Thursday, 7 August 2008

Researchers chart fuel-rich areas in Arctic for first time

Race to claim gas areas prompts boundary map to head off future disputes between nations including Russia and Canada
James Meikle and agencies,
Wednesday August 06 2008 13:31 BST

The race to carve up the Arctic for its oil, gas and mineral reserves has been charted for the first time in an attempt to alert international policy makers to serious territorial disputes that could result.

A new map (pdf) is designed to illustrate historical, ongoing and potential arguments about ownership in the competition to control areas rich in natural resources.
Its publication by Durham University researchers comes as a growing number of states including the UK cast their eyes towards polar regions and big slices of the ocean floors.
Countries must establish sovereignty over disputed territories if they are to exploit their undiscovered, technologically recoverable energy reserves.
The attempts to assert such rights have already alarmed conservationists who want better international protection for the poles as climate change melts the ice and opens up more land and seabeds for exploration.
Last year, a Russian submarine planted a flag on the seabed below the North Pole to highlight its claim to a big chunk of the Arctic. Other disputes could involve Canada, US , Denmark (through Greenland), Iceland and Norway.
The Arctic map has been prepared by Durham's International Boundaries Research Unit.
Its director, Martin Pratt, said a survey by the US Geological Survey estimated that a fifth of the so-far undiscovered but recoverable resources lay within the Arctic Circle. "We are talking 90 million barrels of oil, nearly 17 hundred trillion cubic feet. I cannot even imagine how much that is, but it is a lot. I suppose for any state, control is significant as other resources dwindle."
Pratt said the map was an attempt "to collate information and predict the way in which the Arctic region may eventually be divided up. The freezing land and seas of the Arctic are likely to be getting hotter in terms of geopolitics." There was likely to be increasing concern over damage to the "unique environment" of the Arctic.
"It is vulnerable and extracting oil and gas is not an environmentally friendly activity."Russia first made a submission about the areas to the UN over the area in 2001. Claims are made under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Coastal states can extend their rights beyond the 200-mile limit from their shoreline if there is a continental shelf.
Russia claims its continental shelf extends along a mountain chain under the Arctic called the Lomonosov Ridge. Its flag-waving last year was part of its determination to provide more weight to the claim, which have to be verified by geological and sub-sea surveys.The US has yet to even sign up to the UN convention

High oil prices spur demand for low energy electronics

By Rhee So-eui Reuters
Published: August 7, 2008

SEOUL: These days when customers walk into electronics stores, the first question they ask is how much electricity the fridge, washing machine or laptop computer they are contemplating buying consumes.
"Energy savings were not exactly a hot topic among customers last year," said Kim Dong-han at South Korean electronics retailer Hi-Mart. "But this year, nine out of ten people ask point blank whether a product will help them save money."
With oil at around $145 a barrel and electricity costs jumping, consumers are becoming preoccupied with keeping down their power bills. Electronics makers that develop energy efficient product lines and market them effectively to customers may get an edge in a gloomy global economy, firms say.
"Going green is not only eco-friendly but crucial for business," said Kim Jik-soo, a spokesman at LG Electronics Inc . "This goes beyond just products, extending throughout the development and manufacturing process."
From washing machines that use steam instead of hot water, to fridges that use low energy compressors, to low power computer screens, electronics firms are furiously developing energy efficient products and heavily promoting lines already on the market that use less electricity than competitors' brands.

"My electricity bill more than doubles in the summer as we turn on the air conditioner," said Park Yu-jin, 32, a housewife in Seoul with two kids.
"I also have to do lots of laundry for the kids. The bill now easily tops 170,000 won (86 pounds) a month."
Homemakers such as Park are increasingly buying front-load washing machines, which use gravity to move water instead of agitators as in top loaders.
And now, newfangled washers from LG Electronics Inc and Whirlpool Corp offer an option to use steam instead of hot water, cutting water and power use by more than 70 percent compared with some top-load models.
"We will gradually shift to front loaders and the steam technology will become more mainstream," said LG spokesman Kim.
LG expects four out of ten frontload washers it sells in North America to use steam technology by the end of this year, compared with two out of ten currently.
Their biggest appliance plant in South Korea makes mostly front loaders, while recently built plants such as one in Russia have stopped manufacturing top loaders altogether.
Among refrigerators, which consume 30 percent of overall power in a typical home, traditional compressors are giving way to linear compressors that use up to 40 percent less power and make less noise.
In the computing industry, power-saving has long been a key priority as bigger and hungrier gadgets challenge battery life.
PC makers from Apple Inc to the Lenovo Group are replacing screens lit by conventional cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) with light emitting diode (LED) displays.
"LED saves up to 40 percent of the power used in traditional backlights," said Jeff Kim, an analyst at Hyundai Securities. "Next year they will be commonly found in notebook screens, and will be increasingly used in TV panels from 2010."
Market researcher DisplaySearch expects LED-backlit displays to account for 50 percent of notebook panels in 2010, up from 12 percent this year. By 2015, all laptop displays will use LEDs, generating sales of $6 billion.
LED is also set to claim traditional incandescent lamps in buildings and on streets. Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co recently replaced lighting in the South Korean parliament building with new LED products and reported LED consumed just one sixth the power of incandescent bulbs.
But too often, these energy-efficient products carry a hefty price premium to reflect the cost of developing new technologies, which in turn hampers faster adoption.
For instance, Whirlpool's washing machines with steam feature are sold at $1,300-$1,500, compared with a traditional machine priced at $700.
Still, makers argue that the lifetime savings from green products could amount to the price of the appliance itself.
"You could buy another 32-inch LCD TV within 3 years with the money saved on electricity from our 52-inch power-saving TV," said LG's Kim, referring to a new TV model with a sensor that adjusts brightness to match surrounding light levels.
Sometimes a little incentive helps.
Japanese electronics retailer Bic Camera Inc is running a campaign in which buyers of eco-friendly products get extra credit points that can be used for future purchases.
"That's a little nudge to help people buy products that are more efficient, even if they are slightly more expensive," said Naoko Ito, a Bic Camera spokeswoman. "Consumer interest is high."
A U.S. survey by Forrester Research last year found that green consumers, who agree to pay extra for electronics that use less energy or come from an environmentally friendly maker, are more brand-loyal than average consumers.
"More than 25 million U.S. adults fall into this segment, enough for even the largest consumer electronics marketers to target," Forrester analyst Christopher Mines said.
"Green-targeted PCs and other electronics will evolve as part of the consumer electronics industry's move to go beyond 'beige box' design," he said. "Apple certainly leads the way here."
A green-technology product that establishes new benchmarks and appeals to concerned consumers "will have an iconic market presence if done right," Mines adds.
(Additional reporting by Mayumi Negishi in Tokyo; Editing by Marie-France Han and Megan Goldin)

Introducing the hybrid you can hear (so it won't run you over)

By Michael SavageThursday, 7 August 2008

Lotus said its "safe and sound hybrid technology" simulates the traditional grunt of a combustion engine

The fearsome roar of their engines is one of the first things to come to mind at the mention of Lotus, the stylish, lightweight British sports cars.
That familiar growl could soon be heard coming from a far more modest source: beneath the hitherto tranquil bonnets of other manufacturers' electric cars.
Lotus is developing technology that will put the roar of the traditional combustion engine under the hoods of eco-friendly vehicles, in an attempt to make the quiet cars safer for unsuspecting pedestrians – particularly the blind – and cyclists.
Stealthy hybrids and electric cars have come in for criticism from groups representing the blind and partially sighted, concerned that the low hum of the vehicles puts those with imperfect sight at greater risk of being hit on the roads. Some are almost silent at slow speeds.
Lotus said its "safe and sound hybrid technology" simulates the traditional grunt of a combustion engine, making it "instantly recognisable that the vehicle is in motion".
It has already put the system into a Toyota Prius, one of the most popular hybrid cars on the market. The device kicks in automatically to produce an artificial engine noise when the hybrid car runs on its electric motor. When the car's combustion engine takes over, sensors fitted to the engine and suspension turn off the sound.
The engine noise is produced by a waterproof loudspeaker positioned next to the car's radiator, making the sound seem to originate from under the bonnet. The system produces a pitch and frequency designed to help pedestrians identify the car's speed and distance.
Lotus adapted the system from technology previously developed to block outside noise from the inside of its cars.
Electric vehicles are tipped to become a more common sight on the roads over the coming decade as drivers seek ways of minmising the cost of ever-higher petrol prices and the issue of global warming moves up the agenda.
Mike Kimberley, chief executive of Group Lotus, said: "The increased acceptance of greener vehicles such as hybrid and electric vehicles is to be encouraged; they have an important role in improving fuel economy and reducing emissions. Our technology increases pedestrian safety, while retaining the car's environmental benefits."
Duncan Vernon, road safety manager for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "We need to look at ways of ensuring the safety of pedestrians. We welcome innovative solutions which address this."
Lotus hopes that manufacturers of electric and hybrid cars will adopt the technology, which it says can also be fitted to cars already on the roads for a sum that would not "break the bank".
Pressure is growing on the Government to introduce minimum noise requirements for road vehicles, to ensure the noise-augmenting technology is used and that the new wave of quiet eco-friendly cars poses no risk to vulnerable pedestrians.
Clive Wood, transport policy officer at the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, said: "Blind and partially sighted people use the noise of oncoming traffic as a cue for when it is safe to cross a road. If a quiet hybrid electric vehicle is approaching, then they will no longer have this cue and are immediately put at risk."
He added: "We recognise the environmental benefits of these vehicles. However, more consideration needs to be given to the safety implications to visually impaired pedestrians."
Silent danger on the street
*Electric and hybrid cars are so quiet many fear they pose a risk to pedestrians. One US study found electric and hybrid cars moving slowly had to be 40 per cent closer to pedestrians than conventional vehicles before their location could be detected. They have no noisy pistons, internal explosions or fan belts which cause the roar we associate with the traditional car engine. Hybrids pose an added problem. For much of the time, they are powered by a combustion engine. But at low speeds, an electric motor takes over, making them very quiet. The new system from Lotus kicks in when sensors detect the electric motor is working.

Carmakers race for green technology lead

By John Reed in London
Published: August 6 2008 20:19

Maria Recchia-O’Neill got more than she bargained for when she began driving an experimental hydrogen-powered, zero-emission car around Westchester county, New York.
The 50-year-old teacher liked the brisk acceleration and uncanny quietness of the car, which is powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell stack that runs an electric motor and emits only water vapour via four slots on its rear end.

“I bonded with it,” Ms Recchia-O’Neill said of General Motors’ Equinox sport utility vehicle. What surprised her, however, was what she calls the “spewing of feelings” by other motorists tired of exorbitant fuel prices or worried about emissions. “People would roll down their windows at intersections, or give me the high-five or thumbs-up sign,” she recalls. “Their biggest question was, ‘When can I buy one?’ ”
The car is not yet available to retail customers, and GM – like most other carmakers testing fuel-cell cars – says mass production is at least a decade away. GM last year began offering 100 Equinoxes on a pilot basis to drivers who live near hydrogen filling stations.
Some analysts doubt that fuel-cell cars, because of their costly infrastructure requirements, will ever come into widespread use.
However, fuel-cell technology – along with hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles – is getting a boost from soaring petrol prices. A century after Henry Ford’s Model T revolutionised the way cars were made and sold, carmakers are developing new hybrid, hydrogen and electric models that will over time reduce their reliance on the internal combustion engine.
Deutsche Bank, in a recent research report, forecast that motor vehicle technology would “change more significantly over the next five years than it has in the past 100”. Katsuaki Watanabe, president of Toyota, GM’s biggest global rival, speaks of a future car that “makes the air cleaner” as you drive.
Americans have embraced alternative fuel cars such as the Prius, Toyota’s best-selling hybrid, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the car’s 1m-plus sales to date. In a sign of hydrogen’s emergence as an automotive technology, GM last year moved fuel cells from its research and development division into its business unit that develops powertrains.
America’s largest carmaker, which has suffered ratings downgrades and lost $15.5bn in the second quarter as sales of SUVs and pick-up trucks plummeted, is also developing the Chevrolet Volt, a battery-powered saloon due to launch in 2010.
With petrol prices touching record levels, car technology has occupied centre stage in the US presidential campaign.
Barack Obama, the Democratic contender, this week promised $4bn for development of plug-in hybrids, with 1m of the cars to be ready for sale by 2015.
He also backed tax credits for buyers of future electric cars – something GM wants to bring the Volt within reach of ordinary Americans’ pockets.
John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, in June proposed a $300m prize for the inventor of a next-generation battery powerful enough for long-range electric cars.
But much of the investment in alternative powertrains is now coming from non-US carmakers. Alongside GM and Ford, Germany’s Daimler and Japan’s Toyota and Honda also have advanced fuel-cell programmes.
“We’re seeing all the major manufacturers racing to be the first to market,” says Jonathan Butler, analyst with Fuel Cell Today, a UK-based consultant.
Honda recently launched the FCX Clarity, a hydrogen-powered sedan. The carmaker, which is adding three models to its own hybrid range, began delivering the cars to about 200 customers in southern California last month for three-year, $600-a-month leases.
As well as reducing fuel bills and emissions, hydrogen cars could also help carmakers by lowering material costs. A fuel-cell car has about 10 per cent of the moving parts of a conventional vehicle.
But some carmakers and environmentalists remain sceptical about fuel-cells’ potential.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have hydrogen passenger fuel-cell vehicles because the alternatives are more attainable and more affordable,” says Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars, a California-based advocacy group that favours plug-in hybrid cars.
Mr Kramer and others query the technology’s green credentials because of the carbon emissions generated when hydrogen is derived for fuel. Limited refuelling infrastructure also means that the few hundred hydrogen cars on the road worldwide are all custom-built, and prohibitively costly.
When testing the car, Ms Recchia-O’Neill was unable to visit her daughter in Boston because she would have been unable to refuel. However, she describes testing the car as a “great experience.” “I felt like this was making history,” she says.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Biofuel debate faces showdown in USA

· 25% of US corn crop already used for biofuel· Texas governor wants biofuel target cut by 50%· Barack Obama wants big increase to 60bn gallons
Elana Schor in Washington,
Wednesday August 06 2008 10:48 BST

An operator displays a handful of corn at an ethanol plant. Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters
The moment of truth is at hand for US biofuels this week as environmental regulators prepare to rule on one state's request to halve the steep national target for blending ethanol into fuel.
Texas governor Rick Perry asked the US environmental protection agency (EPA) in April to cut the national biofuels target 50% from its current level of 9bn gallons. After an unexpected delay last month, the EPA is expected to rule on Perry's waiver request as soon as this week.
The waiver proposal has stoked a fierce political row over the future of biofuels, with some US politicians echoing their European counterparts in questioning whether ethanol's effect on food prices limits its usefulness as an alternative to traditional fuel.
"We need to put an end to flawed government policies that distort the markets, raise food prices artificially, and pit producers against consumers," senator John McCain said in May after he and 23 fellow Republicans endorsed an easing of the ethanol target.
Three major environmental groups have even sided with the conservative governor – albeit with different motives than Perry, who sought the waiver to protect Texas livestock producers from rising corn prices.
Suspending the biofuels target would allow the EPA the environmental sustainability of increased ethanol production, according to Friends of the Earth energy policy campaigner Kate McMahon.
"This biofuels mandate essentially dictates inaction on climate change by taking us in a useless and potentially harmful direction," McMahon said in a statement last month.
Yet powerful supporters of increased ethanol production hail from nearly every corn-producing state in the US, including an Illinois senator named Barack Obama. In his energy plan released this week, the Democratic presidential nominee sets a 60bn-gallon target within 22 years for advanced biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.
The ethanol industry's US trade group, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), asserts that the carbon footprint of ethanol – already lower than that of conventional petrol – will only decrease as the ethanol target encourages the development of advanced biofuel.
"We're doing everything we can, as efficiently as we can, to bring those technologies to the marketplace," RFA spokesman Matt Hartwig said.
"But if you go in and undermine the foundation of the ethanol industry today, you'll set back the development of those next-generation technologies."
That more and more US corn is being diverted to make ethanol is not in dispute. The US agriculture department estimates that 25% of the nation's corn crop, valued at $52.1bn, was used for fuel last year. That number could rise as high as 35% this year.
But the ethanol industry argues that high oil prices, not biofuels, are to blame for food prices that have risen far faster than inflation.
Only one-quarter of recent US corn price increases are attributable to the ethanol tax credit – recently reduced by Congress from 51 cents to 45 cents per gallon – according to a Purdue University study commissioned by the Farm Foundation.
A confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian last month, however, tagged biofuels as the cause of a 75% rise in worldwide food prices.
The EPA's delay in ruling on the Texas waiver request, which sparked more than 15,000 public comments to the agency, raised concerns among those on both sides of the biofuels battle.
Eight senators from corn-producing states publicly warned EPA administrator Stephen Johnson against "any agreements being made behind closed doors".
Meanwhile, some commodity watchers predicted that falling corn prices this summer would give the agency grounds to deny the waiver.
No matter what the EPA decides in coming days, the battle may not end right away. Biofuels supporters are likely to challenge any potential waiver in court, and Perry appears to have laid the groundwork for a lawsuit against the agency if his request is denied.
According to Carbon Control News, Perry wrote in comments to the EPA that the law requires a waiver of the ethanol target "whenever [Johnson] is able to make a reasonable determination that a major sacrifice would flow from the implementation of the mandates".

New wave power generation

An experiment to harness the sea's energy could be helping to produce power within five years, according to its supporters
Michael Pollitt
The Guardian,
Thursday August 7 2008

Computer simulation of how the Anaconda would look at sea

Professor John Chaplin of the University of Southampton likes solving fundamental fluid mechanics problems. But, say colleagues of this formidable theoretician, he also enjoys experiments in large water tanks. Chaplin has just been awarded £430,000 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to find out how well an Anaconda wave energy converter will perform.
The Anaconda isn't his idea, though: it's the brainchild of semi-retired physicist Professor Francis Farley FRS and Professor Rod Rainey, head of floating structures at WS Atkins Oil and Gas. Farley has worked on wartime gunnery radar, particle physics and wave energy while Rainey is an expert on floating offshore structures.
Battle of the bulge
Farley and Rainey's invention is a giant rubber tube closed at both ends, filled with water and anchored in the sea with one end facing oncoming waves. It relies on "bulge" waves, which form inside when a passing wave squeezes the tube. As the bulge wave moves down the tube, the wave that caused it runs along the outside at the same speed - making the bulge wave inside grow even bigger. This action turns a power-generating turbine at Anaconda's far end.
Rainey first dreamed up the idea after thinking about Professor Michael French's Lancaster Floating Bag from the 1970s, which dampened wave action at harbour entrances. Rainey wondered about exploiting bulge waves and predicted a resonant interaction with the sea. "Not fully convinced by his formulae, I tried another mathematical approach and discovered to my surprise that the bulge should grow rapidly along the tube, running just in front of the wave," he says.
Some experiments then followed, gluing together thin rubber sheets to form water-filled tubes. "Great fun, but rather messy," says Farley, who has worked on several wave energy projects.
They then patented the concept and turned to John Chaplin at Southampton University who works on wave/structure interactions. "I get rung up once a month or so by mad inventors," he says. But, given their academic prowess, Farley and Rainey were worth listening to. "They came here with various tubes they'd built in their garages. We tried the idea out in one or two tanks," says Chaplin. Watching these experiments convinced him. "It seemed to have a very good prospect of escaping two big problems that all wave power devices have to face." These are generating power from modest waves and surviving rough seas.
Using a flexible material like rubber has an advantage. Normally, rigid wave energy devices are matched to wave frequency which determines a structural size. "The Anaconda escapes that because you can achieve similar resonance by making the speed of the bulge wave - the natural speed of the bulge wave in the tube - match the speed of the water waves outside," says Chaplin.
Now, a two-year EPSRC project (The Hydrodynamics of a Distensible Wave Energy Converter) will investigate Anaconda's potential as understanding the wave response is essential (it bulges, bends, twists, and stretches). In collaboration with its inventors and Checkmate SeaEnergy (which has a licence to manufacture), Chaplin and his colleague, Professor Grant Hearn, will undertake experiments and computational studies.Powerful Anaconda
The Anaconda prototype is 25cm in diameter and in varying lengths with a simulated power take-off. Eventually, a turbine will use a unidirectional flow between high and low pressure tanks in the tail (water flows into one tank and out of the other thanks to one-way valves). Work with 50cm diameter tubes will investigate behaviour in different wave conditions, measure various parameters, and estimate power output.
A full-scale 100-tonne Anaconda will be 200 metres long and 7 metres in diameter. It will produce 1 megawatt (enough for 2,000 homes) at a cost of 6p or less per kilowatt hour.
Anaconda's development - rubber tube and power take-off - is at Checkmate Group's engineering division, Avon Fabrications. Making huge tubes is challenging although, in Rainey's view, rubber is a "pretty formidable marine material". He has no fears about the design despite wave power's "terrible history" of failure.
Farley believes that Anaconda has a good capture of wave energy, is flexible, and is cheaper than other devices. "We could see the first full-size device deployed off the UK coast in around five years' time," adds Chaplin.
Despite such confidence, energy expert Professor Ian Fells worries about Anaconda's survivability at sea. Fells has long been involved in marine energy and appreciates the difficulties (and great expense) of scaling devices up. "They have to think very seriously how well this will cope with very large waves which occur now and then," he says.

Rentech opens synthetic fuel plant in US

The Associated Press
Published: August 7, 2008

COMMERCE CITY, Colorado: Energy supplier Rentech Inc. says it has opened a synthetic diesel and jet fuel plant in Colorado which is now the only operating one of its kind in the country.
Los Angeles-based Rentech said Wednesday its demonstration plant in Commerce City, Colo. is designed to produce 420 gallons (1,600 liters) a day — a mere trickle compared with the needs of airlines and trucking companies.
Company officials said their natural gas-based fuel will be sold to the Department of Defense and private companies for further testing. That testing could lead to certifying the fuel for commercial use in the airline industry.
Airlines have pressed for synthetic alternatives to expensive petroleum-based jet fuel, which jumped in price during the past few years and slashed profits from the industry.
Synthetic fuel has yet to be certified for U.S. airlines. However, a coalition of airline, manufacturing and airport associations wants standards for a 50 percent synthetic jet fuel approved by the end of the year.

Other U.S. companies have produced synthetic jet fuels in the past for research purposes, but they've since shut down, said National Energy Technology Laboratory spokesman Joe Culver.

Investment firms fund clean energy

By OLIVER SMIDDYAugust 7, 2008

The clean-energy sector has received a surge in investment from venture-capital and private-equity firms this year.
The sector attracted $2.6 billion in investments from buyout groups and venture capital firms in the first quarter, and $5.8 billion in the second, according to data from specialist clean-energy research group New Energy Finance.
The combined global total of $8.4 billion in the first half this year is a 17% increase from the $7.2 billion invested in the sector a year earlier and a 65% increase from the equivalent period in 2006.
The increase was driven by $2.5 billion of investment from private-equity groups. First Reserve Corp., an energy sector-focused buyout firm, was particularly active, sealing four deals in the second quarter. It bought Spanish solar energy group Gamesa Solar for €261 million, and Italian solar group Ener3. It also invested $300 million in Osage Bio Energy LLC, a U.S.-based producer of barley-derived ethanol.
U.K.-based Doughty Hanson & Co. was also active in the sector, acquiring Svendborg Brakes for €460 million. Svendborg Brakes makes braking systems for the wind-energy industry.
• From Financial News at

Home-based wind power 'a waste of time' in the city

Published Date: 07 August 2008
By Jenny Haworth

DOMESTIC wind turbines are pointless in urban areas and benefit the environment only in rural locations, a report shows.
The study by the Carbon Trust shows that four times as much electricity and carbon is saved in rural areas than in urban locations, due to higher wind speeds.In urban areas, roof-mounted turbines may not pay back the carbon emitted during their production, installation and use.The study has found home wind power could provide just 0.4 per cent of the total UK electricity consumption and save 0.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.The report's authors said: "Relative to total UK electricity consumption and emissions from power generation, these figures are fairly low

Sunny Days for Solar Homes

European Subsidies Spur Business Boom; Selling Back to Grid
By EMMA CHARLTONAugust 7, 2008

LONDON -- High oil and gas prices have made residential solar energy more economical, sparking a jump in European demand.
With the price of crude oil up 64% from a year ago, Germany, France and other European governments are underwriting the shift to solar by allowing consumers to sell the energy they produce using photovoltaic cells -- which convert sunlight directly into electricity -- to the national grid at a profit.
"It's a clear trend. People are trying to get away from using oil and gas, where prices have risen a lot," said Uwe Trenkner, secretary general of the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation, or Estif. He estimated that the European market for solar thermal technology will expand by 20% to 30% this year as residential demand for solar panels grows.
Solar-power companies have taken note. China-based Suntech Power Holdings Co., the world's biggest maker of photovoltaic panels by revenue, said it plans to double production in 2009 from 2008. Germany's Q-Cells AG plans to increase production of solar cells by more than 60% by 2010.
Continental European governments have been pushing hard to increase solar technology use.
Germany has seen a sharp rise in the use of solar energy since the government introduced subsidy plans in the late 1990s. The country represents more than a third of the European solar thermal market and is still growing at a rapid pace, adding 33% in sales in the first four months of 2008, according to Estif estimates.
German solar-industry association Bundesverband Solarwirtschaft expects the sector's sales in Germany alone to almost double by 2010, rising to more than €13 billion ($20 billion) from about €7 billion in 2007.
The government's enthusiastic backing of the industry has resulted in Germany's producers claiming 20% of the global solar market, behind China and Japan.
The success of Germany's subsidy system has prompted other governments to follow suit, with France, Greece, Italy and Spain allowing consumers to sell power to the national grid.
Under these programs, commercial and residential consumers can sell the electricity they generate for about 40 to 50 European cents per unit, double what they pay for it, pocketing the difference.
Matthias Fawer, a sustainable-investment analyst at Bank Sarasin, said such programs will bolster the European solar industry in coming years, with Spain set to be the biggest growing market in 2008 as solar thermal technology becomes compulsory in new buildings.
In Greece, which boasts 274 sunny days per year on average, the solar-energy market is booming and the country expects to expand its 10% share of the European market rapidly in the coming years.
George Gounalakis, a Greek property developer and a director of Europlan-Crete, includes solar panels in all plans for new homes. He said they will allow homeowners to reduce their energy bill by at least 20% in the summer and 10% in the winter.
"Before, the solar panel would only last for four to five years. Now you can have the same panel for more than 20 years and they generate hot water very, very quickly," he said.
There is eight times as much residential and commercial capacity to produce solar energy in Europe as in the U.S., according to estimates from Swiss private banking group Bank Sarasin.
Soaring energy prices are driving the shift. In the 15 countries sharing the euro, energy prices were 16% higher in June than they were in the corresponding month last year, according to European Union statistics agency Eurostat.
In Italy, Bank Sarasin predicts that solar production will increase by more than 70% in 2008 from last year. "Italy now has an attractive subsidy system linked with nice sunshine, and consumers can profit from adopting the technology," Mr. Fawer said. He predicts the French market will also double in 2008, albeit from a low level.
In the U.K., the government grants help with the cost of solar installation, but there is no national tariff system.
Still, Oliver Duckworth, a director of U.K.-based Solar Thermal Ltd., a retailer of solar-thermal and biomass heating systems, said sales have doubled since the start of 2008, and the company exceeded last year's entire turnover by the half-year point.
"It's not just the 'green brigade' ringing up anymore. It's anyone, just people who want to save money in the time of rising fossil-fuel prices," he said. "It's very much driven by the oil price."
U.K. energy providers this summer raised gas prices by as much as 35% and electricity prices by as much as 17%. A report from Centrica -- the U.K.'s largest utility by customers -- predicts the average U.K. gas bill will average £1,000, or nearly $2,000 at current exchange rates, per year by 2010, up from £600 in 2007.
Richard White, a 52-year-old information-technology manager from Stroud in Gloucestershire, installed a solar-tubing system to heat water this year for £2,099 and expects the system to pay itself off after five years.
"It's already successful," he said. "We get 100% of household hot water on sunny days, 90% on overcast days and we expect to get 20% in winter."
Mr. White said he plans to explore using other environmentally friendly technologies such as photovoltaic cells and ground-source heat pumps.
Write to Emma Charlton at

Planning for the worst

The Guardian,
Thursday August 7 2008

Just like blades, phrases can be blunted by overuse. Talk of avoiding "catastrophic climate change" is so familiar, the words no longer instantly stir up apocalyptic images. But in the light of remarks from Defra's chief scientific adviser, it is worth recalling what would be involved. As the Guardian reports today, Professor Bob Watson says Britain must prepare for an increase in temperatures of 4C - a rise deep in catastrophe territory. Even at 3C between a fifth and a half of all species would face extinction. At 4C some human populations could be heading the same way. Swaths of Africa and the Mediterranean would be parched of water and see food production decimated. Over the decades, melting polar ice sheets would increase sea levels to the point where whole island nations - not to mention parts of Britain - would be smothered. The release of CO2 could spiral beyond human control if the heat stopped natural forest fires from burning themselves out. In the darkest scenario, civilisation would be on the slipway to oblivion.
Mercifully, that is far from certain - but with warming in excess of 2C very little is. Is Prof Watson encouraging fatalistic acceptance of it? Emphatically not. His responsibilities include advising not just on climate policy, but also flood defences. And the only responsible way to plan coastal barriers is on the basis of an honest appraisal of what the future could bring - however depressing that may be. In line with the Stern report and the IPCC, Prof Watson believes all governments should seek to contain global warming to 2C. He merely acknowledges that the chance that this target will not be met is too real to be ignored.
That is putting it mildly. Even if global emissions could be stabilised at current levels, a rise in excess of 2C would be a substantial possibility. Indeed it might become a probability if China and India follow the west and clean up their industry to tackle acid rain. (The sulphurous gases which cause that problem also offset global warming by reflecting sunlight.) Instead of stabilising, however, emissions continue to rise, and the political obstacles on turning the tide remain formidable. The passing of George W Bush next year will remove only one of several. The US is now so far above Kyoto baselines, that even when a more constructive president takes over - as either candidate would prove - they may demand a deal that takes account of this catastrophic starting point. But other countries who have been working to cut emissions might resist this as a reward for failure. There will be other sticking points, too. China is now the world's biggest emitter, so no meaningful deal can exclude it. But there is scope for argument about whether galloping emissions from the workshop of the world are the responsibility of the Chinese producers or the western consumers they serve. A recent report by the Stockholm Environment Institute has underlined this point.
The Stern report established that - from the point of view of the global economy - prevention is cheaper than cure. For individual countries, however, who consider the calculus in isolation, the balance will often be reversed. After all, even with a sizable economy such as Britain, whatever sacrifices are made to cut emissions the direct effect on the global emissions - and thus the climate - will be marginal, and self-interest starts to dictate a strategy of mitigating catastrophe instead.
Prof Watson acknowledges this miserable - yet hard - logic by suggesting preparations be set in train for a rise of up to 4C. But he rightly argues that rich countries can still recast the logic through coordinated action. A joint agreement to find a way of making carbon capture work, and to fund it, would be a first step. Every country could argue that the vast funds involved are unaffordable. Each, however, is one part of the same planet - and it can no longer afford delay.

US study finds mountain's snowpack may not yet be affected by climate change

Scientists report no clear evidence that human-induced climate change has caused a drop in 20th century snow levels,
Wednesday August 06 2008 15:33 BST

Maybe the snow in the Washington state's Cascade mountains isn't in such immediate peril from global warming after all.
Despite previous studies suggesting a warmer climate is already taking a bite out of Washington's snowpack, there's no clear evidence that human-induced climate change has caused a drop in 20th century snow levels, according to a new study by University of Washington scientists.
In fact, the newest study also predicts the Cascade snows - vital to water supplies, crop irrigation and salmon - could enjoy a delay in the effects of global warming.
But the findings have already become part of a scientific debate with an unusually political tone. It's an ongoing disagreement that has UW researchers taking sides against each other and has attracted the attention of political groups.
And a leading scientist on the other side of the debate said the latest analysis speculates about the future and offers little new about the past.
"They're trying to forecast the next 20 years or so, and I don't think they can do it," said Alan Hamlet, a UW hydrologist who has written papers about historic Cascade snowpack.
Past studies have frequently focused on steep declines in Cascade snowpack in the second half of the 20th century, with drops measuring 30% or more.
But Cliff Mass, a well-known UW meteorologist, said the new study, which he co-authored, shows it all depends on which years are examined. He and his co-authors argue snow levels were unusually high in the 1950s, creating a distorted picture of historic patterns.
Measurement of mountain snow levels were spotty before the 1950s, making it harder to get a complete picture. But Mass and his colleagues tried to estimate snowpack for earlier years based on measurement that did exist: the amount of water that flowed down streams as snow melted.
Using that method, they found a smaller drop in snowpack between the 1930s and today – 23%. That still may sound like a big drop, but the scientists argue that it could be statistically insignificant, so it's hard to say whether it's meaningful. They also say that many of the changes appear to be attributable to shifting weather patterns driven by the Pacific ocean.
"We can't see the global-warming signature in terms of a decline in snowpack," said Mark Stoelinga, the study's lead author, and a professor in the UW's atmospheric sciences department.
But, Mass doesn't say there's nothing to worry about. The north-west US is still on course for a big drop in snowpack - and the accompanying water-supply problems - by the end of the 21st century.
"We're in a place that is not going to warm up as quickly," Mass said at a recent conference by free-market think tank, the Washington Policy Centre. But "eventually global warming will have a profound effect".
The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Hamlet counters that the bigger historical picture - gradually declining snowpack over the 20th century - has already been put forward, most recently in a study published this year.
In fact, he wrote it, along with state climatologist Philip Mote, another UW scientist who has been a primary player in the ongoing dispute. Mote couldn't be reached to review the latest study.

Prepare for global temperature rise of 4C, warns top scientist

Defra's chief adviser says we need strategy to adapt to potential catastrophic increase
James Randerson, science correspondent
The Guardian,
Thursday August 7 2008

Drought-resistant plants such as these in the Majorelle gardens in Marrakech, Morocco, would become more common in British gardens. Photograph: Clay Perry/Corbis
The UK should take active steps to prepare for dangerous climate change of perhaps 4C according to one of the government's chief scientific advisers.
In policy areas such as flood protection, agriculture and coastal erosion Professor Bob Watson said the country should plan for the effects of a 4C global average rise on pre-industrial levels. The EU is committed to limiting emissions globally so that temperatures do not rise more than 2C.
"There is no doubt that we should aim to limit changes in the global mean surface temperature to 2C above pre-industrial," Watson, the chief scientific adviser to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told the Guardian. "But given this is an ambitious target, and we don't know in detail how to limit greenhouse gas emissions to realise a 2 degree target, we should be prepared to adapt to 4C."
Globally, a 4C temperature rise would have a catastrophic impact.
According to the government's 2006 Stern review on the economics of climate change, between 7 million and 300 million more people would be affected by coastal flooding each year, there would be a 30-50% reduction in water availability in Southern Africa and the Mediterranean, agricultural yields would decline 15 to 35% in Africa and 20 to 50% of animal and plant species would face extinction.
In the UK, the most significant impact would be rising sea levels and inland flooding. Climate modellers also predict there would be an increase in heavy rainfall events in winter and drier summers.
Watson's plea to prepare for the worst was backed up by the government's former chief scientific adviser, Sir David King. He said that even with a comprehensive global deal to keep carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere at below 450 parts per million there is a 50% probability that temperatures would exceed 2C and a 20% probability they would exceed 3.5C.
"So even if we get the best possible global agreement to reduce greenhouse gasses on any rational basis you should be preparing for a 20% risk so I think Bob Watson is quite right to put up the figure of 4 degrees," he said.
One big unknown is the stage at which dangerous tipping points would be reached that lead to further warming - for example the release of methane hydrate deposits in the Arctic. "My own feeling is that if we get to a 4 degree rise it is quite possible that we would begin to see a runaway increase," said King.
He said a two-and-half-year analysis by the government's Foresight programme on the implications for coastal defences had more impact in the corridors of power than any other research on the effects of climate change that he presented.
"No other single factor focussed the minds of the cabinet more than the analysis that I produced through that ... We begin to have to talk about ordered retreat from some areas of Britain because it becomes impossible to defend," he said. "There's no choice here between adaptation and mitigation, we have to do both."
Other experts were concerned that Watson's comments might be seen as defeatist and an admission that emissions reductions were impossible to achieve.
"At 4 degrees we are basically into a different climate regime," said Prof Neil Adger, an expert on adaptation to climate change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Norwich.
"I think that is a dangerous mindset to be in. Thinking through the implications of 4 degrees of warming shows that the impacts are so significant that the only real adaptation strategy is to avoid that at all cost because of the pain and suffering that is going to cost.
"There is no science on how we are going to adapt to 4 degrees warming. It is actually pretty alarming," he added.
Speaking to the Guardian, Watson, who is a former science adviser to President Clinton and ex-chief scientist at the World Bank, said the UK should take a lead in research on carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Alluding to the US effort in the 1960s to put a man on the moon he advocated an "Apollo-type programme" to introduce 10 to 20 CCS pilot projects - which work by burying carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels underground - among OECD countries to develop the technology.
"This would allow coal-fired power plants that are currently being built to be modular and capable of having carbon capture retrofitted, and would show the world that we take the issue of climate change seriously, thus demonstrating real leadership. Without this technology we have a real problem."
He also said as coal burning is cleaned up to remove harmful sulphur pollution climate change would actually get worse. The sulphur aerosols are actually preventing some warming from taking place currently.
"This offsetting effect, which is equivalent to about 100 parts per million of carbon dioxide, will largely disappear if China and India follow the lead of the US and Europe in limiting sulphur emissions, the cause of acid deposition," he said.

EU companies to get polluting permits

The Associated Press
Published: August 6, 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium: European companies will be able to gain a permit to pollute at home if they invest in projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere in the world by December, the European Commission said Wednesday.
Businesses in the European Union, such as power generation companies and steel makers, will be able to support CO2-reduction projects in developing countries in return for credits in the EU's carbon trading program, the commission said.
They can sell on these permits if they don't need them — giving them a financial incentive to become cleaner.
The EU's emissions trading scheme will link up with a United Nations Kyoto Protocol program before December at the latest, the commission said.
The U.N. Kyoto Protocol allows rich nations to offset some of their greenhouse gas emissions if they pay for projects to reduce carbon dioxide releases in poorer countries. These can range from tree-planting to replacing polluting coal-fired power plants with cleaner alternatives.

Carbon trading is at the heart of the European Union's push to cut carbon dioxide emissions by a fifth by 2020, a move it acknowledges will burden the economy with costs — although it says these will be easier to bear than the full impact of climate change.
Most industrialized countries — except the United States and Australia — have committed to cutting their output of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to below 1990 levels by 2012. China, India and other developing economies are exempt.

Boost for emissions trading scheme

By Nikki Tait in Brussels
Published: August 6 2008 16:29

European Union and United Nations systems for tracking the use of carbon credits will be connected before December, a move that should significantly facilitate emissions trading.
Brussels announced on Wednesday that the link-up would be in place “before December 2008 at the latest” following the successful completion of tests. The European Commission added that it was still negotiating with officials at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on a precise date but said this would be announced ”shortly”.

The connection will allow companies to transfer certified emission reductions (CERs) issued under the so-called Clean Development Mechanism, an UN-based Kyoto Protocol scheme, into their accounts in member state registries. These, in turn, can be used to offset emissions under the EU’s emissions trading system.
Under the EU’s ETS, heavy industry is given a fixed quota of permits to emit carbon dioxide. Companies must either keep to this limit, buy permits from others who are operating below their EU cap, or fund emission cuts in developing countries, in turn earning offsets or CERs.
Stavros Dimas, EU environment commissioner, said that he welcomed the outcome of the testing phase: “This now paves the way for the transfer of credits from the CDM in the EU registry system. Linking up with the UN’s carbon credit registry will further strengthen Europe’s leading role in the global carbon market.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008