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How Can emerging economies leapfrog the energy transition?

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Multiple solar home systems being used in rural households in Assam
Multiple solar home systems being used in rural households in Assam
Image: Neel Tamhane
  • Growing demand for power in the developing world presents an opportunity
  • New technologies mean this demand can be met in a sustainable way
  • Renewables could also mean greater independence for these countries

Around half of current total global carbon emissions are a result of electricity and heat production. At the same time, there are still more 860 million people across the globe that lack access to energy. As countries strive to grow their economies, how can we effectively and efficiently balance people’s need for access to reliable and affordable energy while ensuring that we continue to reduce global emissions?

As the signatory states of the Paris agreement seek to meet their emission-reduction targets, the integration of renewable energy sources will continue to increase; the nationally determined contributions (NDC) pledged at Paris have proven inadequate to meet climate goals, and the updated targets will require 3.3 times the current global capacity. A decarbonized grid in the near future seems very possible, especially with the falling costs of solar PV and wind energy, coupled with the rapid advancements in energy-storage technologies.

And as the spread of decentralized renewable energy sources increases, the role and responsibility of utility companies are also bound to transform in a myriad of ways; they could switch from being primarily distributors of energy to becoming energy aggregators, for example. With the introduction of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, we will be able to build smarter and more efficient grids. Smart meters coupled with IoT (Internet of Things) technology can assist grid balancing, demand-side management and load forecasting. Moreover, as the penetration and stability of smart grids increases, technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) can further enhance the management and distribution of energy. The burgeoning electricity demand, especially in fast-growing developing countries like India and China, presents an opportunity to design new business and operational models that will leverage data to build the utilities of the future.

But how did this all start? In the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, a handful of citizens in the German town of Schönau launched an initiative against nuclear power and simultaneously spearheaded Germany’s earliest grassroots initiatives to cut energy consumption and grow renewable energy. The initiative that the Schönau “energy rebels” kickstarted in the 1980s went on to become the cornerstone for the historic switch from fossil fuels and nuclear power to sustainable energy in Germany, the “Energiewende” (energy transition).

While there is room for speculation on how successful Germany has been in implementing the energy transition, developing countries in the Global South have taken up the baton and have been enabling energy access through a range of innovative technologies and business models.

A little over a decade ago, this story began with a simple lamp. Kerosene and paraffin have long been the primary source of lighting in many rural and peri-urban off-grid homes across the globe. The toxicity of kerosene and its harmful side effects are today well-documented, but in the early 2000s there were very few alternatives to this volatile and dangerous chemical. Turning adversity into opportunity, social enterprises began designing solutions with the ambition to bring safe, bright, clean lighting and power to people around the globe.

They began with a basic consumer product – a solar lantern. These lamps have low upfront costs, need little maintenance, and do not pose the management problems typically associated with national grids. However, soon this single product wasn’t enough. Over the past decade, as more people have been able to access cleaner energy sources, more start-ups have emerged globally to design new solutions that can cater to rising demand and help people move up the energy ladder. Next came the relatively more expensive solar home systems (SHSs), which could generate more power, offer multiple light points and power a variety of appliances. Solar lanterns were now limiting and insufficient for some, and yet SHSs were too expensive. The solution was a financial innovation in the form of pay-as-you-go solar systems that operated on a lease-to-own model, leveraging micro-credit loans and mobile money to enable people to access this technology.

Over the past couple of years there has been a growing interest in mini-grids, which offer further increased capacity to support larger appliances and micro-enterprises at lower operational costs. Decentralized mini-grid companies have also innovated on the energy-as-a-service model by powering larger anchor businesses in order to help drive down the energy tariffs paid by people in the community.

Can developing countries catch up by skipping a step or two?
Can developing countries catch up by skipping a step or two?
Image: World Economic Forum

Fossil fuels are geographically-concentrated resources and have historically been the core of geopolitical power for those countries that own, extract and market them. The present-day energy system thrives on scarcity and the concentration of power. Today, we stand on the brink of transitioning to an energy system of potential abundance. The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Energy Transition Index provides a framework that has defined security and access, environmental sustainability and economic development and growth as the three pillars that can help foster the next energy transition.

The first energy transition focused on promoting renewable energy by requiring utilities to generate a small portion of their power from renewable sources. This is actively ongoing in some developing countries. Other countries, such as Denmark and Germany, have already begun the second transition, where a significant portion of their energy is from renewables. An increased renewables mix also results in large-scale intermittency, which necessitates frequent intervention to keep the grid in balance. The third transition focuses on decentralization, which simplifies energy management. This phase is likely to nudge the electricity supply industry from centralized infrastructures towards private businesses that leverage the shared economy to create more circular energy systems that build customized solutions for end users.

Larger developed economies have a different set of challenges. While they are enjoying the strong momentum of economic growth, they will need to cope with legacy systems and political leadership that can be resistant to change. Adopting renewables provides a larger degree of independence to developing nations, giving them the opportunity to leapfrog the previous energy transitions and jump straight to the third energy transition – just as they have leapfrogged in telecommunication terms by skipping landlines and jumping straight to cell phones.

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Editorials

“If there is gas collusion in Chile, then distribution should be done by a public company”: Sector workers

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Chile. “If there is gas collusion, then distribution should be done by a public company”: Sector workers

This post is also available in: Spanish

Patricio Tapia and Solange Bustos (Image by Andrés Figueroa Cornejo)

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), as well as Natural Gas (NG) is imported to Chile mainly from Argentina and the United States through the sea. It arrives in the country at two regasification plants: the one in Quintero and the one in Mejillones, where it is processed and introduced into cylinders for domestic consumption. However, only three companies monopolise gas distribution, of which Metrogas, owned by Gasco S.A., has more than half of the market.

By Andrés Figueroa Cornejo

After recently issuing a study of high social impact, the Economic Prosecutor’s Office (FNE) detected serious irregularities in the gas distribution industry, among whose assertions is that the retail price of each cylinder of liquefied gas should be 15% lower than the current one, and the price of natural gas paid by Metrogas users should be 20% cheaper.

The National Economic Prosecutor, Ricardo Riesco, said, “This study confirms that the gas market is not sufficiently competitive and our recommendations seek to change this situation as soon as possible for the benefit of consumers, because we are convinced that prices can be significantly lower in the future if regulation is adjusted”.

The Preliminary Report of its sixth Market Study, where the FNE addressed the gas market in Chile in the period between 2010 and 2020, focused on the social groups that use liquefied petroleum gas and natural gas.

To develop the study, the FNE collected unpublished data on the gas market in the country and was advised by academics Juan Pablo Montero, from the Catholic University of Chile, and Eduardo Saavedra, from the Alberto Hurtado University, as well as Oxford University economist Christopher Decker.

The FNE calculated that, due to the concentration of the LPG market, private wholesale distributors of this energy increased their annual profits by up to 55% more than those obtained in 2014, which is equivalent to US$ 261 million “extra” annual profits.

On the other hand, the Prosecutor’s Office detected that an exception contained in the last reform to the Gas Services Law, in June 2017, allowed Metrogas, through Agesa, a company not subject to regulation, to increase the price of its NG distribution service to consumers.

This resulted, since February 2017, in an increase of up to 20% in the price of residential natural gas paid by Metrogas customers, equivalent to US$ 87 million per year.

The case of Gasco S.A.

The Gasco corporation, harshly treated by the National Economic Prosecutor’s Office along with Lipigas and Abastible, and company that takes the majority share of the business, said that the proposal of the entity, “could end up seriously damaging the quality of service and also the price of gas in the country”, without offering any explanation of how and why it shot up prices.

On the other hand, Patricio Tapia Gómez and Solange Bustos, leaders of the Sindicato Nacional Interempresa de Trabajadores del Gas, were the ones who led the 21-day strike of the Gasco LPG Workers’ Union, from 19 December 2017 to 8 January 2018. It was a historic strike because it was the first and only one so far in the more than 160 years of existence of the company.

The president of the company, then and now, is Matías Pérez Cruz, a staunch pinochetista, anti-unionist, fan of the neo-fascist presidential candidate José Antonio Kast, and who became infamous on 6 February 2019 when a video went viral showing him expelling three women in an arrogant and violent manner from what he called “his garden”, on the shores of Lake Ranco.

Now, the leaders pointed out that, “Unlike the state’s public health system, when a person stops paying the gas bill, the company immediately shuts off the supply. What happens then? When private gas corporations cut off the gas for non-payment, they simply cease to be “strategic companies”. In other words, they lose their status as an “essential company” that provides a “basic service of public utility”. Where the market rules, there are no more “strategic basic services”, because in the case of gas, it is a product that only those who have the means to buy it can buy. Its supply is not guaranteed as a social right. Moreover, if someone cannot buy gas from a private company “A”, they can buy it from company “B”, because in Chile there is supposed to be free competition”.

Patricio Tapia and Solange Bustos, who come from Gasco, explained that, “Gasco is divided into two companies: Gasco S.A., which corresponds to the administrative body, and Gasco GLP, which is the operational or production part. Chile lacks its own gas to supply the domestic market. The productive part is the workers who mix the raw materials coming from abroad via ships arriving at the Quintero plant, fill the cylinders with this mixture, and distribute the cylinders to customers in trucks and vehicles. The cost of the gas that arrives at the port in frozen form, Gasco S.A. buys at a price infinitely lower than the gas it then sells to other firms and to consumers in general”.

The union representatives, given the situation of the collusion of gas prices, which operates as a true monopoly, indicated that they are preparing a proposal at the national level, “where they seriously study and according to the criteria of basic services as social rights, the establishment of a public company in the area that transfers specialised workers who today work for private companies in terrible conditions, to this eventual public industry; and that representatives of users’ committees, who can be elected and revocable, supervise any possible irregularities that may arise, always under the principle of the common good”.

Likewise, the leaders expressed that the Gasco company is a scandalous part of the gas collusion, as made visible by the investigation carried out by the FNE, exposing the illegal and fraudulent ways it uses to obtain its multi-million profits at the expense of the social majorities and consumers, in the midst of an unprecedented economic, social and health crisis. Likewise, the company headed by Pérez Cruz has made a large part of its profits by exploiting workers and systematically destroying trade union organisation, they said.

Tapia and Bustos said that after their historic strike, and as an exemplary punishment, the company took away the most important benefits they had won, such as “the Gas Workers’ Welfare Corporation (Cobegas), which had two funds: a pension fund that granted former employees a pension complementary to the legal pension, and a Medical Service Fund that functioned as Medical Insurance, which was not conditioned by pre-existing conditions, was not deductible and to which retirees could belong until their death and their widows could continue with the insurance”. They added that, “today, members who are Gasco workers are obliged to join the company’s complementary insurance, which does have deductibles and age limits, and some of its coverage is lower, and retirees cannot belong to it. The president of Cobegas, Lorena Matamala, who is a leader of Gasco’s Union 3, personally called on workers to switch to the company’s health insurance in order to exterminate Cobegas’ insurance. Both insurances were financed by a contribution from the company and a contribution from the worker-member. For example, the company contributed 1.4% of the taxable remuneration to the health insurance. All of this ended.

“Gasco’s anti-union practices add up to a whole chapter of infamy against the interests of the workers”, the leaders declared.

Source: Pressenza

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Energy and Transportation

Greens leader slams Green infighting

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The former leader of the Green party in British Columbia has endorsed the federal Liberals’ plan for combatting climate change.

Andrew Weaver says the Liberal plan is “both bold and thoughtful” and is the only credible plan put forward by any federal party.

The endorsement is another blow for federal Green Leader Annamie Paul, who has struggled with internecine feuding and a lack of financial resources to run a national campaign.

Paul admitted earlier this week that the party will not field a full slate of 338 candidates across the country.

She’s not commenting directly on Weaver’s endorsement but insists the Liberal climate plan is “smoke and mirrors.”

Weaver posted his video endorsement of the Liberal climate plan on social media Thursday; it was eagerly circulated by Liberals, including Leader Justin Trudeau, who made much of the fact that Weaver is a climate scientist.

In the video, Weaver lauds the Liberal plan for including, among other measures, “a world-leading price on carbon pollution” and rapid zero-emissions vehicle deployment “which is even strong policy that one we developed here in B.C.”

“This is a plan that reflects the urgency and scale of the crisis,” he says.

“I’m extremely impressed at how ambitious the Liberal Party of Canada’s plan is and I’m confident that this is the right path for Canada.”

Trudeau retweeted Weaver’s video, saying it “means a lot” given all he’s accomplished as a climate scientist and former Green leader in B.C.

Before joining the B.C. legislature in 2013, Weaver was the Canada Research Chair in climate modelling and analysis at the University of Victoria and a lead author on several United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific assessments. He didn’t run for re-election last year.

At a news conference Thursday in the Toronto Centre riding where she’s trying for the third time to win a seat for herself in the House of Commons, Paul said she hadn’t seen Weaver’s video and couldn’t comment on it.

But she argued that even if the Liberals were to implement every measure in their climate plan, Canada would not meet the Liberals’ original target to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, much less their new, more ambitious target of 40 to 45 per cent.

“The fact of the matter is that you cannot continue to build new pipelines like TMX, support other pipeline projects like Coastal GasLink, greenlight project after project for new oil and gas exploration, continue to support fracking of gas in this country and continue to support the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions of dollars and hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Paul muddled her message, however, misspeaking as she declared: “If you want a real plan the only option in this election for you is the Liberals.”

Weaver stressed in an interview that he’s not endorsing the Liberal party per se, he’s endorsing the Liberal climate plan which he called “first rate” and “absolutely exceptional.”

“I’ve always been focused on policy, not partisanship,” he said.

Weaver said he hopes Paul wins a seat and believes she’s “the best thing to happen” to the federal Green party. But he said he doesn’t believe her party grasps the seriousness of the climate crisis.

“The federal Greens do not have a climate plan, to be perfectly blunt,” Weaver said.

“If the federal Greens truly believe that climate change was the defining issue of our time then they wouldn’t be imploding over infighting over views of a Mideast crisis for which nobody really cares what the views of one or two MPs in a Canadian Parliament are,” he added.

In June, Fredericton Green MP Jenica Atwin crossed the floor to the Liberals after criticizing Paul’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That triggered weeks of infighting and attempts by the party’s executive to put Paul’s leadership to a confidence vote by grassroots members.

Source: The Globe and Mail, Canada

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Energy and Transportation

The Clean Facts about Renewable Energy

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Renewable Energy: The Clean Facts

Wind and solar are powering a clean energy revolution. Here’s what you need to know about renewables and how you can help make an impact at home.
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Renewable power is booming, as innovation brings down costs and starts to deliver on the promise of a clean energy future. American solar and wind generation are breaking records and being integrated into the national electricity grid without compromising reliability.

This means that renewables are increasingly displacing “dirty” fossil fuels in the power sector, offering the benefit of lower emissions of carbon and other types of pollution. But not all sources of energy marketed as “renewable” are beneficial to the environment. Biomass and large hydroelectric dams create difficult tradeoffs when considering the impact on wildlife, climate change, and other issues. Here’s what you should know about the different types of renewable energy sources—and how you can use these emerging technologies at your own home.

What Is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy, often referred to as clean energy, comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. For example, sunlight or wind keep shining and blowing, even if their availability depends on time and weather.

While renewable energy is often thought of as a new technology, harnessing nature’s power has long been used for heating, transportation, lighting, and more. Wind has powered boats to sail the seas and windmills to grind grain. The sun has provided warmth during the day and helped kindle fires to last into the evening. But over the past 500 years or so, humans increasingly turned to cheaper, dirtier energy sources such as coal and fracked gas.

Now that we have increasingly innovative and less-expensive ways to capture and retain wind and solar energy, renewables are becoming a more important power source, accounting for more than one-eighth of U.S. generation. The expansion in renewables is also happening at scales large and small, from rooftop solar panels on homes that can sell power back to the grid to giant offshore wind farms. Even some entire rural communities rely on renewable energy for heating and lighting.

As renewable use continues to grow, a key goal will be to modernize America’s electricity grid, making it smarter, more secure, and better integrated across regions.

Dirty energy

Nonrenewable, or “dirty,” energy includes fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal. Nonrenewable sources of energy are only available in limited amounts and take a long time to replenish. When we pump gas at the station, we’re using a finite resource refined from crude oil that’s been around since prehistoric times.

Nonrenewable energy sources are also typically found in specific parts of the world, making them more plentiful in some nations than others. By contrast, every country has access to sunshine and wind. Prioritizing nonrenewable energy can also improve national security by reducing a country’s reliance on exports from fossil fuel–rich nations.

Many nonrenewable energy sources can endanger the environment or human health. For example, oil drilling might require strip-mining Canada’s boreal forest, the technology associated with fracking can cause earthquakes and water pollution, and coal power plants foul the air. To top it off, all these activities contribute to global warming.

Types of Renewable Energy Sources

Solar Energy

Humans have been harnessing solar energy for thousands of years—to grow crops, stay warm, and dry foods. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “more energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year.” Today, we use the sun’s rays in many ways—to heat homes and businesses, to warm water, or power devices.

Solar, or photovoltaic (PV), cells are made from silicon or other materials that transform sunlight directly into electricity. Distributed solar systems generate electricity locally for homes and businesses, either through rooftop panels or community projects that power entire neighborhoods. Solar farms can generate power for thousands of homes, using mirrors to concentrate sunlight across acres of solar cells. Floating solar farms—or “floatovoltaics”—can be an effective use of wastewater facilities and bodies of water that aren’t ecologically sensitive.

Solar supplies a little more than 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation. But nearly a third of all new generating capacity came from solar in 2017, second only to natural gas.

Solar energy systems don’t produce air pollutants or greenhouse gases, and as long as they are responsibly sited, most solar panels have few environmental impacts beyond the manufacturing process.

Wind Energy

We’ve come a long way from old-fashioned wind mills. Today, turbines as tall as skyscrapers—with turbines nearly as wide in diameter—stand at attention around the world. Wind energy turns a turbine’s blades, which feeds an electric generator and produces electricity.

Wind, which accounts for a little more than 6 percent of U.S. generation, has become the cheapest energy source in many parts of the country. Top wind power states include California, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa, though turbines can be placed anywhere with high wind speeds—such as hilltops and open plains—or even offshore in open water.

Other Alternative Energy Sources

Hydroelectric Power

Hydropower is the largest renewable energy source for electricity in the United States, though wind energy is soon expected to take over the lead. Hydropower relies on water—typically fast-moving water in a large river or rapidly descending water from a high point—and converts the force of that water into electricity by spinning a generator’s turbine blades.

Nationally and internationally, large hydroelectric plants—or mega-dams—are often considered to be nonrenewable energy. Mega-dams divert and reduce natural flows, restricting access for animal and human populations that rely on rivers. Small hydroelectric plants (an installed capacity below about 40 megawatts), carefully managed, do not tend to cause as much environmental damage, as they divert only a fraction of flow.

Biomass Energy

Biomass is organic material that comes from plants and animals, and includes crops, waste wood, and trees. When biomass is burned, the chemical energy is released as heat and can generate electricity with a steam turbine.

Biomass is often mistakenly described as a clean, renewable fuel and a greener alternative to coal and other fossil fuels for producing electricity. However, recent science shows that many forms of biomass—especially from forests—produce higher carbon emissions than fossil fuels. There are also negative consequences for biodiversity. Still, some forms of biomass energy could serve as a low-carbon option under the right circumstances. For example, sawdust and chips from sawmills that would otherwise quickly decompose and release carbon can be a low-carbon energy source.

Geothermal Energy

If you’ve ever relaxed in a hot spring, you’ve used geothermal energy. The earth’s core is about as hot as the sun’s surface, due to the slow decay of radioactive particles in rocks at the center of the planet. Drilling deep wells brings very hot underground water to the surface as a hydrothermal resource, which is then pumped through a turbine to create electricity. Geothermal plants typically have low emissions if they pump the steam and water they use back into the reservoir. There are ways to create geothermal plants where there are not underground reservoirs, but there are concerns that they may increase the risk of an earthquake in areas already considered geological hot spots.

Ocean

Tidal and wave energy is still in a developmental phase, but the ocean will always be ruled by the moon’s gravity, which makes harnessing its power an attractive option. Some tidal energy approaches may harm wildlife, such as tidal barrages, which work much like dams and are located in an ocean bay or lagoon. Like tidal power, wave power relies on dam-like structures or ocean floor–anchored devices on or just below the water’s surface.

Renewable Energy in the Home

Solar Power

At a smaller scale, we can harness the sun’s rays to power the whole house—whether through PV cell panels or passive solar home design. Passive solar homes are designed to welcome in the sun through south-facing windows and then retain the warmth through concrete, bricks, tiles, and other materials that store heat.

Some solar-powered homes generate more than enough electricity, allowing the homeowner to sell excess power back to the grid. Batteries are also an economically attractive way to store excess solar energy so that it can be used at night. Scientists are hard at work on new advances that blend form and function, such as solar skylights and roof shingles.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal technology is a new take on a recognizable process—the coils at the back of your fridge are a mini heat pump, removing heat from the interior to keep foods fresh and cool. In a home, geothermal or geoexchange pumps use the constant temperature of the earth (a few feet below the surface) to cool homes in summer and warm houses in winter—and even to heat water.

Geothermal systems can be initially expensive to install but typically pay off within 10 years. They are also quieter, have fewer maintenance issues, and last longer than traditional air conditioners.

Small Wind Systems

A backyard wind farm? Boats, ranchers, and even cell phone companies use small wind turbines regularly. Dealers now help site, install, and maintain wind turbines for homeowners, too—although some DIY enthusiasts are installing turbines themselves. Depending on your electricity needs, wind speeds, and zoning rules in your area, a wind turbine may reduce your reliance on the electrical grid.

Selling the Energy You Collect

Wind- and solar energy–powered homes can either stand alone or get connected to the larger electrical grid, as supplied by their power provider. Electric utilities in most states allow homeowners to only pay the difference between the grid-supplied electricity consumed and what they have produced—a process called net metering. If you make more electricity than you use, your provider may pay you retail price for that power.

Renewable Energy and You

Advocating for renewables, or using them in your home, can accelerate the transition toward a clean energy future. Even if you’re not yet able to install solar panels, you may be able to opt for electricity from a clean energy source. (Contact your power company to ask if it offers that choice.) If renewable energy isn’t available through your utility, you can purchase renewable energy certificates to offset your use.

Source: National Resource Defense Council


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Mobilized TV on Free Speech TV  takes a deep look at our world, the consequences of human activity on our planet, and how we can reverse and prevent existing and future crises from occurring. Mobilized reveals life on our planet as a system of systems which all work together for the optimal health of the whole. The show delves into deep conversations with change-makers so people can clearly take concerted actions.

Produced by Steven Jay and hosted by Jeff Van Treese.

Mobilized’s TV series Mobilized TV  premieres on Free Speech TV on Friday, October 15, 2021. All episodes appear:

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The overwhelming news being shoved down our throats on a daily basis is having a debilitating effect our our mental and emotional health. While many people seem to feel powerless, there are a lot of actions that people can take. Mobilized.news gives you a front row seat to the change that you can create in the world when we speak with Rob Moir, Executive Director of leading environmental organization, The Ocean River Institute.

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