Thursday, 2 April 2009

Neil Young tackles car industry on its green record

Young's latest album, Fork in the Road, takes on the ailing US car industry and its environmental record – but will his fans buy it?

When thumbing – or wheeling, as is the case today - through your music collection there is always that tickle of temptation when you reach Neil Young's After the Goldrush. I rarely resist that urge. But there is one line in the title track that I fear hearing again due to its poignancy: "Look at mother nature on the run in the 1970s."
Nearly 40 years on from the album's release, it's sad to think that things have got worse – much worse.
Thankfully, Young is still putting out albums – and next week, on 7 April, his latest is due for release. Young (I feel like calling him Neil, but let's keep things reverential) has a liking for producing single-theme albums.
One of his most recent, Living with War, was a critique of George Bush's warring ways, and his newest, Fork in the Road, is centred on the ailing car industry and its impact on the environment, and was quickly recorded before Christmas as the economic crisis was picking up pace. (OK, I accept it's a tough sell, but if anyone can pull it off, Neil Young can.)
Young has always had a love affair with his cars, but in recent years he's been increasingly talking about how he's been greening up his own driving habits, including an attempt to convert his 1959 Lincoln Continental into an electric vehicle. This car – which Young calls his LincVolt – now takes centre stage in the homemade video for Johnny Magic. (Young is also inviting people to make their own video for the song with a LincVolt jacket going to the winning entry.)
It's a big year for Young as he – at long last - headlines Glastonbury, as well as the Isle of Wight festival and Hard Rock Calling at Hyde Park. Young is also releasing the long-anticipated first volume of his Archives collection in June.
The crowds at the festivals will no doubt be calling out for his classics such as Heart of Gold, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and Hey Hey, My My, but it will be interesting to see how they take to his new songs about our present-day woes. There is one line from the title track to his new album that's sure to get a hearty cheer, though:
There's a bailout coming, but it's not for me It's for all those creeps watching tickers on TV

Investors demand access to sustainable projects

By Alice Ross
Published: April 1 2009 12:40

A group of institutions has called on the government to give private investors more opportunities to invest in ethical projects.
Fund management groups and ethical investors wrote a joint letter to Gordon Brown, prime minister, on Wednesday to argue that any economic recovery plan should include sustainable investment.

Paul Abberley, chief executive of Aviva Investors London, said: “Green investment isn’t only for governments. Many private investors also want the opportunity to invest in green projects such as low-carbon energy and energy efficiency.”
The group is calling on the government to design financial instruments that will encourage investors to participate in ethical investment and ensure that the private sector plays a role in funding sustainable investment projects. This could include tax incentives for private sector investment.
The group said private sector investment had a “major role” to play in any economic recovery plan, arguing that investment in low-carbon energy can create jobs and increase energy security.
“There is now an opportunity to construct stimulus packages in such a way as to lever in funding from institutional investors who act on behalf of millions of shareholders, pension fund members and savers,” the letter said.
The letter comes as world leaders gather in London for the G20 meeting this week, in which an attempt will be made to carve out a solution for the global economic turmoil.
Signatories included Paul Abberley, chief executive of Aviva Investors London, Alain Grisay, chief executive of F&C Management and Edward Bonham-Carter, chief executive of Jupiter Asset Management.
A number of ethical funds have sprung up in recent years to meet increased investor demand for sustainable investment. These include funds that simply avoid certain areas such as armaments or tobacco, as well as those that actively invest in areas such as new climate change technologies.
Ethical funds underperformed for much of last year due to the double whammy of avoiding oil stocks, which did well in the first half of 2008, and being overweight in financials, which did badly in the second half.
However, many ethical funds are in the top quartile for performance over the past year against their non-ethical peers. Henderson Global Care Growth, Schroder Global Climate Change and F&C Stewardship International all have decent relative performance, according to Morningstar figures.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

China's SAIC Using U.S. Parts on Hybrid


BEIJING -- SAIC Motor Corp., one of China's biggest state-owned auto makers, is turning to American technology suppliers to engineer a gasoline-electric hybrid car that could go on sale in China as soon as next year.
SAIC is planning to use technology from A123 Systems, a closely held battery maker based in Watertown, Mass., and auto-parts maker Delphi Corp., based in Troy, Mich., according to a Delphi statement and people familiar with the matter.
The new SAIC hybrid vehicle is to be a "mild hybrid" car, much like Honda Motor Co.'s Civic hybrid, with an electric motor to mostly assist the car's gasoline engine rather than propel it.
The planned car represents one of the most serious efforts by Chinese auto makers to dabble in alternative-fuel propulsion technology. There are only a few gasoline-electric hybrids presently available in the Chinese auto market, including Honda's Civic and Toyota Motor Co.'s Prius.
SAIC's foray into the hybrid market comes as China encourages its auto industry to shift to electric vehicles and other new-energy cars. China's government believes auto makers could take advantage of the relatively low barriers to entry for electric vehicles -- they are much simpler mechanically than gasoline-fueled cars -- to narrow the gap with bigger foreign rivals and guarantee the Chinese industry's steady long-term growth.
SAIC couldn't be reached for comment late Wednesday. An executive at A123 declined to comment. Delphi confirmed its role in the SAIC initiative in a statement late Wednesday in the U.S.
Immature battery technology has hindered the affordability and practicality of hybrids and other electrified vehicles. Conventional cobalt-based batteries, used primarily in cellphones and laptops, have shown a tendency to overheat, and have caught fire and even exploded in rare cases.
The new SAIC hybrid will be powered by advanced iron-phosphate-based lithium-ion batteries, which have a strong safety record. Iron-phosphate batteries such as those developed by A123 might overheat to the point where they might start smoking, but, proponents of the technology say, they wouldn't catch fire or explode because of the technology's inherent chemical stability.
The SAIC hybrid will also feature Delphi's mild-hybrid vehicle technology, including a hybrid control unit and a unit that converts high-voltage battery power to lower voltages to power an electric motor, Delphi said.
SAIC, which operates joint car-assembly companies with General Motors Corp. and Volkswagen AG, is responsible for integrating various hybrid systems supplied by Delphi and A123, said people familiar with the matter.—Ellen Zhu in Shanghai contributed to this article.
Write to Norihiko Shirouzu at

Aquamarine to concentrate on wave power

Published Date: 02 April 2009

AQUAMARINE , the Edinburgh-based renewable energy company, yesterday revealed plans to scrap the development of its tidal power device in favour of pumping money into its wave energy project.
Engineers will be taken off the company's Neptune project, which aimed to generate electricity from tidal flows, to join workers on its Oyster "wave energy converter".Martin McAdam, who was last year appointed as Aquamarine's chief executive, told The Scotsman that the decision followed a strategic review by the company's board.He said that more than £40 million had been earmarked over the next five years for Neptune but mothballing the project would "reduce the amount of equity" the company requires and also free-up cash for Oyster.McAdam also expressed his desire to see Oyster units built in Scotland rather than being farmed out for manufacturing to the Far East.Oyster is currently undergoing a full system test onshore, with McAdam expecting the results "within days".This summer, Oyster is expected to undergo its first sea trials off the west coast of Orkney, as part of development work at the islands' European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC).Half of Aquamarine is owned by Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) following the merger of Aquamarine and SSE's Renewable Technology Ventures subsidiary in October 2007. Neptune had been one of SSE's renewable energy projects.McAdam explained: "We had a strategy review with our board and looked at how we could get our company to be a commercial business in the shortest possible time frame."We're much closer commercially with Oyster and so decided to deploy all our resources to wave technology and accelerate that area."He added: "We had a big challenge in taking two technologies forward simultaneously. We can see that the quickest path to commercialising technology is to take forward Oyster. It's easier for shareholders to see how they can get a return more quickly."McAdam said the company had grown "very rapidly", going from eight staff to 33 in the past six months.He continued: "We've designed Oyster here, we're engineered it here, built the test rig here, we're testing it at EMEC for real this summer – when we start manufacturing them, why should I send the plans to Korea or China? It makes no sense."Aquamarine expects to make Oyster available commercially by 2014, with the devices designed to work in arrays generating 100 megawatts of power.Aquamarine's Oyster is "a big dumb machine" according to McAdam, who said the devices strength was in its simplicity, with little in the way of technology to break under the water. He said Oyster was "very unsophisticated" in terms of what goes into the water, with a big floating hinge, two hydraulic water pistons and four valves leaving little to be damaged.In contrast, McAdam described tidal flow devices as "wind turbine that operate underwater" and as such are much more complex.

BP axes 620 jobs from solar business

Petrochemical company blames cuts on financial crisis, but claims reduction in workforce will lead to cheaper solar power

Terry Macalister, Wednesday 1 April 2009 11.46 BST

BP is to axe 620 jobs from its solar power business – more than a quarter of that workforce – in a move it said was part of the long-term strategy to "reduce the cost of solar power to that of conventional electricity."
Two cell manufacture and module assembly plants near Madrid, will be shut with the loss of 480 posts while module assembly will also be phased out at its Frederick facility in Maryland, US, with a further 140 redundancies.
BP blamed the cutbacks on the credit crunch and lower-cost competition saying its global manufacturing capacity would still increase during this year and next via a series of strategic alliances with other companies.
"We deeply regret the impact of this business decision on our employees and the local communities," said Reyad Fezzani, chief executive of BP Solar. "We have a long history at both the Madrid and Frederick sites. Competitive hi-tech manufacturing of ingots, wafers and cells will continue at Frederick. Engineering, technology product development, sales and marketing and other business support functions will also remain at both Frederick and Madrid."
He said solar markets had been "unsettled by the impact of the global economic environment", adding that the market had been over-supplied as competition increased and prices had fallen.
Fezzani said the cuts would lead to lower prices for solar power: "The decision is part of the long term strategy to reduce the cost of solar power to that of conventional electricity."
The decision by a cash-rich oil group to reduce its direct manufacturing capacity and cut 620 out of 2,200 jobs will raise further questions about whether BP is retreating back to its core hydrocarbon business despite marketing promises to go "beyond petroleum." The London-based company said last year it was going to concentrate its alternative energy business on wind and solar in the US, while rival Shell has also been cutting back.
The moves will also send further shock waves through the wider renewable energy sector which is reeling from a retreat by the banks from higher risk investments such as green power schemes.
Andrew Mill, who sits on the UK government's Renewables Advisory Board, told the Guardian 10 days ago that the renewables sector was heading for crisis and British ministers' climate change targets would not be met. "The government has done a lot in terms of policies and targets, but the reality is that it was always going to take a lot of money to make it happen. And that money is not coming through quickly enough."
The UK is a relatively small solar market and will rely largely on wind to meet its goal of producing 15% of its energy from renewables by 2020.

Statoil seals £1bn deal for windfarm off Norfolk

Construction to start this summer of 88 turbines at Sheringham Shoal
By Sarah Arnott
Thursday, 2 April 2009

The construction of a £1bn windfarm off the Norfolk coast will go ahead this summer after Statoil Hydro, the Norwegian oil and gas group, signed a joint venture with Statkraft, the country's state-owned utility.
Once fully up and running, the 315 megawatt (MW) 88-turbine installation at Sheringham Shoal, 13 miles out into the North Sea, is expected to produce 1.1 terawatt hours of power, enough for about 220,000 homes. The first electricity will be produced in 2011.
The investment decision was due last autumn, but was delayed by ructions in the world economy as Statoil Hydro searched for a partner to share the costs. Statkraft signed a £514m deal for a 50 per cent stake in the project yesterday, paving the way for building work to begin.
For the two companies, the project is a chance to showcase their credentials. For the UK wind sector, the decision is a much-needed counterpoint to the growing list of suppliers baulking at the cost of offshore infrastructure.
Installations out at sea are vital to meeting the Government's commitment to source 15 per cent of all Britain's energy from renewables by 2020. But extreme environmental conditions – added to the scarcity of everything from turbine blades to cabling to the barges used for installation – multiply the costs.
The focus is on the Renewables Obligation Certificate (Roc) regime. The law requires power companies to derive a growing proportion of their electricity from renewable sources. By issuing certificates to generators – to be sold on to utilities to prove the obligation has been fulfilled – the system is designed to provide an extra revenue stream to help justify renewable infrastructure investments. Government plans to give an extra boost to more costly offshore installations by designating 1.5 Rocs per MW hour – compared with 1 Roc per MWh for onshore – came into effect yesterday, to help address operators' concerns.
Statoil Hydro is cagey about how much the extra allocation counted in its decision to go ahead with Sheringham Shoal, but stressed the centrality of the incentive scheme as a whole.
"The project was sanctioned on pure commercial terms," a spokeswoman said. "We won't go into the details of the business plan, but having incentives is crucial and is a very important signal from the Government."
But not all are convinced. Although Iberdrola, the Spanish energy giant, has denied press reports it is cutting 40 per cent, or more than £300m-worth, of wind-power investments in the UK, there are several outspoken examples of projects on hold for want of commercial logic.
Centrica's 250MW Lincs scheme, given the go-ahead by the planners in October, is still hanging in the balance and the company says the allowance for offshore developments will need to go up again – to 2 Rocs per MWh – to have a discernible impact. "We are still going through the costs of Lincs, but the economics just aren't stacking up at the moment," a spokesman for the company said. "Two Rocs rather than 1.5 would make a big difference."
Meanwhile, the London Array – the plan for 341 turbines covering 90 sq miles and producing enough power for 750,000 homes – is also still in jeopardy, despite the involvement of Masdar, the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, after Shell backed out last summer. Construction tenders are being evaluated, but whether the sums add up is not yet clear.
E.ON, a partner in the London Array, also backs calls for a 2-Roc allowance for offshore. Not only are the UK plans competing for resources in an increasingly global market – made even more competitive by US President Barack Obama's commitments to renewables, but bidding is starting for the UK's third round of offshore concessions. These are even further out to sea and will be even more expensive to build.
"There is a lot riding on decisions being made in the near future," a spokesman for E.ON said. "It is significantly easier to build in a Texan or Spanish desert than in the North Sea. And if the London Array can't be made to work then it is difficult to see how 'round three' will work either."

Greenbird wind powered vehicle breaks world record

Jorge Chapa, from Inhabitat, part of the Guardian Environment Network, reports on Richard Jenkins' attempt to pilot the fastest wind-powered vehicle in the world

Wednesday 1 April 2009 11.50 BST

What would you expect the record speed for a wind powered vehicle to be? 30 miles per hour? 60 miles per hour? Try 126.1 miles per hour! That is the record set by Richard Jenkins this past weekend at the Ivenpah Lake in Nevada, where he finally managed to do what he set out to do 10 years ago - pilot the fastest wind powered vehicle in the world.
We previously wrote about Richard and the Greenbird a few months ago when he was hoping to break the record in Western Australia. That attempt didn't pan out due to poor conditions, so we're excited to see that he finally achieved his goal.
The Greenbird is a carbon-fiber composite vehicle that is exclusively wind powered, making it essentially an earthbound sailboat. There were challenges involved, since at high speeds the vehicle tends to, well, take off. To counter this problem the vehicle incorporates specific design solutions, such as wings similar to those found in fomula one cars.
So now that he has achieved his first goal, what is next? Well, believe it or not, he will now try to break the record again - only this time, he will do so on ice.
• This article was shared by our content partner Inhabitat, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Greenbird wind powered vehicle breaks world record

Jorge Chapa, from Inhabitat, part of the Guardian Environment Network, reports on Richard Jenkins' attempt to pilot the fastest wind-powered vehicle in the world

Wednesday 1 April 2009 11.50 BST

What would you expect the record speed for a wind powered vehicle to be? 30 miles per hour? 60 miles per hour? Try 126.1 miles per hour! That is the record set by Richard Jenkins this past weekend at the Ivenpah Lake in Nevada, where he finally managed to do what he set out to do 10 years ago - pilot the fastest wind powered vehicle in the world.
We previously wrote about Richard and the Greenbird a few months ago when he was hoping to break the record in Western Australia. That attempt didn't pan out due to poor conditions, so we're excited to see that he finally achieved his goal.
The Greenbird is a carbon-fiber composite vehicle that is exclusively wind powered, making it essentially an earthbound sailboat. There were challenges involved, since at high speeds the vehicle tends to, well, take off. To counter this problem the vehicle incorporates specific design solutions, such as wings similar to those found in fomula one cars.
So now that he has achieved his first goal, what is next? Well, believe it or not, he will now try to break the record again - only this time, he will do so on ice.
• This article was shared by our content partner Inhabitat, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Solution to the carbon problem could be under the ground

Hope for the fight against climate change as study finds greenhouse gas can be buried without fear of leaking

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Thursday, 2 April 2009

Carbon dioxide captured from the chimneys of power stations could be safely buried underground for thousands of years without the risk of the greenhouse gas seeping into the atmosphere, a study has found.
The findings will lend weight to the idea of carbon capture and sequestration (CSS) – when carbon dioxide is trapped and then buried – which is being seriously touted as a viable way of reducing man-made emissions of carbon dioxide while still continuing to burn fossil fuels such as oil and coal in power stations.
There are two substantial problems with CCS. The first is how to trap carbon dioxide efficiently in power-station emissions and the second is how to ensure that the underground store of the gas does not leak back into the atmosphere and so exacerbate the greenhouse effect and global warming.

In seeking to answer the second question, scientists looked at natural underground reservoirs of gas. They found that carbon dioxide trapped underground had been stable for possibly millions of years because it dissolves harmlessly in subterranean stores of water which do not appear to have leaked any substantial quantities of the gas back into the atmosphere.
The researchers believe the study shows that it will be possible to inject vast amounts of carbon dioxide from power stations into deep underground reservoirs where it will dissolve in water and remain undisturbed for at least as long as it will take for mankind to completely abandon fossil fuels and generate clean, carbon-neutral electricity.
Stuart Gilfillan of the University of Edinburgh said: "The study shows that naturally stored carbon dioxide has been safely stored for millions of years, which means that these sort of storage timescales should be achievable for the deliberate sequestration of the gas.
"It suggests that underground storage of carbon dioxide, in the correct place, should be a safe option to help us cope with emissions until we can develop cleaner sources of energy not based on fossil fuels," Dr Gilfillan said.
The study, published in the journal Nature, was based on an analysis of the chemical isotopes of helium and carbon dioxide in nine natural gas fields in North America, Europe and China. These gas fields have filled with carbon dioxide for many thousands or millions of years as it seeps from even deeper sources resulting from either volcanic activity or the heating of carbonate rocks.
The ratio of the two isotopes in the gas fields can tell the scientists whether any substantial quantities of carbon dioxide have seeped out of these underground sites during the period of time that they have filled up with gas.
Professor Chris Ballentine of Manchester University, who took part in the study, said that the isotopic technique will also be invaluable for further research, particularly when engineers begin carbon sequestration.
"The new approach will be essential for tracing where carbon dioxide captured from coal-fired power stations goes after we inject it underground – this is critical for future safety verification," Professor Ballentine said.
One of the reasons why the carbon dioxide remains trapped in the nine natural gas fields studied by the researchers could be down to physical changes occurring after its dissolution in water.
Dr Gilfillan said that when carbon dioxide dissolves in water the solution becomes denser than ordinary water and so sinks. This feature may have helped to keep the carbonated water underground for a long time, he said.
"We already know that oil and gas have been stored for millions of years and our study clearly shows that carbon dioxide has been stored naturally and safely in underground water in these fields," he said.
"It's good news in terms of the understanding of the system of carbon dioxide storage. It means that what actually happens in the natural storage of carbon dioxide suggests that it is possible to achieve the 10,000-year storage widely quoted as being necessary for effective carbon sequestration," he added.
There were initially fears that injecting carbon dioxide into the ground could simple result in it bubbling to the surface like a source of carbonated mineral water, releasing the gas into the atmosphere. The scientists also found that the underground carbon dioxide would not tend to form minerals and so form immovable solids. Mineral deposits block pores in rock, limiting the size of the overall carbon sink.
"It's bad news in the sense that mineralising the carbon dioxide would make it even more stable. But the good news is that mineralisation would have limited the amount of carbon dioxide that could be pumped into any one reservoir," Dr Gilfillan said.
Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a geologist at the University of Toronto, said that it was important to understand how carbon dioxide was stored in natural underground reservoirs if the problems of long-term storage of carbon dioxide were to be solved.
What we found was remarkable. At sites throughout the world, we found that the major way carbon dioxide is stored is by dissolution into the underground water, rather than by mineral trapping," Dr Sherwood Lollar said.
However, even if the sequestration part of the equation is solved, there is still the major problem of how to capture carbon dioxide emitted by power stations efficiently and cheaply.

G20 governments must share a vision of world's future

Economic and environmental recovery must go hand in hand

Steve Howard, Wednesday 1 April 2009 08.30 BST
It is time to act on climate change. The science is clear: greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by over 60% below current levels by 2050. And the reductions must start now. The greatest barriers to achieving this reduction are political.
This Thursday, world leaders from the G20 countries – representing 85% of the world's economic output – will meet in London to address the global financial crisis.
With the summit's stated aims of taking action to stabilise financial markets, strengthening the global economic system and putting the global economy on track for sustainable growth, this is a timely opportunity for governments to develop a shared vision on the world's future.
The current financial crisis – the worst since the 1930s – is prompting government intervention to help stimulate economic growth. This represents a unique opportunity to invest in a sustainable future.
Recent analysis by HSBC of the economic stimulus packages that have passed or are pending in 15 nations found that these countries plan to invest more than $3tn to stimulate their economies over the next decade.
Suddenly, the amounts needed for combating climate change – in the order of tens of billions per annum over the next decade – don't seem so large or unrealistic.
Last year, Lord Stern, author of the 2006 Stern Review, estimated that we could keep climate change in check at a cost of less than 2% of global GDP, compared to the 5-20% of global GDP that would be lost because of unabated global warming. This seems like a good investment on anyone's terms.
And it seems that a number of governments are beginning to think so too as evidenced by the green components — defined as low carbon power, energy efficiency, water treatment and pollution control — of the various economic stimulus packages announced over the last few months. However, despite the wide range of this green content — ranging from 0% in Poland and 7% in the UK to 38% in China and 81% in South Korea — the average of 15% falls well short of what is needed.
According to the UN Environment Programme, 1% of global GDP, or approximately US$750bn, should be invested on greening the world economy to create momentum for real change.
And this is not just a long-term equation. Low-carbon policies and investment are a win-win situation in the short-term too. Almost a third of the 2020 greenhouse gas abatement required saves money through more efficient energy use.
The US stimulus packages promises to double clean energy capacity and are expected to create around 2.5 million green jobs.
In a report published last year by the Climate Group, China is showing some of the strongest growth rates in low-carbon industries in the world, with the country's green investment package likely to give a further boost to its $17bn renewable energy sector which already employs around one million people.
In the UK, thousands of jobs could be created with green offshore initiatives.
Economic and environmental recovery must go hand-in-hand and – if well-designed –will be mutually reinforcing.
Halving global emissions by 2050 will require what's been described as "an industrial revolution in a third of the time" of the last one. This goal is within reach. Current technologies can deliver and the economic and political backdrop has fundamentally shifted, opening up a new world of possibilities for a global deal and a global shift to a low-carbon economy.
Business leaders from around the world have stated their desire to work with governments to provide practical advice on how to best link the recovery and low-carbon agendas to exploit this huge growth potential.
We must take this opportunity. We simply cannot allow ourselves to fail. The G20 summit in London gives world leaders the chance to show us that we will not.
• Steve Howard is the chief executive of the Climate Group and the chair of World Economic Forum's global agenda council on climate change

92 months and counting

As the clock ticks down, politicians should get their priorities right: the environment could bail out the economy

Andrew Simms, Wednesday 1 April 2009 08.00 BST

With motifs of climate-friendly transport woven into the fabric of the building, the Tricycle Cinema in north London was the ideal location to premiere Franny Armstrong's new film, The Age of Stupid. One story in the film concerns the conflict between a wind energy entrepreneur and his rather self-satisfied and uptight posh local opponents who dislike the idea of any change to the landscape. The posh people win.
Afterwards, in the cinema bar, a slightly intense woman came up to me and asked, "Why don't they make the wind turbines out of glass, then no one would be able to see them?"
Practicalities aside, her comment threw into relief the absurdity of a current impasse. We have a landscape that is already denuded and industrialised, flattened by monocultural farming and marked by pylons, motorways and mobile phone masts. But we are unwilling to restore to it the windmills that once proliferated, and could, today, help avert climate change and cleanly meet a significant share of our energy needs.
A few years ago, Allan Moore, chair of the British Wind Energy Association, pointed out that the opposition suffered by wind power was almost hysterically disproportionate and historically blind. He argued that in 17th-century Britain there were around 90,000 windmills. Now there were plans to build perhaps 4,000 bringing the total to 5,000.
Inverse proportions seem to be the order of the day. As the clock ticks down, it's the environment that could bail out the economy if only politicians could order their priorities sensibly. Everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the heir to the throne now understand this.
But, while the UK government were able to produce support to the financial sector equivalent to 20% of the nation's GDP, new and additional spending for green measures in the Treasury's pre-Budget report amounted to just 0.0083% of GDP.
The streets of London are filling with thousands of people calling on governments to link their responses to the global recession, climate change and poverty reduction. But, across a range of economic stimulus packages in countries around the world, the average share of spending going to green investments, according to HSBC, is just 15%.
So while the cries outside from industry, unions, the churches and environmentalists are for jobs, the climate and social justice, government is clinging to the illusion that, with the right support struts jammed into place, business as usual can continue. As no amount of rational argument holds sway, we're reduced to cups of green custard, spiderman climbing buildings, clown armies and fantasies of transparent glass windmills, in order to achieve progress.
But, perhaps there is still more that we can learn from the economic collapse. The old banking system, with all its bravado, scams and subtle deceptions was held together, ultimately, by little more than aggressive self-belief. As soon as that went, it fell apart.
The notion that we cannot change, that we are bound to the status quo by what the poet William Blake called unbreakable "mind-forged manacles", is similarly false, fragile and prone to sudden collapse. Rather than the politically popular fashion for "nudge" economics, however, we probably need to be given a good shove.
The "bystander effect" is a well-known psychological effect in which people are more likely to underestimate threats to the their safety in a group than on their own. In a group there is a kind of self-reinforcing inactivity if there is no initial response to a threat. Each assumes it must be ok to carry on, because everyone else is. That is why leadership is so important. To encourage fuel savings during the second world war government departments, public buildings and utilities all took high-profile measures to demonstrate that they were taking action.
Today, the head office of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) HQ is among the least energy-efficient buildings in Britain. Due to arcane rules governing access to information, the only way to discover each public building's energy efficiency is by visiting each one.
Then, there's the matter of the privatised research arm of the Ministry of Defence, Qinetiq. They have the consultancy contract to crunch numbers on greenhouse gas scenarios for the offical climate change committee that advises government over mandatory targets for emissions reduction. But Qinetiq is also a fully paid-up member of the lobby group pushing the expansion of UK aviation and a third runway at Heathrow – the organisation known as Flying Matters. Step forward whoever thought of awarding the procurement contract above.

Berlin agrees carbon capture rules

By Chris Bryant in Berlin and Joshua Chaffin in Brussels
Published: April 1 2009 19:04

German ministers have agreed on guidelines for the introduction of technology that prevents the release of carbon dioxide from power stations.
The draft legislation sets out a regulatory and technical framework for trial carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, providing utilities with much-needed planning and investment guidelines, while setting environmental and public safety rules.

The German environment and economics ministries had argued for weeks over the rules, which cover the secure separation, transportation and storage of CO2 underground.
One of the most hotly debated stipulations is that German-based utilities will not be allowed to transfer responsibility to the state for their CO2 repositories until 30 years after the plant that produced the gas has closed.
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, economics minister, described CCS as “a very important contribution towards climate protection and energy security” and said he hoped parliament would approve the bill by the summer.
The European Union has identified carbon capture as a key component in its effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst effects of global warming.
In December, European leaders agreed to dedicate billions of euros in revenues from the EU emissions trading scheme to help fund the development of 10 to 12 carbon capture pilot plants.
Just last month, they opted to award another €1bn ($1.3bn, £917m) to five CCS projects as part of a broader economic recovery plan.
Several private energy and engineering companies, including Shell, Alstom, General Electric and Vattenfall, have given their enthusiastic backing to CCS in spite of complaints from critics that the technology has not been tested on an industrial scale and that government money would be better spent on energy efficiency projects.
Sigmar Gabriel, the German environment minister, argued on Wednesday that coal power plants would still have a future if they become less damaging to the environment and said critics were wrong to present CCS technology as a barrier to the development of renewable energy.
The total volume of EU CO2 emissions is capped, meaning that CCS technology will only be developed on a large scale if it turns out to cost less than the price of the carbon certificates that utilities are obliged to purchase.
Germany depends on coal for about half of its electricity needs and, in spite of big strides in renewable energy, this situation will be difficult to reverse quickly.
An agreement to phase out the country’s 17 nuclear reactors has prompted industry to warn of a looming energy gap.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Germany has taken a lead in CCS technology and is home to three pilot projects, including the world’s first operating CCS power plant, which was unveiled last year by Vattenfall, the Swedish utility.
RWE has set aside €1bn to build a bigger plant near Cologne, which is due to open in 2014, while Eon also plans to roll out the technology at a plant at Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea coast.
Berlin plans to review the first CCS trials in 2015 when it will decide whether to revise the environment standards.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Senate Sets Climate Bill Procedures


WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Wednesday against sheltering White House-backed climate-change legislation from procedural delays, signaling the initiative will require 60 votes for passage.
The Senate, on a 67-31 vote, decided against conferring so-called reconciliation protection on cap-and-trade legislation sought by President Barack Obama. Such protection ensures a bill can't be filibustered. Wednesday's vote effectively guarantees that any measure designed to combat climate change adopted this year will require at least 60 votes to break a filibuster.
Controlling greenhouse-gas emissions is a top priority for Mr. Obama and his allies in the Democratic congressional leadership. But Republicans and many rank-and-file Democrats have concerns about the costs that would be imposed on businesses and consumers.
The vote came amid debate on Mr. Obama's $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1. In a flurry of action Wednesday, the Senate added $4 billion for development projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in hopes of bolstering U.S.-led efforts to stabilize the region.
The Senate also approved an amendment that would commit $550 million to new security measures along the border with Mexico, where gang violence is drawing growing concern in Washington. The Senate also added $1.9 billion to help low-income families pay heating bills.
Write to Greg Hitt at

EU Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Drop 6%

Industrial Slowdown Reduces Carbon Output, but Eases Pressure on Big Polluters to Change Their Behavior

Greenhouse-gas emissions from heavy industry and utilities in the European Union fell 6% last year as the economic downturn slowed industrial activity in everything from construction to auto manufacturing.
Some analysts and economists say the recession, though it reduces emissions in the short-term, could also slow the adoption of low-carbon technologies in factories and power plants. When the price of polluting is quite low, big polluters have little incentive to change their behavior.
Carbon-dioxide emissions from the 10,500 factories and power plants covered by Europe's "cap-and-trade" system decreased to 2.11 billion tons last year from 2.25 billion tons in 2007, according to an analysis of European Union data by Point Carbon, an Oslo-based consultancy.
Carbon dioxide is the main gas believed to contribute to global warming. The cap-and-trade system limits allowable emissions and creates a market for businesses to buy and sell the right to produce them.
"The numbers reflect the severity of the recession that began about six months ago," said Imtiaz Ahmad, the executive director for carbon trading at Morgan Stanley. "Emissions are likely to fall even more steeply this year as industries including steel and cement decrease output and the demand for electricity drops as well."
The European Union's environment commission oversees the region's carbon caps. It represents more than 80% of all the emissions in the system but the final numbers won't be out until May. Point Carbon analyzed the early data and found that emissions were down all over Europe for the first time since the introduction of legal limits on greenhouse gas in 2005.
In Spain, one of the countries hit earliest and hardest by recession last year, emissions were down 12.9% to 142 million tons, according to Point Carbon. U.K. emissions decreased 6.8% to 254 million tons, while German emissions dropped 3.2% to 457 million tons.
Under cap-and-trade rules, European governments give companies permits that allow them to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide annually. If a company emits more than its cap, it must cover the excess by obtaining more permits.
One way is by trading on the "carbon market," that is, buying permits from companies with permits to spare.
Permits also can be earned by doing carbon-reduction projects in developing countries, such as putting up wind turbines in China. The goal of the system is twofold: to limit emissions and to give companies an incentive to revamp their factories and move to cleaner methods of electricity generation and industrial production.
Carbon permit prices are trading at 18-month lows because production decreases mean many of the biggest emitters are now well within their caps. Analysts don't expect the prices to increase before next year.
"It's all a question of how long the carbon price stays low," said Mark Lewis, head of carbon research at Deutsche Bank. "If the recession is deep and severe, then there is a risk of a material slowdown in the transition to the low-carbon economy of the future."
The permit price fall is good news for companies like German utility RWE AG and steelmaker ArcelorMittal because it will lower their cost of compliance with Europe's carbon caps. After the EU emissions data was released, the price for a 2009 carbon permit rose 2% to close at €12.15 ($16.14), according to ICAP, a broker of carbon allowances.
Write to Leila Abboud at

PC makers are failing the environment, says Greenpeace

Campaign group criticises leading manufacturers HP, Dell and Lenovo for not cutting down on toxic components – but praises Apple, Nokia and Acer

Bobbie Johnson, San Francisco, Wednesday 1 April 2009 11.40 BST

Greenpeace has accused three of the world's biggest PC manufacturers of failing to live up to their promises to make more environmentally friendly computers.
Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo have all been singled out in a report from the environmental campaign group, which claims they have failed to deliver new machines that do not depend so heavily on toxic chemicals.
"HP, Lenovo and Dell had promised to eliminate vinyl plastic (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from their products by the end of 2009. Now they've told us that they won't make it this year," Greenpeace said in its latest Guide to Greener Electronics report.
"The phase-out of toxic substances is an urgent priority to help tackle the growing tide of e-waste. Still, producers only go green when they feel public and consumer pressure to do so," it continued.
Indeed, computer companies are facing a different kind of pressure thanks to the recession – which analysts say has caused the biggest slump for the industry in its history.
Despite such a slowdown, however, hundreds of millions of PCs are still sold every year. In the last quarter alone, the three companies singled out by Greenpeace sold more than 30m computers around the world.
Given such high sales volumes, the use of toxic components can have a devastating environmental impact – particularly in west African countries that accept vast amounts of electronic waste from Europe and the US, in contradiction with international regulations.
As a result of the west's decision to export e-waste, cities such as Lagos, Nigeria, and Accra, Ghana, play home to huge toxic dumps full of discarded computers and electronic devices, where scavengers – often children – attempt to extract the metals in order to resell them.
Since 2006, Greenpeace has monitored companies' promises to reduce the number of toxic components and has noted a gradual improvement from many electronics manufacturers.
The Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia currently leads in Greenpeace's rankings, after keeping up with plans to reduce its CO2 emissions. The Japanese videogames company Nintendo remains bottom of the rankings for its approach to e-waste and a lack of transparency.
The PC makers lost position after pushing back plans to introduce greener products. Lenovo said its line of eco-friendly laptops would be delayed until 2010, while HP and Dell – the world's two largest computer makers – have put similar schemes on indefinite hold.
Some brands, however – including Apple and the Taiwanese manufacturer Acer – have made significant progress in reducing their long-term impact on the environment. This, said Greenpeace, should stand as an example to others.
"If Apple can find the solutions, there should be no reason why other leading PC companies can't," said Iza Kurszewska, who leads the organisation's campaign against toxics. "All of them should have at least one toxic-free line of products on the market by the end of this year."
Presented with Greenpeace's concerns, a spokeswoman for Hewlett-Packard did not directly address the accusations. Instead, she said that "the Greenpeace report confirms that the electronics industry as a whole continues to make progress".
"For decades, HP has adopted practices in product development, operations and supply chain that are transparent and help reduce its environmental impact," she said, adding that the company would "continue its efforts".
Dell and Lenovo did not respond to requests for comment.

As Eco-Seals Proliferate, So Do Doubts

It's too easy to be green.

Recently, Kevin Owsley went searching for a reputable organization that could validate the eco-friendly traits of his company's carpet-cleaning fluid. But after canvassing a dozen competing groups hawking so-called "green certification" services -- including one online outfit that awarded him an instant green diploma, no questions asked -- he grew disillusioned about how meaningful any endorsement would be to his customers.
Michael Witte
"If you want green certification bad enough, you can get it," says Mr. Owsley, owner of Cleanpro USA LLC, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that franchises carpet and upholstery cleaning businesses. "I joke and say, 'I could buy some of these companies a case of beer, and they'd give us a certification.' I'm very frustrated by that."
As green marketing has proliferated, so has the number of "eco-labels" competing to be the environmental equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. According to the Web site, there are more than 300 such labels putting a green stamp on everything from cosmetics and seafood to bird-friendly coffee.
Timber to make wood products is graded by a host of groups -- among them the Forest Stewardship Council, the American Tree Farm System and the Tropical Forest Foundation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency itself awards multiple eco designations, while a sea of smaller entities can be found operating online under names such as, and
Some label programs, such as those run by the Forest Stewardship Council and other well-known certification groups -- including Washington-based Green Seal and Ottawa-based EcoLogo -- require independent verification of product manufacturers' green claims. But many others don't, partly because of cost and manpower, they say.
The result: increasing confusion among consumers about the veracity of green marketing promises and a growing sense that the federal government may need to take a stronger role in shaping standards people widely recognize and trust. Late last year, for instance, a proposal for a federal "eco-label" program was quietly floated by the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) that would recognize consumer products that are environmentally preferable over others throughout their life cycle.
"A growing number of consumers are interested in making informed choices about the environmental impacts of their purchases -- and I believe the federal government can help," Sen. Feinstein said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. "So, I am working with consumer advocates, manufacturers, distributors, and existing labeling and certification project leaders ... to create an accredited national eco-label program."
The Organic-Food Model
Some advocating a federal role point to organic food as a potential model; under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "National Organic Program," the government now sets labeling and certification standards. But with food, it took decades of competing efforts in the private marketplace and at the state level before the federal government came up with standards and regulations acceptable to the myriad interested parties.
Impatient retailers are now crafting their own labeling programs to help customers buy green. Home Depot Inc. has instituted its own "Eco Options" designation for items such as energy-efficient light bulbs and environmentally friendly paints. Office Depot Inc. rates thousands of products on everything from recycled content to reduced harsh chemical use, and publishes the info online and in a "Green Book" catalog for its largest business customers.
"To date, there is no universal standard on this, and we are trying to make sense of it," says Yalmaz Siddiqui, director of environmental strategy for Office Depot.
At the heart of the dilemma: What does it really mean to be green? Is having some recycled content enough, and if so, how much? Is something biodegradable still green if it travels a thousand miles to reach shelves? And if a green product doesn't perform as well as its nongreen peers, is it really preferable?
Equally important: Who, if anyone, should ensure green claims are valid? A soon-to-be-released study of more than 3,900 consumer products sold in big-box retailers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia found that in every product category, there was "green-washing" -- ranging from outright lying about green claims to simply providing no proof. The study was conducted by TerraChoice Inc., the Ottawa-based environmental-consulting firm that runs the 20-year-old EcoLogo North American certification program.
Rules of the Game
"What it tells me is that it's incredibly understandable why consumers are so confused because no one has stepped up to define the rules of the game," says Scot Case, executive director of the EcoLogo program, which requires independent auditing of the products it certifies. "The U.S. government hasn't said, 'This is what is acceptable environmental labeling' ... and consumers are being duped by meaningless labels while the truly legitimate labels are getting lost amidst the green fog."
Lilly Flanagan, who runs a title-insurance company, recently built a home with her husband on the water in Queens, N.Y., and insisted on using primarily green materials. But she grew frustrated, in part because of a dearth of information from product makers about why wares were dubbed eco-friendly. She eventually ended up patronizing a retailer called Green Depot in Manhattan, which has constructed its own filter system to judge products on multiple criteria, such as toxicity, indoor air quality, water savings and third-party certification.
Green-Label Roadmap
These 15 green-label programs are recognized as good benchmarks by experts and retailers such as Green Depot and Office Depot.
Green Seal (
Energy Star (
EPA Design for the Environment (
WaterSense (
Forest Stewardship Council (
Scientific Certification Systems (
EcoLogo (
Greenguard (
Cradle to Cradle (
Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (
Global Organic Textile Standard (
Biodegradable Products Institute (
FloorScore (
Totally Chlorine Free (
Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label/Green Label Plus (
*Source: WSJ research
While happy with her project's outcome, Ms. Flanagan would prefer a universal green seal to make shopping easier. "We can only do so much as a consumer," she says. "The government needs to come up with a stamp and someone needs to check the product, and there needs to be liability if they aren't telling the truth."
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission can take action against unfair or deceptive marketing practices, and it recently has been reviewing guidelines it sets for environmental marketing claims. But the agency's police role is often retroactive -- after products hit the marketplace -- and advocates for a federal eco-label say one possible benefit would be consumers knowing green claims have been pre-checked wherever the seal legitimately appears.
That idea was a cornerstone of the proposal circulated by Sen. Feinstein's office last year. According to one draft, which the senator never officially endorsed, independent certification groups accredited by the government would award a federal eco-seal and check on the validity of claims. The process would be funded by fees paid by companies applying for and awarded the label; misuse could be punishable by fine or court action.
Because such a national imprint could dramatically affect the marketplace, groups representing pesticide and other chemical makers already are on alert. "If there are not parameters based on sound science, a lot of things could have unintended consequences," says Joe Acker, chief executive of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, a Washington-based trade group. "For one thing, you could end up replacing products in the marketplace that have a long history of efficacy with things that don't."
Consumer Confidence
For now, bolstering consumer confidence is at the forefront of lawmakers' and retailers' labeling efforts. In 2007, for example, Mr. Case of the EcoLogo program bought a refrigerator made by LG Electronics Inc. that bore the Energy Star seal. That meant it was supposed to consume at least 20% less energy than required by federal standards.
Says Mr. Case: "I plug it in, and I feel wonderful because it's going to save me money and reduce my impact on global warming."
However, in February of this year, he received a letter saying his fridge didn't actually qualify for Energy Star status because LG hadn't adhered precisely to the test standards required by the U.S. Department of Energy. Notably, appliance manufacturers currently "self-certify" that they have met Energy Star test requirements. LG agreed to modify affected models and make payments to affected consumers for lost energy savings. But the issue underscored the potential pitfalls of letting product makers vouch for their wares' greenness without independent verification.
That may change. The Energy Department, which runs the program with the EPA, now says that while it believes self-reporting is still the most cost-effective method, "sufficient questions have come to light" to suggest that third-party verification may be necessary to ensure "consumers receive the promised energy savings benefits."
Whatever shape green labeling takes in the future, cost will remain a central issue. The EcoLogo program, which has certified some 7,500 products since its inception in 1988, charges a minimum of $1,200 to $1,500 for initial auditing of green claims and an annual license fee based on a percentage of sales (ranging from $1,200 to a negotiated cap) to use its logo. Mr. Case says the funds are used to maintain the program and to invest in creating new standards, but acknowledges the burden it places on small firms. "For big companies," he says, "that's peanuts; for small ones, it's significant."
Write to Gwendolyn Bounds at

Weak Crude, Cane Shortage Hit India Ethanol Expansion


MUMBAI -- A sharp decline in sugar cane production coupled with lower crude oil prices that make ethanol a less viable option as fuel has hit India's plans to sharply increase its ethanol production capacity, analysts said Wednesday.
This could delay millions of dollars in new investments as sugar mills put off or scrap investments in new ethanol facilities.
"The delay is largely because of the shortage of cane. Though production is likely to revive next year, enough cane will not be available for ethanol production," said Harish Galipelli, head of research at Karvy Comtrade Ltd., a Hyderabad-based brokerage.Sugar cane production in India, the world's second largest producer, is expected drop sharply to 14.5 million metric tons in the current crop year ending September, from 26.3 million tons a year ago, according to industry estimates.
"How can we plan ethanol expansion when we don't have enough molasses," said Dilip Seksaria, general manager of Balrampur Chini Mills Ltd., one of the biggest sugar producers in the country.
Cane production may recover to 19 million tons in 2009-10, but rising demand for sugar as a sweetener may leave millers producing more sugar, leaving less molasses in the process, to be used as a feedstock for ethanol production.
Molasses is a byproduct of sugarcane crushing, but millers have some flexibility in deciding the ratio of raw sugar and molasses produced, depending on the demand for each commodity.
Ethanol can also be produced directly from sugar-cane juice, before it is turned into raw sugar and molasses, but this method is rarely used in India because of a strong domestic market for sugar. India's annual sugar consumption, currently around 22.5 million tons, has been steadily rising.
Lower crude oil prices have also affected the viability of ethanol projects, analysts said.
Indian sugar mills have invested 30 billion rupees ($594 million) on ethanol production facilities in the last 3 to 4 years, according to industry estimates.
There may not be good return on these investments next year if crude oil prices remain at current level, Mr. Galipelli said. "So they are a bit cautious (on new investments), just to avoid this kind of situation."
Crude oil prices have crashed to around $50 a barrel now from $147/bbl a year earlier, making ethanol blending a less profitable proposition for domestic oil companies.
While on the one hand, crude oil prices have fallen, easing the pressure from the fuel oil sector, demand for ethanol for other industrial uses has been steady.
The country currently has an ethanol manufacturing capacity of about 2,200 million liters a year, according to Indian Sugar Mills Association.
The chemical sector consumes around 650 million liters of this and the liquor industry another 750 million liters, leaving only about 800 million liters for blending with gasoline.
"Alcohol prices are on the higher side and (that) is distracting millers," said Sanjay Tapriya, finance director of Simbhaoli Sugar Mills Ltd., another big sugar producer.
Millers are getting 27 rupees to 28 rupees/litre of ethanol from alcohol producers, while price for the fuel industry is fixed at 21.50 rupees/litre.
"For the blending program to be successful, some pricing mechanism needs to be evolved wherein ethanol prices are set (based on) prevailing prices of related products such as sugar and crude oil," said Sridhar Chandrasekhar, head of CRISIL Research.
Indian oil marketing companies are currently required to blend 5% ethanol with regular gasoline sold in the market and the government has pushed back a target to raise this to 10%.
The original plan that envisaged a minimum 10% blend by October 2008 was put on hold because of the sharp fall in crude oil prices that made it less urgent and because of technical concerns raised by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.
The industry body representing Indian automobile makers said vehicles with older engines may not be able to use fuel that has a 10% blend without making some modifications to the engine.
"The main problem is with two-wheelers as their owners may not be ready to spend money to make their vehicles ethanol-compatible," said K.K. Gandhi, executive director of SIAM.
Indian Oil Corp., one of the biggest oil marketing companies in the country, is currently conducting trials to assess the compatibility of present engines to a 10% ethanol blend. The results are expected by the middle of 2009.
The government's eventual plan - announced last year as part of a new biofuels policy - is to raise the blending level to 20% of total fuel usage by 2017.
Write to Debiprasad Nayak at