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Wind energy is a key climate change solution

Posted on 10 December 2015 by John Abraham

When we think about climate change, it’s easy to focus on reducing emissions in order to maintain a healthy global temperature. But any real progress has to be complemented by a significant increase in clean and renewable energy. Fortunately, businesses have plans to build on recent successes and supply the world with the energy we need to grow economies.

A great example is Vestas, a major renewable energy company. I had the pleasure of communicating with the Vestas CEO Mr. Anders Runevad. He has served as CEO since 2013 and prior to that he worked at Ericsson and Sony Mobile. Mr. Runevad combines a technical background and education with business training to chart out pathways for companies to build capacity in the rapidly evolving energy market.

Vestas is a company very familiar to people like me who work in the wind power industry. They are the largest manufacturer of wind turbines in the world. Just this year, they have reached 7 GW of announced orders; their turbines can supply energy to supply the needs of 75 million Europeans.

But providing energy to the developing world is only part of the energy solution. Solving the climate change problem means we also need to revolutionize the power grids in the developing world. Companies like Vestas are working on that problem too. 

Mr. Runevad recently met with India’s Prime Minister Modi and presented a plan to build blades at a new factory in India. They also have plans to increase the renewable energy supply in that country. As of now, Vestas has installed nearly 5,000 turbines in India and employs approximately 900 people there. Vestas has also committed to investments in Kenya by participating in the development of a wind park. The goal is to supply 15% of the electrical needs of Kenya, a country that is plagued by expensive and unreliable energy sources.

I asked Mr. Runevad a few questions related to recent wind power developments and to the future outlook on the industry. I asked him what has happened to costs of wind power around the world and in the USA in particular. He told me that in the past 20 years, the cost of wind is down approximately 80%. In the past 5 years, the cost is down 15%. In the USA, the cost has decreased more than 50% since 2009. So, the cost decrease is significant and sustained.

One concern people have about wind power is that they perceive it isn’t reliable. When the wind does not blow, power is not produced. But Mr. Runevad told me that the newer wind turbines are better at creating wind power in variable wind speeds. They have bigger rotors, higher towers, and lighter blades. The resulting grid is more stable. Importantly, there is better interconnection with neighboring countries and linking with storage or hydropower sources, which also increases reliability and efficiency.

I asked how effectively wind can compete with fossil fuel sources, and learned that wind has become extremely cost effective. In areas where energy consumption is increasing so that new power sources have to be built, there is a basic parity and in many cases, wind wins on cost alone. In mature markets where existing coal, nuclear, or gas power generation infrastructure is already built (often with years of subsidies), it is more challenging to build wind because new infrastructure would have to be created. There, new-build wind has to compete with the costs of maintenance of the existing energy source. However, even then, wind is an attractive option, aside from the fact it creates energy without greenhouse gas emissions.

With renewable energy technology changing so rapidly, I wanted to know what was in store in the near-term future. He told me that the cost reductions will continue into the future. There are three reasons for the cost reductions. First, turbines are becoming larger, with taller towers, and lighter construction. Second, increased efficiency in the supply chain and manufacturing systems are lowering cost. Finally, as the scale of wind installations increase, there are cost savings from the economies of scale that are realized.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 25:

  1. Publishing such uncritical marketing for a company does disservice to Skeptical Science. How about reading for example the Wind technologies Market report to check those "signifigant and sustained" cost reductions?Today wind costs about the same as 15 years ago. It is mature technology. https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-188167.pdf

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed link.

  2. From the linked report: "Wind PPA prices have reached all-time lows. After topping out at nearly $70/MWh for PPAs executed in 2009, the national average levelized price of wind PPAs that were signed in 2014 (and that are within the Berkeley Lab sample) fell to around $23.5/MWh nationwide—a new low..."

    The brief increase in wind power costs from ~2001 to 2009 does not change the overall sharply downward trend of the past 40 years... or the fact that current costs are the lowest ever... and still dropping. Wind costs less today than it did 15 years ago. The technology is still improving. Your cited 'evidence' contradicts your position.

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  3. The problem with wind is that it is not a fixed entity.  In California, I've seen plots of wind output, and it is very dirunal, particularly in the Summer:

    https://carboncounter.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/the-daily-cycle-of-wind-power-in-california/

    This means that other base load plants where need to reduce power in the evening and ramp up during the day.  I know that nuclear plants in this country were not designed with this king of daily cycle in mind.  At a minimum California also needs large amounts of other renewables to even out the wind cycle.  Solar might fit the bill  because its output will be stronger in the middle of the day when the wind tapers off, but not every geographic location is the same in this respect.

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  4. Congratulations to Professor John Abraham for being nominated for teacher of the year at St. Thomas U.

    www.stthomas.edu/news/professor-year-finalists-announced/

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  5. @jpjmarti at 1.

    Your own link appears to contradict your claims. p 46

    "Wind turbine prices have dropped substantially in recent years, despite continued technological advancements that have yielded increases in hub heights and especially rotor diameters."

    " project-level installed costs appear to have peaked in 2009/2010, with substantial declines since that time" 

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  6. Wind power can only fill a niche role because it ineffectively use a weak energy source, winds, to supply only electrical energy. That is, it is an ecologically costly intermittent process with limited application. It cannot replace the concentrated energy in the liquid fuels needed for land, sea and air transport.

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  7. You've certainly correctly pointed out that wind power can't do everything but to say it can't do anything is illogical and notably relies on unquantified argument.

    It comes down to cost in the end: this is where the waters get very deep.

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  8. denisaf @6:

    1)  The "weak energy source" you mention actually has a total energy resource equal to 100 times current total human energy use.

    2)   Intermittency can be tackled in several ways, including by tapered use, chemical storage, geographically dispersed turbines, and elevating the wind turbines (see video below).  It follows that it is only an engineering problem, not a limit.

    3)  Electricity is unsuitable as a power source for large mobile units such as trucks and planes.  It has already been demonstrated as usefull for personal transport, and for rail networks.  It is certainly suitable for any stationay energy need.  As such, wind power (which produces electricity) is potentially suitable for the majority of our energy needs (75% plus).  That hardly represents a niche market.

    I doubt, of course, that wind will provide all our energy needs.  That will be some combination of wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, wave, hydro and nuclear power.  Of those, wind may be the largest single component, and will certainly be in the top three.  It is absurd, on that basis, to say wind has a "niche role" as, on the same basis you would need to say that solar, or nuclear, or for that matter, currently, coal has a "niche role".

    So, to summarize, your argument dogmatic assertions are either entirely wrong, or simply based on the assumption that the technology of wind energy cannot significantly advance on what is currently commercially deployed, despite several advances approaching commercial deployment:

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  9. Given that no. one priority is stopping burning coal, wind energy can be very useful part of the electricity mix for that. As for transport, heavy transport like trucks are small proportion of total energy use. Biofuel could easily handle all the needs for my country.

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  10. The link I provided does not contradict what I said. Read the whole thing and not just the spin. Page 48 shows a figure of the project costs as a function of time. As you can see there is almost no change since early 2000. The capacity factor during this time has changed only slightly (elsewhere in the report) so the unit cost is almost the same. You can say that costs have decreased recently, but that is based on cherry picking 2009 as a base year and looking at costs from then on. As for citing PPA costs...report cautions "Finally, because the PPA prices in the Berkeley Lab sample are
    reduced by the receipt of state and federal incentives (e.g., the levelized PPA prices reported here would be at least $15/MWh higher without the PTC, ITC, or Treasury Grant), and are also influenced by various local policies and market characteristics, they do not directly represent wind energy generation costs." PPA costs are costs AFTER subsidies.

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  11. Figure for your convenience Berkeley wind power costs USA

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  12. Isn't some sea transport already at least assisted by wind (and not just small sail boats)?

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  13. Does it matter whether the price of wind has gone down or not? Doesn't it only matter if it's cheaper than coal? As it seems to be, in the US, at least, according to this eia chart: www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/assumptions/pdf/table_8.2.pdf

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  14. In northern Europe, solar is not the best option, but wind does quite well. Leitwind and the Leitner group are pursuing a variety of solutions:

    http://www.leitwind.com/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leitner_Group

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  15. This piece presents a grimly realistic view of how far we have to go and how far we haven't come: www.vox.com/2015/12/14/10121638/fossil-fuel-dominance

    "Oil, gas, and coal still make up about 86 percent of the world's energy supply — a fraction that has barely budged since 1997"

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  16. Many people are alarmed that "environmentalists" view the huge landscape (and seascape) blight of wind energy as something other than industrial sprawl. Why have these people forsaken nature's physical grandeur for an often ineffective power source? And what about all the bird and bat deaths it's causing?

    There's no mention of that in this article. Just the usual dry commentary on cost effectiveness, as if open space is now useless without machines all over it.

    Even if none of the physical intrusions were occurring, there's scant evidence that wind turbines can replace the very fossil fuels they're built with, or reduce net CO2 emissions. Germany is proof of that, with over 30,000 very large machines desecrating their countryside and north coast while their CO2 emissions continue to rise. Do some digging and you'll see that they've covered up a massive blunder. The density in Germany is the U.S. equivalent over over 800,000 wind turbines, and too much American scenery has been tarnished with around 58,000 so far.

    To not mention any of that in an "environmental" article is a glaring oversight.

    https://falseprogress.home.blog/2016/08/29/windturbineslandscapes/

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Welcome to Skeptical Science. Please note the comments policy on sloganeering. If you are going to make an assertion (eg. about bird deaths, lack of effectiveness etc), then must provide supporting evidence, preferrably from peer-reviewed sources. While I get that not everyone likes looking at wind turbines, you seem to be otherwise repeating long-debunked myths (eg put wind power myths into google).

    eg Germany emissions. Pretty good when at same time they are shuttering nuclear power.

  17. FalseProgress @16 , your assessment is false.

    Smoucha et al., 2016 show that the "carbon" payback time for windturbines is around 2 - 12 months (for the larger to smaller turbines).  SaskatchewanWind (saskwind.ca) corporation claims their large windturbines have a CO2 payback time around 6 months.

    Even allowing for some disputation on the exact figures, it sounds like windturbines are very much a bargain !

    Turbines as scenically unsightly . . . or (mentally reframed) as elegant technological decorations?   Like you, I incline (at least partly ) to the "unsightly" . . . though definitely less unsightly than most houses/apartments.   However, how much more unsightly will be the scenic visuals of landscape that will be degraded by the effects of global warming by a further 1 or 2 or 4 degrees Celsius?   The turbines and occasional solar farms may well be a fair price to pay for preserving much of the natural environment, eh?

    Turbines killing birds and bats?  Best if you supply some reliable estimate of the figures.   Then compare with birds dying from impact with ordinary buildings.   Then compare with (presumably much larger) numbers of birds and bats that will die from the effects of unrestricted worldwide habitat damage from future global warming.   Not pretty !

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  18. Suggested supplemental reading:

    Texas Now Gets More Power From Wind Than Coal by Joe McCarthy, Environment, Global Citizen, July 26, 2019

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  19. False Progress... Clearly, from your website, it seems you strongly object to the look of wind turbines, but what's your alternative? Personally, it seems to me wind turbines are infinitely more preferable to things like mountain top removal to get at coal seams. 

    Or tar sands extraction...

    Or oil spills...

    But if you have some alternative that beats all of these, by all means, everyone is very interested to hear about it.

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  20. "what about all the bird and bat deaths it's causing"

    Wind turbines kill orders of magnitudes fewer birds than do fossil fuel energy generation sources. Where's the outcry against those?

    In reality, cars kill 2,800 birds for every 1 killed by a wind turbine.

    And cars kill more pedestrians than windmills kill birds. Is it time to ban cars yet?

    The leading causes of Raptor deaths in the Altamont study:

    1. Shooting
    2. Poison
    3. Cars

    But pretend-skeptics aren't interested in facts that disagree with their desired outcome.

    Avian Mortality

    Avian Mortality

    Per Erickson 2005:

    Table 2–Summary of predicted annual avian mortality.

    Buildings_______________ 550 million
    Power lines_____________ 130 million
    Cats___________________ 100 million
    Automobiles_____________ 80 million
    Pesticides_______________ 67 million
    Communications towers___ 4.5 million
    Wind turbines___________ 28.5 thousand
    Airplanes________________ 25 thousand

    Avian Mortality

    Cat's out of the proverbial bag. Per Loss et al 2013, feral cats kill most of the 87,000 times as many birds (in the US alone) than do all of the wind turbines in the world do, combined. That's 3.7 BILLION bird deaths per year, by cats alone...in the US. Or about 10 MILLION per day, as compared to about 2 per day per wind turbine.

    Seems the bird holocaust is getting out of...paw. Meow. :)

    "Why have these people forsaken nature's physical grandeur for an often ineffective power source?"

    Grandeur like this?

    Wind Turbines Ruin The View

    As for the environmental impacts of wind power:

    "Most estimates of wind turbine life-cycle global warming emissions are between 0.02 and 0.04 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour. To put this into context, estimates of life-cycle global warming emissions for natural gas generated electricity are between 0.6 and 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour and estimates for coal-generated electricity are 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour"

    And

    "building and running new renewable energy is now cheaper than just running existing coal and nuclear plants...the full-lifecycle costs of building and operating renewables-based projects have dropped below the operating costs alone of conventional generation technologies such as coal or nuclear"

    And

    "its cheaper to tear down three-quarters of American coal plants and replace them with renewables than to let them continue operating"

    Both utility solar and wind are cheaper than gas:

    "alternative energy costs have decreased to the point that they are now at or below the marginal cost of conventional generation"

    Wind Cheaper than gas

    Unsubsidised wind and solar are now the cheapest form of bulk energy:

    "The unsubsidised cost of wind and solar now beats coal as the cheapest form of bulk generation in all major economies except Japan, according to the latest levellised cost of electricity analysis by leading energy analyst BloombergNEF.

    The latest report says the biggest news comes in the two fastest growing energy markets, China and India, where it notes that “not so long ago coal was king”. Not any more.

    In India, best-in-class solar and wind plants are now half the cost of new coal plants,” the report says, and this is despite the recent imposition of import tariffs on solar cells and modules.

    The China experience is also significant. While local authorities have put a brake on local installations, causing the domestic market to slump by one third in 2018, this has created a “global wave of cheap equipment” that has more than compensated for increased financing costs caused by rising interest rates.

    The cost of battery storage is also falling – so much so that in countries like Australia and India, pairing unsubsidised wind and solar with four hours of battery storage can be cost competitive with new coal or gas plants."

    Fancy that, renewables are already cheaper than 75% of the US coal fleet of power generation facilities.

    Whodathunkit, the carbon benefits of wind and solar far outweigh their carbon footprints.

    Harking back to that picture of that lovely tableau of the open pit coal mine:

    "Coal’s carbon footprint is almost 90 times larger than that of wind energy, and the footprint of natural gas is more than 40 times larger"

    To wrap this up and stick a wooden stake through the undead heart of this meme, fossil fuels are less efficient than earlier estimates and are essentially uneconomical, now.

    This means that the levelized cost of electricity estimates put fossil fuels at even more of a disadvantage vs renewables than previously demonstrated. 

    Yes, without subisidies.

    Brockway et al 2019 - Estimation of global final-stage energy-return-on-investment for fossil fuels with comparison to renewable energy sources

     

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  21. The wind power issue has taught me that purist environmentalists (protecting nature intrinsically) are far rarer than I assumed (maybe 5% vs. 15% as a guess). Today's environmentalism seeks to sustain modern life with sprawling forms of non-dense energy, and nature's physical grandeur is the big sacrifice. There's also a refusal to admit that energy gains and CO2-reduction are very weak in terms of vast acreage needed to create them. I call it Blight for Naught.

    Today's "environmentalists" have decided (for everyone else) that scenery no longer matters. They have to know it's being destroyed, but post deceptive photos ("Oh yuck, look......a wind turbine" - never a whole ridge ruined by them) as they claim to illustrate new vs. old scars. They also won't admit that wind turbines only add to visible damage, formerly the domain of fossil fuel extraction, mining, logging, etc. (plenty of logging is done for mountaintop wind). Nothing is being improved in terms of natural aesthetics. We just see more machines, less nature, and corporate lingo like "installed capacity" to describe ruined scenery.

    Here's a far more accurate view of wind energy sprawl: mountaintop desecration, ocean views lost, roads & construction

    The total human footprint has grown enormously since the late 1990s when Big Wind took off. There are now over 355,000 wind turbines on the planet, and Mark Jacobson & Co. would like to see over 10 times that many, which radically increases today's "acceptable" bird & bat carnage.

    The topic of dying bats is dodged several times in these comments, and the species of birds killed by wind turbines isn't the same as what cats take out, but we're told it can never matter because we've got to coddle this thing called "civilization" at any cost. Big Wind supporters have merely sold out to a new industry and gravy train. That's all I ask them to admit at this point.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Sloganeering and inflammatory rhetoric snipped.

  22. Rob Honeycutt at 14:31 PM on 29 July, 2019 "False Progress... Clearly, from your website, it seems you strongly object to the look of wind turbines, but what's your alternative? Personally, it seems to me wind turbines are infinitely more preferable to things like mountain top removal to get at coal seams."

    You can't equate scalping and stabbing the top of a long ridge to a newer form of mountaintop removal? Is there some criteria that says a certain amount of rock must be removed? And repeating that countless times still won't be ruining mountains? I'm a veteran of this bleak debate and constantly see moderators who accept almost no criticism of the tallest urban sprawl ever invented. If you tell them they're lying they'll ban you for "ad-homimen" attacks and line-out anything with a source that isn't half-written by the wind industry (eerily similar to working for Trump's EPA and mentioning climate change).

    Right-wingers have long called environmentalism a "religion" (never agreed with that) but I think Big Wind is now proving that claim in a specific context. As notable "sustainability" critic Paul Kingsnorth put it, you're "destroying the planet to save the planet." It's beyond my capability to understand why HUGE machines all over landscapes are now considered acceptable. These aren't just any machines, they're visible for dozens of miles, day and night. If you were going to care, you already would. I get it.

    As for my alternative, it's a tough sell because it involves scaling down society to a smaller population that might be sustained with nuclear, solar and small wind turbines, but might last only as long as fossil fuels remain to build infrastructure and many other things we take for granted.

    The assumption that global economic growth aka bloat MUST be made sustainable is the concept most people won't get past. If you re-frame the question to "Is it MORALLY right to keep destroying nature in new ways?" you get a whole different context. I've found that context impossible to achieve in any pro wind power forum, and have concluded that Big Wind engineers see nature no differently than Big Oil, Gas and Coal. It's just new branding with most of the old elements intact. Same truck drivers, same road-builders, same loggers, same crane-riggers, just less obvious smoke and water contamination.

    Sierra Nevada and Japanese mountain ridges desecrated.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB]  Inflammatory rhetoric and tone are unhelpful in an evidence-based discussion.  Please construct comments to advance the discussion, not hinder it.

    Please keep image widths at 450 or less.

  23. Attn. Moderator(s):

    This will be my last post on this page, but I'd like to ask why you allow images like the first one below, which claim to compare wind farm blight to long-standing blight from mining but only show the latter. The problem under discussion is NEW damage from the world's 355,000+ wind turbines - and growing. One assumes that goes without saying for people trying to understand objections to newer eyesores. This site is supposed to be about education, right?

    The image titled "Oh yuck..." (single distant wind turbine) looks like the work of a schoolkid who barely understands the scale of Big Wind. The McDonald's photo (not from this forum) is a blatant attempt to manipulate perspective, and the oil field photo (also found elsewhere) shows not a single wind turbine. If it was honest it would at least show all the diesel trucks that haul them and mine their materials. Intrusions from wind turbines are now visible at far greater distances than mines, and the impact is cumulative, not subtractive. You also have to add rare earth mining scars thousands of miles from actual wind projects.

     

    Below is another form of propaganda that misrepresents wind turbines' scale and context. You don't get this sunny, pastoral aura when collosal machines loom over scenery.

     

    Here's what they really look like, with some solar sprawl mixed in (I'm fine with rooftop solar). Everyone who understands the scale of wind projects should be frank about their moral angle. This is what the Green New Deal wants to greatly expand.

     

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Oversized images, rhetoric.

  24. FalseProgress@22,

    I agree with the need for "scaling down society", but I disagree with the scaling down being restricted to population.

    Achieving and improving on the robustly established Sustainable Development Goals is, realistically, the only viable future for humanity.

    There are a diversity of new developments and ways to correct what has incorrectly developed popularity and profitability. But the total impact of the total population is what needs to be corrected to achieve and improve on the Sustainable Development Goals.

    The current situation is indeed unsustainable. Limiting the population can be part of the solution, but limiting the impacts of the way people live, how much they consume and how much waste and pollution their actions cause, is the more important focus. Associated with limiting the impacts of the largest consuming and largest impacting people, there is a need to ensure that all of the people actually live at least a basic decent life. Note that Ethically/Morally, competitions for status (wealth, power and image) where everyone is said to have the chance to live at least a basic decent life but many people will suffer through a less than basic decent life is ethically unacceptable.

    Current day people living in ways that cannot be developed up to by all others if they wished to, and especially living in ways that simply cannot be continued to be enjoyed by future humans (fossil fuel use is non-renewable), is unacceptable no matter how small the total population is.

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  25. Falseprogress appears to object to renewables primarily on aesthetics grounds. (And obviously either prefers the look of coalmines or lives a long way from them). Should we be continuing to create climate problems with fossil fuel because we dont like the aesthetic of solutions? Personally, I would rather not have windmills and hydro and frankly like many (most?) with environmental concerns, limit my energy use accordingly. However, society's energy-hunger is unabated, so wind and solar are next best option. It is hard enough to get people to pay any more for energy as it is, let alone pay the cost of nuclear. Continuing to burn fossil fuel is not an alternative option. When you can convince society to drastically reduce energy consumption (and population) or pay a lot more for it, then there is a way to get rid of windmills.

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