The World Today for January 16, 2018



Battery Power

Australian rockers AC/DC lost guitarist Malcolm Young in 2017. But DC – or direct current – is rocking harder than ever down under in the form of Tesla’s world record-sized 100-megawatt/129-megawatt-hour lithium ion battery.

Just before Christmas, the battery reacted within milliseconds when a coal-fueled power plant removed itself from the power grid, providing proof that stored energy can work as well as or better than coal or natural gas-fired backup plants to stabilize national electricity grids, reported Electrek.

Tesla’s battery kicked in just 0.14 seconds after one of the country’s biggest plants, the Loy Yang facility in Victoria, suffered a sudden, unexplained drop in output, the International Business Times wrote. Already, a new battery and renewable power plant are in the works, the Guardian reported.

Tesla’s massive battery was installed specifically to protect the grid from incidents like this following a widespread blackout in South Australia resulting from storm damage in 2016. But its success could have broader implications for the global transition to renewable energy, Quartz reported.

Conventional power plants deliver a steady flow of power unless there’s a storm or some other kind of breakdown. But power generated from renewable sources like sunlight and wind fluctuates according to the weather and time of day, making it more difficult to ensure a stable grid. As a result, some experts have envisioned a future in which governments subsidize conventional backup plants – just to protect the grid.

A recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that solar power will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast. Even in China and India, which are rapidly installing coal plants, solar plants will start providing cheaper electricity as soon as the early 2020s.

“Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said the report’s lead author, Seb Henbest.

At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries between now and 2040, making stored energy practical for powering homes and stabilizing grids. Meanwhile, some 369 gigawatts worth of coal-generation projects stand to be canceled – equivalent to the entire generation capacity of Germany and Brazil combined.

Elsewhere, Electrek cites a Minnesota study as saying the net cost of a plant that combines solar arrays and battery storage is already cheaper than a natural gas “peaker” power plant – industry jargon for a plant that only runs during peak demand.

Others are more skeptical. Tesla’s battery is great, but it can only provide backup power for 30,000 homes for a short period – 70 MW for 10 minutes, and 30 MW for three hours, Quartz noted. And intertwining corporate and political interests will also influence the possible phase-out of conventional peaker plants, a recent snafu in the US suggests.

In July 2017, a leaked draft of a Department of Energy report commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry concluded that renewable energy was not a threat to the grid, Bloomberg reported. But a month later, the actual published report concluded the opposite, Joshua Hill argues in CleanTechnica.

Among their findings, the authors concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency should encourage “coal-fired power plants to improve efficiency and reliability without triggering new regulatory approvals and associated costs.”



Slouching Toward Damascus

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “strangle” a US-backed force planned for Syria “before it’s even born,” heightening fears that Washington’s backing of Kurdish fighters may spoil US-Turkey relations.

“A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Reuters quoted Erdogan as saying Monday. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad also vowed to crush the new force and drive US troops out of Syria, while Moscow claimed the move is part of a plot to partition Syria and place part of it under American control.

Washington said Sunday it plans a “border force” to defend territory held by US-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria – which Erdogan sees as allies of the PKK, a banned Kurdish group waging an insurgency in southern Turkey.

The Kurds in Syria say the border force is vital to protect them against threats from Ankara and Damascus.


A Revolving Door

The office of the Romanian prime minister may need to install a revolving door.

Prime Minister Mihai Tudose resigned Monday after party leaders failed to resolve a dispute between him and his Social Democrat Party’s powerful leader, Liviu Dragnea, the New York Times reported. Dragnea himself cannot become PM because of a 2016 conviction for electoral fraud.

Tudose’s exit leaves the PM’s chair empty for the second time in less than seven months. The rift resulted from Tudose’s efforts to remove the interior minister, who is a close ally of the behind-the-scenes boss.

It signals further trouble for the Social Democrats, despite the strong mandate they won in Romania’s last parliamentary elections, held in December 2016. In February last year, the largest protests in 25 years forced the government to reverse a move to relax penalties for official corruption. But it has continued to try to push for similar measures.

Notably, independent President Klaus Iohannis is seen as an ally of the protest movement.


Damage Control

The pope’s visit to staunchly Catholic Chile looks set to start out as an exercise in damage control.

His trip is expected to be met with protests over sexual abuse by priests and confronted by Chileans newly disillusioned about the Roman Catholic Church, the Associated Press reported.

In 2015, many Chileans were outraged by Pope Francis’ appointment of Rev. Juan Barros as bishop of the southern city of Osorno. Barros was the protégé of the Rev. Fernando Karadima – who the Vatican found guilty in 2011 of abusing dozens of minors over decades. Barros has maintained that he didn’t know about the abuse, but many Chileans aren’t convinced.

Upon his arrival, Francis was received by President Michelle Bachelet. But the crowds were thin compared with his reception in other Latin American countries – signaling the damage the sex abuse scandal has done to the pope’s plan to highlight the plight of immigrants and indigenous peoples.


Something to Chew on

Ancient humans may have lived just as long as we do.

According to a new study published recently in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, ancient humans actually might have lived well into their 70s, too.

Archaeologists from the Australian National University compared the wear and tear on teeth of skeletons from archaeological cemeteries in England of people buried as far back as AD 475 with teeth from subjects in current societies with lifestyles similar to those of ancient humans, the International Business Times reported.

The comparison yielded some surprising results, Christine Cave, a Ph.D. scholar at the Australian National University, said in a statement.

“People sometimes think that in those days if you lived to 40 that was about as good as it got,” she said. “But that’s not true. For people living traditional lives without modern medicine or markets, the most common age of death is about 70, and that is remarkably similar across all different cultures.”

Think twice before champing at the bit for the latest health trend.

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