Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finding solutions for the real economy

The outlines to a transition to what I have long called Elegant Technology are pretty clear--solve the energy problems associated with an over-reliance on fossil fuels and close the industrial loop so that no toxins escape into the environment.

The problem, as we can plainly see, it that these simple ideas aren't so simple to produce in practice.  Worse, in USA, we have a culture dominated by Predators who are actively trying to destroy the folks and institutions who could build a new post-petroleum society.  So far, this means that we are likely to miss out on any possible new economic boom.
Economist Warns against Blaming China
Yuan Revaluation 'Won't Allow the Americans to Export More Goods'
American politicians are calling for China to revalue its currency to help out troubled US exporters. But in an interview with SPIEGEL, a leading German economist has warned that America first needs to make products that people want to buy.
SPIEGEL: China's currency reserves have grown to a breathtaking $2.65 trillion (€1.9 trillion) and the imbalance in world trade is growing larger all the time. Can arevaluation of the yuan, as the US is calling for, halt this trend?
Rolf Langhammer: It would be welcome -- and also in China's own interest -- if the yuan exchange rate was more flexible than it has been up to now. China's recent moves in that direction (i.e. the small revaluation since June) are far from sufficient. I would caution against overblown expectations, though. It would hardly be possible to eliminate the global imbalance in that way.
SPIEGEL: Why not?
Langhammer: A weak dollar won't automatically allow the Americans to export more goods. We shouldn't be under any illusions about that. In many cases, companies that are based in the US can't survive on the global market because they don't have innovative products or the qualified workforce required to develop them. more
OK.  That was a bit harsh.  But is it true?  Well, it's obvious that we will need to replace our airline links because nothing is more dependent on petroleum than aircraft.  So what exactly do we know about building electrically powered high-speed rail?  Well, not much.
Obama's High-Speed Train Revolution
Foreign Firms Hoping to Ride US Rail Boom
By Mary Beth Warner
Siemens, Bombardier and other rail engineering firms have high hopes for the US market because the Obama Administration plans to promote the development of high-speed rail networks. Germany's Siemens will showcase its Velaro ICE trains in Florida this week ahead of a bidding process in the state.
The high-speed Velaro trains, built by Siemens, can travel up to 250 miles per hour (403 kilometers/hour), but in Florida this week they were brought in by truck. The special tracks along sunny Interstate 4 haven't been built yet, and the gleaming cars are just a teaser of what may come. If the German company succeeds in its plans, the trains will one day whisk passengers from Tampa to Orlando, and from Orlando to Miami.
Florida is on the verge of accepting bids for its proposed high-speed rail lines, and Siemens wants a piece of the pie. The company is showcasing its Velaro line of trains, which it has sold in Spain, Germany, Russia and China, at a special event at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry on Thursday, and will be touring the train cars around the state in coming days so residents and officials can see them first-hand, and be greeted by local celebrities, such as Ronde Barber, the captain of the professional football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The effort is a first step along the road to achieving a high-speed rail network in the United States. Last year, the Obama Administration outlined 13 possible high-speed rail corridors throughout the United States, from Florida to California. It is a broad agenda for a country that covers a third of a continent and is home to more than 300 million people, many of whom are dependant on their cars for transportation.
All Eyes on Vast US Market
European and other foreign manufacturers are eagerly lining up to dive into the US market -- 38 companies have officially registered interest in Florida alone -- but they have to contend with an uncertain future, filled with bureaucracy, politics, and, most of all, a need for more money.
"Certainly, the question which is dominant in the entire market is, 'Hey, what's going to happen in the American market?'" Edzard Lübben, head of Siemens' high-speed train business, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
The proposal has a down payment of $8 billion from the federal government, with another $3 billion possibly on the way -- all part of Obama's stimulus plan to address the financial and economic crisis. Still, the planned route in California alone, which would run from the Los Angeles to the San Francisco-Bay Area, is expected to cost $45 billion, according to official estimates. Estimates for all of the routes combined range in the hundreds of billions of dollars to $1 trillion.
"Right now you can see that if no significant additional sources of money are found, most of the projects won't happen," Lübben said. If the plans were realized, the potential exists for Siemens to provide 100 or 150 trains, which would be a huge market for the company, he said. more
OK.  How about solar?  After all, wasn't most of the original research for solar cells done for the USA space program?  The nation is littered with prime solar sites.  We should be leading the way here--right??
U.S. Solar Market Booms, With Utility-Scale Projects Leading the Way
Industry report says solar installations could increase tenfold by 2015
By Stacy Feldman
Oct 13, 2010
America could add 10 gigawatts of solar power every year by 2015, enough to power 2 million new homes annually, industry and market analysts have claimed in a new report.
The Solar Energy Industries Association andGTM Research, a Cambridge, Mass.-based market research firm, said the figures represent a tenfold surge compared to 2010, which is on track to set its own record.
A full gigawatt of solar may get installed this year for the first time, the report, U.S. Solar Market Insight, said—a roughly 150 percent leap from the 441 megawatts added last year.
One factor driving the boom is the ramp-up in large utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) setups.
"I would say we're going to look back on 2010 as the year that the utility-scale market really emerged," Shayle Kann, a managing director of GTM Research, told reporters in an Oct. 12 telephone press conference.
In the first half of 2010, over 23,000 PV systems were added, compared to about 28,000 in all of 2009. This includes an "unprecedented" 22 utility projects, the authors wrote.
"It's hard not to be very bullish on the market," Kann said.
Another factor propelling growth: The global financial crisis, among other factors, triggered a decline in solar panel prices. "This enabled the U.S. market to continue growing despite financial turmoil," the report said.
All Eyes on U.S. Market
Tom Kimbis, director of policy and research at SEIA, said the eyes of the world are on the U.S. market. Investors are "hoping it will be the engine of growth over the next five years for the global market."
But for now the nation still appears to be in fourth place. It made up 6.5 percent of global PV installations in 2009, behind Germany, Italy and Japan. more
We're number FOUR!  We are finally getting around to actually installing some major solar systems.  The bad news is that we are importing virtually all of the hardware.  And why is this so?  Perhaps because we now have a culture that cannot accurately value the ability to make sophisticated products. This has not always been true--we once had the companies that produced innovative goods.  Now we sell off these jewels without so much as a proper goodbye.
Sweden's SKF snaps up US firm on heels of strong results
Published: 19 Oct 10 11:55 CET  
Sweden's SKF, the world's biggest maker of industrial bearings, announced strong third quarter results on Tuesday, as well as the purchase of US-based engineered lubrication systems maker Lincoln Industrial. 
"The acquisition of Lincoln Industrial combined with our existing business will significantly improve our ability to further support our customers with even better solutions and give us a better geographical coverage," SKF President and CEO Tom Johnstone said in a statement.
SKF announced the purchase alongside strong third quarter results. Sales rose 16.1 percent in the third quarter to 15.47 billion kronor ($2.32 billion) from 13.32 billion kronor last year. Net profit nearly tripled to 1.43 billion kronor from 483 million kronor in 2009.
The company continues to expect "significantly higher" demand for its products in the fourth quarter.
SKF describes Lincoln Industrial as "a leading supplier of lubrication systems, tools and equipment" including hose reels and grease guns. more

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