Monday, 30 September 2013

Japan Aims to Beam Solar Energy Down From Orbit

(Sen) - The Japanese space agency JAXA is developing a revolutionary concept to put “power stations” in orbit to capture sunlight and beam it to Earth.

The country has been looking for new power sources following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011, that destroyed much of the north-east of the country and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Many of the country’s nuclear reactors were closed due to stricter safety regulations after the emergency. Now JAXA is aiming to set up a Space Solar Power System (SSPS) by 2030. An array of mirrors would sit in geostationary orbit to collect solar energy and then transmits it to a power plant on the ground via microwaves or laser beams. There it could be used to generate electricity and hydrogen.


Proponents of the technology say that it would provide continuous energy without any worry that resources would be depleted. It would be unaffected by the time of day or weather and would provide environmentally friendly, clean energy.

Interestingly, the idea is not a new one. An American, Dr Peter Glaser, designed a similar concept in 1968 to deploy large solar panels in space to generate power and convert it into microwaves to transmit to the ground. Following studies by NASA and the US Department of Energy, the project was deemed too costly and it was never developed.

Similar studies have been carried out in Europe. The idea is also reminiscent of a Russian plan in the 1990s to use mirrors to beam sunlight to the ground at night. This had astronomers and environmentalists up in arms because of the light pollution it would have caused. The Japanese concept is different because there would be no stray light emitted from the beam.

Yasuyuki Fukumuro is leading research and planning for SSPS. He says: “We have not yet decided whether to use microwaves or laser beams with SSPS, or whether we will somehow combine them. We are currently conducting ground-based experiments to find the most efficient way to transmit energy.

“Regardless of which transmission technology we use, when we collect sunlight from outside the Earth’s atmosphere, we can get a continuous supply of it, with almost no influence from the weather, the seasons, or time of day, allowing very efficient collection of solar energy.

“And since the energy source is the Sun, it’s an endlessly renewable resource - it won’t run out as long as the Sun is there. Also, because the power is generated in space and carbon dioxide is emitted only at the receiving site, emissions within the Earth’s atmosphere can be greatly reduced, which makes this technology very friendly to the environment.”

Fukumuro admits the system has its challenges. He says: “When transmitting power by microwaves, a significant technological challenge is how to control the direction, and transmit it with pinpoint accuracy from a geostationary orbit to a receiving site on the ground. Transmitting microwaves from an altitude of 36,000 km to a flat surface 3 km in diameter will be like threading a needle.”

Fukumuro suggests the technology will also be useful in disaster situations. In the event of a blackout, a collecting dish could be unfolded and deployed to receive microwaves from space for conversion into electrical energy.

JAXA is working with a collective of machining and engineering companies called Kyoto Shisaku Net to develop the array of reflectors that would be lifted into orbit by reusable shuttle-like spacecraft and then assemble themselves.

JAXA Engineer and Senior Researcher Katsuto Kisara says: “The biggest problem we’ve encountered with the project is developing solar mirrors that are incredibly lightweight. I think that there is certainly a way to do it, but it has presented quite the challenge.”

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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Whistleblower suits: Contractors beware by International Reviews Crown Eco Management Jakarta

Description: Nick WakemanEven before the assistant U.S. Attorney for eastern Virginia spoke at the Fairfax County, Va., Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday morning, the news was sobering for contractors.

Gerard Mene is the coordinator of the Affirmative Civil Enforcement program in the U.S. Attorney’s office that covers half of Virginia, including Northern Virginia, Richmond and Norfolk. It goes without saying that he sees a lot of cases involving contractors and False Claims Act allegations.
He offered insights into how the act is working, and into the rise of Qui Tam cases, a.k.a. whistleblower cases, as part of a panel on compliance trends at the chamber’s annual government contractor symposium.
One thing was clear: Whistleblowers always go to their companies first, looking to report their fraud or other wrongdoing they’ve seen.
“There either was no one to tell, or they told and the company didn’t do anything,” Mene said.
John Brownlee, a partner with the law firm Holland & Knight, laid the ground work for why whistleblower lawsuits are a growing concern for contractors.
The numbers don’t lie: In 2009, there were 433 Qui Tam cases. In 2012, the number was 782. Of non-Qui Tam cases, the number was 132 in 2009, compared to 135 in 2012.
The dollars also should raise fears: $2 billion in Qui Tam settlements in 2009; $3.4 billion in 2012.
The takeaway from the panel, which also included executives from CACI International, Grant Thornton and Booz Allen Hamilton, was that contractors need robust compliance programs.
Hearing Mene talk, you could tell he loves whistleblower cases. “They lead to the largest settlements,” he said.
They also are strong cases because the whistleblower usually is either is an eyewitness to the wrongdoing, or participated in some way, he said.

While Mene said he doesn’t focus on a compliance program, companies are better served if they can show they investigated the allegation on their own, and will share that result. “The dialogue can be much different,” he said.
But, for him, the focus is how much did the government pay under false pretenses? “It’s all about the money,” he said.
False Claims actions aren’t the only compliance issue. There are Defense Contract Audit Agency audits, which right now are mired down by a backlog. Currently, they closing out contract audits from 2006, panelists said.
A big focus is on checking whether the contractor employees that are doing the work actually have the qualification described in the contractor’s proposal.
DCAA is moving toward a more risk-based approach for deciding how deep of an audit to conduct, which again points to the need for having a strong compliance program.
The current philosophy for working with DCAA is to be as cooperative and helpful as possible, said Julian Rosenberg, director of government contract services for the accounting firm Grant Thornton.
“If you have internal audit reports share them. Include your corrective action plan. Show them the actions you’ve taken,” he said. There is no reason not to.
But whether it is to fight off a Qui Tam suit or a DCAA audit, compliance and ethics start at the top of a company, but have to quickly move down to middle management, said Douglas Manya, vice president, deputy general counsel and secretary at Booz Allen.
“Your managers have to walk the walk,” he said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”
One example he described was to have new employees sign a certification that they will not bring proprietary information from their former employer, whether it is the government or another contractor.
“Your manager has to look them in the eye and say, ‘We don’t want information from your former employer,’” he said.
The current environment between contractors and government regulators is “unfortunately one of mutual suspicion and distrust,” Manya said.

But the lesson from Manya and the other panelists is that contractors can take steps to mitigate the risk from such an environment.
As he said, the focus of a compliance program should be on communication, controls and collaboration.