Tuesday, 15 July 2008
T Boone Pickens is not your average tree-hugger. But the oil veteran and corporate raider is apparently worried about America’s addiction to foreign crude. In a blaze of publicity, he has launched a plan to cut the country’s fuel bill. In a nutshell, it involves building enough windmills to displace the 20 per cent of US electricity generation capacity currently fired by gas. This gas could then fuel cars instead, reducing US petrol consumption by 4m barrels per day, or a third of oil imports.
It would be easy to dismiss this as self-serving – Mr Pickens is, after all, currently building the world’s largest wind farm. The bigger bug-bear, however, is practicality. GSW Strategy Group, a US energy consultancy, points out that realising Mr Pickens’ vision would mean increasing the size of the US wind energy fleet 18-fold within 10 years – while also converting almost half the vehicle fleet to run on gas and refitting thousands of service stations.
Even if all this were feasible, would it be desirable? Natural gas power plants are both flexible and reliable. Wind is not. In addition, America’s “wind corridor” runs down the middle of the country, far from most demand-centres, so huge investment to extend the already overstretched national grid would be needed. Abandoning existing gas plants, and walking away from billions of dollars of sunk capital, would risk compromising the reliability of electricity supplies.
It makes more sense to use existing gas-fired plants to help power electric cars, supplemented with wind and other non-fossil fuel technologies, such as nuclear. Even if the details are wanting, however, Mr Pickens’ campaign is important. US energy policy is a mess and the presidential candidates have yet to focus enough attention on the issue. Politics, like nature, should abhor a vacuum. If the oil veteran can start the debate with his plan, it will have served a useful purpose.
Published Date: 15 July 2008
By Jenny Haworth
SCOTS should sign up to the idea of emissions rationing in order to become a zero-carbon community, according to the scientist behind a radical new environmental campaign.
Dr Justin Kenrick believes climate change should be approached in a similar manner to living through a war – and our use of should be rationed in a similar way to food during the Second World War.The social anthropologist at Glasgow University said he believed the Scottish Government targets – to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 – do not go far enough, and we should aim to become a zero-carbon society.In order to achieve this, Dr Kenrick said rationing must start within 12 months. He is now preparing to launch a campaign, Holyrood 350, to encourage supporters to sign up to the idea and put pressure on government.Each adult would have an annual quota of carbon, and in order to go beyond that limit they would have to buy rations from those who use less.Every year, the annual quota would shrink, in order to reduce annual output by forcing people to lead greener lifestyles. A swipe card could be used to record use of carbon every time petrol or a flight was bought.Dr Kenrick said: "The idea is to put pressure on Holyrood to bring in measures to cut emissions dramatically. "What the government is doing is setting targets for the future. We need to have action now and the idea is to build a majority view."His campaign will be launched at The Big Tent festival in Fife later this month. Last year the festival, which hosts environmental debates about the future of the planet, led to the creation of Fife Diet, which has seen 300 people in the region take the challenge of eating only local food. Dr Kenrick hopes Holyrood 350 will meet with similar success, with many of the festival's thousands of visitors signing up. The number 350 was derived from a research paper by Nasa chief scientist James Hansen, which concluded that to avoid climate catastrophe, the amount of in the atmosphere must be cut to 350 parts per million (ppm) from its current levels of 385ppm.The idea of carbon rationing has attracted some political support. The all-party parliamentary group on climate change at Westminster has called for it and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, showed an interest in the scheme when he was environment secretary.What life would be like in an emission-free Scotland . . no meat, no flights, no fumesA ZERO-CARBON Scotland may sound like a futuristic dream, but the reality is that in some ways it would be a step back in time.There would be cutting-edge technology offering electric trains and buses and solar panels and turbines would be fitted to homes.On the other hand, life would mirror the past, becoming more community oriented, with fewer foreign flights taken, food grown locally and meat an expensive delicacy.Air travel to the United States would be out of the questions, as a return flight alone produces an estimated four tonnes of carbon dioxide. "Air flights are something we will look back on and say 'that was fun, wasn't it?'" says Dr Justin Kenrick, an academic at Glasgow University. Similarly, a car that runs on petrol would become a relic of the past – an average vehicle is estimated to produce 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.Instead, Dr Kenrick predicts there would be electric public transport systems. "You would probably need fewer roads," he said. "You could turn them over to gardens and allotments. It would be a much greener and healthier environment."A food shopping trip would involve a walk to a shop stocked with produce grown locally to reduce food miles.Less meat would be eaten, as livestock produces methane – a potent greenhouse gas – and takes up valuable space and resources that could be used for growing food and fuel. As a result, meat would become a delicacy rather than a staple. Smart meters would be used so households could keep an eagle eye on the amount of energy being used.Houses would all be insulated to the highest level, and heating and power would be provided by clean home energy kit such as solar panels, wind turbines, ground-source heat pumps and biomass boilers."The prospect of climate change can either paralyse us into inaction or radicalise us into taking action," he said."If we act, we can build a far better world. If we don't, then our species will become extinct. There is nothing to lose in taking rational radical action now."Dr Kenrick admits that becoming zero carbon is "impossible" but he added: "If it isn't done we are extinct, so we have to push for it now."He compared the need for change with the shift in attitude required to bring in votes for women or to abolish slavery."These things looked impossible at the time. It's one of those shifts which looks impossible within the current thinking."There's no way anybody is going to do this on their own. It needs collective action," he says.Dr Kenrick compared current events to a war situation, but with potentially worse consequences."One of the most difficult things about it is that when you look out of the window now it looks fine. It feels quite normal."If it was a war we would see things happening. But there's nothing to indicate the situation we are in. But the predictions are basically far worse than a war, because it is extinction of a species."As well as imposing carbon rationing for cleaner lifestyles, Dr Kenrick thinks the Scottish Government should increase funding for community projects to tackle climate change, building on the £18.8 million available in the Climate Challenge Fund.He also wants legislation to ensure that corporations have to put cutting carbon emissions ahead of shareholders' profits.
Monday July 14, 2008
A century's worth of future carbon dioxide emissions from the US could be stored securely in a layer of undersea rocks within easy reach of the west coast of the continent, according to a new study.
The Juan de Fuca plate, which comprises the ocean floor a few hundred kilometres from the coasts of Washington and Oregon, contains layers of basalt that geologists think might be suitable for long-term sequestration of CO2 as part of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) system.
CCS is a set of technologies to trap, transport and bury the carbon dioxide from power stations and factories in underground locations such as abandoned oil fields or deep aquifers. Estimates suggest the technique could prevent up to 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions from major emitters being locked away, so preventing global warming.
But "the effectiveness of these methods for CO2 sequestration depends strongly on the reservoir capacity, retention time, stability, and risk for leakage," notes David Goldberg of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York, in the latest edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Using data from previous geological surveys and drilling studies, Goldberg led a team that estimated there was an area of 78,000 km2 of suitable undersea aquifers on the Juan de Fuca plate.
The team said that the basaltic geology of the Juan de Fuca plate meant that two methods could be used to store CO2 in the long term: physical trapping and geochemical trapping. The first involves burying the gas under layers of rock that have low or zero permeability: this means the gas is physically blocked from bubbling back to the surface. The second method, also known as mineral trapping, involves CO2 reacting with the rocks into which it is injected to make stable, solid minerals such as carbonates.
Goldberg's criteria for suitable burial sites included the aquifers being under at least 2,700m of water and covered by 200m or more of sediment. At this deep level CO2 liquifies and is denser than sea water, so even if a leak were possible, it should not rise to the surface.
The region identified could potentially store around 208bn tonnes of liquefied CO2, the researchers said, a figure that could rise to 250bn tonnes depending on how much of the gas reacted with the rocks to form carbonates.
At the current annual emission rate of 1.7bn tonnes of carbon a year by the US, the researchers estimated that the Juan de Fuca plate would provide sufficient capacity for 122–147 years.
Andy Chadwick, team leader for CO2 storage research at the British Geological Survey, said that, though the basalt that makes up the Juan de Fuca plate was technically suitable for storing carbon dioxide, there were several unknowns that needed investigation before scientists could conclude it was a secure place for CO2 storage.
He said that, for example, Goldberg's team was relying on finding fractures in the basalt to physically pump in and store the CO2. "These fractures they're depending on for the storage capacity may also be connected to the surface or the seabed and would provide leakage pathways," said Chadwick.
It would be technically very difficult to analyse the basalt in sufficient detail to find all the fractures and ensure they were secure. For now, he said, depleted oil and gas fields were a better option for CCS systems. "They are the easiest targets because they are well-characterised and we know they are good geological fields.
"The only problems are they have lots of wells made through them and it's the man-made wells that would provide the greatest hazards of leakage. But they are certainly preferable at the moment to putting CO2 into basalt."
Goldberg himself notes that, even if further study confirms the Juan de Fuca plate as a suitable location for storing carbon, challenges remain in establishing the necessary infrastructure. Pipelines would be needed to transport the CO2, they would need to be maintained and monitoring systems would need to watch for leakages – all of which remains to be costed.
Published: July 14 2008 18:45
China on the eve of next month’s Olympic Games is like a “hot wok” of aiguozhuyi – national pride – according to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese writer. The question is how far the Chinese government risks overcooking the popular mood. Wherever you go, there is no escaping the official slogan of Beijing 2008: “One World, One Dream”. The five cutesy Olympic mascots known as Fuwa are equally ubiquitous, chirruping away on screens large and small, from Beijing’s striking new international airport terminal to the humblest local railway carriage.
China’s is not the first undemocratic regime to seek to use the Olympics to reinforce its own international prestige and domestic legitimacy. But seldom have sport and propaganda been yoked together on this vast scale. China’s communist rulers make no secret of the fact that they see Olympic success as the perfect symbol of their country’s “peaceful rise”. Even if their athletes do not succeed in beating their American counterparts to the top spot for medals (they came second in Athens four years ago, with 40 fewer than the US) the Chinese government can still win if the entire extravaganza is an acknowledged organisational success.
At first sight, it can hardly fail to be. The feats of construction necessary to host the Olympic Games are precisely what this regime does best. Regular visitors to Beijing have seen the city substantially remodelled over the past year, with the building of around 1.7bn square feet of new floor space, including 110 hotels. Like the revamped airport, the striking new national stadium – where the Olympics will officially begin at 8.08pm on August 8 – exemplifies China’s new status as an economic powerhouse. This, after all, is the country that now accounts for three out of the world’s six largest companies in the FT Global 500 (PetroChina, China Mobile and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China). This is the economy that, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will overtake the US in gross domestic product as early as 2035.
Yet behind the official veneer of self-confidence, China today betrays signs of insecurity – an insecurity that helps explain the somewhat overheated quality of Chinese nationalism. There has been an acute sensitivity to international criticism of the regime for its Darfur-blind support of the government of Sudan, its crackdown on Tibetan separatists and its seeming indifference to the plight of the oppressed peoples of Burma and Zimbabwe. There is also mounting anxiety about the sustainability of China’s economic miracle as it approaches its 30th year. The stock market has fallen by 56 per cent over the past nine months. Speculative “hot” money, which is pouring into China in the expectation of further currency appreciation, is adding to already acute inflationary pressures. Capital controls are not impermeable and price controls cannot negate the global surge in food and fuel costs.
These economic stresses are accentuating China’s multiple social problems: rapidly growing income inequality, the wretched poverty that persists in the rural hinterland and the gender imbalance that the one-child policy has wrought via selective abortion of female foetuses. Meanwhile, the environmental consequences of China’s breakneck industrialisation are literally casting a cloud over the impending Olympics. Unless there is a meteorological miracle, the city’s air will be the dirtiest ever inhaled by Olympic athletes. To help that miracle happen, the authorities have resorted to firing rain-inducing particles into the sky from anti-aircraft guns.
Here is another, less positive symbol of modern China: that of a regime in conflict with the environment itself. A week after the Sichuan earthquake of May 12, when the entire country froze to observe three minutes’ silence, there was something about the mood in Beijing that seemed familiar; something about the sense of national unity, heightened by 24/7 television coverage of the rescue efforts, that I had encountered before. It was remarkably like New York in the aftermath of 9/11 – except that no terrorist organisation or rogue regime could be held responsible for the Sichuan disaster. The only culpable people were the crooked construction companies and corrupt party hacks guilty of building the ramshackle schools that claimed so many lives when the quake struck. Small wonder the official media hastened to bury that story, which clearly had the potential to weaken the party’s popular legitimacy. Small wonder the news reports were soon full of “quake lakes” – another natural target for the People’s Liberation Army to train its guns on.
Just as Americans have waged their War on Terror since 9/11, it seems the Chinese are now embroiled in a War on Nature. To grasp what is at stake in this strange war, it pays to travel away from the capital – indeed, away from the entire eastern region of China. The economic front line now lies in western China, in frenetically growing industrial centres such as Chongqing.
Far up the River Yangtze, to the west of the Three Gorges Dam, Chongqing is probably the fastest growing city in the world today. It exemplifies both the strengths and the weaknesses of what might be called China’s semi-planned economy. To be sure, much of the economic running is made by private enterprise. Among the foreign companies that have already invested in the region are Ford, BP, Ericsson, Carrefour, Isuzu and Suzuki, all attracted by the combination of generous tax breaks and labour costs about 40 per cent lower than in eastern China. Even more important are home-grown companies such as Lifan Industrial Group, one of a number that have made Chongqing the motor cycle manufacturing capital of Asia.
Yet the explosive growth of Chongqing’s industry would not be happening without a very large dose of central planning. Since 1997, Chongqing has been a municipality under the direct control of the government in Beijing. Its transformation from sleepy backwater into the economic hub of western China has been an objective of national policy. That has meant a state-led bonanza of fixed investment, which has grown at an average annual rate of 20 per cent over the past decade. Local officials beam as they reel off the statistics: there will be 30 new bridges over the river, 10 new light railway lines, 2,000km of new highway and millions of square metres of new office space. On the long drive from the airport to the city centre, it is impossible to keep count of the number of new tower blocks under construction or the number of cranes perched on the city’s hills.
The trouble with a semi-planned economy, as soon becomes clear to the visitor to Chongqing, is twofold. First, in the absence of rule of law and meaningful private property rights, there are no real limits to the “negative externalities” of economic development. The air in Chongqing is as thick with pollutants as the local food is thick with hot chili peppers, frequently turning the city’s natural mists into dense pea-soup fogs. Second, the semi-planned economy allocates resources to infrastructure investment but does nothing to mitigate social inequality. The economic gulf between insiders (officials and entrepreneurs) and outsiders (construction workers and the rest) is now huge. If this is the “harmonious society” of which China’s leaders boast, then São Paulo is an egalitarian paradise.
China’s war on nature is bound to generate conflicts. But what form will they take? It certainly seems inevitable that external pressure will increase as the rest of the world seeks to rein in China’s surging emissions of carbon dioxide. Indeed, environmental concerns may soon replace human rights as the principal bone of contention between China and the west, now that the People’s Republic has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest annual emitter of CO2.
The much bigger question, however, is what form China’s internal conflicts will take. Clearly, if the central government is to have any success in mitigating the environmental damage arising from industrialisation, it will have to increase its control over provincial and local authorities. Few other big cities are as readily ruled from the centre as Chongqing.
But what of democracy? Three years ago, in his speech to the 17th National Congress of the Communist party, President Hu Jintao mentioned “democracy” no fewer than 61 times, leading a few commentators to anticipate some kind of political liberalisation. Perhaps the greatest agent of political change, however, may prove to be the internet.
In the past few years, the world wide web has taken China by storm. Following a 50 per cent jump in 2007, there are now an estimated 210m internet users in China, equal to the number in the US. As mobile telephones become more internet-friendly, the rate of growth could get even higher. The effects bear comparison with the impact of the printing press in early 16th-century central Europe. For here, surely, is an unprecedented challenge to the Chinese Communist party’s dominance of communications. Disproportionately, as might be expected, it is young people who are going online: about 70 per cent of Chinese internet users are under 30. More strikingly, Chinese web surfers are much more likely than their western counterparts to abandon traditional sources of information in favour of the internet: 85 per cent of Chinese users say the internet is now their main source of information. As in the west, moreover, the internet is also acting as a vehicle for self-expression. Already, 52 per cent of all blog posts are in an Asian language, with Mandarin rapidly gaining on Japanese.
To be sure, the regime is striving mightily to keep tabs on its citizens’ use of the internet. All web traffic is routed through the so-called “Great Firewall of China”, with thousands of functionaries checking for blacklisted URLs. Yet the notion of a one-party state controlling the internet is about as plausible as King Canute trying to command the incoming tide. Using proxy servers, encryption software and other tools, the new generation of Chinese geeks can stay one step ahead of the censors.
The crucial question is how far the authorities need to fear a wave of dissent as a consequence of youthful connectivity. The analogy with the printing press might lead us to expect some kind of Chinese Reformation – a challenge to an ossified hierarchy comparable with Martin Luther’s to the medieval papacy, a challenge that would certainly not have been so revolutionary without the printing press to spread it. It is true that criticism of local party officials or policies is sometimes transmitted horizontally by e-mail and (more commonly) text message.
Yet the new forms of electronic communication may just as easily act as channels for popular nationalism as for political dissent. “We Have Nothing to Fear”, an unofficial video posted on the internet shortly after the unrest in Tibet, is almost hysterically critical of the western media. With its ultra-nationalist imagery, its strident music and its defiant slogans – “China’s sovereignty is sacred and inviolable”; “We have an obligation to safeguard the community’s prosperity and stability”; “Do not provoke us!” – it perfectly captures the moment when Chinese nationalism met YouTube.
On the eve of the Olympics, there is indeed something of the “hot wok” about the mood in China. But it is China’s hot websites, burning with a new generation’s nationalism, that should make the rest of the world feel uneasy.
The writer is an FT contributing editor
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
Published: July 15 2008 02:07
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has joined a global programme aimed at eliminating illegal and unsustainable logging in the latest step in a drive to improve its environmental and social record.
The retailer said it would work with the Global Forest and Trade Network, an initiative backed by the World Wildlife Fund.
It will launch an assessment of where the wood used in its own-brand furniture comes from and will eliminate wood from illegal or unknown sources within five years. The retailer also pledged to stop the use of wood from any forests judged to be of “critical importance” that are not well managed.
The move comes almost three years after Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s chief executive, launched an overhaul of the retailer’s approach to environmental sustainability, which included setting up “sustainability networks” that include suppliers and environmental groups.
Kerry Cesareo, a forestry expert at the WWF, said Wal-Mart would be required to meet “strict criteria” for the review of its sourcing of wood products, which would be subject to independent auditing.
The review is expected to result in the retailer using more wood from forests whose management has been certified as meeting environmental and social standards by the Forest Stewardship Council, at present the only such certification system recognised by the GFTN.
The initiative was launched in the mid-1990s to engage businesses in efforts to promote sustainable forestry.
Wal-Mart will be the first US retailer to join. European members include Ikea, Carrefour, Body Shop and Marks and Spencer. Procter & Gamble, a leading Wal-Mart supplier, joined in March.
Matt Kistler, head of Wal-Mart’s sustainability programmes, said the initiative would enable the retailer to provide “a reliable supply of wood products that come from responsibly managed forests”.
Wal-Mart’s immense purchasing power has made it an attractive partner for environmental groups who work with corporate partners, such as WWF and the Environmental Defense Fund. However, it has also created intense divisions within the environmental movement, with some activists arguing that the retailer’s low-cost consumerism reflects an ultimately unsustainable business model.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
Published Date: 15 July 2008
By JOHN ROSS
A PROPOSED planning regime for Scotland's seas will help to exploit offshore development potential, it was revealed yesterday.
A consultation document published yesterday said the planned Marine Bill will adopt a "presumption of use".But the Scottish Government stressed that the bill would promote renewable energy and other business opportunities without damaging the environment or wildlife.Richard Lochhead, the environment secretary, who launched the consultation, said: "The seas are a major asset for Scotland and generate more than £2.2 billion for the Scottish economy. We have huge potential to increase economic growth from our seas, but need to do so in a sustainable way."Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said: "We had hoped to see a presumption for use in the document and we are pleased to see it's there. We want to see that carried on into the legislation."Under the proposals, a new organisation, Marine Scotland, would be established, although its status has yet to be decided. It could be part of government, an agency, like Historic Scotland, or a separate body, such as Scottish Natural Heritage.
By Andrew Grice, Political Editor, The Independent: Monday, 14 July 2008
Gordon Brown is to fast-track the building of at least eight nuclear power stations to cut Britain's dependence on oil following the dramatic rise in its price.
The Prime Minister will set "no upper limit" on the number of nuclear plants that will be built by private companies. That would mean nuclear, which provides about 20 per cent of Britain's electricity, could meet a bigger share after the new generation of nuclear stations come on stream over the next 15 years.
Mr Brown fears the UK could experience an energy supply crisis if it does not step up its nuclear programme. He believes that fast-rising oil prices have tipped the balance even more in favour of nuclear and renewable energy, such as wind and wave power, since the Government published a White Paper in January, which backed nuclear.
The Prime Minister's growing enthusiasm for nuclear has provoked controversy. Environmental groups believe that it is not safe and would land taxpayers with a huge clean-up bill after the new plants are decommissioned, pointing to the £73bn cost of phasing out the existing 10 reactors. All except one of them – Sizewell B – will shut down over the next 15 years.
The Liberal Democrats also warned that a switch to more nuclear energy would do nothing to solve the immediate problems caused by the doubling of oil prices over the past year.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister outlined his vision of a "post-oil economy", calling for "a renaissance of nuclear power" and "massive expansion" of renewable energy in which the North Sea becomes "the Gulf of the future" by harnessing the power of the wind. He promised that on nuclear, Britain would work to ensure the best arrangements for security, safety and disposal.
Addressing 42 leaders from the EU, North Africa and Middle East at a "Union for the Mediterranean" summit in Paris, he said that oil dependency posed a threat to economic stability and family finances and was not environmentally sustainable. He supported the creation of "sun farms" in the Sahara and across the region.
Britain's 10 existing nuclear stations generate about 10 gigawatts of electricity. Their decommissioning could cause power cuts, ministers believe, because about a third of the nation's coal and oil-fired power stations will also have to close to meet environmental laws. The new generation of medium-sized nuclear reactors would each generate 1.2 gigawatts, so Mr Brown believes at least eight would be required to make up for the nuclear stations that become obsolete.
A Downing Street source said yesterday: "The industry will not make the long-term investment required to build a new nuclear power station if they think the Government is not totally committed to nuclear energy. That is why the Tory vote against the Planning Bill was so dangerous."
Most of the new power stations are expected to be built near existing sites, where opposition from local residents would be less as they could safeguard or create jobs. Following applications by energy companies, the Government will confirm the location of the new plants in 2010. Energy firms believe they will start to generate electricity by 2017.
A report for the Government by the energy analysts Jackson Consulting, published last year, rated the existing sites green, amber or red for their suitability for new reactors. Those graded green were Hinkley Point, Somerset; Sizewell, Suffolk; Bradwell, Essex; Dungeness, Kent; Hartlepool, Co Durham; Heysham, Lancashire; Hunterston, North Ayrshire; Torness, East Lothian; and Wylfa, on the island of Anglesey.
Graded amber were: Calder Hall, Cumbria; Oldbury, near Bristol; and Chapelcross, near the Solway estuary. Berkeley in Gloucestershire and Trydydd in Snowdonia, north Wales, were not suitable. The Government insists no decisions on sites have yet been taken.
But new plants might not be built in Scotland. The Scottish National Party administration in Edinburgh opposes nuclear power and its consent is needed for big power stations.
How nuclear power came back from the dead
A White Paper on energy, released in 2003, described nuclear power as an "unattractive option" and included no plans to replace existing reactors when they closed. Although it left a tiny door ajar open to more nuclear plants, Friends of the Earth said the policy sounded "the death knell" for nuclear power in Britain.
As climate change rose up the political agenda, former prime minister Tony Blair became convinced a new generation of nuclear plants would offer a low carbon component to energy needs. In 2006 he said more nuclear plants should be built. An advantage, he argued, would be that nuclear power would make Britain less dependent on imports such as gas from Russia. There was a false start when the High Court ruled the Government had failed to consult properly over its nuclear plans.
A White Paper in January described nuclear power as safe, low carbon, affordable and dependable.
Philips, the Dutch electronics group, today reported strong growth in pre-tax profits in the second quarter on the back of surging sales and earnings in energy-saving light bulbs.
The world's biggest lighting company said pre-tax profits rose 7% from €386m (£308m) to €413m on sales up 6% to €6.5bn. Net income more than halved from a year ago on a series of extraordinary items from €1.6bn to €720m.
Pierre-Jean Sivignon, chief financial officer, said sales of lighting - and TV sets - were particularly strong in emerging markets such as Latin America and India. They grew 16% in the quarter.
Energy-saving systems increased sales by 16%, with the strongest growth again coming in emerging markets, which offset some softening in Europe and the US. Overall lighting sales were up 6%.
The surge in energy prices across the globe is prompting consumers to switch to more efficient, longer-lasting lighting. In the EU growth has been hampered by a continuing dispute over duties on energy-saving bulbs imported from China - many of them made by European groups such as Philips and Osram, owned by Siemens.
Philips' share price rose 7.6% in early trading, helping the stock regain some of the 30% it has lost this year. The shares drooped badly on Friday on fears the group would announce depressed profits and poor sales prospects in the face of the economic downturn.
Gerard Kleisterlee, chief executive, said the group's portfolio had held up robustly in a rapidly deteriorating economic environment. Sivignon added that emerging markets were helping to balance the weaker demand in the west.
Published: July 15, 2008
PARIS, Maine: Mark Bancroft's new pellet-burning furnace has not been installed, but he is already counting how much money he will save over his old oil-fired burner.
Instead of paying $5,000 for 1,100 gallons (4,163 liters) of heating oil in the coming year based on today's record prices, he'll spend $2,000 on about 8 tons of wood pellets. Even at a cost of more than $12,000, he thinks the new furnace will pay for itself within five years.
"How great is it if we make a move toward this type of heating that can boost the economy instead of sending money to foreign lands for oil?" said Bancroft, who plans to have the unit installed this summer.
As heating oil approaches $5 a gallon ($1.32 a liter), consumers in the oil-reliant Northeast are looking at pellets, heat pumps, firewood and even geothermal systems to soften the blow of high oil prices — which have almost doubled in the past year and gone up nearly fivefold since 2003.
About 8 million households in the U.S. use heating oil as their primary heating source, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
Nowhere is the pain of skyrocketing oil prices more acute than in the Northeast, which accounts for more than three-quarters of the United States' heating oil sales. And no state relies more on heating oil than Maine, where it is used in 80 percent of homes.
Oil used to be a cheap heating source, with prices around $1 a gallon (26 cents a liter) as recently as five years ago. But as prices rise to unprecedented levels, homeowners are angry and scared.
There are risks, of course, to giving heating oil the boot. Oil prices could drop or wood pellet prices could rise. Questions remain about whether there are enough certified technicians to install and service other types of furnaces.
Here in western Maine, former ski mogul Les Otten is banking on European wood pellet furnaces with his Maine Energy Systems Inc., which he launched with two other investors. Otten once headed American Skiing Co. and was later a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
Otten already has 400 orders even though he hasn't taken delivery of his first shipment — they're not due to arrive by container ship until later this month. To fuel those furnaces, he's arranging for a fleet of trucks to make home deliveries of pellets made at plants in Maine, New Hampshire and Quebec.
Otten, who has a pellet furnace in his home in Greenwood, said it works much like existing forced-water heat systems, except the burner is fueled with wood pellets rather than oil or natural gas. Pellets are made out of compacted sawdust, wood chips or other wood material and look something like rabbit food.
And instead of heating oil deliveries, trucks will deliver pellets, which are pumped into a bin in his basement that can hold 4 tons. They are then carried automatically from the bin to the furnace, where they are burned to heat water that is used to heat the house.
In the next five to seven years, Otten's goal is to convert 10 percent of Maine homeowners — more than 40,000 homes — who now heat with oil and expand throughout New England and into New York.
"With 80 percent of Maine homes relying on oil for heat, people are spending billions a year on heating oil," Otten said on a recent day as he showed off his furnace. "That's why you have to use the word 'crisis' when you think about this stuff."
For a smaller investment, pellet stoves — which are touted as being cleaner and more efficient than traditional wood stoves — are flying out the door at the Finest Hearth & Home shop in Yarmouth. There, sales are five times higher this year than last year, said assistant manager Mike Jaques.
It can cost $4,000 or more to buy and install a pellet stove, but homeowners can make their money back in two or three years if oil prices stay where they are now, Jaques said. And they're willing to carry bags of pellets from their basement or garage and load the stoves by hand.
"In a nutshell, it's pellet-stove madness," he said.
Heat pump sales are also rising fast, said Duane Hallowell, president of Hallowell International LLC, a Bangor company that makes the Acadia heat pump, which can be used for both heat and air conditioning.
Heat pumps, which are powered by electricity, look like the central air conditioning units commonly seen outside of many homes, especially in the South. They essentially suck the heat from cold air for warmth, and the cold from hot air for cooling. They have long been popular in warm climates, but not used much in cold-weather states because they haven't worked well when temperatures fall below freezing.
Hallowell said he refined the technology so his product works in temperatures as cold as 30 below zero Fahrenheit (minus 34 degrees Celsius). With oil prices surging, Hallowell's sales have jumped 500 percent the first part of the year — mostly in the Northeast. He expects to sell tens of thousands of units in 2008.
"It's a time of desperation. People don't know what to do," Hallowell said. "They can't afford these $3,000 to $4,000 heating bills."
Richard Parker, 75, of Burlington, Massachusetts, didn't shed any tears when he got rid of his old oil-burning furnace this spring and replaced it with Hallowell's heat pump. Even at a cost of $13,500, he figures the pump will pay for itself in seven years or so.
With prices so high, Parker's had it with oil. "I don't have any faith in it going down, or if does go down it won't be by a heck of a lot," he said.
As for wood pellets, the new technology in stoves and furnaces harkens to a time when wood was the fuel of choice for most of the U.S.
Pellets have been popular for years in much of Europe, said Otten, who's putting up to $10 million of his own money behind his project. He's convinced they'll catch on here, and he's confident that the price of wood pellets, unlike heating oil, will remain stable even if demand jumps.
"What's more volatile?" he said. "Cutting a tree in the woods or pumping oil out of the ground?"
Maine Energy Systems: http://www.gotohallowell.com
Department of Energy:
July 15, 2008
Britain may once have ruled the waves, but not so Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), it seems, which may be concentrating rather more on not sinking under them – even more so after a damning broadside from Collins Stewart, its house broker, yesterday, which ridiculed Britain’s once-great wave power hope for “displaying a total inability to deliver”.
OPT, which was founded by George Taylor, its chief executive, made headlines four years ago by winning a contract to build the world’s first wave power station off Spain. But Mr Taylor said that the company needed to reinforce its design to cope with “100year storm waves” and a prototype would not even be ready for testing until next year. OPT is taking an extra $2.4 million loss on the contract.
Raymond Greaves, of Collins Stewart, said: “The basic designs were in place over three years ago and . . . a prototype has not even been built yet. The continued delays baffle us.”
Mr Taylor said he wanted to avoid a disaster such as that encountered by Finavera, a Canadian peer, whose 72ft wave generator sank in a storm last October off the coast of Oregon. His caution did find support from some quarters, for OPT shares rose 2½p to 410p yesterday, but that is only a third of their float price five years ago.
Companies related to Peter Klimt and Guy Naggar’s Dawnay, Day (DD) empire were falling as it emerged the pair had brought in an administrator. DD Treveria fell 4 cents to €0.28¾ and DD Sirius fell 4 cents to €0.43. The companies revealed that Mr Klimt and Mr Naggar had sold stakes in both on Friday. DD Carpathian, which invests in Eastern European property, fell 3¾p to 40p. KBC Peel Hunt said that Carpathian would have to refinance loans in 2011 and that the forecast 8p dividend for this year was at risk.
Published: July 15 2008 03:00
Ocean Power Technologies, the Aim-quoted renewable energy company, is expecting to put its first 40kw buoy in the water next month under its contract with Iberdrola to develop a wave power station off the northern coast of Spain.
The company also expects its next-generation 150kw buoy to be ready for ocean tests next year.
Revenues for the year to April 30 rose 89 per cent to $4.8m (£2.4m), helped by further work with the US Navy and a contract with PNCG Power, the Oregon utility, to investigate the potential of the Pacific as an energy resource.
The company has $101m of net cash after a secondary listing on Nasdaq in May last year, and does not expect to have to return to the market before becoming profitable.
The net loss last year increased from $9.6m to $14.7m.
The shares closed up 2½p at 410p. David Blackwell
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008