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Walker's World: Future energy wars
by Martin Walker
Paris (UPI) Jun 13, 2011

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Five squadrons of unmanned drones are launched from scattered containers ships in the Mediterranean and off the northwest African coast. Too low to be seen by radar, they fly over the beaches and into the desert, each aiming for one of the giant arrays of mirrors that provide the backbone of Europe's solar energy supply.

There are two sites in Algeria, two in Libya and one in Morocco. These vast fields of mirrors, each more than 20 square miles, feed energy into transmission lines that send electric power surging across the Mediterranean to Spain and Italy and then north to France and Germany.

The unmanned drones launch volleys of cluster bombs, small munitions that spray out shrapnel over large areas. The solar mirrors shatter by the score and by the hundred and by the thousand.

And the lights start to go out in Madrid and Rome.

Or shift the scene to the North Sea, 300 feet underwater, where unmanned submersibles are launched in an attack against the vulnerable cables that deliver electricity from giant offshore wind farms that feed Britain, Holland, Denmark and northern Germany. The lights go out in Berlin, Amsterdam and London.

Science fiction-style scenarios and their resultant contingency plans such as these are being dusted off in the defense ministries of France and Britain and in NATO as a direct result of the German government's highly controversial decision to reverse its earlier plans and phase out all the country's nuclear power stations.

The decision, taken in the wake of the disaster that hit Japanese nuclear power stations at Fukushima after the tsunami and in fear of losing regional elections in Baden-Wurttemberg, carries inescapable implications.

First, in the short term it increases German dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, with the risks involved for German economic security and for its freedom of maneuver in foreign policy. Second, it puts huge pressure on Germany's efforts to increase the power it gets from renewable energy sources, like the massive $400 billion Desertec proposal to build the giant solar power installations in North Africa and to put more wind farms off the North Sea coast.

This weekends' referendum in Italy, whether to accept the Berlusconi government's plans to build new nuclear power stations, will increase the pressure on Europe's policy-makers for energy.

One possible way out of Europe's dilemma, to follow the United States down the path of exploiting natural gas trapped in shale rocks with hydraulic fracturing technology, has been partly closed by the French government decision to suspect even exploratory drilling. A campaign against the technology by Green activists, combined with the imminence of next year's presidential elections, explain the French decision.

Beyond the question of Europe's energy future lies the broader question of energy security at a time when climate change is driving governments to seek carbon-free energy.

The dependence of the United States on imported oil has complicated its Middle Eastern policy for decades. China's current saber-rattling with its neighbors in the South China Sea with its potential oil wealth is rooted in the country's heavy dependence on the oil tankers bring Middle Eastern oil to China's ports. If that sea route were closed, something the U.S. Navy could do almost overnight, lights start to go out in Shanghai within three weeks.

It isn't just the U.S. Navy that worries China. India can also close off China's oil supply, which explains why China is building what the Pentagon calls its "string of pearls" across the Indian Ocean, ports that can become naval bases in Pakistan, at Gwadar near the entrance to the Persian Gulf, at Sittwe in Myanmar and at Chittagong in Bangladesh. Last week, China showed off its new aircraft carrier, a symbol of the country's urgent new focus on naval power.

Like Germany, China is focusing intensely on renewable energy as one of the prime strategies of its new five-year plan and has just doubled its target for solar power to 10 gigawatts by 2015. But renewable energy carries its own security concerns, as the scenarios outlined above demonstrate. The transmission lines are at risk and the uncertain political future of North Africa casts a long shadow over the ambitious Desertec plan for solar power from the Sahara Desert.

It is one thing for Desertec to maintain that just 0.6 percent of the solar energy falling on the Sahara could meet Europe's energy needs; the political and security ramifications of such a gigantic project are highly uncertain. But by closing the nuclear power option, which carries its own security concerns, the German government may have left itself little choice.

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Japan develops technology to stop standby waste
Tokyo (AFP) June 13, 2011 - Japanese researchers said Monday they had developed the technology to stop power being consumed by personal computers, televisions and other electronic devices when they are in standby mode.

NEC Corp. and Tohoku University said they aim to bring the new semiconductor technology into practical use within five years, potentially reducing the estimated two percent of household electricty wasted through the standby mode.

Currently, electronic devices that are plugged into power outlets receive a constant flow of electricity to hold data -- even when switched off.

The new technology is based on "spintronics" which exploits the intrinsic spin of electrons and its associated magnetic moment. Electrons act as magnets that can read and write data.

The data is retained even if the flow of electricity is completely cut off.

NEC said it hoped that the new technology would help cut power consumption by "around 25 percent at large data centres" equipped with many computers.

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