Tuesday, 10 February 2009

New body to manage Scotland's waters

Published Date: 10 February 2009
By Jenny Haworth

A NEW organisation is being set up to manage Scotland's seas.

Marine Scotland will be up and running by 1 April, bringing together the roles of a number of separate bodies.The Scotsman has called for a single marine management body to be created in our Save Our Seas campaign.Marine Scotland will have responsibility for marine science, planning, policy development, management and for monitoring compliance.The current functions of Fisheries Research Services, the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency and the Scottish Government's Marine Directorate will be brought together in the new organisation. Richard Lochhead, the environment secretary, said the new body would help to deliver "sustainable economic growth". He added: "Marine Scotland will be the champion for our marine environment."Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of Scotland's environment charities, welcomed the announcementCalum Duncan, chair of Scottish Environment LINK's Marine Task Force, said: "This new body must now develop and meet tough targets for the sustainable management, protection and recovery of Scotland's seas."

Canadian oil sands company faces charges

The Associated Press
Published: February 9, 2009

TORONTO: A major Canadian oil sands company is facing federal charges for violating environmental laws after several hundred ducks died in a toxic pond last spring.
Images of the dead and dying ducks received international attention and Prime Minister Stephen Harper remarked that that reputation of Canada's massive oil sands projects had been harmed.
Syncrude Canada Ltd. was charged Monday by Canada's federal government and the Alberta provincial government with failing to take action that might have kept some 500 ducks from dying last April in a tailings pond which contained waste made from the separation of oil from sand.
Syncrude officials said at the time that noisemakers used to scare waterfowl away from the lake-sized tailings pond had not been deployed because of a spring snowstorm.
The charges under Alberta's Environmental Protection Act carry a maximum penalty of $500,000 Canadian (US$410,000). Environment Canada has charged Syncrude under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner said its the first time the charges have been laid in Alberta. He said it will be a joint prosecution with the federal government.
Renner said the charges don't have anything to do with U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Canada next week. A top Obama adviser criticized the environmental impacts of the oil sands during the campaign last year.
Industry officials estimate northern Alberta could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil, which would make Canada second only to Saudi Arabia in crude oil reserves.
However, critics say the massive oil sands projects are a threat to Alberta's rivers, forests and wildlife and a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
"Every employee felt horrible it happened. Obviously, it gained a national profile," said Alain Moore, a spokesman for Syncrude.
Moore said the company is to appear in court March 25. He said the company will not comment directly on the charges until it has time to review the information laid for this prosecution.
Dozens of tailings ponds have been building up over 40 years in northern Alberta, but an action plan announced last week aims to force companies to clean up the sludge over several decades.
Environmental groups say this go-slow approach will do little in the short term to reduce the size of the toxic ponds, which are so large they can been seen from space.

The More You Know...

A groundbreaking 'smart grid' test in Boulder, Colo., is delivering some surprises for both consumers and utilities

Boulder, Colo. -- A bold experiment is transforming this college town into a living laboratory by changing the way utilities manage -- and customers use -- electricity.
The Journal Report

Participants in the project, called SmartGridCity, can go online to see exactly how much power they're using or calculate how much it cost to crank up the hot tub the previous evening.
Soon, they'll be able to program some appliances over the Web and even choose where they want their electricity to come from. They might set their dishwasher to run only when wind power is available, for instance.
The plan will also give the local utility, Xcel Energy Inc., a vastly bigger reach. To ease strain on the power grid, Xcel will be able to reach into a neighborhood remotely and temporarily turn down thermostats or shut off hot-water heaters in participating homes.
Tomorrow's Grid
This $100 million experiment is the first full-fledged test of a high-tech "smart grid" in the U.S. -- and it comes at an important time. President Obama and Congress have declared it a priority to modernize the electrical system, and they've put smart grids at the center of those efforts. An early draft of the stimulus package includes $30 billion for developing smart grids and expanding the use of renewable resources.
Power Play
See how a house on a smart grid would allow customers and utilities new options.
So, utilities across the country will be watching how Xcel fares in Boulder. Already, the plan faces challenges. Xcel must deal with a host of technical issues, not to mention some political ones -- such as persuading regulators and consumer advocates to accept a radical new rate structure now in the planning stages.
Beyond that, the very concept of the smart grid is controversial on many fronts. Some homeowners find it Orwellian, while consumer advocates tend to see it as a wasteful extravagance; they say utilities should focus on improving efficiency instead of spending billions on futuristic technology -- and passing the tab on to ratepayers.
So far, Xcel has been running only a limited trial of the smart grid, to gauge customer reaction, measure energy conservation and quantify cost savings, among other things. But over the next few months, about 10,000 homes will try out many of the smart grid's features, such as monitoring and regulating their energy use through a Web portal.
Now's the time for "testing how far we can go with this," says Michael Carlson, chief information officer for Xcel, which is funding and implementing the experiment with a consortium of high-tech partners, including Accenture Ltd., Current Group LLC, GridPoint Inc., Ventyx Inc. and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc.
Initial results have yielded some surprises. Though Boulder was chosen in part because of its highly educated population, some customers have complained that all the high-tech bells and whistles are too confusing. And even some of the most committed environmentalists in this proudly liberal city of 94,000 have been slow to change their habits.
Consider Dennis Arfmann. The 57-year-old environmental attorney couldn't wait to join the smart grid, expecting it would help him conserve. But when the system prompted him to evaluate his energy use, he found that he and his wife, Julie, had different priorities.
He saw their extra freezer as wasteful. She liked it to store her homemade cherry pies. He wanted to unplug the dryer. As the spouse in charge of laundry, she resisted.
To make his case, Mr. Arfmann printed out weekly reports of their energy use from the smart-grid Web portal and bought a hand-held device that measured how much each individual appliance used. He even promised he'd personally hang the laundry on a clothesline.
"It took about four months to negotiate," Mr. Arfmann says. In the end, his wife, a dentist, agreed to ditch the extra freezer and let him use the clothesline -- even in winter. Mr. Arfmann's concession: bumping up the thermostat a few degrees over Christmas, when they had lots of house guests.
Other customers tracking daily energy use on the Web portal say it has become a game to try to keep their numbers low. "It's definitely a challenge," says Ray Tuomey, who unplugs his toaster after breakfast to save every fraction of a kilowatt-hour.
Encouraging conservation, of course, is problematic for utilities: The less electricity they sell, the less profit they make.
ENERGY SAVER GridPoint's Web portal for homeowners
Let Prices Fluctuate
So, Xcel plans to use the data gathered in Boulder to press state regulators to approve a radically new business model in Colorado and then, perhaps, across its eight-state service area. The goal: to let prices fluctuate as often as every five or 10 minutes according to demand, so that customers pay more during the equivalent of rush hour on the grid. Xcel says this will ease strain, prevent blackouts and encourage conservation.
To make real-time pricing work, however, the utility must let customers see the cost -- and perhaps even the source -- of the electricity they're using at any time. Xcel is testing various ways to send this information, including text-messaging customers' cellphones.
Another option, which has been used elsewhere for commercial and industrial customers: outfit each home with a softball-size orb in constant Wi-Fi communication with the grid. It could glow green when wind farms are flooding the grid with renewable power -- or turn red when the price of electricity spikes.
For now, Xcel is focused on automating a home's response to price and environmental signals so customers "don't have to interrupt their life on a minute-by-minute basis to check their BlackBerrys to see whether the wind is blowing hard," says Ray Gogel, the utility's chief administrative officer.
To test out the automated system, Xcel is equipping about 10,000 homes with free devices that can control certain appliances remotely. Customers will go to the utility's Web portal and set goals for energy use. Do they want to run the dishwasher only when wind power is available? Are they willing to let Xcel turn down the heat in their home when the grid is straining? Will they agree to turn off their hot-water heater every Tuesday afternoon to save electricity?
Once the parameters are set, Xcel can control designated appliances remotely, within the customer's guidelines. The customer retains override power.
Executives also have their eyes on a far bigger prize: reducing the need to build costly new coal-fired generation plants. That goal has led to one of SmartGridCity's most ambitious efforts -- turning homes, and even cars, into miniature green power plants.
The technology is too expensive to be widely used, so Xcel has chosen just a few homes in Boulder for this part of the experiment. One is the official residence of University of Colorado Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson and his wife, Val. Xcel and its partners spent tens of thousands of dollars to turn it into a futuristic showcase.
Xcel Energy
GETTING A CHARGE OUT OF IT John Bryan, Xcel Energy consultant, and Rep. John Hall of New York with a hybrid Ford Escape that's been converted to a plug-in electric car
In the Petersons' utility room, a battery pack about the size of two minibar fridges collects solar energy from photovoltaic panels on their roof. This is backup power for the Petersons; in the event of an outage, it will keep their refrigerator and security system running. It's also backup power for Xcel. When the grid is strained, the utility can draw solar power from the Petersons' battery -- whether or not the sun happens to be shining that day.
The battery, which costs about $4,000, stores just 40 hours of limited power for one home. But there's extensive research under way to improve such batteries, and bring down the cost.
"They're basically Tivo-ing electricity" by capturing the sun's rays now and using them later, says Andrew Tang, who manages smart-grid projects for a California utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
A similar experiment plays out in the Petersons' garage, where a hybrid Ford Escape has been converted to a plug-in electric car. It draws power from the home's solar panels, stores it -- and can send it back to the grid on demand.
The Petersons' experience with the smart grid has not been entirely smooth. Mrs. Peterson says it can be cumbersome -- and "boring" -- to use the smart-grid Web site to manage her home's energy use. She has to set more than a dozen data points just to get her bedroom temperature where she wants it through the week.
Her husband finds some of the online charts that track his home's energy use too abstract. "If I told you that today you saved four pounds...of carbon emissions, what does that mean to you?" he asks. He prefers when the software serves up analogies he can visualize: He's saved enough energy to microwave 9,550 frozen pizzas or to light a major-league ballgame for three innings.
System engineers at GridPoint, a smart-grid technology firm in Arlington, Va., that's working with Xcel, are modifying the software in response to this feedback.
Gripes aside, the Petersons say they're sold on the concept: "This is the future," Mrs. Peterson says.
Not all consumers are likely to be so enthusiastic. Some early experiments with smart-grid ideas have seen considerable opposition. In California last year, regulatory officials drew a storm of protest when they considered requiring all new homes to have thermostats that utilities could remotely adjust. They withdrew the proposal, which critics said smacked of Big Brother.
Arshad Mansoor, a vice president of the Electric Power Research Institute, calls customer response a significant roadblock to smart grid. He's hopeful that the Boulder experiment will help utilities figure out how to smooth the way.
Another obstacle is beyond the scope of Boulder: Utilities, regulators and manufacturers of dozens of appliances and meters will have to settle on a uniform language so they can talk to one another.
"This is not VCR versus Betamax, where there was just one industry involved," says Mr. Mansoor. "It's a big hurdle."
Meanwhile, consumer advocates are already warning they will fight any proposal that boosts rates for customers who don't have the time, the sophistication or the desire to fiddle with Web portals and cede control of their appliances.
"I like the concept of smart grid, absolutely," says Jim Greenwood, who directs Colorado's Office of Consumer Counsel. "But not at any cost."—Ms. Simon is a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Denver.
Write to Stephanie Simon at stephanie.simon@wsj.com

Tanfield to collaborate with Ford

By David Blackwell
Published: February 9 2009 15:56

Tanfield, which last week announced a joint venture in order to take its electric vehicles into the US market, is to collaborate with Ford to make a Transit-based battery-powered van.
The shares, which rose 16 per cent on news of the joint venture, increased by another 42 per cent to 11p following the Ford announcement.

The company said it would make a limited number of electric Ford Transit Connect vans in North America next year, “with future production to ramp up in line with customer demand.” The vans would be branded as Fords, and sold through Ford dealers. They are expected to run for up to 100 miles before recharging.
“We are proud to be delivering the first vehicle in Ford’s new electrification strategy,” siad Darren Kell, Tanfield chief executive. The van offered fleet owners the chance to reduce their carbon footprint and improve city air quality.
Tanfield will supply and integrate the power train, battery pack and control systems into the existing Transit chassis, with engineering support from Ford.
Ford said the collaboration would put at at the “vanguard of the commercial electric vehicle industry”.
Last week Tanfield said its joint venture would be making electric trucks in the US by the end of this year. It would qualify for Federal and regional funding available for electric vehicle production.
Shares in Tanfield fell from more than 200p last summer after it warned of production problems for its electric vehicles and a sharp drop in global demand for the industrial “cherry pickers” - or aerial platforms - that comprise most of its sales.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Irish minister bans climate change adverts

By Chris Green
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

An advertising campaign urging people to help tackle climate change has been banned by Northern Ireland's Environment minister because he does not believe humans are the main cause of global warming.
Sammy Wilson said the ads suggested that turning off a television rather than putting it on standby could help save the planet, a notion he described as "patent nonsense".
The East Antrim MP said he was in favour of encouraging people in Northern Ireland to save energy, but added that the link between carbon emissions and global warming was a matter of political debate.
The Green Party and the campaign group Friends of the Earth demanded his resignation, but Mr Wilson said he had a right to hold his own opinion on the issue. The DUP representative added last night: "Why should I resign? I fulfil all my ministerial obligations in all areas of my department, and the idea that I should resign just because I hold a different view from other people on what is a very controversial topic is nonsense. And it just shows the intolerance of these people if they think I should resign because I have a different opinion."
Brian Wilson, a Green Party assembly member, said the minister was being "grossly irresponsible", adding: "While the minister is entitled to his own views, he is not entitled to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence that man-made climate change exists."

Calls for Stormont environment minister to quit over CO2 ad ban

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 10 February 2009

Northern Ireland's environment minister, climate change sceptic Sammy Wilson, faced resignation calls last night after he banned government climate change adverts from local television.
Wilson blocked the broadcasting of the Act on CO2 ads because he believed it was green "propaganda". The Democratic Unionist MLA is renowned for being a vocal climate-change sceptic. The Greens said the minister's action in banning the adverts had made a laughing stock out of Northern Ireland.
The adverts, which were to be broadcast on Ulster Television, urge the public to reduce energy consumption and cut carbon dioxide output by switching to energy efficient lightbulbs and not leaving televisions on standby.
Wilson said he would not allow this "insidious New Labour propaganda campaign" to be imposed on the Northern Ireland public. The ads were "giving people the impression that by turning off the standby light on their TV they could save the world from melting glaciers and being submerged in 40ft of water", he said, which was "patent nonsense".
Wilson said he wrote to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change to say that the Act on CO2 campaign "was not welcome", was contrary to his personal views, and that he did "not wish for climate change messages to be promoted by other Whitehall departments here".
He has also warned that future ecological messages could only be promoted in Northern Ireland with his permission.
This has led the Northern Ireland assembly's only Green party member, Brian Wilson, to put forward a motion calling for the minister's removal. The North Down MLA said: "Our environment minister is being grossly irresponsible in refusing to encourage energy efficiency."
The SDLP backs that call. A spokesman, Tommy Gallager, said: "It is one thing for Sammy Wilson to hold weird views on climate change ... it is another when he uses his position to pursue causes which are in conflict with the objectives of the department he is supposed to be leading and with the DUP's manifesto commitments."

UK and China work on carbon capture

British scientists are working with their Chinese counterparts to develop a new technology to burn coal without harming the environment.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 7:44PM GMT 09 Feb 2009

Carbon Capture and Storage could help cut emissions from coal-fired power stations
It is estimated that China builds around one coal power station a week, causing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide to be pumped into the atmosphere.
In an effort to tackle the problem, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has invested more than £3 million in developing Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in China, a new technology that will take the CO2 and store it underground.
A conference of scientists from around the world will meet to discuss the technology at a British Geological Survey (BGS) conference in Nottingham this week. The delegates will discuss the possibility of storing the CO2 in old oil or gas fields.
The UK is also interested in CCS as a means of continuing to use fossil fuels at power stations like Kingsnorth while meeting strict targets on cutting carbon emissions.
But Jonathan Pearce of BGS said CCS in China it is even more important to tackling global climate change simply because of the scale.
"An awful lot of power stations are being built in China that lock the country into power from coal for many decades to come," he said. "CCS is a way we could help China reduce emissions."
As a developing country China does not have to meet targets on cutting emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.
However after taking over the US to become the world's biggest polluter two years ago, the super power is under increasing pressure to act.
President Barack Obama is expected to work more closely with China to reduce emissions and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to visit Beijing this week to discuss the issue.
The two countries hold the key to any replacement of the Kyoto Protocol decided in Copenhagen at the end of this year.
Scientists are due to gather in the Danish city next month for an emergency summit on new studies showing climate change may be happening faster than expected, making it more important than ever to take action.

Markey pushes climate change legislation

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: February 10 2009 01:30

Ed Markey, chairman of the House energy and environment subcommittee, said he will press forward with climate-change legislation ahead of December’s UN Climate Change summit in Copenhagen.
“We want to be ready so the president can go to Copenhagen in December as the world leader,’’ he said.

Mr Markey said the debate in Congress was no longer focused on whether to pass climate change legislation but on how much to spend on it. His committee’s goal is to complete legislation by Memorial Day so it can go to the House floor.
“We know the G8 and the rest of the world is waiting for the United States to stop being the laggard and be the leader,” Mr Markey told CERA, a week-long energy conference that began on Monday. “There are potentially catastrophic consequences for the planet if we do not act.’’
Mr Markley said that neither the government or the private sector has invested enough in combating greenhouse gas emissions.
“The tools to solve these problems, in many instances, have not been invented yet,’’ Mr Markey said.
He urged Congress to set market-driven policies to give energy companies certainty and opportunities to participate in the “revolution” about to take place around climate change. He likened it to the developments that took place in telecommunications sector.
“We must now do the same thing in the energy sector,’’ Mr Markey said. “This is all inevitable. Ten or 20 years from now this revolution will be completed.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Homeowners free to install solar panels

Published Date: 10 February 2009

HOUSEHOLDERS will be able to install solar panels and other energy devices on their homes without planning permission under new laws announced yesterday by the Scottish Government.
The new laws will cover ground-source heat pumps, solar panels and flues from biomass stoves and boilers. Planning permission was previously needed before they were installed. However, there was criticism that the laws did not cover the use of home wind turbines or air-source heat pumps.The Scottish Government said that more research was needed before deciding whether to allow micro-turbines without planning permission, and announced that would make a decision before the end of the year.There have been concerns about noise, and there were plans to allow them on buildings at least 100 metres apart.Jason Ormiston, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: "We are disappointed that after more than two years of work the Scottish Government does not have the confidence to extend development to micro-wind and air-source heat pumps."

E.ON to test wave power energy generation in Britain

Published: February 9, 2009

LONDON: E.ON is to launch a wave power energy generation trial in Britain next year, the British arm of the German energy group said Monday.
E.ON UK plans to install and trial a single generation device, which is being built in Edinburgh in Scotland, at the European Marine Energy Centre in the Orkney Islands off the north Scottish coast, it said in a statement.
The first year of testing of the 750 kilowatt Pelamis P2 technology will be an extended commissioning period, with the next two years designed to improve the operation of the equipment.
E.ON claimed it would become the first utility to test a marine energy device at the Orkney centre, which is the only grid-connected marine test site in Europe.
It expects the program to help pave the way for the commercialisation of the technology in the UK and worldwide and the rollout of more of the equipment around Britain.

"We recognise much work has to follow before we can be certain marine energy will fulfil its potential," Amaan Lafayette, Marine Development Manager at E.ON, said. "But the success of this device will give us the confidence to move to the next phase of commercialisation, which is larger arrays around the UK coastline."
(Reporting by Philip Waller; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

We must tackle these false claims for domestic green power tariffs

It's time to overhaul the system that allows electricity firms to hoodwink customers trying to go green

Juliet Davenport
guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 February 2009 13.19 GMT

Ofgem's publication last week of new guidelines to clear up confusion over green electricity tariffs has caused outcry from both industry and NGOs.
As one of the original signatories to these guidelines, and having called for clear rules, regulation and transparency over green tariffs for several years, I thought I would offer some clarity.
Ofgem has published these new guidelines in order to encourage greater uptake of green tariffs from consumers after many questioned the environmental benefits that green tariffs could bring. This was perhaps unsurprising, given that a lot of unscrupulous energy retailers were simply repackaging electricity they were legally obliged to source or produce under the government's renewable obligation. In other words they were charging consumers a premium tariff for electricity which had already been paid for through additions to standard tariff bills.
In other cases, suppliers have been taking advantage of the market structure to "double count", or sell the same unit of renewable electricity two to three times due to the certificates awarded for renewable generation.
For each MW of renewable electricity produced, the generator is awarded three certificates: a Rego (renewable energy guarantee of origin), a Roc (renewable obligation certificate), and a Lec (levy exemption certificate).
This allows the more underhand operators to, for example, sell once to a domestic customer using the Rego as proof of a green tariff; and the same unit again to a business customer using the Lec as proof. Businesses pay a high price for the Lecs as this exempts them from the climate change levy. Both customers think they are getting a green tariff and suppliers make hefty profits deceiving the market.
Under the proposals in the new guidelines the only measure of "green-ness" will be the Rego. Suppliers will be obliged to hold on to the Lecs rather than being allowed to sell them. Neither will Rocs be eligible as a measure of green supply. They will return to being a financial support mechanism, so selling them on will not allow others to claim green tariffs. This should close the market in double counting immediately. And under a new, independent accreditation scheme a tariff will only be regarded as green if it brings benefits beyond the suppliers' existing legal obligations.
This will have to be transparent to the public. First, each supplier signed up to the guidelines will have to provide customers with a fuel-mix disclosure chart displaying the percentage of each energy source used by the supplier to give an idea of their environmental credentials. This information is currently freely available online, but does not have to be provided direct to customers.
Secondly, suppliers will have to give a description of the extra measures they are taking beyond their legal obligations. This could be through things like supporting community-based renewable projects or installing energy efficiency measures. Finally, they will have to carry a quality mark that certifies that the extra environmental activity will abate a minimum level of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.
The idea behind this is to provide reassurance to the public and encourage greater uptake of green tariffs in order for improved energy efficiency and greater amounts of renewable energy to be developed. The more there is, the cheaper it will become and the greater the impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Customers will be able to see exactly where their fuel comes from with each supplier and make choices accordingly. As each green tariff will have to show evidence of carbon savings beyond legal obligations, we hope it will encourage greater independent generation from individuals, households, landowners and small-scale developers.
The new guidelines will only be voluntary and only apply to designated green tariffs. However, it is worth asking those who oppose them what the fuel mix is in their tariff or how many times they are selling their electricity certificates.
While they may not be perfect, we feel the guidelines could shine a welcome light into some murky waters. After all, we won't reduce emissions if we're simply kept in the dark.
Juliet Davenport is CEO and founder of green power firm, Good Energy.

Funds to fuel green energy run dry

By Paul Taylor Reuters
Published: February 9, 2009

BRUSSELS: Investors in clean energy are like motorists stuck at broken traffic lights. The public policy light is green, but the price and credit lights are deep red.
Investment in wind, wave and solar power should be booming after the European Union adopted an ambitious goal last year to draw 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 to help fight global warming, and President Barack Obama made green power a central plank of his government's policy.
But the credit crunch, economic recession, the spectacular drop in oil prices since last July and a record low European carbon price have cooled investors' ardor.
New Energy Finance, a consultancy, forecast zero investment growth in climate-related companies this year, after a spectacular growth rate of 60 percent in 2006 and 2007.
"The commercial lending market is holding back and, until that can be addressed, it's going to be a major constraint," said Christopher Knowles of the European Investment Bank's energy and environment department.

Yet to achieve the EU's 2020 target, investment decisions need to be made soon on long-term projects to build a smart electricity grid, giant offshore wind farms and networks to bring renewable energy to industrial heartland of Europe.
How can the private investment logjam be broken?
One way could be to extend the public support system through which countries like Germany and Spain guarantee higher-than-market prices to generators of renewable energy.
The system provides secure revenue to green power producers, making investments in their projects as safe as municipal bonds.
But critics say it inflates the cost to consumers and taxpayers.
For example, the price guaranteed for photovoltaic energy is 20 times the cost of electricity from conventional power plants, said a former International Energy Agency chief, Claude Mandil.
Another idea is to put a floor under the carbon price in the market for permits for emitting carbon dioxide by creating a carbon central bank that could withdraw emissions allowances from the market if the price fell below a certain level and issue extra permits if it rose above a fixed ceiling.
Mark Lewis, managing director of commodities research at Deutsche Bank, said that carbon prices were artificially low because companies had been selling emissions permits they received for free to raise short-term cash that they could no longer borrow.
"This sends the wrong price signal for investment and for changing consumer behavior," Lewis told an energy conference organized by the French Institute of International Relations.
A record low price of €9.50, or $12.43, a ton, recorded last week, makes it more economical to build new coal-fired power stations than to invest in renewable energy and smart infrastructure.
A carbon bank, like a monetary central bank, would be empowered to intervene if market forces were not achieving the desired policy objectives, and the mere threat of intervention might be enough to curb speculative peaks and troughs.
But an overhaul of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme just adopted for the period 2013-2020 contains no such provision.
The United States, Australia and Japan can learn from the mistakes made in Europe, Lewis said, by insisting that industry buy carbon permits from the outset instead of getting them for free, and by creating a carbon bank.
The EU could then link its system into a global emissions market, initially involving the advanced industrial nations and eventually the emerging economies, too.
Laying the foundations of an international cap-and-trade system that would create a global price for carbon would be a giant advance at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen this year.
The EU energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, contends that the best way to guarantee the necessary investments in Europe is through a 10-year investment plan backed by public money from the economic stimulus programs of member states.
In the short term, the European Commission plans to allocate €5 billion in unspent EU funds as seed money to promote cross-border energy interconnectors, an electricity supergrid and clean coal plants using carbon sequestration technology, as well as broadband telecommunications networks.
But to Claude Turmes, a leading European Parliament member on climate issues, the money is too thinly spread to break the investment deadlock in renewable energy.
Turmes, a Greens lawmaker from Luxembourg, says it would be better to use the money to leverage credit from the EU-owned European Investment Bank at subsidized interest rates to build the infrastructure backbone needed to transport renewable energy.