Friday, 28 November 2008

RWE Faces High 'Green' Costs

German Utility's Experience Provides Lessons for U.S. as It Weighs Climate Rules

One of the latest business ventures at electricity supplier RWE AG is giving away light bulbs in the developing world. The German company has teamed up with an Indian utility to hand out 700,000 energy-efficient bulbs in India's eastern port city of Vishnakhapatnam.

RWE's motive for such ecocharity: It helps reduce the cost of complying with Europe's increasingly stringent limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. But even with such projects, RWE faces higher pollution-compliance costs in the coming years as emissions rules get more strict. That will likely eat into profit and lead to higher power prices for consumers and businesses.
RWE's predicament provides important lessons for the U.S. as it contemplates setting up its own system to fight climate change. Europe's greenhouse-gas "cap and trade" system has been up and running since 2005. After a rocky start, the true impact -- and costs -- are starting to be felt by regulated companies. Policy makers in the U.S. may soon have to make their own tough decisions about what sectors should shoulder the burden of reducing pollution.
President-elect Barack Obama said in a speech last week that he would move quickly to create a federal system to cap greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Senate Democrats say they plan to introduce legislation in January directing the Environmental Protection Agency to set up a cap-and-trade system.
RWE spent more than €1 billion, or roughly $1.25 billion, on greenhouse-gas compliance in the first nine months of this year -- equivalent to nearly half its €2.2 billion in net income for the period. The cost was just €175 million for the first nine months of last year. Since most of RWE's power stations burn brown coal, which is plentiful in Germany but releases high levels of greenhouse gas, its burden under Europe's regulations is particularly heavy.
"Climate change is a global challenge, and we support Europe's efforts to cap emissions," says Henning Rentz, RWE's head of policy affairs. He worries, however, that future regulations will weigh disproportionately on his industry. "The new rules should not discriminate against utilities that burn coal, and they need to ensure that we can stay competitive."
The European Union first set caps on greenhouse-gas emissions in 2005 for big polluting industries, such as utilities and steel and cement makers. Under the system, EU governments give companies permits to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide, the main gas believed to cause global warming.
If a company emits more than its cap, it must cover the excess by obtaining more permits. One way is by trading on the "carbon market," that is, buying permits from companies with permits to spare. Permits also can be earned through carbon-reduction projects in developing countries, such as RWE's light-bulb giveaway in India.
In the early years of this cap-and-trade system, most European industries were given more permits than they needed, and emissions crept up about 1% a year. European regulators responded by sharply lowering the emissions caps this year. Regulators sought to soften the blow for companies facing competition from outside the EU, as in the steel and cement industries. That was offset by placing stricter limits on utilities, which often are quasimonopolies not subject to price competition and who can pass on added costs to consumers.
German utilities, including RWE and E.ON AG, will be short a total of roughly 79 million permits this year, according to Point Carbon, a market-research firm based on Oslo, Norway. At the current permit price, which is well off this year's peak, that comes to $1.42 billion to purchase permits. Italy's utilities, including Enel SpA, will be short 51 million permits, while U.K. utilities, such as British Energy Group PLC, will be short 70.5 million in total.
It's difficult to forecast the cost for purchasing permits since their price changes constantly on Europe's carbon market. The price for a 2008 permit peaked in June at €28 but has since fallen to around €18 amid Europe's economic downturn. Point Carbon projects an average price of €29 for a carbon permit for the next three years.
The rules have already hit the bottom line at some utilities. Britain's Drax Group PLC, which operates Western Europe's largest coal-fired power plant, says its profit was cut by nearly 50% in the first half from a year earlier. The company says it spent £107 million ($162 million) on carbon permits in the half, up from £11 million a year earlier.
Italy's Enel, meanwhile, is "quite confident that we can cover the whole shortfall through imported credits," says Eliano Russo, Enel's head of carbon strategy. Enel has about 70 projects under way in China, including for wind and hydro power and by helping to make steel smelters more energy efficient. Enel expects that it will be short a total of 40 million-50 million carbon permits in total this year through 2012.
RWE, though, "has the biggest [carbon-permit] shortfall to make up of any European utility," Mr. Rentz says.
The company is responding on several fronts. It has a team of about 40 people who scout for projects to earn carbon credits, such as the light-bulb giveaway in India and reducing methane at coal mines in Russia. RWE can earn these permits at an average cost of about €10, much less than the cost to buy a carbon permit. This month, RWE announced that it had purchased a 50% stake in a Singapore-based firm, Agrinergy Pte. Ltd., which specializes in putting together such projects. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
But Germany's rules only allow RWE to import about 90 million permits, which will leave it more than 200 million permits short through 2012. That's forcing RWE to do what the rules intend: Modernize or replace power plants so they emit less greenhouse gas.
"We have to renew our power plants as fast as possible," says Mr. Rentz. RWE is investing heavily in new technology to bury carbon dioxide underground. In September it pledged to spend €1 billion to build a coal-fired plant with such technology in western Germany.
Whether RWE or any utility buys permits or imports them from projects in emerging nations, the cost threatens to weigh on profit. As a result, utilities are likely to pass the costs of complying with Europe's cap-and-trade rules onto their customers. Electricity prices for German households and businesses increased 5% and 13% respectively in the first nine months of this year from a year earlier, according to RWE.
The burden on European utilities is set to rise in 2013, when regulators plan to scrap the annual allocation of free permits. Instead governments would put permits up for auction. Utilities would then buy permits at auction, even as they continue to import credits from overseas projects and purchase permits on the carbon market. The utilities are lobbying for a softer approach that would gradually phase in such auctions.
Write to Leila Abboud at

Green campaigners applaud scrapping of £65m biofuel plant

Published Date: 28 November 2008
By Jenny Haworth
Environment Correspondent

PLANS to build a huge biofuel plant at Scotland's oil refinery have been shelved.
Ineos, which operates the refinery at Grangemouth, has blamed the economic climate for the decision to scrap the £65 million plans.It would have seen about 1.2 million tonnes of biodiesel created at the plant by 2010.The decision has been welcomed by Friends of the Earth Scotland, which has concerns over the environmental impact of biofuels.Ineos announced its plans two years ago and said it wanted the site to become a world leader in the production of biofuels made from food crops. It was to build a new plant at the massive refinery site to handle the new production – and had attracted £9 million from the Scottish Government's Regional Collective Assistance fund.The Ineos site manager, Gordon Grant, said: "Earlier this month we indicated to the Scottish Government that we would not be progressing with the biodiesel plant in Grangemouth."Biodiesel produced from food sources is very uncertain at the moment and this, coupled with the economic climate, makes it difficult in terms of being able to fund the project. We are just not in a position to go forward, as we simply don't have the money to put the investment in."Ineos says it has not used any of the grants given to it for the project and the cash has been returned to the Scottish Government.Union bosses at the plant, who organised a strike over pensions earlier this year, said the project could have added about 30 jobs at the site.Mark Lyon, the Unite convener, said: "It is yet another disappointment in a long line of disappointments and broken promises since Ineos took over the site."Michael Connarty, the MP for Falkirk East, said: "I think this was inevitable and had been on the cards for some time. Biofuels are becoming politically embarrassing, but I believe the reason for the plant being cancelled had more to do with finance than anything else."A spokesman for Ineos Enterprises said the group was still committed to biofuels, but plans for the plant were being "put on hold" indefinitely.In a statement, the company said: "Given the continued and prolonged global economic downturn, Ineos is focusing on tight control of costs and expenditure across its entire portfolio."As a consequence, plans to invest in new additional bio-diesel capacity across Europe are on hold until Ineos has a clearer picture of the economic outlook. "Across Europe, industry, including chemicals and biofuels, is experiencing a period of unprecedented volatility and uncertainty, and accurate forecasting is expected to remain extremely difficult in the short term."Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "We welcome the clarification that this proposal is now off the table."He said even biofuels that lead to some emissions savings can create conflicts over food security or biodiversity.BACKGROUNDBIOFUELS were once thought to harbour huge potential in the fight to reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions produced by conventional fuels.Although burning these fuels releases carbon dioxide, growing the plants for biofuels absorbs a comparable amount of the gas from the atmosphere. However, energy is used in farming and processing the crops, and this can make biofuels as polluting as petroleum-based fuels. Another prominent issue is biodiversity, with the fear that a major adoption of biofuels will reduce habitat for animals and wild plants. Rainforests could be replaced with palm oil plantations, critics claim. Also, if increased amounts of food crops are used for fuel, it could push up food prices, affecting supplies to poorer nations.The big hope is so-called second-generation biofuels, which will turn the waste products from plants into fuel, and therefore not have an impact on biodiversity or food supply.

Sharp plans joint solar venture with Enel

Published: November 27, 2008

TOKYO: Sharp of Japan, Enel of Italy and a third manufacturer will invest more than $2.6 billion in Italian solar power ventures to tap growing demand for cleaner energy.
Top solar power firms are hurrying to expand capacity even as the sector smarts from a worsening global economy, which is drying up financing for new ventures and forcing smaller solar power firms to push back investment.
Sharp, the world's No.2 maker of solar cells after the German company Q-Cells, said it and Enel planned to spend about ¥100 billion, or $1.05 billion, to set up solar power generating plants in Italy with a total generating capacity of 189 megawatts by the end of 2012.
Sharp and Enel, with an unnamed third manufacturer, also plan to build a factory in Italy to produce thin-film solar cells, aiming for initial output of 480 megawatts in 2010 and ultimately raising output to about 1 gigawatt.
Sharp said total initial investment for the factory is likely to be at least ¥72 billion, and analysts expect that investment to more than double to more than ¥150 billion when the factory reaches full capacity.
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Sharp is stepping up investment in an effort to retake market share from Q-Cells, whose aggressive capital spending plans outstrip those of its rivals.
The consumer electronics maker is reinventing itself as a device maker, supplying or planning to supply liquid crystal display panels to Japanese TV makers like Sony, Pioneer and Toshiba.
Sharp will now sell equipment to the joint venture and charge fees for its technology and solar operations know-how in an effort to position itself in the solar power industry, its executive vice president, Toshishige Hamano, said Thursday. Sharp, which cut its annual profit outlook by one-third in October, could increase its sales in the short term by selling its technology and any equipment it develops in a joint venture with the semiconductor equipment maker Tokyo Electron.
But that could hurt its brand and deplete its technological edge in the long run, one analyst said. "With LCD prices sliding, Sharp is under more pressure to recover its initial investment quickly, and the temptation for a quick fix is understandable," said Yoshihisa Toyosaki, president of J-Star Global, an information technology consulting firm in Japan.
"But this raises the cost performance of rivals with lower personnel costs and government backing," he said. "It is not a strategy for a company with decades of experience and an established brand."
In the future, Sharp also plans to step up production of silicon wafers and join with a major U.S. polysilicon supplier to help it secure a steady supply of silicon starting in 2010.
Sharp first said it would take a 34 percent share in the solar power generating venture, with Enel holding the rest, but it later retracted the statement, saying that nothing has been decided, other than that Sharp will take a minority stake. Sharp will also take a minority stake in the solar cell venture.
Capital expenditure at Sharp, which also plans a solar plant in Japan at a cost of ¥72 billion with an initial output of 480 megawatts by March 2010, still lags that of Q-Cells, which has said it plans to raise capacity to 1,000 megawatts in 2009 and 2,500 megawatts in 2010.

A tale of two power policies

Carl Mortished: Analysis

It is a marriage of necessity that some will not like, but it is hard to see how Britain could even think of building half the nuclear plant needed without a French takeover of British Energy. If EDF manages to fund and complete the takeover, there will be an inexorable process of transforming Britain’s decaying nuclear industry into one of streamlined Gallic efficiency. Areva will take over Sellafield and introduce some order to the mess left by its old management.
Britain should be ashamed of what it did to its nuclear industry, not least because Britons invented civil nuclear power. The first nuclear-generated kilowatt hours were British. So were the first cost overruns and the first nuclear accident, at Windscale.
France had two advantages: the benefit of the experience of a neighbour and a threat of energy deprivation. France began its nuclear project in 1973, after the first Arab oil embargo. Over ten years, it created a conveyor belt of industrial technology, ending up with a nuclear near-monopoly, controlled by EDF.
Britain went a different way, developing oil and gasfields in the North Sea. North Sea oil and gas is a free-market jungle with all the pros and cons. A host of British and foreign companies compete fiercely. It has given us, at times, very cheap gas, but also inefficiency as the building of pipelines is held up by squabbles.

In France, no such problem affects the power sector, where the accent is on process control. The French are good at this. Arguably, the British are better at pure invention, lateral thinking and disruptive ideas. We do not warm to rule books.
Bernard Dupraz, EDF’s head of generation, says that the task is to “standardise, standardise and standardise”. Identical reactors are run according to identical rules. Some people will not like it, but right now we have no choice.

How Berkeley's Bank could help fight climate change

Berkeley in California is issuing loans to property-owners who install solar power systems. Paid off through taxes, the cost remains with the property so that whoever lives in it pays off the loan and receives the benefit.

By Joel HaganLast Updated: 2:39PM GMT 27 Nov 2008

Despite the recent fall in wholesale energy prices, the struggle of energy supply to keep pace with demand means the era of plentiful and cheap power is well and truly over.
Even if it were not, our environmental responsibility would require us to manage its use far better.
Home and water heating dominate energy consumption; between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of energy goes on this, a much higher figure than elsewhere in Europe.
Our housing stock is exceptionally thermally inefficient, probably because unlike many continental countries we have a temperate climate with no great extremes of heat or cold and because for a quarter of a century, while North Sea oil and gas remained abundant, energy prices were low.
What is to be done? Lag the loft, fit a jacket on the hot water tank, fill the cavity walls, install double glazing, put in a more efficient boiler. These things all cost money and the payback takes years.
Even in good times inertia is high and as we head for a global recession people will be even less inclined to stump up the £10,000 or more required to make an existing home truly energy efficient. Those planning to move house within 20 years will doubt that they will ever recoup their investment.
It is good that the government has secured a commitment from the energy companies to spend £910m over three years on energy efficiency, but large as this sum sounds it will not go far.
It will probably improve the insulation of somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 homes in each of the three years – a drop in the ocean when there are around 22.5 million homes in the UK. Of these 8.5m have unfilled cavity walls and 12m have inadequately insulated lofts or no loft insulation at all.
The domestic housing sector is responsible for around a third of total UK C02 emissions. We clearly cannot go on as we are.
Berkeley in California may have the answer.
The City council there has devised a scheme called Berkeley First that creates a "Sustainable Energy Financing District" fund, which will give loans to Berkeley property-owners who install solar power systems.
Those loans can be up to $22,000 (around £13,000), are paid off over 20 years, and are collected through a local property tax.
If used to promote energy saving this idea solves two problems at a stroke: there is no need for individuals to raise the money on their own account to make their homes more energy efficient, and the cost remains with the property so that whoever lives in it pays off the loan and receives the benefit.
In the UK, we could go beyond Berkeley. We could fund all energy efficiency improvements through loans, collecting the repayments through the council tax. Local authorities might raise the money initially either through traditional borrowing or by issuing bonds.
It may be objected that now is not the best time for local authorities to incur additional debt, but the credit crunch will not last forever and in a chastened banking system innovative lower risk schemes might be attractive.
Such a scheme has much else to commend it – the investment would be an engine to drive economic recovery, and it is generally recognised that new life needs to be breathed into local government to make it more relevant to the needs of people and communities.
An alternative way of financing such home improvement would be to encourage, or possibly to require, energy companies to offer a similar scheme, with repayments made through the energy bill.
Such a notion, however, suffers from the significant complication caused by the movement of consumers between suppliers as they seek the best tariff in a competitive market.
Unless loans remain with the property rather than following the customer one of the key benefits of the scheme would be lost, but it would be unacceptable for it to become a means to lock customers into their suppliers.
One solution would be a pooled fund from which loans would be made, to which all suppliers contribute.
Whether held by local government or utilities, the "Berkeley Pool" could also be the repository for the sums energy suppliers undertake to contribute to broader causes as part of their corporate social responsibility programmes.
The details of any such schemes would need careful study, but the effort would certainly be worthwhile. Bold thinking rather than tinkering at the edges is required. We must seek to bring about structural change.
It is vital that the government's time and attention, and taxpayers' money, are devoted to finding long-term remedies to major structural problems.
Joel Hagan is CEO of Onzo which designs global home energy management systems

The 10 big energy myths

There has never been a more important time to invest in green technologies, yet many of us believe these efforts are doomed to failure. What nonsense, writes Chris Goodall

Chris Goodall, Thursday November 27 2008 00.01 GMT

Myth 1: solar power is too expensive to be of much use
In reality, today's bulky and expensive solar panels capture only 10% or so of the sun's energy, but rapid innovation in the US means that the next generation of panels will be much thinner, capture far more of the energy in the sun's light and cost a fraction of what they do today. They may not even be made of silicon. First Solar, the largest manufacturer of thin panels, claims that its products will generate electricity in sunny countries as cheaply as large power stations by 2012.
Other companies are investigating even more efficient ways of capturing the sun's energy, for example the use of long parabolic mirrors to focus light on to a thin tube carrying a liquid, which gets hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. Spanish and German companies are installing large-scale solar power plants of this type in North Africa, Spain and the south-west of America; on hot summer afternoons in California, solar power stations are probably already financially competitive with coal. Europe, meanwhile, could get most of its electricity from plants in the Sahara desert. We would need new long-distance power transmission but the technology for providing this is advancing fast, and the countries of North Africa would get a valuable new source of income.
Myth 2: wind power is too unreliable
Actually, during some periods earlier this year the wind provided almost 40% of Spanish power. Parts of northern Germany generate more electricity from wind than they actually need. Northern Scotland, blessed with some of the best wind speeds in Europe, could easily generate 10% or even 15% of the UK's electricity needs at a cost that would comfortably match today's fossil fuel prices.
The intermittency of wind power does mean that we would need to run our electricity grids in a very different way. To provide the most reliable electricity, Europe needs to build better connections between regions and countries; those generating a surplus of wind energy should be able to export it easily to places where the air is still. The UK must invest in transmission cables, probably offshore, that bring Scottish wind-generated electricity to the power-hungry south-east and then continue on to Holland and France. The electricity distribution system must be Europe-wide if we are to get the maximum security of supply.
We will also need to invest in energy storage. At the moment we do this by pumping water uphill at times of surplus and letting it flow back down the mountain when power is scarce. Other countries are talking of developing "smart grids" that provide users with incentives to consume less electricity when wind speeds are low. Wind power is financially viable today in many countries, and it will become cheaper as turbines continue to grow in size, and manufacturers drive down costs. Some projections see more than 30% of the world's electricity eventually coming from the wind. Turbine manufacture and installation are also set to become major sources of employment, with one trade body predicting that the sector will generate 2m jobs worldwide by 2020.
Myth 3: marine energy is a dead-end
The thin channel of water between the north-east tip of Scotland and Orkney contains some of the most concentrated tidal power in the world. The energy from the peak flows may well be greater than the electricity needs of London. Similarly, the waves off the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal are strong, consistent and able to provide a substantial fraction of the region's power. Designing and building machines that can survive the harsh conditions of fast-flowing ocean waters has been challenging and the past decades have seen repeated disappointments here and abroad. This year we have seen the installation of the first tidal turbine to be successfully connected to the UK electricity grid in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, and the first group of large-scale wave power generators 5km off the coast of Portugal, constructed by a Scottish company.
But even though the UK shares with Canada, South Africa and parts of South America some of the best marine energy resources in the world, financial support has been trifling. The London opera houses have had more taxpayer money than the British marine power industry over the past few years. Danish support for wind power helped that country establish worldwide leadership in the building of turbines; the UK could do the same with wave and tidal power.
Myth 4: nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon sources of electricity
If we believe that the world energy and environmental crises are as severe as is said, nuclear power stations must be considered as a possible option. But although the disposal of waste and the proliferation of nuclear weapons are profoundly important issues, the most severe problem may be the high and unpredictable cost of nuclear plants.
The new nuclear power station on the island of Olkiluoto in western Finland is a clear example. Electricity production was originally supposed to start this year, but the latest news is that the power station will not start generating until 2012. The impact on the cost of the project has been dramatic. When the contracts were signed, the plant was supposed to cost €3bn (£2.5bn). The final cost is likely to be more than twice this figure and the construction process is fast turning into a nightmare. A second new plant in Normandy appears to be experiencing similar problems. In the US, power companies are backing away from nuclear because of fears over uncontrollable costs.
Unless we can find a new way to build nuclear power stations, it looks as though CO2 capture at coal-fired plants will be a cheaper way of producing low-carbon electricity. A sustained research effort around the world might also mean that cost-effective carbon capture is available before the next generation of nuclear plants is ready, and that it will be possible to fit carbon-capture equipment on existing coal-fired power stations. Finding a way to roll out CO2 capture is the single most important research challenge the world faces today. The current leader, the Swedish power company Vattenfall, is using an innovative technology that burns the coal in pure oxygen rather than air, producing pure carbon dioxide from its chimneys, rather than expensively separating the CO2 from other exhaust gases. It hopes to be operating huge coal-fired power stations with minimal CO2 emissions by 2020.
Myth 5: electric cars are slow and ugly
We tend to think that electric cars are all like the G Wiz vehicle, with a limited range, poor acceleration and an unprepossessing appearance. Actually, we are already very close to developing electric cars that match the performance of petrol vehicles. The Tesla electric sports car, sold in America but designed by Lotus in Norfolk, amazes all those who experience its awesome acceleration. With a price tag of more than $100,000, late 2008 probably wasn't a good time to launch a luxury electric car, but the Tesla has demonstrated to everybody that electric cars can be exciting and desirable. The crucial advance in electric car technology has been in batteries: the latest lithium batteries - similar to the ones in your laptop - can provide large amounts of power for acceleration and a long enough range for almost all journeys.
Batteries still need to become cheaper and quicker to charge, but the UK's largest manufacturer of electric vehicles says that advances are happening faster than ever before. Its urban delivery van has a range of over 100 miles, accelerates to 70mph and has running costs of just over 1p per mile. The cost of the diesel equivalent is probably 20 times as much. Denmark and Israel have committed to develop the full infrastructure for a switch to an all-electric car fleet. Danish cars will be powered by the spare electricity from the copious resources of wind power; the Israelis will provide solar power harvested from the desert.
Myth 6: biofuels are always destructive to the environment
Making some of our motor fuel from food has been an almost unmitigated disaster. It has caused hunger and increased the rate of forest loss, as farmers have sought extra land on which to grow their crops. However the failure of the first generation of biofuels should not mean that we should reject the use of biological materials forever. Within a few years we will be able to turn agricultural wastes into liquid fuels by splitting cellulose, the most abundant molecule in plants and trees, into simple hydrocarbons. Chemists have struggled to find a way of breaking down this tough compound cheaply, but huge amounts of new capital have flowed into US companies that are working on making a petrol substitute from low-value agricultural wastes. In the lead is Range Fuels, a business funded by the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, which is now building its first commercial cellulose cracking plant in Georgia using waste wood from managed forests as its feedstock.
We shouldn't be under any illusion that making petrol from cellulose is a solution to all the problems of the first generation of biofuels. Although cellulose is abundant, our voracious needs for liquid fuel mean we will have to devote a significant fraction of the world's land to growing the grasses and wood we need for cellulose refineries. Managing cellulose production so that it doesn't reduce the amount of food produced is one of the most important issues we face.
Myth 7: climate change means we need more organic agriculture
The uncomfortable reality is that we already struggle to feed six billion people. Population numbers will rise to more than nine billion by 2050. Although food production is increasing slowly, the growth rate in agricultural productivity is likely to decline below population increases within a few years. The richer half of the world's population will also be eating more meat. Since animals need large amounts of land for every unit of meat they produce, this further threatens food production for the poor. So we need to ensure that as much food as possible is produced on the limited resources of good farmland. Most studies show that yields under organic cultivation are little more than half what can be achieved elsewhere. Unless this figure can be hugely improved, the implication is clear: the world cannot feed its people and produce huge amounts of cellulose for fuels if large acreages are converted to organic cultivation.
Myth 8: zero carbon homes are the best way of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from buildings
Buildings are responsible for about half the world's emissions; domestic housing is the most important single source of greenhouse gases. The UK's insistence that all new homes are "zero carbon" by 2016 sounds like a good idea, but there are two problems. In most countries, only about 1% of the housing stock is newly built each year. Tighter building regulations have no effect on the remaining 99%. Second, making a building genuinely zero carbon is extremely expensive. The few prototype UK homes that have recently reached this standard have cost twice as much as conventional houses.
Just focusing on new homes and demanding that housebuilders meet extremely high targets is not the right way to cut emissions. Instead, we should take a lesson from Germany. A mixture of subsidies, cheap loans and exhortation is succeeding in getting hundreds of thousands of older properties eco-renovated each year to very impressive standards and at reasonable cost. German renovators are learning lessons from the PassivHaus movement, which has focused not on reducing carbon emissions to zero, but on using painstaking methods to cut emissions to 10 or 20% of conventional levels, at a manageable cost, in both renovations and new homes. The PassivHaus pioneers have focused on improving insulation, providing far better air-tightness and warming incoming air in winter, with the hotter stale air extracted from the house. Careful attention to detail in both design and building work has produced unexpectedly large cuts in total energy use. The small extra price paid by householders is easily outweighed by the savings in electricity and gas. Rather than demanding totally carbon-neutral housing, the UK should push a massive programme of eco-renovation and cost-effective techniques for new construction.
Myth 9: the most efficient power stations are big
Large, modern gas-fired power stations can turn about 60% of the energy in fuel into electricity. The rest is lost as waste heat.
Even though 5-10% of the electricity will be lost in transmission to the user, efficiency has still been far better than small-scale local generation of power. This is changing fast.
New types of tiny combined heat and power plants are able to turn about half the energy in fuel into electricity, almost matching the efficiency of huge generators. These are now small enough to be easily installed in ordinary homes. Not only will they generate electricity but the surplus heat can be used to heat the house, meaning that all the energy in gas is productively used. Some types of air conditioning can even use the heat to power their chillers in summer.
We think that microgeneration means wind turbines or solar panels on the roof, but efficient combined heat and power plants are a far better prospect for the UK and elsewhere. Within a few years, we will see these small power plants, perhaps using cellulose-based renewable fuels and not just gas, in many buildings. Korea is leading the way by heavily subsidising the early installation of fuel cells at office buildings and other large electricity users.
Myth 10: all proposed solutions to climate change need to be hi-tech
The advanced economies are obsessed with finding hi-tech solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these are expensive and may create as many problems as they solve. Nuclear power is a good example. But it may be cheaper and more effective to look for simple solutions that reduce emissions, or even extract existing carbon dioxide from the air. There are many viable proposals to do this cheaply around the world, which also often help feed the world's poorest people. One outstanding example is to use a substance known as biochar to sequester carbon and increase food yields at the same time.
Biochar is an astonishing idea. Burning agricultural wastes in the absence of air leaves a charcoal composed of almost pure carbon, which can then be crushed and dug into the soil. Biochar is extremely stable and the carbon will stay in the soil unchanged for hundreds of years. The original agricultural wastes had captured CO2 from the air through the photosynthesis process; biochar is a low-tech way of sequestering carbon, effectively for ever. As importantly, biochar improves fertility in a wide variety of tropical soils. Beneficial micro-organisms seem to crowd into the pores of the small pieces of crushed charcoal. A network of practical engineers around the tropical world is developing the simple stoves needed to make the charcoal. A few million dollars of support would allow their research to benefit hundreds of millions of small farmers at the same time as extracting large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere.
• Chris Goodall's new book, Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, is published by Profile books, priced £9.99.

Fuel claims polarise opinion

A scheme to boost fuel economy by reducing viscosity has met with scepticism from academics
Michael Pollitt, Thursday November 27 2008 00.01 GMT

Everyone would like to get more mileage out of their car. Professor Rongjia Tao, of Temple University in Philadelphia, reckons he can increase diesel fuel economy by up to 20% by applying an electric field to the fine spray of fuel that is injected into an engine's combustion chambers, where it ignites and powers the pistons.
Tao says that the electric field makes the droplets smaller, leading to better combustion. There's no doubt that smaller droplets will burn better and produce more energy. The question is, can the electric field really make that happen?
Troubled waters
Water has a low viscosity while oil's is higher - that's why water flows more easily. In 2006, Tao and a colleague demonstrated that an electric field (electrorheology) and a magnetic field (magnetorheology) temporarily reduced crude oil viscosity.
Taking this idea forward, Tao thought about refined automotive fuels such as diesel or petrol. "I realised in physics it was known that, for droplet formation, viscosity plays a very important part."
The right atomisation of fuel before its combustion is a vital step. Tao says most harmful emissions come from incomplete burning, so reducing fuel droplet size increases the surface area for burning, which leads to more complete combustion. A finer spray is possible by boosting fuel line pressure, or using electrostatic atomisation, where the fuel droplets are negatively charged.
In a recent paper, Tao points out that high-pressure (100 bar) solutions require "substantial changes of the fuel lines in vehicles, because current gasoline vehicles can only sustain a fuel pressure less than three bar". (One bar is standard atmospheric pressure.)
But experiments by Tao and his colleagues showed that smaller diesel fuel droplets were formed when a strong electric field was applied to reduce the viscosity just before atomisation. The fuel passes through an electrically charged tube where two internal meshes produce an electric field of 1 kV/mm between them. It then flows to the fuel injector for atomisation. "The average viscosity reduction is about 9%," Tao says.
For diesel fuel, the number of smaller droplets increased (some are smaller than five microns) when the fuel device was switched on. There was less of an effect with petrol. A diesel engine trial showed a 5.5% improvement in economy but, following modifications, six months of road testing gave a 20% economy boost for motorway driving and between 12% and 15% in city driving.
Will a simple low-powered device (it uses less than 0.1 Watt) really achieve all that? After all, similar claims by fuel magnet manufacturers (which put a household-strength magnet around the fuel line) have been debunked. So the Guardian sought opinion from three academic experts. One didn't believe Tao's research, saying "this does not stand up to its claims".
Dr John Shrimpton of the University of Southampton agrees with Tao's conclusion that a fuel-saving technology could be useful, but says the physical explanation of a viscosity decrease is "full of holes".
"The viscosity change is I think due to electrical forces present in the fluid biasing the viscosity measurement - poor experimental method. The viscosity will appear to decrease, but it is not decreasing," says Shrimpton. "A much better explanation for the improvements in fuel economy is the improvement in atomisation, spray dispersion and fuel-air mixture preparation in the engine due to the electric charge on the liquid drops."
Shrimpton co-authored a paper on the dynamics of electrically charged transient evaporating sprays, which offers a detailed mathematical understanding. This leads him to think that a reduction in surface tension might be a factor with Tao's work.
Brunel University Professor Wamadeva Balachandran, who has spent many years working in electrospray atomisation thinks there's a "completely different explanation". He queries the use of mesh rather than fine charged needles normally used for electrospray atomisation.
Attractive technology
"The other big problem I have is that they have used extremely old techniques to measure the [droplet] size distribution. This is something I used 25 years ago when there were no laser techniques available," says Balachandran.
However, he agrees with Tao that high-pressure fuel systems are a difficult way to improve economy.
"This is why the electrospray technology is attractive," he says. "I've spent 20 years of my career messing around with electrosprays and we haven't got a device we can use in a motor car."
Temple University has applied for a patent on Tao's work and has licensed the technology to California-based Save The World Air Inc. There are now plans to test the fuel device on diesel-powered trucks with hopes of making fuel efficiency improvements of between 6% and 12%. But for those who bought a much-hyped fuel magnet to save money, it might seem like déjà vu.

125mph electric bike ready to burn rubber

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Friday November 28 2008 00.01 GMT

It may not have the macho roar of a Harley-Davidson, but the TTX01 will ride easier on your conscience. The world's fastest all-electric motorbike, with a top speed of 125mph, has been unveiled at an international bike show.
The TTX01, designed and built by British engineers, was commissioned by the organisers of the world's first emissions-free grand prix for motorbikes, which will be held on the Isle of Man's TT circuit next June. It is the most advanced emission-free bike close to commercial production: it is already road-legal in the UK and its makers claim it can go from 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds. A limited number will go on sale at the end of next year, for £20,000.
Azhar Hussain, organiser of the Isle of Man event and a keen motorcyclist, said the TTX01 was a showcase for technology that would feature in the mainstream electric vehicles of the future. "One of the good things about motorcycles is that the technology is good enough today to give you a motor sport performance" with no emissions, he said.
The only other electric bikes close to commercial production are the US company Brammo's Enertia, due on the market next year, and the Vectrix scooter. Both are aimed at the commuter market, and have lower top speeds - 50mph and 60mph respectively.
But there may be a sticking point before electric bikes become mainstream. "It hardly makes any noise," said Hussain. "Either we start making noise, which is quite an inefficient way of moving forward, or we start training people that these bikes will be silent so you need to start looking both ways before crossing the road."
The TTX01 runs on two battery-powered motors - designed by Brighton-based Agni Motors - attached to its rear wheel. It is rated at about 86 brake horsepower, equivalent to the peak power of a standard 600cc racing bike.
In the prototype unveiled in Birmingham, the drive has been built into the frame of a standard Suzuki. But the final version, due out in a year's time, will have a frame made from lightweight carbon composite materials. It will also incorporate technologies such as regenerative braking, to increase its range.
Bikers have welcomed the development. Jeff Stone, of the British Motorcyclists Federation, said: "Like electric cars, it'll take some time to get used to, but this is a pioneering venture. It's well known that racing improves the breed."
After tests, the TTX01 will undertake a European tour before coming back to the Isle of Man in time for the TT race, in which 50 teams will compete, next June. On a full charge and at a moderate speed, the bike's 75kg battery will currently allow it to travel around 50 miles.

Portugal leads way in electric cars

By Patrick Blum
Published: November 28, 2008

LISBON: António Pereira Joaquim is Nissan Motor's representative in Portugal, which has been chosen for rolling out the company's "zero-emission" electric car, to be marketed globally in 2010.
"The challenge is to make people believe it can work," Joaquim says.
The Japanese automaker and its French strategic partner, Renault, chose Portugal as one of several small markets to gauge the technology and consumer response under market conditions. There are similar plans in Denmark and Israel.Installation of a battery charging network will start next year and Nissan says the cars, made in Japan, will go on sale here starting in 2011.
The Portuguese government will oversee installation of the network of charging stations, which will offer a fast 20-minute battery top-up in the country's two major cities, Lisbon and Porto, and along some motorways. A recharge at home using the standard grid will take about six hours.
The infrastructure needs to be in place before the cars go on sale, and this could be a challenge for a country that has often seen deadlines slip and costs escalate on major projects.

But the government is enthusiastic and believes that success will burnish the country's image as a modern, environment-friendly location. It has assembled a consortium of some of the country's leading utilities and retail chains whose task will be to deliver a functioning network on time.
Analysts say motorists' confidence that they will have easy access to power is an important factor in deciding to switch to an electric car. A fully charged battery is expected to provide around 160 kilometers, or 100 miles of motoring - adequate for inner-city journeys, but potentially limiting for longer trips across the country.
"It's a chicken and egg situation. We need the infrastructure in place for people to buy the car. The question is, if I buy an electric car, how do I fuel it," said Nick Gill, automotive industry leader at the consultancy and services company Capgemini.
"People are afraid they'll be left stranded without a battery, but it's the same as with petrol. When the gauge shows you're low on gas you know it's time to look for the next petrol station," says Joaquim, using the British term for gasoline.
The price of the cars and the cost of leasing and recharging batteries will also be crucial factors.
Joaquim says electric cars should be tax free to help establish the market. Car tax is high in Portugal at around €3,000 to €4,000, or $4,000 to $5,000, for a conventional vehicle with a 1.5 litre engine.
"The government needs to guarantee that the network will happen and provide incentives so that we can offer the car at the right price," said Joaquim.
Nissan's electric car will be priced at around €25,000 in Portugal, which is roughly in line with a comparable 1.6 liter model running on conventional gasoline.
"People don't want to pay more for being green. The car cannot be more expensive" than a conventional gasoline powered model, Joaquim said. "If it's more expensive, it will be a failure, we will not do it."
"The challenge for the industry is how do you do this without loading back the costs on the consumer," said Gill.
Portuguese motorists may enjoy the feel-good factor of being among the first in Europe to opt for a "clean," zero-emission car, but they are likely to be even more enthusiastic about cutting their fuel bills, which are among the highest in the European Union.
Not only buying the car, but also driving it "has to be cheaper than using petrol," reiterated Joaquim.
That would be fine for consumers; but it could result in a loss of revenue for the government.
So, the key to success will be establishing a network pricing formula that encourages use, but "is not too expensive for the government," Gill said.

Greenwash: Don't be duped by bogus green business badges

Schemes that hand out badges to businesses which make lily-livered climate 'pledges' are greenwash. If these initiatives are to have any value at all, they need to be badges of actual endeavour, writes Fred Pearce, Thursday November 27 2008 14.50 GMT

Going green is easy for companies today. It is free and, literally, a couple of clicks of a mouse away. Take the Prince of Wales's May Day network on climate change, part of his Business in the Community (BITC) programme.
The network allows corporations to use its "prestigious" logo on letterheads, business brochures, annual reports and wherever else they like. The logo, according to Business in the Community's website, indicates that the business is "committed to taking action on climate change".
Really? As reader Jeremy Green points out, in order to display it, you don't actually have to take any action at all, beyond a bit of carbon accountancy.
The website sounds tough. "Companies will only be eligible to use the logo if they commit to and fulfil pledges one and two, and report progress." So what are pledges one and two? One is to calculate your carbon footprint. The second is to report it "publicly or to business in the community". That's it.
Now, to be fair, the companies could under the subsequent pledges, "select a target and take action" to cut their emissions, encourage their employees to make cuts, "mobilise customers" and "work in partnership with suppliers to reduce emissions in the supply chain". But to become a member of the network and win that precious logo of green probity, none of that is required.
All they have to do is a few sums and send the result on the back of a postcard to BITC. They don't even have to make those calculations public. And nowhere does BITC tell us which companies have gone beyond the two initial "pledges".
So it is no great surprise that around 1,400 organisations have signed up. From Cardiff airport to Drax power station, from BP to Jaguar-Land Rover - frankly it is more a question of spotting who isn't on the list. I'd certainly welcome evidence from you on the extent of the "commitment" on these companies to fighting climate change.
BITC takes an open-door approach to environmental evangelism: entice the punters inside and then hope they'll become converts. Fair enough, perhaps. But that leaves the rest of us duped by the dubious badges of green probity.
It is only three years since Adnams, the admirable brewer, left the organisation, claiming that it was a "PR fig leaf". Adnams has since been enticed back into the May Day Network. Indeed it won a prize from the network this year for its commitment to the cause. But the mud of its departure clings.
These lily-livered climate "pledges" are greenwash. It is no longer good enough (if it ever was) for companies to be able to gain the imprimatur of an organisation like Business in the Community to be fighting climate change if they do not make public and verifiable commitments to actually cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
Diligent readers will remember that, in launching this column, I pointed out that the City of London Corporation offers a similar green accreditation service to banks and finance houses through its Climate Pledge. Again, companies are invited to sign up and use the pledge logo in order to be "recognised as exemplar sustainable businesses." Again there are no targets.
The corporation has since told me that "targets are not appropriate as each company is starting from a different point." I'm not sure why corporations cannot do what entire countries agreed to do under the Kyoto protocol. But nobody is saying each company should have identical targets. Just that, in return for being recognised as "exemplars", they should declare their emissions, make promises about cutting them and then be held to account in public for their progress.
Today, my charge of greenwash is not against the companies that sign up to these schemes. It is against the organisers of the schemes and they should change their rules.
In the months to come, this column will continue its audit of the auditors and, in its humble way, campaign to end these bogus green badges. Green accountancy is not enough. If the May Day Network logo and all the others are to have any value, they need to be badges of actual endeavour. I can't help thinking the Prince of Wales would probably agree.
• How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? Please send your examples of greenwash to or add your comments below

Congestion charge extension to be scrapped

By Peter Woodman, PAThursday, 27 November 2008

The western extension of the London congestion charge area is to be scrapped, London mayor Boris Johnson announced today.
The move follows a consultation process in which 67 per cent of those responding - and 86 per cent of businesses - said they wanted the extension to be removed.
Mr Johnson said he would take the necessary legal steps to scrap the extension, which includes areas such as Kensington and Chelsea, but the earliest it could be removed is spring 2010.
The congestion charge, originally covering just central London, was introduced in February 2003, with the western extension added in February 2007.
The charge for cars entering the zone was originally £5 but rose to £8 in July 2005.
Mr Johnson said today: "During the election I promised Londoners a genuine consultation on the future of the extension.
"Londoners have spoken loud and clear, and the majority of people have said that they would like the scheme scrapped. One thing everybody should be assured of is my determination to make it easier for Londoners to get around our great city."
Transport for London (TfL) said today it estimated traffic returning to the western extension would result in a small increase in emissions of air pollutants and carbon dioxide, but that this increase would be unlikely to have any material effect on measured air quality within the western extension or on the boundary route because of the number of different factors that affect local air quality.
The ongoing investment in technology such as hybrid and hydrogen buses, encouraging the uptake of low-carbon vehicles and fuels and reducing power consumption on the Underground and London Overground railway were all helping to tackle transport-related emissions across the capital, TfL added.
The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: "We are delighted to see that common sense has prevailed. This is an important milestone for many of the capital's hard-pressed businesses and we urge the Mayor to launch a root-and-branch review of the original charging scheme in the central zone."

Not green enough, Boris

Planting trees and flowers will make our parks nicer, but the London mayor must take more urgent action on climate change

Jenny Jones, Thursday November 27 2008 09.30 GMT

The mayor of London has promised to make London "the world's leading city in delivering carbon reductions". In a speech to the London Environment Agency this week, Mayor Johnson called for a "green new deal" for London and officially launched the "Help a London Park" scheme, which will see 10 of London's open spaces receive grants of up to £400,000. The programme will encourage the creation of allotments, wildlife habitats and flower gardens to make our parks cleaner, safer and greener. While I can happily agree that planting a few trees and flowers will make our parks nicer, it is pathetically not enough to tackle climate change, especially when a number of London's existing environmental programmes are being reviewed or cancelled.
For example, in July, the mayor abandoned the £25 congestion charge on gas guzzling vehicles. It can be argued that this year's rapid rise in oil prices and continuing volatility makes it unlikely that gas guzzlers will be anyone's favourite car. However, there are still dimwitted people out there and the £25 charge would have taken the shine off these polluting vehicles once and for all in London.
Then, in August, Boris Johnson cancelled one of the biggest hydrogen vehicle purchases in Europe despite admitting that "Hydrogen is an exciting fuel of the future" which "can help find solutions to the challenges we face today". He has expanded the existing scheme to promote electric vehicle charging points, but there is no sense of Boris Johnson trying to achieve Ken Livingstone's 15% target of vehicle purchases being zero carbon by 2015.
And this week, funding for the London Cycle Network was halved from £20m to £10m. What I found most disturbing was that Boris not only reduced spending on the main cycling infrastructure project in London, he then gave that money to boroughs for traffic light modernisation. The Mayor has effectively switched funds from cycling to enable cars to get through red lights quicker.
Now Boris is proposing to cut the GLA's environment budget by 13%, a move which could threaten the speedy arrival of projects such as the East London Green Grid, which seeks to protect all the green areas in the Thames Gateway for food growing space, leisure space and flood defences. The Green Grid will cover an area 29 times the size of Hyde Park and will be at least three times more effective than the 'Help a London Park' scheme.
On top of all this, the mayor is currently promoting plans for a Thames Estuary airport, a mad idea that would destroy the protected habitat of 300,000 birds and increase carbon emissions immensely.
I am glad that Mayor Johnson no longer views fears of global warming as a "stone age religion", but if he is to become an "eco-warrior", he has to get a better grip on the urgent measures needed to protect the capital from the growing threat of climate change.

Bangladeshis rally against climate change

The Associated Press
Published: November 27, 2008

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Some 500 women rallied in Bangladesh's capital on Thursday, demanding richer nations cut their greenhouse gas emissions and compensate the impoverished countries that experts believe will be hardest hit by the impacts of climate change.
The women, mostly rural poor, wore masks mocking leaders from wealthy nations such as France, Britain and the United States, and marched through Dhaka University's campus carrying banners that read "Cut emissions, save poor nations" and "Stop harming, start helping."
Organizers from the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihood, an Oxfam-funded network of domestic labor and rights groups, said the rally was timed to send a message to delegates who will gather Dec. 1 in Poznan, Poland for a United Nations conference on climate change.
"We are here with a message that we are suffering, and our sufferings will increase manifold if rich countries do not act aggressively," said Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, a Bangladeshi expert on climate change.
"Rich nations like the U.S. and emerging countries such as China and India must act properly," he said. "We need development but not at the cost of our future."

Bangladesh, a densely populated nation of 150 million people, suffers annual floods, frequent cyclones and increasing salinity in its coastal regions.
Experts say more frequent flooding due to global warming could eventually put as much as one-third of Bangladesh's land mass permanently under water.

Western governors: 'Obama, act quickly on energy'

The Associated Press
Published: November 27, 2008

SALT LAKE CITY: The governors of the largest energy-producing U.S. states are encouraging President-elect Barack Obama to quickly adopt a national energy policy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The bipartisan Western Governors' Association has delivered Obama a four-page letter outlining what steps it believes his administration should take in his first 100 days in office to address the issue.
Among the recommendations are annually spending tens of billions of dollars to develop clean energy technology; establishing an 'aggressive' greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal to help stop global warming; and proposing a mandatory national system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through "market-based mechanisms."
"We must not repeat the mistakes of the past," says the letter signed by association chairman, Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, and vice chairman, Democratic Gov. Dem Brian Schweitzer of Montana. "The future of our nation depends on it."
Huntsman said Obama's administration should listen to the WGA because its 19 states are responsible for 94 percent of the country's onshore oil reserves, 66 percent of its coal reserves and 100 percent of its installed solar generation.

The WGA is encouraging Obama to improve mass transportation, bring more fuel-efficient and near-zero emission vehicles on to the market and develop renewable resources such as wind and solar energy.
Other proposals include establishing an oil import reduction goal; expanding the electric grid; and creating technology to have nearly no greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired electric plants in 10 years and from existing generation by 2030.
Obama has pledged support for an emissions cap-and-trade system and would establish annual targets to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them another 80 percent by 2050.
President George Bush has been criticized for failing to do enough to combat climate change, and Obama has promised quick action to address the issue.
"I promise you this: When I am president, any governor who's willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that's willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that's willing to join the cause of combatting climate change will have an ally in the United States of America," Obama said in a video message to governors and others attending a Los Angeles summit on the issue last week.
On Nov. 21, Huntsman and Schweitzer met with John Podesta, co-chairman of Obama's transition team, in Washington, D.C., to promote the WGA proposal.

Save the economy, and the planet

Published: November 27, 2008

Environment ministers preparing for next week's talks on global warming in Poznan, Poland, have been sounding decidedly downbeat. From Paris to Beijing, the refrain is the same: This is no time to pursue ambitious plans to stop global warming. We can't deal with a financial crisis and reduce emissions at the same time.
There is a very different message coming from the United States. President-elect Barack Obama is arguing that there is no better time than the present to invest heavily in clean energy technologies. Such investment, he says, would confront the threat of climate change, reduce dependence on foreign oil and help revive the American economy.
Call it what you will: a climate policy wrapped inside an energy policy wrapped inside an economic policy. By any name, it is a radical shift from the defeatism and denial that marked President Bush's eight years in office. If Obama follows through on his commitments, America will at last provide the global leadership that is essential for addressing the dangers of climate change.
Still two months from the White House, Obama has convincingly reaffirmed his main climate related promises. One is to impose (Congress willing) a mandatory cap on emissions aimed at reducing America's output of greenhouses gas by 80 percent by midcentury. According to mainstream scientists, that is the minimum necessary to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Obama's second pledge is to invest $15 billion a year to build a clean economy that cuts fuel costs and creates thousands of green jobs. That includes investments in solar power, wind power, clean coal (plants capable of capturing and storing carbon emissions) and, as part of any bailout, helping Detroit retool assembly lines to build a new generation of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Obama has surrounded himself with like-minded people who have spent years immersed in the complexities of climate change. His transition chief, John Podesta, was an early advocate of assisting the automakers and of finding low-carbon alternatives to gasoline. Peter Orszag, his choice to run the Office of Management and Budget (where environmental initiatives went to die during the Bush years) is an expert on cap-and-trade programs to limit industrial emissions of greenhouse gases.

Success is not guaranteed. At least on the surface, it seems counterintuitive to impose new regulations (and, in the short term anyway, higher energy costs) on a struggling economy. Obama will need all his oratorical power to make the opposite case.
The historical landscape from Richard Nixon onward is littered with bold and unfulfilled promises to wean the nation from fossil fuels, especially imported oil. What is different now is the need to deal with the clear and present threat of global warming. What is also different is that the country has elected a president who believes that meeting the challenge of climate change is essential to the health of the planet and to America's economic future.

Only 15 homes meet Gordon Brown’s zero-carbon test

Sam Coates, Chief Political Correspondent

A £15 million project to build hundreds of new zero-carbon homes has fallen flat after only 15 qualified in the first year, The Times has learnt.
Gordon Brown’s scheme, which he championed in his last Pre-Budget Report as Chancellor, has failed because the Government’s specification for a zero-carbon home is not practical, the building industry says.
In November 2006 Mr Brown said he would waive stamp duty for new zero-carbon houses, giving buyers savings of about £15,000. This was extended to flats and maisonettes in last year’s Budget.
The figures, disclosed by Ian Pearson, the Treasury Minister, raise wider questions about policy on zero-carbon homes. Low-carbon campaigners such as Chris Goodall have pointed out that they are extremely costly to build. A better, cheaper alternative, he suggests, would be subsidies to improve the air-tightness of existing buildings.

Building companies say the failure to design a workable zero-carbon scheme calls into question the Government’s ambition that all new homes should be constructed to a zero-carbon standard by 2016.
Homes designed for zero net carbon emissions must include some form of power generation to offset the use of electricity, gas and other utilities. This would typically mean a wind turbine or solar panels. However, the UK Green Building Council, which represents the green building industry, says microgeneration is not practical in the majority of cases.
The Callcutt review of housing, commissioned by the Government, said the 2016 target for all new homes to be zero-carbon was achievable if they agreed a clear definition of what such a home was. Paul King, the chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: “As Government was warned in late 2007, the definition of zero-carbon is at present too restrictive. This is not about dumbing down the concept of zero-carbon or the level of our ambition – far from it – it is about recog-nising that developers should be able to achieve the same level of carbon savings but through more flexible means.”
Grant Shapps, the Tory housing spokesman, said: “This was announced at the same time as eco-towns, and both initiatives have turned out to be spectacular failures. We said at the time that Gordon Brown was more interested in grabbing eco-headlines than doing anything real for the environment. The latest revelation that just 15 homes have qualified for the zero-carbon tax break demonstrates that this is an eco-con.”
A Treasury spokesman said: “Stamp duty land tax relief for zero-carbon homes was always expected to only be picked up in small numbers in the first few years. The aim is to kick-start a market for new, highly efficient homes as few exist.”