Sunday, May 27, 2007

News brief extra

1. Chinese production could help take solar power mainstream
Just as China’s cheap products have helped build Wal-Mart into a behemoth, its plans to produce solar cells could drive down the price enough to push solar energy into the mainstream as an energy source within a few years, says Worldwatch Institute. "To say that Chinese PV [photovoltaics] producers plan to expand production rapidly in the year ahead would be an understatement," said Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute, a U.S. group that promotes renewables. China has raised billions from IPOs and has another, LDK, coming to the NYSE June 1. Cost is the main factor holding solar back, Jesse Pichel of Piper Jaffray told the Wall Street Journal. “This industry will ultimately be based in China for the same reason cell phones and computers are made there.” (Sources: Greenwire, Wall Street Journal)

2. City resident vs. suburbanite: Who emits more GHG?
City-dwellers have a smaller carbon footprint than suburbanites. In fact, New York City residents are the ‘greenest’ in the country, according to Time magazine. Relatively few New Yorkers own cars. Instead they walk, bike or take public transportation. City dwellers tend to live in smaller spaces, too, and shop close to home. (Source: Time)

3. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels dropped in U.S. in 2006
U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from burning of fossil fuels were down 1.3% in 2006, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said last week. Causes were a cool summer, warm winter, higher gas and electricity prices and more use of natural gas and low- or no-carbon fuels. Since 1990, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have trended upward, rising nearly 18% here, EIA said. Burning fossil fuels cause about 80% of CO2 emissions, while the rest comes from agriculture and land use. Under the new Bush system of measuring “intensity” – use of energy relative to economic growth – the emissions would be down 4.5%. (Source: E&E News PM)

4. World energy demand projected to grow 57% by 2030
Developing countries will drive the demand for more energy in the next 25 years, says a new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While industrialized countries are expected to use 24% more energy in 2030, those still developing will use a projected 95% more. Coal consumption is predicted to increase 74% worldwide from 2004 to 2030, while natural gas use will grow 63%. A number of factors will cause the increased demand in developing countries, including population growth. (Source: E&E News PM)

5. U.S. says: Not so fast to measuring deforestation rate
Rainforest countries like Brazil, Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea, with an assist from the E.U., want to start measuring the rate of deforestation, as a forerunner to a payment scheme to reduce destruction of CO2-storing trees. But U.S. officials say the idea needs more study. Deforestation causes about 20% of the world’s GHG emissions. At issue is whether stopping deforestation should be a legitimate way to meet goals for cutting GHG and should be part of a post-Kyoto accord. If deforestation were taken into account, Indonesia and Brazil would follow the U.S. and China as the third and fourth biggest GHG emitters. Indonesia plans to put the topic at the top of the agenda for the U.N. climate change summit in Bali in December. (Source: Greenwire)

6. Japanese PM advances plan for post-Kyoto agreement
Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, recommended last week that all countries agree to cut global greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2050. The treaty would be non-binding and the cut would be from “current levels,” with a few years’ leeway. The plan is purposely vague, Japanese officials said, because the important thing now is to break “gridlock,” with the United States, China and Australia balking at other suggestions. “"We must create a new framework … in which the entire world will participate in emissions reduction," Abe said, according to the New York Times. "Japan will vigorously call on countries around the world to reach an international consensus on the long-term goal of halving emissions by 2050 and the steps for achieving it." (Greenwire, New York Times)

7. LiveEarth concerts add two more venues for July 7
The 7 concerts for 7/7/07 have become 9, as Istanbul, Turkey, and Hamburg, Germany, have signed on. Other venues are New York, London, Johannesburg, Rio de Janiero, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo. Now that the magic number 7 has been broken, we may see more, as enthusiasm builds for the worldwide music fest. LiveEarth will call attention to Global Warming and raise money for the Alliance for Climate Protection, the worldwide organization co-founded and chaired by Al Gore. More than 100 top artists and bands have been signed up. A Live Earth Green Team will make sure all the concerts follow new green-event guidelines. These include recycling, composting, transportation, food, packaging, water use and power generation. Check out the Web site at (Source:

8. U.S. leads Europe in venture capital for clean energy
Start-up investment for clean-energy technology dropped by a third last year in Europe, while in North America it increased 44%, says New Energy Finance in London. Asia cut in half its gap with Europe in getting venture capital to start clean-tech companies. In the U.S., Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is touting California as the clean-tech state, and said VC is helping create 140,000 clean-tech jobs a year there. In Europe, where politicians and the public are far ahead in touting energy efficiency and renewable sources, investors are more likely to fund companies once they are off the ground, and start-ups are hurting for cash. (

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Let’s not forget about methane – it’s ‘very, very scary’
Carbon dioxide gets the most attention but it is not the only heat-trapping gas causing Global Warming. Methane, 23 times stronger, is so potent it makes CO2 look like the good guy. Some burn methane to get CO2, considered the lesser of two evils.

But methane is not as prevalent – at least not yet. It has contributed about 20% of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, according to PlanetArk, while CO2 is responsible for about 60%.

As a natural phenomenon, methane is emitted from plants, wetlands, soil, gas hydrate deposits, lakes and oceans. But 60% is believed to be the result of human activities.

Emissions have risen dramatically in the 20th century as a result of agriculture, landfills, burning of fossil fuels, cattle and sheep. It slowed some in the past decade, a phenomenon that is little understood, according to the journal Science. Some suggest it may be due in part to a loss of wetlands, says PlanetArk.

The International Panel on Climate Control says methane emissions have increased 150% since 1750.

The danger in thawing permafrost
There’s enormous potential for a rush of methane into the atmosphere as warmer temperatures cause permafrost to melt in the Arctic.

Thawing permafrost is already undermining trees, houses, roads, bridges and other infrastructure from Alaska to Siberia, as previously frozen ground sags and buckles.

But of more concern for the entire planet is the carbon stored in the oxygen-free vegetation preserved in the permafrost, which will be released as methane when it thaws. There’s as much carbon stored in the Arctic permafrost as there is in the atmosphere today, says Phil Camill, an ecologist at Carleton College.

Camill has been tracking the permafrost thaw rate at 5 locations in the Arctic, on the southern fringes where it is only a few meters thick. (Further north it can be hundreds of meters thick.)The rate of thaw has tripled at those sites since 1970, as the average temperature rose 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, he said, and if the trend continues, the permafrost will be gone by century’s ends.

“We are unplugging the refrigerator in the far north,” Camill told the journal Nature. “Everything that is preserved there is going to start to rot.” Another scientist, Water Oechel at San Diego State, says, “The potential amounts are huge and very, very scary.”

There may be anywhere from 350 and 900 gigatons of carbon captured in the permafrost, scientists estimate. An estimated 750 gigiatons of carbon is now in the atmosphere, so the amount could double. By comparison, fossil fuels and deforestation now emit about 9 gigatons into the atmosphere each year, according to Nature.

In northern Siberia, methane is bubbling up from thaw lakes created as permafrost melts. Scientists figure methane released in that region increased 58% between 1974 and 2000, according to Environmental Defense, and it’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Permafrost in that area of Siberia is especially carbon-rich.

A lot is not known
In the “active layer” of soil above the permafrost, a thick layer of moss could act as a good insulator and it is possible new trees growing where tundra had been, as well as lighter snowfalls, could give some protection against thaw, even as Arctic temperatures rise.

In 2005, two scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, both in Boulder, Colo., tried to project permafrost thaw through the end of the century. Using the high and low emissions scenarios of IPCC, they predicted 60-90% of permafrost could be gone by 2100. They were criticized both for not including feedback loops, which could accelerate thaw, and for ignoring the very thick permafrost in the northern Arctic, which could slow it down.

A lot is still not known and more work needs to be done. Methane and its feedback loops are already being studied by a number of scientists from around the world so new data should be available by the next IPCC report in 5 years.

“We have been asleep at the switch,” Oechel told Nature. “If you look at the things that were said in the 1970s about the Arctic’s response to increasing CO2, the place we were off is not that we overstated … but that we were not aggressive enough about the predictions.”

Burning methane
One bright spot about methane is that it only stays in the atmosphere 12 years, compared with carbon dioxide’s 100; then it turns into CO2 and water.

And methane is being seen as a cheap source of energy. Increasingly it is captured and burned for power, which releases CO2, seen as preferable.

• In South America and Asia, dozens projects have been approved under Kyoto to treat manure from pig and chicken farms, to extract methane and use it to generate electricity.

• Several European nations, including Germany and the Netherlands, are capturing methane from landfills and coalmines to make electricity.

• In the U.S., more than 400 landfills are providing power to 780,000 homes and heating more than a million. It’s the cheapest form of renewable energy, says the general manager of Washington Electric Cooperative. The EPA is working with 20 countries to put methane to work as a power source.

• Orange County is getting power by turning methane into liquid gas by chilling it to freeze out CO2, sulfur and other pollutants. This first-of-a-kind project has a goal of 35,000 gallons a day.

But what about solutions to methane escaping from melting permafrost? Taking strong immediate action to stop Global Warming before it thaws seems to be the only answer so far.

FYI: Other heat-trapping gases
Additional greenhouse gases include:
• nitrous oxide, mainly emitted from manure and fertilizer;
• hydrofluorocarbons, formerly used in refrigeration but damaged the ozone layer and was largely phased out by the Montreal Protocol (though it still lingers in the atmosphere);
• its replacement, clorofluorocarbons are benign to ozone but a strong GHG that is growing fast;
• sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) and perfluorocarbons. These two are emitted in aluminum and magnesium smelting and computer chip production. They are in the atmosphere in very small amounts but once there, last more than 10,000 years, according to Science.

CO2 is most important to Global Warming because its increase in atmospheric concentration since pre-industrial times has been 100 parts per million, while methane’s has been about 1 part per million, and some of the others have only been in the parts per billion or trillion. The Kyoto Protocol gives credit for reducing any of these heat-trapping gases, using carbon dioxide-equivalent as a measure.

(Sources: the journal Science, the journal Nature,, Greenwire, Environmental Defense)

News briefs

1. Cities vow to create ‘critical mass’ in Global Warming fight
Mayors from some of the largest, most polluted cities in the world met in New York City last week to pledge they will fight Global Warming despite what their federal governments do or don’t do. Cities produce three-quarters of the world’s carbon dioxide, London Mayor Ken Livingston told the C40 Large Cities Climate Group summit, hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former President Bill Clinton.
At the summit:
• 500 U.S. mayors signed the Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement to protest federal inaction and support the GHG goals of Kyoto: 7% reduction from 1990 levels by 2012.
• The Clinton Climate Initiative announced bank loans of $5 billion to retrofit municipal buildings in 15 cities, including New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Mexico City and Seoul. The same 15 cities will give incentives to retrofit private buildings with help from local banks and companies. Buildings consume 40% of the world’s energy (in New York and London it’s 70%) and powering buildings emits half the world’s GHG, Livingston said.
Other topics at the summit: renewable energy sources, water systems and mass transit. (Sources:, Daily Telegraph AU, Greenwire)

2. Arctic summer sea ice melting even faster than expected
Arctic sea ice is disappearing in summer at a rate of 7.8% a decade, researchers have learned, much faster than computer model projections of 2.5%. So the ice may be gone in summer by mid-century, several decades earlier than previously thought. The study, by NCAR and the University of Colorado National Snow and Ice Data Center, was just published in the peer-reviewed Geophysical Research Letters. Also in that journal: a study that said a surge in CO2 levels in the past 5 years might be due in part to hot, dry weather preventing trees, plants and soil from absorbing as much carbon dioxide. More research is needed to see if this will continue as Global Warming accelerates, said researchers from the University of Bristol in the U.K. (Sources: MSNBC, Greenwire, The Sydney Morning Herald)

3. Ocean around Antarctica can’t absorb much more carbon
The Southern Ocean around Antarctica, a major sink for carbon, has been nearly saturated since the 1980s, according to the journal Science. Normally, about one-fourth of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels is absorbed by oceans. The researcher, from the University of East Anglia, called the finding “very alarming” because this wasn’t expected to happen until at least mid-century. Also in Science: NASA and University of Colorado researchers report that an area in Antarctica the size of California melted in 2005, when temperatures rose to 41 degree F for a week, and then refroze. It is too soon to know if this is a trend or an anomaly, they said. (Sources:, Greenwire)

4. U.S. tries to water down G8 climate-change language
U.S. officials are trying to prevent the G8 from pledging next month to hold temperature increases to 3.6 degrees F this century. They also want to omit from the planned declaration a call for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases (below 1990 levels) by 2050. Third, American officials don’t like the part about the United Nations being the forum to address and regulate Global Warming. A group of 15 Democratic committee heads in Congress sent a letter Friday to the Bush Administration objecting to its stance. (Source: Greenwire, E&E News PM)

Congressional round-up

*Senate leader Reid reveals energy/climate package for summer
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) said this week biofuels, fuel economy and building efficiency will be in a package of bills that will be debated in the Senate after Memorial Day. The package includes:
• A renewable fuels mandate for 8.5 billion gallons in 2008 and 36B by 2022. Advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol would be an increasing portion after 2016.
• A corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) requirement of 35 mpg by 2020 in cars and light trucks, with an increase after that of 4% a year.
• Senate building energy efficiency and matching grants to cities and counties.
• Strategic energy partnerships with other nations
The biofuels bill may have competition from a more aggressive bill by Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Energy Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) may add a national renewable electricity mandate to require utilities to use 15% renewable power by 2020. Two Republicans may try again to add coal-to-liquid to the biofuels bill after it failed in committee. Carbon sequestration and price gouging are likely to be in the mix. But not mandatory caps on GHG. Reid called the package “a solid first step.”

*Two senators seek ‘carbon counter’ as prelude to cap-and-trade
Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Amy Klobucar (D-Minn.) introduced a bill requiring reporting of GHG emissions to the EPA, a national version of the Carbon Registry announced by 31 states last week. Knowing where GHG are coming from is necessary for a successful cap-and-trade system, they said.

*Dems from oil and gas states want ‘seat at the table’
In a letter to the leadership in Congress, 19 Democrats, mainly from oil- and gas-producing states, cautioned against climate policies that will interrupt supply or spike prices or they’ll face public wrath. Oil and gas will both be important sources of fuel for a long time, they said, and demand for natural gas is likely to grow in the short run because it is cleaner than coal. Those signing are from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Arkansas, Georgia and Hawaii. They want a seat at the table when climate policy is crafted, Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) told E&E Daily.

* West Virginia rep’s bill seeks inventory of carbon storage spots
House Natural Resources Chair Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) is calling for a national inventory of places to sequester carbon dioxide. Coming from a coal state, he’s concerned about the effect of climate legislation on the coal industry. Many are saying capture and sequestration, still at the experimental stage, will be necessary for a healthy coal industry.

*Two bills tell fed agencies to catalog their greenhouse gases
Sens. Snowe and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) unveiled a bill requiring federal agencies to record GHG emissions caused by their buildings, fleets and other sources. Unlike a similar bill in the House by Oversight Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), it does not require a reduction in emissions. Waxman would freeze GHG for the agencies in 2010 and cut them to zero by 2050.
(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM, Associated Press)

Do something

With summer around the corner, think “fresh.” Fresh air, as in open your car or house windows instead of automatically turning on the air conditioner; get out in the fresh air to walk and bike instead of enclosing yourself in a car; and buy fresh produce from a local farmer’s market. Better to buy fruits and veggies that haven’t been transported across the country (or the world) at considerable cost in CO2 emissions. Patronize farmers from your state or those nearby.

Tell your Rep you want greater fuel economy for cars. Add your name to the League of Conservation Voters campaign by going to and asking your Congressman to co-sponsor the Markey-Platt bill.

Special note to Chicagoans: A reader from non-profit I-GO Car Sharing invites you to a local-band CD release party with live music at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Thursday, May 31. I-GO says it has eliminated 1,500 private cars and saved nearly 8,000 tons of CO2 since 2004. They want to make the Global Warming fight more fun. For more info, check some unknown reason I'm having trouble creating this link. But you should be able to type it in and go there.)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

News brief extra

1. ‘Million Solar Roofs’ plan torpedoed by peak-pricing rule
California’s Million Solar Roofs program is in trouble. Requests for rebates plunged 78% in the first quarter of 2007, because of a new rule that those with solar roofs must pay peak prices for additional power from the grid. Most roofs aren’t big enough to supply 100% of a home’s power, so the high price for extra energy means homeowners can’t recoup their expenses. The state is scrambling to fix the problem. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers have plans to terminate the rule. Million Solar Roofs has $300 million for rebates over the next 10 years. (Sources:, Greenwire)

2. U.K slashes generous subsidies for solar and wind
The U.K. has cut its government subsidies for wind and solar power 83%. Officials said the large subsidies, of 5,000 and 10,000 pounds, respectively, are being drastically reduced because the money allocated was “disappearing in minutes.” Individuals installing solar panels or a wind turbine will now get 2,500 pounds (about $5,000). It’s too soon to see if the change will cause a drop in applications. (Source: Greenwire)

3. Dem candidates get the message on 80% cuts by 2050
The four Democratic senators running for president have become believers – and are supporting in the Sanders-Boxer bill calling for an 80% cut in greenhouse gases by 2050. Over the past two weeks, Sens. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Barack Obama (Ill.), Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Joe Biden (Del.) have all signed on as co-sponsors of S. 309. Could it be they saw their party was way ahead of them on this issue? Obama and Clinton had co-sponsored the less restrictive Lieberman-McCain climate bill. Sanders-Boxer has 17 co-sponsors so far. Fellow Dem candidate John Edwards also has called for 80% by 2050. (Source: Greenwire)

4. China power company aims at 10% renewable energy in 2010
China Power International says it will spend $4 billion (U.S) by 2010 on renewable energy, to help clean up the air and reduce dependence on foreign oil, the CEO said last week. In just three years, the company – run by the daughter of former Premier Li Peng – expects to have 1,000 megawatts of renewables – like wind, hydro and solar – in operation, with another 1,000MW under construction and a third 1,000 on the drawing board. The Chinese government has ordered its major power companies to get 10% of their power from renewables by 2020. China Power International said it expects to change its name to China Power New Energy Development Co. and refocus on renewable energy. (Source: Reuters

5. Chances are a major hurricane will hit Gulf Coast this year
As the first name storm, Andrea, swirled in the Atlantic three weeks before hurricane season officially opens, forecasters predicted an active storm season. AccuWeather’s Joe Bastardi and Colorado State University’s William Gray said there’s an above-average chance a major hurricane will hit the Gulf Coast, still rebuilding from Katrina in 2005. Bastardi predicted 13-14 name storms, 6 or 7 of which could hit the U.S. He estimated the chances of a storm going over the Gulf of Mexico as 2½ to 3 times normal. Colorado State’s Gray had already predicted a “far more active” season than last year’s quiet one, with 17 tropical storms and 9 hurricanes, 5 of them major. (Source: Reuters

6. Should limiting deforestation count as cutting GHG?
Slowing deforestation to 50% of current rates by 2050 could prevent 50 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, a group of international scientists said in a study published last week. Tropical deforestation is contributing 20% of CO2 released into the atmosphere, they said. Some developing countries want credit for limiting forest destruction in any post-Kyoto international agreement. Destruction of forests is not part of the equation now. “There’s no incentive for countries … to slow deforestation,” said co-author Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Capping deforestation at 50% and keeping it there until 2100 could provide 12% of the reduction needed to keep CO2 at 450 parts per million, he said. It also would allow for added carbon storage. (Source: E&E News PM)

7. GM adds more horsepower to biz climate coalition
General Motors and 11 other corporations have joined USCAP, a business coalition for climate that favors a mandatory cap and greenhouse gas cuts of 60-80%. With the addition of GM, Alcan, AIG, Boston Scientific, Conoco Phillips, Deere & Co., Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, Marsh Inc., PepsiCo, Shell and Siemens, corporate membership in the coalition is now at 22. There also are 6 environmental partners. USCAP also calls for creative business incentives, swift and thoughtful action, and U.S. leadership on the issue – which it says is essential to an international agreement and strong action. (Source: Environmental Defense) For more on USCAP, go to or

8. New French president takes U.S. to task for climate inaction
France’s conservative Present-elect, Nicolas Sarkozy, calling the U.S. a strong ally, said that as a great nation America should be a leader in the fight again Global Warming. The U.S. “has a duty to not create obstacles,” he said. Au contraire, “it should take the lead in this battle because what is at stake is all of humanity,” Sarkovsy said, adding that his country will make climate change top priority. (Source: Greenwire)

9. DOD: Military must ‘move aggressively’ on alt fuels
The U.S. military must take immediate steps toward using alternative fuels in weapons and aircraft, a new Defense Department study says. Fuel use per soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is 16 times what it was in World War II, the study says. Change will be difficult because many weapons systems were built to last decades. But dependence of fossil fuels will make it hard to respond to crises in the future as oil supplies dry up, the study says. “[We have to] move forward aggressively … to develop alternative fuels. Just cutting back won't work," Milton R. Copulos, National Defense Council Foundation president, told the Boston Globe. (Sources: Boston Globe, Greenwire)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Solar energy named ‘sector of the year’ by stock picker
An investment service I subscribe to that picks “momentum” stocks has declared solar energy the Sector of the Year. That means it expects fast growth. Very fast.

The rationale: more efficient technology will bring down the price and political interest in incentives is growing. In Germany, a major user of solar cells, government subsidies made the difference. As our federal government ponders more incentives for alternative forms of energy, California already has a subsidy program, and other states are likely to follow suit. Plus China, Spain and Italy have all shown interest in solar.

I’m not picking stocks here – but often the investment community recognizes a good thing before the rest of us do. And these stocks have started to move (though they can be extremely volatile).

Solar has seen average growth of 25% a year over the past decade and a jump of 45% in 2005 (I don’t have the figure for 2006).

Japan, with its rebates for residential solar systems, is home to 4 of the 10 biggest solar companies. One Japanese company, Kyocera, recently announced plans to double its investment worldwide, by building plants in Mexico, the Czech Republic, China and at home.

Some basics
Today, solar cells – or photovoltaics – provide less than 1% of the generating power in the world. Yet sunlight has the potential to supply 5,000 times the energy now used by the planet, according to Scientific American.

Photovolatics can be installed on roofs or walls of buildings, in the desert, even sewed into clothing for portable devices, and the Pentagon is think about putting it up in space. California recently joined Japan and Germany in a major push for solar, with its “Million Solar Roof” plan to create 3,000 megawatts of power by 2018.

The biggest challenge is lowering the price, to make solar competitive with fossil fuels. Last fall it cost 20-25 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared with 4-6 cents for coal, 5-7 cents for natural gas and 6-9 for biomass. So subsidies are needed at this point.

Do-it-yourself solar systems
It makes sense for large companies and even homeowners to consider a solar system now, said Jennifer Openshaw of She gave 5 reasons:
* Increased cost of electricity, especially where peak-load prices are much higher.
* Reduced cost of installation. Manufacturing costs are an eighth what they were a decade ago and installation is simpler and cheaper.
* A federal tax credit of $2,000.
* A variety of state, local and utility rebates, tax-exemptions and low-interest loans.
* A battery storage system that will allow you to sell unused power back to the grid, taking advantage of peak pricing by buying at low-use times and selling at high.

A homeowner would spend about $6,000 (pre-rebate) per kilowatt of capacity, Openshaw said. A 3KW system would provide about 75% of peak needs for a 2,000-square-foot house. You would have your money back in 5-7 years and then could make money by selling any excess back to the grid, she concluded.

Larger solar projects
A number of solar power plants are already operating or on the drawing board:
*Abu Dhabi is using oil revenue to construct a 500-megawatt solar plant, part of its plan to become a center for clean energy development.
*Ontario, Canada, has just announced it will build North America’s largest solar plant next year, generating 40MW of power to supply 24,000 homes.
*Also announced was the second-largest plant for North America, a 15MW system at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. By year’s end, the plant will meet 30% of the base’s needs.
*Construction of the largest U.S. solar plant for civilian use has begun in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The 8MW plant will supply power to 1,500 homes.
And there are many smaller ones – at home and abroad. Solar is clearly on the move.
(Sources: Scientific American, Greenwire, Reuters PlanetArk,, Cabot Market Letter)

News briefs

1. Carbon tax or credit trading will cut cost of GHG reduction
The cost of cutting greenhouse gases will be much lower if governments get revenue from a carbon tax or auction credits in a cap-and-trade system, says the third and final report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released Friday in Bangkok. And acting now will be cheaper than waiting. Most models from IPPC show a drop in global GDP of less than 1%, with the effects spread over several decades, and could be partly offset by rising incomes worldwide, the report said. The most stringent scenario could cost as much as 5.5% of GDP. Other key points from the report, which zeros in on the year 2030:
* GHG cuts of 50-85% are needed to keep temperatures from rising more than 4 degrees F , in order to avoid dramatic changes in sea level and coastal damage.
* Without changes in energy and land-use policies, GHG will rise 20-90% in the next 25 years. They rose 70% since 1970.
* Land-use changes could cut emissions cheaply with carbon sinks in soil and forests, and better crop and livestock management.
* If carbon is taxed at $50/pound worldwide, renewable energies like wind and solar could jump to 30%. Nuclear energy would likely only increase from the current 16% worldwide to 18%, because of political fears and disposal problems.
* Energy efficiency could cut emissions in the building sector 30%.
* Carbon capture and sequestration could make an important contribution, though technology and regulation issues remain.
* Biofuels used in gas and diesel will probably grow to about 3% of demand, but could grow to 5-10% depending on oil and carbon prices and vehicle efficiency. Mitigation in transportation could be offset by enormous growth in the sector.
*Government support through tax credits, setting standards and market creation are critical to effective development and deployment of clean technologies.
* There are uncertainties about how regional economies will fare, but the economic burden will be less if competitive technologies are effectively diffused.
To read a 35-page summary of the report, go to Of special note are the charts on p. 13 (key mitigation techniques) and pp. 30-31 (policies and their constraints/opportunities).
(Sources: IPPC report, Greenwire)

2. China’s emissions may triple by 2050, but are hard to measure
China’s economy is surging (up 11% in the first quarter of 2007) and the country is building a coal power plant about every four days, according to the journal Nature. So its emissions must be soaring, but it’s hard to determine just how much. The traditional method to measure emissions is by energy use. Yet in China, crucial numbers are often missing, said Gregg Marland at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Any estimates could be off by 15-20%, he said. Also CO2 emissions are released in the making of cement and China produces 45% of the world’s cement, he said. If that were included in the numbers, China could be exceeding the U.S. in emissions now. Accurate data on China’s CO2 emissions may have to wait until next year, when NASA puts up its Orbiting Carbon Observatory. A Greenpeace report issued last week predicts that if nothing changes, China’s emissions could triple by 2050. Per-capita emissions are still a fraction of those in the U.S. (Source: Nature)

3. German uses explosives, tarp in effort to save last glacier
Each April for the past 14 years, Frank Huber, manager of cable car and ski operations at Germany’s last glacier, Zugspitze, spreads a huge sun-reflecting tarpaulin in an effort to slow the glacier’s death. Huber first uses explosives to set off controlled avalanches to bring more snow down to the glacier. The tarp then reflects the sun and protects the glacier from rain. Zugspitze is a big tourist attraction. About a half-million tourists take the cable car or cog railway to the 3,000-meter peak each year, and last winter a lack of snow at lower altitudes pushed skiers up to Zugspitze. Glaciers, very susceptible to climate change, are providing an early warning system, scientists say. IPCC predicts small Alpine glaciers will be gone by 2050. And with them goes the spring melt that fills rivers. (Source: Reuters PlanetArk)

4. Wildfire season could be bad, due to low snowpack, drought
The West may see some serious wildfires this year, because of warm temperatures, low snowpack and drought, the National Interagency Fire Center said last week. The Sierra Nevada and northern Rockies are expected to be dry early this year, which means a longer fire season. Idaho, where snowpack is only 55% of normal, and Montana, where it’s 75% of normal, are facing a higher fire risk. So are Alaska, Florida and Georgia, according to a Forest Service analyst. Two fires now burning in Georgia together make the largest wildfire ever recorded in the state. (Source: E&E News PM, Land Letter)

Congressional round-up

* Senate Energy Committee advances package of bills
A Senate energy package now on the floor cuts gasoline use 45% by 2030, requires a federal assessment of underground storage space for carbon sequestration, mandates 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, and increases energy efficiency. It demands increasing amounts of cellulosic biofuel and says new fuel plants must produce biofuels that reduce GHG by at least 20%. Senate Energy Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has indicated he will add a renewable portfolio standard (RPF) on the floor requiring 15% of electricity from renewables like wind and solar by 2020. Republicans want to add coal-to-liquid to the package on the floor. (Sources: Reuters PlanetArk, E&E Daily)

*Boxer introduces competing biofuels bill, gets NRDC support
Senate Environment Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) put forth her own bill, calling for 35 billion gallons of biofuels by 2025. One point of difference from the Energy Committee bill is that fuels must be 20% better than gasoline in GHG emissions to qualify, and it calls for increasing volumes of fuels that are 50-70% better. Her bill also requires the EPA to reduce GHG from transportation fuel 10% (from 2008 levels) by 2020. The National Resources Defense Council prefers Boxer’s bill because in puts the EPA in charge. (Source: E&E Daily)

* Sanders introduces power plant-only bill in Senate
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) Clean Power Act of 2007 would freeze CO2 emissions from power plants at current levels by 2011 and then phase in cuts each year up to a reduction of 17% (from 1990 levels) by 2025. If in 2012 the government hasn’t acted on reductions of most (85% of) manmade emissions, power plants would have to cut an additional 3% a year until CO2 is stabilized at 450 ppm. (Source: E&E News PM)

* Commerce agrees on CAFE standards of 35 mpg by 2020
Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) are sponsoring a bill, released by the Commerce Committee this week, that would require corporate average fuel efficiency of 35 mpg for cars and light trucks by 2020, with an increase of 4% per year after that. Larger vehicles would be exempt, but must increase efficiency 4% a year. The bill, a compromise after Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) bill couldn’t make it out of committee, would give the Transportation Department discretion to make adjustments if the increases were not technically possible. (E&E News PM)

Do something

Tell your senators to vote for the Sanders-Boxer bill. It’s the most demanding of the Senate bills capping Global Warming, calling for an 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050, which is what scientists say is needed. The League of Conservation Voters has a campaign to support the bill. Go to

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Reader comment

Water worries in Midwest: Reacting to my water shortage piece, Mark Fogal of Missouri Votes Conservation points out that water is getting scarce in the Midwest too, after 7 years of below-average rain. In Missouri, aquifier levels are falling precipitously and the Missouri River flow is controlled by drought-stricken upriver states to the west.