Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Abu Dhabi has second thoughts about London Array and wind power

The Times
January 20, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

Fresh doubts have emerged over Britain’s plans for a huge expansion of offshore wind power after Abu Dhabi said yesterday that it was reconsidering the viability of a £3 billion scheme to build the world’s largest offshore wind park in the Thames Estuary.
The London Array project, a plan to build 341 turbines with the capacity to generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity – more than that produced by most of the nuclear reactors in Britain – has been in trouble since last May, when Shell pulled out of the project, citing spiralling costs.
Masdar, a $15 billion (£10.3 billion) renewable energy fund controlled by the oil-rich city-state, subsequently acquired Shell’s 20 per cent stake, a move that drew strong support from Gordon Brown and his Government.
Yesterday, however, Masdar raised questions about its commitment. “The economics of this project should be revisited,” Ziad Tassabehji, the director of innovation and investments for Masdar, said at a renewable energy conference in Abu Dhabi. “We are working with our partners to study the feasibility of the project.”

Masdar’s other partners in London Array include E.ON, the German power group, which holds a 30 per cent share, and DONG Energy, of Denmark, which owns the other half. A spokesman for E.ON said yesterday that no final decisions had been taken. “We’re going through the tendering process for London Array and, until we ensure that the project is economic, we’re unable to give it the green light,” he said.
“However, while the economics are certainly difficult, we’re hopeful that the sums will add up and that the project will get built on time.”
He said that a key consideration was the price of steel, which has collapsed in recent months, a factor that could help to bolster the economic case for the project. He said: “We’re waiting to see if current economic difficulties mean that reducing steel prices will see falling turbine prices.”
A DONG spokesman said that no final investment decision had been taken, but declined further comment.
London Array is the latest in a string of renewable energy schemes to hit trouble in recent month. The credit crunch and the collapsing oil price has undermined the economic case for many of them.
Industry experts say that the cost of building offshore wind developments in Britain is about £3 million per mega-watt of electrical generating capacity. That is more than three times the cost of building a conventional gas-fired power station.
If built, the London Array scheme would be spread across a 90-square-mile site more than 12 miles off the Kent and Essex coasts. The first stage, comprising 175 turbines, is scheduled to be working by 2012. The second stage is to increase capacity to 1,000MW of electricity production, enough to power 750,000 homes. equivalent to a quarter of all domestic housing in the capital.
The development would contribute a significant part of the Government’s aim of generating 20 per cent of the UK’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Separately, Abu Dhabi said yesterday that it planned to generate 7 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Growing taste for reef fish sends their numbers sinking

By Jennifer Pinkowski
Published: January 20, 2009

KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia: It is a slow night at the Port View Restaurant here, and still the place seems packed. Several banquet tables are crowded with a dozen people apiece. Each table seems as if it could collapse from the weight of plates.
Falling to the forks are steaming spring prawns, spotted lobster, coral trout and especially giant grouper, which minutes before had been listlessly swimming in one of the many murky tanks at the Port View, one of the most popular restaurants in this tourist town on the northeast tip of Borneo, in Malaysia's Sabah province.
The fierce appetite for live reef fish across Southeast Asia — and increasingly in mainland China — is devastating populations in the Coral Triangle, a protected marine region home to the world's richest ocean diversity, according to a recent report in the scientific journal Conservation Biology. Spawning of reef fish in this area, which supports 75 percent of all known coral species in the world, has declined 79 percent over the past 5 to 20 years, depending on location, according to the report.
Overfishing in general, and particularly of spawning aggregations that occur when certain species of reef fish gather in one place in great numbers to reproduce, may be the culprit, says Yvonne Sadovy, a biologist at the University of Hong Kong who wrote the report along with scientists from Australia, Hong Kong, Palau and the United States.
She said the report's conclusions were based on the first global database on the occurrence, history and management of spawning aggregations. It includes data from 29 countries or territories. Some of the information is based on interviews with more than 300 commercial and subsistence fishers in Asia and the western Pacific between 2002 and 2006.

"The Coral Triangle has relatively few spawning aggregations reported in the communities we went to," Sadovy said in an e-mail message. "We think that this might be due to the more heavily fished (overall) condition of reef fisheries in many parts of the Coral Triangle, where there is uncontrolled fishing and high demand for live groupers for the international live fish trade." About one-third of the species mentioned in the report are sold in Asian markets.
Since the 1980s, Hong Kong has been the epicenter of the live fish trade. That trade has greatly expanded in the last decade to an $810 million business, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, which monitors the market. Rising wealth in mainland China may be a contributing factor to the increase in the trade with the demand for exotic fish especially high in Shanghai and Beijing. Destinations popular with Chinese tourists are seeing an increase, too. While Kota Kinabalu — known here simply as KK — has long been a draw for Chinese vacationers, "eating tourism" is booming lately. That's because live reef fish cost 60 percent less here than in Hong Kong, said Angela Lim, the fund's communications director here for the Live Reef Trade Initiative.
Even locals unaffiliated with the tourist trade are aware of the surge. Across the street from the Port View, Malays at the famous Night Market speak with awe about the Chinese tourists who spend "a thousand ringgits a week just eating fish."That's about $280.
Grouper is by far the most popular — and therefore endangered — of the reef fish, with 26 percent of the world's 161 species threatened or near threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature 2008 Red List, an annual tally of endangered species around the globe.
With life spans of up to 40 years, groupers can grow to eight feet in the wild. After sexual maturity, female groupers can change into males to compensate for population imbalances, becoming "secondary males" in a process called protogyny. But groupers take five years to mature, and most are taken out of the water long before. They are grown to market size in seaside tanks and on dinner plates before they can reproduce.
Geoffrey Muldoon, director of the fund's live fish trade initiative, said the live trade was largely responsible for "the removal of juvenile or undersize and sexually immature fish." The fund works to manage the Coral Triangle with the six countries that share its seas — Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and East Timor. It is no easy task in a region where "fish bombing" with dynamite or cyanide is routine, and where the enforcement of existing protected zones is often anemic.
The organization is aiding the creation of the region's first commercial fishing trade organization to establish standards for sustainable practices. Initial talks between government and industry representatives are being planned. Sadovy suggested that spawning aggregations be considered protected events rather than simply times when fish are easy to catch, as has been done with salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Other species have similar protections.
"Colonies of seabirds were once exploited heavily and are now protected," said Sadovy, who is also director of the Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations, an international group. "Special feeding or breeding places are now routinely protected on land for many species, because of the recognition that animals are vulnerable at this time or that their aggregated state is very important for their biology."
She added, "From a very practical perspective, loss of the aggregations ultimately means loss of the associated fishery, so it makes good practical sense to change our attitude."

Why we must have a Green New Deal

The Green party's strategy to combat our environmental and economic crises could set the agenda for the future

Jenny Jones
guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 January 2009 11.00 GMT

What misery – a recession and the urgent problem of climate change at the same time. This double dilemma is a painful reality, and dealing with both at once has become the only way out of the mess.
I believe that the way to handle both the crises – economic and environmental – is to go green. It will take a united effort from all parts of society, and an understanding that going green is the easiest and cheapest, and probably the only, way to survive into the next century. The most sensible solution, the most achievable, is a green New Deal.
This green New Deal must tackle the three issues at the heart of regeneration and recovery – in London and for the whole country – transport, jobs and the local economy. This recession and the demands of mitigating climate change will need a concerted effort, from all political parties and all strands of political thought, whether religious or secular.Other parties do talk green, which is great, but they simply don't do enough to back up the fine words. They don't get the urgency of the problem. Here in London, the new mayor is a charming, funny man, but totally lacking a philosophy. This means his policies are occasionally green, sometimes regressive, sometimes plain daft. There is no sense of making London a leading city in climate change adaptation and mitigation. There is no sense of purpose, only movement, mostly influenced by whether Ken Livingstone did it (oppose) or didn't do it (must be good).
For Labour, agreeing to the Heathrow expansion has made Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson look like men of the past, not the future, and although it's wonderful that the Tories are opposing the expansion, that doesn't make them greenies. Sadly, the government's proposed investments in greener technology are puny, and the 100,000 jobs promised recently are nowhere near enough. We need a full-blown green industrial revolution that we can all buy into.
What we absolutely can't do is trot out the same economic dogma that got us into the mess in the first place. To tackle this recession we must kickstart the green industrial revolution and work towards a sustainable, steady, state economy.
We could begin with the deal that the Green party proposed in its pre-budget statement in November 2008:
• Implement a £30bn stimulus package, creating green-collar jobs that will dramatically reduce the carbon emissions of UK buildings. If, as a rough guide, we reckon each job cost £50,000 to create, a £30bn stimulus can be expected to create more than half a million jobs.
• Create new national investment products, such as local government bonds, to fund this work and provide a safe haven for pensions and savings.
• Shift from VAT to pollution taxes, immediately slashing VAT to 5% for items that will stimulate sustainable job-creation, and abolishing road tax while increasing pollution taxes on fuel.
• Close offshore tax havens to stabilise the financial sector, discourage tax avoidance and help provide funds for sustainable investment.
I'm not saying that we Greens have all the answers, just that so far we have put more time into thinking about it – and economists and industrialists are increasingly coming around to our way of thinking.
To deal with these huge issues quickly and efficiently, we need a major shift in our politics and in our understanding. We have to forget sectarian dogma and understand that working together in certain areas, even if only in limited ways, can bring greater benefits than solo working.
Even more important, we need to forget the false arguments about the environment v economics, because ultimately the only viable forms of economics will be those that don't compromise our sustainability and the survival of generations to come.

More-reflective crops may have cooling effect

By Henry Fountain
Published: January 20, 2009

Some of the most imaginative solutions to the problem of global climate change involve planetary-scale geoengineering projects to reduce the sunlight reaching the Earth's surface. But proposals like building a huge sunshade in space or seeding the atmosphere with sulfate particles would cost enormous sums and require a degree of international cooperation that is difficult to achieve.
Dr. Andy Ridgwell and colleagues at the University of Bristol in England have another idea, one they call bio-geoengineering. Rather than developing infrastructure to help cool the planet, they propose using an existing one: agriculture.
Their calculations, published in Current Biology, suggest that by planting crop varieties that reflect more sunlight, summertime cooling of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit could be obtained across central North America and a wide band of Europe and Asia.
"Arable agriculture is already a global-scale undertaking," Ridgwell said. "We wondered whether you might grow slightly different crops and have some sort of climate impact."
Plants reflect slightly different amounts of light depending on factors like how waxy the leaves are. Even differences in growth patterns between two varieties of a crop — the way leaves are arranged — can affect reflectivity.

Existing varieties could be used, Ridgwell said, or crops could be bred or genetically engineered for greater reflectivity (without affecting yields, nutritional values or other important characteristics). But shifts to different crops — from wheat to corn, for instance — would be too disruptive, he said.
Ridgwell acknowledged that the idea would not be a complete solution to the climate change problem. For one thing, the Southern Hemisphere would be less affected, in part because there is much less agricultural land.
But it wouldn't cost much, and it wouldn't require much international cooperation. "It's very practical, and it could just be done," he said. "It's not some trillion-dollar pie-in-the-sky idea."

Energy and emissions top Obama's green tasklist

What can be reasonably expected of the man who was the strongest environmental contender for the White House in US history?

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 January 2009 10.44 GMT

Barack Obama is raising expectations of swift action on the environment - possibly within his first few days in the White House.
At one of two green balls for this year's inauguration, environmentalists were already describing Obama as America's first green president.
Obama, since his election, has repeatedly indicated he wants to push ahead on his campaign promise to create jobs by investing in renewable energy.
He used his last appearance before the start of celebrations for his inauguration on Tuesday to talk up his clean energy plans at an Ohio factory that makes components for wind turbines.
"A renewable energy economy isn't some pie-in-the-sky, far-off future," Obama said during the factory visit. "It's happening all across America right now. It's providing alternatives to foreign oil now. It can create millions of additional jobs and entire new industries if we act right now."
Such early gestures, the appointment of a team of respected scientists and experienced legislators, have fuelled anticipation of what Obama might do in the White House.
Environmentalists praise Obama for putting the environment at the heart of his economic renewal plan - part of the solution to the crisis, rather than the source.
They say there has been little sign that Obama has scaled back his thinking in response to the economic crisis.
"Obama gets it," said Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon congressman who is a member of the house committee on energy independence and global warming.
However, Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins, of the Breakthrough Institute, argue that as the recession has deepened, Obama has been relatively silent on cap and trade emissions schemes similar to the one operating in Europe in which companies can trade permits to emit carbon dioxide. "With green jobs now positioned as 'the solution' to both the economy and the climate, Obama has cover to take the politically expedient route of short-term green stimulus while ignoring serious climate policy," they write.
"Obama has made it increasingly clear that public investment is his preferred climate policy mechanism. What Obama has not made clear is whether or not he will embrace the type and scale of investments necessary to seriously confront the climate challenge."
So, once Obama is president, what can be reasonably expected of the man who was the most strongly environmental contender for the White House in US history?
On the campaign trail, Obama supported a 15% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80% by 2050. He embraced the goal of obtaining 10% of America's electricity from renewable resources by 2012, and 25% by 2025.
Environmentalists see that translating into results almost immediately after Obama is sworn in with a number of executive orders overturning some of the most controversial decisions by George Bush.
These could include:
• Directing the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide. The Bush administration refused to act on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling giving the agency regulatory and enforcement power.
• Granting authority to California and 16 other states to regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions
• Ordering a ban on mountain-top removal coalmining
Next on the agenda is an economic stimulus package which Obama hopes to pass within the first three weeks. Environmentalists expect a heavily green component in the $775-825bn package.
"I think we are going to see a very large infrastructure proposal with a very strong green component - everything from putting solar panels on the rooftops of government buildings to providing tax credits to home owners to make their homes more energy efficient to retrofitting older buildings to beginning to stress mass transit," said Michael Moynihan.
Obama's stimulus plan revealed last week calls for doubling the production of renewable energy in three years. It envisages energy-efficient retrofits for 75% of government office buildings, and weather-proofing some 2m homes.
He said the plan would create nearly half a million new jobs in production of wind turbines and solar panels, and the building industry.
An early draft of the bill showed about $54bn in measures on weatherisation and retrofitting.
Democratic leaders in Congress hope to pass the package by February 20.
In the longer term, environmentalists were cheered by Hillary Clinton's confirmation as secretary of state last week. They see Clinton as a strong advocate for reaching a successor to the Kyoto protocol. "We have got a whole series of people who want to move in the same direction as the president-elect," said Eileen Claussen of the Pew Environment Group.
But the picture is mixed on domestic cap and trade legislation. Environmentalists who are in regular contact with Obama's advisers say his White House would be prepared to consult widely with Congress.
However, while the Democratic leadership is squarely behind cap and trade legislation, Republicans as well as some Democrats from coal-producing states are not behind a domestic cap and trade regime. Nancy Pelosi, the house speaker, said earlier this month that she was not hopeful of passing legislation this year.

Device helps hauliers keep on trucking

By Bob Sherwood
Published: January 19 2009 02:00

As the road haulage industry battles to cut costs in the face of the downturn, one company is finding its fuel-saving technology is in demand.
Kent-based Oil Drum is in the final stages of agreeing licensing deals that will enable its Save-Fuel device, which its tests have shown can cut hauliers’ fuel bills by 10 per cent, to be manufactured and sold in international markets, including the US, Australia and India.

When it launched last year, Oil Drum caught hauliers’ attention by claiming to be able to reduce their diesel consumption and exhaust emissions at the height of the rise in fuel prices. Its bolt-on device mixes hydrogen with air and diesel in a vehicle engine that creates a cleaner, more efficient combustion process.
The company has also just signed a UK licensing agreement with Andel, which has a wide client base in the haulage industry as a provider of leak detection systems, to market its device more widely.
Darryl Watts, Oil Drum’s founder and managing director, is reluctant to claim that last year’s high fuel costs and the downturn are good for business, but he accepts that his product has arrived at an opportune time for the hard-pressed haulage industry.
How the technology works
The Save-Fuel device makes the internal combustion engine process more efficient by adding hydrogen to diesel, petrol or even biofuels. .
The 15kg device, housed in a marine-grade stainless steel case, converts distilled water to hydrogen by passing an electrical current through it, a process known as electrolysis.
A hose from the unit delivers the gas to the air intake of the vehicle.
The unit is safe because the hydrogen is produced on demand, using a small charge from the vehicle’s battery. No hydrogen is stored and the gas dissipates within a second of the unit being turned off.
As the hydrogen creates a more efficient burning process, Oil Drum says it creates greater fuel efficiency and fewer emissions. The units use a reservoir of 13 litres of distilled water, which is enough for six weeks’ use.
Oil Drum says the only maintenance needed is to top up the water reservoir during the vehicle’s routine servicing, so there are no additional costs.
The device bolts on to the rear of a truck’s cab but smaller units are being developed for vans and light commercial vehicles.
Oil Drum is now preparing a targeted share offering to generate funds for the development of a second-stage product aimed at the light commercial, van and 4x4 market.
Mr Watts, 39, a former motor industry executive, hit on the idea for the technology during a visit to a carmaker’s factory that demonstrated what happened to an engine left running in a sealed environment that was enriched with hydrogen.
He said: “It’s a known fact that hydrogen gives a quicker, cleaner and more efficient burn, but no one wants to drive around with a canister of pressured hydrogen. No one else has commercialised a product that produces hydrogen on demand.”
Mr Watts and long-term friend Steve Martin, who ran an electronics contracting company and is now technical director, gave up their jobs to develop the product. They say their trials show the Fuel-Save device, which bolts to the back of a truck’s cab, gives a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions and a cut in hydrocarbons to zero. But it is the cost savings rather than the green credentials that have so far attracted customers.
Construction haulier GSE Haulage this month became the first to install the device in its entire fleet of heavy goods vehicles and tipper trucks. Other companies have installed the device on a proportion of their fleets. One of Europe’ largest bus companies has also conducted a test that produced an 18.6 per cent increase in fuel efficiency.
Mr Watts says the £3,500 ($5,155) device pays for itself within the first year of operation based on typical mileages. It is also available at a leasing cost of £99 per month for 36 months.
With a staff of just six, based at the University of Kent’s enterprise hub at Canterbury and with a small manufacturing base at Sittingbourne, Mr Watts realised the company was too small to realise the potential of its technology. That is why he has pursued the licensing deals, designed to leave Oil Drum free to pursue the next generation of devices.
The University of Kent holds a 10 per cent stake in the company, with another 20 per cent in the hands of two other investors, including a trucking company. Mr Watts, his wife Denise, and Mr Martin hold the remaining 70 per cent but plan to sell another 20 per cent as they develop prototypes of a van device.
A smaller domestic car device is also planned and Mr Watts has held discussions with carmakers about the potential for a production line unit to be fitted at the point of manufacture.
Oil Drum expects to break even in its first year of trading with a turnover of £1.4m, which is predicted to increase to £5m next year. The University of Kent has valued the company at £5m, with the intellectual property currently estimated to be worth £1.4m.
It is the scale of the market that excites Mr Watts most, however. He said: “There are an estimated 440,000 trucks larger than 3.5 tonnes in the UK and 60,000 companies with operating licences. But there are 4.7m large trucks in the US. The potential is enormous.”

Pork producers sue US over new emissions rule

The Associated Press
Published: January 20, 2009

DES MOINES, Iowa: The National Pork Producers Council said Monday it is suing to challenge the federal government's requirement that livestock farms inform communities about estimated emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency's rule is scheduled to take effect Tuesday. It requires livestock producers to call state and local emergency response authorities to inform them of estimated emissions and to notify them in writing.
Farms that fail to comply face penalties of up to $25,000 per day.
The council, based in Urbandale, Iowa, says in the lawsuit that livestock operations should be exempt and that the EPA delayed information on the rule and didn't develop a proper system for the operations to comply. It asks a court to prevent enforcement of the rule until the EPA develops a proper compliance system.
The council said its lawsuit was filed after-hours in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. A copy of the lawsuit wasn't immediately available.

Tory smart thinking could be short circuited by party's past

The Conservatives do not explain how 'smart meters' would work, how the 'electricity internet' would be funded or how a voluntary scheme can be a success

Chris Goodall
guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 January 2009 12.38 GMT

The new Conservative policy document on energy is keen to emphasise how smart it is. At its core are proposals for smart meters, smart grids and smart battery charging. The enthusiasm for these technologies is almost palpable. On one page, the word "smart" occurs eight times. But readers of the policy proposals are largely left in the dark about what all these intelligent devices will do. David Cameron's comments about building "an electricity internet" didn't shed much light either.
So let's give an example of how these technologies might work. Last Saturday evening was windy. A westerly gale meant that almost every wind turbine in the UK would have been producing close to its maximum output. If wind power continues to expand rapidly, Britain will eventually have a surplus of electricity on some winter days. On these occasions, we will need what is known as a "smart grid" to help deploy the extra electricity elsewhere in Europe. While the wind was blowing hard across our westerly coasts at the weekend, large parts of the Continent were calm and could have usefully imported our surplus. Forecasts suggest that eastern Europe will see higher wind speeds later in the week, when the weather in Britain has calmed down. In these circumstances a smart European grid would redirect power back towards the British Isles. During periods of high wind speeds in the UK "smart meters" in people's homes will signal theabundance of power, offering consumers discounted prices to use the surplus electricity. In 10 or 15 years' time, it is not fanciful to say that many householders will use these periods of cheap power to recharge the batteries in their electric cars. This is the third leg of the Conservative proposals: "smart charging".
In a world where intermittent renewables form a larger and larger part of energy supply, countries will need to link their grids to allow the export and import of huge quantities of electricity at short notice. At the moment, our link to the French electricity system gives a buffer of only about 5% of our power consumption. The Conservatives are right to emphasise the importance of changing this. Multiple new high-voltage lines will be required to move power from where it is in surplus to where it is in deficit. We will need to invest heavily in the storage of energy so that we can cope with transitory shortages of supply. The UK must also have a major investment in new high voltage lines to bring power from wind and tidal farms in Scotland down to the south of England, where the electricity is in greatest demand.
What the Conservatives don't tell us is how these huge investments of many tens of billions of pounds are going to be financed. The UK has a problem – its electricity distribution system is privately owned. National Grid is a public company, responsible to shareholders. It provides access to its existing network of high voltage transmission lines in return for regulated fees paid by the six large electricity supply companies. Whether or not the UK gets the new smart grid infrastructure in place to move electricity around Europe at 10 minutes' notice is entirely dependent on whether National Grid thinks it is profitable to make the investments. We cannot be too optimistic about this. Many large Scottish wind farms have not been built because the operators are unable to connect the turbines to the high voltage pylon network.
The material on smart meters is similarly vague. These meters, under the stairs or in outside cabinets, contain a little transmitter that sends energy consumption data every 30 minutes back to the electricity supplier. Small wireless displays in the hall or the kitchen also show householders how much gas or electricity that they are using. These systems are expensive; Landis and Gyr, a major supplier of these devices, told me that the cost for gas and electricity may be as much as £10bn, or almost £400 a home. A report from the leading economics consultancy Frontier put the figure at a slightly lower level. In Britain's liberalised energy markets it is unclear who should pay for this expense and the Conservatives give us no clue how they think the bill should be apportioned. In fact, the cost of this scheme is never even mentioned.
The policy paper says that smart meters incentivise people to cut back on their energy consumption by providing real-time information on utility bills. This is probably true. Some early studies using enthusiastic volunteers have shown cuts in electricity of 5% or more, perhaps worth £30 a year at today's prices. But the report by Frontier Economics suggests a much smaller figure of one or 2%, implying trivial savings to the householder.
Despite what the Conservatives suggest, the real benefits are likely to be considerably more controversial. Smart meters allow suppliers to change prices to encourage us to cut back or to increase energy consumption. Electricity use goes through predictable daily swings, falling to a low point at about 5am and rising to an early evening peak. Smart meters can be used to price electricity to deter the use of appliances at times of high demand when electricity tends to be most expensive to produce, something that can be very helpful in reducing carbon emissions and improving security of supply. Experience from around the world shows that smart meters and differential pricing can make substantial differences to energy consumption. But not everybody likes these changes – we've got used to turning our appliances on and off without worrying about the time of day.
In addition, suppliers can use smart meters to introduce emergency restrictions on electricity consumption at times of unexpected shortage. If the wind suddenly drops or a nuclear power station fails the smart meter can temporarily ration a household to one or two kilowatts, enough for lights and the TV but not for the vacuum cleaner. This aspect of smart metering is nowhere mentioned in the Conservative paper. In line with Conservative philosophy, people are reassured that participation in the smart meter programme will be entirely voluntary. Elsewhere in the world government have always decided that advanced metering will only work if it is almost universal. I know of no other country intending to make participation a matter of householder choice. This will substantially reduce the effectiveness of the programme. Who will join in if they think it will increase their electricity bills or restrict their access to power?
Smartening up our supply and use of electricity is an important aim – and the Conservatives are right to pull this issue into the public debate. However, their proposals are completely uncosted. This is a problem throughout the document; for example, they tell us that covering a roof with 40 square metres of solar panels will provide the typical household with enough electricity to cover its annual consumption. Nowhere do they say that this will cost at least £25,000 and probably more. Moreover they consistently fail to specify how their proposals can be implemented within today's entirely privatised energy markets. Plans for smart metering in the UK have already been bogged down in arguments between Ofgem and the big six energy suppliers for almost five years. The Conservatives give us strikingly little detail on how they propose to clear this log-jam. Their heart is in the right place, but they have still to fully understand how the privatisation of the electricity supply system 15 years ago may now make modernisation of our energy infrastructure almost impossible.
Ten Technologies to Save the Planet was published by Profile Books in November 2008.
Chris Goodall is the Green party's candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon at the next general election and his Carbon Commentary blog is part of the Guardian Environment Network

What Barack Obama's inaugaration means for green energy

In a bold departure from past US policies, Barack Obama sees clean energy and 'green jobs' as critical in stimulating the economy, writes Keith Schneider from Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network,

Monday 19 January 2009 16.45 GMT

Even in this era of costly crisis and even more expensive rescue, $50 billion is still a lot of money. That sum — perhaps even more — is what Congressional leaders and aides to President-elect Barack Obama say he will propose to build new transit lines, weatherise buildings, manufacture clean next-generation vehicles, and create new "green collar" jobs.
Even more crucial than the scale of the spending on clean energy is what the President-elect says it represents to his overall economic development strategy. Clean energy projects are a crucial piece of an estimated $700 billion to $1 trillion, two-year stimulus plan to put 3 million people back to work, and the first wave of public investment to transform how America powers itself. Remarkably, it now appears that Obama plans to launch his presidency with a daring idea: To anchor the American economy with energy sources not derived from fossil fuels.
Indeed, the incoming president is proposing to take the conventional relationship between the economy and the environment and stand it on its head. Instead of the economy overshadowing and marginalising environmental concerns, Obama wants to use environmental principles to help drive economic growth.
"A new energy economy is going to be part of what creates the millions of new jobs that we need," Obama said during a news conference last month. "That's why my economic recovery plan is going to be focused on how can we make a series of down payments on things we should have done 10, 20, 30 years ago."
Obama and his energy and environmental team are convinced that a new era of prosperity can be ushered in by weaning America from the way it has powered its economy for nearly two centuries. During the presidential campaign, he vowed to invest $150 billion in clean energy projects over 10 years and create 5 million new "green-collar" jobs.
Obama made it clear that this was a top priority, but the ever-deepening economic crisis has only added to the urgency of passing a stimulus program that relies heavily on developing the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors. In recent days, the president-elect and his team have said that their stimulus plan will include $20 billion in clean energy tax credits, a goal of doubling renewable energy production in three years, and the near-term creation of a half-million jobs in the clean energy sector.
Are Americans really prepared to undertake a transition of the magnitude that Obama envisions, especially with petrol priced at $1.85 a gallon, 55 percent below the peak last July? And will his clean energy transition help produce the employment and prosperity that he claims?
There are strong indications that the answer to the first question is "Yes." For more than a decade, according to the Center For Transportation Excellence, U.S. voters have approved 70 percent of public referendums that have called for imposing property or sales taxes for new mass transit systems. Before the credit crisis, sales of full-size SUVs had already begun to slip. Major cities have developed new economic development strategies based on reducing pollution, preserving natural resources, and becoming much more energy efficient. Political opposition to building new coal-fired power plants has been steadily growing.
As for the second question, numerous studies conducted by the government, non-profit groups, and universities conclude that the transition to a clean energy economy will produce millions of jobs. Where will they come from?
A major component of Obama's stimulus package calls for spending $25 billion to make schools and other public buildings far more energy efficient, to construct transit systems, and to rebuild roads and bridges. This infrastructure spending, the new administration estimates, will likely generate 1 million jobs. Economists estimate that programs to improve energy efficiency of homes and businesses would create 100,000 on-site jobs and hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs. Obama's plan will call for sharply increasing weatherisation programs for low-income homeowners, from 140,000 homes a year to 1 million — a move that would expand the number of private sector workers involved in home weatherisation programs from roughly 8,000 today to 78,000. He also intends to make 75 percent of federal government buildings more energy-efficient.
In addition, perhaps as part of the stimulus package, the Obama administration plans to spend $10 billion annually to develop biofuels and other forms of renewable energy and to build a modern electrical grid. A decade of such investment, says the transition team, will yield 5 million new green-collar jobs, an estimate supported by studies from the University of Massachusetts, the University of California, and the non-profit Apollo Alliance, a clean energy organisation where I work as communications director. These jobs would include everything from skilled trades and crafts, to managers, to maintenance employees. The new president's plan also calls for aiding manufacturers of clean energy equipment by establishing an advanced manufacturing fund, modeled on a program in Michigan that identifies and invests in innovative clean energy proposals.
Obama proposes a doubling of loan guarantees — to $50 billion — to help the auto industry retool to manufacture next-generation vehicles like the Chevy Volt, the new hybrid plug-in that General Motors hopes to introduce next year. The guarantees also will be made available to manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries and other components for electric vehicles. Such investments will produce tens of thousands of jobs and have the potential to stabilise or even reverse job losses in the auto industry.
Most of these green-collar jobs will require more education than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree, and will pay family-supporting wages. That's huge in a nation in which less than 30 percent of adults earned a college degree. And many of these jobs could be created in Michigan and other industrial states hardest hit by recent losses of manufacturing jobs.
The transition to a renewable energy economy is already proving to be a powerful economic engine. Before the current recession, clean energy was the fastest-growing industrial sector in the United States. Sales of new materials and equipment for the renewable energy sector — steel, gears, wind turbines, solar panels, insulation, software, high tech batteries, gauges, and hundreds of other products — reached $25 billion in the U.S this year, up from less than $10 billion in 2004.
In 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the United States added 7,500 megawatts of generating capacity from wind — equivalent to 8 large coal-fired power plants. Since mid-2007, 41 new wind turbine and component plants opened or expanded, generating 9,000 new jobs. Texas alone this year spent $3 billion on wind generating equipment. Wind is the leading edge of a clean energy industrial sector that, according to various studies, produced 500,000 new green-collar jobs in the U.S. in the past three years.
Still, executives in the oil, coal, and utility industries, and their allies in Congress, are skeptical that a big change in the status quo is coming. Holding off the new clean energy economy would preserve trillions of dollars of investments in coal, oil, and the equipment that runs on both. Expect a huge fight in Washington, especially over how to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases.
Opponents also believe they have history on their side. After all, they note, the last time an American president got this exercised about clean energy was during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter deregulated oil and gas prices, created the Department of Energy, prodded utilities to switch from oil to natural gas and coal, increased fuel mileage standards in cars, and spent lavishly on research and development for solar and other alternative sources of energy.
Then oil and petrol prices dropped, President Ronald Reagan dismantled Carter's White House rooftop solar array, and Detroit invented the SUV. By 2008, American oil consumption had soared to 19.5 million barrels a day — 75 percent of it imported.
Today, however, the urgency underlying the new president's clean energy plan isn't oil embargoes or skyrocketing prices. It's soaring joblessness and a failing economy that runs on carbon-based fuels. As Obama said time and again during the campaign, doing more of the same, repeating what isn't working, just doesn't make sense.
A leading advocate of this energy transformation is Alan Durning, the 44-year-old founder and director of the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, an environmental and economic think tank. Back in 1999 — when gasoline briefly sold for under $1 a gallon, GM pushed 35,000 SUVs out of showrooms every month, and comedians joked that warming temperatures could be cured by switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius — Durning published a prescient 114-page book about resource conservation and job creation entitled "Green-Collar Jobs."
In his book, which coined the term that became famous years later, Durning espoused an idea that is now part of the official conversation in Washington.
"A sustainable economy can generate employment just as well as an unsustainable one," Durning wrote. "For every declining industry, like those that log old-growth forests, make farm chemicals, and build roads, there is an emerging one to take up the slack, like those that advise organic farmers, build windmills, and design walkable neighborhoods. A sustainable economy could be full of opportunity, and not only in these overtly green sectors."
• This article was shared by our content partner Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Oil price fall hits green energy

Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Tuesday 20 January 2009

BP's green energy arm is under pressure from plunging oil prices and the credit crunch, its chief executive admitted yesterday.
Vivienne Cox, chief executive of BP Alternative Energy, said it would be "foolish" to deny it was harder to get cash for projects in the current climate.
"Like everyone else, we are looking at our total capital budget and we will tell you in February how we are placed," she said.
"It would be foolish to say there are no limits on capital spending in the existing portfolio."
Cox was speaking during the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, where she warned delegates about a shortage of debt and equity financing in the wider renewables sector.
BP group's fourth-quarter figures are due next month, when it may outline capital expenditure levels for 2009-10.
Oil companies are under pressure because oil prices have plunged from highs of $147 last summer to below $40. Some firms have cut spending, especially on high-cost oil projects such as tar sands schemes in Canada.
Environmentalists say BP's carbon-intensive tar sand schemes in North America sit uneasily with the wind and solar schemes pursued by Cox.
Cox denied it was a contradiction for the group to do both, saying the world needed all kinds of energy to meet growing demand.

Britain under fire for failing to join renewable energy league

Terry Macalister
guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 January 2009 16.59 GMT

Britain's attempts to position itself as a centre for the green power industry suffered a blow today when it emerged that ministers have refused to commit the country to a new international body set up to promote renewable power.
The German environment secretary, who came up with the idea for the International Renewable Energy Agency, said he was disappointed countries such as the UK and America were dragging their feet.
"Please join the club. It's a club for the future," said Matthias Machnig from Abu Dhabi where he is attending the World Future Energy Summit. He plans to formally launch the new organisation in Bonn next Monday.
The new body, which has been planned for 18 months, was a "very important signal" that nations were committed to a greener future, the minister said.
Asked whether he was frustrated at Britain's unwillingness to sign up so far, he said: "I don't comment on the British way of making decisions. Maybe it is going to happen."
France, Holland and Spain are among the 60 countries that have joined. Machnig said various countries were putting themselves forward to host the organisation.
There is mounting hope that the US will join once Barack Obama gets his feet under the table at the White House.
Britain is thought to be hesitant to put its name to the group because it is viewed with suspicion by the International Energy Agency.
The IEA, established by Britain and America in the aftermath of the 1970s oil shock, does not want to see its role eroded. But the green energy sector has become more and more critical of the Paris-based body, claiming it is an oil lobby group with a vested interest against wind and solar. A recent report by the IEA was deemed by some critics to have underplayed the role of renewables, something it vehemently denies.
Machnig said the new body could have a wider international membership because the IEA was essentially "an OECD-driven agency".
Britain has liked to see itself as a leader in the fight against climate change and has trumpeted London as the centre of carbon trading and other clean technology innovation.
Machnig has used the Gulf summit to call on the European Union to hold its nerve and stick to carbon reduction targets in the face of the credit crunch.
Machnig's warnings came alongside others from politicians, environmentalists and even members of royalty about the dangers of not acting quickly enough to counter global warming.
Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, the Prince of Orange, said a "revolution" was needed to hasten the introduction of new cleaner technologies.
He made an analogy with the Roman empire, which he claimed came to an end partly because of "peak wood". The Romans allowed Europe to be deforested so depleting a source of cheap fuel.
The prince also took a sideswipe at those promoting carbon, capture and storage, saying it could "distract" people from the primary objective of ridding the world of its dependence on fossil fuels.
James Alix Michel, president of the Seychelles, attacked the west for failing to do enough to tackle an issue which could put his own country under water.
While the Seychelles was working hard to become a carbon-neutral country, others were not.
"We find it difficult to understand why countries with far greater resources fail to follow suit," he said. "The time for straddling the fence is over. We can save these (endangered) communities if only we have the will."
But Michel also railed against longhaul aviation taxes, saying they unfairly penalised countries like his own which need longhaul visitors for much of their wealth. Developing countries were already suffering disproportionately from the credit crunch, he said. "When large economies sneeze, small islands don't get a cold but a fever."