Monday, 17 November 2008

Open door

The readers' editor on ... the Guardian's green and global mission

Siobhain Butterworth

The Guardian, Monday November 17 2008

Always publishing, less parochial, more focused on the environment, and expansive in new media. That's the message in the annual sustainability report of Guardian News & Media (GNM), published today.
Living Our Values is an independently audited account of the Guardian and Observer's editorial, commercial and operational activities. How does a news organisation make the transition from UK print publishing to 24/7, international multimedia news, and stay in touch with its roots? The report describes the company's reorganisation for the digital age.
A "radical integration" of journalists working for the Guardian, the Observer and means that by the time the company moves to its new eco-office in King's Cross at the end of the year, cross-functional journalists will produce content for all three platforms.
The new system was tested during the Beijing Olympics, when all 20 Guardian and Observer journalists reporting from China worked for both newspapers and the website, which resulted in 50m hits in one week for the website; 90% of stories went on to the web first.
The Guardian's ambition is to be "the world's leading liberal voice", says the report. There are nearly as many online users from the US (8.4 million) each month as there are from the UK (8.8 million) and this year Guardian America was set up to provide news tailored for the US audience.
The company's environmental ambition is to go further than being carbon-neutral - it wants to become carbon-positive. "Our sustainability vision goes beyond our offices and print sites to embrace editorial, commercial and community activity, as well as taking our supply chain into account," the report says. Editorially the plan is to explore subjects like climate change, environmental degradation and social inequality "from social, economic, political and scientific perspectives, both nationally and globally".
Living Our Values is up front about the contradictions between editorial and advertising. Guardian columnist George Monbiot has criticised the paper's refusal to ban ads that "make the destruction of the biosphere seem socially acceptable". The report says: "Our role is neither to hector our readers nor to censor on their behalf. Our editorial coverage informs and influences their choices."
The report says that readers are more concerned about social justice than climate change. The annual reader survey of around 3,500 readers asked whether the company should refuse to carry certain types of advertising. There were more objections to ads for fashion brands that use cheap labour (60% of Guardian readers and 41% of web users) than to ads for high-emission cars (40% of Guardian readers and 29% of web users), and even fewer objections to ads for budget airlines (11% of Guardian readers and 10% of web users). Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of the Guardian and Observer, says: "As long as the journalism is free and we allow George Monbiot to criticise us, and we feel free to criticise the people who advertise - that is more important than advertising."
Ownership by the Scott Trust puts GNM in a privileged position. It has to be "profit-seeking, efficient and cost-effective", but it is also "values-driven, not profit-driven", says the report. One of the benefits Rusbridger points out is being able to "offer coverage that goes beyond the parochial ... reporting the world by being out in the world" at a time when others are closing their foreign bureaux.
Asked by the Scott Trust to restate its values for the online era, Rusbridger wrote that the trust exists to preserve the Guardian and its journalistic traditions in perpetuity. "In the absence of a proprietor, our journalists' main relationships are with our colleagues and with readers, viewers or listeners. There should be a high premium on transparency, collaboration and discussion," he said. "At the same time we should allow plurality of opinion ... the papers should promote minority views as well as mainstream argument and should encourage dissent."
• To read Living Our Values go to

Green Gap

As environmentally friendly construction takes off, a question looms: Who's going to do all the work?

Demand is booming for environmentally friendly construction. But it's booming so fast that there aren't enough skilled professionals to do the work.
Green building demands a range of specialized knowledge that most builders don't have -- everything from where to obtain recycled materials to how to orient a building to maximize natural heating and cooling. So, contractors, architects and other pros are rushing to get up to speed, often through their trade groups, which have started offering more training in green techniques.
The Journal Report
See the complete Energy report.
"Every developer I have ever met has told me that educating their team on green is crucial," says Kristen Bacorn, a green-building consultant in New York. "Green is such a new and developing field that professionals don't necessarily know it, and they're craving education."
That's also the experience of Chris Hurst, a green-home builder in Tuolumne, Calif., who runs seminars in green construction. "The plumbing and electrical guy gave me a funny look at first, but then they said, 'We want to learn this because green is the future,' " Mr. Hurst says.
A Leg Up
For builders, the stakes are potentially huge. Rising consumer interest and a raft of new government regulations are driving green building forward, even as the larger real-estate industry craters. Builders who aren't familiar with eco-friendly construction methods may be at a big disadvantage in this new market, experts say.
"I think builders who can say they are a certified green professional have a leg up on the market," says Philip LaRocque, executive vice president of the New York State Builders Association. "As new-home sales plummet, [green homes are] penetrating a much higher percentage of the marketplace."
Fear of liability is also driving builders to get trained. Already, numerous green-building jobs have gotten botched because of a lack of knowledge -- and, in some cases, that has led to lawsuits or insurance claims.

In one recent case, an architect recommended that an owner use a green product from a new manufacturer without doing any research on the reliability of the supplier. As it turned out, the supplier couldn't deliver and the project was delayed, says Frank Musica, senior risk-management attorney for Victor O. Schinnerer & Co., which insures many of the country's major architectural firms. The delay led the owner to file an insurance claim and the contractor to demand more money to cover higher overhead and other considerations.
Course Work
For an indication of how quickly the pros are scrambling to get up to speed -- and just how far there is to go -- consider the LEED certification. Nine years ago, the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council created Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines for certifying buildings as environmentally friendly. Over time, LEED has become one of the best-known green standards.
Now contractors, consultants, attorneys, architects and others are rushing to get certified by the USGBC as LEED Accredited Professionals, which involves passing a test to demonstrate LEED expertise. In the past two years, the number of such professionals has doubled to over 60,000 from 30,000. But that's still a small part of all the professionals involved in the U.S. building industry. The National Association of Home Builders alone has 235,000 members.
To meet demand, the USGBC has bolstered its course offerings. The organization used to hold about eight to 10 courses per month across the country, with about 60 people attending each. Now it has expanded to about 50 workshops a month, with a maximum of 80 people per class.
Meanwhile, the major architects', contractors' and builders' associations have all rolled out their own education programs on green building. The Associated General Contractors of America, for instance, created a full-day LEED course in March 2008. And the American Institute of Architects recently passed a continuing-education requirement that all members take four hours of sustainable-design course work each year, as part of the eight health, safety and welfare credits required annually for membership.
Some builders are taking training into their own hands. New York-based Turner Construction Co., which embraced green building over a decade ago and helped found the USGBC, trains every new hire in green-building skills. Michael Deane, chief sustainability officer, says Turner sometimes even has to train subcontractors in the proper methods.
He says any contractor or subcontractor who doesn't learn green building practices will go out of business. For instance, he argues, standards are changing so drastically that class A office buildings not built to green specifications won't be considered class A anymore. "I think that green buildings and in particular LEED buildings are going to become the new normal," he says.—Ms. Krieger is a staff reporter for Dow Jones Clean Technology Insight in Jersey City, N.J. She can be reached at

An ocean of green opportunity as UK's first seabed opens up to energy firms

Published Date: 17 November 2008
By Jenny Haworth

THE first stretch of water off the UK will today be opened for business for the development of marine renewable energy, The Scotsman can reveal.
The Pentland Firth off Orkney – the area of sea that gives Scotland the potential to be "the Saudi Arabia of renewables" – will become the focus of attention of dozens of renewables firms across the world.The Crown Estate, which owns the seabed out to the 12-nautical-mile limit, will begin the process of inviting developers to express interest in building marine energy schemes in the area. As The Scotsman revealed on Saturday, renewables companies from across the world have already shown interest in the potential of the site.Alex Salmond, the First Minister, wants to see marine energy sources help turn Scotland into Europe's green energy capital. The Crown Estate has predicted that 700 megawatts of power could be generated from marine energy projects in the Pentland Firth by 2020. It believes the Firth and surrounding waters contain six of the top ten sites in the UK suitable for tidal power development.Rob Hastings, the Crown Estate's director of marine estate, said: "Today's announcement is an important step because the quality of renewable energy in existence, particularly in the north of Scotland is vast."To start that process of being able to get access to these resources is a really important step. We are really excited about it. It's a great opportunity."He described the Pentland Firth as "a very energetic place" and said one of the reasons it was chosen as the first area to open up to marine renewable projects was because the Scottish Government had shown support by carrying out an environmental assessment of the site. "There's a very strong desire within Scotland to explore these types of energy resources," he said. Mr Hastings said he was already aware of interest in the site from across the world, including from firms in North America, Europe, the Far East and Australia as well as in Scotland.As a result, he thinks Scotland has the potential to lead the way in the marine energy field."There's going to be a need for some very clear strategic thinking for that to happen," he said. "That will largely have to be led by the Scottish Government. "It's clear that the resources are there. There's also a fairly strong skill set and capability with regard to offshore construction that comes from the oil and gas sector. If these skills could be transferred that would give a degree of advantage to Scotland."He thinks Scotland's economy, ability to achieve its emissions reduction targets, and security of the country's energy supply can all benefit."In the current world we have some severe economic difficulties and some potential difficult times coming to do with energy and how you secure the supply of it. If Scotland is making strong moves to effectively become self-sufficient with an energy resource which is low in carbon and emissions, it suggests we are heading in the right direction."However, he said there was still a huge barrier to development due to the lack of grid capacity to transmit electricity from the remote locations in the Pentland Firth to the rest of the country.Under the Round 1 leasing programme, the Crown Estate will check what local community benefits each developer can incorporate into their scheme, and all commercial development will be subject to an environmental impact assessment. The process will take into account the wide range of stakeholder interests including international shipping routes, ferry traffic, fishing, defence and environment. The initial devices to be installed are expected to be full-size demonstration devices deployed in small arrays.

Consumers as Producers (energy)

When homeowners supply more energy than they need, they want to be paid for it. Not so fast, critics say.

When John Mazzani installed a solar-power system at his home in Hamptonburgh, N.Y., in April 2007, his goal was to cover all of his yearly electricity needs.
But his 10-kilowatt system did more, and the surplus power it sent to the electricity grid over the course of a year netted him a payment of $300 from the local utility.
If Mr. Mazzani lived in another state, however, that excess generation might have earned him much more, or perhaps nothing at all.
The Journal Report
See the complete Energy report.
The reason? While most people agree that financial incentives are needed to spur more solar development in the U.S., some lawmakers, regulators and utilities are at odds over whether homeowners should be reimbursed for sending more power to the grid than they buy over the course of a year.
Supporters call such payments a perk that spurs solar installations, encourages energy efficiency and helps relieve demand on the electricity grid at peak usage times. They also consider it simply the right of homeowners to get paid for the power they produce. But on the other side, some utilities and other critics argue that homeowners who already have received government- and ratepayer-funded subsidies to install solar panels shouldn't turn around and benefit even more. In addition, they say, residential solar generators aren't subjected to the same fees as independent wholesale power producers.
"Make no mistake, this comes down to money," says Molly Sterkel, manager of the solar program for the California Public Utilities Commission. "If people get paid for extra generation, they will start installing larger systems than they need."
The split over the issue has resulted in a patchwork of policies that vary, not just from state to state, but also from utility to utility. Some in the industry say the lack of a uniform approach stems from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission's decision that this is a billing issue, not a power-generation issue, and thus should be governed by states.
Net Metering
The majority of residential and small business solar-system owners connect to the electricity grid through a system called net metering. Under net metering, customers can effectively bank at least a portion of the electricity they generate during the day, when the sun is shining, and use it as credit toward the power they need to purchase at night or on cloudy days, when their solar systems aren't functioning.
Net metering is available in 41 states and the District of Columbia, according to Vote Solar, a nonprofit that works to develop policies in support of solar energy across the U.S. But the rules regarding how many credits a homeowner can collect, how much those credits are worth and whether customers should be reimbursed for unused credits after a certain time period vary significantly across the U.S.
Roughly 19 states, including California, don't force utilities to reimburse solar customers for exporting more power to the grid than they purchase, according to October figures from the nonprofit Interstate Renewable Energy Council. That means that while customers in these states are awarded solar credits and can use them to reduce the size of their electricity bills, they aren't guaranteed a cash payment if, at the end of the year, they have generated more power than they consumed. About 10 states, including New Jersey and New York, require regulated utilities to pay customers for surplus generation, usually at a wholesale rate. Other states either have no rules about excess generation, meaning they leave it up to the utilities, or approach it in other ways, such as allowing customers to roll over solar credits indefinitely, or, in the case of Rhode Island, donating solar credits to funds that sponsor renewable energy use in low-income housing developments.
"People who spend a lot of money to put solar on site have a problem when they're just giving energy to utilities for free," says Kevin Fox, an attorney with Keyes & Fox LLP, a Seattle-based law firm that specializes in distributed-generation law. "That's why [some states turn] the excess generation into a donation to a good cause. That's a lot easier for people to stomach."
Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a utility serving northern and central California, doesn't reimburse customers for sending more power to the grid than they buy annually because it doesn't want "to encourage people to become energy producers," says Charles Hornbrook, senior manager of solar and customer generation for the San Francisco utility.
Not only do Californians get a rebate subsidized by the general pool of ratepayers per each watt of solar installed, he says, but the power they send to the grid is credited on their bills at retail rates, even though they don't maintain or own any of the transmission technology. In addition, participants in the California net-metering program are waived the interconnection charge, something that independent wholesale power producers must pay.
In a study of its solar customers conducted in March, PG&E says it found that 22% of them have credits on their bills even though just 7% of them are actually producing more power than they consume. That's because they send power to the grid during the day, when rates are high, and use power at night, when rates generally are lower.

"Retail net metering is a pretty fair deal for customers who've chosen to go solar," says Mr. Hornbrook.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District Co., a utility that isn't regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission and therefore sets its own rules, takes a different approach, buying surplus power from residential solar generators at a retail rate. The utility, which serves California's state capital, cites a variety of reasons for doing so, saying home solar systems produce power when demand for electricity is peaking, improving the performance and reliance of the grid, and that the utility can use the solar generation it purchases to help meet renewable-energy mandates.
"We see advantages to generating electricity near where the load is, so you don't have the losses associated with bringing power far," says Michael DeAngelis, manager of the alternative energy and distributed generation technology program at the municipal utility.
Spiting the Utility
Jared Huffman, a California assemblyman, is pushing a bill in the state legislature that would require utilities governed by the California Public Utilities Commission to pay for customers' surplus generation at a rate to be determined by regulators. He introduced the bill in February, but it wasn't voted on, so he plans to reintroduce it next year, he says.
If people end up with a surplus and don't get paid for it, "it discourages energy efficiency," says Mr. Huffman, explaining why he backs payments for excess solar generation. "Some people will put in Christmas lights and increase their electrical use just to spite the utility," he says.
Some California utilities and regulators complained that Mr. Huffman's bill would encourage homeowners to install power-plant-size solar systems in their backyards. To address those concerns, Mr. Huffman added an amendment to his proposal that caps the size of a solar system eligible for net metering.
It is too early to say which states, public utility commissions and individual utilities are getting it right when it comes to the issue of excess generation, says Mr. Fox, the lawyer who handles power-generation issues.
"It's hard for me to look at what Arizona is doing and what California is doing and say that one is better than the other. We need to wait a few years and see who installed the most solar at the lowest cost," he says.
For his part, Mr. Mazzani is planning to increase his electricity usage because the payment he received for his excess generation wasn't enough to significantly speed the return on his solar investment.
"I just bought an electric hot water heater and am pulling out my oil-fired one," says Mr. Mazzani. "I'll use that excess capacity of the solar system, so I get more bang for the buck than by receiving money back from the utility."—Ms. Chernova is a staff reporter for Dow Jones Clean Technology Insight in Jersey City, N.J.
Write to Yuliya Chernova at

Power Plays

The latest on alternative-energy deals from Dow Jones Clean Technology Insight

The Lure of the Sea
Offshore wind farms picked up a good breeze recently, with the U.S. government launching steps to open up the continental shelf and two Northeastern states approving local projects.
The Minerals Management Service, part of the U.S. Interior Department, is preparing to lease parts of the outer continental shelf to wind-energy developers. Rules for leasing are expected by the end of the year.
The Journal Report
See the complete Energy report.
Meanwhile, New Jersey and Rhode Island recently joined Delaware on a short list of states that have approved construction of wind farms off their own coasts.
New Jersey regulators selected a group calling itself Garden State Offshore Energy to develop as much as 350 megawatts of offshore wind capacity with 96 turbines some 16 to 20 miles off the Jersey shore. This joint venture between a unit of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. of Newark and Deepwater Wind, a Hoboken, N.J., wind-power developer, is well funded and will take only $4 million of a $19 million start-up grant the state has made available. The project's strong financial backing helped it gain favor with state officials, as did promising to keep the facility out of sight from land.
New Jersey officials believe offshore wind farms could help the state meet a self-imposed mandate to produce 22.5% of its power using renewable energy sources by 2021.
Deepwater Wind was also the winner in Rhode Island, where officials approved its plan to build a 385-megawatt wind farm off the Ocean State's coast. This project, expected to supply 15% of the state's power when completed, comes with an expected price tag of more than $1 billion. This is because it includes plans for a facility to make related equipment for offshore wind farms not just in Rhode Island but elsewhere the region -- an unusual role for a wind-farm developer. The plant will make the "jackets," or structures that hold the wind towers in deep ocean water, and the vessels needed to install the jackets.
Deepwater's backers are the alternative-asset management firm D.E. Shaw & Co. of New York, Ospraie Management LP, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on commodities and energy, and First Wind Holdings Inc. of Newton, Mass., which is backed by Chicago-based private-equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners LLC and the private-equity arm of D.E. Shaw.
What Else Is New
Here's a look at other recent deals reported by Clean Technology Insight:
Silver Spring Networks Inc. raised $75 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which invested from its new clean technology fund. The Redwood City, Calif.-based Silver Spring wants to strengthen its balance sheet as it rolls out its smart-grid technology globally.
Brammo Inc. raised $10 million of Series A funding from Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and Best Buy Capital to help the Ashland, Ore.-based Brammo bring its electric motorcycle, the Enertia, to market next year.
A third plan for offshore wind-energy development, off the coast of Delaware, was the first such project approved in the U.S. Bluewater Wind of Hoboken, N.J., a subsidiary of Australia's Babcock & Brown Ltd., has a contract to develop that $1 billion-plus project, 11.5 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach, Del. Its capacity could reach as much as 600 megawatts.
Given all of the zoning, environmental impact and permits required, none of the three projects is expected to begin construction until 2010 at the earliest, the developers say.
Meanwhile, developers are also vying to build a wind farm to serve New York City from a spot in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Sun Keeps Shining
Investment capital continues to flow into solar companies this fall, despite misplaced fears that tax credits for production of solar technology would be discontinued. The credits were extended in October.
Thin-film solar remains a hot area. That technology involves using thinner -- thus cheaper -- materials, sometimes in a form that can be used easily on rooftops or other surfaces. One thin-film solar company, Solyndra Inc., says it raised $600 million in equity to bring its technology to market. Solyndra's backers include Rockport Capital; Virgin Green Fund, which was launched with backing of the Virgin Group; Madrone Capital Partners, which manages capital of the Rob Walton family, and CMEA Ventures.
The Fremont, Calif.-based Solyndra, founded in 2005 by former employees of Applied Materials Inc., aims to cover commercial rooftops with its cylindrical modules.
With relatively high efficiency, quick installation and lightweight design, the modules have already attracted $1.2 billion in three customer deals, with Germany-based Phoenix Solar AG, Roseville, Calif.-based Solar Power Inc., and an unnamed German customer.
GreenVolts Inc., a San Francisco start-up, raised $30 million from Oak Investment Partners to back its first project, which will make use of the company's solar concentration technology. Solar concentration entails the use of mirrors to enhance the power from solar cells, which in the case of GreenVolts are similar to those used in space.
Chief Executive Bob Cart says the financing will be used to develop his company's first solar-power installation, a two-megawatt plant that will sell power to San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. However, GreenVolts aims to be a vendor of its systems rather than a project developer.—Compiled by Yuliya Chernova, Mark Peters, Mara Lemos Stein and Jonathan Shieber, reporters in Jersey City, N.J., for Clean Technology Insight, a newsletter published by Dow Jones & Co. They can be reached at,, and

Building a Better Battery

Finding alternative sources of energy is only part of the battle. You also need to store it.

The alternative-energy industry thinks it can make wind and solar power a lot more useful -- by building a better battery.
One of the big problems with wind and solar is that they're often not generated when they're needed. Winds are usually strongest at night, for instance, when demand for power is at its lowest. That makes it tough for utilities to effectively integrate alternative power sources into their energy mix.
The Journal Report
See the complete Energy report.
Now companies across the globe are working on a potential solution: batteries that can store wind and solar power and release it onto the grid at times of heavy demand. Developers are investing millions -- and in some cases billions -- of dollars into a slew of promising technologies.
The battery industry "is going through a major growth phase," says Craig Irwin, vice president of equity research at New York-based financial-services firm Merriman Curhan Ford Group Inc.
Powering Up
With the growing push toward alternative energy and away from fossil fuels, the market for batteries is potentially huge. According to a report from Lux Research Inc., which tracks emerging technologies, the batteries could represent a $50 billion market if only 10% of wind-power plants installed them. However, because of the long planning cycles and risk-aversion of utilities, Lux predicts the market will reach only about $600 million by the end of 2012.
Some in the industry -- unsurprisingly -- are anticipating a much stronger market. Premium Power Corp., a North Reading, Mass., battery maker, envisions a day in the not-too-distant future when large-scale batteries and other forms of energy storage are ubiquitous.
"In 10 years, you'll see every renewable-energy source be tightly integrated with an energy-storage system and be controlled by the grid," says Bic Stevens, senior vice president of business development at Premium Power.
Utilities and project developers are already beginning to deploy battery technologies. One device, which companies are hooking up to wind farms, is called a sodium sulfur battery.
In this technology, the electrochemicals that create the reactions that store the energy are housed inside the battery. That's roughly how traditional batteries work, but these are much bigger and have more reactive chemicals. For instance, one utility is employing a sodium sulfur battery system that's 30 feet wide and 15 feet high.
Right now, these batteries are getting a lot of attention from companies like Japanese wind-project developer Japan Wind Development Co. In May, the company started a 51-megawatt wind farm and linked it to a 34-megawatt battery system developed by NGK Insulators Ltd. of Nagoya, Japan. The energy-storage system will have enough capacity to power approximately 26,000 homes, by storing the energy generated by the wind farm and then redistributing that power during the day.
Utilities like American Electric Power Co. of Columbus, Ohio, are also working with NGK, although on a much smaller scale. According to Ali Nourai, AEP's executive in charge of distributed power generation and energy storage, the company has installed five NGK batteries with 7 megawatts of capacity in total, enough to power approximately 5,400 homes. AEP's batteries are already up and running in Ohio, and others in Indiana and West Virginia will be operational by the end of the year. The utility also has a 4-megawatt battery set to be installed in Texas.
Going With the Flow
Sodium sulfur batteries can store a lot of energy, which is why utilities like them. But because of the reactivity of the chemicals involved and the ceramic separator required to keep the chemicals apart, the batteries are expensive to manufacture. One estimate pegs the cost at $2,500 per kilowatt -- which means even a small-scale battery could run more than $10 million.
And that gives some utilities pause. "The technology is beautiful, but it is not inexpensive," Mr. Nourai says.
So, he's hunting for alternatives. He believes that one of the most promising is a technology called flow batteries.
Unlike sodium sulfur batteries or other traditional batteries, flow batteries have their chemical reactants stored in external containers. That means that the batteries can be easily tailored to any size to store more energy. What's more, Mr. Nourai says that the batteries may be able to deliver power more inexpensively than sodium sulfur models; flow technology uses less-reactive chemicals and thus should be easier to manufacture.
Mr. Irwin, at Merriman Curhan Ford, pegs the cost of flow batteries at roughly $1,000 per kilowatt -- less than half the cost of sodium sulfur models. But he points out that cost of materials for a flow battery is only about $200 per kilowatt. So the overall price tag for the technology could drop dramatically if companies find a way to bring down the cost of manufacturing.
Pilot Projects
To get a sense of how the batteries could work, utilities are rolling out pilot projects. AEP is working with Premium Power, which is backed by $21 million from investors including VantagePoint Venture Partners, according to data from Dow Jones VentureSource. Publicly held companies like VRB Power Systems Inc. and ZBB Energy Corp. are developing similar technologies.
The companies' offerings have some important differences. Both Premium Power and ZBB Energy use zinc bromide electrolytes in their flow batteries, while VRB Power Systems uses vanadium.
The benefits of the different chemistries are still being proved, but some analysts and industry observers say that the zinc bromide batteries have cost advantages over the vanadium batteries. Advocates for vanadium batteries argue that they can be recycled more easily and have faster response times, which can be helpful for better regulating the flow of energy onto the grid.
It's far too early to tell which battery manufacturer will win out at the large scale -- and another big entrant is about to complicate the picture even further. In late October, Intel Capital, the venture arm of the chip-manufacturing giant, put its money behind yet another player in the market. Intel backed Beijing-based Net Power Holdings Ltd., which is developing its own version of the flow battery, potentially with a greater cost advantage, given the ability to capitalize on more inexpensive Chinese manufacturing capacity.—Mr. Shieber is a staff reporter for Dow Jones Clean Technology Insight in Jersey City, N.J.
Write to Jonathan Shieber at

Auction of land in U.S. national parks for oil upsets environmentalists

The Associated Press
Published: November 16, 2008

Salt Lake City, Utah: The view of Delicate Arch natural bridge - an unspoiled landmark so iconic it's on Utah's license plates - could one day include a drilling platform under a proposal that environmentalists call a Bush administration "fire sale" for the oil and gas industry.
Late on election day, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced a Dec. 19 auction of more than 50,000 acres of oil and gas parcels alongside or within view of Arches National Park and two other redrock national parks in Utah: Dinosaur and Canyonlands.
The National Park Service's top official in the state calls it "shocking and disturbing" and says his agency wasn't properly notified. Environmentalists call it a "fire sale" for the oil and gas industry by a departing administration.
Officials of the BLM, which oversees millions of acres of public land in the West, say the sale is nothing unusual, and one is "puzzled" that the Park Service is upset.
"We find it shocking and disturbing," said Cordell Roy, the chief Park Service administrator in Utah. "They added 51,000 acres of tracts near Arches, Dinosaur and Canyonlands without telling us about it. That's 40 tracts within four miles of these parks."

Top aides to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne stepped into the fray, ordering the sister agencies to make amends. His press secretary, Shane Wolfe, told The Associated Press that deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett "resolved the dispute within 24 hours" last week.
A compromise ordered by the Interior Department requires the BLM to "take quite seriously" the Park Service's objections, said Wolfe.
However, the BLM didn't promise to pull any parcels from the sale, and in an interview after the supposed truce, BLM state director Selma Sierra was defiant, saying she saw nothing wrong with drilling near national parks.
"I'm puzzled the Park Service has been as upset as they are," said Sierra.
"There are already many parcels leased around the parks. It's not like they've never been leased," she said. "I don't see it as something we are doing to undermine the Park Service."
Roy and conservation groups dispute that, saying never before has the bureau bunched drilling parcels on the fence lines of national parks.
"This is the fire sale, the Bush administration's last great gift to the oil and gas industry," said Stephen Bloch, a staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
"The tracts of land offered here, next to Arches National Park or above Desolation Canyon, these are the crown jewels of America's lands that the BLM is offering to the highest bidder," he said.
An examination of the parcels, superimposing low-resolution government graphics onto Google Earth maps, shows that in one case drilling parcels bordering Arches National Park are just 1.3 miles from Delicate Arch.
"If you're standing at Delicate Arch, like thousands of people do every year, and you're looking through the arch, you could see drill pads on the hillside behind it. That's how ridiculous this proposed lease sale is," said Franklin Seal, a spokesman for the environmental group Wildland CPR.
In all, the BLM is moving to open 359,000 more acres in Utah to drilling.
Other Utah leases that are certain to draw objections from conservation groups include high cliffs along whitewater sections of Desolation Canyon, which is little changed since explorer John Wesley Powell remarked in 1896 on "a region of wildest desolation" while boating down the Green River to the Grand Canyon.
Others extend to plateaus populated by big game atop Nine Mile Canyon, site of thousands of ancient rock art panels, Moab's famous Slick Rock Trail and a campground popular with thousands of mountain bikers.
Sierra, the BLM's director for Utah, said the Park Service was consulted on the broad management plans that made the sale of parcels next to national parks permissible, even if it was not given notice on which specific leases were being offered. She apologized for that omission but said notice wasn't legally required.
She said national parks want to keep oil and gas wells five to 10 miles away "but that policy doesn't exist."
Roy said the standard for an eyesore visible from a national park turns on what a "casual" observer might see.
The hostility carried over into an e-mail exchange between Sierra and Mike Snyder, the Denver-based regional Park Service director, who noted his agency's demand that BLM pull 40 to 45 drill parcels from the auction list. "You stated that you were not willing to do this," Snyder wrote Nov. 6.
Within hours, Sierra responded "These decisions and the lands available for leasing should come to no one's surprise," according to copies of the e-mails obtained from her office.
Sierra said she instructed her district and field managers to educate the park superintendents on why drilling is OK "adjacent to and near the park boundaries."
In the e-mail, Sierra boasted of having "a very good working relationship" with Roy, the federal coordinator in Utah for the Park Service, but in an interview he said he had "no idea this sale was coming down the pike."
Roy said that when he asked Sierra what was going on, she replied: "We added some tracts, sorry we didn't notify you. We can take up these concerns when we issue" drilling permits. He said his response was: "Holy cow."

Stimulus spending outlined in China

Bloomberg News
Published: November 16, 2008

SHANGHAI: Chinese cities and provinces, including Shanghai and Beijing, said they would speed up investment plans to support the 4 trillion yuan stimulus package announced by the government last week.
The central province of Hubei will spend 512.8 billion yuan, or $75 billion, to build nine eco-cities around the provincial capital, Wuhan, by 2020, Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said Sunday. The plans involve 459 projects including energy conservation and environmental protection, it said.
China faces a "formidable challenge" to prevent a slump in the world's fourth-biggest economy, a top economic planner, Mu Hong, said Friday, as Beijing said it expected provinces and cities to contribute to the unprecedented fiscal stimulus. President Hu Jintao said Saturday that the package would help bolster the world economy.
The Ministry of Finance has "instructed local governments to revise their 2009 budgets, encouraging them to increase capital spending projects," Stephen Green, head of China research at Standard Chartered Bank in Shanghai, said in a research note on Friday. "All ongoing projects that can be fast-tracked are being fast-tracked."
Shanghai will accelerate urban infrastructure construction amounting to 500 billion yuan through 2010, the Shanghai Daily reported Saturday, citing the city's construction and transport authority.

The southern island province of Hainan will invest 207 billion yuan over the next three years, focusing on agriculture, real estate, technology and infrastructure, Xinhua said Saturday, citing the local economic planning agency.
Beijing will spend 90 billion yuan to complete the construction of three subway lines in the next two years, according to a Beijing Daily report posted on the local government's Web site Saturday.

Disparate Group's Remedy Likely to Be Short on Details


A motley crew of corporations and environmental campaigners is scheduled to call on the U.S. government Tuesday to press forward with legislation to curb global-warming emissions despite the tough economic times.
The U.S. Climate Action Partnership is such a strange-bedfellows group that, when its members speak with one voice, policy makers take note. But what its leaders don't say at their scheduled Washington news conference this week is likely to be more telling than what they do say.
The group, known as USCAP, is about as close to a cross-section of the American economy as a Washington interest group gets. Its members include such corporate heavyweights as Detroit's Big Three, several coal-fired power companies and three oil multinationals. Also aboard are a few of the nation's most prominent environmental groups. To put it mildly, these players are seldom on the same team.
USCAP made waves when it made its debut in January 2007, calling on the government to cap U.S. industry's greenhouse-gas output, though President George W. Bush had made it clear he had no such intention.
Its rationale was twofold. Major polluters in the group figured it was only a matter of time before a Bush successor hit them with an emissions cap, so they wanted to try to shape the regulation to minimize their costs in complying. Members such as General Electric Co., which makes and sells wind turbines, figured a carbon cap would help it sell more such widgets.
President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have said they will move forward with instituting a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions. The debate will be over the specifics that will determine which industries, and which companies, get stuck with the bill.
Don't expect much clarity on that this week. Says a USCAP spokesman: "That's not the purpose of the press conference, to get into the details."
So far, USCAP has given momentum to the broad idea of a U.S. global-warming mandate. The idea remains mushy, though, because the group's members disagree about what a mandate should say. That's a harbinger of the slugfest that lies ahead over what the U.S. should do about energy and the environment.
Write to Jeffrey Ball at

Britain's water mills given role in clean energy generation

Alok Jha, The Guardian - green technology correspondent

A salmon jumps Could weir on the river Tweed in the Scottish Borders. Photograph: PA
Britain's iconic water mills, some of which date back to the 11th century, are to become a major force in the fight against climate change.
Mill owners around the UK have started to refurbish their old buildings and install turbines in order to show that they can be used as a source of clean electricity.
Government figures suggest that if the resource is fully tapped, small-scale hydropower from the old mills and weirs could provide up to 10,000GWh per year - 3% of the UK's electricity needs.
"There are a number of hydropower groups that have become established in the country and we're all in the process of installing micro hydropower to generate electricity,' said Anthony Battersby, the head of the Somerset-based Mendip Power Group. With more than 20,000 mill sites across the UK, the potential is huge. If government predictions are correct, the transformation of the water mills would save almost 5.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from entering the atmosphere.
Battersby has spent £450,000 on work to convert Tellisford Mill on the river Frome so that it can generate 60kW of power at peak output, enough for more than 50 homes. With a group of local mill owners he has plans for dozens of other conversions over the coming months. There are similar groups across the UK, with several dozen projects in various stages of planning or construction.
"At the moment, most of these are old historic mill sites, which have been used for corn grinding, dye mills, edge-tool mills," Battersby said. "The Domesday Book has in it about 5,600 mill sites, one of which is ours. Water has been harnessed as a source of energy here for over a thousand years."
Environmental campaigners have welcomed the move to convert mills, but warned that a wide-scale adoption of the technology will be hampered unless key elements of the government's energy bill are strengthened when it is debated for the final time by MPs on this week.
"We think the idea of taking the remnants of the last industrial revolution and giving them new life in a future green industrial revolution is incredibly exciting," said Dave Timms of Friends of the Earth. The campaign group says that conversions could provide a useful income stream for local communities whilst helping the UK to meet its climate change targets.
UK homes are responsible for 27% of the country's carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Energy Saving Trust, up to 40% of the UK's electricity could be generated by small-scale renewable energy systems such as hydropower.
The energy from rivers and streams can be harnessed relatively easily using propeller-based turbines with minimal disruption to the flow of the water. Most individual systems would be small, probably no more than 50KW.
David Williams, the chief executive of the British Hydropower Association, said mill sites had been overlooked for too long. "The interest has just ballooned recently. What we are seeing is that it's community interest - people are more willing to work together now. Rather than developing a hydro scheme on their own mill, if they do it as a community, they get better grants and they're looking at it more holistically."
One example of a community scheme is Settle Hydro, a 50KW electricity plant paid for by a local community in Yorkshire. Shares in the scheme cost £1 each and the £300,000 plant will generate enough electricity for 50 homes.
Mill owners are now planning to work together nationally to launch a network of hydropower operators called River Power Microhydro. This will encourage the conversion of mills into electricity generators and members will include community schemes for hydropower, water companies and public bodies such as English Heritage or the Environment Agency who own or control weirs or mill sites.

New operators plan incinerator for Sellafield

Terry Macalister

The Guardian, Monday November 17 2008

A massive incinerator that could burn atomic waste is under consideration by the operator of the Sellafield nuclear complex.
The controversial plan was outlined by an executive at Sellafield Ltd at a local conference to discuss the role of the site, which comes under private management this month.
Barry Watkinson, delivery manager for external innovation at the company, said it was time to move on from the "antiquated" system of burying waste in containers and vaults.
"The maximum reduction in volumes of waste can be achieved by the thermal process. The best idea is a high-temperature process," he said, pointing out that there was a modern incinerator burning traditional waste on the Isle of Man, only 30 miles away from Sellafield.
Watkinson believes that low-level nuclear waste from the Drigg site and Sellafield itself could be burned alongside traditional household leftovers at a site to the east of the existing Sellafield complex. "The regulator is happy to see the Sellafield licenced site extended east," he argued, suggesting that Watkinson has already put his plan to the nuclear safety authorities.
But a spokesman for Sellafield Ltd, which will come under the control of the Amec and Areva-backed Nuclear Management Partners - a private consortium - on November 24, distanced his organisation from the scheme. "It's not a firm proposal," he explained. "It's a potential idea that Barry had."
But Watkinson told the conference in Penrith called to discuss an Energy Coast plan for west Cumbria that plans for an incinerator and supporting rail connection were at an advanced stage. About 400,000 tonnes of domestic waste could be shipped into Sellafield to feed the new incinerator to be burned alongside materials from Drigg and Sellafield.
Greenpeace said plans of this kind were often touted by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and others but never got off the ground given the scale of waste it would have to bring into the area.
"It won't fly," said Jean McSorley, senior adviser for the nuclear campaign at Greenpeace.
The NDA said the new private operators of the low-level repository at Drigg in Cumbria were charged with coming up with ideas about disposal. Some radioactive waste from the medical sector is already incinerated, nuclear industry figures pointed out.

Remote Finnish city grows accustomed to nuclear power

By John Tagliabue
Published: November 16, 2008

RAUMA, Finland: The café where Paivi Alanko-Rehelma serves coffee and smoked fish stands almost in the shadow of a sprawling building site on the island of Olkiluoto where Finland is erecting a nuclear power plant, the third on the island and the fifth in Finland in the past 30 years.
Like many of her neighbors who have grown accustomed to nuclear energy, Alanko-Rehelma makes no objections to the new reactor. "It's now safe, it saves nature, it's cheaper," she said.
No one is certain when the plant, which has been plagued by construction delays, will be finished. But whenever it does begin operating, the reactor will be a new cog in the works of Finland's national energy policy, which seeks to diversify the country's sources of energy and reduce its historical reliance on Russia for cheap electricity.
The plant is also part of a global trend, as the prospects of nuclear power rise amid concerns about the warming effect of carbon dioxide emissions to generate electricity.
The Finns are going first-class, building what is called a European Pressurized Reactor, the latest model, which is billed as the safest and most powerful nuclear reactor ever designed. It is the product of a consortium of French and German engineering companies.

It is not as if anyone in this wooded region a three-hour drive northwest of Helsinki is marching in protest, spraying anti-nuclear graffiti or hampering construction work.
To the contrary, the construction of the power plant is producing a mini economic boom.
Take this port city of pastel-colored wooden homes about 25 kilometers, or 15 miles, south of Olkiluoto.
Nearly 4,000 migrant laborers from more than 30 countries, including Poland and Estonia, are working at the new power plant, lifting business in stores in downtown Rauma and making possible the opening last year of two new shopping malls on the edge of town.
Local building contractors have been buoyed by orders to carry out some of the reactor work. Moreover, taxes paid by the migrant workers and French and German engineers who have come to the city bring in more than $2.5 million a year.
"A journalist called recently from Helsinki to ask how much longer we can delay completion of the reactor," Jaakko Hirvonsalo, managing director of the local chamber of commerce, said with a laugh. "Locally, we're doing well."
The delays, however, were no joke: Parts of the huge reactor shield, now about 27 meters, or 90 feet high, had to be dismantled and rebuilt because of faulty welding and poor cement work. The Finns attribute the delays to the French builder, Areva, which subcontracted work to Polish companies to cut costs.
The French and their German partners blame the Finns, pointing to the glacial pace of construction reviews by the Finnish nuclear safety authority. Wherever the blame truly lies, the reactor's startup date has been pushed back by at least two years, to 2011, and the estimated cost increased to nearly $6 billion from an original $3.8 billion.
Now, the French are seeking the help of a Swedish arbitrator to settle their differences with the Finns. As for the delay, "It's not a race," said Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier, a spokesman for Areva in Paris. "Don't forget, it will operate for 60 years."
Yet he acknowledged that in some ways, Olkiluoto was a test, since it was the first attempt to build a pressurized water reactor.
"It's the first of its kind," he said. "You cannot go into a hangar and make a model to test. And yet you have to have a test."
Beneath the surface, people in Rauma are weighing the costs and benefits. And not all are happy with the result.
"As long as everything is O.K., it's O.K., but there are problems and risks," said Janne Koski, director of the city art museum.
Asked whether people had ignored the risks because of the benefits, he replied: "That is not exactly so. Of course, many people are working there, at the reactor site. It's about economy and finance."
Rauma has never had an accident like that at Chernobyl, but even people who are most comfortable with nuclear reactors admit that they affect the environment.
Alanko-Rehelma, whose husband operates two fishing boats in the waters around the reactors, said their cooling systems warmed the water near Olkiluoto Island.
"That is not good for some kinds of fish," she said. "But good for others, like trout."
The only large-scale resistance to nuclear energy in Finland comes from Greenpeace, which cites the hazard of radioactivity and the siphoning of money from investment in alternative carbon-free energy sources, like wind, sun and tides.
"It's far too risky and hazardous," Lauri Myllyvirta, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said by phone from Helsinki. "Because these projects tend to be prone to delays - cost overruns - these decisions have a negative impact on other carbon-free solutions."
Yet Rauma has not neglected alternative energy. It is working with UPM, a wood processor with four mills in Rauma, to use wood waste to make electricity.
"We're selling electricity and heat for housing," said Arno Miettinen, who has been city manager for four years, about as long as the nuclear plant has been under construction. Part of the heat is pumped under the cobblestone streets of the city center to keep them free of ice and snow during Finland's harsh winters.
The United Nations lists Rauma as a World Heritage site because of its enormous stock of charming 17th- and 18th-century wooden homes. The World Heritage designation is meant to help preserve historic sites, though income from tourism remains meager, Miettinen said.
"It's mostly Finns, and some from Germany and Italy," he said. But he did not think nuclear power plants were keeping people away. "A great many people think nuclear energy is good for Rauma and its industry," he said.
Pasi Katajamaki, editor of the local newspaper, Lansi Suomi, said, "We're very used to it."
"When you have something near you, you simply grow accustomed to it."