Tuesday, 6 January 2009

California targets flat screen televisions to save energy

California is planning to phase out energy-guzzling flat screen televisions to reduce pressure on the state's over-stretched power grid.

By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles Last Updated: 6:32PM GMT 05 Jan 2009

Legislators are drawing up the first rules in the US requiring retailers to sell only "green" televisions, the most energy-efficient models, from 2011.
The move is opposed by some television manufacturers who say the regulations could bump up the average price of televisions, limit consumer choice and encourage shoppers to buy online or outside the state for models not covered by the rules.
Energy regulators, however, say curbing the number of power-hungry television sets in the state could save as much energy as used by over 86,000 homes.
California, the nation's most populous state, requires huge amounts of power for its energy-hungry industries and population. Alerts ordering consumers to conserve energy are issued to prevent blackouts during times of peak use, such as during hot weather, and regulators constantly seek ways to reduce the strain on the grid.
Similar rules requiring refrigerators and other domestic appliances to be energy efficient have been in place for decades.
Flat-screen televisions use far more energy than conventional models and some plasma screen televisions demand up to four times as much.
"I think this is basically doable," Arthur Rosenfeld, a state Energy Commission member, told the Los Angeles Times. "Refrigerators and air conditioner manufacturers have grown up with standards, and, now, they are generally considered successes. But this is a new wrinkle for the TV industry."
Manufacturers, however, remain sceptical. "We can accomplish this without regulation as a result of innovation and voluntary approaches," Doug Johnson, senior director of technology at the Consumer Electronics Association. in Arlington, Virginia, told the paper.

It will take more than goodwill and greenwash to save the biosphere

Shell may boast about tackling climate change, but companies tend always to sacrifice good intentions for hard cash

George Monbiot
The Guardian, Tuesday 6 January 2009

George Monbiot interviews Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive of oil giant Shell

For a while it seemed that Shell had stopped pretending. The advertisements that filled the newspapers in 2006, featuring technicians with perfect teeth and open-necked shirts explaining how they were saving the world, vanished. After being slated by environmentalists for greenwash, after two adverse rulings by the Advertising Standards Authority, Shell appeared to have accepted the inescapable truth that it was an oil company with a minor sideline in alternative energy, and that there was no point in trying to persuade people otherwise.
The interview I conducted with its chief executive, Jeroen van der Veer, broadcast on the Guardian's website today, contains what appears to be an interesting admission. I asked him whether Shell had stopped producing ads extolling its investments in renewable energy. Van der Veer does not express himself clearly at this point, but he seems to admit that his company's previous advertising was not honest.
"If we are very big in oil and gas and we are so far relatively small in alternative energies, if you then every day only make adverts about your alternative energies and not about 90% of your other activities I don't think that - then I say transparency, honesty to the market, that's nonsense." So, I asked, Shell did not intend to return to that kind of advertising? "Probably not," he told me. "I'm very much: keep your feet on the ground, tell them who you are and explain why you are who you are."
But since the interview was filmed, Shell's messianic tendencies appear to have resurfaced. In December the company ran a series of ads in the Guardian suggesting again that it had come to save the world. "Tackling climate change and providing fuel for a growing population seems like an impossible problem, but at Shell we try to think creatively," one boasted. It features a diagram of a human brain, divided into sections labelled "fuel from algae", "fuel from straw", "fuel from woodchips", "hydrogen fuels", "windfarm", "gas to liquids" and "coal gasification". This suggests progress of a kind, in that the company is acknowledging that it sometimes dabbles in fossil fuels, but its core business - oil - and its massive investments in tar sands extraction are missing from the corporate mind. Could Shell be having a senior moment?
The confusion deepens when you watch its latest publicity film. It's called Clearing the Air, and it does just the opposite. It is supposed to tell an inspirational tale of discovery, but the script and the acting are so gobsmackingly bad that it inspires you only to rip your clothes off and run screaming down the street. The lasting impression it leaves is that Shell's staff are chaotic and incompetent. Perhaps the clean-cut corporate clones featured in the ads of 2006 put people off.
Jeroen van der Veer is neither an incompetent nor an automaton. He is charming, friendly and smart. But he refused to answer some of the questions I had prepared.
Reading Shell's reports and publicity material, I kept stumbling on an absence. In 2000, the company boasted that it would be investing $1bn in renewable energy between 2001 and 2005. But since then it appears to have produced no figures for its renewables budget. The company now claims that it is "investing significantly in wind energy", but it doesn't say what "significantly" means. Of the 10 windfarms listed on its website, only one appears to be in the planning or development stage: the others are already in operation. Where is the evidence of new money? When Shell pulled out of Britain's biggest windfarm, the London Array, last year, did this represent the end of its major investments?
I asked Van der Veer a simple question - 15 times. (Only a few of these attempts feature in the edited film.) "What is the value of your annual investments in renewable energy?" He waffled, changed the subject, admitted that he knew the figure, then flatly refused to reveal it. Nor could he give me a convincing explanation of why he wouldn't tell me, claiming only that "those figures are misused and people say it is too small", and it "is not the right message to give to the people". It strikes me that there is only one likely reason for these evasions: that Shell's spending on renewables has fallen sharply from the figure it announced in 2000. It's a fair guess that the current investment would look microscopic by comparison to its spending on the Canadian tar sands, and would make a mockery of its new round of advertising. I challenge Shell - for the 16th time - to prove me wrong.
Nor would Van der Veer give me a straight answer to another straight question: "Is there any investment you would not make on ethical grounds?" I asked this six times. He was unable to furnish me with an example. It's not hard to see why. As well as exploiting the tar sands, which means destroying forest and wetlands, polluting great quantities of water and producing more CO2 than conventional petroleum production, Shell is still flaring gas in Nigeria, at great cost to both local people and the global climate. It has been fiercely criticised for its secret negotiations with the Iraqi government, which led last year to the first major access for a western company to Iraq's gas reserves. It is prospecting for oil in some of the Arctic's most sensitive habitats.
All this makes my question difficult to answer. Aside from the greenwash, it is not easy to spot the practical difference between this civilised, progressive company and the Neanderthals at Exxon.
Like all oil companies, Shell simply follows the opportunities. Shut out of the richest fields by state companies, struggling to extract the dregs from its declining reserves, it has been turning to ever more difficult oil extraction, some of which lies beneath rare and fragile ecosystems. When the price of oil was high, it announced massive investments in the tar sands. Now the price has dropped again, it has cancelled further spending. It has even less of an incentive to invest in renewables. Shell does what the market demands.
I don't blame Shell or Van der Veer for this: they are discharging their duty to their shareholders. I do blame them for creating the impression that the company has a different agenda, and I blame governments for allowing them to drift into whatever fields they find profitable, regardless of the consequences for people or the environment.
On this issue Jeroen van der Veer and I agree. Oil companies, he says, should not seek to determine a country's energy mix: that is for the government to decide.
Saving the biosphere, in other words, cannot be left to goodwill and greenwash: the humanity of pleasant men like Van der Veer will always be swept aside by the imperative to maximise returns. Good people in these circumstances do terrible things. Companies like Shell will pour big money into alternative energy only when more lucrative or immediate opportunities are blocked. Where is the government that is brave enough to block them?

Ford Hopes Fusion Hybrid Can Help Remake Brand

Real-World Fuel Economy Isn't Stellar And Low Gas Prices Reduce Savings

The 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid is the kind of car that President-elect Barack Obama and many members of Congress want Detroit's auto makers build. But consumers may not fully appreciate this car and others like it without a lot of effort.
Ford is promoting the Fusion hybrid, which goes on sale this spring, as "America's most fuel efficient mid-size car" with a government mileage rating of 41 miles per gallon in the city and 36 on the highway.
That claim depends on what you mean by "mid-size car." The Toyota Prius is classed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a "mid-size" car, and it's rated at 48 city, and 45 highway. Ford's view is that the Fusion should be compared to other partially-electrified family sedans, such as the Toyota Camry hybrid, rated at 33 city/34 highway, the Nissan Altima hybrid, at 35 city, 33 highway, or the 2009 Chevy Malibu hybrid, rated at 26 city, 34 highway.

The current Prius is a compact car on the outside, but its interior volume qualifies it as "midsize." A Toyota spokesman says the company may ask Ford to clarify its claim against the Prius. Toyota plans to unveil its next generation Prius -- larger and more efficient -- at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week.
The Fusion also isn't precisely made in America. Ford does much of the engineering for the car and its hybrid system in Michigan, but Fusions are assembled in Mexico. The Fusion is just one example of the conundrum facing someone eager to respond to our economic woes by buying an "American" car.
But Ford's real challenge will be educating consumers about how to get the most value from their high-tech cars, and how the real-world benefits will stack up against the hyperbole of EPA mileage stickers and corporate marketing campaigns. This is a problem confronting all auto makers attempting to market advanced technology vehicles -- including Toyota and General Motors Corp.
The collapse of gasoline prices is making life difficult for hybrid car marketers -- even as Washington and the new administration are calling on Detroit to use newly granted federal loans to produce more. Ford hasn't received any federal loans, but has asked for a government sponsored back-up line of credit.

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Out in the real world, sales of hybrid cars "are dramatically off in the last 60 days," says Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of marketing and communications. Many customers are still interested in an efficient four-cylinder car, he says. The tide of demand for hybrids prompted by this summer's $4 a gallon gas has ebbed -- just in time for the arrival of the extra hybrids ordered up for production when gas prices were high. For most potential buyers, the premium they'll pay for the hardware and engineering hours packaged into a hybrid car will take years to recover at the fuel pump barring a sharp increase in prices.
Ford made an early edition of the Fusion hybrid available to me for a test drive around the Christmas holiday. When it goes on sale, the hybrid Fusion will start at around $27,000, and will have plenty of bells and whistles -- mine had a backup camera and satellite radio -- to cushion the $3,500 or so price boost tied to the hybrid system. My test was well short of a proper evaluation of the sort made by Consumer Reports, but more extensive than the test drives most people would take at a dealership. My only reference for gas mileage was the on board mileage computer -- which is a prominent feature of the car's high-tech, multi-menu LCD dashboard display.
Ford says some automotive journalists who've tested the Fusion hybrid have managed to get 50 miles a gallon in the car. That wasn't my experience.
For my first run in the car, I made a 3.5 mile trip to the grocery store on a frigid Michigan day. The computer said I got 19.8 miles to the gallon, and my "long-term" fuel economy was 28 miles per gallon.
During a 5.1 mile trip the day after Christmas I averaged 31 miles per gallon. Better, but not spectacular. A 1.8 mile run for milk delivered worse numbers -- 18.2 miles per gallon. By this point, my long-term fuel economy was down to just under 25 miles per gallon, according to the computer.

I also drove Fusion on the route of my home to office commute in the Detroit area. The first of those round trips clocked in at 36.1 miles per gallon over 42.6 miles, and boosted my long-term fuel economy to 28.7 miles per gallon. The next day, I got 32.2 miles per gallon on the way to work, and 32.8 miles per gallon on the way home. My long-term fuel economy rose to 29.8 miles per gallon -- not bad but not what the EPA sticker promised, either.
After I reported these results to a Ford spokesman, I got a visit from Praveen Cherian, the program leader for the Fusion hybrid project, who lives not far from me in suburban Detroit.
Mr. Cherian explained that the hybrid system won't deliver great mileage on short trips during cold weather. The batteries need to be warmed up to deliver their power boost efficiently. Meanwhile, the gas engine is working hard to heat the exhaust catalyst so that the car's emissions stay within legal limits. My results under cold conditions weren't surprising, he said.
Then, Mr. Cherian rode shotgun while I drove and he explained how to take maximum advantage of the hybrid Fusion's electric propulsion system. (See a Ford video on maximizing hybrid mileage.)
The Fusion hybrid is a different driving experience. The car's four-cylinder gasoline engine usually doesn't fire up when you turn the ignition key. Instead, the car remains silent. This puzzled me the first time out, and I kept re-starting the car. Finally, I tried just putting the car into reverse, and sure enough it backed out of my driveway in all-electric mode.
The Fusion also shuts down the gas motor at stoplights, and it can creep forward at intersections or in parking lots on power from just the nickel-metal hydride batteries hidden behind the back seat.
Mr. Cherian showed me how to take the Fusion's electric drive capability to the next level. Driving the car at speeds below 47 miles per hour, you can ease off on the accelerator, and put the car in "EV" mode -- I knew when this happened thanks to a display in the dashboard screen to the left of the speedometer.

Once you get the car running in EV mode, a light touch to the accelerator can keep it cruising on batteries for several minutes. Another computer-generated virtual gauge will reward you by showing that the car's mileage is above 60 miles per gallon, on a running basis.
Thanks to Mr. Cherian's coaching, my long-term mileage after my next few trips with the car moved up above 32 miles per gallon
Wide variations in real world fuel consumption among hybrid owners aren't a new issue. Toyota has been dealing with underwhelmed Prius owners for years, although many Prius owners love their cars and some report getting fuel efficiency above 50 miles per gallon.
Mr. Farley says Ford is working on extensive dealer education programs to train salespeople to explain how hybrid systems work. That training is part of a larger effort by Ford to use the Fusion hybrid to remake the image of Ford cars in the eyes of consumers who now reject them on the assumption that they are low-tech and inefficient compared to rival brands.
Image building is the real goal of the hybrid Fusion -- not profits or sales volume. Ford expects that sales of hybrid Fusions and Mercury Milan sedans will run about 10% to 15% of total production, Mr. Farley says.
Ford's future will hinge on whether consumers notice the fruits of a fortune in borrowed money the company is spending to launch new six-speed automatics and a new generation of efficient engines across its model lineup, starting later this year. This new hardware isn't as flashy as hybrids -- but it will save more gasoline in the long run than a few thousand hybrids.
Mr. Farley says Ford's new models should make it the leader or tied with the leaders in fuel economy in the important midsize sedan, compact crossover utility vehicle and large pickup truck markets -- the high volume parts of the U.S. market. The Fusion hybrid's real mission is to call attention to this broader makeover.
"The most important thing," Mr. Farley says, "is that millions of people think of Ford as a fuel efficient car maker."
Send comments about Eyes on the Road to joseph.white@wsj.com.

Green shoots

The Guardian, Tuesday 6 January 2009

Gordon Brown wants them. So do David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Oh, and don't forget Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon and a phalanx of other heavyweights. Green new jobs are fast becoming the political equivalent of a new year's diet - a commitment nearly everyone yearns to make but finds damnably difficult to put into practice. Just like those January resolutions, the desire to create new green businesses and work makes good rhetoric and a noble ambition. But all political parties need to think much more broadly and radically if this really is going to be a green recession.
Take the prime minister's announcement this weekend of his drive to create 100,000 jobs, many green. All very exciting - but inevitably, less than the sum of its parts. Much of the spending had been laid out in last November's pre-budget report, while some of the schemes seem to have been knocking around longer (that plan for super-fast broadband sounds just like a strategy announced in October). Mr Brown famously likes recycling policies, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but what stands out about the list of job-creation schemes is just that - it is a list. Covering everything from school repairs to super-fast broadband, it has no unifying theme other than every item on it sounds vaguely good.
Still, that was more coherent than David Cameron's speech yesterday on the economy. The Tory leader called for "the family-friendly culture of Scandinavia", "the creativity and dynamism of Silicon Valley" - plus Japan's savings culture, Germany's manufacturing base and France's high-speed railways. If Mr Brown presented a shopping list, Mr Cameron was off to the travel agents. Behind this scenic itinerary lies a strategy of shifting the UK from a culture of borrowing and shopping to one of more saving and green manufacturing. Which is all commendable, but falls into the same trap as much Tory economic policy - it is not much help now, when a boost is most needed. Silicon Valley has a magical alloy of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, but it never yields results fast, and often not at all.
Voters are left with a choice, then, between Mr Brown's shopping list of jobs for today, and Mr Cameron's wishlist for a green tomorrow. Which sums up the tension in any green job-creation programme: is it about environmental sustainability (a long-haul game and about as structural as one gets), or about providing a cushion in a recession (usually a short-term, cyclical, fix)? The Green New Deal group (which includes this paper's economics editor, Larry Elliott) has done some excellent thinking on how to reconcile the two, but in mainstream politics only the Liberal Democrats have come up with a plausible sounding plan for a green recession and a sustainable recovery. The document lapses into superfluous accuracy (new rolling stock will cost £862m, it states - with greater precision than will be voiced by anyone working in transport infrastructure) but it sets a standard for the other parties to meet.
The government has talked before of launching a low-carbon industrial strategy, in the era when such things were nice to have, rather than a necessity. Were Mr Brown to revisit the idea (perhaps jazzing it up as his Green New Deal), he needs to address three areas: the short-term, the long-haul and the pain. For the short-term, a government-sponsored scheme of making old buildings more energy-efficient would be a good way of employing low-skilled and construction workers. Over the longer-term, the government should encourage research in renewable technologies and fund education for environmental engineers and workers. Spending is usually politically popular, and a recession gives it an easy justification. But there will have to be more regulation and in the short-term, higher costs. Politicians should admit that any green revolution will be more serious and longer lasting than spraying cash around.

Bush designates ocean conservation areas in final weeks as president

Move to protect three regions of pristine marine habitat in the Pacific Ocean are in sharp contrast to Bush administration's record on other green issues
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 6 January 2009 02.02 GMT

George Bush will designate nearly 200,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean as conservation areas on Tuesday, recasting his record on the environment just two weeks before leaving the White House.
Tuesday's formal announcement will establish Bush as the leader who has protected more of the oceans than anyone else in the world, environmentalists said.
The three regions in the Pacific Ocean encompass some 195,280 square miles of remote and relatively uninhabited island chains.
They include pristine coral reefs, vanishing marine species and the deepest place on Earth.
Their preservation brought rare praise from environmentalists who have spent much of the last eight years fighting Bush on climate change, air pollution, and wildlife management.
"The president has given the world a Texas-sized gift," said Diane Regas, manager of the ocean programme at the Environmental Defence Fund.
But the marine reserves were as much a gift from Laura Bush, who was credited with heading off determined opposition from the vice-president, Dick Cheney, as well as business leaders in the Mariana Islands who had lobbied on behalf of fishing and energy exploration.
White House officials, in a conference call with reporters, described three distinct areas: the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, a chain of remote islands in the central Pacific, and the Rose Atoll off American Samoa.
"These locations are truly among the last pristine areas in the marine environment on Earth," said James Connaughton, who heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.The Marianas Marine National Monument will protect the Mariana Trench - deeper than Mount Everest is tall and five times the size of the Grand Canyon - and a string of 21 active volcanoes and thermal vents.
The area is home to 300 species of stony corals and some of the most diverse fish populations in the Mariana Islands. It also harbours the Micronesian megapode, a bird which uses the heat from the volcanic vents to incubate its eggs.
The Pacific Remote Islands National Monument will cover coral reefssurrounding Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Howland, Baker and Jarvis islands and Johnston Atoll and Wake Island.
The islands and atolls are home to nesting sea birds and migratory shore birds, and endangered turtles. The waters off Kingman Reef teem with shark and other predators.
The "tiny but spectacular" Rose Atoll Marine National Monument will protect a coral reef area known for rare birds such as petrels as well as reef sharks and parrot fish, Connaughton said.
The conservation plan will ban commercial fishing, mining and energy exploration within the protected areas. Recreational fishing will be allowed only a limited permit basis
"This is very very big. Basically in the last several years, it's on par with what we have been able to accomplish on land in the last 100 years," Josh Reichert, the managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said in a conference call with reporters.
However, Bush fell short of meeting scientists' recommendation for a protection zone extending 200 miles off the islands.
The protected areas will extend for only 50 miles.
In addition, only the waters between the ocean floor and the rim of the Mariana Trench will be protected - not those rising from the rim to the surface of the water.
The US military will also continue to operate in the monuments.
However, environmentalists said the announcement would help protect oceans that are under threat from overfishing and global warming.
The initiative, coming in the final fortnight of the George Bush presidency, also gives the incoming Barack Obama administration a strong take-off point on ocean conservation. The move was at odds with the Bush administration's record on other green issues and even on marine protection. When petrol prices soared last summer, Bush lifted the ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off California.But environmentalists who worked with the White House to develop the conservation plan say that Bush had developed a personal commitment to marine protection.
He took the first step in 2006, using a law originally intended for antiquities to create a protected area in nearly 140,000 square miles in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands called the Papahanaumokuakea marine national monument.It was at the time the world's largest protected marine area. Last August, Bush asked Connaugton and other administration officials to review the prospects of creating new conservation areas in the Pacific.
The effort met determined opposition from Cheney and local business leaders in the Marianas. But Bush had a key ally in his wife, Laura, who became unusually engaged in policy making. The First Lady arranged briefings for White House staff from scientists who supported the measure to try to blunt Cheney's influence.
"We and others in the environmental community have been at odds with this administration on lots of things, but if one looks at this one event it is a significant conservation event," Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said.
Japan has announced plans to build its first new geothermal power stations in nearly two decades in a bid to tap the nation's domestic energy sources.

By Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo Last Updated: 4:18AM GMT 05 Jan 2009

A string of geothermal power plants are to be developed by a number of firms keen to capitalise on the active volcanic landscape that spans the country, while the government is also currently compiling guidelines supporting the development of such energy sources.
Home to 108 active volcanoes - ten per cent of the world's active volcanoes - Japan is in a prime position to tap into underground geothermal energy sources.
As a nation with few natural resources, Japan has long been dependent on importing substantial quantities of crude oil and natural gas. The country's renewed focus on geothermal energy marks a desired shift away from its dependency on imported energy sources which has made it susceptible to increasingly volatile prices.
Geothermal power plants also emit significantly less carbon dioxide.
A string of new projects to be started this year include a geothermal power plant to be constructed in Yuzawa in Akita Prefecture, northern Japan, by Mitsubisi Materials and J-Power.
The £300.5 million (40 billion yen) project will tap into hot water and steam around 2,000 metres below the surface, and will aim to generate up to 60,000 kW of power when it begins operating in 2016.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is establishing a study group of industry experts and academics to compile by April this year a list of steps supporting the development of geothermal power stations, with proposed measures including financial assistance to launch new projects.
While it was after the 1970s oil crisis that the nation first began investing in geothermal power stations as an alternative energy source, their development was eventually eclipsed by the rise of nuclear power.
Today, there are currently 18 geothermal power stations in operation in Japan, although there combined output accounts for no more than 0.20 per cent of electricity generated domestically.

Tidal power gets a boost from propeller and wind turbine technology

Welsh renewables company teams up with ship propulsion experts to design robust new generation of marine turbine
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 January 2009 12.32 GMT

DeltaStream's new design for tidal turbines is lighter and more robust Photograph: /Other
Propellers on ships have been tried and tested for centuries in the rough and unforgiving environment of the sea: now this long-proven technology will be used in reverse to harness clean energy from the UK's powerful tides.
The tides that surge around the UK's coasts could provide up to a quarter of the nation's electricity, without any carbon emissions. But life in the stormy seas is harsh and existing equipment – long-bladed underwater wind turbines – is prone to failure.A Welsh renewable energy company has teamed up with ship propulsion experts to design a new marine turbine which they believe is far more robust.
Cardiff-based Tidal Energy Limited will test a 1MW tidal turbine off the Pembrokeshire coast at Ramsey Sound, big enough to supply around 1,000 homes. Their DeltaStream device, invented by marine engineer Richard Ayre while he was installing buoys in the marine nature reserve near Pembrokeshire, will be the first tidal device in Wales and become fully operational in 2010.
To ensure the propeller and electricity generation systems were as tough as possible, the tidal turbine's designers worked with Converteam, a company renowned for designing propulsion systems for ships. "They've put them on the bottom of the Queen Mary ... and done work for highly efficient destroyers, which is exactly the same technology that we're looking at here," said Chris Williams, development director of DeltaStream.
DeltaStream's propellers work in reverse to a ship's propulsion system – the water turns the blades to generate electricity – but the underlying connections between blades and power systems are identical to those on the ship.
Tidal streams are seen as a plentiful and predictable supply of clean energy, as the UK tries to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Conservative estimates suggest there is at least 5GW of power, but there could be as much as 15GW – 25% of current national demand.
A single DeltaStream unit has three propeller-driven generators that sit on a triangular frame. It weighs 250 tonnes, but is relatively light compared with other tidal systems which can be several times heavier. The unit is simple to install and can be used in closely packed units at depths of at least 20m. Unlike other tidal turbine systems, which must be anchored to the sea floor using piles bored into the seabed, DeltaStream's triangular structure simply sits on the sea floor.
Duncan Ayling, head of offshore at the British Wind Energy Association and a former UK government adviser on marine energy, said that one of the biggest issues facing all tidal-stream developers is ease of installation and maintenance of their underwater device. "Anything you put under the water becomes expensive to get to and service. The really good bit of the DeltaStream is that they can just plonk it in the water and it just sits there."
Another issue that has plagued proposed tidal projects is concern that the whirling blades could kill marine life. But Williams said: "The blades themselves are thick and slow moving in comparison to other devices, so minimising the chance of impact on marine life."
The device also has a fail-safe feature when the water currents become too powerful and threaten to destroy the turbines by dragging them across the sea floor – the propellers automatically tilt their orientation to shed the extra energy.
Pembrokeshire businessman and sustainability consultant Andy Middleton said: "People are increasingly recognising how serious global warming really is, and in St David's we are keen to embrace our responsibility to minimise climate change. DeltaStream is developing into a perfect example of the technology that fills the need for green energy and has the added benefit of being invisible and reliable."
The country's first experimental tidal turbine began generating electricity in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland last year, built by Bristol-based company Marine Current Turbines. SeaGen began at about 150kW, enough for around 100 homes, but has now reached 1,200kW in testing. It had a setback early in its test phase, with the tidal streams breaking one of the blades in July.

The rising costs of UK nuclear energy

The fall in the pound's value undermines any financial case for nuclear energy, writes Chris Goodall
From Carbon Commentary, part of the Guardian Environment Network
guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 January 2009 16.22 GMT

The UK government's enthusiasm for the construction of nuclear power stations is based on a May 2007 consultation document published by the Department of Trade and Industry (now BERR). This paper argued that nuclear offered a financially viable way of generating electricity, broadly competitive with fossil fuels. It correctly pointed out that the cost of nuclear energy is largely determined by how much a plant costs to build, not by uranium prices or by the price of disposing of nuclear waste.
Since the government's paper, nuclear power has suffered two huge blows. First, the pound has declined in value against the euro. This makes the core components of a nuclear power station more expensive as they are priced in the European currency. Second, the construction of the new nuclear power station in Finland has descended almost into farce as costs have ballooned and progress has slowed. The Finnish power station is much the more advanced of the two new nuclear plants currently under construction in Europe. If Finland is any guide, nuclear power is far more expensive than anybody expected.
Taking these two points in reverse order:
The Finnish debacleThe French nuclear specialist Areva signed a fixed price contract with the Finnish consortium TVO. The value was about €3bn, in addition to the costs that TVO incurred readying the site for construction work and taking the plans through the Finnish approval processes. Areva has since taken several financial provisions in its accounts, reflecting the problems it has faced in completing the work to its initial budget. A provision is a way of recognising that a firm is going to make a future loss on a contract. So, for example, banks make provisions when it is apparent that a loan to a near-bankrupt company is unlikely ever to be repaid.
Areva is largely owned by the French state, although some of its shares are held by investment institutions and others. In the Anglo-Saxon world, having private shareholders would oblige the company to state the absolute size of these provisions. In France it is different and Areva has consistently refused to state their actual size. But the French press recently offered the opinion that total provisions may now be €1.5bn, suggesting that Areva thinks that the total cost of fulfilling the contract is already €4.5bn, a rise of 50% on the initial price.
This will not be the end of the matter. Areva has recently indicated that the final completion date of the plant will be sometime in 2012, making the station over three years late. Any further construction problems will raise the total eventual cost yet further.
Late December 2008 saw a flurry of comment from Areva and its customer. Areva has accused TVO of failing to expedite some of the crucial technical approvals. In particular it seems to be saying (if I understand the French correctly) that TVO has failed to pass requests for safety clearance on to the Finnish nuclear regulator). TVO has denied this, but Areva has nevertheless asked for the formal appointment of an arbitrator. The arbitrator will decide whether TVO should bear some portion of the cost of the construction overruns. Areva's language is increasingly unbusiness-like. It now says that:
'seul un changement majeur du mode de fonctionnement de TVO permettra de figer un calendrier de projet'. (Roughly translated – 'only a major change in the way that TVO works will allow a solidification of the timetable of the project'.)
In other words, even the 2012 completion date will not be achieved if the current poisonous relationship between Areva and TVO persists.
So it is not unreasonable to expect that the current €4.5bn cost will rise still further, perhaps by billions of Euros. But let's be optimistic for once and say that the total construction cost of this plant will be €5.2bn including the initial design work, the groundworks and all the other costs borne by TVO and not Areva. This figure breaches the highest of all the cost estimates produced in the UK government consultation paper.(The DTI described the degree of prudence in its high case as 'extreme'. This turns out to be wrong.)
The value of the euroIf the Finnish construction costs were replicated in the UK, and the euro/pound exchange rate had remained at around £1/€1.50, the cost of the project would imply a cost to generate electricity of over £50 per megawatt hour. This is more than the current wholesale price in the UK (although the wholesale price has been much higher than this figure for most of the last 12 months).
In the last days of 2008, the pound/euro exchange rate has hovered around 1.03. At the time of the 2007 consultation paper, the government used a figure of almost €1.50/£1. This change has added over 40% to the cost of constructing a new power station. Expressed in terms of UK pounds, the €5.2bn prospective cost of the Finnish power station now implies a price in UK£ of about £5bn rather than about £3.5bn. This raises the prospective cost of electricity generated by the nuclear power station to around £70 per megawatt hour, or over £20 more than the current wholesale price. To be clear, at today's electricity prices and exchange rates the operator of a nuclear power station built for the same price as the Finnish plant would lose £20 per megawatt hour. No rational electricity company intent on making a profit would contemplate making an investment in a nuclear station if these conditions persist.
The UK government Climate Change Committee issued a long report in December 2008 on how Britain might reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% between 1990 and 2050. Nuclear forms an important part of these plans. Unsurprisingly, the Committee used a nuclear cost estimate of less than £50 per megawatt hour. The bad news from Finland is only slowly leaking out and, of course, the pound/euro rate changes sharply from day to day.
The net impact of these two changesAt the time of the 2007 government report, the potential operators of UK nuclear power stations estimated that the costs of running a plant would be less than £30 per megawatt hour, or considerably les than half the costs they are now likely to experience. Those electricity companies who so enthusiastically promoted nuclear power to the UK government would now be unable to make money at today's power prices. In fact, they would lose hundreds of millions of pounds a year at each power station that they opened.
So will the nuclear ambitions die? We don't know. The companies could invest in the expectation that power prices will rise substantially over the next few years. Or they could assume that the pound/euro exchange rate will revert to about €1.50/£1. Both are risky assumptions when considering a £5bn bet. Unless the construction of new stations is guaranteed by the UK state, nuclear construction will not take place in the UK at Finnish prices or current exchange rates. It would even be cheaper to build coal-fired power stations with carbon capture and storage.
The fall in the value of the pound also adversely affects the price of not just nuclear but also of other power generation technologies tied to the euro. Wind turbine prices, for example, have risen in price. The change in the exchange rate will hold back the development of many different types of low-carbon technologies. On the other hand, it provides an added incentive for electricity generation from tidal or wave generators, whose costs are partly denominated in pounds rather than euros.
• This article was shared by our content partner Carbon Commentary, part of the Guardian Environment Network

China's green investment challenge

China's environmental and renewable energy sectors are poised for another year of strong growth. However, green industries still face a daunting array of challenges, writes Ray Cheung guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 January 2009 16.56 GMT

So far, the Chinese green sector appears to be unscathed from the current financial crisis with no shortage of capital flowing in. The most recent boost of course was the central government's RMB 4 trillion (US$585 billion) economic stimulus package, which includes RMB 350 billion (US$36.5 billion) for environmental projects, such as waste-water treatment and renewable energy facilities.
The benefits of this government-backed stimulus are already being felt as there has been a surge in government-solicited bids for environmental projects across the country. This of course has led to new investor optimism. The private consulting firm, the CleanTech Group, reported that investors at its recent December conference in Shanghai see no slowdown in the Chinese cleantech industry. Meanwhile, the super-ministry National Development Reform Commission recently reported that for the 4th quarter alone, investments in the country's rural water resources and energy facilities, such as biogas, topped over RMB 22 billion (US$3.2 billion).
While all this is no doubt good news for Chinese green industries and the country's quest to improve its environmental quality, investors seeking to make a quick profit from this growth must beware. The reason is simple: while significantly improving, the Chinese green sector remains an extremely competitive industry that is fraught with challenges in which only the strongest companies can thrive.
One key challenge is costs. While labor is no doubt cheaper in China than elsewhere, the Chinese business climate is still exposed to withering competitive pressure, and firms must constantly find ways to make lower-priced products. However, Chinese manufacturing expenditures have surged, particularly on raw materials, many of which must be imported. For example, the August 2008 Chinese purchaser prices for raw materials, fuel and power jumped by 15.3 percent compared to the same period in 2007. These pains are particularly being felt by the Chinese photovoltaic firms who pay as much as 100 percent more than their global competitors for imported supplies of silicon needed to produce the wafers. This added cost often negates the competitive advantage in labor costs.
Another challenge is the lack of human capital. While China has no shortage of smart people, the brightest minds are entering more lucrative industries, such as finance and information technology. These companies can quickly turn around profits, as opposed to the environmental companies whose revenue streams may take years to develop. The result is that many Chinese green companies face a deficit of human capital, unless they are willing to pay top notch salaries.
Perhaps the most important challenge is that the market for environmental goods and services remains fragmented because of the undeveloped regulatory infrastructure. No doubt, the country has been strengthening its environmental laws and increasing the powers of its environmental agencies. However, enforcement remains weak. For example, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) found in an investigation of the country's 500 largest firms that more than 40 percent failed to adopt the necessary environmental abatement measures (story in english) they promised in their environmental impact reports. MEP also reported that only one-third of the country's completed waste-water treatment projects are operating at capacity. As a result, China still faces severe pollution problems. According to MEP, the number of reported serious polluting incidents throughout China is increasing by 30 percent annually with one incident now being reported every 2 days.
For sure, China remains a fertile ground for greentech entrepreneurs to not only help improve the country's environment, but earn substantial profits while doing so. But given the cut-throat competitive environment and other market challenges, the success of any particular firm is by no means guaranteed. Investors seeking to profit from China's environmental cleanup drive should look for firms that have the right combination of human capital, business skills, and strategy.
• This article was shared by our content partner World Resources Institute, part of the Guardian Environment Network