Friday, 20 March 2009

A high-tech solution to the landfill problem

The Times
March 20, 2009

Mark Hunter

In a giant green shed on the site of a former steelworks in South Yorkshire, two rocket-shaped cylinders twist and steam like colossal pressure cookers as they churn through hopper-loads of household rubbish. Council lorries arrive, loaded with stinking black bin liners. Others leave with gleaming piles of recyclable tins and plastics.
But this is not a conventional recycling plant; all the waste here is the unsorted black-bag variety. Nor is it a mass burn incinerator, the fashionable alternative to landfill.
The shed is owned by Sterecycle, a company that uses steam heat from autoclaves to turn unsorted waste into a mixture of organic biomass and non-organic recyclable materials. The plant has permission to double its capacity to 200,000 tonnes of waste a year. About 50 per cent will be turned into biomass, 20 per cent will be recycled and the remainder will be sent to landfill. The company plans to build more plants elsewhere in the UK.
It is an approach to waste disposal that may help local authorities out of a hole. Of the 28.5 million tonnes of municipal waste collected in England last year, 54.4 per cent ended up rotting in landfill, leaching toxins into the groundwater and releasing greenhouse gases. There are about 500 landfill sites and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that all will be full by 2020.

Meanwhile, local authorities face increasingly punitive taxes and fines for landfill use. They are fined more than £150 per tonne for exceeding their landfill allowances. Hence their scramble to divert domestic rubbish anywhere but landfill. They have several options. We recycle or compost about 34 per cent of our waste.
This is, however, still short of the EU target of recycling 50 per cent of waste by 2020. The most popular alternative to landfill is mass burn incineration (MBI), which takes about 11 per cent of municipal waste. Its advantage is that it can recover energy from the burning rubbish. However, incinerators have an image problem with the public and are slow and costly to build.
This is where cheaper, more flexible technologies come in. Alternatives to MBI include gasification, biotreatment and, now, the autoclave process pioneered by Sterecycle.
Duncan Grierson, the chief executive of Sterecycle, said: “The autoclave process takes place in an enclosed building, so we don't have the Nimby problem that incinerators have. We got planning permission for this place in just four months and it took ten weeks to get permission to double capacity. Some incinerators have been trying for ten years and still haven't got planning permission.”
The Sterecycle plant is a fascinating mix of new technology and old. The two autoclaves form the centrepiece, using steam heat and pressure to turn the organic waste into a fibrous biomass material. This is shaken out through a cylindrical sieve known as a trommel. The company sells this biomass as a soil conditioner for land remediation projects and there are plans to use it as a green energy fuel.
With the biomass removed, the steam-cleaned, non-organic fraction of the waste travels through a series of mega-magnets, reverse magnets and blowers that sort the plastics from the metals. Wood and masonry are picked out by hand. At the far end of the plant there is a skip containing huge lumps of rock and concrete.
Sterecycle takes waste from Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley councils. Adrian Gabriel, waste strategy manager for Rotherham Borough Council, said: “We have looked at a number of options. Of those, Sterecycle seemed to be the most favourable and so far we are very happy with it.
“It's still a new technology, so we have begun with 75,000 tonnes a year and then plan to ramp that up to 150,000 tonnes from 2010. Farther down the line, it's likely that we will be using a number of different options including Sterecycle, the Sheffield energy recovery facility [an MBI] and with landfill still part of the equation.”
Mr Grierson agrees that there is a place for a range of technologies in Britain's drive away from landfill. He said: “This wouldn't have been possible ten years ago, because we would have been competing with landfill and back then nothing was cheaper than burying rubbish. But landfill isn't the cheap option any more, so that allows us to set prices that are attractive to local councils.”

Millions wasted in poor water aid projects

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: March 19 2009 19:10

Hundreds of millions of dollars on aid projects to provide water and sanitation in Africa have been wasted, as the projects have failed, according to a new report.
The problem is that aid organisations and governments are keen to provide the initial infrastructure, such as boreholes, pumps, wells and sanitary facilities, but without money to maintain them these can quickly fall into disrepair, so that local people return to their prior, often unsafe, sources of drinking water.

The International Institute for Environment and Development, in a report published today, estimates that somewhere between $215m and $360m has been wasted on water infrastructure that has since collapsed.
About 50,000 boreholes, wells and other water supply points have fallen into disrepair, the IIED estimates, rendering poor communities at least as badly off as they were before the aid money was spent.
Jamie Skinner, author of the paper, says: “It seems simple and obvious, but it needs to be said: there is little point in drilling wells if there is no system to maintain them. Every day that a borehole does not provide safe water, people are obliged to drink from unclean pools and rivers, exposing them to water-borne diseases. ”
He concludes that donors should work with local communities to give them the expertise to look after and maintain any new water and sanitation infrastructure, and ensure that structures are in place - such as a local community fund - to provide the money necessary for repairs.
The IIED report was released to coincide with the World Water Forum in Istanbul, a meeting of governments, charities and businesses to discuss worldwide water issues and possible solutions to the problems of water scarcity and the lack of sanitation in large swathes of the developing world.
Businesses were facing as much risk from water scarcity as poor communities, said Stuart Orr, freshwater manager at WWF International. He said businesses could not escape from the problem, as sources of water across the world were at risk from overuse, pollution and climate change.
He warned that businesses could not view their own operations in isolation: “If you are an efficient business sitting in a poorly managed river basin you are still exposed to extremely high water risk.”
He warned that water was so basic a commodity that many businesses failed to realise the extent to which disruptions in supply or increases in price – both of which are predicted to occur with increasing frequency – could affect their operations.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Obama tours electric car facility and announces $2.4bn grant for industry

Southern California Edison's facility one of two approved by the US energy department to investigate electric car performance

Daniel Nasaw in Washington, Thursday 19 March 2009 20.06 GMT

President Barack Obama today toured a California electric car plant and announced a $2.4bn grant programme to develop plug-in vehicles.
Obama visited the Southern California Edison electric vehicle technical centre, one of two test sites approved by the US department of energy to investigate electric car performance.
Managed by one of the largest electric utilities in the country, the 16-year-old facility researches battery-powered and hybrid engines, and studies the potential impacts of having massive numbers of electric vehicles taking power from conventional utility networks.
The facility says its fleet of battery-electric vehicles have logged more than 17m "tailpipe-emission-free miles". It is likely to be a major recipient of federal research dollars under Obama's programmes.
"The problem's not a lack of technology - you're producing the technology right here - the problem is, for decades we've avoided what we must do as a nation to turn challenge into opportunity," Obama said.
Under George Bush's energy policy, which was based almost solely on exploitation of fossil fuels, the proportion of US energy derived from renewable sources grew only 0.7 percentage points between 2003 and 2007, to 6.8% of total energy consumption.
Before a crowd of workers and local public officials, Obama touted the massive outlays in tax dollars his administration plans for research in wind and solar power and fuel-efficient cars. He laid out an ambitious programme, calling for doubling America's supply of renewable energy in the next three years and 1m hybrid vehicles on American roads by 2015. Obama also announced a $7,500 tax credit to encourage the purchase of hybrid vehicles.
"We can remain one of the world's leading importers of foreign oil, or we can make the investments that will allow us to become the world's leading exporter of renewable energy. We can let climate change continue to go unchecked, or we can help stem it," the president said.
Obama said technological innovation comes in the "crucible of a deliberate effort", but added that "they often take an investment and a commitment from government," citing the development of the internet and the US space programme.
In addition to meeting long-term goals of energy independence and greenhouse gas emissions reduction, Obama hopes that the massive investment – he has pledged $15bn a year for research on green energy and transportation – will create job that can revive America's crumbling manufacturing sector.
Obama spoke as he and his treasury secretary Timothy Geithner were being pummeled in Washington by Republicans over large bonuses paid to executives at bail-out insurance company AIG.
"It's always nice to get out of Washington for a little while," he said, "and recharge your batteries".

Recession leaves Pelamis wave project struggling to stay afloat

Collapse of Australian-based infrastructure giant Babcock & Brown means 77% share in the Aguçadoura wave plant is now up for sale

Duncan Clark, Thursday 19 March 2009 16.05 GMT

A pioneering wave-energy project in Portugal has fallen victim to the global economic downturn after the collapse of its majority owner, Australian-based infrastructure giant Babcock & Brown.
Last September, three machines manufactured in Scotland by Pelamis were connected to the grid near Aguçadoura in northern Portugal, becoming the world's first commercial wave-power plant.
The devices, shaped like giant articulated snakes and collectively capable of powering more than a thousand homes, were installed at a cost of about £7m. Most of the money was provided by the energy firm Enersis, which had been purchased two years previously by Babcock & Brown for nearly €500m.
Babcock & Brown had taken on considerable amounts of debt and last year its share price plummeted as global credit dried up. Last week, it was placed into voluntary administration, having begun the process of asset disposal. The company's 77% share in the Aguçadoura wave plant is now up for sale.
To make matters worse for the Pelamis project, the generating devices themselves have suffered various technical hitches and have been brought onland for repairs. Until a new owner takes over the majority stake, Pelamis is unable to fix these problems and the devices will stay out of action.
Pelamis insists the technical challenges are not serious. Max Carcas, a spokesman for the Edinburgh-based company, said: "In a project of this nature, the world's first wave energy plant, it's inevitable that there will be niggles and issues to tackle. We've had nothing that isn't expected."
Though Carcas expects to see the three generators reconnected to the Portuguese grid at some stage, he acknowledges the collapse of Babcock & Brown leaves the project "in a state of limbo".
There have been mixed results so far in 2009 for Pelamis. Last month, energy firm E.ON, one of Britain's big six energy suppliers, announced it had placed an order for the company's second-generation P2 wave power device. This marks the first time a utility has purchased a marine energy generator in the UK, according to Pelamis.
The P2, which is 180m long (50m longer that the devices in Portugal), will be installed at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. E.ON expects the P2 to be fully operational by 2010, with the following two years used to "test and improve the device's working capabilities".
A spokesman for E.ON said: "As an island, the UK's potential for wave and tidal power is massive. It's very early days but if things go well, we'd expect wave generators to become as familiar a sight as wind turbines are today."

Experts look to the soil to save the climate

By Gerard Wynn Reuters
Published: March 19, 2009

BEDFORD, England: John Ibbett and pigs go back a long way. When he was still a baby, the man who took care of the pigs on the family farm ‘‘pushed me round in a pram.’’
Now he’s proud his farm can turn muck into electricity, using new technology paid for by a multimillion pound windfall from a land sale.
His Bedfordia Group is one of only a handful of companies with farm-based biogas plants in Britain. But more biogas plants are being established in Denmark, Germany and developing countries.
That momentum could be a precursor for much bigger climate benefits, from changing farming methods to using the soil’s capacity to store vast amounts of carbon. Experts say this is an area so far almost entirely ignored by policymakers.
‘‘I think we’re already beyond the safe level of greenhouse gas concentrations and the difference could be met through this terrestrial carbon approach,’’ said Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington.

Crops as well as trees can suck carbon out of the air, increasing what experts call terrestrial carbon. Farmers can nurture this carbon underground as well as crops above by using longer rotations, not over-grazing pasture and plowing less.
Mr. Ibbett’s 3-year-old plant, 90 kilometers, or 56 miles, north of London, traps methane emissions from food and farm waste in giant vats and then burns the powerful greenhouse gas to produce electricity, thus preventing the gas from reaching the atmosphere.
Directly curbing greenhouse gas emissions from farming is important: Farming contributes as much to global warming as all the world’s planes, cars and trucks, and that will increase as the world tries to feed an extra three billion people by 2050.
Scientists also want more focus on agriculture, and especially on the soil, at U.N. climate talks, which resume in two weeks in Bonn, Germany. They are meant to thrash out by December a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
The sticks and carrots policy makers use to drive the climate fight have so far almost exclusively focused on energy.
But soil could store as much as one-tenth of all the carbon that households and industry spew into the atmosphere, and so buy time in a gradual, global shift away from fossil fuels.
Academics have revived interest in the millennium-old technology of plowing under a carbon-rich type of charcoal called biochar, which is made from heating plant, food or animal waste.
One reason the sector has not yet captured the public imagination may be that pig manure and soil are not the stuff of public relations dreams.
‘‘Politicians can understand planting a tree and watching it grow,’’ removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the process, said Pete Smith, lead author for agriculture on the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ‘‘In agriculture, it’s not immediately visible.’’
All plants draw carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow. But trees, rather than crops or the soil itself, have been a focus for this.
‘‘If you look across all the sectors together, farming has equivalent mitigation potential to the energy sector and to transport and industry,’’ added Mr. Smith. ‘‘We really need to get agriculture in there,’’ he added, referring to the U.N. climate talks.
Farming also accounts for half of all man-made methane emissions worldwide — from ruminant livestock like cows and sheep and from stored manures — and 60 percent of the world’s emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas some 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, which is derived from using nitrogen fertilizers.
Combined, curbing these greenhouse gases and using soil sinks could remove the equivalent of up to 1 billion tons of carbon emissions annually. Storing carbon in the soil would account for about 90 percent of that.
The idea of sucking greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, rather than just curbing emissions, is gaining credibility and support as scientists say they have underestimated the urgency of fighting global warming.
Analysts estimate that the burning of forests, ploughing soils and degrading grasslands has released 200-250 billion tons of carbon in the past 300 years, about 25 times the annual carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels now.
A reward plan for systems that locking up stored carbon — like the carbon-offsetting plans that operate under the Kyoto Protocol — are being explored in the United States.
The U.S. agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, told farm unions last month farmers may be able to earn similar credits for locking carbon in the soil, under President Barack Obama’s planned $80 billion cap and trade scheme.
Farmers are famously not short of ideas on how to make money and the managing director of Bedfordia Group’s farming business, Ian Smith, is turning his marketing skills to a climate premium.
He estimates the Bedfordia pigs are one-third less carbon-emitting than others — and is trying to sell part of the farm’s annual production of 23,000 pigs for environmentally friendly bacon to the supermarket group J. Sainsbury.
First, he argues, the methane emissions from their manure is trapped and burned. Second, the electricity produced replaces high-carbon power. Third, the final product is a soil additive that displaces more energy-intensive nitrogen fertilizer.
‘‘They like the concept of a low-carbon pig, but even with our size of business it’s quite difficult,’’ Mr. Smith said of the supermarket’s response so far, referring to economies of scale the supermarket seeks.
‘‘I’m still talking to two supermarkets,’’ he added. ‘‘Part of the problem is people getting their head around it.’’

Biodiesel drive runs out of gas

By Joshua Chaffin in Brussels
Published: March 19 2009 17:46

Four years ago, when biofuels were being hailed as the way of the future, Doug Ward opened one of the UK’s first commercial biodiesel plants.
These days, Mr Ward’s £20m ($29m, €21m) facility in Newharthill, Scotland is running at 60 per cent capacity and struggling to break even. Unable to raise money from investors, he recently shelved plans for another biodiesel project. “It has been absolutely farcical,” says Mr Ward, chief executive of Argent Energy.

Just a few years ago, Europe’s fledgling biodiesel industry was attractive to green entrepreneurs after the European Union and member states had begun setting mandatory targets for consumption of fuels made from corn, sunflowers, used cooking oil and other environmentally friendly ingredients.
But biodiesel producers are making less than half the industry’s 16m tonnes of annual capacity, according to estimates from the European Biodiesel Board, an industry trade group.
Meanwhile, collapses such as that of the UK’s D1 Oils or Germany’s Campa and TME have become commonplace – as have stories that European facilities are being dismantled and shipped to China.
The chief culprit is obvious to many European executives: a surge in imports of cheap US biodiesel underwritten by illegal government subsidies, they claim. From just 7,000 tonnes in 2005, US producers now send more than 1m to the EU each year.
“If that injury could be removed tomorrow, I could assure you that our industry would again be profitable,” says Amandine Lacourt, project manager at the EBB.
The EU took steps to remedy that last week, announcing temporary anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs on US biodiesel. Those duties will last four months while an investigation is conducted and will range from €23.60 to €237 ($325, £223) a tonne.
Lutz Guellner, a European Commission spokesman, defended the measures, saying: “Anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures are not about protectionism, they are about fighting unfair trade.”
But some executives and analysts argue that the challenges confronting the industry are more varied than subsidies alone, and will therefore be more difficult to overcome.
“Although the US is partly to blame, there are other factors,” says Sandrine Dixson-Decleve, executive European director of Hart Energy Consulting.
One of the biggest, according to Ms Dixson-Decleve, is the price of crude oil. When prices touched a record $147 a barrel, biodiesel – along with wind, solar and a host of other alternative energy sources – was attractive to consumers. Now, with oil at about $42 a barrel, that is no longer the case. “On pure economics, when oil is $30 per barrel, [biodiesel] doesn’t work,” says Mr Ward.
Ms Dixson-Decleve estimates that oil would have to reach at least $75 a barrel for biodiesel to be viable.
In Germany, which has been the hardest hit among European producers, taxes may trump oil among the reasons for biodiesel’s distress, according to some observers. The German industry thrived as the result of generous tax breaks granted under the administration of Gerhard Schröder.
“Biofuels back then were the rage,” said Sebastien Schöbel, a spokesman for the Association of German Biofuels Producers.
But Germany began to repeal the tax breaks in 2006 after Brussels ruled that they were excessive. Producers had little popular support to argue against the change after biofuels were linked to the surge in global food prices two years ago. At the same time, environmental groups began to question the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the full chain of biodiesel production. These days, Germany’s biodiesel is no longer competitive on its own and is sold almost entirely to meet government requirements that call for the blending of traditional diesel.
In the months ahead, the trade duties and an expected recovery in the price of oil should offer some relief. But Ms Dixson-Decleve argues that the European biodiesel industry will probably never reach the heights that some promoters imagined just a few years ago, and it will be particularly hard pressed to restore subsidies at a time when so many other ailing constituencies – from agriculture to carmakers – are clamouring for help.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

EU agrees on deal for pipelines, carbon capture

The Associated Press
Published: March 19, 2009

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders agreed Thursday on a two-year €5 billion ($6.84 billion) energy package likely to include gas pipelines and plans to bury climate-damaging carbon, the European Commission president said.
"We have agreement not only on principle but on funding and concrete projects," Jose Manuel Barroso said after the first day of a two-day EU summit in Brussels.
A final list was expected to be issued at the summit's close Friday.
Barroso said it would contain "mostly energy-connection projects" linking national power and oil and gas grids.
EU leaders insist that the money allocated for energy and other projects must be spent by the end of 2010 — and warn that the money will vanish if wind farms, pipelines and clean coal plants aren't up and running by then. Germany, wary of pushing government deficits any higher, had led the push for a time limit on the aid.

According to a draft agreement seen by The AP, energy projects will get €3.975 billion and €2 billion of that must be spent this year. The rest of the stimulus package will pay for more broadband Internet connections to bring small towns and rural areas online.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said EU members had agreed on a "compromise which everybody can subscribe to" on gas, oil, energy infrastructure, broadband and rural development.
Most of the energy money will be spent on natural gas links that will create more transport routes across Europe. This is essential for eastern European nations that had no alternative supplies when a dispute between Russia and Ukraine shut off most of Europe's gas earlier this year.
Some €200 million is earmarked for the Nabucco pipeline project, which EU officials hope could lessen Europe's dependence on Russian gas by bringing more gas from the Caspian and Central Asian regions — even though no firm supply contracts have yet been signed.
A controversial and largely unproven technology — carbon capture and storage — will get just over €1 billion over two years.
The money will help pay for 12 coal-burning power plants to show that they can remove carbon dioxide and bury it underground in nearby aquifers or empty oil and gas fields under the North Sea.
The steel industry also won a €50 million subsidy for its pilot project to remove carbon dioxide at ArcelorMittal's Florange steel plant in France.
The choice is a politically sensitive one. French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised steel workers to do his utmost to save jobs — and agreeing to this project may have done that. The plant was idled this winter as steel demand slumped and workers feared closure or job cutbacks.
Another €505 million will be spent on offshore wind farms in Germany, Britain and Belgium as well as links between North Sea and Baltic Sea wind power stations and the mainland.
Associated Press writer Robert Wielaard contributed to this report.

Billions need to be captured before carbon can be stored

Published Date: 20 March 2009
By Peter Jones

UTILITY companies can be engines of economic recovery, Ignacio Galán, chairman and chief executive of Iberdrola, the Spanish owner of ScottishPower, declared bullishly in Bilbao this week.
He's right, for the construction of new power stations, transmission lines, and generation systems do create thousands of well-paid jobs. The big problem, however, is that what the Scottish Government wants to do may not fit with the new economic realities faced by companies, and the jobs will not appear as a result.Galán was especially optimistic about ScottishPower's really big project – fitting carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment to coal-fired Longannet power station. This would not necessarily be a big economy boost on its own. It is the potential spin-off gain from making and exporting the technology to other coal-fuelled generators around the world which is the potential big bonanza.Winning this prize will need ScottishPower to beat E.ON and RWE Npower, who want to do the same with power stations in England, to get the subsidy that the British government is offering to help pay for what will probably be the world's first commercial-scale CCS project.The subsidy is on offer because the British government is not just anxious to secure the knock-on economic gain, it also wants the big reductions in global warming-causing emissions of that CCS would bring. The Scottish Government is even more keen on securing these wins.Before anyone gets to that stage, however, there is a big question to be answered: will the economics of this technology stack up? Nobody knows right now, and that's why a full-scale demonstration project needs to be built and, because of the cost uncertainty, companies will only do it with the benefit of a subsidy.The economics of CCS are of even more crucial importance now because of two things. First, CCS is just one small part of a spectacularly vast bill that Britain faces for the modernisation and greening of the whole electricity system. Nuclear power stations need to be replaced, a huge amount of renewable energy capacity has to be installed, and the electricity distribution system has to be upgraded and overhauled.One estimate for the amount of money that needs to be spent in Britain between now and 2025, produced by accountancy firm Ernst & Young, is a mind-boggling £234 billion. That's about seven times the amount of taxpayers' money so far pumped into RBS. It implies spending of just over £14bn a year, close to half of what the Scottish Government spends annually.Quite how much of this needs to be spent in Scotland isn't clear, but an informed guesstimate is that anything between 10 and 20 per cent could be involved, or up to £46bn, big money in anybody's book.But this is where the second problem lies – this kind of money is in extremely short supply, and what is available is already expensive. In situations where there is more demand than supply, prices go up even further. And in the current financial environment, where investors have become extremely suspicious of anything that looks the tiniest bit uncertain, the costs of financing anything which is new and untried, such as CCS, will be even more expensive than tried and proven technologies such as nuclear or gas.The numbers drawn up by Ernst & Young tell an interesting story. They reckon that in the next 16 years across Britain, £38.4bn will be spent on building new nuclear power stations, £6.4bn on new gas stations, £112.5bn on all forms of renewable energy types, and £7.3bn on CCS coal plant plus another £2bn on tankers and pipelines to pump into permanent underground storage, perhaps in old North Sea oilfields.Per gigawatt of installed power capacity, the Ernst & Young figures say that gas is cheapest at £0.5bn, renewables next most expensive at £2bn, followed by CCS-equipped coal plant at £2.9bn, with nuclear the most expensive at £3bn per gigawatt. That puts CCS at the expensive end of what needs to be done, but still perhaps cheaper than nuclear. But this is not the end of the story, because these are just the capital investment costs. The running costs of CCS are also unknown, and they, because quite expensive pipeline, tankering, and pumping technologies are involved, could be quite expensive.Exactly the same economic problems apply to wave and tide technologies. Since power companies are going to have to raise absolutely stupendous sums by way of debt and equity, and investors will be looking for the maximum degree of certainty when they come to place their money, there has to be serious doubt that the money will be available to develop CCS and other new technologies. The frailties of the current financial world may mean that the potential of CCS may remain just that.• Comments and criticisms welcomed:

Europe's energy chiefs aim for carbon-neutral electricity by 2050

David Gow in Brussels, Thursday 19 March 2009 11.42 GMT

The heads of 61 power groups in the EU tonight have committed to achieving carbon-neutral electricity within an integrated power market by 2050.
Their declaration, handed to Andris Piebalgs, EU energy commissioner, comes as Europe is under attack for lowering its ambitions to combat climate change, handing over leadership to the US and China and reneging on efforts to help the poorest developing countries adapt to a low-carbon economy.
The chief executives, including from the four main German groups, often seen as the principal culprits of faltering progress, made energy efficiency a cornerstone of climate change policy for the first time.
Lars Josefsson, president of Eurelectric, the industry association, and head of Swedish group Vattenfall, said the sector needed to invest €1.8tn (£1.7tn) between now and 2030 to replace ageing plants, develop "smart" grids, meet surging demand and deliver on environmental targets.
"I and my fellow CEOs have reiterated our belief that a competitive functioning market is the best means to deliver on this goal in a cost-effective manner while also ensuring the basic imperative of supply security – keeping the lights on and delivering reliable power to citizens and industry."
But the chief executives, including Ian Marchant from Scottish & Southern Energy, will anger green campaigners by insisting that nuclear power as well as new renewable energies is a core component of carbon-free supply. They also demanded clean fossil technologies, including carbon capture and storage (CCS) and highly efficient combined heat and power, as other core elements. They want simplified licensing procedures for new build, including nuclear.
In a clear nod to EU leaders, who begin their spring summit in Brussels today, they added that the scale of investment required a "stable, coherent and market-orientated investment framework".
EU governments are at loggerheads over a €5bn plan by the European Commission to spend unused EU budget lines on predominantly carbon-free energy, including CCS, offshore power grids and, until this week, the Nabucco gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea to western Europe.
It will be discussed at the summit over the next two days amid signs that it is unravelling and evidence that political indecision is driving down carbon prices. Eurelectric urged the leaders to work for a global approach to the challenge of mitigating greenhouse gases, increase support for R&D and CCS and buttress market-based electricity prices. Consumers have already been warnedthat "green" energy will require price rises of up to 20%.
Welcoming the commitment, Piebalgs said: "If we want to win the battle against climate change and decarbonise EU electricity supply, we need to change completely the way we think energy production, consumption and development."
The EU's current policy objectives include cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and gaining 20% of primary energy from renewables by 2020. Emissions cuts would rise to 30% if a global post-Kyoto deal is achieved at December's Copenhagen climate change summit.
Arthouros Zervos, president of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), said in Marseille: "If the EU is to meet its CO2 reduction and renewables targets, improve security of supply and create real competition in the European power market, we need to extend our power grids and change the way we operate them.
"At current fuel prices, electricity production costs from a new wind farm, coal plant and gas station are more or less the same. If a truly interconnected European grid existed and power markets were effective, the uncertainty of volatile carbon and fuel prices would ensure that wind – which avoids these unknown quantities – would become the most cost-effective of the three. We need the power markets to ensure that future investors are fully exposed to fuel and carbon price risk."
The EWEA said EU power markets are biased towards traditional fuels because they are dominated by vertically-integrated power groups such as Germany's E.On and RWE, France's EDF and Italy's Enel. It demands that EU leaders proceed with plans to break up these big groups by forcing them to "unbundle" or sell off their transmission activities to open up the market.

Robot fish to hunt down pollution

By Fiona Harvey in London
Published: March 19 2009 19:21

Something fishy is going on in northern Spain. The waters of the port of Gijon are shortly to be invaded – by robots.
Scientists are building a shoal of robot fish to be let loose in the port to check on the quality of the water. Modelled on carp and costing about £20,000 ($29,000) each to make, the fish are to be lifelike in appearance and swimming behaviour so they will not alarm their fellow marine inhabitants.

The robots, the first of their kind, are equipped with tiny chemical sensors capable of detecting pollutants in the water. These let the fish home in on the sources of hazardous pollutants, such as leaks from vessels or undersea pipelines.
The fish were developed by the University of Essex in Britain and UK-based engineering consultancy BMT Group. They are the result of a three-year research project funded by the European Commission.
“Using shoals of robotic fish for pollution detection in harbours might appear like something straight out of science fiction [but] there are very practical reasons for choosing this form,” said Rory Doyle, senior research scientist at BMT Group. “In using robotic fish we are building on a design created by hundreds of millions of years’ worth of evolution which is incredibly energy efficient.
“This efficiency is something we need to ensure that our pollution detection sensors can navigate in the underwater environment for hours on end.”
Each robotic fish is about 1.5 metres long and can swim at a maximum speed of about one metre per second. Whenever they find traces of pollutants, the fish can relay the information to the shore.
The robots are autonomous, rather than remote-controlled, and run on batteries that are recharged every eight hours or so when the fish return automatically to a charging point.
The final touches are still being made to the design of the fish, which are scheduled to be released into the port’s waters next year.
Professor Huosheng Hu of Essex university said: “[The fish] will be able to detect changes in environmental conditions in the port and pick up on early signs of pollution spreading, for example by locating a small leak in a vessel. The hope is that this will prevent potentially hazardous discharges at sea, as the leak would undoubtedly get worse over time if not located.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

An army of lobbyists readies for battle on the climate bill

With carbon cap-and-trade legislation now on Washington's agenda, companies and interest groups have been hiring lobbyists at a feverish pace, by Marianne Lavelle. From Yale Environment 360, part of Guardian Environment Network

Thursday 19 March 2009 14.58 GMT

Climate action advocates found the sign they had been waiting for in Summary Table 4 of President Obama's budget plan: The administration intends to place a price on carbon dioxide emissions that would cost fossil fuel industries $646 billion through 2019 — creating a new pot of federal money in the process.
That stark row of numbers also gave opponents of climate legislation what they had been waiting for: a call to arms. "The Obama budget did more to help us consolidate and coalesce the business community than anything we could have done," William Kovacs, who heads up regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The Wall Street Journal.
If the stage is now set for the climate battle to begin, there is no shortage of combatants. A Center for Public Integrity analysis shows that, by the end of last year, more than 770 companies and interest groups had hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change. That's an increase of more than 300 percent in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.
Some of the lobbyists, like those representing the U.S. Chamber, clearly are seeking to derail any federal effort to mandate a reduction in fossil fuel emissions. But others have more subtle agendas — they seek to blunt the costs, or tailor any new climate policy to their narrow agendas. Some just want a slice of that revenue stream. Others hope to shape the rules of the bazaar in the market-based system that the politicians, including Obama, favor for grappling with global warming.
So the growth in lobbyists signals not only a redoubling of efforts by the energy industry and manufacturers — who dominated the scene five years ago — but the addition of a slew of new interests, from the bankers on Wall Street to the officials running public transit on Main Street.
Some longtime climate action advocates welcome the newcomers to the party. They have a kind of Realpolitik rationale: As a practical matter, they believe support will build among the politicians as more interests like agriculture, financiers, builders, and even forward-looking manufacturers and power companies see what they could gain in a carbon-reduction regime.
Perhaps they're right. Maybe the "sum of all lobbies," as U.S. energy policy has been famously described, will this time add up to a positive for the planet. But there's more reason to fear that climate policy will die at the hands of special interests than there is to believe that special interests can bring climate policy to life.
Look at what happened to the climate bill sponsored last year by Connecticut Independent Joseph Lieberman and Virginia Republican John Warner.
With the legislation being debated last spring just as U.S. gasoline prices made their historic climb to more than $4 a gallon, the Chamber of Commerce and other business opponents focused on how climate policy would make the nation's favored fuels even costlier. The Chamber warned of job losses and economic hardship, with memorable ads featuring energy-starved Americans cooking eggs over candles and jogging to work on auto-free streets.
Proponents of climate legislation were able to summon economic studies — including from the government's own experts — challenging the grim predictions of the Chamber and others. But when push came to shove, the bill garnered only 48 votes, and nine of those came from the infamous "Gang of 10" Democrats who soon revealed they would have voted against the actual bill — all due to their concerns over the price for consumers and business. Remember, Lieberman estimated his bill only would have imposed $17 billion in costs on the fossil fuel industry in the first year. That key line in the Obama budget anticipates first-year climate revenue of $79 billion.
Dealing with blatant opponents is bad enough. But what about wavering climate action supporters? Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, the nation's sixth-largest power producer, says he wants to see a climate bill this year. But he has been quick to criticize the Obama approach, because he says a slower transition is needed to protect consumers of the coal-dependent states in the Midwest and South.
Duke and other members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership — a coalition of businesses and some environmental groups — favor the government giving carbon pollution allowances for free to local electric distribution companies like Duke in the early stages of the program. Rogers has been critical of the Obama approach, which is expected to require polluters to pay for the program through a government auction of all carbon dioxide emissions permits. Proponents of auctioning 100 percent of CO2 permits seek to avoid the pitfalls of the European system, which initially gave away many permits to power producers at no cost, resulting in windfalls for those companies. The U.S. auction would provide revenue for the federal government to fund programs to offset the increased energy costs to families, as well as to invest in development of clean energy.
Yet another position is being staked out by the Edison Electric Institute — a power industry group to which Duke also belongs — which argues that free allowances also should go to the so-called "merchant" generators of power, companies that sprung up due to state deregulation and are now responsible for nearly a third of the power consumed in the United States. The merchants don't serve local populations — as old-style utilities do — but sell their power to the highest bidder in the wholesale market. Local utilities would be required by state regulators to pass the value of free allowances to their ratepayers, but unregulated merchant generators could keep any financial windfall for themselves.
If it sounds like the power business is divided among itself, that's because it is. That's part of the reason that U.S. CAP never could reach agreement on whether to support Warner-Lieberman bill last year. Meanwhile, U.S. CAP's $870,000 in spending on climate lobbying last year paled next to the $9.95 million spent by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a group of 48 coal mining, hauling and burning companies. (Duke, incidentally, is one of several companies that are members of both ACCCE and U.S. CAP. It's hard to tell the players in the game, even with a scorecard.)
ACCCE will undoubtedly be a major player in the battle to pass climate legislation, and the group advocates a cautious approach that some cap-and-trade advocates say would delay serious climate legislation for years. While the group claims to support a federal program to curb CO2 emissions, ACCCE opposed the Warner-Lieberman bill and says it will only back legislation that encourages a "robust utilization of coal." Since there's no technology available today that scrubs the carbon out of emissions from coal-fired power plants, what ACCCE is really seeking is a go-slow approach from Congress while the government invests in developing that technology. Warner-Lieberman, in ACCCE's view, went too far, too fast.
On the other end of the spectrum is the fast-growing renewable energy sector, which is fully devoted to adding the price of carbon pollution to every kilowatt generated from cheap coal competitors. Yet, put renewable energy interests together with the environmental groups — both lobbies have mushroomed in the past five years — and they are still outnumbered 8 to 1 by all other interests lobbying on climate.
Climate action advocates will be counting on winning some of those interests to their side. Cities, counties and public agencies, for instance, see an opportunity to plug into a new federal revenue stream. Growth of mass transit, for example, could help get cars — and their carbon emissions — off the road. But would-be grant recipients want as few strings attached as possible, meaning fewer assurances that the money will actually be invested in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
And take agriculture. It is a hotly disputed subject, but some argue farmers could contribute to the climate solution through improved soil and manure handling practices. Projects to retain carbon in the soil or capture methane from manure are costly, but what if farmers could earn "credits" that they could later sell to coal-fired power companies that have trouble reducing their carbon dioxide emissions? Would these so-called "offsets" be enough to offset the agriculture interests' worries over rising fuel costs? Last year, the American Farm Bureau Federation was originally neutral on the Warner-Lieberman bill, then opposed it when offset opportunities were reduced in later amendments.
Shaping a climate policy to satisfy a variety of narrow interests has obvious perils. And the number of parties interested in influencing climate legislation seems to grow by the day. Wall Street banks and other financial players, for example, had virtually no presence on climate change on Capitol Hill five years ago. But by 2008 they had 130 lobbyists — as many as the alternative energy companies. Wall Street interests see themselves as brokers, project developers, financers and consultants in an emissions "permit" market that one federal regulator estimates could reach $2 trillion in value within five years, making carbon the world's most widely traded commodity.
Among the group of financial climate lobbyists last year was now-serial federal bailout recipient American International Group, which aimed to make investments around the globe in carbon-reduction projects. AIG was forced by public outcry to stop lobbying last fall soon after its first infusion of federal dollars, and the company recently withdrew from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. But there are plenty of other potential carbon marketers looking to weigh in on policy, and oversight of their dealings is sure to be a sticking point — complicating or delaying the already difficult task of crafting a program to tackle global warming.
Former Senator Tim Wirth, president of the Ted Turner-funded UN Foundation — which has been working to promote global progress on climate — is worried. Public policy-making, he says, is by its nature incremental. But as climate scientists deliver ever-more urgent warnings about the rapid pace of warming, Wirth is increasingly convinced that radical action is needed.
"The money that will go into complicating this issue and casting doubt on this issue is going to be increasing as rapidly as the science," he says. "There will be more and more interests weighing in on behalf of doing little, or even taking the incremental steps that you'd expect policymakers to take. And it's exceedingly dangerous."
Negotiations for a new global climate treaty, of course, can go forward just as they have for years, without any clear signal of what sort of commitment the United States is willing to make to cut carbon emissions. But there's no chance of a deal that can make a difference to the planet without the U.S. on board. And that's going to take a feat of political leadership that keeps the interest of solving the climate crisis in the forefront, while leaving the special interests behind.
• From Yale Environment 360, part of Guardian Environment Network

Car scrappage schemes are not a motor industry green scam

This is not just a canny way to boost demand - we are serious about clean technology, says Paul Everitt

Paul Everitt
The Guardian, Thursday 19 March 2009

George Monbiot claims the scrappage schemes now being introduced by EU member states - to stimulate demand in the vehicle market, addressing the market fall from the banking crisis and delivering major environmental benefits - are "another reward for failure ... with no prospect of rescuing the economy" (This scam is nothing but a handout for motor companies, resprayed green, 10 March).
But the evidence is clear. In Germany the success of the scheme saw registrations climb 21.5% in February, up for the first time since July 2008, enabling vehicle manufacturers to postpone planned cutbacks. Meanwhile, Britain's registrations fell at the same rate that Germany's rose - leading to redundancies, reduced shifts and pay cuts.
Monbiot questions the environmental impact of scrappage schemes, describing their potential to catalyse a low-carbon transport revolution as "bunkum" and claiming that they "are nothing but handouts for car firms, resprayed green to fool the incautious buyer". In fact, the environmental credentials of such a scheme are widely recognised.
In 2008 average UK new car emissions fell by their biggest ever rate. The fall of 4.2% was achieved steadily throughout the year as an increasing array of environmental products were launched. Although the number of cars on the road and average journey distance may have increased, emissions from road transport continue to fall.
Cars now account for just 11.5% of the country's total CO2 emissions thanks to new technology and improved fuel consumption delivered through consistent fleet renewal, which scrappage incentive schemes aim to encourage. The emissions produced by a replacement model will almost certainly be far less than the one it is replacing. While Monbiot claims that, under a scheme like the German one, "£2,000 from the government could help you trade in your old Citroen C1 for a new Porsche Cayenne", research suggests most people will buy a new model at the smaller, lower-emitting end of the market.
The British motor industry has been transformed over the last decade, with cleaner technology at its heart. Contrary to Monbiot's claims that "motor companies have repeatedly failed to anticipate trends in demand", cars produced in the UK win market share worldwide. Less than a year ago the UK industry's biggest challenge was in meeting the high global demand for its products. That demand is not just for our famous prestige and niche models but, significantly, for the 28% of vehicles with emissions already below 140g/km, suggesting that Monbiot's claims of an industry "producing thunderous gas guzzlers long after the market collapsed" are inaccurate.
The motor industry seeks a co-ordinated European effort to stimulate demand, and to date Britain is the largest new car market not to respond. Monbiot claims a UK scrappage scheme would be "preserving the industry for its own sake". But with over 800,000 people employed in the sector and many more dependent on its success, do we really want to put at risk such a major engine for economic growth and a creator of high-value, highly skilled jobs?
• Paul Everitt is chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders

Nissan promotes zero emissions

By Chris Tighe
Published: March 20 2009 00:38

The probability of Nissan’s Sunderland plant becoming a base for electric vehicle production will be strengthened on Friday with the signing of a partnership agreement to promote zero-emission mobility.
Nissan and regional development agency One NorthEast will sign a memorandum of understanding, in the presence of business secretary Lord Mandelson, to undertake a four-month development programme to promote EV use, create EV infrastructure and explore the potential for EV manufacturing in the north east, and the UK.

While the agreement does not itself commit the government to providing funding to EV infrastructure development at Nissan’s Sunderland site, Lord Mandelson’s presence lends support to north east England’s aspirations to become a focus for “green” vehicle production and EV infrastructure. His support for the agreement will also carry weight within Nissan, which will launch its first zero emission EVs in Japan and the US next year, before mass marketing them globally from 2012.
Lord Mandelson will also on Friday visit Smiths Electric Vehicles, at nearby Washington, where he will sit in the driving seat of the Smith Ampere, the world’s first high performance electric light van.
As well as attracting Liberty Electric Cars, which is to produce the world’s first plug in electric four by fours in Northumberland, the north east is planning to create an electric car charging point infrastructure.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009