Monday, 16 February 2009

From crisis to opportunity

Eco-friendly investment, greater energy efficiency and pricing reform could all aid economic recovery

Vinod Thomas and Kenneth Chomitz
The Guardian, Monday 16 February 2009

Just as climate change was beginning to attain recognition as a critical challenge facing the human race, it has been eclipsed in popular attention by a crumbling global economy. It is tempting to shelve actions on global warming while turning the focus to shoring up the economy, but that would be a false choice. The downturn provides a last chance to switch tracks to a sustainable growth path, with green investments as an engine of recovery.
The emerging global response to the economic crisis provides a unique opportunity. The US, UK and other major economies are planning trillions of dollars in expenditures to stem the recession. There is also a degree of coordination among the world's policy leaders. This is a rare chance - not just to get the money out the door quickly, but to invest it in new and better ways.
To do so successfully, such an effort needs to recognise the upside of slack demand - the chance to shift people, equipment and money from dirty ruts to clean paths. Specifically, it should emphasise three interlocking elements: a green shift in investments, a push for efficiency and an overhaul of pricing.
First, countries ought to avoid mustering unemployed resources for jobs that lead to dead ends of low growth and high temperatures. If money is to be spent in the cause of stimulus, why not set idle drilling rigs and geologists to work looking for geothermal steam rather than oil? Investing in renewable energy today - when copper and engineers are cheap - is a good hedge against possible high energy prices tomorrow. Indeed, the futures markets already presage a return to more expensive oil.
The current economic lull is also a moment to protect precious natural resources. As agricultural prices decline, pressures to run down forests, wetlands, mangroves and floodplains can be better deflected, especially in resource-rich countries such as Brazil and Indonesia. Why not build rural roads in densely populated, poorly served areas - soaking up carbon in greener farms - rather than extend them to the forest frontier, provoking deforestation, or to floodplains, inducing precarious settlement.
Second, all countries can improve energy efficiency across the globe. Oil is running out. Current wells are going dry, and to replace them and keep up with demand requires new capacity six times that of Saudi Arabia between now and 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. As this is unlikely, prices will go up. Far greater energy efficiency has to be the answer.
Building codes, appliance standards and demand management can make a crucial difference. Russia could reduce energy use by a reported 45% through investments that would pay for themselves in a few years. Such savings would mean large economic payoffs and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Globally, there are profitable, job-creating opportunities to increase energy efficiency by retrofitting old buildings with better insulation, old factories with modern equipment, old water pumping facilities with less leaky pipes. While construction is in a slump, industry could retool to build more energy efficient structures when demand resurges.
Third, now is the time to reform pricing policies to improve impact from spending and better protect poor people. Power and fuel subsidies - almost a third of a trillion dollars in 2007 worldwide, much of it in lower-income countries - accelerate climate change by encouraging wasteful uses of energy and by discouraging investments in benign alternatives to coal and oil.
Skewed towards better-off people, these funds hobble poor energy importers and could be devoted to investments that help poor people and promote growth. Now, with high energy prices fresh in mind but low prices prevalent in markets, we can remove subsidies and move towards more rational pricing.
The energy price spike of mid-2008 signalled how an energy tax or carbon charge could shift preferences to more efficient vehicles, greater use of mass transit and wind power. Taxes could help maintain a floor price of energy, giving investors assurance that clean investments pay off. Progressive use of tax revenues can make such a policy fair.
A crisis can often be turned into an opportunity. How we deal with the global recession will make all the difference to whether we avert the dangers of an even more ominous disaster: global warming.
• Vinod Thomas is senior vice-president at the World Bank; Kenneth Chomitz is senior adviser at the Independent Evaluation Group for the World Bank. They are writing in a personal capacity

IT going green: Your telepresence may not be required

By Stephen Pritchard
Published: February 15 2009 22:53

The past two years have seen big increases in sales of high-end conferencing systems – also known as telepresence – to enterprises looking to cut travel costs and improve collaboration.
But systems such as Cisco’s TelePresence suite, or HP’s rival Halo, can cost more than $300,000, depending on the configuration, for a boardroom-style set up.
Even Cisco’s TelePresence 1000, which the company describes as a “small room” option, sells for about $80,000 per room. A business will, of course, need at least two units for it to be of any use.
But for every company that can spend large sums on videoconferencing, there are thousands that cannot.
This prompted researchers at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE), at Lund University in Sweden, to examine the alternatives.
“Telepresence is nice,” says researcher Peter Arnfalk. “But virtual meetings are also about using text messaging or Skype.”
According to Mr Arnfalk, virtual meetings cover a range of technologies. The key to success is to master this “toolbox” and to know when to use a technology for a particular situation.
In most situations the simplest technology, such as an audio conference, is the best choice. “In combination with web meetings, good quality audio can usually satisfy the lion’s share – 70 to 90 per cent – of remote collaboration needs in organisations,” he says. However, particularly in larger organisations, there is a need for the full range of technologies, including high-end telepresence.
The IIIEE and the Swedish Road Administration (Vägverket) led a project that implemented virtual meetings in 10 large Swedish organisations. “Before buying equipment, we look for the needs,” Mr Arnfalk says. Along with the technology, it is equally important to establish policies, routines and support ... It is not until people use the technologies, that you find which ones help save money and carbon emissions.”
Initial results suggest teleconferencing reduced business travel, on average, by 15 to 20 per cent. Organisations that used the technology for telecommuting – enabling staff to work from home – saw commuter travel fall by 5 per cent.
Mr Arnfalk suggests, however, there are key differences between the teleconferencing options open to large organisations and the needs of smaller companies and public sector bodies.
For this reason, the IIIEE has been working with the Vägverket on resources that will help different types of organisations to deploy a technology mix.
Budgets are an issue for smaller organisations, as is the lack of in-house IT expertise, and they are unlikely to have the travel volumes to justify the investment. The closed nature of most telepresence systems also limits their use in communicating between organisations.
“The best use cases for telepresence seem to me to be upper executive meetings, high level negotiations and human resources matters: hiring, coaching and promoting,” says Steve Steinke, senior analyst, networks at research firm, The 451 Group. “Once a telepresence system is installed, it may be necessary to do second-tier meetings on it, if the first tier doesn’t fill the seats.”
Lower-end technologies, such as webcam-based conferencing, can suffer from lower resolution and, says Mr Steinke, because there is often a higher “tinker factor” than on installed systems. He prefers specialist meeting systems, such as WebEx or GoToMeeting.
According to Ian Robin, a director at Skype for Business, smaller organisations are using internet-based services such as Skype for conferencing. But even in larger organisations, it is used to complement more expensive systems.
“Most businesses start out with video conferencing by building a room, but the requirement is often for video conferences on the fly,” he says.
There are moves to provide public video conferencing suites. Cisco recently announced a deal with the Taj chain of hotels to install systems in the US, India and in London, and the company has worked with the cities of Amsterdam and Almere in the Netherlands to equip local “smart work” centres. However, such systems need to be booked in advance, require travel to the suite and are still expensive.
“We see two different working environments. Skype and other desktop collaboration environments are becoming more and more popular,” says Steve Blood, a vice president at Gartner Research.
But, as the IIIEE’s Dr Arnfalk points out: “The technology won’t save anything in terms of the environment, unless it’s used and is well integrated into the company’s meeting culture.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Energetix treads green path for energy

By Andrew Bounds
Published: February 15 2009 21:34

Adrian Hutchings, chief executive of Energetix, has a simple explanation for why so few green technologies have succeeded. “They are too complicated,” he says bluntly.
The man running a business that has just starting marketing three energy-saving devices should know.

Mr Hutchings once worked for BNFL, the UK’s nuclear operator, on future projects. His team focused on how to generate power in the event of a reactor failure. One device was a flywheel for storing electrical energy that was technically perfect but hideously expensive.
“I had 30 PhDs working for me but no marketable product,” he said.
With Energetix, which he founded in 1997, Mr Hutchings decided to focus on simple solutions to obvious problems based on existing technology. Twelve years later, the company has three subsidiaries making products that are all set to come to market at the same time.
Genlec produces household combined heat and power boilers. The gas boiler generates electricity as well. Daalderop of Holland has already agreed to field-test the units and is expected to order 30,000 over three years. The boilers are more expensive than conventional ones but will pay that back in savings in about three years. Eon UK, the power supply company, is also testing a version.
They are the same size as conventional boilers so can be slotted into the same space in homes. “When you have to change the way the world works, it is very difficult,” Mr Hutchings says.
In the EU, 7m boilers are sold each year with a value of £8.1bn ($11.5bn) and the UK is the biggest market.
Pnu Power, the second business, provides back-up power devices based on compressed air. They would replace battery generators on mobile base stations and computer data centres and eliminate the need to replace batteries.
US companies and Eskom in South Africa are already using them. This month, Telecom Italia placed the first European order.
“We are taking a well understood technology and turning it on its head,” says Mr Hutchings.
VPhase, in which Energetix has a 49 per cent stake, makes voltage regulators that reduce domestic electricity consumption. The average UK supply is about 250V but most devices work at 220V to satisfy European guidelines.
Despite increasing staff numbers to 37, consolidating management has helped the company conserve needed funds.
Although it has raised £21.5m since listing on Aim in 2006, the market remains jittery. But Energetix’s shares have fallen less than peers – from 109½p to 32½p over the year since last February, leaving a market capitalisation of less than £20m, below the value of its VPhase stake and £13m cash pile.
It is fully funded, raising £3.5m in May last year for VPhase, and Mr Hutchings believes will soon turn its first operating profit.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Global warming nearing ‘critical threshold’

By Clive Cookson in Chicago
Published: February 16 2009 02:34

The world is warming far more quickly than scientists forecast just two years ago when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its last reports, according to a series of assessments presented over the weekend.
Chris Field of Stanford University, a senior member of the IPCC, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that the unexpectedly rapid increase in the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, since 2000 would have dire consequences because of “feedback loops” in the global ­climate.

“We are looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations,” Prof Field said.
The IPCC’s fourth assessment in 2007 concluded that the average global temperature would increase by between 1.1°C and 6.4°C by 2100, depending how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere over the coming decades. Prof Field said that seriously underestimated the potential severity of global warming, based on the new evidence.
Prof Field warned that there were early signs of melting in the Arctic tundra and increased fires in tropical forests – over and above deliberate deforestation – that could add billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
“There is a real risk that human-caused climate change will accelerate the release of carbon dioxide from forest and tundra ecosystems, which have been storing a lot of carbon for thousands of years,” Prof Field said.
“We don’t want to cross a critical threshold where this massive release of carbon starts to run on autopilot.”
Al Gore, the former US vice-president turned climate change campaigner, responded with a passionate plea to an audience of 1,600 scientists, urging them to become more politically active in the fight against global warming.
“Scientists can no longer in good conscience accept this division between the work you do and the civilisation in which you live. This is a historic struggle.”
Mr Gore focused particularly on the accelerating loss of Arctic ice and the global increase in coal burning.
However there was optimism at the AAAS meeting – based on the professed determination of the new US administration to promote effective action, both in its domestic energy policies and in taking a lead in international climate change negotiations.
James McCarthy, a climate change expert at Harvard University and this year’s AAAS president, said: “The scientific talent President [Barack] Obama has recruited is of extraordinary calibre. He could not have found anyone better to look after energy and the environment.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Clarkson's philistines would appal these pootling pioneers

The very vehicle that green groups decry today was behind the wave of interest that resulted in their foundation

Tristram Hunt
The Guardian, Monday 16 February 2009

The deal for Britain's ailing auto-industry is clear: to get the £2bn in soft loans Peter Mandelson is offering, it needs to drop the gas-guzzlers. Or, in the business secretary's bureaucratese, "further UK objectives on low carbon and green technology". Such conditions will come as a shock to a motoring mafia profoundly wedded to environmental destruction. For decades, their stock in trade has been more emissions, outdated technology, cheaper fuel and bigger roads. It is a culture of philistinism and greed endorsed by the irksomely compelling Top Gear - where presenters try out trucks by smashing them into chestnut trees, drive 4x4s over sensitive heather and peat lands, and take a delight in damaging wilderness.
But Mandelson should know there is another story of the motor car in Britain beyond Jeremy Clarkson's crazy gang. It is a history of respect for the natural environment and national heritage far more in tune with Mandelson's green agenda. And one that shaped the modern idea of England itself.
To begin with, motoring was the sport of princes. King Edward, Rudyard Kipling and Alfred Harmsworth were the great auto-enthusiasts of the 1900s, tearing along the London-Brighton run and accelerating merrily past the 20mph speed limit. As a result, UK car manufacturers - the Wolseleys and Rolls-Royces - consciously avoided the mass market models developed by Ford and Peugeot.
Only Morris Motors and the Austin Seven bucked the trend and, with prices finally falling, the interwar years saw car ownership sweep the middle classes. The 100,000 drivers of 1919 rose to 2 million by 1939, bringing with them a more sophisticated appreciation of the wonder of travel. If the railways had opened up the coastal resorts of the 19th century to the working classes, then the combustion engine delivered the interior of England to the motoring classes. Out they pootled to the peaks and the lakes, the moors, downs and Highlands. The pull of nature had rarely been more popular than in the interwar years as the National Trust, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the national parks movement all enjoyed a surge in membership on the back of the motor car. The very vehicle that green groups so decry today was, in large part, responsible for their foundation.
Accompanying the middle-class motorist came a burgeoning guidebook literature. John Betjeman authored the lovingly designed Shell Guides, and JB Priestley chronicled his English Journey, but the market leader was In Search of England, by the former foreign correspondent HV Morton. "Never before have so many people been searching for England," he wrote in the aftermath of his success. "The popularity of the cheap motor car is greatly responsible for this long-overdue interest in English history, antiquities and topography. More people than in any previous generation are seeing the real country for the first time."
Morton offered his readers a romantic gaze of deep England: Stonehenge and Beaulieu Abbey, churches and village greens, the Cotswolds and the Thames valley. It was an unchanging, deeply conservative vision of Britain that proved enormously popular as motoring parties sought a sense of belonging in the ancient ruins and stately homes, crumbling abbeys and picturesque pubs of southern England. History and heritage was brought to new audiences by the most modernist of machines. And when Britain came to imagine what it was fighting for during the second world war, it was Morton's dreamy vision of England that dominated propaganda.
But, from the beginning, this dreamscape was riven with contradiction. Those parts of Britain that had made motoring possible - the industrial heartlands of the Black Country and the north - were always excluded. When Priestley went to Coventry to investigate the production of his Daimler, he did not like what he saw. "The picturesque remains of the old Coventry are besieged by an army of nuts, bolts, hammers, spanners, gauges, drills and machine lathes." And he found Birmingham positively beastly. "It was so many miles of ugliness, squalor, and the wrong kind of vulgarity, the decayed anaemic side ..."
To cater for the new army of motorists, a sprawling infrastructure of petrol stations, motels and car parks crept across Britain. So did a new landscape of unauthorised plotlands. As the working classes gained access to the motor car, they celebrated their mobility by buying up plots of land in beauty spots and coastal resorts across the south coast. In Kent and Essex, a rude mid-century architecture of prefabs, railway huts and rough conversions confronted Morton.
But in the postwar years, this individualism was lost to a technocratic centralism as the state surrendered to the car. Ministers connived with manufacturers to bulldoze the countryside, eviscerate city centres, and subsidise pollution. The historicism, aestheticism and idiosyncrasy of motoring were abandoned. But the combination of climate change and a collapsing car industry might offer a way out in the form of post-carbon manufacturing. Is it then too much to hope that Britain's broader car culture might also drop the need for speed and speak to a more enlightened narrative of motoring? Anyone for slow driving?
• Tristram Hunt's film The Joy of Motoring is on BBC4 on Wednesday at 9pm

Coal-fired electricity under attack, but alternatives seem distant

By Melanie Warner
Published: February 15, 2009

Last May, protesters took over James Rogers's front lawn in Charlotte, North Carolina, unfurling banners declaring "No new coal" and erecting a makeshift "green power plant" - which, they said in a press release, was fueled by "the previously unexplored energy source known as hot air, which has been found in large concentrations" at his home.
And so it goes for Rogers, the chief executive of Duke Energy. For three years, environmentalists have been battling to stop his company from building a large coal-fired power plant in southwestern North Carolina. They say it will spew 6 million tons, or 5.4 million metric tons, of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, in addition to producing toxic gases and mountains of fly ash similar to the muck that engulfed a Tennessee community recently.
All Rogers asks, he said in jest, is that protesters let him know when they want to camp out on his lawn. "Maybe next time we can have a little notice and ask them to join us for coffee or tea," he said.
Rogers and his colleagues may be forgiven for feeling a little under siege these days. The coal industry, which powered the industrial revolution and supplied the United States with much of its electricity for more than 60 years, is in a fight for its survival.
With concerns over climate change intensifying, electricity generation from coal, once reliably cheap, looks increasingly expensive in the face of the all-but-certain prospect of regulations that would impose significant costs on companies that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

As a result, utilities' plans for new coal plants are being turned down left and right. In the last two and a half years, plans for 83 plants in the United States have been either voluntarily withdrawn or denied permits by state regulators. The roughly 600 coal-fired power plants in the United States are responsible for almost one-third of the country's total carbon emissions, and they are distinctly at odds with a growing outlook that embraces clean energy.
A new campaign against coal by Robert Kennedy Jr., a prominent environmentalist, and the Waterkeeper Alliance is called "The Dirty Lie." Other clean-energy advocates are equally passionate.
"If you care about being a leader on solving global-warming problems, you don't build new coal plants, especially ones that don't have a way to capture carbon," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. (Smith's group was not involved in the decorating of the Duke executive's lawn. That was the handiwork of a small group called Rising Tide, in Asheville.)
This green chorus also includes Al Gore, the former vice president; Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google; and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, who has called for a moratorium on new coal plants.
Reid and other Democratic leaders in Congress, emboldened by support from the Obama administration, have promised climate change legislation by the end of the year. While the exact outlines are yet to be determined, lawmakers are discussing plans to force companies to reduce carbon emissions or be required to pay some form of penalty.
Some conservatives in Congress, and the coal industry itself, say the clean-energy push is an affordable luxury - and a pet cause - for people in states that do not have to rely primarily on coal to produce electricity.
"The costs for those customers in the heartland who get more of their electricity from coal, not only residential but commercial customers, could be significantly higher, at a time when we can least afford it," says Jim Owen, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents electric utilities. "So we want to make sure that a climate change program is properly designed."
Moreover, getting more and more energy from squeaky-clean sources like wind, solar and biomass sounds like a great idea, but whether renewables can keep the lights on and iPods charged remains an open question.
The coal industry is aware of all of these issues and is fighting back. An industry-financed group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity spent $38 million last year informing Americans, via TV and newspaper ads, that coal is the source of 50 percent of their electricity, that it is an abundant domestic resource and, most important, that there is the promise of "clean," or carbon-free, coal. This argument is what the Kennedy group calls "the dirty lie."
Nevertheless, the industry sees clean coal technology as its best hope for joining the ranks of green power. The problem is that the technology, called carbon capture and storage, is still being developed and could make electricity generated by coal more expensive than power from other sources.
"There are 16 gigawatts of new coal-fired generation coming online in the next few years," said Kevin Book, an energy policy analyst at FBR Capital Markets. "They may well be the last plants."
Rogers, 61, may adhere to the pro-coal sentiments of many of his peers, but he is hardly a typical captain of the energy industry. Five years ago, at a time when some companies were still saying human activity had nothing to do with global warming, he began advocating for climate change legislation.
Rogers, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, considers himself an environmentalist and calls his decision to move forward with the new plant, made shortly after he became chief of Duke in April 2006, a difficult one.
The estimated 240 million tons of carbon dioxide that will be generated over the 40-year life of the plant, known as Cliffside, will probably never be captured, when or if such technology becomes viable.
Most proposals to capture gas involve injecting it deep into the earth. But in North and South Carolina, where Duke operates, the underground rock is too porous to contain any gas.

"There's always been a tension between affordability and clean," Rogers said in mid-January, sipping a cappuccino on his way to a meeting in Washington with Carol Browner, the White House coordinator of energy and climate policy. "Ultimately we need to be able to meet the energy needs of our customers. That's my biggest obligation."
Fulfilling that responsibility through renewable energy was not an option, he said. Duke, which gets 71 percent of its electricity from coal, has only recently delved into solar energy, promising to buy the entire output of a large solar farm in North Carolina and seeking final approval to put solar panels on rooftops at hundreds of customer sites. Its first purchase from a wind farm has started flowing to customers in Indiana. All that combined, though, will give Duke only 124 megawatts of energy, compared with 800 planned from Cliffside.
Hoping to mitigate some of the environmental impact of Cliffside, Rogers has promised to shut down more than an equal amount of older, more polluting power plants by 2018.
Environmentalists are not impressed. They say Rogers has not pushed for clean energy with the same vigor he has expended on Cliffside; for instance, he personally lobbied North Carolina utility regulators for Cliffside, but not for the solar program.
"Among the utility guys, he's the most dangerous, because he talks a good game, but his actions are among the worst," said Bruce Nilles, who oversees anticoal initiatives for the Sierra Club.
Not so, says Rogers. He says that he is just a pragmatist, not a hypocrite, and that he has given his full support to the Duke solar program.
Even if they want to, it is going to be hard for utilities to wean themselves off huge coal plants, which are much simpler to plan and build than a collage of smaller alternative energy projects that cannot be counted on for continuous power.
"Utilities like to plan their world around big, traditional power plants," said Smith, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "Only when they are forced are they willing to rethink that business model."
Rogers, after all, was hoping to build two plants at the Cliffside site, but the state awarded only one permit.
Other utilities, though, have sworn off coal for the time being and are eagerly embracing alternative energy. Xcel Energy, for example, has erected 274 cloud-colored turbines on the gusty plains of northeastern Colorado. It gets about half of its electricity from coal, but it also draws more of its power from wind, almost 3,000 megawatts, than any other utility.
"It's not always easy, but we're wanting to provide our customers with cleaner and cleaner energy," said Frank Prager, vice president for environmental policy at Xcel.
Others have even broader ambitions. Dan Reicher, Google's director for climate change and energy initiatives, is confident it is possible to wean Americans off coal. Last year he devised a plan, called Clean Energy 2030, that calls for the United States to go almost fossil-fuel-free by 2030.
His proposal entails keeping electricity demand flat by aggressively pursuing energy efficiency, thus bypassing the need for new coal plants to meet growing demand.
All existing coal generation and about half of the U.S. current natural gas production would be replaced with a medley of clean electricity propelled by wind, solar, nuclear and other sources.
Michael Morris, chief executive of American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio, also one of the largest utilities in the country, dismisses the Google plan, particularly the idea of eliminating coal-fired electricity by 2030.
"Absolutely impossible," he scoffs. "If you can make the wind blow 24/7, that would be good. Maybe Google's got a plan for that."
Environmentalists counter that there are innovative ways to deal with the fact that wind and solar farms do not generate nonstop electricity, namely pairing them with natural gas plants and using emerging energy-storage technologies.
Even with creative approaches, clean energy still presents huge challenges. Lots of new wind and solar farms are going to require huge amounts of new transmission lines that will carry that power from remote places to populated areas, an endeavor that a consortium of grid operators estimates will cost as much as $100 billion.
Solutions like advanced geothermal, a promising way to get clean, always-on energy, are still in development and will require huge investments.
For their part, nearly all utility companies yearn for the day when coal is not a dirty word and when plants can capture and store their carbon dioxide. No one is a bigger cheerleader for this idea than Morris, of American Electric.
This fall, the 150-foot, or 45-meter, smokestack at the company's Mountaineer coal plant in New Haven, West Virginia, will be outfitted with technology that uses chilled ammonia to trap carbon dioxide. The greenhouse gas will then be turned into a liquid and injected into the ground.
It will be the first such project that will both capture and store carbon from an existing plant, and Morris is wildly optimistic.
"At the end of the day we will develop this technology," he says.
But Morris's plans, as ambitious as they are, say a lot about just how far away "clean coal" is. Of the 8.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually by the Mountaineer plant, only 100,000 to 300,000 will be removed with the new technology. And American Electric and the maker of the technology, Alstrom, are spending $100 million on the initiative - a daunting expense for some producers.

Nuclear power vital to back up green energy, says Murphy

Published Date: 16 February 2009
By Andy Philip

SCOTLAND cannot rely on renewable energy alone and must turn to nuclear power to safeguard future electricity production, the Scottish Secretary said yesterday.
Jim Murphy said it was crucial to invest in renewable energy – such as tidal and wind power – but only as part of a wider mix. Asked if it was possible for the country to become self-sufficient from renewable sources, Mr Murphy said: "I don't believe it is."The Scottish Government is opposed to any new nuclear power stations, which puts it at odds with Westminster.Today, Mr Murphy is due to address a nuclear conference in Edinburgh. He said: "It's crucial we have an enormous expansion in investment and deliver our renewables – wind and wave and solar in particular. But in itself that's not enough. We need nuclear as part of safe, environmentally sensitive electricity production in future."He said the UK should deliver enough energy to power as a whole, not in competition between a nuclear-fuelled England and a nuclear-free Scotland."In the long term, I would like to see Scotland as an enormous world centre of renewables but also with nuclear as part of carbon-free electricity production here in Scotland and across the UK," he added.

Offshore wind farm plans could create 1,000 turbines

Published Date: 16 February 2009

MORE than 1,000 giant turbines could be built in the seas around Scotland, it has been announced, as green energy firms have been invited to begin the process of planning to build six gigawatts of offshore wind farms.
The announcement is a huge step forward for the country's renewable energy sector. However, there have been warnings that care must be taken not to damage the marine environment.The Crown Estate, which owns the seabed, has invited firms to tender for ten sites. The largest proposed is a 1.5GW wind farm close to Tiree, proposed by ScottishPower Renewables. This could see turbines on more than 1,200 sq km of sea.Second largest would be a site in the Moray Firth, where about 180 turbines could be built alongside Scotland's only two existing offshore turbines. The Crown Estate has given exclusivity agreements to nine firms for the sites. They will now have to begin a detailed process of drawing up plans and submitting applications for consent from the Scottish Government.The wind farms would make great strides towards achieving the government's targets of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.However, marine conservation charities have warned that care must be taken to protect the seabed. There are also significant challenges to overcome – not least difficulties in constructing and maintaining the structures. Jason Ormiston, chief executive of green energy trade body Scottish Renewables, said: "The combined capacity of these projects will make a massive contribution to Scotland's efforts in tackling climate change, helping to deliver reliable and affordable supplies of electricity." Aedán Smith, head of planning with RSPB Scotland, said: "We are working with the Crown Estate, developers and Scottish Natural Heritage to make sure developments don't jeopardise Scotland's marine environment.

Scottish turbines power Antarctic base

Published Date: 16 February 2009
By Hamish Rutherford

WIND turbines from a Scottish micro-generation company are supplying electricity to the first Antarctic base powered only by renewable energy.
Eight turbines from the East Kilbride-based Proven Energy have been installed at the Princess Elisabeth Station, a new revolutionary building that was officially opened yesterday.The Belgian station aims to be the most eco-friendly on the continent, using only turbines and solar power. Previous stations have been forced to rely on diesel generators, with wind turbines not thought to be robust enough to cope with the harsh conditions and solar power not providing enough generation capacity.Proven's 6 kilowatt turbines will have an extreme test, even by Antarctica standards. Princess Elisabeth is situated on the Utsteinen ridge, exposing the aerodynamic station to gales of up to 200mph, with temperatures as low as -60 degrees Celsius.The turbines will operate in average winds of 53mph, providing 230 volts of electricity for the station's heating, computers, lights and scientific instruments for up to 16 scientists at a time.According to Proven, whose turbines have weathered ice storms at installations in Slovenia and typhoons in Japan, the electricity generated is expected to be the highest output of any small wind power system in the world.Operations manager Richard Caldow said: "This is a great credit to our company that International Polar Foundation has chosen us to work with. They recognise the confidence others have in our technology.

Tide turns for power groups in the north

By Andrew Bounds
Published: February 15 2009 17:31

Those looking for a silver lining in the clouds of recession tend to find it is a green one.
The north-west is no exception, with companies operating in the renewable energy, energy efficiency and waste markets among the few sectors not yet suffering a slump in orders.

“Of all the clusters of businesses in the region it is the environmental technology and services sector that is doing best,” says Rebecca Turner, head of knowledge management at Envirolink Northwest, a public body that represents and helps the sector.
There are about 5,100 such companies, including suppliers, that turn over £10.4bn ($14.9bn) annually and employ about 86,700 people. The north-west has the largest cluster outside London and the south-east in the UK with almost 10 per cent of the market.
“It is not yet so good at exporting,” Ms Turner said, with a 7 per cent share of UK exports. Envirolink has just participated in a big trade fair the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi to showcase the region’s expertise, and several local companies have leads to follow up.
One such is Luminanz, of Bolton, which makes light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These are seen as the future of lighting as they are much more efficient than neon or other conventional bulbs and do not need replacing.
However, at high intensity they can be too bright for the human eye. Luminanz has come up with solutions to this and has already signed contracts to light advertising hoardings at bus stops. It is also conducting trials with McDonald’s.
Joe Flanagan, sector leader for Energy and Environmental Technologies at the North-West Development Agency, says the breadth of the sector is an asset.
It is particularly strong in renewables, energy efficiency, recycling and waste management and water and wastewater treatment.
He said there was a danger of funding for small start-ups and big renewable energy projects drying up, but that the government’s plans to boost infrastructure spending to fight the recession could favour so called “green collar” jobs.
“We have not detected a major impact yet though major investment projects have slowed down a bit,” he said.
One possible casualty is a vast offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea, which would generate 2,000MW of power, equivalent to a giant fossil fuel power station.
The wind turbine market is a promising one, however. “We don’t have an indigenous manufacturer, so the key is providing parts and products to the German and Danish manufacturer,” Mr Flanagan said.
PPG Glass Fibre in Wigan has created a special fibreglass blend to make durable turbine blades. HMG Paints in Manchester provides hard-wearing paint for wind turbines.
Bendalls Engineering in Carlisle is at the forefront of designing turbines that use tidal power. It is testing a 1MW model in Belfast that has shown good results.
Liverpool University has surveyed the local tidal basins, such as the Mersey estuary, Morecambe Bay and Solway Firth, to determine how much power they could produce. While their range is not as large as the Severn bore, which has been capturing headlines, they could still generate significant amounts.
Peel Energy, part of the privately held developer, already has plans for a Mersey scheme. “We may well see tidal energy on the Mersey before the Severn,” Mr Flanagan said.
Any projects in Cumbria would need increased grid capacity. Traditionally, power generation has occurred in the Midlands and Yorkshire, where the coalfields were, but demand is growing fastest in the south.
There are many companies involved in electricity, such as smart metering, thanks to a legacy of the old nationalised electricity boards.
Their research centre at Capenhurst, near Chester, has been continued as EA Technology, a venture between Electricity North West, CE Electricity, Scottish and Southern and Scottish Power. They fund research and give out grants to promising projects.
The universities are also heavily involved. Manchester has one of only two high voltage testing facilities that are used by many companies to see how their products perform.
Lancaster established an environment centre in 2007. Mark A. Bacon, associate director of the centre, said: “The campus brings together one of the largest concentrations of environmental scientists in the UK, alongside government researchers from the Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, a research team from the Environment Agency and a growing number of commercial organisations, which are co-located in new accommodation.
“More than 20 companies now use the facility, ranging from large corporate organisations such as Mouchel [the engineering consultant] through to new high tech AIM-listed plant biotechnology firms such as Plant Impact and new incubating ventures.”
The sector grew by 4.6 per cent last year, faster than the economy as a whole, and a recent forecast in research commissioned by EnviroLink NW and the government predicted an increase of 45 per cent up to 2015.
This year would be tough, but “there is still growth, which is encouraging,” Ms Turner said.
Mr Flanagan said the sector had also tapped into an infinite resource: Britain’s crackpot inventors. He gets two or three people a month wanting to show him their low-energy devices.
“There are an army of people out there designing things in their garden sheds. We do back some after doing due diligence.
“That’s the beauty of the technology. It can be very simple,” he said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009