Thursday, 5 February 2009

Devastated forests could be replanted with C-Questor's Treepaks delivered from the air

The New Scientist, 30 January 2009

FORESTS devastated by fire or illegal logging could soon be replanted from the air, if tests of a technology being developed in the UK prove successful.

C-Questor of Weybridge, Surrey, has developed a technique to drop and plant hundreds of tree seedlings from a helicopter, greatly increasing the speed with which forests can be replanted, and reducing costs.

Jeff Burley of C-Questor, and former head of the Oxford Forestry Institute at the University of Oxford, says 75 per cent of seeds scattered from the air are wasted - either because they get eaten, or they are blown onto unsuitable ground.

C-Questor's answer is to drop viable seedlings, not vulnerable seeds, in tough, biodegradable plastic cones. Each one contains soil, water-retaining compounds and a 15-centimetre seedling. When dropped from an altitude of about 7 metres, the rigidity of the cone allows it to bury its nose in the ground, says inventor Peter Millar. As each projectile is released, three plastic legs spring out to keep the seedling upright. Up to 200 such projectiles can be individually released, under computer control, from a mattress-sized device slung beneath the helicopter.
Up to 200 seedlings can be individually released from a device slung beneath a helicopter
The company expects trials of its Treepak technology to take place later this year in Brazil, if funding can be secured. Commercial interest is likely to centre on replanting forests of tropical hardwoods such as mahogany and teak, Burley says.

China puts £60bn into energy

Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Thursday 5 February 2009

China will spend 580bn yuan (£59.5bn) expanding its energy sector in 2009 with plans for new solar and wind-powered generating capacity, but also nuclear and coal-fired plants.
State-owned power companies were stepping up investment to meet growing demand and boost economic growth as part of a government stimulus plan, said Zhang Guobao, director of China's National Energy Administration. He also called on ministers to ensure there were appropriate measures to raise and save energy as well as using it more efficiently.
China is heavily dependent on cheap coal to generate much of its electricity but is on a drive to cut carbon and other pollution in its smog-filled cities by going at least partly green. Statistics show it consumed 2.74bn tonnes of coal in 2008, up 4.5% on the previous year, but the rate of growth was 1.6% lower than in 2007.
China's wind market is one of the fastest growing in the world with the exception of the US. A recent study by the Global Wind Energy Council predicted it may have installed capacity of 122 gigawatts by 2020, equivalent to the capacity of five Three Gorges dams.
No further details were given by Zhang about wider plans for expanding energy generation, but the China Daily newspaper said Beijing was looking forward to eight more nuclear plants, with a total of 16 reactors being operational within three years. The country currently has 11 nuclear reactors supplying about 1% of its power, but wants to see that contribution rise to at least 5%.

Boom in solar and wind power

By Kate Galbraith
Published: February 4, 2009

NEW YORK: Wind and solar power grew at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate, especially in the United States under the green-minded administration of the new president, Barack Obama.
But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: Except in isolated markets, like China, installation of wind and solar power is slowing, and in some cases plummeting.
Factories building parts for these industries in the United States have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 percent to 50 percent declines this year in the installation of new equipment, a decrease that bars more help from the government.
Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.
"I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry," said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, North Dakota, where DMI Industries of Fargo operated a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Even though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20 percent of its work force because of falling sales.

Much of the problem stems from the credit crisis that has left Wall Street banks reeling. Once, as many as 18 big banks and financial institutions were willing to help finance installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, taking advantage of generous government tax incentives. But with the banks in so much trouble, that number has dropped to four, according to Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.
Wind and solar developers have been left hunting for capital.
"It's absolutely frozen," said Craig Mataczynski, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, a wind developer. He projected his company would build just under half as much this year as it did last year.
The effects of the banking crisis were also being felt in Europe, although industry groups said it was too soon to tell what effect the credit freeze would have on the fast-growing sector.
"There are examples of smaller developers and independent power producers, relying on banking finance, that are affected by the general reluctance of banks to provide liquidity," Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association, wrote in an e-mail message. "This may postpone some of these projects."
He added that big utilities, which have large cash reserves to tide them over during the crisis, could emerge with more projects. "We may see some of the smaller projects, which have turbine delivery contracts but are struck by the banking liquidity freeze, being taken over by the larger power companies," he said.
Solar experts also report that demand in Europe has softened, a combination of a seasonal slowdown for winter and a recent cap on solar installations in Spain.
"A large amount of product, much of it Chinese, remains unsold," and prices are dropping, Ray Noble, a photovoltaic specialist with the Britain-based Renewable Energy Association, wrote in an e-mail message.
China, a fast-growing wind market, has so far shown no signs of a slowdown, according to Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council.
"The government stimulus package targeted investment in grid infrastructure, which is an important part of maintaining the rapid growth of the Chinese industry," he wrote in an e-mail message. "We are expecting another year of rapid growth in the Chinese wind market in 2009. In India, the picture is more complex, and varies state by state. It is too early to tell with the minor markets in Asia yet."
In the United States, the two industries are hopeful that Obama's economic stimulus package will help. But it will take time, and in the interim they are making plans for a dry spell.
Solar energy companies like OptiSolar, Ausra, Heliovolt and SunPower, once darlings of investors, have all had to lay off workers. So have a handful of companies that make wind turbine blades or towers in the central United States, including Clipper Windpower, LM Glasfiber and DMI.
Some big U.S.-based wind developers, like NextEra Energy Resources and even the Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a promoter of wind power, have cut back or delayed their plans for wind farms.
Renewable energy sources like biomass, which involves making electricity from wood chips, and geothermal, which harnesses underground heat for power, have also been slowed by the financial crisis, but the effects have been more pronounced on once-fast-growing wind and solar sectors.

Because of their need for space to accommodate giant turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project's costs. JPMorgan Chase, for example, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the bank's managing director for energy investments.
In the U.S. solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25 percent in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10 percent by midsummer.
For homeowners, however, the savings will not be as substantial, partly because panels account for only about 60 percent of total installation costs.
After years when installers had to badger manufacturers to ensure that they would receive enough panels, the situation has reversed. Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, said that manufacturers were now calling to say, "Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?"
The turnaround reflects reduced demand for solar panels, and also an increase in supply of panels and of polysilicon, a crucial material in many panels.
On the wind side, turbines that once had to be ordered far in advance are suddenly becoming available.
Banks have invested in renewable energy, lured by the tax credits. But with banks tightly controlling their money, the main task for the energy companies is to find new sources of investment capital.
In Europe, renewable energy incentives are structured differently, often through "feed-in tariffs" - a fixed-rate payment, set high, for electricity generated from renewable energy. Developers are guaranteed a good return to help defray the expensiveness of renewable projects.
Nick Medic, a spokesman for the British Wind Energy Association, wrote in an e-mail message that while Britain still had a "healthy pipeline of projects" and did not want to become reliant on government subsidies, "it could perhaps be welcome for the Government to reassure lenders by underwriting loans, or act in a way that could encourage lenders to free up funds."
Wind and solar companies have urged the U.S. Congress to adopt measures that could help revive the market. But even if a favorable stimulus bill passes, nobody is predicting a swift recovery.
"Nothing Congress does in the stimulus bill can put the market back where it was in 2007 and 2008, before it was broken," Martin, the tax lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke, said. "But it can help at the margins."
Over the long term, with Obama focused on a concerted push toward greener energy, the industry remains optimistic.
"You drive across the countryside and there's more and more wind farms going up," said Mattern of West Fargo. "I still have big hopes."

Britain must tackle its energy gap

By Andrew Duff
Published: February 4 2009 19:39

The UK energy sector is facing huge and pressing challenges. We need a modernised power system capable of reconciling environmental commitments with long-term security of supply at an affordable cost. Achieving this, and avoiding a genuine energy crisis, requires a coherent energy plan and a sense of urgency.
Currently the industry is able to push ahead with some wind and gas power stations. That is good news, but more is needed; we will have to deploy the full range of available energy generation technologies. There must also be a step-change in reducing demand, which means greater fiscal incentives, not just taxes, to encourage consumers to invest in energy efficiency. A lower- carbon primary energy mix is even more vital if we are to move to greater electrification of private transport, reducing the reliance on oil.
For the time being, though, government and regulators continue to treat the big energy issues in isolation despite the recent creation of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The drive to set and meet ever more stringent CO2 targets is not integrated with the ministerial push to tackle energy costs and, vitally, the need to ensure security of supply.
At a time when confidence is so low, when investment is so desperately needed and when finance is so challenging, commentators seem to demonise even modest investor returns in the most strategically important part of the economy. What is needed to stimulate the extraordinary levels of investment required is simply encouragement. We have a real desire to work in partnership with government and communities to deliver billions of pounds of infrastructure, along with the jobs and technologies that will surely follow.
Last year we saw homes go without power because of a lack of capacity on the grid. We cannot let the system become any more fragile. The energy gap created by the retirement of older nuclear and coal plants is likely to bite much earlier than in 2015 or 2016 as many assume. Some 30 per cent of coal capacity will need to close before the end of 2015, with stations using up their quota of hours under the European Union’s large combustion plant directive. At current run rates a significant proportion of this could close by 2013. To address this, and meet a tenfold increase in renewable energy by 2020, we need unprecedented investment in energy generation.
RWE’s announcement last month that it is willing to put billions of pounds of private capital into nuclear energy comes in addition to an existing £10bn investment plan incorporating offshore wind, gas stations and clean coal technologies. Over the critical next decade RWE plans to invest vastly more in the UK than it will earn. This will bring jobs, technology leadership and the prospect of an export-driven stimulus to the economy over the next 10 years, but there will continue to be competition for that capital. Continental Europe is facing equally pressing energy challenges, which will bring the UK investment climate under scrutiny.
Energy prices in the UK have risen faster than in other countries recently but are still lower than the European average and on a par with other leading countries on the continent. Over the last two years, only a portion of the increase in global coal, gas and oil costs has fed through to customers because competition has successfully shielded them from the worst of these commodity price shocks. In the last two years, gas costs have risen by 177 per cent at their peak and today are still double those in January 2007, while npower customers have seen a net increase of 27 per cent.
To cushion the impact of rising prices, companies have more than doubled spending on “social tariffs” for low-income groups and pensioners in the last year. Over the three years from April 2008, the energy industry will also spend about £3.7bn on domestic energy efficiency measures, 57 per cent of national spend, with the government contributing the remainder through its Decent Homes and Warm Front programmes. RWE npower alone has more than doubled energy efficiency expenditure every three years since 2002.
The UK energy market has been heralded as a model for much of Europe.
Official statements about the energy market and its evolution must not undermine confidence that the UK, the architect of this model, still supports the open markets agenda. This is vital to maintaining the country’s attractiveness to investors. We must not allow the hard-won advantages this brings to the UK to be dissipated, at a time when investment needs are so pressing.
The writer is chief executive of RWE npower
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Regulator sets tougher green energy guidelines

Published: February 4, 2009

LONDON: Energy suppliers must abate carbon emissions by at least a tonne for every residential customer signed up to "green" electricity tariffs under new guidelines set by energy regulator Ofgem on Wednesday.
Suppliers in Britain are already obliged to produce some electricity from renewable sources, for which they receive a subsidy.
Some have marketed "green" tariffs to environmentally-concerned customers, often at a premium to standard price plans, without doing more to combat climate change than the legal minimum.
Britain's big six energy suppliers and green energy retailer Good Energy have signed up to the Ofgem scheme which means they have to show environmental benefits, beyond those they are already required to achieve, for each residential customer they sign up.
"Good Energy has been calling for more formal guidelines on green supply for several years to allow customers to differentiate between genuine green tariffs and mere 'greenwash'," Good Energy founder and CEO Juliet Davenport said.

Ofgem has now asked them to start work immediately on setting up an accreditation scheme that will enable householders and small business customers to easily compare green offerings based on the carbon emissions they reduce.
If the environmental measure is carbon offsetting, suppliers must pay for someone else to reduce their emissions by at least one tonne a year for every household account and will have to offset more carbon for small businesses, according to energy use.
Other environmental activities that could qualify include investments in community-based renewable energy projects and suppliers helping improve energy efficiency.
Britain's biggest energy suppliers are Centrica , ScottishPower , RWE npower , EON UK Scottish and Southern Energy and EDF Energy .
Smaller independent green energy company Ecotricity, which aims to get about half of the electricity it sells this year from renewable sources, has not signed up to the voluntary scheme which could mean it makes less money from selling clean energy credits.
"In these guidelines Ofgem are accrediting everything you can imagine except the thing that really counts -- green electricity," Dale Vince, director of the company that gets four times as much of its energy from carbon-free sources than required.
Companies that produce more renewable electricity than they are required to can sell the resulting Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) to generators who have fallen short of their targets.
They can also apply to Ofgem to have their output exempted from Britain's Climate Change Levy, which has to be paid by all businesses, and get Levy Exemption Certificates (LEC) which they can also sell.
Under the new guidelines both these potential sources of income for green energy producers is under threat.
"If you want to show that something is additional you will have to retire the LECs associated with that extra renewable output," a spokesman for the regulator said.
Ecotricity, which gets most of its power from wind, argues that getting rid of LECs would harm wind power generators, forcing them to pass on the cost of the retired LEC to customers.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren, editing by Anthony Barker)

Ofgem issues guidelines for green energy claims

The Times
February 5, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta

Britain’s energy regulator yesterday called for a crackdown on green energy tariffs, after claims that some suppliers had misled customers about their environmental credentials.
Ofgem called for the creation of an independent accreditation scheme for green tariffs in an effort to “reduce customer confusion and rebuild trust”.
Under Ofgem’s proposed guidelines, tariffs will be considered green only if they bring additional environmental benefits beyond suppliers’ existing legal obligations to generate some of their electricity from renewable sources.
About 319,000 customers in the UK subscribe to green energy tariffs, but the offerings vary widely in quality. Some suppliers offer electricity generated from 100 per cent renewable sources or pledge to invest more than 60 per cent of the proceeds in new wind parks. Others simply repackage their existing generation portfolios, including renewable energy that they are obliged to purchase under UK law.

The “Big Six” energy suppliers and the niche supplier Good Energy have already pledged to sign up to the new guidelines, which Ofgem hopes will be in place by this summer.
The accreditation scheme, which will be overseen by an independent body, will enable householders and small-business customers easily to compare green offerings based on the reduction in carbon emissions.
Juliet Davenport, the chief executive of Good Energy, a niche supplier of 100 per cent renewable electricity, welcomed the announcement made by Ofgem.
Ms Davenport said that a voluntary code was the minimum step that any company should take before offering a “green” energy tariff. She said: “We are pleased to see these guidelines emerge and to be the first independent supplier to have signed up. Good Energy has been calling for more formal guidelines on green supply for several years to allow customers to differentiate between genuine green tariffs and mere ‘greenwash’. We are especially pleased that green claims will be subject to independent scrutiny, giving consumers confidence in what they are signing up to.”

Londoners at risk as Johnson suspends low emission zone measures, panel told

• Campaigners say mayor's decision will affect 107,000 people• Air quality is 'worst in Europe'
Hélène Mulholland, Wednesday 4 February 2009 18.09 GMT

Boris Johnson's decision to suspend the next phase of the low emission zone (LEZ) could leave more than 100,000 Londoners at risk of breathing in dangerously high levels of pollution, it was claimed today.
Simon Birkett, from the Campaign for Clean Air in London, warned that the mayor's decision could also undermine the UK government's efforts to secure an extension on EU air quality standards.
Birkett told the London assembly's environment committee that the mayor had yet to come up with alternative measures to lift 107,000 Londoners at risk of high nitrogen dioxide levels, following his decision earlier this week to suspend the third phase of the LEZ, subject to public consultation.
First introduced last year by Johnson's predecessor, Ken Livingstone, the LEZ is a key measure designed to improve air quality by encouraging the replacement of high polluting vans and lorries with new models that met the required emission standards.
The scheme currently targets buses, coaches and the most polluting lorries over 3.5 tonnes. Failure to meet the required emissions standards leads to a £200 daily charge, or a £1,000 daily fine if the charge is not paid.
Phase three of the scheme was scheduled to start in October next year and would have affected 90,000 smaller vehicles, including vans and minibuses. A daily £100 charge was due to be imposed on those that did not meet the emissions standards.
Birkett told the panel that a consultation paper by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the UK's application to the European commission for an extension to meet air quality targets relied in part on the London congestion charge as well as full implementation of the LEZ.
As well as suspending the next phase of the LEZ, Johnson had previously announced he intended to scrap the western extension of the congestion charge, subject to a public consultation.
"If there is action to remove or weaken either, it takes away some of the planks in that," said Birkett.
The European commission last week started infringement proceedings against the UK for failing to comply with levels of particulate matter, which are dangerous airborne particles emitted by industry, traffic and domestic heating.
The UK's formal application for an extension to meet the standards by 2011 will be submitted to the European commission by March.
Birkett said: "It's important to emphasise here there is a disjunction which the government has created because it carries the obligations for [EU] limit values (air quality standards) and the mayor and local authorities outside London have a duty to work towards the obligations, not comply with them. One could be a busy fool and meet its obligations and the government is left in the lurch because it has not complied with its obligations."
Birkett told the panel that congestion charging held a "double benefit" – not just by reducing exhaust particles from reduced traffic, but also the toxic particles generated by breaks and tyre-wear.
Also giving evidence, Professor Frank Kelly from Kings College London, told the panel that poor air quality can "drive people to an early death".
Air quality in London is the "worst in Europe", partly because London was a mega-city with several million vehicles, many of them run on diesel. "We are at the top of the league table," he told the panel.
This contributed to the premature deaths of those who already suffered from serious illnesses, he said. The impact of poor air quality in effect "mimics" many aspects of respiratory diseases," he added.
He also informed the panel that studies in California and the Netherlands suggest the elderly and children are the most vulnerable to public health consequences of poor air quality. Lung growth in children exposed to higher levels of pollutions is decreased and never seems to catch up, leaving them in adulthood with 70-75% of their natural lung capacity, the committee was told.

British industries face emissions clampdown

By Jim Pickard, Political Correspondent
Published: February 4 2009 12:37

Most industries will have to cut their emissions to a 10th of their current level by 2050 to meet the government’s climate change targets, according to forecasts by Gordon Brown’s Committee on Climate Change.
The UK has signed up to an 80 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared with 1990 levels, a move welcomed by environmentalists.

But plans to expand Heathrow airport and maintain aviation at its recent levels would mean the rest of industrial Britain having to cut emissions even further; by almost 90 per cent.
Lord Adair Turner, chairman of the CCC, told a Commons committee on Wednesday morning that it was logical to cut emissions where it was “easier” and there were alternatives.
“If it is more feasible to reduce emissions by 95 per cent in electricity generation and by 0 per cent in aviation than 80 per cent for both, it is a better deal for society to have 95 and 0,” he told the environmental audit committee.
Lord Turner said that there would be similar issues with agriculture, where it would be very hard to cut emissions.
The climate change committee has been asked to examine how aviation emissions can be limited to below their 2005 levels by 2050.
Even this would mean all other sectors of the economy having to reduce emissions by an average of 89 per cent, according to its December report on tackling climate change. The same report acknowledges the danger that “unconstrained” emissions from aircraft could make required reductions from other sectors “impossibly large”.
Tim Yeo, chairman of the environmental audit committee, said other sectors would have to work much harder in cutting emissions to allow aviation to hit its less stringent target. “It is a quite optimistic view given the government’s present policies,” he said.
Anita Goldsmith, a campaigner for Greenpeace, said the Heathrow decision would have “severe and unacceptable consequences” for the rest of industry.
“While all other sectors will be making major structural changes in order to reach our overall target of an 80 per cent cut in CO2 emissions, airlines and airport operators will continue to profit,” she said.
The government believes airlines will become more efficient in the coming years, meaning that aviation will contribute less to pollution.
But Greenpeace estimates that Heathrow’s emissions will reach 17.7m tonnes of CO2 by 2050 – 15 per cent of the UK’s entire carbon budget – even if aircraft become more efficient by 1 per cent a year.
Norman Baker, transport spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the “supine” Department for Transport had bowed to lobbying by BAA, Heathrow’s owner.
“This means that the rest of industry, which already has significant challenges ahead, will have have to move even further to reach the target. I don’t think this is feasible with present technology where it is, it is a step too far,” said Mr Baker.
The Federation of Small Businesses said its members wanted to cut their climate emissions but needed more free advice from the government on how to do so.
Lord Turner said on Wednesday morning that the government faced challenges in meeting renewables targets because wind energy companies and others would face trouble raising finance in the current economic climate.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson, London mayor, has suspended the third phase of the low emission zone, designed to improve London’s air quality, on the basis it would have damaged small businesses.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Climate change targets questioned after CO2 falls by just one per cent in decade

Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen by just one per cent in the last decade, according to new figures, casting doubt on ambitious climate change targets.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 5:54PM GMT 04 Feb 2009

The UK's carbon dioxide emissions fell by 1.5 per cent in 2007, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Figures for 2007 also revealed that output of all six greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide, was down 1.7 per cent on 2006 levels.
The greatest CO2 savings were made by homes improving efficiency and business cutting energy, although certain sectors such as transport saw an increase in emissions.
The statistics put the UK well ahead of its target under the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. Greenhouse gas emissions were down 22 per cent down on 1990 levels in 2007.
But there are more domestic stringent targets including a goal to cut carbon dioxide output, the gas which makes up the majority of the UK's emissions, by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010 – which it has long been expected to be missed. Emissions of CO2 were 12.8 per cent down on 1990 levels in 2007.
The Climate Change Act has also set legally-binding targets for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and CO2 by at least 26 per cent by 2020.
Greg Clark, Tory spokesman on climate change, said the new figures cast doubt on the targets.
"These figures show that for all Labour's posturing on climate change, emissions of carbon dioxide have fallen by just one per cent since 1997. The reason is emblematic of the failure of Labour: it signs up to targets, but has no plan to deliver them," he said.
Robin Webster, of Friends of the Earth, pointed out that the figures do not include emissions from international aviation or shipping.
"The reality is that UK carbon dioxide emissions are still higher than when Labour came to power in 1997, despite repeated promises of significant cuts," she said.
But Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change minister, said the UK would cut emissions more quickly in the next few years.
"We need to reduce emissions even more quickly and I believe the policies we are putting in place now will set us on that path to meet the challenging targets we set ourselves in the Climate Change Act," he said.