IEA returns from visit to Baghdad

PARIS, March 2 (UPI) — Delegates from the International Energy Agency said they received strong support from the Iraqi government for a study examining its energy sector.

IEA delegates returned to Paris following a two-day visit with Iraqi officials in Baghdad. The agency had announced plans took take a comprehensive look at Iraq as part of its World Energy Outlook for 2012 and received strong backing for the report from Iraqi officials.

“The strong support received and working relationships established will be instrumental towards the IEA’s work on an in-depth outlook for the Iraq’s energy sector,” the agency said in a statement.

The IEA in December estimated crude oil production from Iraq was on pace to reach an average of 4.36 million bpd by 2016. The report, however, warned political instability could dampen oil expectations in Iraq now that U.S. military forces have formally ended their mission there.

In May, Iraq is expected to put around a dozen oil and natural gas blocks up for auction in its fourth licensing round. Iraq has yet to pass comprehensive legislation that would regulate the energy sector, however, leaving many investors wary.

The Iraq study is to be published in October. It will be included in the full energy outlook set for a November release.

Panel backs carbon allowance ‘set-asides’

BRUSSELS, March 2 (UPI) — A key European Parliament committee this week approved a measure allowing the EU to withhold carbon emission permits to prop up their market prices.

The EP’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee Tuesday approved a draft EU directive that authorizes the European Commission to intervene in the open market for carbon allowances sold under the EU’s emissions trading scheme, beginning with its 2013-20 phase.

The changes to the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive call for a “necessary amount of allowances” to be removed from the market to strengthen their languishing open-market price.

Backers hail it as a way to cope with a saturated market for the credits brought on by the economic slowdown and other factors, resulting in an oversupply estimated at between 500 million and 1.4 billion. Prices for the allowances have dropped from a peak of $40 per ton of carbon equivalent in 2008 to $9 per ton.

The idea behind the EU allowances is to encourage European industry to use energy more efficiently and save money through the installation of new technology to cut carbon emissions. But the price is too low to act as a motivator to spur costly long-term investments in green energy technologies, analysts say.

Industries that have purchased and stockpiled the EUAs, however, vehemently oppose intervening in the market, saying it amounts to “moving the goalposts” after they’ve already made investments under the trading scheme.

Poland also opposed any form of EUA set-aside because strengthening carbon prices could hurt its coal-dependent economy.

The EP committee, however, turned aside those concerns, passing the set-asides as part of a larger package of changes that authorize the European Commission to seek binding national energy efficiency targets and save energy by specific means such as renovating public buildings.

That way, the demand for the EUAs will rise, asserted Claude Turmes, a Greens/EFA member of Parliament from Luxembourg.

“This vote is a major sign that Parliament, with a majority including most political parties, takes rising energy costs and energy poverty seriously,” he said. “Energy efficiency offers possibilities for job creation — notably in the building sector.

“Now governments have a choice: protect citizens against energy poverty and create many job opportunities or allow big energy companies to make ever-increasing profits.”

For the set-aside plan to become law, the commission must make a formal proposal to withhold the permits and persuade a majority of the EU council of 27 environment ministers to go along with it, followed by a vote of the full European Parliament.

Denmark, which holds the council’s rotating presidency, has vowed to support the energy efficiency measures before its term runs out in July. But whether the EUA set-asides will be included in its agenda unclear, The Guardian reported.

In addition to the Poland-led opposition in the Council of Europe, the commission itself is divided on the issue, the newspaper said, with Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard in favor but Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani opposed.

“The pricing of allowances should be left to the market,” Tajani said Tuesday. “Prices would recover by themselves as soon as the economy were to pick up.”

U.S. proposes funding for offshore wind

WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) — The U.S. government announced $180 million may be available in a six-year initiative aimed at developing the offshore wind energy sector.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said an initial $20 million was committed this year as part of a six-year strategy to support offshore wind energy installations.

“These investments are critical to ensuring that America remains competitive in this growing global industry that can drive new manufacturing, construction, installation and operation jobs across the country,” Chu said.

There is an estimated 4,000 gigawatts of potential energy available through offshore wind in the United States. Chu said the initiative would accelerate the development of “breakthrough wind power technologies” needed to diversify the U.S. energy sector.

“The new offshore wind energy initiative announced today will help to catalyze the development of offshore wind in America, supporting U.S. innovators as they seek to design and demonstrate next generation wind energy technologies,” he said.

There are no commercial-scale offshore wind farms in the United States. The funds announced by Chu are subject to congressional appropriations, the Energy Department said.

U.S. President Barack Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address laid out a clean-energy target of meeting 80 percent of U.S. energy needs with clean sources by 2035.

Eni, Gazprom to revise gas contracts

MOSCOW, March 2 (UPI) — Russian gas company Gazprom said it agreed to revise its gas supply contract with Italy’s Eni during bilateral discussions on the South Stream pipeline.

Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller met with Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni in Moscow. Gazprom, in a statement, said the companies agreed to adjust terms and conditions for Russian natural gas supplies to Italy.

“The agreement on the revision of the price of the gas supply contracts represents an important step in the 40-year-long strategic partnership between Gazprom and Eni,” the Italian company added. “Gazprom and Eni further consolidate their commercial relationship, contributing to the competiveness of Russian gas in the European market and helping to strengthen security of supply.”

Neither company offered specifics about the revised gas supply contract.

Construction on South Stream is scheduled to start in December. The pipeline would split with arteries headed to southern Europe after passing through Turkish waters of the Black Sea.

Gazprom meets about one-quarter of Europe’s natural gas needs, though 80 percent of that runs through Soviet-era transit networks in Ukraine.

Gazprom and Eni announced the initial aspects of South Stream in 2007.

Nabucco eyes land studies in Turkey

VIENNA, March 2 (UPI) — The Nabucco pipeline company announced it was ready to start land acquisition studies in more than 20 provinces in Turkey.

“Nabucco Gas Pipeline International will commence activities pursuant to the ‘decision of public utilities’ concerning the pipeline route within the boundaries of Turkey,” the company said in a statement.

The company described this as “a very important step” in the project that is seen as a prerequisite to start land acquisition activities in Turkish territory.

Europe is looking for ways to break the Russian grip on the natural gas sector by pursuing a series of pipelines for the so-called Southern Corridor. Of those, Nabucco is the most ambitious though its $10 billion price tag and lack of firm supplier commitments is causing critics to emerge.

Turkish officials had said Nabucco was important because European demands for natural gas won’t be met even if all projects in the Southern Corridor eventually come on stream.

The pipeline would link the eastern Turkish border to Austria via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

U.K.: Collaboration needed in wind sector

LONDON, March 2 (UPI) — London would be “crazy” not to encourage the interconnection of offshore wind and power linkages, the British minister of state for energy said.

The British government said it’s on the way to generating as much as 18 gigawatts of wind energy by 2020, compared with the 1.6 GW available now. In a report with energy regulator Ofgen, the British Department of Energy and Climate Change said interlinking the grid could cut as much as 15 percent from overall construction and operating costs.

“These cables could even be linked up to European projects, increasing opportunities for trading electricity,” said British Energy Minister Charles Hendry.

Hendry added this would add to efforts meant to reduce the cost per megawatt-hour and lower the cost of offshore connections as much as 15 percent.

“Linking up power cables between offshore wind farms could make some serious savings, so we would be crazy not to encourage it,” he said in a statement.

The United Kingdom is the world leader in offshore wind capacity. The country aims to generate 15 percent of its overall energy from renewable resources by 2020.

U.K. may join Nord Stream, Putin says

MOSCOW, March 2 (UPI) — With natural gas needs on the rise, the British government may consider joining the Nord Stream pipeline, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said.

Energy statistics for 2010, released last month by the British government, indicated a general decline in production levels. Putin suggested this meant London should consider a role on Nord Stream.

“The U.K. may join the Nord Stream project because it’s gradually becoming a gas importer,” he was quoted by Voice of Russia as saying.

The British Department of Energy and Climate Change said the country remained a net exporter of petroleum products in 2011 but domestic natural gas production was down 20 percent compared to 2010 levels.

Russia aims to diversify its European transit options through Nord Stream. The dual pipeline runs from the shores of the Gulf of Finland through the Baltic Sea to Germany.

Both lines, once fully operational this year, will transport around 1.9 trillion cubic feet of Russian gas each year to European consumers for at least 50 years.

Putin didn’t elaborate on the British role in Nord Stream other than to say negotiations have started.

Structure of virus gives drug possibility

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., March 1 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say knowledge of the structure of a virus that causes a potentially fatal disease in children could bring antiviral drugs to treat the disease.

Purdue researchers have created three-dimensional reconstruction of enterovirus 71, which causes hand, foot and mouth disease common around the world but which can reportedly sometimes cause potentially fatal encephalitis.

Their study, along with one from Oxford University, shows a possible path to creating antiviral drugs to treat the infection, a Purdue release said Thursday.

“Taken together, the findings in both papers are useful when you are trying to stop the virus from infecting host cells,” Purdue biological science Professor Michael G. Rossmann said. “The common theme is that they both report for the first time on the structure of this virus, and this tells us how to design compounds to fight the infection.”

Both teams used a technique called X-ray crystallography to determine the virus’s precise structure, showing similarities to features on related enteroviruses including poliovirus.

The disease is found primarily in the Asia-Pacific region. Of the 427,278 cases of the disease recorded in mainland China between January and May 2010, 5,454 cases were classified as severe, with 260 deaths, the World Health Organization says.

“Right now, there isn’t much you can do for a child who contracts encephalitis,” Purdue researcher Richard J. Kuhn said.

$35 computer goes on sale in Britain

CAMBRIDGE, England, March 1 (UPI) — A credit-card-sized low-cost computer designed to help teach children to code has gone on sale in Britain, its developers say.

The Raspberry Pi is a bare-bones computer created by volunteers mostly drawn from academia and the British tech industry hope the machines could help reverse a lack of programming skills in the country.

“It has been six years in the making; the number of things that had to go right for this to happen is enormous,” Eben Upton of the Raspberry Pi Foundation based in Cambridge told the BBC. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Sold uncased without keyboard or monitor, the $35 Pi has drawn interest from educators and enthusiasts.

The launch of the Pi comes as the Department for Education is considering changes to the teaching of computing in schools with the goal of greater emphasis on skills like programming.

“Initiatives like the Raspberry Pi scheme will give children the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of programming,” Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation says it has already produced thousands of the machines using a Chinese manufacturer.

Across the U.S. on 10 gallons of gas?

MURFREESBORO, Tenn., March 1 (UPI) — A U.S. academic says he believes he can drive across the United States from coast to coast on 10 gallons of gasoline and will begin the attempt Saturday.

Agriscientist Cliff Ricketts of Middle Tennessee State University will set out to drive the approximately 2,532-mile distance from Savannah and Tybee Island, Ga., to Long Beach, Calif.

Ricketts will use two alternative-fuel vehicles in the first 916 miles of the journey from Savannah to Fort Smith, Ark., where his fuel sources will be the sun (solar) and hydrogen from water in a 2005 Toyota Prius and 1994 Toyota Tercel, a university release said.

Leaving those two vehicles in Fort Smith, Ricketts says the remaining 1,616 miles to Long Beach will be done with a plug-in hybrid 2007 Prius using E95 –95 percent ethanol and 5 percent gas — and electric in the form of two 10-kilowatt-hour battery packs.

The vehicle should get about “100 miles per gallon for about 200 miles until the batteries run down and then purely on ethanol only the rest of the way,” he says.

Ricketts says he expects to drive the cars at between 58 mph to 65 mph along an almost entirely Interstate route.

Comet dust reveals Jupiter secrets

HONOLULU, March 1 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say studies of tiny grains of a comet brought to Earth in 2006 have revealed clues that help date the formation of the planet Jupiter.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii said particles from comet 81P/Wild 2 returned to Earth by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft indicate Jupiter formed more than three million years after the formation of the first solids in our Solar System.

The findings suggest the formation of this giant planet affected how materials in the early solar system moved, collided, and coalesced during the complex planet-forming process, a university release reported.

Analyses of the Wild 2 samples showed comets are composed of both low-temperature and high-temperature materials that must have come from completely different environments.

Scientists said they wanted to know how high-temperature objects from the innermost regions near the Sun became the predominant dust components of an icy comet in the outer solar nebula and set out to determine when this grand, outward migration of materials occurred.

“We were surprised to find such a late-forming, high-temperature little rock in these cometary samples,” researcher Ryan Ogliore said.

“That we are able to test theories about the formation time of Jupiter and consequently, the origins of our Solar System is really a testament to the importance of sample-return missions like Stardust.”

EU says Google policy breaches laws

BRUSSELS, March 1 (UPI) — Changes to Google’s privacy policies now in effect are in breach of European Union laws, the EU’s justice commissioner says.

The policy change, implemented Thursday, means private data collected by one Google service can be shared with its other platforms including YouTube, Gmail and Blogger.

European authorities found that “transparency rules have not been applied” in changing the policies, Commissioner Viviane Reding told the BBC.

Google responded by saying it believes the new policy complies with EU law.

“We are confident that our new simple, clear and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles,” it said in a statement.

Google went ahead with implementing the changes despite warnings from the EU earlier this week after data regulators in France had cast doubt on the legality of the move and launched a Europe-wide investigation.

France’s privacy watchdog CNIL had urged Google to take a “pause” in rolling out the revised policy.

“The CNIL and EU data authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services,” the regulator wrote.

Green algae again fouling Great Lakes

HOUGHTON, Mich., March 1 (UPI) — Slimy green algae that fouled beaches around the U.S. Great Lakes in the 1950s are back with a vengeance due to an invasive species of mussel, scientists say.

The green, bottom-dwelling alga called Cladophora glomerata first choked lake waters in the mid-20th century when humans discharged large amounts of phosphorus from agricultural runoff into the lakes.

Then the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement brought tough new regulations that limited phosphorus and Cladophora all but disappeared.

Now it’s back, researchers at Michigan Technological University report, thanks this time to billions of exotic zebra mussels that have created a perfect habitat.

The mussels, as filter feeders, have clarified the Great Lakes water, allowing more sunlight for Cladophora to grow in areas that were once too dark, the researchers said.

The mussels also excrete a type of phosphorus that Cladophora love to feed on, and the mussels’ hard shells covering the sandy lake bottoms provide solid real estate where the algae can grow.

Michigan Tech’s Robert Shuchman and his research team are helping resource managers survey the extent of the Cladophora problem.

Using remote-sensing data from satellites the can measure “radiance,” or reflective brightness, to distinguish Cladophora beds from areas where the lake bottom is clear.

“By doing this, we can map Cladophora in a straightforward way,” he Shuchman said.

‘Twisted’ San Andreas fault described

Research on the structure of California’s San Andreas fault suggests a rupture might shake some places harder than current forecasts predict, seismologists say.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey found the southern section of the fault isn’t vertical in most places, as previously thought, but rather twists in opposite directions along its length, ScienceNews.org reported.

“We now have a picture of a propeller-shaped San Andreas,” USGS geophysicist Gary Fuis said.

This unexpected shape could make the San Andreas, which has been locked and building up strain in some parts as the Pacific and North American plates try to move past each other, even more hazardous, the researchers said.

“The dipping geometry may allow for significantly larger earthquakes,” Roland Burgmann, a geophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, said, explaining that tilted faults possess more surface area in a given depth, potentially releasing more energy when they break.

In its northern section the fault leans to the southwest, then as it snakes to the south it becomes vertical in the Mojave Desert.

Closer to Mexico, it dips to the northeast, cutting into Earth’s crust at an angle of 37 degrees near San Bernardino, Calif., the researchers said.

Figures show Windows XP on top of OS hill

ALISO VIEJO, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — Windows XP, while losing ground to Windows 7, is still the world’s most used operating system, U.S. analysts say.

Analysts at NetApplications say XP’s share of the global market dropped from 47 percent in January, while Windows 7 garnered 38 percent of all users, up from 36 percent the prior month.

Windows 7 has been winning a percentage point or two most months in the last year and has risen steadily since its debut more than two years ago, CNET.com reported.

In February 2011, XP sat at 57 percent of market share, while Windows 7 had just a 24 percent share.

Windows Vista, on the other hand, is still losing users and now sits at just 8 percent of market share, NetApplications said.

Microsoft I heavily involved in trying to convince people to move away from XP toward Windows 7, reminding consumers and companies support for XP runs out in April 2014.

At that time security patches, bug fixes or other updates will no longer be available.

Builder of marine research ship chosen

SAN DIEGO, March 1 (UPI) — The U.S. Office of Naval Research has chosen Dakota Creek Industries Inc. to build a new research vessel for ocean science exploration, officials said.

Dakota Creek Industries, of Anacortes, Wash., will build AGOR 28, a new “Ocean Class” research vessel that will advance environmental and scientific research in the world’s seas, they said.

The new research vessel will be owned by ONR for the Department of the Navy and operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

AGOR 28, set for launch in 2015, is designed as a seagoing laboratory to support ocean science for the next 30 years, a UCSD release said Wednesday.

The vessel will utilize research instrumentation to conduct scientific exploration, including mapping systems, sensors and profilers that will investigate features from the seafloor to the atmosphere, Scripps officials said.

“Scripps Oceanography awaits with excitement the launch of AGOR 28 and especially its ability to take Scripps further into its second century of ocean exploration,” Scripps Director Tony Hayment said.

AGOR 28 will be the fifth ship in the Scripps fleet, the largest among U.S. research institutions.

“Scripps was successful in a fierce competition among U.S. oceanographic institutions to operate AGOR 28, and we’re excited about the ship’s role in the future of the Scripps fleet,” said Bruce Appelgate, Scripps associate director for Ship Operations and Marine Technical Support.

The ship will be based at the Scripps Nimitz Marine Facility in San Diego’s Point Loma community.

Study: Human activity affecting oceans

NEW YORK, March 1 (UPI) — Earth’s oceans may be turning acidic faster from human carbon emissions than during four major extinctions in the last 300 million years, U.S. researchers say.

A study by scientists at Columbia University is the first to survey the geologic record for evidence of ocean acidification and life extinctions over such a vast time period, a Columbia release reported Thursday.

It compared human-caused emissions to natural pulses of carbon that have sent global temperatures soaring in Earth’s past.

“What we’re doing today really stands out,” Barbel Honisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said.

“We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out — new species evolved to replace those that died off. But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about — coral reefs, oysters, salmon.”

Oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide from the air that reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid, but if CO2 goes into the oceans too quickly, it can deplete carbonate ions that corals, mollusks and some plankton need for reef and shell-building, the researchers said.

It may take decades before ocean acidification’s effect on marine life shows itself, but the study highlights the extreme effect human activity has had on marine chemistry, experts said.

“These studies give you a sense of the timing involved in past ocean acidification events — they did not happen quickly,” Richard Feely, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was not involved in the study, said.

“The decisions we make over the next few decades could have significant implications on a geologic timescale.”