends that the combined company would be "the only option for customers in nearly 40 states." In fact, there are numerous disposal sites for LLRW waste operated by the competitors of the two companies. In addition, customers have the option to store on-site, as many have done, rather than ship to one of the many companies offering LLRW disposal. Furthermore, the innovation and price declines for LLRW waste disposal that DOJ cites in its own statements are in fact evidence of other competitors in the marketplace. This combination is in the best interest of the nuclear industry as it delivers on part of the "Nuclear Promise" strategic plan. Through merging the two companies, the new entity will realize significant cost synergies through a decrease in management, selling, and administration expenses. Those savings, in turn, can be passed on to utilities and consumers of nuclear electricity. In addition, this merger will save costs on nuclear decommissioning. The DOJ omits in its complaint that, if this transaction is approved, EnergySolutions has committed that the combined companies will offer guaranteed rates for Life of Plant (LOP) contracts for Class A, B and C LLRW disposal for the benefit of consumers. This transaction also ensures the long-term viability and sustainability of the WCS facility and provides significant savings and certainty for the benefit of consumers. EnergySolutions offers customers a full range of integrated services and solutions, including nuclear operations, characterization, decommissioning, decontamination, site closure, transportation, nuclear materials management, processing, recycling, and disposition of nuclear waste, and research and engineering services across the nuclear fuel cycle. For additional information about EnergySolutions visit www.energysolutions.com. WCS operates a West Texas facility for the processing, treatment, storage and disposal of a broad range of low-level radioactive and hazardous wastes. For additional information about WCS visit www.wcstexas.com.
News Article | December 20, 2016
San Onofre is one of the largest commercial nuclear plant decommissioning projects in the United States LOS ANGELES, CA--(Marketwired - Dec 20, 2016) - AECOM ( : ACM), a premier, fully integrated global infrastructure firm, and EnergySolutions, a nuclear waste management and decommissioning services firm, announced today they have been selected as the decommissioning general contractor for San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station through their joint venture, SONGS Decommissioning Solutions (SDS), by Southern California Edison (SCE). The Decommissioning General Contract represents a significant portion of the work required to safely decommission the San Onofre nuclear plant. San Onofre is one of the largest commercial nuclear plant decommissioning projects to date in the United States with an estimated total cost of $4.4 billion including used fuel management, radiological decommissioning and site restoration costs. The project is expected to create about 600 new jobs over the 10-year dismantlement and decontamination phase. The value of the contract will be included in AECOM's backlog for the first quarter of fiscal year 2017. "We are proud to be selected for one of the largest and most technically complex projects in the country, leveraging capabilities across all of our segments to ensure the safe decommissioning of the San Onofre nuclear plant," said Michael S. Burke, AECOM's chairman and chief executive officer. "This win is a tremendous accomplishment for our joint venture team with EnergySolutions, and underscores our collective industry-leading expertise within a substantial global nuclear market." "We are pleased to be a part of the team selected to decommission the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and look forward to working with AECOM to complete this project," said Ken Robuck, President of Disposal and Nuclear Decommissioning at EnergySolutions. "We are currently decommissioning two nuclear power stations in Wisconsin and Illinois and are uniquely qualified for decommissioning projects with state-of-the-art facilities to process and dispose of waste that will be generated throughout the course of this project." SDS combines more than 50 years of global decommissioning experience between AECOM and EnergySolutions. The joint venture will be responsible for the dismantlement and decontamination work, restoration of the site and reduction of residual radioactivity to levels that allow for future site use. Its project execution and waste disposal approach will provide a seamless integration and predictable outcomes from the site to disposal. The joint venture will adhere to California's regulatory and environmental requirements and is aligned with Southern California Edison's foundational principles of Safety, Stewardship and Engagement. Leveraging capabilities across its business segments, AECOM brings an integrated project execution model that spans the removal of contaminated components, systems and demolition of non-safety related structures. The company has a proven track record providing decontamination and decommissioning services around the world, including its work at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge site. EnergySolutions' customers include commercial nuclear power plants and other commercial and government nuclear facilities offering a unique approach to this project with decades of experience in decommissioning shutdown nuclear reactors, addressing the full life cycle of radioactive and hazardous material generation from characterization to off-site shipment for processing, volume reduction and disposition. The company is currently in the demolition phase of decommissioning the Zion Nuclear Power Station located in Zion, Illinois and the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor in La Crosse, Wisconsin. About AECOM AECOM is built to deliver a better world. We design, build, finance and operate infrastructure assets for governments, businesses and organizations in more than 150 countries. As a fully integrated firm, we connect knowledge and experience across our global network of experts to help clients solve their most complex challenges. From high-performance buildings and infrastructure, to resilient communities and environments, to stable and secure nations, our work is transformative, differentiated and vital. A Fortune 500 firm, AECOM had revenue of approximately $17.4 billion during fiscal year 2016. See how we deliver what others can only imagine at aecom.com and @AECOM. About EnergySolutions EnergySolutions offers customers a full range of integrated services and solutions, including nuclear operations, characterization, decommissioning, decontamination, site closure, transportation, nuclear materials management, processing, recycling, and disposition of nuclear waste, and research and engineering services across the nuclear fuel cycle. For additional information about EnergySolutions visit www.energysolutions.com. AECOM Forward-Looking Statements: All statements in this press release other than statements of historical fact are "forward-looking statements" for purposes of federal and state securities laws, including statements relating to San Onofre Nuclear Plant decommissioning contract and the expected decommissioning costs as well as other future economic and industry conditions. Actual results could differ materially from those projected or assumed in any of our forward-looking statements. Important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from our forward-looking statements are set forth in our annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended September 30, 2016, and our other reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. AECOM does not intend, and undertakes no obligation, to update any forward-looking statements.
News Article | November 28, 2016
At COP22, 48 countries committed to “strive to meet 100% domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible while working to end energy poverty, protect water and food security, taking into consideration national circumstances.” (Editor’s note: the announcements say “energy” but they are actually referring to electricity. Subsequent references to energy when meaning electricity have now been updated to correct the statements.) They are among the most vulnerable countries and are united as the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF). With their declaration, these countries prove unique leadership in Marrakesh, keeping up to the promise to make the first COP after the Paris Agreement entering into force, an “Action COP.” Morocco, the host country of COP22, is one of these 48 countries. Over the past months and years, the World Future Council has worked with several stakeholders in the country, developing a policy roadmap to transition to 100% renewable electricity. With the CVF´s Marrakesh Vision, this roadmap can now serve as guidance for the new government to go faster and further and walk the talk. In 2009, Morocco announced its goal to raise the share of renewable electricity to 42% of its total installed capacity by 2020. And during the COP21, the government increased this to 52% by 2030: 20% using solar energy, 20% wind and 12% hydro. To reach this goal, the country will develop additional electricity production capacity between 2016 and 2030 of around 10,000 MW in renewable energies — 4,560 MW solar, 4,200 MW wind and 1,330 MW hydro. These targets are anchored in a three-pronged strategy developed by the government to liberalize and boost the renewable energy sector in Morocco: The remodeling of the legal, institutional, and financial framework has noticeably helped achieved impressive results in the diversified portfolio of renewable energy projects taking place in Morocco. A well-known example is Noor Ouarzazate, the first solar mega-project launched by the Moroccan solar energy agency (MASEN), which will reach a total capacity of 580 MW by 2018 and will bring power to 1.1 million people (learn more about it here). Or there’s the Tarfaya’s wind park, with a production potential of 1,084 GWh/year, which is already supplying 1.5 million households and has become Africa’s largest wind energy project. The park has contributed to the creation of new road installations and equipment, and it has become a source of additional income for local communities by means of the business tax, apart from the development of local skills and capacities relating to wind energy. Indeed, in Morocco renewable energy is not only a very important factor for the environment and the production of goods and services, but a key development vector as the following figures show: And a closer look to Morocco’s wind and solar projects’ prices highlight the attractiveness of the country’s renewable energy plan. For instance, the country secured a bid of Dh 0.72 (US$0.07 cents/kWh) for the Tarfaya project and in 2016 set a new low for the Integrated Wind Project, securing a price of Dh 0.31 (US$0.03 cents/kWh). This is well below the fuel fossils import price of 0.97 Dh (US$0.09/kWh) paid during the last 10 years. Even for solar projects, the price was much lower than expected by MASEN, at Dh 1,5 (US$0.15 cents/kWh) for the first phase of the projects (Noor I) and at Dh 1.4 (US$0.14/kWh) for Noor II and Noor III. If Morocco wants to solve the following challenges, it needs to go beyond current efforts. Despite the avant-garde energy policy, a number of challenges remain in the way for unleashing Morocco’s incredible renewable energy potential. During roundtables and interactive dialogues facilitated by the World Future Council in the past years, Moroccan policymakers, experts, and practitioners have identified numerous actions to set Morocco on a path to 100% renewable electricity, foremost to prioritize renewable sources in the energy system and enable new actors to enter the market — both from a legislative as well as from a capacity perspective. This can only be achieved with a comprehensive approach, building on the following actions: The World Future Council and all partners of the Global 100% RE Campaign congratulate Morocco for its leadership during COP22 and is committed to support the country in walking the talk. To learn more about Morocco’s energy situation and potential pathways as well as to explore the proposed actions, read this report: “Roadmap for 100% renewable in Morocco” (available in French and English). Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store! Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | February 13, 2015
After Apple iPhone 6 sales annihilated Samsung's profits in Q4, Samsung's executive teams know all too well that their new Galaxy S6 has to hit a home run at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona. Their special event is scheduled for Sunday March 1, 2015. We've read about and have even seen photos of what the Galaxy S6 could look like and it's what some would call an iPhone 6-clone. We also reported on some of the heavy specs that could be on the way for the Galaxy phones. The big one will be wireless charging. Today, we're hearing about another leg of the Samsung story for the March event, and it directly relates Samsung's weak spot: software. During Apple's latest Financial Conference Call event held on January 27 we heard Tim Cook talk about how the IBM Partnership is strong. Cook noted that in December the Alliance delivered the first 10 applications. He added that another 12 apps would be released this quarter including 3 new industries: Healthcare, Energy and Utilities and Industrial Products. He further noted that the alliance is on track to have over 100 apps by year end. And lastly Cook added that well over 130 major companies are expected to adopt the MobileFirst system using iDevices in 2015. In November we posted a report titled "BlackBerry and Samsung Form Alliance to Challenge Apple-IBM." The focus of that alliance was about security for the enterprise and mobile devices for the enterprise more specifically. To strengthen Samsung's challenge against Apple and IBM, the latest rumor is that Samsung and Microsoft have worked together to provide new Galaxy S6 customers with a free Office 365 subscription along with other apps like OneNote, OneDrive and Skype being pre-loaded. With Microsoft's Lumia smartphone not getting any traction in 2014, Microsoft is determined to get on board with Android in a big way and Samsung will be the first smartphone vendor to benefit from working with Microsoft's enterprise teams. Yet how that is supposed to compete with the depth of industry specific apps coming from the Apple-IBM alliance is beyond me. It's just another cheap Samsung gimmick. It might interest some students who already favor Samsung devices over the iPhone to begin with, but that's not the same thing. Lastly, while we've already reported that Samsung was likely to be the first smartphone vendor to introduce wireless charging, the Korean Press confirmed it yesterday. Korea's DeligIT reported that "the new Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S Edge have built-in wireless charging for the first time in the world." They were told by a Samsung executive that "Our new products will be wirelessly charged without a case," which is the current way of wirelessly charging Android phones. The Korean report further noted that "For wireless charging, reception (Rx) and transmitter modules (Tx) are needed. Until now, the Rx module has been mounted inside a separate case, while the Tx module being built into the smartphone. So for wireless charging, consumers had to purchase two accessories, in addition to the smartphone. The additional cost for separate accessories has been a major barrier to the popularization of wireless charging. Phones of Samsung Electronics have also supported wireless charging since the Galaxy S3 but failed to receive favorable responses from consumers for this problem." So Samsung has built the wireless charging function into both their Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S Edge smartphones to complement their unibody design with inseparable batteries. We posted a report back in 2013 titled "Samsung's Galaxy S3 Battery Problems now Plaguing the S4." Apparently Samsung wants to avoid any possible new battery problems marring their S6 and so the "inseparable battery" is the workaround to that problem while looking like a leader by providing a superior wireless charging solution. Samsung has been working on a wireless charging system for years. We covered some of their work on this front in a detailed report in 2013 titled "The Cordless Home is now in Reach with Magnetic Resonance." In the end, Samsung will endeavor to revive their Galaxy smartphone line-up in March in the hopes of stopping the profit bleed that their mobile division has been experiencing for the last couple of quarters. Samsung's longer term foldable smartphone solutions that may be able to breathe some new life into their smartphone line-up is still 12-18 months out at minimum. So whatever Samsung comes out with in March is unlikely to stop the iPhone 6 from crushing them again this quarter. Androiders who are in the market for a new Galaxy smartphone will no doubt welcome the upgraded Galaxy phones, but the noise of a Samsung-Microsoft or Samsung-BlackBerry alliance taking on the Apple-IBM alliance is just empty marketing banter without a plan. Copycats love screaming at the mirror but little else comes of it. As far as Samsung introducing the world's first wireless charging phone, well, I actually wish them all the best. I do. I'll be cheering them on in fact because Apple is working on a master plan that is likely underway at this very moment. Intel as you know is vowing that they'll be introducing their wireless/cordless solution in Q4 with their new processor Skylake. Intel also announced that Skylake-based laptops will be using wireless technology called Rezence for charging, and other wireless technologies for communication with peripherals. So with Samsung rushing in and Intel coming on board with wireless charging this fall, Apple is likely not that far behind. If Samsung is able to competitively get under Apple's skin just a little and help get Apple's various teams fired up to get their solution out a little faster, then I'm all for it. That's what real competition is supposed to do. However shallow Samsung's victory is to be, it'll be short lived and that's the fun of it for some of us. Samsung jumped up and down and got the press all excited about the Galaxy Gear smartwatch being the world's first smartwatch blah-blah-blah. And within 90 days of the Apple Watch's launch, Samsung's Gear will be flushed down the drain of history without anyone caring: Gear what? I don't know about you, but I'm starting to rather enjoy Samsung's copycat syndrome play out so publicly. It's like playing a great video game sequel like Call of Duty. It may be a different war in a different country with a new commander. Yet in the end, your side wins and we get to do it all over again the year after. About Making Comments on our Site: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit any comments. Comments are reviewed daily from 4am to 7pm PST and sporadically over the weekend.
News Article | March 4, 2015
Sustainability gurus from Facebook, Yahoo and Ebay all agreed that green energy is good for their users and good for the planet, on a panel Tuesday evening in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club of California. The "Clean Cloud" event was part of The Commonwealth Club's sustainability initiative, "Climate One." Its goal is, "Changing the conversation about energy, economy and environment" by broadcasting live events featuring local business leaders and advocacy groups. The panel was moderated by veteran TV and radio presenter Greg Dalton, and founder of Climate One, and will be shown on Northern California stations KRCB TV 22 and heard on PBS radio station KQED. The problem with the panel was that they all agreed with each other. Even the policy analyst from Greenpeace agreed with the corporate giants, that sustainability was good. There was nothing much new learned about the green policies or politics of these Silicon Valley giants and their massive data centers. Climate One has a significant challenge ahead in its mission to change "conversations" if it chooses to hold such conversations among the choir. Everyone agrees on all of these types of issues, which they do around here. There were some lost opportunities Tuesday evening to push some of the assembled panelists on some key issues: such as their practice of locating data centers in poor municipalities that offer the best tax incentives. And also on the Silicon Valley giants' political contributions and lobbying efforts and which politicians are funded. They stayed away from those subjects and anything slightly controversial, that might indeed have started a conversation. Would Ebay, Yahoo and Facebook actively push for green initiatives with their users, someone asked? No, not directly was the answer but their platforms enable many groups to organize, and that counts, they said. The Freecycle "movement" began on Yahoo Groups. Would Yahoo directly promote Green/Sustainability issues through its media efforts? Yahoo creates a lot of original media content these days in promoting technology news and tech products and has hired many top reporters such as David Pogue and Rafe Needleman. Would it hire top reporters for a Green media initiative? I'd love to know. What are these companies doing to support green energy initiatives locally? Among their users? Among their staff? Climate One should dig a little a little deeper and see how much is talk and how much is walk -- otherwise it's a free PR slot. The panelists spent a lot of time patting each other on the back. "Clean Cloud" panelists were (above, left to right): Gary Cook, Senior Policy Analyst, Greenpeace International; Lori Duval, Global Director, Green, eBay; Christina Page, Global Director, Energy and Sustainability Strategy, Yahoo; Bill Weihl, Sustainability Guru, Facebook; Greg Dalton, Climate One founder.
News Article | February 19, 2015
Energy gels are so 2014. When it comes to winning races, modern marathon runners need a robot that straps to their back and force-feeds them tomatoes. Luckily, Japan has already delivered this technological wonder. Wait till you see it in action! The Tomatan, built by Japanese ketchup company Kagome and unveiled just in time for this weekend’s Tokyo Marathon, is a different kind of wearable fitness device. The 18-pound humanoid robot — with a cute tomato head that’s not at all creepy — might weigh heavy on the shoulders, but it delivers indispensable energy in nature’s own convenient packaging. Just pull the lever and the Tomatan’s metal arms deliver a juicy red love apple directly into the athlete’s mouth. “Tomatoes have lots of nutrition that combats fatigue,” Kagome’s Shigenori Suzuki told Agence France-Presse. Japan’s fascination with weird tech never ceases to amaze. And now, marathon runners’ pernicious tomato problem has been solved. In Sunday’s Tokyo race, a Kagome runner will wear a smaller tomato-dispensing device called the Petit-Tomatan. That machine, which consists of a “delivery tube attached to a mini-tomato holster worn on the runner’s back,” will weigh about 6.6 pounds, according to AFP. It also includes a timer that will keep the weary marathoner from running through the tomato supply too quickly. Because eating tomatoes the old-fashioned way is just too damn difficult.
News Article | May 29, 2015
First up, we have Star Wars’ hyper engines that go through hyperspace compared to Star Trek’s warp drives that travel through normal space at FTL (“faster than light”) speeds. Technical data books indicate that the speeds and range of hyper drives are greater, however. We have also repulsor craft that hover over the ground in the Empire, but not much is shown of Federation ground transport, although anti-grav units are used to move heavy objects. But the Federation has one edge: teleportation. I’m going to consider them even here, based on having different advantages. Both empires seem to be able to produce unlimited power for their needs. The amount directed to any one use might be limited, but fuel seems to be endless. While the exact fuel for the Empire is unclear, it seems to be on-par with the Federation’s antimatter engines (although often at much larger scales, e.g. The Death Star). Both spacefaring civilizations have FTL communication that is not instantaneous at long distances. There are language translators that work in real time in the Federation, but these might just be for explorers. Citizens of the Empire seem to prefer being polyglot, but protocol droids are available for translation. Slight edge to the Federation here. (+1/2) The Federation is able to use replicators to nearly instantly produce food, durable goods and tools. Apparently it cannot produce all elements and molecules; perhaps needed is a “base supply” of matter to convert into finished items, rather than just converting energy into matter directly. But holodecks have shown that it can instantly produce and break down the matter it works with. The Empire, especially on the frontier, depends on trade. The movement of rare resources and finished goods is the center of their economy, indicating that they have no similar manufacturing capability. Plus one for the Federation. Both civilizations build large spaceships in orbit. While the Federation can produce starbases which are large cities, the Empire makes Star Destroyers and was able to produce two Death Stars (one in secret). It seems that Empire construction methods are superior. Plus one for the Empire. Ground troops for both civilizations make use of hand-held energy weapons, some of which are powerful enough to vaporize their target, although the later are not commonly used (too few shots?) Neither seem to use personal energy shields. Vehicles similarly use weapons the scale-up with the size of the vehicle, although vehicles are large enough that they can supply the energy needed to maintain shields that defend against energy weapons. The extremely large size of Empire ships mean large shields, thus fighters are more heavily used to penetrate the shields physically and then deliver weapons attacks. But the two seem to be on-par technologically here and I don’t see one side having an advantage over the other, should they fight each other with the same mass of ships or number of ground troops with air support. Severe injuries that do not result in brain death seem to be reparable. For some reason the Federation seems to be plagued with hundreds of rare and hard-to-identify diseases on its border (more often across it, perhaps). But they are able to treat them with a minimum of fatalities. The Empire has a greater use of cybernetics (Repli-Limb Prosthetic Replacements), although it is unclear if this is cultural or if they lack some sort of limb regeneration technology that the Federation might be using off camera. On the other hand, Star Trek: TNG’s Geordi La Forge did have cybernetic sight... Both civilizations are also known to use cloning technology (in secret) and to genetically modify members for specialty purposes (again, rarely). Lack of firm details here results in another tie. The Empire has a love of creating seemingly sentient robots to function as servants. The Federation has produced many robots, but does not tend to use them alongside human crews. Use in construction and other off-camera activities seems to be the primary use. But then, the two sentient Star Trek robots (Data and Lore) are afforded full human rights (and criminal responsibility for their actions), possibly unlike in the Empire. Certainly the difficulty in production is not rewarded by an economic return of gaining a specialized servant. The Federation does seem to prefer using semi-sentient computers for their starships, however. There is no sign that The Empire does this with their ships. In fact, you often need a droid to interface with the ship computer. In the end, a small advantage to the Empire (+1/2) [Update: the new Star Trek movie has an apparently robotic crewman on the bridge of the Enterprise. Perhaps they are ret-conning to incorporate “droids”.] Both empires have mastered the control of projected fields, artificial gravity, ship integrity fields and so on. Shield generators are standard gear for starships and can be placed in ground installations. Some cloaking technology exists for both, as does projecting holograms. Although this is not being factored in here, I would like to point out that the smaller Federation has made use of social institutions which are more “advanced” than the Empire. The Federation is a non-discriminating, post-scarcity economy which no longer uses money and is interested in the betterment of all of its citizens equally. The Empire exists as a feudal state (or Republic, before and after the rise of the Empire) with slavery common, an unequal sharing of resources, and a culture that accepts bounty hunters and smugglers, at least on the fringes of civilization. The Federation has transporters, personal translators, holodecks and replicators. The Empire has droids, faster/further warp drive travel, massive construction projects, energy generation that scales linearly with its construction projects, and cybernetics. Also keep in mind that the Empire is much, much larger. It spans the entire galaxy. There are civilizations in the Federation’s galaxy whose technology dwarfs both the Federation and the Empire. About the author: Todd Gardiner, Photographer and questioner of too much privacy Which is the more technologically advanced civilization—the Federation of Star Trek or the Galactic Republic of Star Wars? originally appeared on Quora. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
News Article | May 31, 2015
Editor’s note: Tadhg Kelly is a video game design consultant and the creator of leading blog What Games Are. He is currently writing a book called Core Game Design. You can follow him on Twitter here. Last week I put on my business 101 hat and talked about four typical vectors of competition. (Brief recap: meaningful features, distribution, marketing stories and value) I also mentioned that the preferred vector of most businesses is to compete on distribution. Competing on value destroys margins while competing on features or marketing stories risks total failure. Distribution, on the other hand, is risky but fixable if you have a product amenable to it. In games (but this applies to all sorts of startups too) most studios follow that “distribution” strategy to a greater or lesser degree. A lot of them are concerned about where to find players, how to hold onto them, how to monetize them efficiently and so on. Talk of funnels and such occupy a great deal of industry chatter, particularly among studios that operate in newfangled platforms like mobile. We talk about optimization tactics more than anything else possibly because it tends to be the most tangible kind of conversation we can have. But in fairness it’s always kind of the same conversation. From platform to platform a lot of overheated thought goes into reading the runes of audience behaviors and deriving small-gain opportunities from them. At certain times such conversations are appropriate because they can lead to important lessons. However as an industry we do have a pathological habit of falling into the belief that optimization is the only path toward success. Here’s the problem: follow that logic for long enough and it leads to a dead end. Companies that become all about better distribution tactics, optimization, numbers and more numbers tend to forget that they’re in an entertainment business. They tend to equate the problem of product creation (making new games) with the problem of optimization (tuning economies) and fall into designing games incrementally. Every game becomes a new feature addition to the previous game. I don’t mean within the same brand/franchise (although that happens too). I mean across every game they make, and those of their competitors. This is why every last studio ends up using the same Energy mechanic. for example. Such copycatting has a very long history but it is currently manifesting most heavily in mobile. The mobile gaming industry continues to grow at a frightening rate. It has easily surpassed every other platform in terms of eyeballs and is on the verge of doing the same in revenue too. It also has no readily apparent new platform ready to take it down. And yet for all that many of the bigger players in the space are showing zero ambition in figuring out what new and exciting things they could be making. Then are instead stuck optimizing over and over. Worse: many startups seeking to emulate the success of the current big kahunas are doing the same thing. This, to me, does not seem particularly wise even though I understand the logic of it. There’s a lot of confirmation bias to draw on that supports it. There are researchers, metric services and tool providers who beat the same drum on a constant basis to tell developers that they have to be all about optimizing (because they sell tools that purport to help devs do that). There are occasional reports in the tech and games business media that speak of colossal amounts of money being garnered by incumbents and speak to a certain scientism-preference among studios. As a result many times as a consultant I find that clients harbor a pre-conceived model of the landscape in their minds that largely derives from whatever King or Supercell has been up to. The hardest thing to do is always the same. It’s getting clients to understand one simple lesson: The overall fate of the industry is not the same as the fate of its big studios. It is not the case that as goes Supercell, so goes the mobile nation. Copy its model and you’ll likely fail. Look deeper at the precepts of prior successes, not just the surface. Many genuinely can’t. Much as the rise and fall of movie studios is a regular part of Hollywood life, gaming studios tend to come and go. When they come they tend to do so on a wave of a game that’s achieved phenomenal success through luck or judgement. When they go it tends to be because they fell into optimization thinking and formula. A movie studio might make a decent living for a while cranking out formula product but it will eventually tap out. The same thing happens – usually faster – in games. Sometimes it doesn’t though. There are the Nintendos, Blizzards and Valves that all seem to last, for example. What separates them from a Supercell, King or Zynga? Two things. The first is an attitude of building toward community longevity. Love or hate them, companies of this stripe tend to understand the value of building a fan bulwark because it’s what sustains them through the lean times. No studio is able to be permanently successful but the ones with a legion of diehards have enough stability to make as many strikes as it takes to go big. Thus the one thing they tend to be wary of is compromising the quality of game experiences that they’re known for – because that compromises their true asset. The second is an attitude toward game design. Blizzard types tend treat game design far more seriously than as just being about optimization and so they give it long enough lead time to happen. By this I mean creative lead time, not just more time to monkey about in Excel crafting an ever denser internal economy. Their attitude is intentional, not incremental. Intentional design is key, but in the prevailing culture of mobile especially it is hard to maintain. It’s also not just something that happens. Zynga recently gave it a shot with Don Mattrick for example, trying its hand at some projects that diverged from the norm. It doesn’t seem to have really worked out though. For startup studios looking to make a name for themselves the best time to be intentional is at the start, before the institutional logic of incrementalism has time to set in. Getting there is also about priorities: If you see your company as an engine that builds toward exit then in all honesty you’re likely predisposed for optimization and should maybe be thinking about being a technology and tools provider instead. On the other hand if you intend to make games as an end in and of itself then adopting incremental attitudes is signing your own death warrant. It might take a long time to get there, but chances are you’re doomed from the beginning.
News Article | June 2, 2015
Apple’s HomeKit is finally starting to roll out to actual consumers, via the first crop of HomeKit-enabled accessories from third-party manufacturers. This means you’ll soon be able to get your hands on a range of products for the connected home that work with Siri on your iOS device, and that you’ll be able to do so as soon as today, since some of the new HomeKit accessories start shipping now. The accessories in question range from sensors, to lights, to thermostats, to smart outlets, and come from a group of accessory-makers with a trusted reputation in the connected home industry. HomeKit may have taken a while to arrive, but it’s doing so in grand fashion, with a practical lineup to get your home connected to your iOS ecosystem in an essential way. The Elgato Eve is a set of connected wireless sensors that monitor key factors like indoor air quality, temperature, humidity as well as conditions outside, like temperature, humidity and air pressure. Four sensors are included in the box, including Room for indoor monitoring, Weather for outdoor stats, Door & Window for checking open/closed status of those entry points, and Energy for checking what’s drawing power and switching them on and off remotely. Using HomeKit, iOS device users with 8.1 or above can check on all the stats gathered by the Eve from their devices, and even do so when they’re away from home using Apple TV (generation 3 or later with OS version 7.0 or later), thanks to its ability to act as a HomeKit remote hub. Pre-order for the Even sensors kicks off today, at Walmart.com and Amazon, and you’ll be able to pick them up from the Apple Store starting in July when they hit shelves. Sensors are sold individually at $79.99 for Eve Room, $49.95 for Eve Weather, $49.95 for Eve Energy and $39.95 for Eve Door & Window, and the app is free. Connected thermostat maker ecobee is adding HomeKit to its ecobee3 hardware, which is designed for houses that have multiple rooms in need of climate control. Remote sensors help it monitor temperature in multiple rooms at the same time, letting you save energy and maximize comfort in every area. With HomeKit, ecobee3 owners can group actions together for control via Siri, and control things remotely with the Apple TV component. It starts shipping later this month, and will be in Apple Stores, Home Depot, Best Buy and Amazon in July for $249, with additional remote sensors available as add-on purchases for $79 per pair. The Caséta Smart Bridge is a wireless lighting hub that makes up a core part of the Caséta Wireless Lighting Starter Kit from the company. This HomeKit version lets users control lights in specific areas, as well as check with Siri to see if lights are either on or off in specific areas of the house you might not be able to see at any given moment. With HomeKit, you can control specific rooms or groups of lights separately, or turn everything off with voice commands. You can also control things remotely provided you have that late-generation Apple TV. Lutron’s HomeKit-enabled Caséta Smart Bridge is part of the Lighting Starter Kit that also includes two dimmers (which work with your existing bulbs), two remotes and two pedestals to hold them. It’s available at Apple Stores starting today, with a retail price of $229.95. Additional dimmer/remote combos sell for $59.95. The Insteon Hub with HomeKit allows users to control the whole range of Insteon connected devices from the company, including LED bulbs, plug-in lamps, thermostats, wall outlets, cameras, door locks and more. And in addition to its full range of first-party products, the company is also now offering up a brand new version of its Insteon+ app for iOS 8.1 or later, which will also work with HomeKit-enabled devices from other manufacturers. Insteon is clearly looking to be a one-stop shop for users looking to create an Apple-friendly connected home, letting you group a range of devices and functions together. The new Hub is available at Amazon.com and Smarthome.com right now for $149.99, and will make its way to physical retail stores starting in early July. Accessory maker iHome is getting in the smart home game with a new HomeKit-enabled smart plug model, the iSP5. The smart plug allows you to turn anything that plugs into an outlet into an intelligent device, and to use multiple iSP5 plugs to create “scenes” which turn on or off multiple gadgets at once. The SmartPlug itself is designed to be low-profile, and to allow for two to work in a standard wall outlet at the same time, or to keep one outlet free. The iSP5 SmartPlug will be on sale in retail beginning in late June or early July, but pre-orders kick off at iHome.com starting on June 15. The plug’s pricing is not yet announced. In case you’re hazy on the details of HomeKit, here’s a quick primer: Devices that work with the protocol can be controlled via Siri so long as you have their app installed on your device, and are running iOS 8.1 or later. Set up and discovery is handled automatically just by tapping, and you can use groups to control different collections of devices. If you also have an Apple TV (generation 3 or later) you can also control HomeKit-enabled devices remotely, when you’re outside of your home Wi-fi network. Apple had told us the first HomeKit accessories were coming in June, and this crop of initial partners delivers that. It’s interesting to see Apple announce this ahead of WWDC, the keynote for which is next Monday – it implies they’ve got so much to talk about that a HomeKit partner parade didn’t necessarily fit the agenda.