Sunday, December 17, 2006

Weekly angst:

Wind power holds promise, but can’t meet demand

I first saw tall, silver wind turbines in 2002 in the Baltic Sea, in the water off Scandanavia. There were an oddity and looked futuristic. Little did I realize that they were part of the solution to the growing problem of Global Warming.

Wind power in Europe grew from 1,700 megawatts in 1994 to 40,000 mgw in 2005, according the Catalyst, the magazine of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Germany has more than 18,000 mgw and one of its states, Schleswig-Holstein, produces half its electricity from wind during some months of the year. Denmark gets 20% of its power from wind.

After rapid growth in recent years (up by 40% in 2005), the United States reached a milestone this year of 10,000 mgw, enough to power 2.5 million homes. This country has enough wind to potentially produce 11 trillion kilowatt-hours, nearly three times the total energy from all sources last year, according to Scientific American. The American Wind Energy Association, U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Lab committed last summer to a goal of 20%. But wind now generates only one half of one percent of U.S. electricity. Why so little?

Uncertainty stops production here
Uncertainty about government incentives has kept manufacturers from building assembly plants here. The federal production tax credit, which provides a 1.8 cents/kilowatt-hour incentive for the first 10 years of a wind turbine’s life, making wind competitive, was extended recently by Congress through 2008, but after that its future is uncertain.

And with worldwide generating capacity increasing more than 25 percent a year, global demand is so great that turbine manufacturers are running two years behind – they are sold out through 2008.

So even if a state, city or power company is looking to increase its reliance on wind, and can find a place to put the wind turbines where people don’t object, it can take a long time to get delivery of the equipment.

If we’re ever going to use wind to produce a substantially amount of our energy, there will need to be reliable federal incentives to encourage production here to meet the growing demand.

New technologies
Meanwhile, new technologies are being developed to increase productivity of the turbines.
• Larger blades (77 meters in diameter) are replacing those that in the ‘80s were only 15 meters wide, greatly increasing capacity. And today’s blades are mostly made of fiberglass, with carbon fibers to make them stronger. Even lighter, stronger blades could be carbon-based or carbon-glass hybrids.
• While old turbines operated at a fixed speed, variable-speed turbines allow blades to take advantage of stronger wind conditions.
• Tubular towers are better than the earlier lattice-style ones, but at 200 feet are difficult to put up and repair. “Self-erecting” poles are on the drawing board.
• Turbines that can be put in deep offshore waters to take advantage of strong winds will need advances in floating platform foundations, anchoring and transmission.

News briefs

1. Americans produce nearly half the world’s auto emissions
Americans own 30% of the vehicles but emit nearly 50% the world’s automotive C02 emissions, according to a study from Environmental Defense. General Motors vehicles on the road produce twice the carbon dioxide emissions of the nation’s largest power company, American Electric Power. Ford and Daimler Chrysler come in second and third, with AEP forth, followed by Southern Company, Toyota and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The number of workers who commute more than one hour grew by nearly 50% between 1990 and 2000, according to the Transportation Research Board. (Source: Environmental Defense’s Solutions)

2. 40 big companies plan to double renewable energy purchases
Forty Fortune 500 companies have agreed to collectively double their renewable energy purchases next year. Hewlett Packard plans to buy 25 million kwh of energy credits for wind, solar and geothermal. Staples said it will more than double its renewable energy purchases to more than 121,000 kwh to cut emissions by 7% of 2001 levels through building improvements, alternative fuels and renewable energy purchases. Cisco committed to buy 100 kwh of renewable energy credits. Starbucks will buy 180 kwh. Initially the companies are primarily buying clean energy credits, a form of investment in renewable energy elsewhere. But Staples said it hopes to eventually produce green energy for its stores. Together, in this EPA-sponsored program, the companies plan to save the equivalent of the emissions of 680,000 cars. (Source: E&E News PM)

3. New York City gets polluting garbage trucks off street
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced a plan to use barges and trains to help move garbage by 2009. A 2004 study by Environmental Defense, showed garbage trucks traveled 7 million miles a year carrying trash to collection stations outside Manhattan. The plan calls for new waterfront transfer stations throughout the city, which will cut travel by 3 million miles. The city also plans to introduce “green” trucks and barges that will emit 90% less pollution. (Source: Environmental Defense’s Solutions)

4. Global Warming now top environmental concern, poll says
Climate change beat out water pollution, overpopulation, endangered species, toxic waste and urban sprawl as the top environmental concern facing the nation, in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Internet poll this year. Nearly half the respondents named Global Warming as the biggest problem. In a similar poll in 2003, only 20% said that. Those in this year’s poll also were willing to pay more to combat Global Warming. The average respondent this fall was willing to pay $21 more per month for electricity, compared with $14 a month in 2003. And 28% said immediate action is needed, versus 17% last time. MIT is involved in carbon capture and sequestration, burying emissions deep underground. But they found fewer than 5% of those polled knew what carbon sequestration was. That compared with more than 80% who knew about hybrid cars and 60% who had heard about solar energy. (Source: E&E News PM)

Do something
I’m not going to suggest any action this week, as I know you’re all busy getting ready for the holidays and probably wouldn’t do it anyway. I’m planning to take a couple weeks off and will be back after the first of the year with new information and new ways to get involved. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Weekly Angst:

Global Warming will cost plenty, either now or later

Most Americans (65%) believe global warming will hurt the economy over the next decade, according to a recent poll by the Earth Day Network. And they are right.

Global Warming is going to have a huge economic cost, one way or the other. But the cost of doing nothing will be much higher than the cost of making the massive changes necessary to drastically cut CO2 emissions. Hurricane Katrina gave us some idea of the costly damage we’ll incur if we doing nothing.

One world estimate, from the German Institute for Economic Research, puts damages at $20 trillion a year – or 6-8% of global economic output – by 2100 if nothing is done to reduce GHG emissions. That number could be reduced to $8 trillion annually if $3 trillion a year were spent on climate protection.

Another estimate, from the University of Cambridge, says that in the absence of new policies, the average annual damages through 2200 will be $26 trillion. This model also finds that about half the damages can be avoided by immediate action.

And the Stern report in England estimated it will cost 1% of global GDP to curtail the warming, but at least 5% of global GDP if we do nothing, and maybe even as high as 20%.

Money managers convene
Recognizing the impending economic danger, a group of about 80 money managers and corporate types from around the country met at the University of Chicago Thursday for the Investor Forum on Climate Risk, to talk about the economic risks and opportunities of Global Warming. Needless to say, they are among those in the business community who are leading the way to recognize the problem and find solutions.

Impact on insurance
The insurance industry already has faced severe financial consequences from climate change, and will be impacted more if weather catastrophes increase as predicted.

“The insurance industry will be taxed to its limits,” said panelist Tim Wagner, insurance director for the state of Nebraska.

“Insurance availability will be an issue,” he said. “It will be much more expensive in coastal areas and that will affect property values. There is a $2 trillion risk in coastal Florida alone. Another panelist said he no longer buys municipal bonds in coastal areas.

Insurance is based on probabilities, which are now clouded with uncertainty, Wagner said. There were $57 billion in losses in 2005, and $27 billion the year before, he said, and the insurance industry has a limited amount of capital. “Insurance is a building block of our economy,” he said. “It’s 10% of the economy. We need to maintain its stability.”

Risks to many businesses
The risks that industries, and specific companies, face from climate change are substantial and should be considered in recommending investments, several panelists said. A representative from Goldman Sachs said they already include climate-change risks in their research and analysis of stocks.

While energy companies and utilities clearly face risk, many other businesses would be hurt by catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina, with its $120 billion in losses (not all insured). Such catastrophes not only destroy homes and businesses, but also interrupt transportation, supply chains, telecom and fresh water needed for production. Melting permafrost will affect oil and gas, lack of snowpack will hurt the tourist industry, as well as cause water shortages, and timber can be decimated by wildfires. Companies also face risks from regulation and possible fines for polluting.

A new report by Friends of the Earth finds that companies are disclosing climate-change risks in reports to the SEC, at nearly twice the rate they did last year. The study focused on industries likely to be impacted by climate change and GHG regulation:
*100% of the electric utilities surveyed reported, as did
*78% of oil & gas companies,
*28% of petrochemical companies,
*26% of auto manufacturers, and
*15% of insurers.
Among the 100 companies studied, about half forecast that climate risks would adversely affect their firms, while 15 said change would have both positive and negative effects.

Opportunities abound
The other side of the coin is that when there is change there are new opportunities – in this case in renewable technologies, which are growing at about 30-40% a year.

“Look at capital flows to see what’s happening,” said Richard Sandor, chairman and CEO of the Chicago Climate Exchange, which trades greenhouse gas credits. Carbon trading represents enormous financial opportunities, Sandor said, as do “green tech” and water rights. “The major opportunities are in the billions of dollars and where the smart money is going,” he said. This year, there is $63 billion in clean energy, he said, and about $7 billion in the carbon markets.

Success story
A recent column by Tom Friedman in the New York Times told the story of a Chinese billionaire who has made his money in renewables.
Shi Zhengrong is China’s leading maker of silicon photovoltaic solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. He is the seventh-richest man in China and expects continuing success, since China passed a law requiring 10% of its energy be from renewables by 2020. His company, Suntech, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Do something

Those who want to put some of their money in new technologies can buy the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), which surpassed the S&P Index over the past three years, according to keynote speaker Win Neuger, executive VP and CIO of AIG Investment Group. Also, most brokerage firms have an SRI (Socially Responsible Investing) fund.

News briefs

1. Fossil fuels will still rule in the year 2030, DOE says
Greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels are expected to provide 86% of the nation’s energy in 2030, according to the Energy Department’s latest forecast. That’s about what it is now. As natural gas production declines, the U.S. will burn more coal to meet increasing needs for power, the DOE said last week. The forecast is based on current public policies and fuel technologies. The agency predicted a growth in nuclear power but a decline in its portion of the whole. Coal’s share will jump to 57% from 50%, because it’s cheap. All of this assumes the status quo in climate policies. Under the current policy of voluntary caps, CO2 emissions are expected to grow an average of 1.2% a year. Fuel efficiency in autos is expected to rise to 29 mpg from the current 25 mpg. Sales of flex-fuel, hybrid and turbo-diesel vehicles will increase to 28% of new cars from the current 8%. Petroleum will remain the main fuel in the automotive sector, but biofuels will gain market share because of high oil prices. Corn-based ethanol will dominate the ethanol market, with 15 billion gallons in 2030, compared with 4 billion now. Any significant changes in technology or policy could change this outlook, DOE said. (Source: E&E Daily)

2. Alps heat up – less skiing and more hiking in future?
The Alps are experiencing their warmest temperatures in 1,300 years, reports Reinhard Boehm, at Austria’s Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics. The current warming period in the region began in the 1980s, he said. Because of an unusually warm fall this year, many Austrian ski resorts do not yet have snow. One resort, St. Anton am Arlberg, has the capacity to make artificial snow, but cannot do it now because the ground is too warm. Instead they are urging visitors to go hiking and enjoy the wildflowers that are blooming. This year the temperature in Europe, from Norway to the Mediterranean, is 5 degrees above normal. Average snow levels are half what they were 40 years ago. Central England had the warmest autumn since records began in 1659. Swiss and German national meteorologists say November and early December were 10 degrees warmer than usual. (Sources: AP, AOL and CBS News Interactive)

3. No bull! Livestock generates more GHG than automobiles
The livestock industry emits more GHG than the transportation sector, according to a new U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report. Livestock generates 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) that comes from human activities. Most of the nitrous oxide comes from manure. The problem will grow as the world needs twice as much meat by 2050 and nearly twice as much milk. The study’s recommendations include improving animal diets to reduce fermentation and methane emissions. (Source: E&E News PM)

4. U.S. officials to discuss climate change with Chinese
Five cabinet members, lead by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, will meet this week with Chinese officials in Beijing to talk about a range of economic issues, including technologies that could help reduce China’s GHG emissions. The meeting comes a month after the International Energy Agency reported China is on track to surpass the U.S. in GHG emissions by 2009, a decade ahead of schedule. Paulson has long shown interest in energy and the environment. As CEO of Goldman Sachs, he supported limits on emissions and he was on the board of the Nature Conservancy. The delegation includes the secretaries of Labor, Energy, and Health and Human Services, as well as the Federal Reserve chairman, EPA administrator and U.S. Trade Representative. The meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14-15. (Source: E&E News PM)

5. Active hurricane season predicted for next yearThe 2007 hurricane season should see 14 named storms, with 3 major hurricanes and 4 other hurricanes, a Colorado researcher predicts. William Gray, at Colorado State University, said a late-developing El Nino helped cause a calm 2006 season, when no hurricanes hit the Atlantic coast, but those conditions are not likely to be replicated. He sees an active hurricane cycle continuing for another decade or more.
Another prediction comes from Tropical Storm Risk in London, forecasting 16 storms, with 9 hurricanes, 4 of them intense.
(Source: The Coloradoan)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Weekly angst:

Greenland warming faster than rest of the world

The other day I was in the doctor’s office and picked up an issue of NG (National Geographic) Adventure to read a story called “Global Warming: Greenland When It’s Hot.” I’m fascinated by what’s happening to Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctic, because they are heating up quicker than the rest of the Earth and their melting could eventually obliterate coastal areas all over the world.

Greenland has seen a 4-degree increase in temperature in the past decade, making it the fastest-warming place on Earth, according to the author of this article, who spent time with scientists studying the ice at a place called “Swiss Camp.”

“The entire island of Greenland ... is being transformed perceptibly and permanently by warming temperatures,” the author, Paul Bennett, wrote. “Outlet glaciers – where the ice cap spills off the edge of the island – are disgorging more and more icebergs in the bays and fjords of Greenland (20 billion tons a year, at last count). Warming ocean currents and air temperatures have eliminated permanent winter sea ice on the large bays.

“Disappearing sea ice around the edge of the island is causing air temperatures to rise, which means the high-pressure system that forms over Greenland every winter is disappearing, bringing fog, snow and unstable weather. This, in turn, brings more rain in the spring, which causes more melting of the ice cap.”

Ice tunnels speed the melting
At Swiss Camp, NASA scientist Jay Zwally and climatologist Konrad Steffen, of the Cooperative Institute for Research and Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, believe that ice tunnels, called “moulins,” are forming at a fast pace, speeding the melting of the ice cap. The scientists think meltwater on the surface flows down through the moulins to rock nearly 4,000 feet below and acts as a lubricant causing ice to slide into the sea.

The melting ice has made it necessary for the scientists to move their weather station. But it’s been difficult, because each time they try to drill the 22 feet needed to re-set the station, they find a void at about 10 or 15 feet.

They see many signs of change from the warming, including more halibut arriving as the water warms; mallard ducks, for whom this area used to be too cold; and the gradual disappearance of sled dogs, as locals no longer use them to hunt whales and seals trapped in bay ice and stop feeding them, so they die.

Arctic and Antarctic
Ice is also retreating in both the Arctic and Antarctic. While the Arctic ice cap floats on water, both Greenland and Antarctica are on land so as they melt the water goes into the sea, which eventually could raise sea levels many feet and wipe out coastal communities around the world.

The temperature in the Arctic has climbed 5 degrees in 30 years, with 2 of them in the past 5 years, according to a NOAA study. The melting of the Arctic icecap is self-reinforcing because dark water absorbs heat while ice reflects it. The Arctic has already lost 40% of its ice by volume and 20% on the surface, according to Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

Using data from satellites, scientists have calculated the Antarctic ice sheet is losing up to 36 cubic miles each year. This comes as a surprise because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had predicted Antarctica would be the one bright spot and would actually gain ice this century, due to increased snowfall as the climate warmed. But 87% of the 244 glaciers on the Antarctic peninsula have retreated during the past 50 years, Schweiger said in NWF’s magazine, National Wildlife.

Take an online tour
The article on Greenland referred me to a cool animated tour of the earth, which shows the shrinking of the ice caps at both poles and in Greenland. If you have a few minutes I recommend it, at (You may need to turn up the sound.)

News briefs

1. Kennedy likely to be key in Supreme Court GHG case
During oral arguments Wednesday, the Supreme Court justices showed by their questions that they were split on whether Massachusetts and 11 others states, 3 cities and many environmental groups even have legal standing to sue the EPA for its failure to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito express strong doubts. Justices Stephen Beyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens and David Souter appeared to think the plaintiffs met the standard. Assuming Justice Clarence Thomas will vote with the first group, the 4-4 tie will be broken by Justice Anthony Kennedy, and he was not clear about his position. Even if the states are found to have standing to bring the suit, the issue then is whether the EPA has authority to regulate tailpipe emissions. The Bush Administration’s position is that even if the EPA could regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act it would choose not to do so. Linda Greenhouse, who covers the Supreme Court for the New York Times, deemed it “highly unlikely” the court would order the EPA to regulate auto emissions. Asst. Attorney General James Milkey of Massachusetts, who argued for the plaintiffs, told Greenhouse it would be a victory if the justices just told the EPA to reconsider its position. A ruling is expected next summer. (Source: New York Times)

2. Rate of emissions growth is twice 1990s level, study says
Until the year 2000, greenhouse gas emissions increased at a rate of less than 1% per year, but now they are rising 2.5% a year. This according to a study released this week by the Global Carbon Project. Last year 7.9 billion metric tons of CO2 were released into the atmosphere, compared with 6.8 billion tons in 2000. The increase is caused by a rise in coal consumption and lack of gains in energy efficiency, the study said. China has the most rapid GHG growth rate, though its per-person emissions are still lower than the world average. (Source: Greenwire)

3. EPA employee unions ask for federal action on emissions
While the Supreme Court ponders the case against the EPA, for its failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, unions representing 10,000 EPA employees sent a letter to Congress saying the administration should do more to reduce GHG and mitigate climate change. They asked that “a prudent environmental policy be put in place to take every reasonable step to abate and control GHG emissions.” An EPA spokesman said the letter represented the views of 22 local union presidents, not the 10,000 employees, and said the EPA’s voluntary partnership programs had prevented more than 85 metric tons of GHS emissions. (Source: E&E News PM)

4. Portland, Oregon, signs deal for large wind farm
Portland General Electric is buying 76 wind turbines from a Dutch company to build Phase I of a 25,000-acre wind farm in north central Oregon. When the project is finished in 5 years it will produce about 450 megawatts of energy. Portland ranks first in the nation for residential renewable energy. Nearly 50,000 residential and business customers are in a program to buy renewable energy through the utility. They already have access to 75 mw from two other wind facilities and when Phase 1 is finished a year from now, a total of 225 mw of wind energy will be available. (E&E News PM)

Do something

Planning to buy an appliance or electronics for the holidays – or during the January sales? Look for the Energy Star label, to save up to 30%
on your utility bill and at the same time protect the environment. In 2005 Energy Star products saved Americans $12 billion on utility bills and CO2 emissions equivalent to those produced by 23 million cars. Energy Star is a joint program of the EPA and DOE that certifies energy-efficient items. Home improvement and office equipment can also carry the Energy Star label. For more information see