Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Electric car subsidies do not serve green goals

By Richard Pike
Published: April 27 2009 19:58

Hard facts and informed opinion have been the first casualties of the maelstrom of comment, debate and public relations generated by the government’s plan to provide a subsidy of up to £5,000 to buyers of electric cars.
Missing is an answer to the main question: is this a good way of spending public money to address climate change? The government argues that the move will encourage early adopters of the technology, helping electric car manufacturers achieve economies of scale. But, given that it would cost more than £150bn to subsidise Britain’s entire car fleet, are there more cost-effective means of meeting our commitment to reduce UK carbon dioxide emissions to a fifth of 1990 levels by 2050?
From a pure energy perspective, electric cars are slightly less good at turning fuel from a power station into movement than the average engine is at extracting energy from petrol or diesel. With a modern internal combustion engine, 32 per cent of the energy in petrol ultimately drives the pistons, while for diesel the figure is 45 per cent, giving an average for the UK’s 30m cars of 34 per cent.
Whatever fuel is used in power stations – gas, oil, coal, nuclear or biomass – just over two-fifths of the available energy is captured as electricity by linking the turbine to dynamo. But, because of electrical transmission losses over miles of cabling, only 36 per cent of the available energy ends up as useful power. In charging and discharging the lithium-ion battery of an electric car, a further seventh is lost, leaving about 31 per cent of the original fuel’s energy available to the motor.
We can, therefore, draw the intriguing conclusion that in the UK right now there are no compelling ­energy-saving reasons for moving to electric cars.
The argument then switches to how much carbon dioxide is produced from different fuels for the same energy. A rough rule of thumb is that, compared with natural gas, petrol and diesel produce 1.4 times as much carbon, oil 1.5 times and coal double – against zero for nuclear and renewable energy.
As long as the mix of fuels generating the electricity does better on this ratio than petrol or diesel, there will be a reduction in emissions from replacing existing cars with electrical vehicles. This is why discontinuing the use of fossil fuels in power stations (or moving to carbon capture and storage) is so important for electric cars to be ­effective, although gas provides some benefit.
The current fuel mix for generating electricity in the UK gives a carbon ratio of 1.2 times gas (against, remember, 1.4 for petrol and diesel). This means that if all internal combustion engine cars were replaced, car emissions would fall by a seventh. In this scenario, cars could be charged up during the night with electricity from existing power stations, although emphasis on gas and the currently diminishing nuclear capacity during that period would lower the figure of 1.2 slightly.
Cars account for 24m tonnes of fuel each year and generate 12 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions. With our current energy mix, complete replacement to electric would therefore reduce this to about 10 per cent.
The hypothetical, though absolutely relevant, question is: would it be worth spending £150bn today to replace all cars with electric vehicles, in order to reduce carbon emissions by 2 percentage points? The answer has to be No. The same money is comparable with the cost of replacing all our electricity-generating capacity with photovoltaic solar cells (if sufficient could be manufactured globally) and reducing our carbon footprint by a third.
Alternatively, it is likely that infrastructure for carbon capture, wind and tidal energy, development of better batteries, further “green” research and waste heat recovery from power stations could all be progressed to a substantive scale, with more benefit, for the same cost.
The proposed £2,000-£5,000 per car is an extravagant gesture, even if for a smaller number of cars (initially £250m of subsidy). Directionally it sends the right message for the future, as eventually we will have to move away from oil-based fuels.
But the policy is not joined up with the reality of how electricity is currently generated in this country, or how it is likely to be generated for the next decade or more. If the logic is flawed for 30m cars, it must also be wrong for the 50,000 or so vehicles the government plans to subsidise.
The writer is chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Carbon trading volumes jump 37%

By Fiona Harvey
Published: April 27 2009 18:25

The carbon market showed a remarkable growth spurt in the first quarter of this year, with trading volumes up 37 per cent.
Trading was driven by price volatility and companies selling carbon permits to raise short-term cash.

However, low prices meant the market’s value had fallen by 16 per cent to $28bn by the end of March, according to New Carbon Finance, a carbon data specialist.
Nearly 2bn carbon credits were traded in the first quarter, an increase of 37 per cent on the previous quarter and more than double the amount traded in the first quarter of 2008.
Guy Turner, director of New Carbon Finance, said: “In spite of the recession, a decline in carbon prices and uncertainty over what will happen after 2012 [when the current provisions of the Kyoto protocol expire], traders are taking this market seriously and trading more actively.”
The bulk of the international market – about 84 per cent by value – is the European Union’s emissions trading scheme, under which energy-intensive companies are issued a quota of carbon permits they may trade with one another. Trading in this market rose by 54 per cent, compared with the last quarter of 2008.
Prices for EU permits are nearly €14 ($18.4), up from a low of about €8 in February. Traders have priced in the effects of the recession driving down industrial production, and companies have largely stopped selling off permits to raise cash.
But volumes in the other main part of the market, the trade in carbon credits issued by the United Nations – 9 per cent of the market by value – fell about a third.
Trading in this market has been affected by uncertainty over what will replace the Kyoto protocol. The UN issues credits to carbon-cutting projects under the protocol, and these can be used by companies in the EU scheme to top up quotas.
The stream of finance for such projects is drying up, according to New Carbon Finance: the last new carbon fund, of $95m, was set up last year and no new money was raised in the first quarter of 2009.
The company forecast the carbon market would be worth about $120bn by the end of the year, broadly on a par with last year.
However, if the US introduced a federal cap-and-trade system the market would reach more than $2,000bn by 2020.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

EU sets car-makers new deadline for greener air conditioning

Refrigerant used in current air conditioning systems in most European cars is more polluting than CO2

David Gow in Brussels
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 April 2009 12.38 BST

Europe's struggling car-makers are facing a legal requirement to fit more eco-friendly air conditioning on all new models from 2011.
The European commission recently ruled that the full force of a 2006 law, the MAC (mobile air conditioning) directive (pdf), will take effect in two years' time rather than 2017 as the industry has been lobbying for.
Car-makers have been pressing EU governments to allow them to continue using existing types of air conditioning on new models of existing cars as they struggle to invest in "green" technologies and develop more fuel-efficient models such as hybrids and electric vehicles.
But the commission insists that the refrigerant used in current air conditioning systems in most European cars has a global warming potential (GWP) far higher than the 150 laid down by the MAC law. Some estimates put the GWP of the existing refrigerant (hydrofluorocarbon R-134a) at 1,400 times higher than CO2.
The commission's guidance, welcomed by green campaigners, says that national authorities are wrongly interpreting the law to approve current systems up to the end of 2016.
Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP, argued that the new law was good for business and the environment: "This is a textbook example of how EU environmental legislation can create market opportunities and promote innovation."
The ruling has prompted a race among car manufacturers to find alternative refrigerants Some are opting for CO2 itself, which has a GWP of one but can remain in the atmosphere for up to 500 years compared to the 13 years for the current refrigerant.
Honeywell, the US industrial group, claims its new hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant known as '1234-YF' has a GWP of just four and an atmospheric lifetime of just 11 days. It says this can swiftly be used in current air conditioning systems without a significant redesign but critics say it is much more expensive.
The European car industry lobby, ACEA, is expected to seize on the ruling to step up its case for €40bn in loans to help car-makers develop "greener" models in the face of the downturn which has seen sales slump 17.2% in the first quarter of 2009.

Consultancy cooking on gas

Published Date: 27 April 2009

AN environmental consultancy has helped develop a methane gas extraction system for Africa's biggest landfill site.
SLR, which has an office in Edinburgh, connected a site in Durban to the South African national grid system. It will now help support 8MW of electricity generation – enough to power the equivalent of 5000 homes in the developed world.SLR's landfill gas team also assisted Durban's eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality to register the scheme with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).SLR associate Grant Pearson, said: "As well as providing technical expertise, a key part of our role was to provide support to keep the project moving forward and to ensure that the environmental, social and financial benefits of the scheme could be realised."

Cleaner power station means SSE can use UK coal without adding to greenhouse gases

Published Date: 28 April 2009
By Hamish Rutherford

SCOTTISH & Southern Energy has signed its largest deal to buy UK-produced coal after fitting one of its power stations with equipment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Because of the high level of sulphur in most British-mined coal, the company's stations have been powered by imported fuel from around the world.But a new flue gas desulphurisation plant added to the firm's Ferrybridge station in West Yorkshire earlier this year allowed SSE to sign a deal to buy 3.5 million tonnes of coal from Doncaster-based UK Coal.The coal can now be burned at the plant as the new equipment will remove sulphur dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the station's emissions.According to SSE, the contract is expected to supply about 15 per cent of the coal requirement at Ferrybridge between late 2009 and 2014.A spokeswoman for Perth-based SSE said the company could take more coal from the UK at Ferrybridge, but domestic supplies were insufficient for its needs.Under the terms of the latest contract, SSE is providing a secured, interest-bearing loan to the UK Coal company, which will supply the fuel, to assist with capital investment to upgrade production some of its mines.The loan, the size of which was not revealed yesterday, is due to be repaid by 2014.SSE said the coal would be supplied from deep mine and surface sites in the UK, including Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but in a statement SSE said prices would be linked to global prices, with a ceiling and floor to reduce price risk.SSE chief executive Ian Marchant said that while the company was attempting to reduce the carbon intensity of its generation by 50 per cent by 2020, "the security of the UK's energy supply" meant coal would continue to have a role in its plans."Our investment in equipment to remove emissions of sulphur means we can now make this substantial commitment to an indigenous source of fuel, thereby supporting jobs in the UK's mining industry."Shares in SSE rose 38p, or 3.6 per cent, to 1,103p.

The truth about climate change

Vested interests have tried to spread misinformation about global warming, but scientific evidence shows urgent action is needed

John Theodore Houghton
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 April 2009 08.00 BST

Many people ask how sure we are about the science of climate change. The most definitive examination of the scientific evidence is to be found in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its last major report published in 2007. I had the privilege of being chairman or co-chairman of the panel's scientific assessments from 1988 to 2002.
Many hundreds of scientists from different countries were involved as contributors and reviewers for these reports, which are probably the most comprehensive and thorough international assessments on any scientific subject ever carried out. In June 1995, just before the G8 summit in Scotland, the academies of science of the world's 11 largest economies (the G8 plus India, China, and Brazil) issued a statement endorsing the IPCC's conclusions and urging world governments to take urgent action to address climate change. The world's top scientists could not have spoken more strongly.
Unfortunately, strong vested interests have spent millions of dollars on spreading misinformation about climate change. First, they tried to deny the existence of any scientific evidence for global warming. More recently, they have largely accepted the fact of anthropogenic (man-made) climate change but argue that its impacts will not be great, that we can "wait and see," and that in any case we can always fix the problem if it turns out to be substantial.
The scientific evidence does not support such arguments. Urgent action is needed both to adapt to the climate change that is inevitable and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, especially CO2, to prevent further damage as far as possible.
At the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the world's nations signed up to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), the objective of which is "to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that does not cause dangerous interference with the climate system … that allows ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, that ensures food production is not threatened, and that enables economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner." Such stabilisation would also eventually stop further climate change.
It is now recognised that widespread damage due, for instance, to sea level rise and more frequent and intense heat waves, floods and droughts, will occur even for small increases of global average temperature. Therefore it is necessary that very strong efforts be made to hold the average global temperature rise below 2C relative to its preindustrial level.
If we are to have a good chance of achieving that target, the concentration of CO2 must not be allowed to exceed 450 parts per million (it is now nearly 390 ppm). This implies that before 2050 global emissions of CO2 must be reduced to below 50% of the 1990 level (they are currently 15% above that level), and that average emissions in developed countries must be reduced by at least 80% of the 1990 level. The UK has already committed itself to a binding target to reduce emissions by that amount, and President Barack Obama has expressed intention that the United States should also set that target.
One clear requirement is that tropical deforestation, which is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, be halted within the next decade or two. Regarding emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its Energy Technology Perspectives has set out in detail the technologies and actions that are needed in different countries and sectors to meet these targets.
For the short term, the IEA points out that very strong and determined action will be necessary to ensure that global CO2 emissions stop rising (the current increase is more than 3% per year), reach a peak by about 2015, and then decline steadily toward the 2050 target. The IEA also points out that the targets can be achieved without unacceptable economic damage. In fact, the IEA lists many benefits that will be realised if its recommendations are followed.
What is required now is recognition that anthropogenic climate change will severely affect our children, grandchildren, the world's ecosystems, and the world's poorer communities, and that the severity of the impact can be substantially alleviated by taking action now.
John Theodore Houghton, a former professor of atmospheric physics at Oxford University, and founder of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, was the co-chair of the IPCC's scientific assessment working group and lead editor of its first three reports
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

US admits responsibility for emissions to bring big polluters together

Hillary Clinton offers admission to ease obstacles towards reaching agreement at climate change summit in Copenhagen

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 April 2009 18.20 BST

The Obama administration issued a mea culpa today on America's role in causing climate change, in a move to get the major economies working together on a global warming treaty.
The admission by Hillary Clinton at a two-day meeting of the world's biggest polluters was intended to ease some of the obstacles towards a deal at UN talks in Copenhagen in December. She placed the gathering of officials from 17 countries, the European Union and the United Nations on a par with the G20 meeting on the economic crisis earlier this month.
As the secretary of state opened the meeting, the Greenpeace US executive director, Phil Radford, was arrested in his first day in the job. He and six other climbers unfurled a banner from a construction crane near the state department with a message for the environment ministers: "Stop Global Warming. Rescue the Planet." Radford called for the industrialised world to commit to deeper cuts in emissions and provide assistance to developing countries.
Clinton addressed the complaints of developing countries such as India and China that America and the EU, by demanding binding emissions cuts, want to saddle them with the burden of climate change; they argue they did not cause the problem and must prioritise growth. She said the US recognised industrialised countries bore a responsibility: "Some countries like mine are responsible for past emissions." She wanted China and India to grow their economies: "We want people to have a higher standard of living."
Obama had broken with eight years of denial under George Bush, Clinton said. "The United States is fully engaged and ready to lead and determined to make up for lost time both at home and abroad … the US is no longer absent without leave."
She saw climate change as the gravest problem facing the international community: "The facts on the ground are outstripping the worst case scenario models."
Diplomats see the gathering of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European commission, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Britain, the United States, Denmark and the UN as an important ­station on the road to Copenhagen.
The two-day meeting – one of three such before December – is not expected to produce definitive agreements. But diplomats hope to get a clearer idea of how countries are prepared to act. There is also hope of establishing negotiations on financial aid and technological assistance to developing countries which will bear the brunt of global warming.
In almost 100 days in office, Obama has worked to persuade the world he wants to play a leadership role on climate change. Clinton emphasised that progress, noting directives by Obama, and US rulings designating CO2 as a pollutant.

Arctic CO2 levels growing at an 'unprecedented rate', say scientists

Figures from a measuring station in northern Norway show that CO2 levels are increasing by 2-3 parts per million every year

John Vidal in Ny Alesund, Svalbard
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 April 2009 16.56 BST

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached a record high, according to the latest figures released by an internationally regarded measuring station in the Arctic.
The measurements suggest that the main greenhouse gas is continuing to increase in the atmosphere at an alarming rate despite the downturn in dip in the rate of increase of the global economy.
Levels of the gas at the Zeppelin research station on Svalbard, northern Norway, last week peaked at over 397 parts per million (ppm), an increase of more than 2.5ppm on 2008. They have since begun to reduce and today stand at 393.7ppm. Prior to the industrial revolution, CO2 levels were around 280ppm.
CO2 levels recorded in Svalbard tend to be higher than the global average, but scientists said the CO2 level they had measured was unprecedented even for that location. "These are the highest figures collected in 50m years," said Johan Strom, professor of atmospheric physics at the government-funded Norwegian Polar Institute, which collected the data.
"It is not the level of CO2 that is the problem, because the earth will adapt. What is very worrying is the speed of change. Levels [here] are now increasing 2-3ppm a year.
"The rate of increase is much faster than only 10-20 years ago. You can almost see the changes taking place. Never before have CO2 levels increased so fast," he said.
The global annual mean growth rate for 2007 was 2.14ppm – the fourth year in the past six to see an annual rise greater than 2ppm. From 1970 to 2000, the concentration rose by about 1.5ppm each year, but since 2000 it has risen to an average 2.1ppm.
"There can be week-to-week or day-to-day variability," said Thomas Conway, research chemist at US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Earth Systems research lab in Boulder, Colorado. But he said a 2.5ppm annual increase was "on the high end".
"This is part of an overall pattern of CO2 increasing in the atmosphere. Unless the burning of fossil fuels decreases, then the CO2 will not decrease. And if the rate of fossil fuel burning increases, so will the rate of CO2 increases," he added.
"These are quite large numbers. It sounds like this is an Arctic phenomenon," said Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter. "It fits with the general increase in emissions. You would expect the concentrations of CO2 to grow."
Last week, NOAA released preliminary figures for its annual greenhouse gas index, which incorporates data from 60 sites around the world – including Zeppelin. Total global CO2 concentration topped 386ppm. In 2008 the global average increased by 2.1ppm, slightly less than the 2.2ppm increase in 2007. NOAA's primary CO2 measurement station is Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
CO2 levels are typically higher in the Arctic than the global average because there is more landmass and human activity in the northern hemisphere. As a result, human emissions from factories and transport tend to lead to higher CO2 levels here.
The figures will concern policy-makers ahead of global talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in December. Climate scientists advise that the world must prevent CO2 levels from rising higher than around 450ppm CO2 equivalent (a measure of global warming potential that incorporates other gasses such as methane and is higher than the measured CO2 levels) to avoid a 2C increase on preindustrial global average temperature.
The Zeppelin research station is situated on a mountain top approximately 1100km from the North Pole. The closest town, Ny Alesund, is the northernmost human settlement in the world, mainly inhabited by research scientists. Although the research station is far from major sources of human pollution, atmospheric circulation brings air from Europe and North America into the Arctic region.
"There is less human influence here and most of the pollution comes straight here at this time of the year. From now on levels will reduce until the end of August when they will pick back up," said Strom.
"It is clearly the effect of human activity. Even if we stopped emitting now, we would have to live with this ... we will have to live with it for thousands of years, but that does not mean we should do nothing."
The figures come as Al Gore hosts a conference in Tromso, northern Norway, on melting arctic ice. Last week he told the US senate committee on energy and commerce that the arctic is now melting at an "unprecedented" rate.
"The most recent 11 summers have all experienced melting greater than the average 35 year time series," he said.
He is expected to warn ministers in polar regions that the arctic ice cap may totally disappear in as little as five years if nothing is done to curb greenhouse emissions.
Earlier this month, US scientists reported that annually forming sea in the Arctic region covered roughly the same area as in previous years, but had significantly thinned.

Climate Change to Hurt Southeast Asia


BANGKOK -- Economic damage from climate change will hit Southeast Asia harder than other regions and seriously jeopardize production of rice, the world's most important food crop, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank.
A Filipino farmer in North Cotabato province inspects his rice farm after it was damaged by floods and pests, a recipe for a failed harvest. The ADB says climate change could seriously jeopardize rice production in Southeast Asia.
The report, released Monday in Bangkok, found that the total cost of lost agricultural production and other negative impacts from climate change would be equivalent to as much as 6.7% of gross domestic product in major Southeast Asian countries by the end of this century, more than double the 2.6% loss estimated for the world as a whole.
It also found that rice yields would decline by as much as 34% in Indonesia and 75% in the Philippines, while Thailand and Vietnam, among the world's biggest exporters of the food, would also experience declines.
Southeast Asia "will have to do something" to offset those losses, including making new investments to maintain agricultural production, says Juzhong Zhuang, an economist at the ADB.
The vulnerability of Southeast Asia stems largely from its geography, which includes the vast archipelago of Indonesia and other low-lying nations such as Thailand and Vietnam with long coastlines. Some 80% of the region's population and much of its economic activity are within 100 kilometers of the coast, the ADB said. Southeast Asia's economy also relies heavily on agriculture and forestry, both of which may be affected significantly by changing weather patterns.
Economists and scientists are still debating how emissions will affect climate in Asia, though generally they agree that weather patterns should become more volatile. The ADB, for its part, said it believes Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia will experience drier weather over the next several decades, with that pattern possibly reversing later in the century.
Annual mean temperatures in those countries and the Philippines could rise by as much as 4.8 degrees Celsius by 2100 compared with 1990 levels, while sea levels could increase by 70 centimeters.
Those changes, especially the higher temperatures and a rising incidence of storms, could combine to cut rice yields and otherwise damage crops, the ADB said.
In debates on global climate change, Southeast Asia has traditionally received less scrutiny than other areas because it remains a relatively small contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions, accounting for about 12% of the world's total. But the region's role as a key supplier of rice and other agricultural commodities means any negative impact on farming could have big ripple effects, driving food prices higher.
Indeed, the ADB report is only the latest in a series of papers arguing that climate changes related to emissions will reduce world food production. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has warned of increased risk of crop failures from floods and other weather changes, as well as the emergence of new pests and diseases that only flourish at specific temperatures and humidity.
Some agricultural experts believe Southeast Asia still has room to expand production of rice and other crops, especially in parts of Cambodia and Laos that have traditionally had low yields, but could be lifted by more investment in irrigation and better seed varieties. Rice prices have fallen dramatically this year after spiking in 2008, in part because some countries, including Indonesia, already have boosted production.
But many economists believe those gains will be hard to sustain in the long run without billions of dollars in new spending on farming infrastructure, and many fear a new surge in food prices could occur once the world economy recovers from its current recession and consumer demand accelerates.
Smith Dharmasaroja, a Thai meteorologist and climate-change expert, said rice farmers might be able to mitigate some damage from weather changes by improving water storage to capture more rain during wet seasons. But there will still "definitely" be a decrease in rice production as summers become hotter, he said.
Write to Patrick Barta at patrick.barta@wsj.com and Leigh Murray at leigh.murray@dowjones.com