February 16, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Gulf states' quest to find 'new oil' turns to hydrogen (Sebastian Castelier, Feb 16, 2021, Al Monitor)

Green hydrogen, a climate-friendly energy carrier obtained by splitting water molecules using electrolysis powered by renewables, is emerging as a clean fuel of the future to power transportation and energy-intensive industries such as steel manufacturing.

For the Arab Gulf states, which have some of the highest solar exposures in the world, the prospect of exporting large volumes of renewable electricity in the form of hydrogen is a timely opportunity as they attempt to diversify away from oil and gas revenues. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), three state-run entities formed the Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance to position the fossil fuel-rich emirate as a major exporter of blue and green hydrogen.

"The expansion of the hydrogen market is part of a very large, deep, gigantic movement to transform the world's energy systems toward green energy sources," Mestrallet told Al-Monitor. Although estimates vary widely, a European Union report said analysts predict clean hydrogen could meet 24% of world energy demand by 2050.

Yet green hydrogen remains a lot more expensive than other fuels, and S&P Global Ratings estimated that the climate-friendly energy carrier's production costs would need to "fall by over 50% to $2.0-$2.5/kg" to become a "viable alternative to conventional fuels."

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Texas power outages: How the largest energy-producing state in the US failed in freezing temperatures (Jason Whitely,  February 15, 2021, WFAA)

Electric generating plants did not properly winterize their equipment, said Dr. David Tuttle in the latest episode of the Y'all-itics political podcast. Tuttle is a research associate with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

"There are things that can be done, but it will cost some money," he added. "About every decade we have these long-sustained periods. And then, you know weatherization is supposed to happen, and then, it doesn't because it costs money." [...]

This isn't the first time that weatherization has been an issue with equipment failure and rotating outages in Texas.

In August 2011, six months after an ice storm crippled much of the state and resulted in rotating outages, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation issued a report with recommendations.

"Generators and natural gas producers suffered severe losses of capacity despite having received accurate forecasts of the storm," the report states. "Entities in both categories report having winterization procedures in place. However, the poor performance of many of these generating units and wells suggests that these procedures were either inadequate or were not adequately followed."

That investigation revealed what happened in 2011, also happened in 1989, which is the first time ERCOT ever implemented rotating outages.

"The experiences of 1989 are instructive, particularly on the electric side. In that year, as in 2011, cold weather caused many generators to trip, derate, or fail to start. The [Public Utility Commission of Texas] investigated the occurrence and issued a number of recommendations aimed at improving winterization on the part of the generators.

These recommendations were not mandatory, and over the course of time implementation lapsed. Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011," the investigation discovered.

Fast forward a decade and here we are again.

Winterizing equipment - making sure it can sustain extended periods of below-freezing temperatures - has never been a requirement in Texas like other states.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Pentagon report reveals inroads white supremacists have made in military (John M. Donnelly. February 16, 2021, Roll Call)

A soldier in the Florida National Guard who co-founded a murderous fascist group was chatting with a fellow white supremacist in the extremist "Iron March" online forum in 2016, when the guard member made a remarkable statement.

The guard member said he felt free to be a neo-Nazi in the U.S. Army.

"Are you worried at all about being found by your mates or someone, now being in the U.S. military?" he was asked. "You'll be straight f---ed surely."

To that, the soldier replied: "I was 100% open about everything with the friends I made at training. They know about it all. They love me too cause I'm a funny guy."

A large database containing this and many other Iron March chats was published in 2019 on the Ars Technica news site. A screenshot of the neo-Nazi guardsman's exchange is spotlighted in a previously unpublicized October 2020 Pentagon report to Congress that details the military's efforts to keep extremists, particularly fascists, out of the military.

The report, obtained by CQ Roll Call, paints a stark picture of white supremacist inroads in the U.S. military. And it reveals several steps the Pentagon is now reviewing to kick such people out and help keep them out -- from accessing an FBI database of extremist tattoos to improving security clearance questions.

It's time to restore universal national service. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Leading House Democrat sues Donald Trump under a post-Civil War law for conspiracy to incite US Capitol riot (Jessica Schneider,  February 16, 2021, CNN)

Former President Donald Trump and attorney Rudy Giuliani are being accused of conspiring with the far-right groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to incite the January 6 insurrection in a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court by the Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee that cites a post-Civil War law designed to combat violence and intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan.

The lawsuit, filed by Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson in his personal capacity, is the first civil action filed against the former President related to the attack at the US Capitol and comes days after the Senate acquitted Trump in his impeachment trial.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What went wrong with the Texas power grid? (Marcy de Luna & Amanda Drane, 2/15/21, Houston Chronicle)

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, blamed the failures on the state's deregulated power system, which doesn't provide power generators with the returns needed to invest in maintaining and improving power plants.

"The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union," said Hirs. "It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.

"For more than a decade, generators have not been able to charge what it costs them to produce electricity," said Hirs. "If you don't make a return on your money, how can you keep it up? It's like not taking care of your car. If you don't change the oil and tires, you can't expect your car to be ready to evacuate, let alone get you to work."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The United States Should Give Fleeing Uighurs a Home (Feb. 12th, 2021, Foreign Policy)

Now, the most tangible thing the U.S. government can do to support Uighurs is to fully use its refugee admissions program, which has long been a practical way to alleviate suffering for those in crisis, by making Uighurs a priority group for resettlement in the United States.

In particular, the United States should grant Uighurs "Priority 2" or "P-2" status in its refugee program by naming them a group "of special humanitarian concern." P-2 status enables candidates to bypass referral from other entities like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an embassy, or a nongovernmental organization, and to apply directly to U.S. authorities for resettlement, whether they're currently inside or outside their country of origin.

Washington has a track record of success with P-2. This special status has been extended to help, for example, refugees from Myanmar in Thailand, religious minorities in the Middle East, and individuals who helped the U.S. government in Iraq. Other groups whom Washington is currently considering for P-2 status include survivors of Islamic State genocide in Syria and Iraq and citizens of Hong Kong.

The special status could provide an important lifeline for those Uighurs who have already fled China yet continue to face persecution. For instance, in Thailand, Uighurs face extrajudicial imprisonment. In Turkey, since the government is under significant pressure from Beijing, it continues to deport Uighurs back to China--even those to whom it has already granted asylum. The good news is that a bill offering the Uighurs P-2 status could be introduced later this month.

For Uighurs whose cases are currently languishing in the U.S. asylum system, there is no shortage of financial and emotional hardship. Hamut's daughter is about to graduate high school. Since her status as an asylee is unresolved, her family will have to pay high international tuition rates for her to attend college, which may prevent her from pursuing higher education. Both Hamut and his daughter said they live in constant fear that their case will be rejected and that they will be sent back to Xinjiang, where they would almost certainly face imprisonment.

Because they are already in the United States, P-2 status will not resolve these challenges for Hamut and his family. But it will speed up the vetting and resettlement of other Uighurs from the countries they've fled to and ensure that these new arrivals do not face similar hardships. For cases like Hamut's, Washington should work to ensure that pending asylum cases are resolved in a timely and thorough manner.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government should press other countries to offer safe haven to Uighurs. The United States should prioritize diplomacy with key countries hosting Uighurs, including Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, and Kazakhstan. These countries all face significant pressure from China to deport Uighurs back to Xinjiang. Washington can send a clear message of support by stepping up and offering P-2 status to Uighurs, which will hopefully strengthen those countries' willingness to accept Uighur refugees within their own borders.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Putin's Corrupt Pipeline Is on Life Support (RYAN TULLY, February 16, 2021, National Review)

The new Biden team has struck the right rhetorical note, arguing that NS2 is "a bad deal for Europe" and promising that the U.S. will not "roll over" for Russia. Since Navalny's arrest and sentencing, key European figures have stepped up their rhetoric as well. Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.K.'s House of Commons, has on multiple occasions advocated for NS2 to be killed. By an overwhelming 581-50 margin, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the EU to "immediately" halt work on NS2. Even the French, who up until recently backed Germany in support of the project, have changed their tune. When asked earlier this month if France was in favor of abandoning the project, Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune confirmed that it was. [...]

The easier path forward would be for the Germans to pull the plug, unilaterally ending the pipeline. If it were done in a coherent fashion, and timed to coincide with statements of support from across Europe, this would send a powerful message that Putin's way of doing business will no longer be tolerated in Europe.

The other path forward would be for the United States to kill the pipeline. Contrary to statements from the Kremlin, the bipartisan enactment of sanctions via the 2019 Protecting Europe's Energy Security Act (PEESA) in December 2019 and the 2021 PEESA Clarification Act (PEESCA) has left NS2 on life support. The sanctions have forced the NS2 consortium into delay after delay, which has in turn likely resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns. They've also led company after company to abandon the project, leaving the consortium with an ever-shrinking pool of firms from which to obtain critical services and technical expertise. Moscow and Berlin have responded by claiming that completion of the pipeline is inevitable and can be accomplished in the near term, in a desperate bid to save the project. But that simply isn't the case. Left to do their work, the PEESA/PEESCA sanctions will kill NS2 sooner rather than later.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


EV charging to solar panels: How connected tech is changing the homes we live in (Anmar Frangoul, 2/16/21, CNBC)

Thanks to the proliferation of hardware and software within the home, this trend shows no sign of letting up and comes in many different forms, from indoor air quality monitors to "smart" doorbells which provide us with visual, real-time notifications when someone is attempting to access our property.

Residential renewable electricity generation is also starting to gain traction, with a growing number of people installing solar panels in the hope of reducing bills and their environmental footprint.

In the U.S. alone, the residential solar market installed 738 megawatts of capacity in the third quarter of 2020, a 14% jump compared to the second quarter, according to a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie.

Earlier this month, California-headquartered SunPower -- which specializes in the design, production and delivery of solar panels and systems -- announced it was rolling out an app which will enable homeowners to assess and manage their energy generation, usage and battery storage settings with their mobile.

The service will be available to customers using its SunPower Eqiunox system and represents yet another instance of how connected technologies can provide us with valuable information about how buildings operate.

Similar offerings in this increasingly crowded marketplace include so-called "smart" meters, which allow consumers to see how much energy they are using and money they are spending in real time.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Corporate America's earnings have already surpassed pre-pandemic levels, Goldman Sachs finds (Steve Goldstein, 2/16/21, Market Watch)

The U.S. is still in the middle of a pandemic, with many schools shut and the daily toll of new COVID-19 cases only recently falling back to five digits. But for Corporate America, the worst may already be in the rearview mirror.

According to Goldman Sachs, earnings per share for S&P 500 companies have actually climbed in the fourth quarter. Granted, it isn't by much -- just 2% year-over-year -- but that compares to expectations they would fall by 11%.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The needless clash between teachers' unions and science is harming America's kids
 The evidence is clear: We can open schools safely now. (Benjamin P. Linas  Feb 15, 2021, Vox)

Millions of students across America have now been stuck in remote learning for nearly a year. This situation, which has hurt learning and widened gaping disparities, is in large part because many teachers fear returning to the classroom in person. But in this past year, we have also learned how we can keep schools open safely.

Educators' anxiety is based on reasonable concerns. Covid-19 is a serious illness. And schools are an indoor group setting with the potential to spread infection. But schools, it turns out, with a few basic safety measures, including masks and reasonable distancing, are not a high-risk venue for Covid-19 transmission. In fact, they appear to have far lower rates of the virus than their surrounding communities. Still, some education union leaders are beginning to lay the foundation for schools remaining shuttered into the 2021-22 school year.

...just jump teachers to the head of the vaccine line, even if it's unnecessary. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ends to a MeansWhy weren't Haredi Jews troubled by Trump's conspiracy-mongering? (SHAUL MAGID, FEBRUARY 16, 2021, The Tablet)

For many of its early architects, Zionism was "messianic" in the naturalized sense. At the time, Jews were often deemed "abnormal" because were a people without a land, and Zionism sought to reestablish Jewish sovereignty in a homeland as part of a process of normalization. While that project had enormous success, apocalyptic tendencies in the tradition very quickly began to rise to the surface, especially in times of turmoil and change, yielding the expectation that the secular state would soon reveal the divine hand that will yield a messianic age. Or that God used sinners (secular Zionists) to do God's redemptive work. This thinking was informed by the Jewish mystical tradition, which is driven by a transformative theology that often feeds apocalyptic thinking. Things are not what they seem.

And of course this apocalypticism is seen in dispensationalist Christianity as well, which is why the symmetry between Jewish Zionist messianism and Christian Zionist dispensationalism is a natural fit. It is no accident that evangelical John Hagee gave the invocation at the U.S. Embassy's move to Jerusalem. As Trump said afterward, "I did this for the evangelicals." On one (Zionist) Christian reading, the Jews may think they are exercising their right of self-determination, but they are really pawns, paving the way for the return of Christ (including the predicted end-time destruction of those Jews who refuse to accept Christ). But (Jewish) Zionists don't care, because for them it is the Christians who are the pawns in the story of their own heroic redemption. Each is conspiratorial in its own way. And they can do business together.

Haredim may not all be Zionists--most are not--but they are increasingly pro-Israel, and they view Israel as an important part of their religious identity, for complex reasons. But setting aside the Israel question, Haredi support for Trump retains some of that underlying feeling of an unseen plan unfolding in unconventional ways. False messianism has plagued Judaism for its entire history. And each time, the rising messianic figure was never a conventional righteous person, but always someone who seemed the opposite. The 17th-century false messiah Sabbatai Zevi was not a righteous scholar but a largely unknown, strange, and psychologically troubled figure of questionable learning and pedigree--whose audacious claim of messianic prophecy stirred almost an entire Jewish population. In the very time between his first messianic proclamation in 1648 and his abrupt conversion to Islam in 1666, much of the Jewish world believed him to be the messiah and prepared for a collective return to Palestine. After his conversion to Islam, many were traumatized, and a smaller group of followers developed an ideology whereby his conversion was part of his messianic vocation. He seemed like he was now a Muslim, but the conversion was, well, "fake news." Some converted with him; others remained Jewish but became clandestine Sabbatean followers (they called themselves "the believers," maminim); and some radical circles determined the time was ripe for sinning as a final act of redemptive behavior. What looked like a sin was really a mitzvah. Many returned to their traditional lives. And yet movements like Hasidism, now a part of normative Judaism and a foundation of Haredi Judaism, emerged in part through Sabbatean influence.

Meanwhile, for QAnon Trump is a kind of messianic savior who will cleanse the country from the evil of the deep state; for some of his followers, he is better understood as a pre-messianic leader who will usher in the return of Christ. Signs at the siege upon the Capitol read "Jesus is my savior," "Trump is my resident." The juxtaposition was not accidental. I have been told by Haredim that Trump is like Cyrus the Great or the conqueror Alexander. In Jewish lore, Cyrus liberated the Jews from the Babylonian exile and facilitated the rebuilding of the Second Jerusalem Temple. He was viewed as a great gentile leader who helped Jews fulfill their covenantal destiny. Why Trump is viewed by some Haredi Trumpists as a modern-day Cyrus is not wholly clear. Moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is hardly Cyrus-like in scope. Nevertheless, Haredim have come to believe that Trump is a transitional gentile leader who will change the course of the country in their favor and will alter Jewish history.

Conspiratorial rhetoric may have moved many Haredim from transactional political actors to citizens who viewed Trump as a kind of Cyrus figure. Reagan was arguably better for the Haredim than Trump, but he never inspired the same kind of enthusiasm. The support for Reagan never reached that level; his support stayed largely in the realm of the transactional.

This is not false messianism. But I am suggesting that there is good reason why this conspiratorial thinking has not been as dissonant for Haredim as it is for many other Jews. Trump's use of conspiratorial thinking has become absorbed in some way in the Haredi world even though most Haredim don't know, or care to know, anything about Q. The more traditional Jewish belief structure comprises elements that, while not conspiratorial per se, function under similar assumptions: reality is not what it seems; things could change very quickly; a sovereign (God) is running the world; there is a plan which is often unseen; a savior will arise to lead the battle against evil. And conspiracy theories, like religions, are not falsifiable.

Donald is "special" because he's the one who shared their desire to deny Palestinians self-determination. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Huge Electric Leadership of a Small California Town (JOE MATHEWS, FEBRUARY 16, 2021, Zocalo Public Square)

Longtime readers of this column will not be surprised to learn that the town in question is Gonzales, the California municipal version of the Little Engine That Could. Its small, working-class population of just 9,000, many of them farmworkers, has ingeniously solved tricky local government problems, from universal broadband to health care access, and from economic planning to child development.

Now Gonzales is tackling one of our state's most stubborn challenges: how to develop local sources of cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable power as our state's aging energy grid falters.

Tiny Gonzales's solution? Creating the largest multi-customer microgrid in California. In essence, Gonzales is building its own electricity island among the vegetable fields of the Central Coast to guarantee uninterrupted power, from mostly renewable sources, for the agricultural and industrial businesses that provide the tax base to support its ambitious local programs.

The idea of microgrids--local power grids that can be separate or connected to the larger grid--is not new. In California, they are seen as tools to make electricity service more resilient and to better integrate renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, with the power grid. But efforts to establish microgrids face complex obstacles, from scarce financing, to regulatory barriers that prevent utility customers from sharing power across different grids, to opposition from established utilities.

What distinguishes Gonzales is how the town is bringing together different entities--a savvy start-up applying advanced technology and financing power to microgrids, big energy customers in agriculture and food processing, a new municipal energy authority, and a method for selling power capacity back into the state grid--to surmount those obstacles.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


In Texas Storm Disaster, Biden Acts As President For All Americans (Laura Clawson, Feb. 15th, 2021, National Memo)

Texas is being battered by a winter storm, causing rolling electrical blackouts while unplowed streets have people trapped at home without heat or water. At least 2.5 million people don't have power in the state, several times the number that lost power during Hurricane Harvey, with record winter demand in the cold weather and turbines and other equipment freezing.

In response, President Biden has approved an emergency declaration, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency "to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures," with 75 percent federal funding.

Oh. So this is what it's like to have a president who considers himself responsible for the whole country, not just the states that voted for him.

By contrast, Donald Trump repeatedly delayed disaster aid to parts of the country he didn't think were sufficiently pro-Trump. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


This technology could transform renewable energy. BP and Chevron just invested (Jack Denton, 2/16/21, Market Watch)

BP and Chevron have made a landmark expansion into geothermal energy on Tuesday, betting on a new technology that could prove to be the world's first scalable clean energy derived from a constant source: the natural heat of the earth, 

The two major oil companies have headlined a $40 million funding round into a Canadian geothermal energy firm called Eavor. Based in Calgary, Eavor has pioneered a new form of technology that could feasibly be deployed in many places around the world.