Archive for March, 2010

Identity Theft is so last year

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Photo: Michael Sohn- Coal-fired power plant Scholven in Gelsenkirchen, Germany; April 6, 2005

Savvy cyber-thieves made millions by fraudulently obtaining European greenhouse gas emissions allowances (also referred to as carbon credits) and reselling them.

Under the EU’s (European Union) Emission Trading System, companies which are large emitters of greenhouse gases are required to have enough of the greenhouse allowances to cover the CO2 they release each year. Firms are free to trade their credits in an open market, similar to the stock market.  The idea is to use market mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as the scheme gives firms an economic incentive for companies cut their CO2 production.

How’d the thieves do it?  On January 28, 2010, hackers launched a targeted phishing attack against employees of numerous companies in Europe, New Zealand, Germany, and Japan, which appeared to come from the German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt). The workers were told that their companies needed to re-register their accounts with the Authority, where carbon credits and transactions are recorded.

When workers entered their credentials into a bogus web page linked in the e-mail, the hackers were able to hi-jack the credentials to access the companies’ Trading Authority accounts and transfer their carbon credits to two other accounts controlled by the hackers.

It is estimated the hackers stole 250,000 carbon credit permits from six companies worth more than $4 million. At least seven out of 2,000 German firms that were targeted in the phishing scam fell for it. One of these unidentified firms reportedly lost $2.1 million in credits in the fraud.

The fraud is the latest example of hacks aimed at gaming environment controls. A year ago, hackers penetrated the Brazilian government’s quota data for Brazilian rain forest products — allowing the illegal poaching of more than 1.7 million cubic feet of timber.

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Photo: Coal-fired power plant Scholven in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany; April 6, 2005 file photo. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Pig Farmer Turns Solar Farmer

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Switching from pigs to power saved Heiner Gärtner’s family enterprise, which was teetering on the edge of economic ruin. Mr. Gärtner, 34, took over his father’s pig farm, turned it into a solar farm and now makes more than $600,000 a year from the sale of this electricity.  He drives a Mercedes.

Fi Fy Fo Fum… Are Oil Companies Our Friend or Foe?

Monday, March 8th, 2010

With much buzz and suspicion that Big Oil is out to destroy the solar PV industry it’s easy to believe oil and gas companies are solar PV’s biggest enemy in America.  However, some say, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  After the expectation that Bell Lab’s invention of the solar battery in the 1950′s would transform the world from a dependence on oil to renewable sources proved wrong, the PV industry has survived for decades as a niche market, sustained by unlikely patrons such as pot growers, the space program, and Big Oil.

Solar has had a rough start, a couple of them…and to be frank, it’s still there.  Despite the numerous incentives you see splashed all over the news and media and advertised in stimulus packages, solar is still in it’s delicate infancy.  The solar industry has many uphill battles to be won. Primarily, the cost.  Let’s be honest, purchasing a solar PV system is not exactly equivalent to buying a shirt or pack of gum from the store.  It’s an investment.  One that comes with many factors to consider.  The financial payback, where to put it, the plethora of mind-boggling rebates that vary from state to state and utility to utility, who to talk to, the angle at which the sun hits your desired location, electric rates….the list goes on.  And behind the scenes of all these challenges facing solar consumers today is PV’s historic bullish rise to prominence.

Who uses solar anyway?  Hippies.  I bet that’s the initial impression that impregnated people’s minds when they first heard about installing solar.  True, hippies use solar.  And they have their own motivations for affording the use of the sun for power.  Some reasons I fathom being the promotion of a healthier, sustainable environment, to discourage a dependance on foreign oil, to hedge against rising electric costs, and most importantly for pot peddlers, to remain off the grid and off the radar.  Although these are some very pro arguments for solar, what is the incentive for most people to dish out thousands of dollars when times are tough, a new baby is on the way, we need a vacation….and a new roof???  For some, the price isn’t right and people aren’t in dire need to change…change from what they know and are used to and change by taking the time to learn about the benefits of something completely new.

So in the meantime, hippies, and the less notorious, Big Oil and NASA have fueled the fire to keep solar burning.  During a time when electricity produced by these magic little silicon cells would cost a homeowner in 1956 over $1.4 million to power their home with the sun, a customer, not exactly known to be a bargain hunter, came around.  During the Cold War in the late 1950′s, the United States government accelerated its space program, quickly developing a fleet of rockets and satellites. However, these extravagant vessels lacked an essential ingredient that solar fulfilled:  a lightweight, reliable, and long-lasting source of power to run communication equipment.  In return, the space program presented the first substantial market for PV.  In the words of Morton Prince, an early ambassador and developer of solar PV, “PV made the space program possible, really.  And the space program made PV possible too”.  However, while the space program may have thrown PV a lifeline, it did very little to bring the cost down in a way that would allow for use closer to home.

So what role does Big Oil play in advancing their questionable allies?

It is self-evident in the PV industry that when oil prices rise, interest in solar goes up; as prices fall, so too does enthusiasm for solar.  But oil and PV have had a closer relationship than that for a long time.  After the space program in the 1970′s was ratcheted, big oil companies became one of the main customers for PV companies.  In the mid-to late 1970′s, PV supplied an answer to very specific problems companies such as Exxon, ARCO, Amoco, and Shell faced.  Because oil and gas fields tend to be in remote spots, far from cheap grid power, PV becomes a relatively inexpensive solution.  In 1978 when the Environmental Protection Agency outlawed the standard practice of dumping batteries into the ocean when they ceased functioning, PV came to the rescue.  In addition, offshore oil rigs, which were sprouting all around the Gulf of Mexico because of new discoveries, needed a non-battery power source for their blinking lights and foghorns to avoid boat collisions.  Oil and gas producers found a use for PV in keeping their well casings and pipelines free of corrosion.   Mostly, businesses that were using batteries to get something done were turning to PV.  Eventually, oil companies became more than just customers of PV companies, they became their owners.  Oil companies such as ARCO Solar, Exxon, and mobile collectively invested millions in efforts to lower the price of PV and make it a more mainstream power source.  Why? Because they could afford to lose money.

So the argument continues.  Some say oil companies tried to kill solar, however, others testify they actually kept it alive.

Source:  Photon Magazine 11/09