Monday, 25 May 2009

Open day for green energy

Published Date: 25 May 2009

SCOTS will have the chance to visit green energy schemes, from wind farms to hydro plants, during a festival next month.
For the first time, energy projects across Scotland will open their doors to the general public. About 20 projects are taking part in the Scottish Renewables Festival 2009, on 13 and 14 June.They include Burradale wind farm in Shetland, which has one of the country's most productive turbines, and Ben Cruachan hydro power plant in Argyll.Jason Ormiston, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: "Festival goers will be able to see large and small renewable energy technologies and perhaps be inspired to get involved and do their own thing to help tackle climate change."• For more information visit


Published: May 24 2009 19:16

Silicon had its day in the sun but is now turning into just another commodity, roiling the solar power industry. Being the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust would have left it this way from the outset were it not for the shortage of plants to turn it into polysilicon of 99.999999999 per cent purity for semiconductors. Before solar power saw a renaissance a few years ago, it could live on that industry’s castoffs (a mere six decimal places pure), but a building boom in new plants to build wafers specifically for solar panels has sent spot prices tumbling. Polysilicon was below $10 a kilo about the time of the technology bust early this decade. It surged to about $400-$450 on the spot market last year and recently descended to $110. Analysts at iSuppli think it is headed to $40 by 2010 – about the cash cost of production.
Price fluctuations harm the competitive position of solar panel makers such as Energy Conversion Devices and First Solar, which were booming thanks to technologies using non-silicon alternatives as others struggled with shortages. Big makers of traditional panels such as Q-Cells and Sunpower, which previously had trouble securing raw materials, now have an abundance of supply.

It is a shame about demand though. After growing by a compound 45 per cent rate since 2000, Navigant Consulting reckons world solar panel demand will fall by a fifth in 2009. The culprit is a lack of project finance and retrenchment in Spanish and German subsidies that outweighs extension of US tax credits. Cheap polysilicon helps but margins are still narrowing as customers exploit weak demand. Even so, the glut of raw material is a watershed for the industry, giving it secure, standardised supply and allowing it to focus on the government subsidies that make solar viable. That seems quite enough to worry about.

Whitelee's wind of change merely heralds stormy debate

The Times
May 25, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

On a barren hillside outside Glasgow, dozens of wind turbines are spinning in the breeze as Britain's largest onshore wind park starts to generate electricity.
With 140 turbines producing enough power to supply tens of thousands of homes, it is among the largest and most vivid symbols of the Government's drive to replace Britain's collection of ageing coal, gas and oil-fired power stations with a cleaner, greener alternative.
But this effort to transform Britain's energy industry, which is being propelled by tough new emissions rules and by the sheer decrepitude of much of the network, does not come cheap and has profound implications for consumers.
The site, at Whitelee on Eaglesham Moor, has cost ScottishPower, its developer, £300 million, but this is a tiny fraction of what will be required to upgrade Britain's power network. According to Ernst & Young, the total cost of doing so and meeting tough targets to cut carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 will be no less than £233.5 billion. Although some of that burden is likely to be shared with power companies, the figure, divided among the UK's 26million households, implies a total bill of up to £8,977 each — or £598 a year for the next 15 years.

Tony Ward, power and utilities partner at Ernst & Young, said that about half of the total, or £112 billion, will need to be spent building new supplies of renewable energy, including vast new offshore wind parks - each many times the size of Whitelee — as well as biomass-fired power stations, tidal and wave-energy projects.
Britain must also renew almost all of its ageing nuclear power plants, which account for about 20 per cent of the country's electricity supply, a project that is expected to add £38.4 billion to the cost. A further £28 billion or so will have to be poured into the grid to build a transmission network capable of supporting new reactors and remote wind parks sited as far north as the Shetlands and in the North Sea. This excludes the cost of building new coal-fired stations equipped with carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), bolstering the UK's gas storage facilities, new gas-fired power plants and a rollout of “smart meters” in every home and business in the country.
Steve Holliday, chief executive of National Grid, whose company will be at the centre of this effort, said: “It's very clear from the renewables and new nuclear stations being planned that there is going to be a need for a substantial increase in investment to build a modern, 21st-century grid.”
He expects National Grid alone to spend up to £5 billion a year from 2012 and he is already drawing up plans for a network of seabed cables feeding renewable electricity from Scotland to consumers in the South, as well as sweeping reinforcements to conventional high-voltage lines that criss-cross the country.
Craig Lowrey, director of markets for EIC, the energy consultancy, said: “These are massive investments — we are talking about potentially the biggest investment programme in Britain's history. But if the Government is serious about meeting its emissions targets, it needs to make people understand the true scale of these costs.”
Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish & Southern Energy, Britain's second-largest utility, takes a similar view: “In the long term, the unit price of energy is going to have to go up significantly. We are going to have to produce energy in a greener and more secure way and that will cost money.”
Ernst & Young's figures might underestimate the total expense because they do not include regular maintenance costs, Mr Marchant said, suggesting that a figure of £300 billion could be closer to the mark. However, he is optimistic that dramatic improvements in energy efficiency could mean that consumer bills will remain stable or even fall in the long term.
The fear is that in Britain's liberalised energy market this tidal wave of required investment simply will not materialise.
Dr Lowrey believes that, under its current structure — which relies on market forces plus consumer-funded incentives designed to boost investment in renewable energy — the scale of investment needed is unlikely either to meet expectations or to be allocated in the way that the Government or society wants. It is a concern that has been compounded in recent months by a collapse in funding that has accompanied the credit crunch and the plunging value of the pound, forcing up the cost of imported power-generating equipment.
The falling prices of oil, coal and gas have also undermined the economic rationale of many investments in more costly, alternative forms of energy. “There is a need for greater intervention to make this investment a reality,” Dr Lowrey said. “We need a guiding hand from government.”

US 'will not speed up emissions cuts'

The top US negotiator on climate change policy has said that domestic politics will not allow Washington to deepen its commitment to cutting carbon pollution over the next decade.

By Our Foreign Staff and Agencies in Paris Last Updated: 11:03PM BST 24 May 2009
Speaking before a two-day meeting on climate change to be attended by ministers from the world's most powerful economies, Todd Stern issued his warning despite growing international pressure. He also rejected China's call for rich nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent before 2020, compared to 1990 levels.
"We are jumping as high as the political system will tolerate," said Mr Stern, the US Special Envoy for Climate Change, in an interview with AFP.

"The 40 per cent the Chinese have talked about is not realistic."
Steven Chu, President Barack Obama's new energy secretary, has already faced criticism for taking decisions which appear to fall short of the expectations environmentalists had of the new White House.
The gathering this week will involve preliminary talks before a summit of the members of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) in July, which is expected to take place after G8 leaders meet in Italy.
Mr Obama proposes to cut US emissions by about six per cent by 2020, and by at least 80 per cent before the middle of the century.
Climate legislation wending its way through the US Congress would meet both these goals, and perhaps more, if unchanged.
But in the run up to United Nations talks in Copenhagen in December charged with delivering a new global climate deal, developing countries such as China and India have said that this is not enough.
Meanwhile, Al Gore, the former US vice president turned climate campaigner, told business and political leaders on Sunday that the world was running out of time to reach a deal on how to fight global warming.
At the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Denmark, he said: "It's time to act now ... We have to do it this year, not next year. The clock is ticking because Mother Nature does not do bailouts.
"To save the future, we have everything we need except the political will."

Climate change summit hijacked by biggest polluters, critics claim

• Shell could help shape post-Kyoto agenda• Majority of attending firms want 'business as usual'

Terry Macalister, Sunday 24 May 2009 20.25 BST

A vital meeting in Copenhagen this weekend that will help shape the agenda for the most important climate change talks since the Kyoto protocol has been hijacked by some of the biggest polluters in the world, critics claimed today.
Among those attending the World ­Business Summit on Climate Change is Shell, which has just been named by environmentalists on the basis of new research as "the most carbon-intensive oil company in the world".
There is concern that the big energy companies will be pushing carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a way of keeping the oil-based economy running.
At the meeting yesterday, the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and Nobel prize winner Al Gore urged more than 500 business leaders – including the chief executives of PepsiCo, Nestlé and BP – to lend their corporate muscle to reaching a global deal on reducing greenhouse gases.
Despite the global financial crisis, Ban and Gore said there could be no delay in hashing out the specifics of how to cut greenhouse gases.
"We have to do it this year. Not next year – this year," Gore said. "The clock is ticking, because Mother Nature does not do bailouts."
The access available to Shell, Duke Energy and other companies to meet climate change negotiators from the United Nations, China and elsewhere in Copenhagen was condemned last night by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) campaign group.
"The Danish government appears to be under the impression that some of the world's most polluting companies are going to put forward tough measures to tackle climate change," said Kenneth Haar, a researcher with CEO. "But unfortunately this doesn't seem likely to be the case. The majority of the corporations attending the World Business Summit on Climate Change seem more intent on pursuing business as usual – with the promise that future technologies will resolve the problem at a later date.
"Corporate lobbyists have been trying to influence the UN climate talks from the start. But now they are being invited to set the agenda before the negotiators have even sat down. If their demands are listened to, we might as well give up the fight against climate change now."
Six of the companies involved in the summit have been nominated for Climate Greenwash Awards because of their failure to live up to their PR spin on tackling climate change.
Shell is almost solely focused on CCS as a mechanism for tackling climate change, sources at the company say, although most independent advisers believe CCS, which has still not proved itself to be commercially or technologically possible on a large scale, will not be ready until 2020 at the earliest. Yet the talks this weekend and the formal climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December are geared to tackling global warming from 2012 – when the Kyoto Protocol runs out – to 2020.
Shell has been described by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth as the most polluting oil company in the world because it is allegedly the most carbon-intensive producer. This is because of its commitment to Canadian tar sands, liquefied natural gas and flaring off gas in oil production.
Shell denies the charges. The company insists its tar sands production is only 15% more carbon intensive on a well-to-wheels basis and says it has always played a constructive role in climate-change issues. A Shell spokesman said: "We are an advocate of cap-and-trade schemes and are doing what we can to increase our efficiency and reduce our relative carbon output."
But a report, Irresponsible Energy, produced by Greenpeace and others, concludes: "Using ever greater quantities of energy to produce billions of barrels of otherwise inaccessible oil appears to be a strategy for disaster. It appears, however, Shell's strategy."
In his address yesterday, Ban said: "Continuing to pour trillions of dollars into fossil-fuel subsidies is like investing in sub-prime real estate. Our carbon-based infrastructure is like a toxic asset that threatens the portfolio of global goods, from public health to food security."
Anders Eldrup, chief executive of Danish state-controlled oil and gas group Dong Energy, said businesses faced a big choice. "There are two tracks being discussed now, one a tax on CO2 and a cap and trade [the trading of permits by businesses]," he said, leaning towards the carbon tax. Cap and trade calls for governments to issue pollution allowances, or permits, to businesses that can be traded on the open market.
However, Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy, told the Associated Press the most workable solution would be global limits on the pollution blamed for global warming, rather than an outright tax on carbon dioxide and other major industrial warming gases.

UN calls on business to create green economy

The Times
May 25, 2009
David Robertson

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, has called on the world's leading businesses to help to “retool the economy into one that is cleaner, greener and more sustainable”.
More than 500 business leaders met in Copenhagen yesterday to discuss the threat posed by climate change. Later in the year a United Nations summit is expected to draw up plans for a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, which is due to lapse in 2012.
The chief executives of companies such as BP, Intel, Pepsico, Nestlé, Ericsson and China Mobile met to discuss a range of issues, including “shaping the green economy”.
Mr Ban, who opened the conference, told delegates: “I want to see you in the vanguard of an unprecedented effort to retool the global economy into one that is cleaner, greener and more sustainable. We must harness the necessary political will to seal the deal on an ambitious new climate agreement in December.

“Continuing to pour trillions of dollars into fossil-fuel subsidies is like investing in sub-prime real estate. Our carbon-based infrastructure is like a toxic asset that threatens the portfolio of global goods, from public health to food security.”
Al Gore, the former vice-president of the United States, called on business leaders not to stand in the way of cutting carbon emissions. He said: “The business community and the leaders of the world must go together to safeguard the world. It's time to act now. We have to do it this year, not next year. Every nation, every business leader has a role to play in order to ensure a good and real deal in Copenhagen.”
The UN hopes to agree a successor to Kyoto at the Copenhagen meeting in December. This is expected to call for large reductions in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.
The European Union has already committed to cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 but will raise the target to 30 per cent if other nations agree to a similar target.
Delegates discussed a range of issues, including how to create a sustainable global economy and the government policies needed to stimulate low-carbon growth. The conference will continue for the next two days.

Striking a balance between urgency, climate change and energy security

The Times
May 25, 2009

Robin Pagnamenta: Analysis

Britain's power infrastructure is on the brink of what may be its biggest transformation. Underinvestment in the network for decades mean that a big overhaul is long overdue, but the changes are being accelerated by a string of other influences.
Tough new European Union pollution rules mean that nine of Britain's biggest coal and oil-fired power stations are due to be retired from service in 2015, while a string of other ageing nuclear stations built in the 1960s and 1970s are being decommissioned at the same time. Together, these plants represent about 25 per cent of UK power-generating capacity. They are the steady workhorses of Britain's energy system that have churned out heat and light to millions of homes for decades.
To avoid future supply disruptions and blackouts, they need to be replaced urgently — yet in an era of growing alarm over climate change and energy security, there is much debate over what should take their place. The industry has pledged to build a fleet of new nuclear power stations, but the first of these will not be ready before 2017, at the earliest.
At the same time, Britain has signed up to an ambitious EU plan to generate 35 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy, such as wind and wave power, by 2020 — a dramatic increase from today's figure of less than 5per cent.
Many in the industry doubt that this target is achievable, given the funding and planning wrangles faced by the wind developers and the complexity of linking schemes to the National Grid. Nevertheless, the Government is pushing hard for as many of these schemes to be built as possible.
Meanwhile, a host of new gas-fired power stations is also on the way. The share of Britain's electricity produced by burning gas has already risen from 2 per cent in 1992 to 35 per cent. The figure is expected to rise further, with gas-fired plants under construction at Pembroke in West Wales, the Isle of Grain in Kent and Langage, outside Plymouth.
Cheap and relatively quick to build, they may emit carbon but tend not to stoke the public ire against new coal plants. However, they do raise other problems. With domestic supplies of North Sea gas being depleted fast, the UK is becoming increasingly reliant on imports of the fuel from countries such as Russia, Qatar and Algeria, a trend that has raised concern about UK energy security.

Pollution Politics and the Climate-Bill Giveaway


President Barack Obama was emphatic during his campaign and after his election: The best way to fight climate change is to cap carbon emissions and auction off tradable permits to emit carbon.
"If you're giving away carbon permits for free, then basically you're not really pricing the thing and it doesn't work -- or people can game the system in so many ways that it's not creating the incentive structures that we're looking for," he told the Business Roundtable in March.

His budget director, Peter Orszag, was blunter: "If you didn't auction the permit, it would represent the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States," he told the House Budget Committee in March.
This past week, Rep. Henry Waxman's House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a climate-change bill that gives away 85% of the emission permits until 2026. President Obama applauded, calling the bill "a historic leap."
The point of climate-change legislation is to raise the price of activities that emit carbon so consumers and businesses engage in fewer of them, and favor alternatives that contribute less to climate change. Taxing carbon is one way to do that, but it's unpopular.

Cap-and-trade became the politicians' favorite alternative because it accomplished what a carbon tax would, without an explicit tax. Auctioning off the permits, economists advised, was the most efficient way to allocate the rights; steer at least some of the money raised toward research and development and to compensate lower-income consumers for higher energy prices.
Republicans called that "a light-switch tax." Democratic old-timers warned about being "BTU'd," a reference to President Bill Clinton's ill-fated energy tax. Support for auctioning permits evaporated. Under the House bill, only 15% of the emission permits will be auctioned initially.
The rest of the permits will be given away -- 2% to oil refiners, 5% to free-standing "merchant" coal plants, 9% to regulated natural-gas distributors, and so on. Permits are valuable; recipients can sell them if they don't need them.
Orszag on the Bill
White House budget director Peter Orszag, House Budget Committee, March 3, 2009:
QUESTION: [L]et me turn to the issue you were just discussing about global warming, because I believe that the vote that we will take on this budget resolution will be the first major test of our commitment here in Congress to support President Obama in implementing an effective cap and trade or cap and invest system to place the carbon -- a price on carbon pollution, and transition to an economy that is both more energy independent are more carbon independent.
Like the testimony, the hearing that you participated in over in the Ways and Means Committee with us last September, we had another hearing on this subject in Ways and Means last week. And unfortunately the Republican reaction ranged from many old fashioned global warming deniers to those who aggressively attack any role for government regulation. I would like you to explain if you would, why you and our president recommend auctioning 100 percent of pollution allowances rather than just giving away pollute free cards to the polluters.
I believe that the revenues that you've included, and I think it's conservative; it's kind of the bottom end of the revenues through 2019 in this budget outline, is about $650 billion. How is it that the American people are better served by auctioning the revenue instead of just returning the value to the polluters who created the problem?
Peter Orszag: The reason is that if you didn't auction the permit, it would represent the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States. In particular, all of the evidence suggests that what would occur is the corporate profits would increase by approximately the value of the permit.
So that -- whatever that is, $600 billion, $800 billion, whatever the value is, would go in a sense almost directly into corporate profits rather than being available to fund energy efficiency investments and to provide a cushion or some compensation to American households.
That is why the president, I think, has made absolutely the right choice in saying that the permit should be auctioned.
As Europe's experiment with cap-and-trade demonstrated, giving away permits can fatten polluters' profits without protecting consumers from higher prices.
"How one gives them away, what restrictions are on that gift, makes all the difference in the world for the economic effects," said Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office. In other words, Congress will put strings on the gifts. And then things get complicated.
Giving away allowances yields windfall profits -- unless the government controls prices, as it does with electric utilities. The bill gives 30% of the permits to utilities that buy electricity from power plants and then sell that power to consumers. Congress is counting on state regulators to make utilities pass the benefits of free emission permits along to consumers.
That eliminates the windfall-profits problem, but creates another one.
Remember, if electricity prices don't rise, households won't conserve and carbon emissions won't be reduced. So emissions elsewhere in the economy will have to be reduced to meet the national cap on carbon. How? By boosting prices for carbon-heavy activities besides electricity production. Can you say "gasoline"?
Waxman defenders hope state regulators will allow electricity prices to rise so people use less, and then give a quarterly or annual rebate. But Robert Stavins, a Harvard University economist, warns: "The political instinct is not to compensate, but to insulate consumers" from price increases. That's a mistake.
Unregulated industries are different. Producers will charge what the market will bear, whether they pay for permits or get them for nothing. Congress, for good reason, worried about boosting the costs for American factories that compete with factories in countries that don't require producers to buy emission permits. The Waxman bill gives such producers 15% of the permits, and more permits if they increase production in the U.S. That reduces the temptation to move production abroad but blunts the incentive to reduce pollution.
White House Statement
On Waxman-Markey bill, May 22, 2009:
"Coupled with the announcement about setting a new national policy to both increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas pollution, the legislation that passed out of House Energy and Commerce Committee is a historic leap towards providing clean energy incentives that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create millions of new jobs all across America. The President has been clear that if there are disparate impacts on consumers and business during the transition period, they should be compensated. Make no mistake – this bill sets aggressive emissions reductions targets and provides for a program that invests in the technologies needed to bring about a clean energy future."
Among the arguments for giving away permits, two have merit. One, allocation rules can be crafted to award free permits to protect parts of the country that otherwise would see very steep increases in energy prices from a carbon cap, such as those that rely on coal. Two, this approach may be the only politically possible way to get any cap on carbon emissions through Congress.
But there's another rub: Without the auctions, there isn't any revenue. Mr. Obama's budget proposal projected more than $75 billion a year from the auction, much of which was supposed to go to his "making work pay" tax break.
The U.S. government entered the recession with promises to pay health-care and retirement benefits far greater than its anticipated revenue. It's now borrowing heavily to resuscitate the economy and rehabilitate the financial system.
The deficit is tolerable now because the recession is so deep and foreigners so willing to lend to the U.S. at low rates. But at some point, like it or not, the federal government will need more revenue. Giving away emission permits instead of auctioning them crosses one big potential source of revenue off the list.
Write to David Wessel at

Green pioneers brigade: Shai Agassi

Sunday Times
May 24, 2009
John Arlidge

SHAI AGASSI travelled halfway round the world to change a battery last week. He flew from his home in San Francisco to watch a platform scuttle along a set of metal rails, stop at an electric car, remove the vehicle’s old battery and replace it with a new one. As the metallic ballet played out, Agassi beamed.
It seemed a long way to travel for so little, but what happened in Yokohama was the culmination of a five-year ambition that might change the way we think about our cars and much else besides.
Certainly Time magazine thinks so. It recently named Agassi — a fast-talking 41-year-old with a line in snazzy suits and Prada loafers — one of the 100 most influential people on the planet. He is “the Steve Jobs of green technology — visionary, technologist, businessman”, the magazine said.
Why the fuss? Agassi is the force behind Better Place, a clean-transport company. His big idea is to kick-start the global adoption of electric cars by minimising one of the biggest frustrations with the technology: the need for slow and frequent recharges.
The robot he went to see in Yokohama is the key to his solution. The Japanese carmaker Nissan is his partner and provided a locally made electric 4x4 for the test.
Better Place and Nissan have designed a car with a removable battery. You drive into a switching station, turn off the motor and wait 45 seconds while the robot grabs the depleted battery from the underside of the car and installs a fully-charged one.
Denmark, Israel, Hawaii, districts of Australia and San Francisco’s Bay Area have agreed to build a network of battery-switching stations. Traditional “plug-in-from-the-mains” charge points will be available at homes and offices.
As well as the prototype Nissan Qashqai SUV, Renault will soon launch a saloon car based on the Mégane.
To counter criticism that electric cars “run on coal” because the electricity used to charge their batteries is generated by coal-burning power stations, Better Place will buy green energy from solar and wind generators.
It will then sell drivers “clean” pay-as-you-go miles — £150 for 1,000 miles, say, £300 for 3,000 miles, and a few hundred pounds a month for unlimited driving.
“Soon there will be countries and cities where you will be able to drive your car all day without producing any carbon dioxide at all or having any impact on the environment,” Agassi claims.
His belief has convinced backers to invest £200m — one of the largest start-up financings in history.
Renault/Nissan has committed a further £200m to building cars with removable batteries and Agassi is hoping to sign a deal to bring the technology to London. He has met Boris Johnson and describes the London mayor as “the kind of person who says ‘we gotta do something’.”
It would be easy to dismiss Agassi as just another Californian dreamer. He is anything but. He has been in business since he was a teenager when, instead of chasing girls, he was dreaming of designing software. Soon after his 14th birthday, he did his first deal, persuading his father to buy him an Apple IIe by promising him 10% of his “lifetime profits” from writing software.
It turned out to be an excellent deal: at 21, Agassi founded Top Tier Software, selling it nine years later to SAP, the German software giant, for £300m. Three more start-ups followed and by the time he was 33 he had made enough to retire.
In those days, Agassi didn’t regard himself as an environmentalist. He used to drive a souped-up Mercedes E-Class AMG, the kind of car that does gallons to the mile, not miles to the gallon. In 2005, however, he attended the World Economic Forum at Davos where delegates discussed the question “How would you make the world a better place?” His answer was: by ending the world’s addiction to oil.
Only electric vehicles can do this, he claims. Hybrids are “meaningless” half-measures because they, for now at least, require a petrol or diesel engine. Alternative fuels such as hydrogen and natural gas aren’t going to be readily available in the near future, if at all — he loftily dismisses Honda’s new FCX Clarity hydrogen car as “the fantasy-mobile”. But he still had to solve the problem of refuelling — hence the swappable battery.
His venture, though, is not entirely altruistic. Powering a car by electricity costs much less than powering it by petrol or diesel: usually about 1p a mile, compared with 16p for a petrol car. With the American market for petrol worth $275 billion (£173 billion), Agassi believes the company controlling charging stations will become wildly profitable.
Of course, there are dozens of obstacles. He has only one carmaker — Renault/Nissan — on board. Others, including the world’s biggest carmaker, Toyota, reject his scheme as unworkable. Even if some other manufacturers do sign up, he has to prove his system will work with dozens of different sizes and shapes of battery.
Creating the network of charge points and battery- switching stations may be cheaper than building petrol stations but it still requires huge investment from, most probably, governments, many of which are unwilling to invest in such a revolutionary scheme. And while the technology may be suitable for a city or a small country, it seems unlikely that it would work for a large nation such as America, which creates the most car pollution in the world.
Agassi, though, is undeterred. He has the zeal of a man who has succeeded in everything he has done and is damned if he is going to let a few local difficulties get in his way. “Some people say I’m missing the fear gene,” he joked.
One nagging question remains. What does he drive? Is there any car green enough? No, as it turns out. But he has come up with a solution. “I have two electric cars, both Toyota RAV4 EVs. You can’t buy them — they don’t make them any more — but I got hold of a couple and converted them.” It’s his way.
Chairs made from old luggage
YOU may have spent some time sitting on your suitcase in airport queues, but not like this.
Maybe Design, a firm based in Austria, has created a new line of chairs made out of discarded bags and suitcases. The hard shell serves as the backing and bottom and is filled with padding. The least imaginative part is the name: the Sit Bag.
For more details go to

Can I make money out of being green?

You'll earn plenty of credit going green, but what about cold, hard cash? Lucy Siegle looks at your eco economics

Lucy Siegle
The Observer, Sunday 24 May 2009

Unless you are excessively A-list, you can rule out selling the contents of your bin. Recycling can pay, depending on materials, but it pays reprocessors and not consumers. Such is the ubiquity of e-waste (electrical and electronic equipment) that most of us now consider ourselves lucky if we get a manufacturer to recycle discarded fax machines or computers for free when we buy a new model (they are required to do this by law, but some still charge).
However, if you look hard you can still make money out of e-waste. If the piece in question is still a reasonable bit of kit, try, where you'll get a cut of the proceeds. Alternatively, some manufacturers offer incentives or gift cards for old appliances: Apple will give you a 10% discount on the purchase of a new iPod and Hewlett-Packard offers a number of rebates (
If Britain had a container-deposit scheme you could generate some extra income returning other people's empties, as in South Australia, New York or Denmark. You would hardly clean up, but strikingly, litter rates in New York declined by 30% when a deposit scheme was introduced. Also, in parts of the US, the Consumer Powerline, a "demand response" scheme, pays electricity users to turn off their lights during peak energy time to avoid overloading the grid.
The nearest comparable project here is probably Economy 7, where you're rewarded for using off-peak energy with favourable rates. Otherwise, British attempts to make power pay still revolve around microgeneration (creating power on a small scale) and selling it back to the grid. Sometimes this works. I came across a couple last week on a suburban estate in the southwest using second-hand solar photovoltaics, selling a worthwhile amount of energy back to the grid. Several energy companies offer tariffs, but the sticking point tends to be the cost of installing equipment in the first place, as the payback period is so long. features a spirited piece on refashioning broken panels, which is a cheaper means of joining the very slow renewables revolution. It is too soon to evaluate EDF's new Eco Renew product, but it does seem to offer "low-carbon" technologies, such as solar panels, at more competitive rates (
We Brits are better at indirect eco earning, with the balance going to charity, as evidenced by the hundreds of mobile-phone recycling link-ups with charities. If altruism is in short supply then and will make you a cash offer for old phones. Meanwhile, M&S's Clothing Exchange programme is a goodwill/mercantile hybrid. You can bring any old M&S clothes to one of Oxfam's 700 shops in exchange for a £5 M&S voucher ( So yes, you can make green pay, but it's not easy money.

Recycling revolution begins in blood and guts

The Sunday Times
May 24, 2009

A power station that can run on rotting food? Danny Fortson discovers it’s an idea not to be sniffed at

Darren Renshall can’t help himself. As he approaches a spigot amid the din coming from a maze of pipes, he smiles, pulls the lever and out slops a pile of foul-smelling black sludge.
The odour is revolting. But the engineer doesn’t seem to care. He is clearly excited about the muck, which is piling up like a mound of mashed potato on the floor. It is what makes this power station, in Widnes on the Mersey, like no other. Instead of using coal or gas to generate electricity, this plant runs, quite literally, on blood and guts, a cocktail of the food industry’s leftovers. The “fuel” contains slaughterhouse bone and meat, mouldy bread, rotten fruit, old ready meals and fish entrails that “look like thousand island dressing”, said Renshall, who runs the plant.
Each day about 30 lorries bring all types of unwanted food and animal remains here, where it is mulched together in giant tanks to form a homogenous purée. It is then injected into boilers where it is incinerated at 1,000C. From that point, the plant works like any other power station, creating steam to power a turbine to generate electricity.
If you think it sounds disgusting, you’re right. But PDM, the company that owns the plant, has seen a surge in interest from supermarkets and slaughterhouses in its method of dealing with waste. Britain produces more than 12m tonnes of food waste a year and a government directive means that landfilling is quickly becoming too expensive. It is also bad for the environment because, as it breaks down, organic waste releases methane, which, as a greenhouse gas, is 22 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
Companies are well aware of both problems and that has led to a surge of interest in PDM, especially from retailers that are conscious of their “green image”.
By July, J Sainsbury has pledged to cut to zero the 70,000 tonnes of food waste — about the weight of the Titanic — that it once sent to landfill each year.
Much of what once would have been buried is now fed into the furnaces at Widnes. Tesco, Wm Morrison, Asda, the Environment Agency and the drugs giant Novartis (which sends the residue of eggs it uses to grow flu vaccines) are also clients. “Whatever they bring, we’ll burn it,” said Renshall proudly.
The Widnes site is one of 23 operated by PDM, a family firm that traces its roots to the 1920s when Prosper De Mulder, a Belgian refugee, opened a cheese and bacon stall near Crewe. Over the decades it branched out into the rendering of livestock and poultry waste. Today the Doncaster firm is the country’s largest food recycler, processing more than 1m tonnes a year.
The De Mulder family ranks 406th on the Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune of £130m. Prosper F De Mulder, 93, son of the founder, is still chairman. His son Anthony, 65, is managing director.
Most of PDM’s sites process food waste to make products for candles, pet food or bricks. Widnes is the only power plant but that is about to change as PDM hopes to cash in on what Philip Simpson, commercial services director, said is a “fundamental change in the way the food industry handles waste”.
PDM has signed a joint venture with one of the largest food recyclers in the world, Germany’s Saria BioIndustries, to build a network of food-collection centres and anaerobic digestors to process food that would otherwise be buried. “Before, the supermarkets only ever thought about doing it because it was green but now they are looking at it because of costs as well,” said Simpson.
Anaerobic digestors are steel tanks that act like stomachs by using enzymes in an oxygen-starved environment to break organic waste into methane gas, which can be burned to create electricity, and solid digestate that can be spread on land as fertiliser. The process is less energy intensive than incineration and qualifies for the government’s renewable obligation subsidy scheme, which makes it attractive financially.
However, anaerobic digestors are limited in what they can process, so PDM plans to build more so-called “wet-burn” facilities like the one at Widnes, which came about after the mad-cow disease epidemic of the late 1990s. That was when the government passed a law requiring the destruction of all cows over 30 months old and prohibited the use of animal proteins in livestock feed.
This fired PDM’s work on wet-burn technology, which uses a mix of organic matter that is about 60% moisture. Much of the process comes down to mixing whatever may come in the front end — bones, blood, milk, eggs — to create a homogenous purée to fuel a constant and predictable chemical process. Simpson said: “If it’s too wet, it will put out the fire. If it’s too dry, the combustion will be unstable.”
PDM later developed a facility to feed in other waste, such as ready meals and bread. Lorryloads are fed into a machine that separates out the packaging and grinds the food into a porridge-like mixture that is then fed into the rest of the system. The packaging, reduced to shreds of plastic, is sent to landfill but little else is wasted.
After more than 80 years of handling dead animals, PDM is adept at finding value where others prefer to look away. Holding up a jar of tallow and another of finely ground bone, Simpson made the point. “That and that plus water was a cow,” he said. “It has two-thirds the value in terms of energy. The potential is huge.”

Green must be serious when Goldman Sachs gets in on the act

Some really welcome news on the climate change front: the big guns of Goldman Sachs are being trained on the issue.
Goldman Sachs has set up a "Sustain" team to look at the consequences for investment. Its argument is that we are approaching a tipping point not so much in climate change (though we may be) but in investment perceptions of climate change. So it has examined 800 companies around the world, assessing them among other things, for the effectiveness of their response to the challenges.
In particular it has identified three categories of company: abatement leaders in carbon-intensive industries; adjustment leaders in less intensive industries; and solutions providers that have growth opportunities.
Some British companies feature high in the rankings. Centrica and BG Group are relatively high in the carbon-heavy group that are doing well in abating their impact. Among the adjustment leaders HSBC comes top of the banking category and Reed does well among the publishers. Not many British firms, however, can be found among the solutions providers: most of the main alternative energy companies are foreign.
For investors this research will be a useful checklist. If, for example, you want to invest in a particular sector, why not go for the "greener" companies? If you want to build a "green" portfolio, here is a ready-reckoner. But the real significance will be its influence on corporate behaviour, encouraging companies to take such issues more seriously.
The practical point is that by being "green", companies protect themselves against all sorts of attacks: consumer challenges; public relations problems; legal issues and so on. Most important of all, a good reputation for environmental behaviour makes a company more attractive to young, skilled staff. What graduate wants to admit working for a company with a bad environmental reputation?
Up until now "green" ratings have been pretty arbitrary, often carried out by lobbying organisations, and done without reference to investment performance. Goldman Sachs will help change all that.

America's new green guru sparks anger over climate change U-turns

President Obama's energy secretary, Nobel prize-winner Steven Chu, arrives in Europe this week to discuss global warming. But his recent policy decisions on coal-fired power stations and hydrogen cars have angered many environmentalists

Robin McKie in London and Ed Helmore in New York
The Observer, Sunday 24 May 2009

US energy secretary Steven Chu will fly to Europe this week to begin talks that will be crucial in the global battle against climate change. The 61-year-old physicist will hold key discussions with energy ministers from the G8 nations in Rome before travelling to London to take part in a debate with Nobel prize winners on global warming.
The arrival of Chu, himself a physics Nobel laureate, comes as the scientist-turned-politician finds himself attacked by environmentalists over decisions he has made about America's campaign to fight global warming. Green groups have accused him of being "contradictory and illogical" and of failing to demonstrate sufficient dynamism in establishing a new, low-carbon approach to transport and power-generation in the United States.
In recent weeks, Chu - who was appointed energy secretary by Barack Obama in December - has revealed that he is no longer willing to block the construction of new coal-powered electricity plants in the US, despite widespread opposition from green groups and having initially said that he would not permit their construction.
Environmental campaigners object vociferously to coal plants - which atmosphere scientist James Hansen, director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, recently labelled "factories of death" in an article he wrote for the Observer - because of their high carbon emissions.
In addition, Chu has called for a slowdown in the development of hydrogen-powered vehicles in the US and slashed funding for new projects by 60%. "We asked ourselves: is it likely in the next 10 or 15, or even 20, years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy?" Chu explained. "The answer, we felt, was no."
On top of these controversial pronouncements, Chu has eliminated funding for a project to build a nuclear waste store at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Instead of storage, he has backed the construction of fast neutron reactors that could burn long-lived waste. Such a move, which would require a major expansion of the US nuclear industry, has horrified ecology groups.
Yet most US eco-campaigners were overjoyed by Chu's appointment last year. They saw his arrival as the start of a new, enlightened approach to the issues of global warming and the environment. But recently many have been angered by Chu's actions, a point stressed by Damon Moglen from Greenpeace USA. "We are getting very concerned. Professor Chu is a good man and a good scientist, but the science on global warming is clear and he should be guided by the science not the politics," Moglen said. "It is out of the question that the US should agree new power stations for burning coal - the dirtiest fuel. Our targets on emissions are too low anyway - and there is no way we will meet even those low targets if we allow more coal to be burned."
For his part, Chu admits he was taken aback by his entry to Washington life. "I didn't appreciate how much of a public figure you become," he said. Chu is the youngest son in a high-achieving Chinese-immigrant family from New York. His father emigrated from China to study chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while his mother studied economics in China and at MIT. One brother is a professor of medicine and biochemistry at Stanford; the other is an intellectual property lawyer in Los Angeles.
Chu at first seemed a modest achiever - until his work at Stanford, where his research on cooling and trapping atoms with laser light earned him a Nobel prize. Even then his family seems to have been unimpressed; he told the New York Times, when asked if his parents had been excited about his award, "Probably, but who knows? I called my mother up when they announced the Nobel prize, waiting until seven in the morning. She said, 'That's nice - and when are you going to see me next?'"
However, Chu now faces a very different, and ultimately more critical, audience after being appointed energy secretary. At the time, he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, a civilian research organisation with 4,000 employees and a $600m annual budget.
His green views were well known at the time and Chu has argued that he is merely being pragmatic in making his recent pronouncement, and that he is still enthusiastically committed to the cause of cutting US carbon emissions. "As someone very concerned about climate I want to be as aggressive as possible but I also want to get started," he told the BBC. "And if we say we want something much more aggressive on the early timescales that would draw considerable opposition, and that would delay the process for several years."
As a result, Chu has been extremely careful in his statements. For example, solar power, he says, is still far too expensive to compete with conventional power plants. At the same time, he has been quick to outline plans for reducing carbon dioxide emissions through energy efficiencies. He estimates that better buildings could cut energy use in the US by roughly one-third, and that even modest changes in building stock could bring energy reductions of 10%. In other key measures, he supports the idea of replacing of the US electricity grid with a so-called "smart grid" that would aid small-scale generators, and is close to allocating $18.5bn in government loan guarantees for building the first new nuclear plants in four decades.
However, the real problem for the slight, softly spoken man is that America isolated itself over the issue of climate change for eight years under the presidency of George Bush. As a result, opposition to the idea of reducing carbon emissions has become entrenched. Obama has indicated he wants America to cut its greenhouse gas emissions significantly but has left it to Congress to pass the necessary legislation. However, the energy industry continues to lobby politicians fiercely and the forthcoming climate and energy bill faces considerable hurdles.
At the same time, the US is coming under increasing diplomatic pressure - particularly from Europe - to take a lead in the current round of global negotiations which are aimed at cutting carbon emissions throughout the developed and developing worlds. The next round of these talks will begin in Bonn on 1 June, and will reach a climax in December when world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to ratify an international agreement that will replace the current Kyoto climate change deal.
With Obama committed to the idea of tackling climate change, many world leaders are now looking to the US to set a lead and to persuade emerging industrial giants such as China and India to agree to a tight, effective new deal in Copenhagen. But the US itself faces major problems in cutting its carbon output. While Europe has faced up to the problem of climate change for more than a decade and has reduced its output of greenhouse gases significantly, the US has continued to pump out more and more carbon. "Its output is now so high, the US cannot now turn round and get that down to anything like the baseline figure being established by Europe for the end of the next decade," said a British diplomat.
As a result, the US is seeking to raise that baseline figure - from its 1990 output to the far greater figure set in 2005. This would mean the US would not have to reduce its carbon emissions too radically for the next 10 years. "That would be acceptable only if the US pledges it will make far greater cuts in the succeeding decades and reduces its output, proportionally, to the same final level as the rest of the world," added the source.
The move would ease criticism of future climate deals at home but will cause significant irritation among many negotiators in Europe and other parts of the world. Chu will have to tread a careful path. For his part, the physicist has shown himself to be a pragmatist rather than an ideologically bound administrator.
People should not make the mistake of thinking him a pushover, however, as Matt Rogers, a Chu appointee at the energy department, has made clear: "He is a kind man; he is a nice man. But he is not a patient man. People are going to have to take a deep breath and realise they're going to be moving at a much quicker pace than they were used to."
The Chu file
Steven Chu, a former physics professor at Berkeley, was appointed by President Obama as energy secretary at the start of this year. An advocate of biofuels, he jointly won the 1997 Nobel Prize for physics and was named one of Time magazine's most influential people this year. He lives in Washington, is married to another physicist, Jean Chu, and has two sons from a previous marriage.
Steven Chu on ...
... his Nobel Prize
When asked by the New York Times if his family was impressed, he said: "Probably, but who knows? I called my mother up when they announced the Nobel Prize, waiting until seven in the morning. She said, 'That's nice - and when are you going to see me next?' "
... climate change
"I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what will happen. We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California. I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going, either." (2009)
... energy
"If I were emperor, I would put the pedal to the floor on energy efficiency and conservation." (2007)

Gadget boom sends electric bills soaring

Growing love of computers and plasma TVs could soon account for nearly half our electricity bills

Alok Jha, Green Technology Correspondent
The Observer, Sunday 24 May 2009

Britain's addiction to power-hungry gadgets could raise electricity bills by £100 per year for every household and hamper progress in meeting the country's greenhouse gas emissions targets, according to experts.
The proliferation of plasma televisions, high-end PCs and mobile phones is causing energy consumption to soar. These devices currently account for 25% of the electricity used by UK households and projections by the Energy Savings Trust (EST) show this will rise to around 45% by 2020. Per household, this means an increase in energy use of 1,000kWh per year at present, to 1,700kWh in 2020 and, at today's electricity prices, this will cause a jump in bills from just under £140 per year to £237.
Around the world, the energy consumed by information, communication and consumer technologies will double by 2022 and triple by 2030, according to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA), to a total of 1,700 terawatt hours. This is equivalent to the current combined total domestic electricity consumption of the United States and Japan, at a cost to households of around $200bn in electricity bills and requiring the addition of approximately 280 gigawatts of new generating capacity between now and 2030. "This could be a serious situation for the world if the manufacturers of these products don't get their act together and start taking energy efficiency seriously," said Paula Owen, of EST.
In its report, the IEA showed that in the next seven months the number of personal computers around the world will pass the one billion mark. Although electronic devices account for around 15% of the global household electricity use, that share is rising. There are almost two billion televisions in the world, an average of 1.3 sets in every home with electricity, and more than half the world's population subscribe to a mobile phone service.
Owen said that as well as an increasing number of gadgets, the desire for bigger versions that can do more things has increased power demands. "As new models of these gadgets come out, they tend to do more. A good example is the PC - they've got bigger memories, dual processors, they have massive graphics cards and these raise the energy load."
The rise in power use by entertainment and information technology is the reverse of trends in the rest of the house. In the kitchen, for example, manufacturers have been very successful at improving the efficiency of fridges, dishwashers and washing machines.
Nobuo Tanaka, IEA director, said governments must regulate electronic devices to make them more energy-efficient. "Despite anticipated improvements in the efficiency of electronic devices, these savings are likely to be overshadowed by the rising demand for technology."
Energy-hungry habits
• The first plasma-screen televisions used up to three times as much electricity as the standard CRT ones they replaced. Newer models tend to be slightly more efficient, but still use a considerable amount of power.
• Newer TVs do more things - modern ones can also incorporate a set-top box to receive digital channel signals and can also be used to play digital radio. Traditionally, listening to radio has been a low-energy pastime but can become an energy-intensive one using modern TVs.
• Electrical products such as DVD players and hard disk recorders can be left on 24 hours a day as standby functions are used rather than the "off" button. Some products no longer have a manual "off" switch, making it impossible to switch them off except at the wall socket.
• A home office can contain a power-hungry desktop computer with a big screen, a printer, a scanner and a fax. Most are generally left on standby, with printers particularly inefficient in their resting state.

Burping of the lambs blows roast off menu

The Sunday Times
May 24, 2009
Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor

GIVE up lamb roasts and save the planet. Government advisers are developing menus to combat climate change by cutting out “high carbon” food such as meat from sheep, whose burping poses a serious threat to the environment.
Out will go kebabs, greenhouse tomatoes and alcohol. Instead, diners will be encouraged to consume more potatoes and seasonal vegetables, as well as pork and chicken, which generate fewer carbon emissions.
“Changing our lifestyles, including our diets, is going to be one of the crucial elements in cutting carbon emissions,” said David Kennedy, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change.
Kennedy has stopped eating his favourite doner kebabs because they contain lamb.
A government-sponsored study into greenhouse gases found that producing 2.2lb of lamb released the equivalent of 37lb of carbon dioxide.
The problem is because sheep burp so much methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Cows are only slightly better behaved. The production of 2.2lb of beef releases methane equivalent to 35lb of CO2 Tomatoes, most of which are grown in heated glasshouses, are the most “carbon-intensive” vegetable, each 2.2lb generating more than 20lb of CO2 Potatoes, in contrast, release only about 1lb of CO2 for each 2.2lb of food. The figures are similar for most other native fruit and vegetables.
“We are not saying that everyone should become vegetarian or give up drinking but moving towards less carbon intensive foods will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health,” said Kennedy.
The climate committee is analysing emissions from farming and will suggest measures to reduce them. However, it has concluded that people will have to change their habits.
Alcoholic drinks are another significant contributory factor, with the growing and processing of crops such as hops and malt into beer and whisky helping to generate 1.5% of the nation’s greenhouse gases.
The Carbon Trust, a government-funded firm, is working with food and drink companies to calculate the “carbon footprints” of products - sometimes with surprising results.
Coca-Cola, for example, generates only about half the greenhouse gas emissions of Innocent’s “smoothies”. Cadbury’s chocolate generates about 4½lb for every 2.2lb eaten - less than half that from theof CO2 same weight of chicken.

Cut tax or we won’t go green

The Sunday Times
May 24, 2009

Tricia Holly Davis
THE leaders of some of the world’s biggest companies will descend on Copenhagen today to give governments a common message: “Help us make money out of going green, or we won’t bother.”
The timing and location of the World Business Summit on Climate Change is no coincidence. The United Nations will meet in the Danish capital in December to hammer out the successor to the Kyoto treaty on climate change, which expires in 2012.
The purpose of this week’s summit is to ensure that environmental legislation does not add unnecessary costs to balance sheets or undermine the investments that companies have already made to make their operations greener.
One of the biggest talking points will be how to rescue the global carbon market. The price of carbon has collapsed to about €10 a tonne this year — nearly 75% off last summer’s peak, which means there is less incentive for businesses to make green investments.
Alstom, one of the world’s biggest engineering groups, says this is a big obstacle to plans to clean up coal, the world’s dirtiest fuel. Industry needs a price of between ¤60 and ¤90 a tonne to make carbon capture and storage technology, which traps the exhaust gasses from chimneys and buries it, economically viable for a coal plant.
A report by the Carbon Disclosure Project and the green strategist AEA argues that industry needs grants and tax breaks to improve energy efficiency and deploy low-carbon technologies.
Erik Rasmussen, head of the Copenhagen Climate Council, host of the summit, will present a treaty outlining businesses’ demands on the final day of the meeting. The hope is that governments will meet at least some demands when they negotiate a new climate-change deal in December.
“If businesses and governments can’t agree, then our biggest problem isn’t climate change, it’s that we can’t tackle big problems,” said Rasmussen.