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back to article We need cheap, abundant energy. Here's how

[ This week, El Reg brings you extracts this week from Energise! - a fresh look at energy policy and innovation - eds] Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus (1818) suggested that human power over nature could lead to tragedy. Then, a century after Shelley’s lone doctor foolishly experimented with human …

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Boffin

Makers, Fakers & Takers

It IS easier to get an MBA + PR diploma than to get any Engineering/Science title anywhere in the world.

Also, Scientific Language does not translate easily into any kind of "!Wow, look at that !!!!" that impresses the masses .

Add to that the lowering level of Education , that politicians, etc. survive painting a nice future,

and selling Science is really difficult.

So, them PR Drones, marketing, .. you name it, have conquered the language, and the future all for a Bonus.

I´m all with AC@11:32.

Plus destruction begets construction and Deleveraging works.

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jai
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warming planet?

there's still an inch of snow outside my home this morning!

if the planet is warming then it's going to have to be a friggen hot summer in the UK this year to compensate for the past week

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@jai

Tell that to the Australians.

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Good Article

Often, I see articles here denying global warming, which often do not even allow comments. But here is a positive piece that I agree with: the solution is not drastically cutting down our energy use, but instead improving our sources of energy.

Since, with nuclear power, we have a carbon-free way of producing energy where hydroelectricity is not available and when the wind is not blowing, it's not as if there is a question of being disappointed if research doesn't return new solutions in time.

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Flame

@warming planet?

and by analogy the earth is flat because from the top of the building i live i can no see the earth curvature that all those silly people "believe".

right now there is a heatwave in australia with a intensity that if you was there you will believe that the global warming is a tenfold faster that it is. gotcha?

/rant on

we live in the tirany of the spin and overvaluated mass-opinion.

i am sick that the value of my(and your) opinions is invariant of my knowledge and understanding but proportional to its popularity.

democracy is the symbiosis between the economic elite and the deluded mediocre masses, ones keep their supremacy by material posesion and the others the enjoyable illusion of equality without mental effort. intelectuallism and wisdom are second class social skill.

/rant off

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Black Helicopters

here's the problem..

the reasons for this lack of decent electricity generation technology are:

- our current laws of physics, which are not entirely correct and/or complete. as as been proven many times. Generation of free and clean electricity has been done before, but was either patented long back (and only used to prevent anyone else from using this tech), or cannot be patented, since you cannot patent something that defies any law of physics (as currently written).

- scientists are at huge risk of ridicule and destroying their careers by seeking/finding these answers. so they typically stay well clear of this area. and who would blame them?

- the big money people (oil, energy, bankers etc) are all making massive profits from the current reliance of fossil fuels and the ridiculous centralized supply of electricity. and these people will (and have previously) go to any lengths to stop development and acceptance of any form of potentially effective alternative energy.

- education in the sciences is seriously lacking, (and common sense too it would seem).

and if you like conspiracies, then consider that there have been at least 2 working 'free energy generators' made in the past (search about and you can find), and our 'leaders' have had full knowledge (and control) of these inventions ever since. so why is this tech still 'unavailable'? and why the continuing non-acceptance of these and associated physics?

hmmm.. i wonder...

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Unhappy

@jai

It's comments like that which show why people talk about "climate change". Global warming means overall average warming, but the masses did not manage to grasp that global warming does not mean "everywhere gets warmer at the same time". Some places may cool during climate shifts, but the average global temperature rises and global warming tends to mean "more extreme weather events". Including deep freezes.

A more long-term cooling for the UK is a distinct possibility in climate models where the North Atlantic circulation shuts down - global warming causes it, but the net effect is every winter looking like the one we're having now. Gradually, overall global warming would cancel it out, but it would still mean a couple of centuries of significantly colder weather here than we've been having since I was born.

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Doesn't the government tax fossil fuel?

Not a word about that, somehow. And no n-word.

Creative destruction is all very well, as long as it's not of large numbers of workers.

--- G.R.L. Cowan, (How fire can be domesticated)

http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/

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@Nic Brough

@Nic: "more long-term cooling for the UK is a distinct possibility in climate models where the North Atlantic circulation shuts down "

And crushed cars are a distinct possibility in a Godzilla or a King Kong movie. That's the point of a "model" - it can produce anything you want it to. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Since the goal of climate models is to scare people (as in a Hollywood CGI spectacular) into demanding policy changes, the models need to be really scary.

Meanwhile the North Atlantic conveyor moving or shutting down is not a "distinct possibility" back on Earth:

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/314/5802/1064a?ck=nck

So you fail on that specific point. To sum up the rest of your argument...

warming == global warming

cooling == global warming

wetter == global warming

dryer == global warming

"Heads I win, Tails you lose"

@Nic: "It's comments like that which show why people talk about "climate change".

It's arguments like yours which explain the public is ignoring people like you.

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There's a simple reason why scientific research is held back.

Greedy Capitalists are intent on milking everythign for every penny they can ghet out of it. IT's the same everywhere, software, electronics, drugs, vehicles..

The corporations sometimes sit on new developments for decades until they've maximised profit from the technology that would be superceded by the new.

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Happy

@ SillyFellow

"education in the sciences is seriously lacking, (and common sense too it would seem)."

Yes, so it would seem.

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Stop

Plenty of research going on

There are plenty of initiatives and lots of research going on in the energy industry for future long term supplies of energy that is also clean. I know I am in the industry. Perhaps the true problem is the companies in question are poor at communicating that fact? Or partially due to environmentalists who assume because they dont know about something or dont somehow magically get told about things its not happening?

Perception is whats wrong here, not a lack research.

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Don't throw money at it

The problem with throwing money at research is people expect results to scale with the money. Governments don't want to spend £100,000,000 on research and when asked for a report on what that money has got them, get a 500page document basically saying "we've found lots of things that don't work..."

As a result, huge amounts is spent researching achievable things. Getting an extra 0.5% efficiency out of solar panels. Boosting lithium cells' capacity by 4% and making them not explode like previous types (and instead explode in whole new ways).

Money is needed but also, there needs to be more freedom. Say that it's expected that the research may not give results, let scientists explore more varied, unexplored areas rather than iterating existing tech. The biggest tech revolutions come in completely new fundamental ideas; Steam turbines, AC power generation, Microchips and so on.

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Heart

Re Daniel Garcia: "The tyranny of spin and overrated mass-opinion

You must be an interesting guy to know. You carefully wrote "rant on" before what could be loosely called a diatribe about democracy and its faults.

I'm only worried that you stay in a good frame of mind and don't become too cynical about horrors such as the tabloid press, the manifold sins of global corporations etc. Just to say we "all" share your take on the modern world.

I have no answers or advice (you will be glad to know) - only sympathy and a nice (figurative) cup of tea...

"Illegitimi non carborundum" (Don't let the bastards grind you down)

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And the point is?

While I quite liked the analysis that shows how our economies have favoured finance over just about everything else and I'm all for more spending on research, both of the "improvement" as well as the "what happens if you do this" variety, more energy production is not the solution. Energy efficiency, ie. house insulation is significantly cheaper for society than building any kind of power plant.

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Tell it to the yanks

The american patent system is strangling progress. You can bet that whatever someone comes up with, a troll will appear to say that they thought of it already.

Plus if theres no profit, there no point. American business culture rule no.1.

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Anonymous Coward

@Charlie

"Energy efficiency, ie. house insulation is significantly cheaper for society than building any kind of power plant."

Conserving fire wood did not help society invent anything better than fire wood. Oil, gas, fission, fusion, even renewables are all feasible because we pursued R&D and technology.

Going for red herrings such as "efficiency" is the most expensive option in the long run. Aiming for the best cheap energy supply is actually the cheapest option.

I think you missed the point of the article by a few miles.

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Tom
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@abigsmurf

Throw £10 million at me and within 2 years I will have:

1) 1kW wind generators for <£400 (not windmills - something to stick on your house) and assuming your house is quite small.

2) Grid connected inverters at £100 for the controller an £60 per KVA on top of that.

Thats £1million for the technical development and £9 million fending off lawsuits from people who dont own the technology but would like to scare anyone who might stop them taking your money.

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Happy

@Dr Stephen Jones

Hmm, well, it's a nice try but you've walked straight into the usual trap - not bothering to read or think about what was posted.

First, I made no claims as to the veracity of the models - this is simply what we are being told by climatologists talking about "climate change" and "global warming".

Secondly, your end summary "Heads I win, Tails you lose" is absolutely correct and is exactly what they are telling you, and as I am guessing that your opinion is that climate-change is a myth, I'm sad to see you walk straight into their trap and agree with them!

Finally, yes, it's simplistic language that doesn't help either side's case, and I didn't express my point that people need to try to listen and read more before their knees start jerking. Your response proves it.

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Stop

Take off those rose tinted glasses

Huge money has been spent on energy research - into Nuclear Fusion. After 50 years, its still 20 years away. 20 years means, "I'm not going to figure it out, the next guy might, but don't you worry I've got a well paid job for life".

Sexy science gets the money. Nuclear fusion. Global Warming. Large Hadron Colliders. Get your hands dirty engineering gets very little. Where is the money for power sources where the science is understood but the engineering is still a challenge - hot rocks, wave & tidal power to name three. And how does it compare to that given the glory science?

The scientists with the chutzpah to sell science to politicians don't want to sell those things, they would rather sell the big dreams, the terrible nightmares and the big ticket items.

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Anonymous Coward

@Nic

If Dr Jones walked into the usual trap then it seems that you went running in after him.

Whilst you may not have specifically endorsed any particular 'Doomsday' style model; you certainly indicated that you thought some were plausible - you even managed to write a whole paragraph on it - All Dr Jones did was disagree and point you to a source that showed otherwise.

Secondly he pointed out that people using all kinds of different weather systems to point to the same goal was self-defeating as an argument - how can you have a reasonable debate on the subject when to some people every variation in weather pattern is directly attributable to global warming ? I don't really see how pointing this out is 'falling into thier trap' unless you are trying to polarise the debate ?

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@Sexy science gets the money.

No it doesn't - the majority of the money for those projects are just subsidies back to particular industries - normally aerospace and defence co.

I worked on a similar project to LHC, it needed two identical beam lines - but because of the "each nation gets back it's contribution in contracts" rules, one was built by Dornier in Germany and one by Fokker in Holland. All the design, testing, development was duplicated instead of being spent on real research.

Another part was built by a Belgian company and never worked. We weren't allowed to go anywhere else because Belgium was a 1% contributor and this was the only contract small enough - so we had to build an alternative for free ourselves.

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MGJ

More Energy for More Crap

Why is there this constant assumption that we should all be going for a Donald Trump style over indulgent, high energy consumption lifestyle and that that is the only way we can all be happy, as delivered by contemporary Western capitalism? An economy that focussed on the happiness of its citizens rather than how much the total amount of wealth is; that promoted a happy, healthy lifestyle rather than consumerist drones. Spending money doesn't make you happy. Consuming doesn't make you happy, friends and family and time do. Hobbies do.

And you'd think someone reading the Register might just understand the difference between climate and weather

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Pyramid schemes

Current financial practices can best be described as advanced pyramid schemes: Monetary growth is achieved by moving fictional values from one place to another, fictionally increasing this value at every move. Like all pyramid schemes, it all falls down when people want to actually pull real money out of the system and it is found that the real worth only a tiny fraction of the fictional worth. This has been the cause of just about all financial collapses in the past.

What the financial world does is basically making it extremely difficult to judge real values, so they can keep on for much longer before someone cries "but he has nothing on". To avoid this, we need a way to reliably estimate the real worth of any system. I have no silver bullet for this, but one possible element of a solution could be to instantly tax every trade with a small percentage of the trade price. This will make rapid inflation of a fictional value through multiple resales less practical, since you will have to pay the tax immediately with "real" money.

As for lack of investment in research, the problem here is that any return you may get is much more long-term than what you can get by betting on fictional values. And financial people often don't understand research and technology, so they perceive these as more risky than pyramid schemes (though history has shown the fallacy of this over and over again).

There is also a perception that, since research results are usually public, there is little value for private investors. But this ignores the benefit of having direct access to the experts: If you have invested in research, you have closer contact with the researchers and can get their help in realising it. Scientific publications rarely tell the whole tale: They are usually just summaries that allow other researchers to duplicate the result through sufficient effort. But this effort is often substantial, so having the original research team on hand is a way of getting ahead of the competition who first have to spend a lot of time and effort in getting to where the original researchers already are.

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Unhappy

@ Nic Brough

And it's the smug, self righteous attitude (e.g. 'I'm right, look at these statistics, you're wrong and being duped by/or in the pocket of Big Oil Inc.') of the pro-global warming lobby that continues to feed the anti-global warming lobby.

Neither side has proven their respective arguments conclusively, but both sides have made some pretty good cash out of it (I'm looking at you Mr. Gore) - hell, a whole, unproductive industry has sprung up around it. I wonder how much hot air, wasted electricity and paper goes into the mountains of poor science, rigged statiestics and flawed models used by both the Oil/energy etc industry on one side, and single interest fanatics on the other.

In addition, assuming global warming is happening leads to the even more petty bickering over whether it's man made or not - yet further 'jobs for the boys'. Moving further, is the government cash-cow of how to 'stop global warming'. Perhaps a more rational line should be, 'if global warming is happening, what can we do to mitigate and live with global warming'.

This is where the need for R&D money is, both in the glamorous (Fusion research) and not so glamorous (hot rocks etc.).

To conclude, both sides have devalued the argument so much that the man on the street (largely due to poor basic education and the dumming down of society - Paris Hilton being more important than, say, war in Afghanistan), no longer gives a flying **ck so long as he can get wasted on a Friday night and play PS3 on a saturday.

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Atlantic conveyer

Nic has been caught out trying to scare people with a proposition that has no scientific basis in science.

@Nic: Hopefully you will learn from the experience and will think twice before peddling unsupported, non scientific assertions to a technical audience.

You're out of your depth, basically.

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Abundant, cheap, clean energy - pick any two

Ah, nuts, those pesky laws of physics rear their heads yet again. We live in an industrialized society of convenience.

Electricity is used not just for lighting, but also for heating and cooking. If we used strictly non-electrical means to heat and cook, then the energy is used far more efficiently. Our current system means that we have to build a fire, turn water to steam, drive an electrical turbine, transmit the electricity hundreds of miles, and then heat a coil on a stove to boil water.

That's a lot to do just for a cup of tea, isn't it?

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@Dr Stephen Jones

Since mere plebs with "no scientific basis in science" can't read your article link, maybe they can read this instead about data measured relating to the cold-water NAMOC return along the Scotland-Greenland ridge and decreasing salinity in Nordic waters.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v411/n6840/abs/411927a0.html

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rc
Stop

It's a shame that energy always gets tied to climate.

Clearly, cheap clean energy benefits us all. I think we should be looking at every alternative energy source. Not because of global warming scaremongering, but for economic and quality of life reasons. Our fossil fuel supply while vast is not infinite. These things also come in handy for little things like lubricants, plastics, feedstocks for industry. So it makes sense to conserve this resource and use as many other things for energy as economically feasible. Wind power doesn't work everywhere, and neither will geothermal, hydro, nuclear, or wave, etc. But we should use them where they do.

It seems to me the global warming folks can't see the forest through the trees. The earth has obviously spent a great deal of its history with much warmer temps and with higher co2 and o2 levels than it is now. Thats how we can have fossils of 45 foot snakes, dinosaurs, huge insects, tropical ferns in antarctic, etc. It takes a warmer climate and more o2 to support creatures that size, especially cold blooded ones. There were no factories, no gas guzzling SUVs, no powerplants, no industry of any kind 60 million years ago, yet we had global warming and high co2 and o2.

What if the average healthy state of earth over millions of years is a warm wet swamp planet?

Another thing about these sudo "environmentalists" that annoys me is this crazy idea that co2 is some kind of toxin to be controlled. Co2 is plant food. Warmer planet+more co2=more plants. More plants means more o2 for us to breathe. The earth has lots of mechanisms to deal with co2. If your an environmentalist, worry about stuff that matters, real toxins, heavy metals, industrial waste, etc. Not something we exhale and plants inhale.... mkaaay

stop sign for stopping the madness...

seeya

rc

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More trees, that's what we need

El Reg missed this, but the Beeb didn't (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/highlands_and_islands/7878541.stm) where we should plant a billion trees (or 1Gigatree) in Scotland. Admittedly this is to achieve a forestry cover target, but it's really the best way to work on climate change and energy use and biodiversity and other green targets and I could probably bring in the national ID stuff if I tried.

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I hereby nominate...

1 Gigatree to be an official el reg unit of measurement

how big are the worlds forests in gigatrees? or terratrees?

by how many gigatrees are beeing cut down everyday?

how many gigatrees fit inside wales?

the public must be taught about these things

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Mr

It scares me witless to think that people like this actually think that way. An unlimited supply of power so that we can civilise the world and change environments??? Isn't that what we have been doing for the last 100 years or so?

Civilisation is measured NOT by what we acheive materially but what and how we think and by how we act on that. Civiliseation is about personal growth, becoming better people, kinder, more thoughtful, honourable, less greedy, gracious, to think better thoughts, harness our own personal power not nuclear power. We need to learn to give and not be so selfish.

It's maddening that none of this is mentioned in the drive for 'civilisation'. Did we civilise the Native Americans, the Aborigines, the Druids, the Pagans, the Inuit the tribes in the Rainforest? Do we nurture, spirituality, creativeness, imagination, the power of thought?

Humph!

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@David Williams

"the Aborigines, the Druids, the Pagans, the Inuit the tribes in the Rainforest"

None of whom can keep an incubator running during a power cut. Would you like to compare their infant mortality rate with ours? Or their life expectancy?

David imagines there's a great deal of dignity in walking 8 miles a day for water or spending hours a day more on backbreaking pointless drudgery. Yes, it must be a fine life being poor and ignorant, with Guardian readers queuing up to take your picture.

Patronising racist rubbish David. They want our lifestyles more than you want theirs.

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@Gianni Straniero

"Tell that to the Australians."

Tell me what? It's summer here and it's hot. Like it is every summer, and I've seen 44 of them. What we're seeing now is the rise of the air-conditioned generation who ascribe every deviation from 25 degrees C of greater than 5 degrees to some malevolent force. Mind you, I love living and working in aircon, too.

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Boffin

@Steen

>> http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v411/n6840/abs/411927a0.html

"The overflow of cold, dense water from the Nordic seas, across the Greenland–Scotland ridge1 and into the Atlantic Ocean is the main source for the deep water of the North Atlantic Ocean"

You didn't even read your own link. The Atlantic conveyer isn't in danger.

Is your programming as faulty?

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This is a very good article

in that it tries, somewhat successfully, to separate the wheat from the chaff in the "environmental" nonsense.

However, can't trust scientists to talk about markets - the primary purpose of derivatives is to buy and sell risks, not to speculate or "bet" on future price movements. The speculators are a necessary and desirable part of any market, be it physical or paper (and some paper is actually deliverable ==> physical) but without commercial participants a market will just not work, with or without speculators.

Now, whether the market participants understand which risks they are exposed to and which risks a particular derivative covers - that's a completely different story.

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@Vladimir

You write: "the primary purpose of derivatives is to buy and sell risks, not to speculate or "bet" on future price movements".

How is betting different from buying and selling risks?

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@Sillyfellow

"Generation of free and clean electricity has been done before, but was either patented long back (and only used to prevent anyone else from using this tech), or cannot be patented, since you cannot patent something that defies any law of physics (as currently written).""

could you elaborate on those points pleases

or to put in it proper internet forum language

"pics or it did not happen"

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@martinX

I suggested "jai" tell you Aussies that a nice hot summer "makes up for" a cold, wet winter. The news is telling us that a lack of rainfall in Victoria has contributed to the deaths of over 170 people. Whether the "record-breaking" drought can be attributed to climate change is moot, although it seems peculiar that Queensland should simultaneously experience "unprecedented" flooding.

My point is: hot summers aren't always something to look forward to.

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Anonymous Coward

Money will kill us all.

Brilliant article, the point of which applies far wider than energy. Much as various governments would like to tell us so, VCs don't fund 'innovation', they fund things that will make them more money. So those things that may well prove useful to humanity 10 years or a change of tack down the line get binned, while everyone lauds the magnificence of yet another financial "innovation".

A society that worships money as the sole motivator and has a 'so what' attitude to research is deservedly doomed. Trusting the future of humanity to PR types, markets and investors is as stupid a thing as I can possibly imagine. We need more people around like Tim Berners-Lee, William Shockley and Trevor Bayliss, and fewer of the intellect-free parasites that inhabit corporate boardrooms.

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this point alpies to every bissness

r ember what your core bissness almost all the companies in trouble in the last "credit crunch" forgot what they where supodt to be selling banks became stock brokerages and etc r ember what you are selling and sell it if you are a electricity company concentrate on generating and selling lecky

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@Torben Mogensen

To "bet" or speculate means to take a view that the market will move in a certain direction in a certain time in the future.

Commercial participants transferring risk are not taking views - they buy or sell risks which offset risks in their existing portfolios. So, irrespective from where the market will go they become protected (more or less, depending on how well the derivative match their physical product).

Two commercial participants from the opposite sides of the market can do a deal with a derivative and neither of them will be betting or speculating. In fact if they won't do a derivative deal they will be betting in their respective physical markets.

In other words: if your risks increase because of a deal you've made - you are speculating (doesn't matter whether it's physical or paper). Conversly, if you do a deal and your risks decrease - you are hedging.

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40 year old energy proposal

Solar power satellites are one of perhaps 2 techniques that scale into the size needed to replace fossil fuels.

They have been held up on either the high cost to ship millions of tons of materials into space or the decades long effort to build up a space industry to supply them.

The critical number for power satellites to make sense is about $100/kg. In the last year there have been two proposals that look like they would reach this goal. One of them uses a small rocket (300 tons) lifting off every 15 minutes with a laser propulsion stage. The laser stage goes goes to GEO delivering 100 tons per hour.

http://htyp.org/Hundred_dollars_a_kg

It's a big project, but we either solve the energy problems or we starve and freeze in the dark.

Keith Henson

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Coat

@Dr Stephen Jones

"You didn't even read your own link. The Atlantic conveyer isn't in danger.

Is your programming as faulty?"

Your doctorate in Media Studies must surely enable you to understand that the Atlantic Conveyor is a thermohaline circulatory loop where a decrease in salinity and therefore density of the cold water input at the Northern end has an impact on the ability of warm saline subtropical water to sink and complete the loop.

Knowing as we do that the salinity of the Nordic water at around Lat. 80deg is decreasing, to back up your assertion that "The Atlantic Conveyor isn't in danger", you should provide data - or some blinding insight from your secret article - for the good readers that illustrates how improbable it is that the relative temperatures/salinity/densities at the end of the loop cannot engender a situation where the densities of the inputs become close enough to dampen mixing and circulation.

Alternatively, you could just cease being such a patronising arse.

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