Tuesday, December 19, 2006
[From Green Car Congress:]
The global mean surface temperature in 2006 is currently estimated to be + 0.42°C above the 1961-1990 annual average (14°C / 57.2°F), according to the records maintained by Members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The year 2006 is currently estimated to be the sixth warmest year on record. Final figures will not be released until March 2007.
Averaged separately for both hemispheres, 2006 surface temperatures for the northern hemisphere (0.58°C above 30-year mean of 14.6°C / 58.28°F) are likely to be the fourth warmest and for the southern hemisphere (0.26°C above 30-year mean of 13.4°C / 56.12°F), the seventh warmest in the instrumental record from 1861 to the present.
Since the start of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen approximately 0.7°C. But this rise has not been continuous. Since 1976, the global average temperature has risen sharply, at 0.18°C per decade. In the northern and southern hemispheres, the period 1997-2006 averaged 0.53°C and 0.27°C above the 1961-1990 mean, respectively.
Regional temperature anomalies. The beginning of 2006 was unusually mild in large parts of North America and the western European Arctic islands, though there were harsh winter conditions in Asia, the Russian Federation and parts of eastern Europe. Canada experienced its mildest winter and spring on record, the USA its warmest January-September on record and the monthly temperatures in the Arctic island of Spitsbergen (Svalbard Lufthavn) for January and April included new highs with anomalies of +12.6°C and +12.2°C, respectively.
Persistent extreme heat affected much of eastern Australia from late December 2005 until early March with many records being set (e.g. second hottest day on record in Sydney with 44.2°C / 111.6°F on 1 January). Spring 2006 (September-November) was Australia’s warmest since seasonal records were first compiled in 1950. Heat waves were also registered in Brazil from January until March (e.g. 44.6°C / 112.3°F in Bom Jesus on 31 January—one of the highest temperatures ever recorded in Brazil).
Several parts of Europe and the USA experienced heat waves with record temperatures in July and August. Air temperatures in many parts of the USA reached 40°C / 104°F or more. The July European-average land-surface air temperature was the warmest on record at 2.7°C above the climatological normal.
Autumn 2006 (September-November) was exceptional in large parts of Europe at more than 3°C warmer than the climatological normal from the north side of the Alps to southern Norway. In many countries it was the warmest autumn since official measurements began: records in central England go back to 1659 (1706 in The Netherlands and 1768 in Denmark).
Prolonged drought in some regions. Long-term drought continued in parts of the Greater Horn of Africa including parts of Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and the United Republic of Tanzania. At least 11 million people were affected by food shortages; Somalia was hit by the worst drought in a decade.
For many areas in Australia, the lack of adequate rainfall in 2006 added to significant longer-term dry conditions, with large regions having experienced little recovery from the droughts of 2002-2003 and 1997-1998. Dry conditions have now persisted for 5 to 10 years in some areas and in south-west Western Australia for around 30 years.
Across the USA, moderate-to-exceptional drought persisted throughout parts of the south-west desert and eastward through the southern plains, also developing in areas west of the Great Lakes. Drought and anomalous warmth contributed to a record wildfire season for the USA, with more than 3.8 million hectares burned through early December. Drought in the south of Brazil caused significant damage to agriculture in the early part of the year with losses of about 11 per cent estimated for the soybean crop yield alone.
Severe drought conditions also affected China. Millions of hectares of crops were damaged in Sichuan province during summer and in eastern China in autumn. Significant economic losses as well as severe shortages in drinking water were other consequences.
Heavy precipitation and flooding. As the 2005/2006 rainy season was ending, most countries in southern Africa were experiencing satisfactory rainfall during the first quarter of 2006.
In northern Africa, floods were recorded in Morocco and Algeria during 2006 causing infrastructure damage and some casualties. Rare heavy rainfall in the Sahara Desert region of Tindouf produced severe flooding in February damaging 70% of food stocks and displacing 60,000 people. In Bilma, Niger, the highest rainfall since 1923 affected nearly 50,000 people throughout August.
In the same month, the most extensive precipitation in 50 years brought significant agricultural losses to the region of Zinder, Niger. Heavy rain also caused devastating floods in Ethiopia in August, claiming more than 600 lives. Some of the worst floods occurred in Dire Dawa and along the swollen Omo River. Again in October and November, the Great Horn of Africa countries experienced heavy rainfall associated with severe flooding. The worst hit areas were in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
Somalia is undergoing its worst flooding in recent history; some places have received more than six times their average monthly rainfall and hundreds of thousands of people have been affected. This year’s floods are said to be the worst in 50 years in the Great Horn of Africa region. The heavy rains followed a period of long-lasting drought and the dry ground was unable to soak up large amounts of rainfall.
Heavy rainfall in Bolivia and Equador in the first months of the year caused severe floods and landslides with tens of thousands of people affected. Torrential rainfall in Suriname during early May produced the country’s worst disaster in recent times.
After 500 mm of torrential rainfall during a five-day period in February, a large-scale landslide occurred in Leyte Island, the Philippines with more than 1,000 casualties. Although close to average in total rainfall, the Indian monsoon season brought many heavy rainfall events with the highest rainfall in 24-hours ever recorded in several locations.
Only months after the destructive summer flooding in eastern Europe in 2005, heavy rainfall and snowmelt produced extensive flooding along the River Danube in April and the river reached its highest level in more than a century. Areas of Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Serbia were the hardest hit with hundreds of thousands of hectares inundated and tens of thousands of people affected.
Persistent and heavy rainfall during 10-15 May brought historic flooding to New England (USA), described as the worst in 70 years in some areas. Across the US mid-Atlantic and north-east, exceptionally heavy rainfall occurred in June. Numerous daily and monthly records were set and the rainfall caused widespread flooding which forced the evacuation of some 200,000 people. Vancouver in Canada experienced its wettest month ever in November with 351 mm, nearly twice the average monthly accumulation.
Development of moderate El Niño in late 2006. Conditions in the equatorial Pacific from December 2005 until the first quarter of 2006 showed some patterns typically associated with La Niña events. These however, did not lead to a basin-wide La Niña and, during April, even weak La Niña conditions dissipated. Over the second quarter of 2006, the majority of atmospheric and oceanic indicators reflected neutral conditions but, in August, conditions in the central and western equatorial Pacific started resembling typical early stages of an El Niño event.
By the end of the year, positive sea-surface temperature anomalies were established across the tropical Pacific basin. The El Niño event is expected by global consensus to continue at least into the first quarter of 2007.
Deadly typhoons in south-east Asia. In the north-west Pacific, 22 tropical cyclones developed (average 27), 14 of which classified as typhoons. Typhoons Chanchu, Prapiroon, Kaemi, Saomai, Xangsane, Cimaron and tropical storm Bilis brought deaths, casualties and severe damage to the region. Landed tropical cyclones caused more than 1,000 fatalities and economic losses of US $10 billion in China, which made 2006 the severest year in a decade. Typhoon Durian affected some 1.5 million people in the Philippines in November/December 2006, claiming more than 500 lives with hundreds still missing.
During the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, nine named tropical storms developed (average: ten). Five of the named storms were hurricanes (average six) and two of those were major hurricanes (category three or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale). In the eastern North Pacific 19 named storms developed, which is well above the average of 16; eleven reached hurricane strength of which six attained major status.
Twelve tropical cyclones developed in the Australian Basin, two more than the long-term average. Tropical cyclone Larry [pictured above] was the most intense at landfall in Queensland since 1918, destroying 80-90 per cent of the Australian banana crop.
Ozone depletion in the Antarctic and Arctic. On 25 September, the maximum area of the 2006 ozone hole over the Antarctic was recorded at 29.5 million km², slightly larger than the previous record area of 29.4 million km² reached in September 2000. These values are so similar that the ozone holes of these two years could be judged of equal size.
The size and persistence of the 2006 ozone hole area with its ozone mass deficit of 40.8 megatonnes (also a record) can be explained by the continuing presence of near-peak levels of ozone-depleting substances in combination with a particularly cold stratospheric winter. Low temperatures in the first part of January prompted a 20% loss in the ozone layer over the Arctic in 2006. Milder temperatures from late January precluded the large ozone loss seen in 2005.
Arctic sea-ice decline continues. The year 2006 continues the pattern of sharply decreasing Arctic sea ice. The average sea-ice extent for the entire month of September was 5.9 million km², the second lowest on record missing the 2005 record by 340 000 km². Including 2006, the September rate of sea ice decline is now approximately -8.59% per decade, or 60 421 km² per year.
Information sources. This preliminary information for 2006 is based on observations up to the end of November from networks of land-based weather stations, ships and buoys. The data are collected and disseminated on a continuing basis by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of WMO Members. However, the declining state of some observational platforms in some parts of the world is of concern.
Following established practice, WMO’s global temperature analyses are based on two different datasets. One is the combined dataset maintained by the Hadley Centre of the UK Met Office, and the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK. The other is maintained by the US Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Results from these two datasets are comparable: both indicate that 2006 is likely to be the sixth-warmest year globally.
More extensive updated information will be made available in the annual WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 2006, to be published in early March 2007.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Accord renews nations' commitment to energy security, pollution reduction
China's decision to join the FutureGen International Partnership and its signing of an accord with the United States on advancing clean energy technology will enhance energy security, provide for economic growth and reduce harmful pollutants for both nations, according to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.
"We welcome China and their expertise to the FutureGen project. China and the U.S. share a common energy resource in coal, so it is imperative that we work together to find ways to use coal effectively, efficiently, and without contributing emissions," Bodman said in a December 15 press release.
China will be the third country, after South Korea and India, to join FutureGen, a $1 billion government-industry project announced in 2003 in response to President Bush's directive to develop a hydrogen economy. The coal-fired power plant, scheduled to start operations in 2012, will produce electricity and hydrogen without emitting pollutants such as carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.
Bodman also welcomed the signing of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Protocol, which renews U.S.-Chinese cooperation in advancing solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and other clean energy technologies.
Both agreements stemmed from the first session of the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, a mechanism proposed by Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao in September to promote economic cooperation and the growth of U.S.-China relations.
U.S. participants in the December 14-15 meeting in Beijing included Bodman, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson. The next dialogue session will take place in Washington in May 2007.
Efficiency has replaced speed as the official priority in China's economic development, which has registered double-digit growth at the cost of high energy consumption and a deteriorating environment.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has said in recent meetings that the country would realize "efficient and rapid" economic development. His remarks replaced the decade-long goal to achieve "rapid and efficient" development.
"China should take substantive measures to shift its focus from pursuing speed to improving the quality and efficiency of economic growth," said Hu.
Zhong Wei, an economic professor with Beijing Normal University, said the wording change sent a strong signal that the government would list efficiency as the primary criterion to evaluate economic performance of next year.
A high-level meeting presided over by Hu last week decided that the government would convene the annual Central Work Conference on Economy in the near future to discuss the new primary goal.
The economy has been expanding rapidly since 1990, with an annual growth rate of 9.7 percent on average, making China the world's fourth largest economic entity last year.
But the country has paid a price for blind pursuit of GDP. The high energy consumption, accompanied by high pollution, has posed a threat to its sustainable development and prompted criticism from around the world.
Zhong said efficient economic growth had many implications, such as raising the proportion of the tertiary sector in the economy, reducing the output of high energy-consuming industries and developing and applying high technologies.
The government has set a goal to reduce energy consumption per capita GDP by 20 percent in 2010 over that in 2005, which translates to around a four-percent decrease annually from 2006 to 2010.
But Zhong said published data indicated the difficulty of attaining the goal. The economy surged by 10.9 percent in the first half, the fastest growth rate in a decade. Meanwhile, energy consumption rose, rather than fell as expected.
Zhong speculated that the grave situation in energy efficiency had pushed the government to make the changes and list efficiency at the top of the economic agenda.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Sen. Barbara Boxer, the soon-to-be chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Tuesday she will ask Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and two Democratic state lawmakers to testify about why Congress should pass federal legislation modeled on California's landmark law to combat global warming.
"We will invite them to come and tell America that this can be done," Boxer said, noting that with the governor she'll invite Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, who wrote the measure passed last year requiring all California businesses to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.
Boxer's remarks came as she previewed her agenda for when she takes the gavel of the committee from Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who has called global warming a hoax and has fought against any federal limits on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
Boxer said legislation on climate change will be her No. 1 priority as committee chairwoman. She plans to conduct hearings early next year with scientists, environmentalists and religious leaders who want to address climate change. She also will ask business leaders to testify about their efforts to limit greenhouse gases.
The California Democrat blasted the Bush administration and the GOP Congress for failing to address global warming, citing a new report by Germanwatch, a German environmental group, which found that among 56 industrialized nations, the United States ranked third-worst in dealing with climate change. China and Saudi Arabia were rated worse.
"It's actually worse than dismal, it's disastrous," said Boxer, who said she has been taking calls from officials in other countries asking if the new Democratic Congress will take action to combat greenhouse gases.
"The answer is, we are," she said. "If America is to be a leader in the world, we must act. We cannot expect others to act if we don't."
Boxer will face many obstacles in passing a climate-change bill. The Republican president opposes mandatory caps on greenhouse gases, and could veto a bill he dislikes. And Boxer's counterpart in the House -- Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the soon-to-be chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee -- hails from an auto-producing state and has fought against tough federal limits on vehicle emissions.
Boxer said she thinks the change may come incrementally in Congress, as lawmakers react to the public's growing concerns about global warming. "Will I get everything I want? I doubt it," she said.
Boxer also pledged a "sea change" in how her committee deals with virtually every other environmental issue. She said that after global warming legislation, top issues would be to focus on the effects of toxics on humans by holding hearings on chemicals used in toys and other consumer products, and the spread of perchlorate into drinking-water supplies.
She also plans to challenge the administration on the Superfund program, calling for a return of the "polluter pays" system in which oil companies, chemical plants and other businesses have to pay fees to clean up toxic sites. Bush has opposed the fees, considering them a tax on industry, but as a result, taxpayers have shouldered a larger burden in cleaning up polluted sites.
Boxer pledged to take a closer look at the administration's controversial New Source Review policy, an attempt to allow thousands of industrial plants to make improvements without adding new pollution-control equipment. She said she'll use her committee's oversight power to try to block the White House's effort to weaken or roll back environmental protections.
"I think the way you stop these rollbacks is you shine a light on them," she said.
In an unusual move, she also made a plea to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency to contact her with their concerns, saying that many government scientists have found their opinions overruled by political appointees at the top of the agency, including in the recent decision on new standards for particulate matter.
Boxer's first major hire at the committee also gives an indication of which way the committee is headed: She picked Erik Olson, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has battled the Bush administration, as her deputy staff director and general counsel.
Boxer's takeover could prompt whiplash for observers who have been watching the Environment and Public Works Committee in recent years. Inhofe has backed the White House's efforts to ease rules on industry and used the panel's hearings to raise questions about whether human beings are causing climate change. His final hearing scheduled today will examine whether the media has been overly alarmist in warning of the effects of climate change.
Boxer, who professes a friendship with Inhofe, called the hearing a waste of time, but pledged to attend anyway to ask hard questions of witnesses.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Cleantech Category Garners 14% of All North American Venture Investment and 12% of European Venture Capital Investment Cleantech Venture Network® researchers reported today that North American and European Q3 2006 cleantech investment totaled $1.081 billion for the quarter. More than $934 million was invested in North American cleantech companies in Q3 2006, 14% of the overall $6.5 billion invested, making cleantech the third largest venture capital category for the quarter. Venture capital investment in European cleantech companies totaled $147 million in Q3, or 12% of Europe’s overall total of $1.2 billion.
In North America, the largest Q3 cleantech deals were Cilion, Altra, Ion America, Renewable Energy Group and Newmarket Co. totaling $572 million, or 61.2% of cleantech investment in the quarter. The 47 North American cleantech deals represented 5.1% of the 919 venture deals completed in the quarter. The average cleantech deal size was $19.8 million compared to the overall average VC deal size of $7.1 million. Cleantech investment YTD is running 20% behind last year YTD.
The largest cleantech deals in Europe included Ocean Power Delivery Ltd., Keronite International Ltd., DeepStream Technologies Ltd., Protalix Biotherapeutics Ltd., and Replisaurus Technologies AB. The $88 million invested in the five deals represented 59.8% of all cleantech investment.
Cleantech Venture Network® researchers recently released the Cleantech European Investment Report, a three-and-a-half-year analysis of the European cleantech venture investment category. The comprehensive report analyzes European cleantech investment by segment and region and forecasts capital needs through 2009.
EDF Energy has this week launched a free best practice guide designed to show firms the steps they can take to improve their energy efficiency without making major new investments.
The Energy Efficiency Toolkit offers practical advice on how firms can help instigate behavioural change and encourage staff to reduce their energy consumption at work. EDF estimates firms can reduce their energy needs by up to 20 percent through no or low investment initiatives.
Shayne Rees, marketing and communications manager at EDF's major business division, said firms were increasingly interested in improving their energy efficiency for both cost and environmental reasons but were often at a loss over what steps to take.
"Typically some poor executive is tasked with saving energy, but they are often unclear on where to start," he said. "There is a lot of good advice out there, but there is so much it can be very confusing, so we've condensed the best of that advice into a toolkit for anyone designing and implementing an energy saving programme."
The CD-Rom based guide is divided into five sections covering the lifecycle of an energy saving initiative.
The first section covers how firms should measure and analyse their current energy consumption and includes a number of spreadsheet templates that firms can use to assess their performance. The second section then offers insight on how to analyse the results and detect where changes need to be made.
The third section then provides advice on how to put together a low cost energy saving plan and again provides templates to help when presenting the strategy to the rest of the business. "The aim is to provide a vanilla or generic argument for adopting such a strategy which users can then adapt to their own organization," said Rees. "Having a template will take 80 percent of the work out of the process."
The fourth section provides advice on how to implement staff communication programmes and how best to ensure behaviour changes. It also includes templates for internal marketing and communication material such as posters that firms can use to promote their energy saving policies.
The toolkit ends with a section of best practice advice on how to monitor the success of energy saving programmes.
Speaking at the Los Angeles Auto Show, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner outlined the automaker’s planned efforts to diversify the sources of energy that power vehicles in the years to come. First on the list for GM is optimizing the use of conventional gasoline and diesel through increasing engine efficiency and working on partial fuel substitutions such as alternatives, biofuels (including flex-fuel vehicles) and synthetics.
Second is the development of electrically-driven vehicles, “beyond what have already committed to with our fuel cell and hybrid programs.”
"I’m announcing today that GM is significantly expanding and accelerating our commitment to the development of electrically driven vehicles...As part of the expanded focus on providing a range of electrification options, of providing what Troy Clarke, the President of General Motors North America described in a subsequent speech as “offering [a range of] fuel savings fuel at varying price levels,” GM:
First, electricity offers outstanding benefits…beginning with the opportunity to diversify fuel sources upstream of the vehicle. In other words, the electricity that is used to drive the vehicle can be made from the best local fuel sources—natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, hydroelectric, and so on. So, before you even start your vehicle, you’re working toward energy diversity.
Second, electrically driven vehicles…when operated in an all-electric mode…are zero-emission vehicles. And when the electricity, itself, is made from a renewable source, the entire energy pathway is emissions free.
Third, electrically driven vehicles offer great performance…with extraordinary acceleration, instant torque, improved driving dynamics, and so on.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute—what about hybrids? What about fuel cells? Didn’t GM already commit to those technologies?” And the answer is, “Yes, we did.” They are both big parts of our broader commitment to electrically driven vehicles…so, rest assured, we remain committed to both."
"I’m pleased to announce today that GM has begun work on a Saturn VUE plug-in hybrid production vehicle. The VUE plug-in hybrid, GM’s first, will use an advanced battery, like Lithium-Ion.GM expects that the Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid will offer electric-only propulsion for more than 10 miles. At higher speeds or when conditions demand it, such as brisk acceleration, a combination of engine and electric power or engine power only will propel the vehicle.
...production timing will depend on battery technology development. But based on our work with EV1 and our different hybrid-electric vehicles, we at GM already have a lot of experience developing and integrating advanced battery technology into our vehicles…and we’re working today with a number of battery companies to develop the technology necessary to build a plug-in hybrid.
The technological hurdles are real…but I can tell you that this is a top priority program for GM, given the huge potential it offers for fuel-economy improvement."
In addition to plug-in capabilities and the modified 2-mode hybrid system, the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid SUV’s powertrain will feature lithium-ion battery technology, two interior permanent magnet motors and GM’s 3.6L V-6 gasoline engine with direct injection.
When ready for production, the li-ion energy storage system will be replenished when the battery charge is depleted to a specified level by utilizing the 2-mode hybrid system’s electric motors and regenerative braking systems. When the vehicle is parked, the battery can be recharged using a common household exterior 110-volt plug-in outlet.
The 2-mode hybrid system will be altered for use with plug-in technology. It maintains two driving modes—one for city driving, the other for highway driving—and four fixed mechanical gears to maximize efficiency while maintaining performance. In addition, special controls will be utilized to enable higher speeds during electric-only propulsion and maintain electric-only propulsion for longer periods of time.
GM rates the VUE Green Line hybrid as delivering a 20% fuel economy improvement over the base model. The company said that it expects the front wheel drive, two-mode hybrid VUE to improve overall fuel economy by 45% over today’s base VUE. Saturn chief Jill Lajdziak during her announcement of the plug-in work that she expects the plug-in powertrain to double the fuel efficiency of any SUV on the road.
"I should point out that GM’s commitment to improving fuel economy, reducing vehicle emissions, and developing electrically driven vehicles is not a short-term strategy," Wagoner said. "We’re in this game for the long term."
GM said that it will provide additional announcements on the development of electrically driven vehicles during the coming auto show season, including the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
[From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility:]
In an unprecedented action, representatives for more than 10,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists are calling on Congress to take immediate action against global warming, according to a petition released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The petition also calls for an end to censorship of agency scientists and other specialists on topics of climate change and the effects of air pollution.
The petition stresses that time is running out to prevent cataclysmic environmental changes induced by human-caused pollution and urges Congress to undertake prompt actions:
“If we wait, we will be committing the next generation of Americans to approximately double the current global warming concentrations, with the associated adverse impacts on human health and the environment.”The filing of this petition coincides with today’s oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on a case (Massachusetts v. EPA, Case No. 05-1120) brought by states seeking to force the Bush administration to regulate greenhouse gases that fuel global warming under the Clean Air Act [see previous post].
The petition signatories represent more than half of the total agency workforce. Addressed to the members of the Senate and House committees overseeing EPA, the petition argues that:
“Professionals working for the Environmental Protection Agency are protesting being ordered to sit on the sidelines while we face the greatest environmental challenge of our generation,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the petition began among agency staff. “Under a new Congress, perhaps the scientists at EPA can begin to directly communicate with their true employers – the American public.”
The letter is signed by presidents of 22 locals of five unions: the American Federation of Government Employees, the Engineers and Scientists of California, the National Association of Government Employees, the National Association of Independent Labor, and the National Treasury Employees Union. These unions represent more than 10,000 EPA scientists, engineers and other technical specialists.
[A hat tip to Green Car Congress]
A Supreme Court argument Wednesday on the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate carbon dioxide in automobile emissions offered three intertwined plot lines to the audience that had come to watch the court’s first encounter with the issue of global climate change.
On one level, the argument was about the meaning of the Clean Air Act, which the Environmental Protection Agency maintains does not treat carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases as air pollutants and thus does not give the agency the authority to regulate them.
On another level, the argument was about whether the dozen states, three cities and many environmental groups that went to federal court to challenge the agency’s position had legal standing to pursue their lawsuit.
And on still another level, the courtroom action was an episode in a policy debate that began well before this case arrived on the Supreme Court’s docket and that will continue, in the political sphere, no matter what the justices decide.
By the end of the argument, that continuing debate appeared the only certain outcome.
The justices seemed deeply divided on the question of standing. Any plaintiff in federal court must establish standing to sue, by proving there is an injury that can be traced to the defendant’s behavior and that will be relieved by the action the lawsuit requests.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., along with Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr., expressed strong doubts that the plaintiffs, represented by Assistant Attorney General James R. Milkey of Massachusetts, could meet those interrelated conditions by showing that global climate change presented a sufficiently tangible and imminent danger that could be adequately addressed by regulating emissions from new cars and trucks.
“You have to show the harm is imminent,” Justice Scalia instructed Mr. Milkey, asking, “I mean, when is the cataclysm?”
Mr. Milkey replied, “It’s not so much a cataclysm as ongoing harm,” arguing that Massachusetts, New York, and other coastal states faced losing “sovereign territory” to rising sea levels. “So the harm is already occurring,” he said. “It is ongoing, and it will happen well into the future.”
Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito both suggested that because motor vehicles account for only about 6 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, even aggressive federal regulation would not be great enough to make a difference, another requirement of the standing doctrine.
When Mr. Milkey replied that over time, “even small reductions can be significant,” Chief Justice Roberts responded: “That assumes everything else is going to remain constant, though, right? It assumes there isn’t going to be a greater contribution of greenhouse gases from economic development in China and other places that’s going to displace whatever marginal benefit you get here.” At another point, the chief justice said the plaintiffs’ evidence “strikes me as sort of spitting out conjecture on conjecture.”
On the other side, Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter appeared strongly inclined to find that the plaintiffs had met the standing test.
Justice Souter engaged Deputy Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre, the lawyer who was defending the administration’s position, in a long debate. When Mr. Garre said the plaintiffs “haven’t shown specific facts which should provide any comfort to this court that regulation of less than 6 percent or fewer greenhouse emissions worldwide will have any effect on their alleged injuries,” Justice Souter demanded: “Why do they have to show a precise correlation?”
“It is reasonable to suppose,” the justice continued, “that some reduction in the gases will result in some reduction in future loss.” It was “a question of more or less, not a question of either/or,” he said, adding: “They don’t have to stop global warming. Their point is that it will reduce the degree of global warming and likely reduce the degree of loss.”
Mr. Garre replied that given the problem’s global nature, “I’m not aware of any studies available that would suggest that the regulation of that minuscule fraction of greenhouse gas emissions would have any effect whatsoever.”
Then Justice Breyer took on the government lawyer. “Would you be up here saying the same thing if we’re trying to regulate child pornography, and it turns out that anyone with a computer can get pornography elsewhere?” Justice Breyer asked, adding, “I don’t think so.”
By the end of the argument there appeared a strong likelihood that the court would divide 5 to 4 on the standing question, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy holding the deciding vote. His relatively few comments were ambiguous. Early in the argument he challenged the assertion by Mr. Milkey, the states’ lawyer, that the case “turns on ordinary principles of statutory interpretation and administrative law” and that there was no need for the court “to pass judgment on the science of climate change.”
That was “reassuring,” Justice Kennedy said. But, he added, “Don’t we have to do that in order to decide the standing argument, because there’s no injury if there’s not global warming?”
The justices eventually discussed the substance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s position. Mr. Garre said the agency had “responsibly and prudently” reached the conclusion that “Congress has not authorized it to embark on this regulatory endeavor.”
But the government lawyer seemed defensive when challenged by Justice Scalia on the agency’s view that carbon dioxide was not an air pollutant within the meaning of the Clean Air Act. Mr. Garre referred several times to “the conclusion the agency reached,” an unusual locution that seemed something short of the full embrace that lawyers from the solicitor general’s office usually offer the agencies whose positions they defend.
The Bush administration’s conclusion that the Clean Air Act does not authorize the E.P.A. to address climate change marked an about-face from the agency’s previous view of its legal authority.
The agency’s current position is that even if it had authority, it would choose for various policy reasons not to exercise it. That position was upheld in a fractured ruling by the federal appeals court here, a decision that led to the Supreme Court appeal, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 05-1120.
At this stage, even if the plaintiffs survive the challenge to their standing and the court finds that statutory authority exists, it is highly unlikely that the court would order the agency to undertake regulation. It would be a victory, Mr. Milkey agreed, if the justices went so far as to tell the E.P.A. to reconsider its position.
[A hat tip to Jenny]
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Quiet Revolution Ltd has revolutionized the windmill with their new QuietRevolution wind turbine, the QR5. Not only is it one of the most visually appealing wind turbines available on the market, its small scale allows it to fit seamlessly into an urban environment, providing a renewable energy resource in places where space constraints previously made it impossible to hook up green power systems. The genius of the QuietRevolution’s QR5 is its VAWT design, aka Vertical Axis Wind Turbine.
The VAWT enables the QR5 to gather power from the winds near around buildings that are constantly changing directions. It is also quieter than your typical wind turbine because the tip speed is slower, due to the triple-helix design, which in turn allows it to be situated closer to buildings and on towers.
Exactly how big is the QuietRevolution Turbine you ask? Currently in production, the QR5 is 5m high and 3.1m in diameter. Two more sizes are currently being developed, the OR2.5 (2.5m x 2.5m) and the QR12 (12m x 6m). The QR5 is currently priced at £25,000, which includes the purchase of the wind turbine, integrated control electronics, peak power tracking, auto shutdown and generator. Depending on placement and wind speeds, the QR5 will pay for itself within 15 years or less.
The new model NA-902WP is intended for industrial/commercial use in Japan, while the NA-901WP is targeted elsewhere.
The NA-901WP and NA-902WP are high-output models, delivering 90 watts of power. The amorphous/microcrystalline thin-film tandem cell design, which uses stacked layers of amorphous silicon and microcrystalline silicon, achieves a conversion efficiency of 8.5%.
The new cells have the ability to form the silicon raw materials into a layer only about 2 µm onto a glass substrate, roughly 1/100th as thick as conventional polycrystalline solar cells. The amount of silicon used is reduced, and the process is applicable to manufacturing cells with large surface areas.
Sharp's thin-film solar modules are covered with tempered glass for increased strength and minimum reflected surface glare. The external surface appearance is an attractive black.
In 2005, Sharp produced 428 MW of cells, serving almost 25% of the worldwide market for PV at the time.
The new entity AVANCIS KG will commence construction of the production facilities with operations likely to commence in 2008 in line with current notification procedure. The initial annual capacity of the plant will be 20 MW with options for rapid expansion. When built, the plant will manufacture solar panels, which when installed would power an equivalent of around 6,000 European households additional per year with clean energy. Generating the same amount of electricity from a coal-fired power plant would release about 14,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Shell and Saint-Gobain believe that non-silicon based solar technologies such as CIS are well positioned to potentially become competitive with conventional sources of electricity. The joint venture will combine Shell’s CIS technology expertise, supported by eight years of CIS marketing experience, with Saint-Gobain’s global and in-depth know-how of glass processing and building material manufacturing.
Graeme Sweeney, Shell’s Executive Vice-President of Renewables, Hydrogen and CO2 said: "Based on our R&D experience in Munich, where the laboratory line delivered record 13.5% efficiency, we believe this facility can achieve industry-leading performance amongst thin-film technologies. The joint venture is part of our continued commitment to alternative energies. Working with Saint-Gobain, our combined experience makes an excellent fit for joint development of this exciting new technology".
Jacques Aschenbroich, Executive Vice-President of Saint-Gobain, Flat Glass Division added: "Shell is an ideal partner for us with its years of experience in the solar power market coupled with our expertise in glass manufacturing. It is envisaged that the first plant will be based at our state-of-the-art production facilities in Torgau, Saxony, which has emerged as the best choice among several other locations we have analysed."
Monday, November 27, 2006
In the recently published Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern called for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to be signed in 2007, not in 2010 or 2011 as is currently expected.
Scientific and economic calls for more expeditious action on global warming are increasing. Earlier this week, NASA scientist James Hansen – who has said that White House officials were censoring climate change warnings from the space agency [see previous post] – said:
"There is still a huge gap between what is understood about global warming by the scientific community, and what is known about global warming by those who need to know—the public and policymakers.Speaking at the London School of Economics on Tuesday, Senator Bingaman said: "I think that the reality is this issue is probably not going to ripen and mature and get solved in that window."
We must close that gap and move our energy systems in a fundamentally different direction within about a decade, or we will have pushed the planet past a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to avoid far-ranging undesirable consequences."
Moreover, Bingaman indicated that the US could opt for a domestic solution for cutting emissions, rather than join the Kyoto Protocol after its current targets expire in 2012. He said: "I really don't think the Kyoto Protocol is something that anyone is debating in the US. The debate is now to the question of what are realistic goals that we could hope to agree and accomplish."
But he added: "The ideal end result will be to get a cap-and-trade system that will be world-wide. The US has got to do something credible at the national level."
Even if the newly Democrat-controlled Congress pushed through such a measure, it would be unlikely to be carried out while George Bush remains president, Bingaman said. "Realistically, it is going to be difficult to complete action on a cap-and-trade system in the US in these final two years of the Bush administration."
Instead, those favouring mandatory controls on GHGs will have to wait until after the 2008 presidential election. "Many of the potential presidential candidates have stated their support for a system of mandatory controls," said Bingaman.
While the political debate over global warming continues, top executives at many of the nation's largest energy companies have accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and see federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions as inevitable.
The Democratic takeover of Congress makes it more likely that the federal government will attempt to regulate emissions. The companies have been hiring new lobbyists who they hope can help fashion a national approach that would avert a patchwork of state plans now in the works. They are also working to change some company practices in anticipation of the regulation.
"We have to deal with greenhouse gases," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., said in a recent speech at the National Press Club. "From Shell's point of view, the debate is over. When 98 percent of scientists agree, who is Shell to say, 'Let's debate the science'?"
Hofmeister and other top energy company leaders, such as Duke Energy Corp.'s chief executive, James E. Rogers, back a proposal that would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow firms to trade their quotas.
Paul M. Anderson, Duke Energy's chairman and a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, favors a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. His firm is the nation's third-largest burner of coal.
Exxon Mobil Corp., the highest-profile corporate skeptic about global warming, said in September that it was considering ending its funding of a think tank that has sought to cast doubts on climate change. And on Nov. 2, the company announced that it will contribute more than $1.25 million to a European Union study on how to store carbon dioxide in natural gas fields in the Norwegian North Sea, Algeria and Germany.
These changes come as Democratic leaders prepare to take over key committees on Capitol Hill. Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), who calls global warming "the greatest challenge of our generation," will take the place of Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe refers to global warming as a "hoax."
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the incoming Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, said he hopes to "do something on global warming." Even though the Bush administration's expected opposition might make the enactment of legislation unlikely in the next two years, many companies cannot put off decisions about what sort of power plants to build.
Duke Energy, for example, has not added significant power generation in two decades, and customer demand is rising 1 to 2 percent a year. The company has included a price for the carbon emitted in its cost estimates for a new coal-fired generating plant proposed for Indiana.
"If we had our druthers, we'd already have carbon legislation passed," said John L. Stowell, Duke Energy's vice president for environmental policy. "Our viewpoint is that it's going to happen. There's scientific evidence of climate change. We'd like to know what legislation will be put together so that, when we figure out how to increase our load, we know exactly what to expect."
One reason companies are turning to Congress is to avert the multiplicity of regulations being drafted by various state governments. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a group of seven Northeastern states, is moving ahead with a proposed system that would set a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions, issue allowances to companies, and allow firms to trade those allowances to comply with regulations.
California is drawing up its program. Other states are also contemplating limits. Even the city of Boulder, Colo., has adopted its own plan -- a carbon tax based on electricity use.
"We cannot deal with 50 different policies," said Shell's Hofmeister. "We need a national approach to greenhouse gases."
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the federal government is obligated to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant; its decision could force the government to come up with guidelines.
Though many energy firms had already voiced support in recent months for federal regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the coming changeover in Congress has intensified the discussions.
"There have been many more folks wanting to engage on the detailed architecture of climate-change legislation," said Jason S. Grumet, executive director of the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy. "The tenor, tone and the detail of discussions has changed in the last couple of months. Nobody's going to want to be the last company to come before the Congress and say, 'I've been opposing you for five years, but now can I have my piece?' "
Some businesses are making new hires based on the assumption that legislative activity on global warming will increase in the coming months. Truman Semans, director of markets and business strategy for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said at least half a dozen of the companies that belong to the center's Business Environmental Leadership Council have recently hired staff members focused on global warming.
Not every energy company is planning to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the near future. TXU Corp. is planning to spend $10 billion to build 11 new coal-fired power plants, which would more than double the company's carbon dioxide emissions, from 55 million tons to 133 million tons a year. That increase in emissions is more than the total carbon dioxide pollution emitted in all of Maryland or by 10 million Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicles.
In an e-mail to The Washington Post, TXU spokeswoman Kimberly Morgan said that the company supports "a comprehensive, voluntary, technology-based approach to global climate change based on carbon intensity" that is both "flexible and cost effective."
"We are at a point in time where other states and businesses are starting to take global warming seriously," said Colin Rowan, spokesman for the advocacy group Environmental Defense. "California is heading toward the future, and TXU and Texas are sprinting full speed back to the 1950s."
The company's approach may pay off in the short term, but it may not last. "Over the next two years I don't think environmental policy is going to change radically," said Carl Pope, executive director of the advocacy group Sierra Club. But he added, "I think the environmental agenda and conversation will change radically."
Corporate America wants to be part of that conversation. Duke Energy's Stowell said: "Industry is coming together and saying, 'Okay, if we're going to do this, let's do this in a way that won't wreck the economy.' "
Translation on that last line: "Okay, if we're going to do this, let's do this in a way that benefits our company and it's shareholders as much as possible".
With folks like Duke, Shell, Walmart, the Petroleum Industry and others calling for federal legislation, it's probably only a matter of time before something is passed. However, you also know that these companies want to be at the table to ensure the best deal possible for themselves, and not the best public policy, so it's a double-edged sword as well. The public interest/enviro community had better be actively involved and gearing up for a grueling process to make sure we come out with a workable policy.
When it comes to climate change legislation, we need it soon, and we really can't afford to screw up - we just don't have the time to mess around anymore!
I'd be happy to see national legislation on climate change/carbon emissions soon. I think it's a big enough deal that the federal level is probably the place to do carbon legislation - we need an economy-wide/nation-wide cap on emissions, or a suitable high carbon tax, that doesn't leave too many loopholes. But I fear that if federal climate change legislation moves in the next two years (i.e., while Bush the Second still reigns), it will either be:
Still, it's good to see some momentum developing at the national level to address climate change, after so many long years of inaction, denial and, at times, outright misdirection/misinformation from some of our 'Congress Critters' [*cough*Inhofe*cough*].
[A hat tip to Green Car Congress]
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Marc Roper, Schott's vice president of sales and marketing, told The Sun that the decision has not yet been made. The company is required by law to notify employees within 60 days of the plant closing, he said.
Roper said the company is being hurt by a worldwide shortage of silicon, a key component in the manufacture of solar modules. Schott is trying to find either a new silicon supplier or someone to buy the plant. If those efforts prove unsuccessful, the plant will close in January or February, Roper said.
"There's at least one very interested potential buyer," Roper said. "It's not time to throw in the hat, that's for sure. We're all very hopeful."
Schott Solar is a subsidiary of the German company Schott Solar GmbH (itself a subsidiary of glass company Schott AG), which has four manufacturing plants in Europe. The Billerica plant would be shut down because it is the oldest and least efficient of Schott Solar GmbH's facilities, Roper said.
"From a global perspective, we do have silicon to run some of our facilities, but not all of our facilities," Roper said.
The silicon shortage has been a problem for at least three years, said Jim Walker, managing director for energy at Waltham-based forecasting firm Global Insight.
"The industry is growing so quickly that (silicon) manufacturing capacity can't keep up with it," he said.
Walker pointed out that while some companies have been hurt by the shortage, others -- particularly in Massachusetts -- have taken advantage of the situation. Konarka Technologies and Stellaris, both based in Lowell, and Marlboro-based Evergreen Solar are all developing technology to produce solar modules using much less silicon, Walker said.
Roper said Schott Solar is still bullish on the American solar market and intends to re-establish a presence on this side of the pond within two years, if the Billerica plant ends up closing. In the meantime, Schott would supply North and South America with solar modules manufactured in Europe.
The Billerica facility currently manufactures solar cells and panels for commercial and residential customers, mostly in California and New Jersey.
Roper said Schott will do what it can to retrain and relocate its Billerica employees, but the company does not have another plant close by. The company has manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania and New York, he said.
Employees were given notice of the situation on Nov. 16, but Roper said he hopes it was just a false alarm.
"The company would definitely not like to do this," he said.
Fully 78% of Americans want Washington to impose a 40 mile per gallon (mpg) fuel-efficiency standard for American vehicles, according to a new Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) national opinion survey released by the nonprofit Civil Society Institute (CSI).
Ninety percent of Americans expect gas prices to rise again “in the near future,” with nearly half (46%) “definitely” expecting a resumption of higher fuel prices.
According to the survey, 70% of Americans say they are factoring “expected future gasoline price increases into consideration in thinking about buying a new vehicle.”Forty-five percent say they are now more likely to buy a “hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle” than they were six months ago, compared to 30% who are unchanged in their plans and 24% who are less likely to make such a vehicle purchase.
[Graphic: A majority of American's surveyed support increasing fuel-efficiency standards. Click to enlarge]
Pam Solo, Civil Society Institute President and Founder said:
"These findings should be a real wake-up call to any auto executive in Detroit who is hoping against hope that Americans will fall back in love with gas-hog vehicles. What Americans are saying to American carmakers is that they are ready for change. We know the technology exists for higher fuel efficiency that will save money, reduce this nation’s dependence on foreign oil and diminish the pollution linked to global warming. What Detroit needs to realize is that low gas prices have not—and will not—lead to the demise of the now very strong and continuing demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. If American carmakers make that wrong-headed gamble for a second time, it may just be the last losing bet they can afford to make."Other results of the Opinion Research Corporation survey conducted for the Civil Society Institute include the following:
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted among a sample of 1,016 adults (509 men and 507 women) age 18 and over, living in private households, in the continental United States. Interviewing by ORC was completed during the period of November 9-12, 2006. Completed interviews of the 1,016 adults were weighted by four variables: age, sex, geographic region, and race, to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total adult population. The margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the sample of 1,016 adults. Smaller sub-groups will have larger error margins.
CSI has conducted more than a dozen major surveys since 2003 on energy issues, including vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, global warming and renewables. CSI is the parent organization of 40mpg.org and the Hybrid Owners of America.
I'm surprised to see such a strong response on this survey. Almost half (45%) "strongly agree" that fuel economy standards should be increased, and over 3/4s "somewhat or strongly agree." I hope that this message is recieved in Washington, as a gradual increase in fuel economy up to 40 mpg would do wonders for energy security, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and weening our economy off of our dependence on oil. It's a very doable goal as well.
Of course, surveys are just surveys, and they are only as good as their questions. Americans continue to vote with their pocketbooks everyday by continueing to purchase the gas-guzzling SUVs, trucks and luxury sedans produced for the U.S. market. 40-mpg cars are out there right now - the Camry, Prius and Civic hybrids all top 40 mpg, and regular model Carollas, Civics and others get close, while several diesel models top approach or top 40 mpg.
Still, what I imagine most people responding to the survey had in mind is that all vehicles, including the SUVs and luxury sedans many of them love, could get a boost in fuel economy, so that driving a more fuel efficient vehicle doesn't have to mean driving a compact car. Folks want their cake and want to eat it too.
Of course, that goal isn't impossible. Hybridization of those beefy vehicles, light-weight chassis, improved aero-dynamics, reduced rolling-resistance tires, hydrogen-boost systems, continuously variable transmissions, etc. etc. etc. can all improve the fuel efficiency of even the largest cars, trucks and SUVs (for a bit of a premium, of course). The technologies are out there. Simply downsizing and de-powering the vehicle fleet would be a heck of a lot easier way to increase fleet fuel economy, but there are other ways as well.
As I've argued before, we should use a reformed and increased CAFE standard, with a minimum fuel economy standard by weight class as well (to solve the 'buy a hybrid, sponsor a hummer' syndrome). We should increase the standard gradually (maybe by 3-5 mpg) every 3-4 years, as this is how long it takes to retool for a new vehicle model up to 40 mpg by 2020.
The market can then decide how best to meet those targets. If consumers are willing to pay a premium to continue to buy large, higher performance vehicles, they can do so - they'll just have to buy SUVs and performance sedans that get 30+ mpg with hybrid drives, carbon-fiber chassis, etc. (the Escape and Accord hybrids do this already). If consumers decide they don't want to pay the extra price to keep their over-sized, over-powered vehicles, they can buy the smaller, more fuel-efficienct vehicles already popular throughout Europe and Japan. Ultimately, it will depend on consumer preference and the balance between performance, size and the price premium needed to achieve those qualities and meet the fuel efficiency standards.
Meanwhile, we will double the average fuel economy of the light duty vehicle fleet, cutting in half the amount of oil used and greenhouse gas emissions emitted in the light vehicle sector. The public health and energy security benefits are clear, public support seems to be there (according to this survey at least), and the goals are feasible. It's time for a 40 mpg vehicle fleet.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
The AWEA Wind Energy Fall Symposium will provide a unique educational program designed for wind professionals involved in or looking to learn more about the business, policy and technical issues of the wind industry. The Symposium will also provide outstanding business interaction and networking opportunities all at a luxury resort location nestled at the base of the South Mountain Preserve in Arizona.
This year’s program will focus on how the wind industry can maximize wind’s potential over the next few decades. Each session will discuss the challenges facing the industry and the initiatives required to reach the goal of wind contributing 20% of the U.S. electricity portfolio.The Symposium is designed to bring together wind professionals in all facets of the wind industry. New this year, the Symposium will offer a comprehensive tutorial for those who are new to the wind energy industry on the fundamentals of utility-scale wind energy. This seminar will be a perfect primer for the more detailed topics to be covered during the remainder of the Symposium. On Thursday and Friday, the Symposium program will include in-depth presentations and interactive discussions on the most important topics in the wind energy industry providing something for every interest.
Monday, November 20, 2006
A new Cambridge coalition of energy investors and academics being launched today is sponsoring a business-creation contest with a $150,000 prize for new ventures promoting sustainable energy technologies.
The New England Energy Innovation Collaborative has been set up by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Entrepreneurship Center and three venture capital firms: Advanced Technology Ventures and Atlas Venture of Waltham and General Catalyst Partners of Cambridge.
General Catalyst partner Hemant Taneja said the group hopes the collaborative will "harness the tremendous innovation and entrepreneurship that this region has to offer and formally recognize its cluster of high-tech energy businesses and leadership," much as Eastern Massachusetts is known for biotechnology, financial services, life sciences, telecommunications, and other industries. Taneja said the founding partners are looking for other companies and organizations to join.
In this fall's gubernatorial campaign, both Governor-elect Deval L. Patrick and the unsuccessful Republican candidate, Lieutenant Governor Kerry M. Healey, said they were eager to promote the state's fast-growing cluster of wind-power, solar-electric and other kinds of "green power" and innovative energy companies. The state also runs a $250 million Renewable Energy Trust funded by a 25-cent-a-month electric-bill tax that was set up by the 1997 electric utility restructuring law.
The business plan contest, which is taking submissions through Jan. 22, is open to entrants who have any kind of innovative energy technology or business service idea, plan to launch their company in New England, and have not received venture capital, Taneja said. Firms that have received so-called angel funding from private investors are eligible. Winners will get $100,000 in funding from the three venture firms, free office space, and legal and public relations services valued at at least $50,000 from Boston law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC and Fama, a Cambridge public relations firm.
Winners are to be announced at a March 10 MIT energy conference.
“We are at the crossroads,” said IREE director Dick Hemmingsen. “The energy systems of the past are being rapidly replaced by the renewable energy technologies of the future. University of Minnesota researchers are leading this transition.”
The conference will showcase IREE accomplishments over the past year through a poster session featuring over 70 IREE-funded projects. Don Shelby, WCCO-TV news anchor, will give the keynote address. Edward Garvey, deputy commissioner for the energy and telecommunications division of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, will speak on Minnesota’s 25/25 initiative. Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2006 State of the State address set Minnesota on a course to have 25 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by the year 2025. University of Minnesota Regents Professor David Tilman will give the capnote address.
[I received a request to publicize this grant award opportunity for university students lookingto fund "cutting-edge, sustainable solutions to environmental challenges."
If you're a university student with an idea for a possible project, I'd encourage you to check this out. The deadline for applications in December 21st.]
The P3 Award: People, Prosperity and the Planet A Student Design Competition for Sustainability – Apply by December 21, 2006.
Got an innovative solution that protects the environment while growing the economy? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sponsoring an exciting environmental design contest for undergraduate and graduate students – The P3 Award. Through this national design competition, students and their faculty advisors submit cutting-edge, sustainable solutions to environmental challenges and compete for $10,000 to develop their designs. Winners from the first phase of the competition advance to the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, DC, in the spring of 2008 where they compete for the chance to win up to $75,000 in funding to move their designs to the marketplace or implement them in the field.
Last year, 42 teams were awarded grants, including a team from Oberlin College that designed and tested a low-cost system for observing and interpreting energy and water consumption for individual dorms and college campuses. The project led to the creation of Lucid Design Group, a small business that designs and implements data acquisition and display systems for the green building industry. You can see all the grant winners’ designs and ideas at www.epa.gov/P3.
“P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. EPA and its partners launched the P3 Award in 2003 to promote innovative thinking for moving the world toward sustainability. Participating college students gain new skills and knowledge as they research, develop, design and implement scientific and technical solutions to environmental challenges.
Teams of undergraduate and/or graduate students at institutions of higher education located in the U.S. are eligible to apply. But time is running out! This year’s P3 competition closes on December 21, 2006.
Learn more by visiting www.epa.gov/P3. Assemble your team and apply today!
[From this week's Clearing Up, Issue 1263 - available by subscription only:]
Flush from their election victory, Democrats last week filled leadership positions and outlined their priorities for the Congressional session that begins in January. Energy issues were high on the agendas of most of them, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Speaker-elect of the House.
With Democrats calling for a new energy policy that would bring "true energy independence," Pelosi repeated her pledge to repeal what she called "billions of dollars of subsidies to energy companies." Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who will take over the Committee on Energy and Commerce, also promised to investigate "oil subsidies" and to revisit Vice President Cheney's controversial energy task force and the energy bill it created.
The House Resources Committee will see an aboutface as Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) takes the chairmanship now held by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.). Pombo, who lost his seat to wind-energy expert Jerry McNerney, was a strong supporter of energy development in national parks and forests. He also championed a move to lift the federal moratorium on drilling for oil and gas off the nation's coastline, and sharp curtailments to the Endangered Species Act.
In a statement shortly after he was named Resources chair, Rahall promised to "protect the wilderness potential of public lands . . . and restore our oceans and fisheries."
Senate Democrats gave Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the top job as Majority Leader. With nuclear power gaining credibility in Congress, Reid is expected to use his position to fight the federal plan to store nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Reid supports storing the waste at the site where it's produced. He also indicated strong support for renewable energy resources.
At a meeting last week with geothermal industry officials, Reid said they could benefit from more incentives to produce power. The statement was welcomed by the renewables industry, which is lobbying Congress to extend the inflation adjusted production tax credit. The $18/MWh PTC (which will escalate to $19/MWh next year) is set to expire at the end of 2007. Reid admitted "we have some tax problems," but would not specifically comment on the PTC.
The key Senate energy job will go to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bingaman has always eschewed confrontation, and indicated last week that he will continue that policy, saying he is "looking forward to . . . continuing the spirit of bipartisanship with my colleague [current committee chair] Pete Domenici (R-N.M.)."
Bingaman echoed the call to reduce the nation's dependence on fossil fuels "by increasing energy efficiency and promoting renewable technologies. "It is imperative that Congress address our energy future. Our dangerous addiction to foreign oil, the need to restructure our energy system to avoid the harmful potential of global warming and rising gas prices, will be issues that both sides of the aisle will desire to take up," he said.
The Senate Energy Committee will lose Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is leaving to assume the chairmanship of the Rules Committee, but it will gain brand-new Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.).
Perhaps the biggest change will occur when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) takes over the Environment and Public Works Committee. The panel is currently led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has said that scientific evidence on global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind." Boxer appears to take nearly the opposite position, promising last week that legislation to curb greenhouse gases will be one of her top priorities next year.
"Nowhere is there a greater threat to future generations than the disastrous effects of global warming," said Boxer. The California lawmaker said she would hold hearings on the several global warming measures introduced this year. Those bills target carbon dioxide emissions, with some offering an emissions trading system.
But with President Bush strongly opposed to CO2 regulations, Boxer faces a major hurdle. Last week she took a step toward surmounting that hurdle with a letter to Bush seeking support for mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. "The recent elections have signaled a need to change in many areas, including global warming," said the Nov. 15 letter, which was also signed by Bingaman and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).
"When the 110th Congress begins in January, we pledge to work to pass an effective system of mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. We urge you to work with us . . . to signal to the world that global warming legislation is on the way," continued the letter.
Environmental Groups Press Bush Administration on Climate Change Policy
Having apparently scored victories in the congressional races, environmental groups last week turned their focus on the Bush Administration. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit charging the executive with failing to produce a national assessment of the impact of global warming. The review, which was due in 2004, is mandated under the Global Change Research Act of 1990.
The plaintiffs hope to force the U.S. Climate Change Science Program to produce the assessment, which would include the most recent data on the impact of global warming on the nation's environment, economy and public health. The groups called the assessment "one of the most important tools to grapple with this complex, potentially overwhelming and yet all-important issue."
While the administration would not comment directly on the lawsuit, White House spokesman Ben Fallon was quoted as defending the Bush record on global warming. "The president has been focused on results-driven research for practical ways to address climate change in ways that aren't damaging to the economy," he said.
Lame Duck Congress Not Expected to Act on Offshore Drilling Bills
The lame duck Congress is not expected to act on major bills, which could kill the effort to expand drilling off the nation's coastline. A House bill that essentially would have ended the federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration is considered dead; a Senate bill to allow drilling in a large area of the Gulf of Mexico is teetering on the edge. The natural gas industry and President Bush continue to press lawmakers to approve the Senate measure, but sources say it's unlikely to pass.
Most in the industry are pinning their hopes on the next session, but it could be a slim hope. Pelosi has offered tentative support for the Senate bill, but has made it clear she opposes lifting the federal moratorium. Bingaman and other Democrats are not happy with the Senate bill because it gives states much of the royalties from oil and gas leases.
While I don't expect to see a federal climate change policy signed into law during Bush's term in office, I see the change in Congressional leadership as an opportunity to at least begin seriously working towards carbon legislation.
Any real movement towards an energy policy that addresses the threat of climate change has been repeatedly stalled by both the Bush Administration and it's appointees in the various federal agencies and departments as well as several key Republican leaders in Congress, Pombo and Inhofe in particular.
With key committee chairs and Congressional leadership positions in both the House and Senate filled by Democrats open to climate change policy, we should at least see hearings working on crafting appropriate legislative responses to climate change, and probably debate on the floor on one or more bills. Perhaps a bill will even clear the House and Senate, forcing a hopefully unpopular vetoe from President Bush.
I am more hopeful that other pieces of energy legislation that will help develop our nation's abundant homegrown renewable energy resources will pass in the upcoming session. I'm pretty confident that the Production Tax Credit will be extended, hopefully out to at least 2010, which would go a long way to maintain the boom in renewables development in the U.S..
Maybe some of these policy suggestions - or something similar - will also pass.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The global growth in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels was 4 times greater in the period between 2000 to 2005 than in the preceding 10 years, according to an analysis by the Global Carbon Project, a component of the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP).
Despite efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the global growth rate in CO2 has climbed to 3.2% in the five years to 2005 compared to 0.8% in the period 1990 to 1999, according to the data presented. The data puts carbon dioxide emissions over the last five years as tracking close to the A1B emission scenario from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to the GCP analysis.
"This is a very worrying sign," said Dr Mike Raupach, Chair of the Global Carbon Project. "It indicates that recent efforts to reduce emissions have virtually no impact on emissions growth and that effective caps are urgently needed."
The A1 scenarios describe a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter and, in several variations of it, the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies. A1 is subdivided into A1FI (fossil-fuel intensive), A1T (high-technology), and A1B (balanced). A1FI generates the most CO2 emissions and A1T the least—but even A1T sees a near doubling of pre-industrial atmospheric concentration of CO2 by 2100.
The A1B scenario assumes that 50% of energy over the next century will come from fossil fuels, and leads to unacceptably high atmospheric CO2 concentrations resulting in, according to some estimates, a temperature increase of almost 3° C in global average temperature by 2100 compared to 1990. (See chart at right.) Other projections put the A1B temperature increase at 4° C.
[Change in global average temperature under different scenarios. Click to enlarge. Source: Arnell, Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change]
Dr Josep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project:
"On our current path, we will find it extremely difficult to rein in carbon emissions enough to stabilize the atmospheric CO2 concentration at 450 ppm and even 550 ppm will be a challenge. At some point in the near future, we will miss the boat in terms of achieving acceptable levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."Due to the phenomenon of environmental inertia, even when anthropogenic emissions do begin to decrease, atmospheric CO2 will continue to rise for up to as much as a century. Global temperatures will continue to increase for an even longer period, locking the world into continuing climate change. Effective management of Earth system inertia depends on early and consistent actions, notes the ESSP.
The analysis was commissioned by UNESCO and was presented at an ESSP conference in Beijing and at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention (COP 12) meeting in Kenya.
A sizable part of the large uptick in the rate of growth in global anthropogenic GHG emissions is likely due to the rapid industrialization and economic development of China and India in recent years. The staggering growth in these two countries, home to a third of the world's population, is having impacts on a global scale [which is why I continue to focus on these two countries (see the Eye on China series of posts at Watthead, for example)].
Additionally, the United States, conspiciously absent from the Kyoto Protocal, has been reluctant to rein in it's large emissions, which continued to increase. Even the developed nations that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol don't seem to be on track to meet their emissions reduction targets at this point, although they still have time to redouble efforts and meet their targets.
Time is running out to stabalize CO2 emissions at a level that will avoid damaging climate change. This much is becoming increasingly clear. The longer we wait - as a global community and as nations, communities and individual actors - to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, the harder and costlier it will be later to achieve significant enough reductions to avoid dangerous climate change. In fact, the window may soon close entirely on the possibility of stabalizing GHG levels at a low enough level to avoid significant sea level rise, widespread droughts, mass extinctions, and the other problems that will arise from a 3 degree C increase in global temperatures.
Again, I will repeat a call for concerted and committed action, over the next several decades, and starting yesterday, to rein in greenhouse gas emissions at all levels of action - individual, local, national, global. We can't afford to screw this up, and we're clearly not on the right track now. It's time for a serious course correction - in fact, that time is becoming increasingly overdue.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
[From RenewableEnergyAccess.com and the Geothermal Energy Assocation:]
Some 58 new geothermal energy projects are now under development in the US, according to a survey by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) - the industry trade group. "This represents the US geothermal industry's most dramatic wave of expansion since the 1980s," noted Karl Gawell, GEA's Executive Director.
These projects, when developed, would provide up to 2,250 megawatts of electric power capacity, generating approximately 18 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. These additions would serve the needs of 1.8 million households, producing electric power roughly equivalent to all US wind facilities operating in 2005. This would almost double installed US geothermal power capacity to over 5,000 MW, according to GEA.
"The good news is that federal and state incentives to promote geothermal energy are paying off. We are seeing a geothermal power renaissance in the US," stated Gawell. "The bad news is that some projects are already being put on hold because of the impending deadline for the federal production tax credit," he added.
As part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress expanded the full production tax credit (PTC) to include new geothermal facilities. Prior to 2005, the PTC was limited to new wind projects and has been widely credited with spurring the expansion of the US wind industry over the past decade. But, the deadline for plants to be on-line and qualify for the credit was extended for only two years, or to December 31, 2007.
"Geothermal and other baseload renewable power plants take several years to build and many of these plants can't be on-line by the December 31, 2007 deadline," Gawell stated. "The PTC deadline urgently needs to be extended."
The new GEA survey identifies power projects under development in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Utah and classifies their stage of development. Since the last survey in March, 2006, Alaska has been added to the list of states producing geothermal power and a dozen new US geothermal projects have been initiated.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Election 2006: Environmentalists, Though Winners in the Election, Warn Against Expecting Vast Changes
Last week’s election whipsawed the Congressional committees that are crucial battlegrounds for environmental and energy legislation. But even many environmentalists believe that an ambitious new agenda is unlikely.
The leadership changes are striking. Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who favors mandatory cuts in emissions linked to global warming, will become chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, replacing Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who has called the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind.”
[Graphic: Barbara Boxer will head the Senate committee on the environment in the 110th Congress, replacing Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)]
In the House, Jerry McNerney, a California Democrat and wind-energy executive, will replace the current chairman of the House Resources Committee, Representative Richard W. Pombo, a Republican who fought to open public lands to private interests.
“I think you’d have to go back to the Enlightenment to find such a big change in worldviews,” Ken Cook, the president of the Environmental Working Group, a research organization, told reporters on Monday.
But despite the committee changes, some lobbyists are trying to dampen expectations that a major environmental agenda can speed through Congress.
While environmental groups are likely to worry less about oil and natural gas wells in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they say that trying to get the new Congress to embrace initiatives like tougher automobile fuel-economy standards and requirements that industry pay more for Superfund cleanups could mean that little, if anything, will be accomplished.
Melinda Pierce, a senior lobbyist with the Sierra Club, said in an interview, “The environmental community has to recognize how difficult it’s going to be to advance an environmental agenda with such narrowly held majorities.”
Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico and the presumptive new chairman of the Energy Committee, said in an interview: “I think there’s a danger of trying to overreach. The close divide between Democrats and Republicans ensures we can’t pass anything unless we get some Republican support.”
Even before the 110th Congress is sworn in, there is unfinished business for the 109th, including the question of how much to expand energy drilling along the outer continental shelf. Many on Capitol Hill believe that two rival measures — an expansive House bill and a more limited Senate bill that would open 8.3 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration — have little chance of passing.
Bob Greco, an expert on oil and gas exploration and production, said he thought that Congress would eventually open more areas to the energy industry.
“Our sense is that Congress might be willing to work on a bill to improve domestic access,” Mr. Greco said, adding, “You need both increased resources as well as conservation and energy efficiency.”
The agenda for the next Congress is a work in progress, legislators and lobbyists said. Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust and a former senior Democratic Senate staff member, said in an interview on Thursday, “It’s very clear that the House Democrats want to move a piece of energy legislation sometime this spring.”
Mr. Clapp said the measure would probably provide incentives for the production of biologically based fuels, like ethanol.
Mr. Bingaman said he would continue to push for requirements that at least 10 percent of any utility’s electricity be generated by renewable sources like geothermal, solar and wind energy by the year 2020. He also said he wanted to guide legislation mandating energy-efficiency measures through the next Congress.
In an interview on Monday, Senator Boxer said her first priority would be to hold hearings on global warming. These would first review the half-dozen proposals that senators have put forward to slow the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, then focus on choosing the best approach. “Many states are way ahead of us,” she said.
Her other chief concern, she said, is “protecting children and families” from toxic chemicals, by, among other things, ensuring that the risks from Superfund sites is made public.
The views held by Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, show the difficulty in finding support for a broad agenda. Mr. Dingell supports the control and cleanup of toxic substances but has never embraced automobile fuel-efficiency standards.
Mandates on fuel efficiency for cars have had wavering support from Congress since the original passage of a fuel-economy law in 1975.
In March, the federal Transportation Department ruled that by 2011 the largest light trucks and sport-utility vehicles must average 24 miles per gallon and the others in this class 28.4 miles per gallon. Anna Aurelio, an environmental lobbyist for the United States Public Interest Research Group, said Monday that a 40-miles-per-gallon standard was feasible for all passenger vehicles.
In an e-mail message, Mr. Dingell was noncommittal about tightening fuel-efficiency standards but said he would be assertive in oversight of the Energy Department and of Superfund cleanups. His strong stance on oversight has been a career trademark. Given that, and the questions many Democrats have after six years with little chance to probe administration decisions, a season of oversight hearings is at hand.
“I think we’re still looking at a big turnaround in the tenor of the debate,” Mr. Cook said, “and the nature of information coming out of Washington.”