Wednesday, December 19, 2007

French Company to Build 32MWp of Solar Parks

French photovoltaic utility Solaire Direct and a leading French bank, Caisse des Depots, announced a JV company, Solaire Durance, which will build 32MWp in the South of France (Var region). The 32MWp will be split among 5 different solar parks, and the first solar park is expected to come online in the second half of 2008.
The installer, Solaire Direct was established in October 2006, and they raised €6.1 million of funding in June 2007 (from companies including TechFund, Schneider Electric Ventures, and Demeter Partners). They are now investing €3.81 million of that money in this JV, while Caisse des Depots is investing €4.44 million. Solaire Direct will own 50.25% of the new company.
The total spend on the 32MWp of solar parks is expected to be €140 million. 20% of this will be from direct investment (€28 million), and 80% will be borrowed.

PG&E signs first U.S. agreement to buy ocean energy

Utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company became the country's first utility on Tuesday to agree to buy renewable electricity made by the ebb and flow of ocean waves.
The energy will be captured by several buoys bobbing 2.5 miles off the California coast and then transmitted to shore by an undersea cable. At peak times, the electricity will light at least 1,400 homes.
"This is a first," said Robert Thresher of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Energy. "It implies that someone with money and experience is willing to invest and take a chance on this technology, which could be as popular as wind technology in only a few decades."
There is enough ocean wave energy surging off U.S. coasts to match the power generated from the country's hydroelectric dams, which account for 6.5 percent of its electricity use, said Roger Bedard, a specialist at the Energy Power Research Institute.
Harnessing the power of the ocean has been difficult and power obtained from tides and waves is, to date, barely measurable, according to the International Energy Agency. Yet demand for non-carbon and sustainable energy is growing.
"We are very optimistic about the potential for wave energy," said Jennifer Zerwer, a spokesperson for PG&E, which currently produces about 12 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. "We are even interested in generating tidal energy from the San Francisco Bay."
In this small program, PG&E has agreed to buy 3,854 megawatt-hours annually from Finavera Renewables Inc., a Canadian firm building the buoy system. The two-megawatt system expected to come online in 2012 off the coast of Eureka in northern California, a particularly windy and wavy area.
Neither company would disclose how much the installation will cost, how long the contract lasts, or how much PG&E will pay for the power. Industry experts say wave energy costs about $8-$12 million per megawatt.
"We believe the price will be significantly lower than that," said Myke Clark, a spokesman for Finavera Renewables. "But the reason this agreement is important is that it proves there is a demand out there for wave energy."
Local environmentalists say they will be watching what effect the installation has on the local habitat for Dungeness crab or on the ability of whales to migrate up the coast.
"On the other hand, as an environmentalist, I also see the advantage of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels," said Pete Nichols, executive director of Humboldt Baykeeper, an environmental organization. "I would say I'm a skeptical optimist."

Green Technology Investments to Boom in 2008

Venture capitalists are expecting to see green in the technology sector this coming year, and that is not just inside their wallets, as clean efficient technologies in the life sciences and the Internet are predicted to explode.
In fact, the industry is expected to invest about $27 billion in the industry, according to the consensus estimate of 170 venture capitalists polled by the National Venture Capital Association.
The news is good for budding green-leaning technology companies, as some in the investor expect even bigger numbers. The study found 25 percent of survey respondents forecast investments of $30 billion to $39 billion. That would be the most VC money poured into the tech sector since the 2000 bubble year.
“There are major opportunities for venture capitalists to totally reshape the energy market throughout the world as governments, consumers, and companies are demanding innovation in this space,” said NVCA president, Mark Heesen. “However, as has been demonstrated in the IT and life science arenas, investing in new technologies can be fraught with pitfalls and is not for the inexperienced or the faint of heart. Prudent, long-term, knowledge based investment in cutting edge technologies has been the hallmark of venture capital in the past and should be the mantra in the CleanTech space as well. Short-term ‘tourists’ should steer clear.”
In the survey, 80 percent of respondents said they will increase investments in this clean tech sector in 2008. In 2007, VCs invested $2.5 billion in CleanTech companies, or 9 percent of all funds invested. The percentage has risen steadily from 2 percent in 2003.
Source: TMCnet

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Prime Minister Rudd playing hard ball with US

KEVIN Rudd has demanded the US join the rest of the developed world in embracing targets to slash carbon emissions, insisting all developed nations must accept their responsibility for fighting climate change.

The Prime Minister told the UN climate change conference in Bali that global warming was threatening Australian natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and rainforests, killing rivers and exposing people to more frequent and ferocious bushfires.

Mr Rudd's comments yesterday came as the US became a focus of increasing criticism at the conference, with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warning that the push to tackle climate change would fail without a greater commitment from the world's richest nation, which is the only developed country yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol for cutting carbon emissions.

Mr Rudd, whose cabinet ratified Kyoto last week in its first decision after its victory in last month's election, did not mention the US by name yesterday but left no doubt as to his expectations of the world's largest carbon emitter.

"We need all developed nations - all developed nations - those within the framework of Kyoto and those outside that framework - to embrace comparable efforts in order to bring about the global outcomes the world now expects of us," Mr Rudd said.

"We expect all developed countries to embrace a further set of binding emissions targets and we need this meeting at Balito map out the process andtimeline in which this will happen."

Hundreds of delegates from around the world are meeting in Bali to establish a road map for the negotiation of a new emissions reduction deal, which will take effect after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Negotiations must be complete by 2009.

Mr Rudd, in his first international outing as Prime Minister, continued to refuse to quantify his preferred targets yesterday, despite a push within the conference for participants to agree to adopt emission reduction targets of between 25 per cent and 40 per cent by 2020.

A reference to this medium-term target is likely to be removed from a statement being negotiated at the conference after pressure from the US, Japan and Russia.

Mr Rudd has committed to only a 60 per cent reduction by 2050, but has reserved the right to delay a decision on short- and medium-term action until he receives a report from economist Ross Garnaut next year.

However, Mr Rudd significantly hardened his climate-change rhetoric, leaving no doubt he will embrace further cuts and warning that the consequences of inaction on climate change would be more serious than the cost of action.

"For Australians, climate change is no longer a distant threat, it's no longer a scientific theory," Mr Rudd said.

"Its an emerging reality. Our rivers are dying, bushfires are more ferocious and more frequent, our unique natural wonders - the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu, our rainforests - are now at risk."
He said the challenges of climate change transcended "the old ideological, political and developmental divide" and demanded global action.

"The community of nations must reach agreement. There is no plan B. There is no other planet that we can escape to. We only have this one," he said.

He also acknowledged the legitimacy of the aspirations of developing nations to improve the lives of their citizens, committing his Government to fighting global poverty and assisting the developing world on climate change with financial incentives and sharing of new technologies.

After warm applause from the conference in recognition of his decision to reverse the Howard government's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Mr Rudd said his Government would revive Australia's long tradition of involvement in multilateral engagement.

"In the past we've been willing to put our shoulder to the wheel," Mr Rudd said. "What I say to this conference is that under the Government that I lead, we are doing so again."

Dr Yudhoyono, host of the conference, said all developed countries must be involved in the post-Kyoto framework.

"We must ensure that the United States of America, as the world's biggest economy ... and the world leader in technology is part of such a post-2012 arrangement," Dr Yudhoyono said.

"Because, otherwise we will not be able to effectively address the climate-change issue."

He also called on developed nations to accept that poorer nations must continue to develop.

While developing nations had to do their part in tackling climate change, advanced nations needed to understand their difficulty, he said.

"We must keep in mind that many in developing countries worry not about cars, airconditioning or cell phones, but whether they will have food on their plates," he said. "We must all do something differently and do something more."

Dr Yudhoyono said Indonesia was devoting its efforts to preserving 22 million hectares of rainforest to provide carbon sinks. It had planted 89 million trees this year and was cracking down on illegal logging.

To the source

Keeping Up the Power Shift: Senate Set to Take Second Stab at Energy Bill

Bits and pieces of information are coming in today indicating that the Senate is gearing up to take a second stab at passing an energy bill later this week.

After failing to pass the full energy bill passed by the House last week, Senate leaders negotiated over the weekend to seek a compromise that would net the bill the crucial 60 votes to overcome a Republican-led filibuster threat.

It appears they are nearing that compromise and a second attempt to end debate and pass the bill is scheduled for Thursday, December 13th. If it passes the Senate, the bill will return to the House for passage on Friday before heading to President Bush's desk. Whether or not the President will veto a bill expected to save Americans billions at the pump and on their utilities bills at a time of record high gas prices remains to be seen...

Word has it that the renewable energy standard has been dropped from the bill and that the bill will include a stripped down package of tax incentives for renewable energy. The final makeup of that tax package is still under negotiation and details are sparse, although it is expected to include a two-year extension of critical credits for renewable energy generation, enough to get us into a new President's term and a new Congress.

Clearly losing the renewable energy standard, which would have required large utilities to acquire 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, is a major disappointment (although Reid has pledged to try to pass it as a stand-alone bill in 2008).

The fact that the Senate has had such difficulty passing an energy bill with strong support for clean, domestic renewable energy is a clear sign that we've got a lot of work ahead of us to keep up the Power Shift! We need to work hard to ensure that political realities change over the next year to closely match what real reality demands of Congress!

However, it still looks like an energy bill well worth passing is heading for a vote tomorrow and it's time again to get on the phone and urge your Senators to get the job done and pass a clean energy bill!

The bill heading for a vote is expected to include:

  • The first increase in fuel economy standards in 30 years, up to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. These provisions will save American families $700 - $1000 per year at the pump, with $22 billion in net consumer savings in 2020 alone.

  • The best energy efficiency standards in U.S. history, including new efficiency standards for lighting, appliances and boilers and incentives for home weatherization and industrial energy efficiency. The bill also directs the federal government to be a leader in energy efficiency with cutting-edge, efficient building practices and lighting in all federal buildings.

  • A "Green Jobs" provision that creates an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Worker Training Program to train a quality workforce for “green” collar jobs -- such as solar panel manufacturer and green building construction worker -- created by federal renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives. This program will provide training opportunities to our veterans, to those displaced by national energy and environmental policy and economic globalization, to individuals seeking pathways out of poverty, to at risk youth and to those workers in the energy field needing to update their skills.

  • A biofuels standard that requires 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, including at least 21 billion gallons that come from advanced biofuels that do not rely on corn or other edible feedstocks. While the expansion of corn-based ethanol raises environmental, economic and justice concerns, advanced biofuels using inedible biomass or even algae could displace significant amounts of oil and help decrease greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

  • Some clean energy tax package. The House version of the bill included $21 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy, energy efficiency and plug-in hybrid vehicles, financed in part by reinvesting $13.5 billion in unnecessary tax subsidies for Big Oil in the clean energy technologies of the future. The final Senate version will likely include a smaller tax package but should retain critical renewable energy tax incentives that will ensure the industry can continue to grow, providing more and more clean, domestic renewable energy for America.

So call your Senators today and urge them to finish the job and pass a clean energy bill tomorrow! The future prosperity of this country depends on the success of the clean, domestic energy technologies of the 21st Century, and this bill is a critical first step towards unlocking a clean energy revolution.

You should feel free to let your Senators know you were disappointed that they couldn't pass the House version of the energy bill, but tell them you expect them to still pass a strong bill tomorrow, including critical tax incentives for renewable energy generation.

So what are you waiting for? Get on the phone...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pelosi Cobbles Together Strong Energy Bill - Heading for Showdown in Senate

After long hours of negotiations that have stretched long into the night for the past week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to have cobbled together a deal that will send a strong energy bill out of the House, likely Thursday.

Rumors last month that essentially every major provision but increased fuel economy standards might get stripped from the bill followed by long weeks of speculation have given way today to confirmation that the energy package heading for a House floor vote tomorrow will include some version of every major clean energy provision under consideration: a 35 mpg CAFE standard, a biofuels standard, and in a surprise turn, both a 15% by 2020 national renewable electricity standard and a $21 billion tax package for clean energy sources.

The passage of the bill, expected tomorrow in the House, will be a major victory for Speaker Pelosi, who has fought hard to advance a strong energy bill to the floor over opposition from Republicans, industry and even influential members of her own party - namely influential Michigan Congressman John Dingell.

Even after securing passage in the House, the bill will be heading towards a tough vote in the Senate where opposition from ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, Pete Domenici (R-NM) will mean the bill will require a filibuster-proof 60 votes to secure passage. And it won't end there: President Bush has re-iterated threats to veto the bill if it includes certain provisions, including a renewable electricity standard and tax provisions financed by ending subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

Details on the components of the energy package below. But first, a look at the tumultuous - and still-unfolding - saga of the 2007 Congressional Energy Bill.

The Energy Bill's Saga

After some Senate Republicans blocked a formal conference committee to reconcile the two version of the energy bill passed by the Senate and House this summer (see previous posts here and here), Democratic leaders opted to move forward without a formal conference. They have instead been meeting in closed sessions to hammer out details on what provisions are in and what are left on the cutting-room floor. They concluded those negotiations late last night and have referred a full bill to the House floor for a vote sometime Thursday.

While the hundreds-of-pages long bill includes scores of smaller provisions, including some excellent new energy efficiency provisions, four major provisions were at the center negotiations - and speculations - this past week:
  • A 35 mile-per gallon fuel economy standard (35 mpg CAFE) for cars and light trucks, the first increase in fuel economy standards in 30 years. The energy bill passed by the Senate included a 35 mpg CAFE provision while the House version did not. Senior Michigan Democrat and House Energy Committee Chairman, John Dingell had opposed the Senate version of the CAFE provision, pushing for a weaker update to CAFE standards.

  • A large biofuels requirements (a renewable fuels standard or RFS) that mandates billions of gallons of ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels for use in U.S. cars and trucks. The Senate bill included a 36 billion gallon by 2022 biofuels standard, including 21 billion gallons from "advanced" biofuels like cellulosic ethanol. The House version had no renewable fuels title.

  • A 15% by 2020 renewable electricity standard (RES) requiring large electric utilities to acquire 15% of their electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy by 2020. The Senate narrowly failed to pass a RES this summer, while the House succeeded in passing a standard for the first time in history.

  • Finally, a multi-billion dollar package of tax incentives for clean energy funded by ending subsidies and closing royalty loopholes enjoyed by the oil and gas industries. During the first "100 days" push, House Democrats passed a $32 billion tax package while the Senate again narrowly failed to pass a tax package; the House energy bill passed this summer did include a $16 billion tax package.

  • The fuel economy provisions were the source of contention between Speaker Pelosi and Energy Chairman Dingell, who has been a key advocate for the auto industry and fought the 35 mpg CAFE standards.

    The latter two provisions were the source of the most conflict between Democrats and Republicans, and between the House and the Senate, and have drawn veto threats from President Bush.

    Although of questionable environmental character, the biofuels package, in contrast, is widely seen as the political "glue" that holds the bill together, drawing in "farm state" Republican moderates.

    All this led to much speculation and anticipation over the course of what was a very secretive negotiation process, as small bits of information leaked of closed negotiation chambers and rumors spread.

    Veil of Secrecy Parted To Reveal Strong Energy Bill

    In the end, the bill heading to the House floor will be stronger than many - perhaps most - speculated, including some version of all four major provisions:
  • The bill includes a 35 MPG fleetwide CAFE standard, although it retains the "flex fuel vehicle loophole" that Detroit automakers exploit to help turn gas guzzling SUVs into 35 mpg machines on paper. The loophole is decreased in later years though. The CAFE standard also keeps separate standards for cars and light trucks/SUVs, potentially leaving the SUV loophole intact. Pelosi has issued assurances though that the seperate standards will still amount to a 35 mpg fleetwide average across all cars, light trucks and SUVs.

  • Also in the bill is a large biofuels standard, although details are still emerging on the renewable fuels title.

  • The bill includes the 15% by 2020 renewable electricity standard passed by the House earlier this year, although there have been some small modifications made (a lower price cap on the costs of compliance for example). Like the version passed by the House, utilities can meet up to 4% of the standard with energy efficiency (which I suppose makes it a 11% RES and 4% efficiency standard, although some utilities may opt for more than 11% renewables). The bill does not conflict with the 25 renewables standards already enacted by states.

  • Finally, in a surprise to many, the bill will include a $21 billion tax package which will be financed in part by ending $13 billion in subsidies for the oil industry. A provision in the original House bill to close unintended loopholes in offshore oil and gas royalty agreements was not included in the new bill.

  • The bill also includes a number of other provisions intended to advance America towards a clean energy future, including strong new energy efficiency standards and a "Green Jobs" provision intended to create 3 million new skilled jobs in the clean energy economy.

    Speaker Pelosi's summary of the bill can be found here.

    The Saga Continues... Showdown Looms in the Senate

    While the energy bill is expected to pass the House, where simply majority rules, it's fate in the Senate is still unclear. A "supermajority" of 60 votes will be required to move the bill in the Senate past Republican opposition in the form of a filibuster threat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he is unsure whether or not he has the needed 60 votes.

    If the bill cannot secure passage in the Senate in it's current form, speculation is that Democrats will begin stripping provisions from the bill until 60 votes can be earned. What the bill looks like at the end of that process is still unclear, and the possibility of a presidential veto looms over the whole thing (sounds pretty familiar...).

    Stay tuned (and call your Senators!).

    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    What’s the Alternative? (Part 1)

    I was having a discussion with a friend the other day about the future of energy production. I think most people agree that fossil fuel based energy, weather from oil, coal or whatever, needs to be reduced and eventually eliminated. The reasons for this vary: limited supply, climate change, national security, etc. Whichever reason or reasons you believe, lets agree we need to find a better source for our energy needs. So what’s the alternative?

    The discussion led me to write this blog. As I started thinking about it, I realized this topic is probably too big to handle in a single blog, so I’m planning to to write a series of entries on this topic, each one touching on a different aspect or potential energy source. Total worldwide energy consumption in 2004 was about 15 TW, that’s 15,000,000,000,000 Watts (source). The energy production breakdown looks something like this:

    The basic breakdown is as follows:

    • Fossil Fuel (Oil, Coal, Gas): 75%
    • Renewables (Biomass, Hydro, Solar, Wind, etc.): 19%
    • Nuclear: 6%
    So, assuming fossil fuels are on their way out, I’ll focus on the others. I’ll also try to include some other potential sources such as hydrogen fuel cells. Next time I’ll start with Nuclear.