Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Who will sell clean energy to the rest of the world?

(Photo of photo cell production in Urumqi, China, from Flickr and Bert van Dijk

Clean energy is a major economic engine of the future, Barack Obama says. “The only question is: Which country will create these jobs and these industries? And I want that answer to be the United States of America.”

He really wants to curb global warming, but since a lot of people aren’t concerned about that, he’s making a big deal about “jobs” and “economy.” Right?

Only partially. It is a big deal and we're being dealt out. Asia is looking to take the lead in green tech, just as it did in automobiles. And we’d better watch out. As the oil and coal interests try to put the skids on change here, Asian countries are getting ready to clean our clock again. In 2008 China was the largest producer of photovoltaic (solar) cells and virtually all of them were sold abroad. With the global economic slump, main customers Spain, Germany and Japan have cut back orders, so now China is re-gearing to use the product itself – at least for now, until exports pick up again.

In the face of recession, some of Asia’s biggest economies are beginning to pour large amounts of stimulus money into solar, wind and other alternative energy sources. They know it’s where the future growth is.

China, India, South Korea and Taiwan are planning to spend hundreds of millions, sometimes billions, on renewable energy, partly for themselves and partly to export abroad.

In China, $30 billion is targeted for clean energy, including wind, solar and hydropower. The goal for solar power in that country is to grow to 20 gigawatts by 2020 (equal to 20 nuclear power plants), from less than 2 gigs now.

In South Korea, the government plans to invest 2% of its GDP in clean energy industries like solar batteries, hybrid cars and LED lights over the next 5 years.

And neighboring Australia is spending $1.35 billion on solar projects, $270 million on home solar systems and $100 million for next-generation solar technologies.

Are we really going to stick with oil and coal? How 20th century is that?

(Sources: Greenwire, Climate Wire,

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Climate skeptics misread new global warming study

(Image from Flickr and photographer azrainman)

Oboy. The climate skeptics are having a field day with two studies released last week that suggest scientists don’t know all the factors involved in global warming. The contrarian blogospere is especially excited about research, published in Nature Geoscience, that concluded carbon dioxide only accounted for half of the extreme warming that occurred 55 million years ago. The sceptics’ conclusion? Science models showing warming related to CO2 are all wet. Ergo, we can stop worrying about throwing up all that greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels.

That’s not the way the researchers saw it.

About 55 million years ago, they found, the Earth’s temperature rose between 5 and 9 degrees Celsius (9 to 16 degrees Fahrenheit) over a period of about 10,000 years. (If you're a Creationist, I guess you can stop reading here.) Based on seabed borings, scientists from Rice University, the University of Hawaii and U Cal Santa Barbara said things were already pretty hot when it all started (there was no surface ice) and they speculate some event, like methane deposits bubbling up from warm seabeds, caused a 70% increase of CO2 in the atmosphere over 10,000 years. (Most hydrate methane turns into CO2.)

If only half the temperature increase can be explained by carbon dioxide release, what caused the rest of it? No one's sure but authors of the study said it could involve feedback loops. And they say the unexplained causes don't mean we can stop worrying about climate change. Rather, future global warming could be worse than we thought, because feedback loops caused by melting tundra, changing ocean currents, and water absorbing more sunlight than ice may have caused more warming then than today’s models would explain. (BTW, the UN’s IPPC report on future climate change left out feedback loops because we don’t understand them well enough, though they realized the melting of Greenland, for example, could have a profound effect.)

Forecasts likely underestimate warming
In commentary published along with the study, scientist David Beerling of Sheffield University, UK, said climate forecasts “could be severely underestimating the extent of the problem that lies in store for humanity as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere.”

An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees the study suggests warming is potentially worse than previously believed.

So don’t let anyone tell you this study throws the global warming theory out the window. More likely we don’t know the half of it.

Looking at warming on a scale we can relate to, say the lifetime of our grandchildren, predictions of catastrophic warming in this century still hold – and may be a lot worse than forecast.

Since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 in the atmosphere has grown from 280 parts per million to 390 ppm or about 40%. C02 in the atmosphere could grow more than 70% in just a century (not 10,000 years) this time, one study author said.

Sunspots and flares
Another theory for changing temperatures on Earth has been the influence of activity on the sun. A second newly published study, in the Journal of Science, links the two together for the first time, but concludes the cyclical activity is similar to that of El Niño and La Niña, in warming the Pacific, but has only about half as much impact on the temperature as El Niño. The differences in the 11-year cycles are “very small,” relative to the sun’s total energy and are short-term cyclical rather than a long-term trend. The study was done by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

(Sources: Reuters PlanetArk, Reuters blog, Science Daily, Nature Geoscience, Union of Concerned Scientists, ClimateWire)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stimulus money boosts clean energy, efficiency

(Photo of wind turbine installation in Indiana from Flicker and photographer indywriter/Rob Annis)

You may be wondering how (and when) the $787 billion stimulus bill will help renewable energy? It was supposed to be part of the mix, remember – green jobs? Well, four programs were announced by the Department of Energy in the past two weeks, possibly in reaction to complaints the stimulus isn’t coming fast enough to stimulate.

Clean energy grants
Grants totaling $3 billion will soon be available to clean energy companies, with applications being taken starting Aug. 1. The money will cover 30% of the cost of any approved project and will be paid upfront.

These grants will be available for a wide variety of technologies, including wind, solar, hydro, landfill gas, biomass, fuel cells, geothermal heat pumps, and combined heat and power. They should help pay for about 5,000 projects, according to the DOE.

Private investment in renewable energy has sagged recently, reflecting overall economic and credit problems. The stimulus will provide a short-term boost, though officials say cap-and-trade is needed to spur long-term demand for clean energy.

State projects
DOE also gave $141 million to several states last week for energy-efficiency and clean-energy projects. This is just a portion of $3.1B allocated for the states. Hawaii got $10.4 million for energy efficiency in buildings while Texas received $87.5 million for efficiency in public facilities. Others states getting money were Maine, Nebraska and New Mexico. So far half of the money allocated to the states for such projects has been released.

States also got $448 million for weatherization projects. This should affect some 125,000 homes in 13 states, according to DOE. Households with incomes up to 200% of the poverty level are eligible and should be able to save an average of 32% on heating bills once the work is done.

Appliance rebates
Finally, $300 million was announced this week for rebates for Energy Star appliances. States will administer the program and determine both the appliances covered and the level of rebates, as well as a recycling plan for the old appliances. Kind of a “cash for clunkers” in the kitchen. Initial applications must be filed by the states by Aug. 15.

A total of $174.9 billion of the $787 billion in stimulus money had been made available by July 4, and $60.4 billion had been paid out, according to As of that date DOE had made $7.15B available and paid out $243,000 for clean energy and efficiency.

(Sources: Climatewire, E&E News PM)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Climate bill waits in Senate for health reform

Climate action in the Senate is being pushed back to autumn because health reform is now dominating the agenda. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week he is delaying until Sept. 28 the deadline for 6 committees working on the Senate version of cap-and-trade.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), taking the lead on the Senate’s comprehensive climate legislation, said her Environment and Public Works Committee would wait till after the August recess to complete markup of the bill. Democrats have a strong majority on her committee so she’s not likely to have trouble getting approval and moving it to the floor. Meanwhile, she and several other committee chairs have started holding hearings.

Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who will work with Boxer to draw up specifics of carbon-allowance distribution, is currently taking the lead on health legislation.

The extra time will also allow advocates to press for the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

How the vote stands now
As of July 7, there are 45 yes and probably yes votes, according to an analysis by Environment and Energy Daily. (See where your senators stand at And there are 32 firm and probable no’s. The yes votes include Independents Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (both Maine and both probable.) All the solid no’s are GOP.

The 23 fence-sitters (17 of them Democrats) are being barraged by both sides and will likely force some concessions to come over to the yes side. This could make the Senate bill even weaker than the House version, while environmentalists hope it will be stonger. Many in the middle have their hot-button issues. For Mary Landrieu (D-La.) it’s increasing traditional oil and gas production. For some Midwesterners it’s protecting manufacturing. The trick is to collect 12 votes (maybe 13, depending on Sen. Ted Kennedy’s health) without crippling the bill.

The Agriculture Committee is likely to follow the lead of its counterpart in the House to make additional demands, said Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), committee chair. He is expected to want provisions more favorable to ethanol and farms. After winning concessions in intense negotiations, the ag bloc gave the House version enough votes to pass 219-212.

Other committees having a say include Energy, which already approved a bill dealing with energy but not cap-and-trade; Foreign Relations; and Commerce. Boxer intends to draw on the energy bill for hers. It includes a 15% Renewable Energy Standard (RES) many see as too weak and allows drilling much closer to the west coast of Florida.

Reid and the White House hope to have passage of the bill in time to influence the next big international (post-Kyoto) negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

So the proverbial “whole world is watching.”

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Some Dems could lose seats over climate vote

(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer Cliff1006.)

As soon as the vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act was over in the House (likely even before), gleeful Republicans were aiming to pick off some swing seats in next year’s election.

Identifying the bill as a job-killer and “national energy tax,” the Republican National Campaign Committee swung into action last week, running radio ads and sending out robo calls attacking moderate Democratic congressmen who voted for it.

So the 2010 campaign has begun.

But liberals are not far behind as Americans United for Change and a coalition of the Blue Green Alliance, Environmental Defense and America’s Building Trades Unions started robo calls and posting TV ads of their own, thanking the same reps for voting to “create millions of clean energy jobs, not in India or China, but right here in America.” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said the Dems are not going to “run away” from the issue, which they think is popular with the public.

Recent polls showed strong support for renewable energy jobs that would lessen dependence on foreign oil – though people weren’t as concerned about greenhouse gases. Hence the strong emphasis on jobs.

One seat that’s in play is in the southern half of New Mexico, a major oil and gas hub. Former Rep. Steve Pearce (R) will try to gain back his seat from Harry Teague (D), who wrested away the traditionally Republican district after Pearce resigned to run for Senate. (Tom Udall beat him by 20%.) GOP ads in New Mexico are claiming the bill would cost the district 3,000 jobs. The Dems are countering by linking Pearce to President Bush and the country’s financial woes.

Others being targeted include Reps. Ben Chandler (Ky.), John Boccieri, Mary Jo Kilroy and Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Mark Schauer (Mich.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Frank Krotovil (Md.), Dan Maffei (NY), Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Tom Perrielo and Rick Boucher (Va.).

Could it be their fast action is really a warning to undecided senators as the focus of cap-and-trade shifts to that chamber?

The GOP has not yet gone after (though conservative commentators have) the 8 Republicans who voted for the bill, which won by just 7 votes. They are Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Mike Castle (Dela.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Dave Reichert (Wash.), John McHugh (N.Y.), and Frank LoBiodo, Leonard Lance and Chris Smith (all N.J.). Most of them no doubt voted as they did because their constituents wanted them to and they hope to keep their seats. In Kirk’s case, he’s being touted as a GOP candidate for Obama’s old senate seat (now being sat in by Roland Burris).

In the end it’s (almost) all about politics. The planet be damned.

(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E PM, Greenwire)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

U.S. joins International Renewable Energy Agency

(Photo of model Masdar City transit vehicle from Flickr and Zerochampion/Phil Clark.)

The U.S. signed on this week as one of 137 members of a new international agency. The group’s goal is to rapidly spread renewable energy and energy efficiency around the globe.

Let’s hope this group will be able to help forge agreement among developed and developing countries that will lead to curbing greenhouse gases. It seems especially important in light of India’s recent declaration it will not submit to a cap on emissions. The agency plans to coordinate with, instead of duplicating, other organizations and programs.

By joining before June 29, the U.S. was able to help determine the International Renewable Energy Agency’s interim headquarters, Abu Dhabi. The capital of the United Arab Emirates is near the planned $22 billion “zero emissions” Masdar City. UAE also has said it will cut GHG emissions overall 7% by 2020.

The new agency, IRENA, will become a repository of data and advise members on technology, regulatory frameworks, business models and financing.

The U.S. was signed up by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, who said clean energy and energy efficiency are important goals of American foreign policy. Clinton was pressed to take this action by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a co-author of the American Climate Energy and Security Act, passed in the House last week.
(Source: E&E Daily, Greenwire)