Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Meet the Zecar: British electric car runs for 2p a mile

By Ben Farmer
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 15/07/2008

A British designed and built electric car which its makers claim costs under 2p a mile to run will be launched later this summer.
Telegraph Motoring homepage
The £15,000 Zecar has seating for five adults and can be charged from any standard electric socket, but will only reach 56mph.

The first Zevan, a van version of the car, was sold earlier this week and by next year Stevens Vehicles hopes to be selling 500 Zecars a year. As the vehicle gives off no greenhouse gases or pollutants, the makers say it is not only environmentally friendly, but cheap.
At a time when the cost of driving is rising sharply because of growing fuel costs, congestion charges and taxation, the firm estimates Zecar drivers could save £7,000 in two years. The Zecar and Zevan, which has a square side load bay large enough to take standard pallets, were designed and developed by Professor Tony Stevens.
His son Peter, a former city banker, set up Stevens Vehicles Ltd in Port Talbot, South Wales, to manufacture the vehicles for the UK market. They are currently able to produce one vehicle a day with the ability to scale up to 1,000 models a year.
The company was supported by the Welsh Assembly Government to set up production in Wales.
Ieuan Wyn Jones, the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for the Economy and Transport, said: "The Assembly Government has been actively supporting the automotive sector in the development of niche vehicles and alternative fuels and supply chains.
"The zero emissions from these new vehicles support the Assembly Government's clean energy policy and we welcome the investment by innovative businesses like Stevens Vehicles." Peter Stevens said the design and development work was carried out by his father from a workshop in Kent and their dream was to go into production and manufacturing.
"I chose Wales as the base for production and manufacture because of the help, support and enthusiasm we found here and are now taking that dream forward," he said.
"It is very hard to set up a car manufacturing plant – it's not just the question of raising the finance, it's about getting the right support and the Assembly Government has been hugely helpful."

Regulator seeks clearer green energy tariffs

Published: July 16, 2008

LONDON: Britain's energy suppliers must stop labelling any electricity tariffs "green" unless they commit to spending more of their own money on environmental projects, according to new guidelines from UK energy regulator Ofgem.
Under government schemes aimed at cutting carbon emissions, 8-10 percent of all domestic gas and electricity bills already goes towards increasing renewable power generation.
Growing concern over global warming has seen about 350,000 householders sign up to "green" supply deals, which are often more expensive than standard payment plans and make consumers feel they are lessening their contribution to climate change.
But some of the tariffs are just a re-packaging of existing subsidies with no extra money being spent on eco-friendly energy projects by the sellers and no environmental benefit over standard tariffs.
"We want suppliers to stop re-packaging their existing environmental activity as green immediately and to align their marketing with our guidelines by September 2008," Ofgem chief executive, Alistair Buchanan, said on Wednesday.

"With our revised guidelines we intend to shine a light onto suppliers' green offerings to show the customer why a tariff is green."
Under guidelines that could become compulsory if the utilities do not adhere to them voluntarily, suppliers must prove their green tariffs will provide additional environmental benefits above those already paid for with existing subsidies.
"If suppliers really want to show customers that their green tariff is doing something extra then they will have to show that by putting more of their own money into developing future renewable schemes," a spokesman for the regulator said.
Ofgem said it would work with suppliers to set up an independent verification scheme before the end of the year.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren, editing by Anthony Barker)

Smell of success may be under Suez’s nose

By Peggy Hollinger in Paris
Published: July 16 2008 03:23

They are called the Nose Jury and their olfactory senses are to waste treatment what Betty Grable’s legs were to cinema – vital tools for delivering customer satisfaction.
In the Suez Environnement research centre outside Paris, a group of trained sniffers is taking a “nose break”, between bouts of inhaling air samples collected from water and waste treatment sites around the country. Their fine sense of smell will pick up traces of odorous molecules and identify whether they bring to mind a pleasant pine forest or the stench of dead ­animals.

If someone misses a break, their sense of smell will dull and the tests prove pointless because the researchers would not be able to identify and eliminate the smells that often make sewage treatment works an unwelcome addition to local communities.
That would be a disaster for Suez Environnement, which believes such unique initiatives will do much to reinforce its competitive edge in France and abroad.
Investing in research to build on its position as Europe’s second-biggest water and waste treatment is key to the group’s campaign to woo investors as it prepares to become an independently quoted company from its parent Suez.
The private French energy group will convene shareholders on Wednesday to vote on its merger with state-controlled Gaz de France and that, in turn, will result in a 65 per cent spin-off of the €12bn ($19bn)-a-year environment business.
Jean-Louis Chaussade, chief executive of Suez Environnement, says the sale is a “remarkable opportunity” for his business. After decades of taking the back seat to Suez’s appetite for energy, his group will “have a much higher visibility,” he says. “It will allow us to be recognised as one of the two great environment groups in the world.”
Torrent of data
Suez Environnement runs water management, waste-water treatment and waste management services in 25 countries. Its businesses include Degrémont, Safège, Lyonnaise des Eaux and SITA.
● 68m people supplied with drinking water.
● Waste treatment services for 44m people.
● In 2007, Suez Environnement collected nearly 23m tonnes of household waste, industrial non-hazardous waste, and medical waste, and treated more than 42m tons of waste.
2007 results
● Sales: €12bn ($19.1bn)
● Ebitda: €2.1bn.
● Net income: €1.1bn.
● 46 per cent turnover from European waste services.
● 32 per cent turnover from European water services.
● 22 per cent from international operations.
● 61,915 employees.
However, as in the enlarged GdF-Suez, the mother group will continue to hold the reins at Suez Environnement, controlling strategic decisions, appointments and financing. Even Suez Environnement’s option plans will be paid in the parent group’s shares, for the time being at least.
A pact will lock in GdF-Suez’s 35 per cent stake and 12 per cent held by Suez investors – including Belgian billionaire Albert Frère – for three years.
And Mr Frère shows signs he may even step up his investment in the water and waste company, suggesting that he has plans for the newly quoted group.
Far from balking at the iron grip Suez senior will continue to have, Mr Chaussade says it will give him “the best of both worlds ... We will have shareholders who share our vision of the long-term strategy. The market tends to be rather short term.”
But a quote will also “make sure that we’ll maintain a profitable growth strategy year after year,” he adds.
Mr Chaussade’s strategy is to return organic sales growth of 5 per cent a year between 2007 and 2010, with another 2 per cent expected to come from small acquisitions, mainly in Europe and North America.
Although such a figure is likely to be a little below the growth expected for rival Veolia, Mr Chaussade argues that the group’s focus on cautious investment in countries that are stable politically will be appreciated by the market.
“The balance between growth and acquisitions is a complex, subtle one,” he says. “What limits us is finding profitable acquisitions under acceptable financial conditions. That is the real question.”
Nor has he forgotten the group’s unhappy and costly experience in Latin America just a few years ago. So Suez will refrain from long-term investments in less stable markets where it will still seek business through management contracts.
Today, about 46 per cent of the group’s sales come from waste treatment in Europe; 32 per cent from water; and just 22 per cent from international activities. “Our portfolio won’t change very much,” he says.
According to analysts, Suez Environnement is likely to be valued at between €10.2bn and €12bn when it starts trading on July 22.
In its favour, Suez will be less indebted and offer more medium-term visibility than Veolia. The Frère factor will no doubt offer an added spice to the shares.
However, even Mr Chaussade does not pretend that the future is without its challenges.
Analysts expect margins to come under pressure if Suez steps up its investment in recycling, for example, which Mr Chaussade shows a ready willingness to consider given the market opportunity.
“The simple fact that raw material prices continue to rise will oblige us to recycle more,” he says.
“A circular economy based on recycling is one solution for a sustainable economy.”
Moreover, though Suez is Europe’s number one in waste treatment and second in water, the market could become increasingly competitive as rivals spot the opportunities provided by growing regulation and steady revenues.
“France can be proud to have two world champions, but others will emerge,” Mr Chaussade says.
“These are growing markets and other companies will want to come in.”
Special dividend to woo investors
Suez and GdF will greet shareholders, as they gather on Wednesday to vote on the €90bn ($143bn) merger of their companies, with the gift of an earlier than expected special dividend.
The merged group, which is expected to begin trading on July 22 assuming shareholders give the go-ahead, will pay out about €1.8bn to investors, or €0.80 a share. The French government, as the biggest single shareholder with 35.6 per cent, will get a total windfall of €640m.
The payment has long been trailed by Suez and GdF management, an inducement to investors to approve a controversial deal that has been two and half years in the making.
Merging the two groups will create an energy giant with annual sales of €75bn and strong ambitions to tap into the global revival in nuclear energy. Gérard Mestrallet, chairman of Suez who will hold the same post in GdF-Suez, has said he wants to tender for France’s second, new generation nuclear power station, recently announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Shell boosts second generation biofuels

By Ed Crooks
Published: July 16 2008 03:00

Royal Dutch Shell is stepping up investment in research into "second generation" biofuels, putting more money into its joint venture with Iogen, a Canadian biotech company, in spite of having made only slow progress so far.
Shell is raising its holding in the Iogen Energy joint venture to 50 per cent from 26.3 per cent, and making what it called a "significant" additional investment in the venture's development programme.
It did not give a figure for the size of its commitment.
Iogen is a specialist in the attempt to develop commercial production of cellulosic ethanol.
That is road fuel made not from food crops such as corn and sugar, as with conventional ethanol, but from plant waste such as straw.
Shell has been the strongest supporter among the big oil companies of the push for second-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, which are expected to provide benefits over existing commercial biofuels in terms of their effects on greenhouse gas emissions and food prices.
However, no company has yet managed to deliver full-scale commercial production of cellulosic ethanol. Shell has had a stake in Iogen Energy since 2002, and in April 2004 said the company was "successfully producing the world's first cellulose ethanol fuel available for commercial use" at its demonstration plant.
More than four years later, Shell is still considering whether to go ahead with a commercial plant, which would produce 90m litres of ethanol a year compared with 2.5m litres at the demonstration plant.
The company, however, insists it is making progress and has identified a possible site for the plant in Saskatchewan in central Canada.
Graeme Sweeney, Shell's head of future fuels, said the investment in Iogen Energy was "a strong statement that Shell is committed to accelerating the development of cellulosic ethanol in collaboration with Iogen".
Shell has several other projects working on biofuels, including plans to create diesel fuel from wood chips and to extract oil from algae.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

White House buries climate change deaths report

Last Updated: 12:01pm BST 15/07/2008

The White House buried a report prepared by US government scientists which detailed a rising death toll from heat waves, fires, disease and smog they predicted would be caused by global warming.
Environmental advocates accused President George W Bush's administration of delaying the release of the 149-page report so that it could avoid regulating greenhouse gases.

The Bush administration has worked to discourage a link between public health and climate change, fearing this would compel the government to regulate greenhouse gases
It was prepared as part of a response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling under the Clean Air Act, which found the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate greenhouse gases unless there was a scientific reason not to, but was not made public until Monday.
The report lays out for the first time the scientific case for the grave risks that global warming poses to people, and to the food, energy and water on which society depends.
"Risk (to human health, society and the environment) increases with increases in both the rate and magnitude of climate change," scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency said. Global warming, they wrote, is "unequivocal," and humans are to blame.
It suggests that extreme weather events and diseases carried by ticks and other organisms could kill more people as temperatures rise and allergies could worsen because climate change could produce more pollen. Smog, a leading cause of respiratory illness and lung disease, could become more severe in many parts of the country. At the same time, global warming could mean fewer illnesses and deaths due to cold.
"This document inescapably, unmistakably shows that global warming pollution not only threatens human health and welfare, but it is adversely impacting human health and welfare today," said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defence Fund. "What this document demonstrates is that the imperative for action is now."
While scientists have pointed to a link between public health and climate change, the Bush administration has worked to discourage such a connection, fearing that doing so would compel the government to regulate greenhouse gases.
On Friday, the White House dismissed the scientists' findings, when it said the Clean Air Act was the wrong tool to control global warming pollution and a new law which dealt solely with global warming was needed.
Stephen Johnson, the EPA chief, said through a spokesman that although he knew "the science is clear, and that climate change is a significant issue," he did not want to make a "rash decision under the wrong law".

Climate change: Warming may cause increase in kidney stone cases, say US scientists

Elana Schor in Washington,
Tuesday July 15, 2008

Endangered species. Economic decay. Extreme weather. The list of climate change's destructive costs is long, but US scientists today proposed adding one more: millions of new kidney stone cases.
The proven link between kidney stones and warm temperatures means that climate change could dramatically increase the number of US cases in the coming years, according to a study published today in the renowned journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The increased risk of kidney stones -- which come from painful mineral deposits in the urine -- could lead to as much as $1.3bn in increased medical bills by the year 2050, the team of Texas urologists behind the study estimated.
The study used two competing models to estimate the reach of new kidney stones brought on by global warming, using data from the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC).
One model predicted a steady growth in new cases as global temperatures rise, and another predicted that new cases would plateau after temperatures reached 15 degrees Celsius.
The first model projected that stones would become more prevalent in the states of Texas, Florida, California, and the east coast of the US. The second model yielded the bulk of its new cases in the mid-west US, including 100,000 in Chicago alone.
The US would experience between 1.6m and 2.2m new kidney stone afflictions by 2050 under both scenarios. Kidney stones will afflict 10% to 15% of the US population at a total treatment cost of about $2bn per year, according to previous scientific studies. Nearly double that number of cases has been reported in the Middle East, where temperatures are uniformly balmy.
The famously unbearable pain caused by passing a kidney stone through the body can cause nausea, vomiting, and blood in the urine.
But there is an easy way to decrease the risk of climate-induced stones, according to Dr Mark Litwin, a professor of urology and public health at the University of California in Los Angeles.
"The irony is, the cure is fairly simple," Litwin told Science News magazine. "Just drink more water."

Government scientists wrangle with White House over climate health dangers

US government scientists have warned of a rising death toll from heat waves, wildfires, disease and smog caused by global warming, in a study the White House repeatedly tried to bury to avoid regulating greenhouse emissions.
In a 149-page analysis released last night, experts for the first time laid out the grave risks that climate change poses to human health, and to the supplies of food, water and energy on which populations depend.
“Risk to human health, society and the environment increases with increases in both the rate and magnitude of climate change,” scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency said. In a more absolute pronouncement on the science of climate change than the White House has so far been prepared to accept, they said that global warming was “unequivocal,” and that humans were to blame.
The document warns that extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, and diseases carried by ticks and other organisms could kill more people as temperatures rise. Intensifying heat waves will result in increased mortality, particularly amongst the young and old, while flooding could impact water quality.

Allergies could become more severe because climate change could produce more pollen, it says, while worsening smog will increase the risk of respiratory illness, asthma and even premature death, it says. However at the same time, global warming could mean fewer illnesses and deaths due to cold.
Food supplies are likely to diminish as crops fail, while water is expected to become more scarce as a result of greater evaporation and reduced snowpack, leading to increased competition for resources.
The scientists also raised the nightmare prospect of repeats of the catastrophe suffered by New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Not only is the United States set to experience increasingly severe and frequent hurricanes, rising sea levels mean coastal communities face worsening flooding in the event of storms.
"This is a long-awaited EPA analysis that has been kept under wraps by the White House,” Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund, said. “This document inescapably, unmistakably shows that global warming pollution not only threatens human health and welfare, but it is adversely impacting human health and welfare today.
“What this document demonstrates is that the imperative for action is now.”
The Bush administration has long worked to discourage a connection between climate change and public health. Acknowledging such a link would compel it to regulate greenhouse gases, a move the President has resisted throughout his tenure in office.
The analysis was produced as part of a response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must regulate greenhouse gases unless it could provide a scientific reason not to do so. The ruling came after number of states and environmental groups brought a landmark case against the EPA for refusing to restrict exhaust gases from cars.
But EPA chief Stephen Johnson, a cabinet level member of the Administration who has frequently courted controversy with his apparent refusal to act on the findings of his scientists, signalled last night that he would not bow to the court’s demands.
After the White House on Friday dismissed the scientists’ findings, insisting that the 1970 law was the wrong tool to control global warming pollution, Mr Johnson fell in line, saying greenhouse gases should be considered as a separate issue by Congress.
He declined to take immediate steps, instead declaring a 120-day period for public comment on a nearly 1,000-page response to the Supreme Court ruling. Any action during the Bush administration is therefore unlikely.
It is not the first time that the administration, including Mr Johnson, has set itself against EPA scientists.
In December, the White House refused to open an e-mail from the EPA that included findings similar to those released yesterday on the links between climate change and public health.

Full steam again

It has come to be seen as outdated, but this clean, powerful technology is overdue a revival

Jonathan Glancey
The Guardian,
Wednesday July 16, 2008

In 1946 Paul Kiefer, chief mechanical engineer of the New York Central Railroad, set his latest steam locomotive, the potent, coal-burning 6,700hp Niagara class 4-8-4, against General Motors' brand new diesel-electrics. The Niagara could generate more power than three of the latest diesel-electrics coupled together. It could run the wheels off them while accelerating passenger trains as long as 30 modern British InterCity carriages with the alacrity of an electric.
The detailed report that followed revealed total annual running costs of $350,095 for Kiefer's finest and $359,478 for a twin-set of 4,000hp GM diesels capable of maintaining existing NYC schedules. As the construction cost of the diesels was nearly 50% higher than that of a Niagara, you might have thought that steam would have continued to rule the railroad roost.
Not a chance, even though the tests were conducted with oil as cheap as chips in today's terms. If, in fact, the NYC management had been forced to buy oil at the equivalent of today's prices, the Niagara would have won the day effortlessly. Or, would it? I don't think so, no matter how you looked at, or cooked, the figures. The problem facing inspired steam engineers like Kiefer and his contemporary, André Chapelon of France's SNCF - whose latest locomotive, 242 A1, was outperforming existing electric locomotives, was, as much as anything else, one of image.
Steam seemed old-fashioned, dirty and labour-intensive. It didn't have to be, but that was the perception encouraged by General Motors, the oil lobby and a new generation of fervently modernising railway managers.
This summer, though, is witness to two intriguing steam revivals. The first is the attempt by the British Steam Car Challenge team to break the world land speed steam record in a beautiful British racing green car. Fueled by Calor Gas, the turbine-powered racer should, with luck, steam across the Bonneville flats in Utah at 170mph, and very possibly top 200mph. The car's designers, led since 1999 by Bill Rich, a retired marine steam engineer, say that the "overall aim of the project is to promote education and awareness of clean burning fuels and ecologically sound technologies to young engineers all over Britain".
And not, you might say, before time. Today, the oil lobby that did for Kiefer's Niagaras is under the global spotlight. Oil is dirty and running low; it fuels war and public strife. A revived steam technology is one way forward, yet steam needs the kind of publicity boost Rich's team might just give it this August.
This summer's second steam adventure is the long-awaited debut of Tornado, a recreation of a 1948 London and North Eastern Railway A1 Pacific. This will be the first express passenger steam locomotive built in Britain since the Duke of Gloucester 54 years ago. Tornado, the result of years of hard work and campaigning by the A1 Locomotive Trust, will take her place alongside the restored Duke of Gloucester running mainline specials. While Tornado is hardly the latest in steam engineering, the locomotive will act as a flag-waver for this overshadowed technology while promoting new projects like David Wardale's super-efficient 200kph 5AT locomotive.
Even then, there is some way to go before steam technology sheds its image of "puff-puffs" and men at the end of platforms with too many Biros in their top pockets. In a sense, steam technology came too early for its own good. The existing land-speed steam record was set by a Stanley Steamer as long ago as 1906.
New fuel and power technologies need to be pursued and developed, and yet steam technology, as old as Hero of Alexandria's first-century turbine, may yet be back on the agenda, road, rails and record books.
· Jonathan Glancey is the Guardian's architecture

The energy debate needs to be rational - not shrill soundbites

There are good and bad biofuels, so a moratorium could make climate change worse
Peter Cotgreave
The Guardian,
Wednesday July 16, 2008

The debate on energy issues is currently too often characterised by hype, pitching every technology as either a magic bullet or a catastrophe. Biofuels are a classic case in point, as shown by a recent Guardian article (Secret report: biofuels caused food crisis, July 4).
The article opens with the claim that "biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75%". Biofuels may have played a part in rising food prices but, as the story also mentioned, estimates of the price increase caused by biofuels vary from 3% to 75%. Assessing the impact is a complicated issue made even more complex by the diversity of products that fall under the biofuels banner.
It is this diversity of biofuels that makes it foolish to decry the technology and call for blanket moratoriums on the use of these potentially green fuels. We should be looking to see what industry practices are causing problems and seek to replace them with the good practice that is also common.
The article outlined the argument of an unpublished World Bank report that "production of biofuels has distorted food markets". This should surely have stated that the production of some biofuels has distorted the market. Robert Bailey, of Oxfam, is quoted as saying: "It is imperative that we have the full picture" - and he is right. Each source of biofuel needs to be independently assessed for its benefits and its negative impacts.
As the article rightly points out, we are at a "critical point in the world's negotiations on biofuels policy". That is why the complexity of these issues should defy the shrill soundbite campaigning that has come to characterise much of the debate on energy.
The article refers to "intense lobbying from campaigners calling for a moratorium on the use of plant-derived fuels". Sadly this is all too often based on cherry-picking evidence - we actually need rational decision-making based on all the evidence. The Royal Society published a report earlier this year that, like the Gallagher review for the Renewable Fuels Agency published last week and any comprehensive review of biofuels, concluded that biofuels have real potential; but we must ensure the investment is put into the most efficient and sustainable types. Failing to do this will create more problems than they solve.
Since the article was published, the British government and Europe have suggested adjusting biofuels targets to allow time to gain a greater understanding of their impact. They have recognised the problems but have not forgotten the fact that there are examples of "good" biofuels that can play an immediate part in tackling climate change.
The UK and EU should not scrap biofuels targets but seek to ensure that these are met through the use of sustainable crops that do not take food from people's mouths. They must be part of a sensible debate about energy that looks at all technologies. This debate must include energy efficiency and the need to meet energy demand and tackle climate change while not creating other serious problems.
· Peter Cotgreave is director of public affairs at the Royal Society

Scotland must put more of its energy into renewables

Creating generation at home will help to cut fuel bills, says Sarah Boyack.

LAST week saw the launch of the UK Government's Renewable Energy Strategy – with the aim of 15 per cent of our electricity coming from renewables by 2020. In our first eight years in the Scottish Parliament, we managed to achieve our target of 20 per cent early. It was a major achievement. There is a wide degree of consensus that we should now be pushing for 50 per cent of our electricity from renewables by 2020. However, Scotland is falling behind the rest of the UK in our slow progress on microgeneration for households. It's an exciting agenda – with the potential to deliver secure, local green energy. With domestic fuel prices continuing to rise, we need to help people make their houses more energy-efficient and to produce their own heat and electricity. We also need to reduce our CO2 emissions to tackle climate change, so there is a win-win here if we act.There are success stories in Scotland. I've visited several projects in Edinburgh where the city council, local housing associations and householders have installed microgeneration devices. People are now experiencing lower bills – all year round. People get excited by installing renewables – but we also need to tackle homes and buildings that are badly insulated. There has been progress. But I'd like to go even further and require every new house to benefit from renewables.It's important, though, that we don't just focus on new housing. 80 per cent of the buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built. The Community Household Renewables Initiative has been very successful in testing the technologies and giving householders grants to install them, but research shows it is not until we have tax breaks that we will see a mass market created.That's why I'm continuing to campaign for the Scottish Government to support my Members Bill proposing that people putting in insulation or installing microgeneration are given a one-off rebate on their council tax. We're still waiting for the new SNP Government to deliver on cutting the red tape for individual householders who want to get on and install microgeneration. It took a year for draft guidelines to appear, but they only give the green light to mini wind and heat pumps when houses are 100 metres apart, and the rules on solar panels are out of step with the most efficient products on the market. Ministers have been lobbied by environmental campaigners and the renewables industry. In a recent debate, the Planning Minister recently told me that he was thinking of changing his approach. But we need to get a move on. • Sarah Boyack is a former Scottish Environment Minister and MSP for Edinburgh Central

All hands to the pumps in drive to get green cars going

As petrol prices soar and the Prime Minister backs eco-friendly transport, Hazel Mollison finds the pressure is on to develop electric and hydrogen cars to save drivers money and cut CO2 emissions.

GORDON BROWN wants us to embrace them in order to save the planet. But for the majority of motorists "green" cars powered by electricity and hydrogen still exist in the same bracket as eating lentils and wearing sandals. They're all right for some, but not really my thing.With growing numbers of manufacturers starting to put green cars on the road which bear comparison to the best-selling petrol models, is all that about to change?From tiny battery-powered cars designed to zip through city traffic to hybrids which switch from electric to petrol, there is a small but growing choice of alternatives to the traditional gas guzzler. Manufacturers are even developing cars which can be filled with hydrogen at home, cutting out trips to refuel.Mr Brown pledged his support for the move to eco-friendly cars at the G8 conference, saying he would like conventional petrol engines to become a thing of the past by 2020. He wants all new cars sold in Britain to be electric or hybrid vehicles by then, producing less than 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. At the moment, the worst gas-guzzlers produce up to 500 grams per kilometre.But his announcement has been met with scepticism by some industry experts and motoring groups. They say this target is unrealistic and the demise of the petrol engine is a long way off. There's no doubt that shopping around for an energy-efficient car can save hundreds of pounds a year in running costs. Prices at fuel pumps have hit record highs and motorists have been warned that petrol could soon reach £1.50 a litre. Owners will also save money on road tax, which is higher for less efficient cars.One of the best-known "eco-friendly" cars is the Toyota Prius, which sold its millionth car this year. It saves fuel by switching to electric power for low-speed driving, while running on petrol at higher speeds.Dr Ben Lane, managing director of the What Green Car? website, said drivers were increasingly conscious of running costs, but still wary of the new technology."In general people's knowledge about alternative fuels is pretty low. Hybrid cars are doing well, but it's pretty small beer compared to overall car sales. "I think we will see changes over the next few years. There is limited choice at the moment, as there are only four hybrid cars available. Hydrogen cars are still quite a long way away."I think we're looking at a multi-fuel future. We'll see lots more variety at forecourts, including petrol, diesel, hydrogen and ethanol."For those looking to take green motoring to the limits, the tiny battery powered G-Wiz might be an option for driving in cities. Its top speed is only 40 mph, but its size makes it ideal for weaving in and out of congested streets. As well as being relatively cheap to buy, it costs only about 1p per mile to run. Hydrogen-powered cars have already hit the roads in Los Angeles, and are expected to be available in the UK within a few years. These are less polluting than conventional cars, as they produce only water vapour instead of exhaust gases.The British company ITM Power has just unveiled a new hydrogen-powered car, which comes complete with its own refuelling station. This converts mains electricity and water into hydrogen to power the car. IT has converted a Ford Focus to run on hydrogen, and claims this could cut costs and revolutionise commuting. Delivery vans could be using the technology within 12 months.An ITM Power spokesman said: "If you can fill your car up at home, you will have more security and be immune to price rises. You can imagine a scenario where people don't need to buy fuel at all."Although the prototype runs only 25 miles before it needs refuelling, they hope to increase this to 100 miles.Environmental campaigners are also keen to see consumers given more information when they buy cars.Owen Davis of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "We're really pushing for all car adverts to have information about the CO2 emissions. Some cars are much more energy efficient than others."There is a long way to go yet in convincing some drivers to make the jump.Bruce Young, of the Association of British Drivers, said he was sceptical about the green credentials of some of the new cars."You often find that hybrid cars are actually more polluting than the orthodox cars when you take into account the manufacture," he said. "On the other hand, every car manufacturer is putting a lot of investment into reducing CO2 emissions. I think drivers are more likely to be influenced by fuel economy than environmental benefits."With petrol prices continuing to rise, the day of the hybrid may be getting closer than we ever would have imagined.

Nuclear plant staff 'can go green'

STAFF at Dounreay nuclear plant will be able to transfer their skills to a renewable energy "revolution" in Scotland, it was claimed yesterday.

Richard Lochhead, the environment secretary, was expected to visit the Caithness site today to see how the decommissioning process could be harnessed to create jobs in alternative energy production.Workers at other out-dated nuclear plants across Scotland would also be able to transfer their skills, he said. Dounreay operators UKAEA said about 2,000 people work on the north coast site, but numbers will go down to "almost zero" when the last building is flattened by 2025.Mr Lochhead, speaking before the visit, said the Scottish Government is committed to renewable energy.He added: "Dounreay's experience in technology development and the skills of its workforce have the potential to be at the forefront of the Scottish renewables revolution

Ofgem tightens ‘green tariff’ code

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: July 16 2008 02:57

Power suppliers offering their customers so-called green tariffs will have to spend more on renewable electricity, under rules to be announced by Ofgem.
Such tariffs, under which suppliers contract to derive some or all of their energy from renewable sources, have become popular as environmental awareness has grown among consumers and businesses.

But the standard of such tariffs has varied considerably among suppliers, leading Ofgem, the industry regulator, to close some of the loopholes suppliers used to claim benefits that might not have been all they seemed.
Electricity suppliers must, by law, generate a certain proportion of their power from renewable sources, such as wind turbines. But, as the Financial Times revealed this year, some ­suppliers have charged a premium for such electricity under their green tariffs – meaning many customers were paying companies extra to do what they would have had to do anyway.
The new code, published on Wednesday by Ofgem, prohibits suppliers from offering customers green tariffs based only on their legal obligations to supply renewables and demands that they are able to prove they are taking extra measures that produce environmental benefits.
Customers already pay extra for companies to ­generate renewables, as ­contributing to the renewables obligation subsidy makes up 8-10 per cent of electricity bills.
The code will be voluntary at first and companies have six weeks to sign up. If those offering green tariffs fail to sign up by September, Ofgem said it would move to regulation. In order to qualify as offering a green tariff, companies will now have to show they take extra measures such as investment in research and development relating to renewable power, or setting up projects such as combined heat and power plants, where excess heat from production is used to heat local buildings. Tariffs will be graded bronze, silver or gold depending on the level of investment or the extra measures undertaken.
Alistair Buchanan, chief executive of Ofgem, said: “We intend to shine a light on to suppliers’ green offerings to show the customer why a tariff is green. We want suppliers to stop re-packaging their existing environmental activity as green immediately and to align their marketing with our guidelines.”
Tim Wolfenden, head of home services at, the price comparison service, said: “This will separate the suppliers that are fully committed to renewables from those that aren’t. It will give consumers confidence that they are having a beneficial effect.”
Ofgem said about 350,000 domestic customers were signed up to green tariffs. It last produced guidelines on how power suppliers should label their green tariffs in 2002 but these were voluntary and some companies ignored them. Ofgem said on Tuesday it would enforce the new code if companies failed to comply, perhaps by inserting new conditions into companies’ licences.
By the end of the year the regulator plans to appoint an independent body to accredit the green tariffs.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Climate change to cause rise in kidney stones

By Catherine Elsworth
Last Updated: 7:01pm BST 15/07/2008

Global warming could lay waste to vast tracts of the earth - and may also lead to more Americans suffering kidney stones, scientists have warned.
Kidney stones, which can be extremely painful, are often caused by dehydration as the body is unable to flush minerals out of the system.

Researchers say that as temperatures rise, the driest parts of the US could see a 30 per cent increase in kidney stone disease.The study by University of Texas researchers predicts that warmer temperatures could extend America's existing "kidney stone belt", an area of the South East where men have been found to be twice as likely to develop kidney stones as in the North East.
The claims, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are based on existing data on kidney stone incidence and climate change projections made by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.
The increase would represent between 1.6 million and 2.2 million cases by 2050, according to the study, potentially pushing annual treatment costs up to around one billion dollars.
"This study is one of the first examples of global warming causing a direct medical consequence for humans," said Margaret Pearle, professor of urology at University of Texas Southwestern and senior author of the paper.
"When people relocate from areas of moderate temperature to areas with warmer climates, a rapid increase in stone risk has been observed. This has been shown in military deployments to the Middle East for instance."
Tom Brikowski, the study's lead author, compared kidney stone rates with UN forecasts of temperature increases and created two mathematical models to predict the impact on future populations.
According to one set of data, the existing "kidney stone belt" comprising southeastern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee would grow to encompass over half the US population by 2050.
The other model predicts the increase would be concentrated in the upper Midwest.
The study adds that "similar climate-related changes in the prevalence of kidney-stone disease can be expected in other stone belts worldwide."

Conservation: Clawback time

As he steps down after almost two decades with Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper's end-of-term report looks at positive changes wrought by environmentalists in that time - and to the many battles that lie ahead
Tony Juniper
The Guardian,
Wednesday July 16, 2008

Tony Juniper. Photograph: Martin Godwin
A walk in the intensively farmed countryside near my home in Cambridgeshire is a good place to assess what environmentalists have achieved in recent decades, and to think about the challenges ahead. Not so long ago, you would have been lucky to see a buzzard or a hobby, let alone a marsh harrier. But if you go to the right places now, you can easily see these birds. Improved habitat and species protection, ecosystem restoration, and the phase-out of toxic pesticides are among the reasons why. It's not all positive on the environment front these days, but it's certainly better than many would have hoped for in the 1970s.
The damage being caused by acid rain has also improved, because of new laws to reduce sulphur emissions from large power stations. Positive action continues, with EU law requiring the closure of Europe's most polluting power stations. Because of this, forests and lakes across the continent are recovering. Even on the global stage there has been progress. The chemicals that depleted the planet's ozone layer have been largely phased out, and it is hoped that this atmospheric shield will be largely restored later in the 21st century.
I was once involved in work to prevent the extinction of endangered parrots. Many of them were critically endangered, down to a last few birds. Twenty years later, none of them are extinct, most have increased in number, and a couple of species that were feared lost have been "rediscovered".
Here in the UK, the air we breathe is mostly cleaner, many once polluted rivers have more healthy fish and insect populations, we are recycling more, and political engagement with environmental issues has never been stronger. All this, and a whole lot more, happened because of determined environmental work by organisations and individuals going back over decades. But this is just the start of what's needed.
Rapid climate change threatens massive environmental damage, while the global-scale degradation of ecosystems is causing a wave of extinctions as, for example, rainforests are cleared to make way for plantations of palm oil and fields of soya. Surging demand for natural resources in emerging economies is generating planet-wide shockwaves that are not only causing environmental stress, but also economic problems, as elevated demand pushes up prices. On top of that, there is rapid population increase.
Considering all this, the positive gains to date seem like a layer of sandbags laid out to hold back a tsunami. The gathering wave is huge, its impacts will be profound, and we need a different level of action to avoid its worst consequences.
The frontline environmental challenges have now moved firmly on to the global stage. The solutions they demand go way beyond the banning of particular chemicals, protecting a particular piece of land, or the better regulation of different industrial sectors. Nothing short of a restructuring of our societies and economies is needed. This has been coming for some time, of course, so why is it so difficult to adopt the changes needed?
Practical reasons
Partly it is for practical reasons. We have become used to cheap energy, food and natural resources; our infrastructure, lifestyles and economy now depend on that continuing. To end this dependency requires fundamental change, and in a democracy like ours that, in turn, will rely on public support. The process of transition can be assisted by political leadership, but at heart some tough choices need to be made, and, in the absence of dead bodies here and now, we are finding it really tough to make them.
And then there is the trap of economic globalisation. We have expanded our economy on the back of ever more global integration. Global stresses are increasingly apparent, but we are finding it impossible to disentangle ourselves. Calls to protect UK "competitiveness" discourage politicians from taking steps to intervene in building a more sustainable economy at home. Instead, leaders seek to fix the creaking system with more of the same. Gordon Brown's calls for oil output to increase in the face of rising prices is a recent case in point.
Another set of challenges emerge from how the public receives messages about global change. Because there are such huge - and mainly negative - ramifications, the tendency is to either deny there is a problem ("The science is uncertain"), make some excuses ("Why bother doing anything here when China is causing so much damage?"), or to feel utterly disempowered ("It's too difficult and expensive to change, and anyway what difference can I make?").
Add to all this the political activities of various vested interests - such as the oil, motor and power companies, which have a vast economic stake in the status quo - and the quagmire deepens.
There is a way through all this, but it will need some different emphases compared with much of the environmental action taken over the last three decades.
The first shift is to adopt frank, credible and positive solutions. Pressure for change could in the past be mobilised by targeting environmental "baddies". That often worked to build public support for regulation on polluters or landowners. Aside from agreeing with new laws, most people didn't need to lift a finger. Now it's different. The climate, biodiversity and resource crunch cannot be solved by any one sector - all of us must play a part, including in how we live. People generally don't vote for things they believe will hurt them, and if we are to get buy-in for changes that will affect the majority of people, then the changes advocated will need to be positive.
Another shift of emphasis is toward economic incentives. There isn't time to ditch capitalism, but we do need to create better regulations and new markets through incentives that have the support of business. That requires environmental advocates to collaborate with corporations and the financial sector. Radical action is needed to build markets in clean technologies - and that will move faster if environmentalists and corporates can work together more effectively. Many of what might be regarded as "old corporates" are a dead loss, but new companies with different values are now emerging. Some of these are going faster than governments and could really be an engine for great change.
Global problems
In order to solve global problems, we need a different kind of globalisation, based on different global networks, global agreements, and global level playing fields. This, in turn, suggests that western environmental bodies should put far more of their resources into building up their partner organisations in other countries, especially those in the developing world. In fast-growing emerging economies in particular, it is necessary to urgently create a new politics that sees development and environment as complementary and overlapping - rather than competing - agendas.
A different emphasis will need to be built into organisations' campaign strategies. Campaigners should seek common cause with human rights activists and labour unions, as well as economic actors. Conservation groups need to broaden their horizons to embrace questions of consumption and the economy. Development groups must deepen their ecological analysis, not least because efforts to end poverty are being massively undermined by environmental change.
The science is largely done, and now it is the politics and public perception that need to be changed. To do this work, environmentalists must retain principles, but it is large-scale practical outcomes that must be most urgently pursued - even if they may not be perfect.
As for me, I may be stepping down from Friends of the Earth, but I'm certainly not leaving the campaign for a sustainable society.
· Tony Juniper has worked for Friends of the Earth for 18 years, the last six as director. Later this month, he is leaving to become a special adviser to the Prince's Rainforest Project, and a senior associate with the Cambridge University programme for industry.

Australia govt releases carbon trade paper

Reuters, Wednesday July 16 2008
By Rob Taylor and James Thornhill

CANBERRA, July 16 (Reuters) - Australia, the world's biggest per head polluter, unveiled plans on Wednesday to rein-in greenhouse gas emissions, but said it would shield some companies and motorists from a carbon emissions trading scheme expected to drive up inflation.
The centre-left government, which swept to victory last year on the back of fury among working voters at rising prices under conservative rule, released an options paper for how emissions trading is likely to work from 2010.
"The effect of putting a price on carbon will be profound," Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said in a national television address.
"Placing a limit and a price on pollution will change the things we produce, the way we produce them, and the things we buy. It will open new doors to a cleaner energy future," she said.
The government's plan aims to curb Australia's carbon emissions by forcing 1,000 of the country's biggest-polluting firms, including global miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto to purchase permits placing a cost on their emissions.
The regime would cover 75 percent of emissions in the A$1 trillion economy, with the inclusion of fuel from the 2010 start and hard-to-measure agricultural emissions from 2015, the government said.
But with officials predicting the scheme could add 0.9 percent to consumer prices in its first year, the proposals also pose deep political risks for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in an economy already battling inflation at 16-year highs.
To ward off a ballot backlash in 2010, when the scheme is to come into force, Wong said low-income households would be buffered from inevitable price hikes through tax and welfare breaks.
Motorists angered by soaring fuel pump prices, already up by 30 percent in recent months as world oil prices soar to fresh records, would be mollified by "cent-for-cent" fuel tax cuts balancing price hikes coming from the emissions scheme.
With Treasury officials on Wednesday estimating the sale of permits could net government up to A$20 billion, big polluting energy firms would receive up to 30 percent of total permits free of charge, including agriculture, the government said.
The largest polluters, producing more than 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per A$1 million of revenue, would initially pay for only 10 percent of their total emissions. Companies producing between 1,500-2,000 tonnes would pay for 40 percent of emissions.
Assistance would taper off with time to allow companies to replace dirty technology with cleaner production methods, the report said.
Other energy-intensive firms like cement and aluminium manufacturers exposed to cheap competitors in Asia would also receive grants from a new Climate Change Action Fund to be set up with the proceeds of emission permit sales.
Environmental critics and the government's top climate adviser, who two weeks ago recommended no assistance for motorists or major polluters, will accuse Rudd of taking too soft a line on climate shift.
The report did not say what Australia's overall emissions cap should be, or place a price on carbon emissions apart from a working assumption of A$20 a tonne, used for the inflation estimate.
The government is to release those figures, which will set the market price, later this year ahead of laws to go to parliament in early 2009 setting up the emissions scheme. ($1=A$1.02) (Canberra newsroom;; +61-2-6273-3700)

The low-carbon road out of poverty

The government's current transport policy fosters oil dependence and exacerbates problems for the poorest households

Lee Waters,
Tuesday July 15, 2008

Critics of a new policy that increases the cost of running gas-guzzling cars are calling it "a 10p tax on wheels". Edmund King of the AA is the latest to evoke the government's recent tax trauma to try and induce a similar U-turn.
Labour is particularly sensitive to the charge that it is neglecting struggling families, and nearly 50 Labour backbenchers have taken the hint and signed an amendment to the finance bill, asking the government to rethink its plans for car tax.
But while it is a compelling narrative, does it withstand scrutiny? Are the poorest households best served by a bidding war on car and fuel tax?
Citizens Advice don't think so. It sees families every day struggling to absorb the rising fuel price and consider attempts to reduce the cost of motoring to be "simplistic". "This is not a question of choice, but necessity," it says.
We've been used to fuel costing the same as mineral water and we have designed our towns and cities around the assumption that we can all hop in the car. But not everyone can.
As Sue Edwards, head of consumer policy at Citizens Advice puts it: "Over the past decades jobs, shops, schools, and many other destinations have increasingly become accessible only by car. Public transport alternatives are often thin on the ground or expensive, and distance and an unsafe environment can make walking and cycling impossible even over short distances."
And yet transport policy is still chiefly focused on the car, which simply compounds the transport poverty suffered by the poorest.
As a report for the sustainable transport charity Sustrans points out, buying and running a car is already a major cause of people getting into trouble with debts, and those on low wages who do have cars spend nearly a quarter of their income on the cost of motoring. In some of the most deprived parts of south Wales, 35% of families are car-less and many more feel forced to "invest" in a car to access jobs and services.
As seductive as it seems, trying to match increases in oil with tax cuts is a road to nowhere for the poorest. Instead we need to focus on how to shift our transport system away from oil dependency.
Switching local journeys to a more sustainable form of transport would be a start: 60% of our car trips are less than five miles long, and with a number of small changes most of these could be taken by public transport, by foot or by bicycle. As well as making us fitter and reducing our carbon emissions, a shift to low carbon forms of transport is a key step to making our economy more resilient to further oil shocks.

Ecotown loophole leaves door open for polluters

Juliette Jowit,
Tuesday July 15, 2008

Homes in "ecotowns" could generate more pollution than most existing properties because of a loophole in the plans announced by ministers.
As controversy over the plans for up to 10 new towns mounts, it has emerged that there is an escape clause in the building standards for the estimated 100,000 new flats and houses.
Caroline Flint, the housing minister, has said all ecohomes will have to meet at least "code level 3" of the building regulations, which reduces the maximum carbon emissions from new homes by about one quarter compared to the current standard.
However the level 3 rules allow developers who build homes with electric heating a higher cap on greenhouse gas emissions than if gas heating is used. The means money can be saved on the measures needed to reduce emissions, a loophole already being exploited according to experts.
Flint has also been attacked for not insisting on higher standards – which go up to level 6 – under which all home heating and electricity-use has to be "zero carbon".
"We have withdrawn our support for so-called ecotowns. The way they are being rolled out is firstly not going to help our carbon emissions, and secondly they are creating a sense of cynicism amongst the public who see the use of ecotowns as a greenwash tactic for the government's house building programme," said Greg Barker, the Conservative shadow environment minister.
"If they are really serious about cutting emissions and making a success of the code for sustainable homes they will close this loophole immediately."
Flint recently went on the defensive over ecotowns after weeks of growing rebellion, led by celebrities including actors Dame Judi Dench and John Nettles, and the parents of former tennis player Tim Henman. Flint published a poll showing public support for ecotowns outnumbers opposition by five to one, though fewer than half those polled were in favour.
Plans for five ecotowns by 2016 and up to five more by 2020 were announced in 2007 on top of existing government proposals to build at least 370,000 flats and houses to meet a forecast shortage of three million homes by 2020.
The code level 3 – which is currently mandatory for social housing but not private developments – sets annual carbon dioxide emission limits about 25% lower than current "Part L" standards.
For an average three-bedroom semi-detached house the limit for gas-heated homes is reduced from 2,203kg to 1,640kg a year, and for electrically heated homes from 3,118kg to 2,324kg a year. The difference – which allows electrically-heated homes 40% higher emissions than gas-heated ones – was intended to cover houses where a main gas supply was not available.
Government officials said the promise that the new towns would be zero carbon across the whole development would ensure builders did not take advantage of the higher emissions limit.
"Ecotowns will have to meet tougher green standards than those set out for building other new houses and any suggestions otherwise are wrong," said a spokesman for the department for communities and local government.
"They must meet zero-carbon status across the entire development, including shops, offices and schools – a more demanding standard than delivering zero-carbon houses alone." In addition, from 2016, when later ecotowns would be built, all new homes must be zero carbon, said the spokesman.
However industry experts said the lower cost of building electrically-heated homes, particularly using air-source heat-pumps, would encourage developers to do this, while there was no guarantee from government that they would not allow ecotowns to declare themselves zero carbon by building renewable energy schemes off-site, and possibly far away.
This would take up valuable sites, especially for wind farms, which could otherwise be used to reduce emissions from existing homes. It would also increase the amount of power generation which needs to be built because of losses in transmission over longer distances.
Home owners' heating costs would also rise in electrically-heated homes, and there would be less investment in micro-generation, said Adrian Hewitt, a director partner of sustainability and energy consultancy Metropolis Green. "There's a danger of an otherwise creditable government ambition being confounded because of loopholes," he said.
Consultant Richard Hodkinson said it was cheaper by "single figures thousands of pounds" for developers to meet code 3 standards by fitting air source heat-pumps, which run off electricity, rather than with gas boilers.
This is because of the additional insulation work needed to meet the lower emissions standard for gas-heated homes, which might also require fitting renewable energy such as solar hot water panels. As a result, heat pumps were becoming the "emerging solution", he said.

British schools to join carbon trading scheme

David Adam,
Tuesday July 15, 2008

Schools are to join airlines, power stations and supermarkets in trading carbon, under British government plans to tackle global warming to be announced on Wednesday.
Hilary Benn, environment secretary, will say that pollution from state schools is to be included in a scheme that will force hotels, universities and other medium sized organisations to buy and sell carbon permits.
The scheme, due to start in 2010, will run alongside the European Emissions Trading Scheme, which already includes the largest polluters such as cement makers. The EETS will be expanded to include airlines from 2012.
The school emissions will join those from fire fighters, leisure centres, town halls and other public sector buildings as counting towards the total carbon footprint of local authorities participating in the scheme. The schools will not trade carbon directly – that will be the responsibility of the local authority.
Benn said: "Young people stand to gain most tomorrow from the action we take on climate change today. That's why schools should be included in the shift to a low carbon economy.
"Bringing schools into the carbon footprint of local authorities taking part in this scheme will encourage greater energy efficiency, with children seeing the results in their own schools."
The UK trading scheme, called the Carbon Reduction Commitment, will include about 5,000 organisations with electricity bills over £500,000 a year.
The government says the scheme will be financially neutral overall, with those bodies who cut their emissions being rewarded and those who overshoot their allowances being forced to buy extra permits.

U.S. electric utility has 12-year plan to shape debate on carbon emissions

By Matthew L. Wald
Published: July 15, 2008

Exelon, the largest U.S. operator of nuclear power plants, said Tuesday that by 2020 it would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by an amount larger than its total emissions in 2008, in a bid to shape the debate on carbon dioxide rules and to get a jump on compliance.
Numerous academic researchers and nonprofit groups have made proposals for cutting emissions, but the Exelon plan is an unusual public presentation devised by a company that hopes to make money in the process. The plan relies heavily on conservation and having existing nuclear plants produce more electricity, but it includes smaller contributions from wind and sun energy.
The reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would come by making Exelon's operations more efficient, cutting the energy use of its electricity customers and building low-carbon generators that would displace older, less-efficient plants, many operated by rivals, the company, based in Chicago, said.
One reason for the pledge is to seek credit for actions that cut emissions of other companies, the Exelon chairman and chief executive, John Rowe, said. For example, Exelon plans to help the factories that it serves do the same work with less electricity so that some generating stations, owned by Exelon or other companies, will burn less fuel. Exelon also wants to build generating stations that use natural gas more efficiently to replace coal plants in the Midwestern and Eastern United States - probably owned by other companies - that emit far more carbon dioxide.
"Dealing with greenhouse gases, while essential, is very costly," Rowe said. "If you have an adequate way of accounting for offsets and displacements, we think we can offset our carbon footprint at a reasonable price."

Some components of the plan, like trying to bolster the output of its nuclear plants, are moves that Exelon would have taken anyway, Rowe said. One major step is made financially feasible by changes in the fuel markets: The price of natural gas is now so high that efficient generating stations can be built profitably to replace older plants.
But the plan is remarkable for what it does not emphasize. Despite a national focus on solar and wind power, discussions in Congress about renewed tax credits for investments in windmills and solar energy systems, and debate over a government requirement for a minimum level of "renewable" energy, Exelon's plan calls for relatively little renewable energy.
New "renewable" energy, including plants that run on landfill gas or wood or crop waste, makes up just 7 percent of the carbon savings. In the region that the company serves in Pennsylvania, where state law requires electricity distributors to buy "renewable energy credits" from companies that generate with wind and other sources, it will buy the equivalent of an additional 6.5 percent.
Burning coal but capturing and sequestering the carbon dioxide underground are not technologies that Exelon thinks will be cost competitive by 2020.
In contrast, the plan calls for improving the efficiency of its fossil-fuel-powered plants. It also calls for cutting the release of sulfur hexafluoride, a gas used to insulate circuit breakers but which is 24,000 times more potent for global warming than carbon dioxide.
"This is a mix of things that any sensible person would do, and of things that you only can economically do if the cost of climate are incorporated into the marketplace," Rowe said, referring to carbon taxes or limits that require emissions trading. Exelon's carbon footprint is relatively small, because it has many nuclear reactors, he said.Blackstone invests in wind
Blackstone Group, a U.S. private equity firm, said Tuesday that it would invest in a €1 billion project to build and manage a German offshore wind farm capable of powering half a million homes, Reuters reported from Berlin.
The wind farm will be the latest in a growing number aiming to cash in on European renewable energy subsidies, but will have to overcome supply and labor bottlenecks as well as lingering uncertainty over the reliability of offshore turbine technology, analysts said.
Blackstone said it had formed a joint venture, Meerwind, with Windland Energieerzeugungs in Germany for the $1.6 billion, 400 megawatt project, spread over an area of 40 square kilometers, or 25 miles.
"Projects of this scale were made possible thanks to the reformed regulations and incentives system in Germany that were passed in the German parliament in early June," Blackstone said.

Weather Eye: unexpected consequences of global warming

Paul Simons

Climate change is having some unexpected consequences all over the world. In the Arctic, Inuit communities are seeing their first wasps, and radio broadcasts have been needed to caution about the hazards of trying to touch the wasps, which are flying farther north as the Arctic warms.
European brewers are facing a crisis as their traditional hops are wilting from drought and heat, and a programme has begun to make them more drought-tolerant.
The famous geysers of Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, are slowing down; Old Faithful’s regular eruptions have shifted by an extra 16 minutes in eight years. The reason is that the geysers’ water supplies are dwindling as the climate turns drier.
Perhaps the most unexpected impact of global warming is a rise in the number of kidney stones. These painful stones result from salts crystallising in the kidneys, often caused by dehydration. The hotter the climate, the more cases of kidney stones occur and the southern US regions get around 50 per cent more cases than northern states. The number of cases has been rising since temperatures began to warm noticeably from the late 1970s. As the climate warms, the zone of high risk for kidney stones is expected to push northwards, and by 2050 an estimated 1.6 million new cases are predicted.