Thursday, 28 May 2009

Taking pollution to market: America looks to make real climate change progress

The US is preparing to adopt a cap and trade system to limit carbon emissions and hopes to avoid the pitfalls that the EU encountered. Stephen Foley reports

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The US has just taken several big steps towards capping carbon emissions and there is optimism that its proposed "cap and trade" scheme might avoid the disastrous debut that afflicted the European scheme earlier this decade.

The country – a Kyoto Treaty refusenik whose previous president, George Bush, declined to sign up to the emissions reductions in that international agreement – looks set to have some real progress to boast of when diplomats assemble to draft a new climate change treaty in Copenhagen at the end of this year.
Some optimists from the environmental lobby are whispering that Barack Obama might by then even have authorised a cap and trade law that commits the US to cut carbon emissions by 17 per cent by 2020.
The powerful House of Representatives energy committee passed a draft bill last week and while that still puts it at the very early stages of the legislative process, the committee is made up of such a diverse bunch of politicians, representing states reliant on a range of different industries that could be affected by cap and trade, that its passage represents the emergence of a remarkable consensus.
Republicans are still largely opposing the measure, calling it "the biggest energy tax in the history of the US", and the green groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have peeled away from their support, expressing disappointment that the targeted reductions are not larger and that there have been too many concessions handed to the owners of coal-fired power plants and other polluters.
But, as Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defence Fund, a moderate green group, said: "When folks on either end of the spectrum, when groups on the left and on the right, are raising objections, that suggests the bill sits somewhere in the centre, and that is a good place to be if your aim is to enact a law."
So what exactly is being proposed? The principles of the legislation are the same as the emissions trading system set up by the European Union in 2005, namely that by turning carbon emissions into a finite – and ever more scarce – commodity, traded on the financial markets, you set a market price for pollution and therefore create big economic incentives for polluters to offset or slash emissions.
The details of how the initial set of US carbon emissions permits are likely to be allocated differ substantially from the European model. The EU staged a free giveaway of the permits, and because power producers passed on the new notional price of carbon to consumers, that in effect handed polluters a multibillion-euro windfall. Worse, it gradually became clear that the EU had handed out too many permits, sending the carbon price crashing to zero two years ago, and nullifying the hoped-for economic incentive to cut emissions, at least in the first phase of the scheme.
As the EU is picking up the pieces, the US is learning from the mistakes – or trying to. Mr Obama, on the election campaign trail last year, reflected the consensus that permits should be auctioned off, rather than given away, with the proceeds funnelled into schemes to compensate consumers for the cost of higher energy bills and to promote clean energy and energy efficiency.
The purity of that scheme has been sullied somewhat by the grubbiness of the US political process, as polluter industries have thrown themselves into massive lobbying and public relations campaigns aimed at limiting the cost of cap and trade to them. The pragmatic President has not insisted on auctions, and has acquiesced instead in the energy committee's horse-trading, which allocates 85 per cent of the value of carbon credits for free, with only 15 per cent being auctioned. But there is a big difference from the EU.
It is not the polluters, in the main, who are being allocated the free permits. Instead they are being handed out as if they were subsidies for favoured causes, allocated to a rainbow selection of companies and groups and schemes. The coal-fired power generators are getting some free, thanks to their lobbying, so that they are not initially as severely punished for their carbon output as they would be in an auction. There is the whiff of protectionism in the bill, too, since "trade-vulnerable" industries, such as steel, will get free allocations to compensate them for the increased cost of production. The biggest chunk of free credits will be handed to electricity distributors, with regulators instructed to ensure they are passed on to consumers as compensation for the increased cost of electricity. And 5 per cent by value of the credits will be allocated to projects preventing deforestation in the tropical rainforests.
For unfavoured industries not fully covered by these "subsidies", they will have to buy their permits in auctions or on the open market.
Lisa Zelljadt, an analyst at Point Carbon, which researches the emerging carbon market, said: ""The US is learning from Europe. Although the allocation of allowances to power sector emitters is free, those allowances are not being handed out directly to the power plants but rather to local distributors, which are closer to the consumer. Also unlike Europe, whose cap and trade scheme covers only power generators and industrial facilities, the US programme would cover a greater proportion of the economy – including transportation."
Power plants, oil refiners and other fuel producers all fall under the US caps. There is also going to be a "strategic reserve" of credits kept back from the open market for sale to polluters, to make it more difficult for financial speculators to manipulate the market and to prevent the carbon price from swinging too wildly.
The legislation could be on the floor of the House of Representatives by the end of summer, and there is optimism even for the much tougher task of getting it through the Senate.
"The House energy committee has had to bridge a lot of regional divides to this through," said Mr Kreindler, saying that the committee is made up of representatives from coal producer states, oil producer states, and headed by the long-time green campaigner, Henry Waxman of California. "They have produced something that looks to have a high comfort level for getting through the rest of Congress."
Also in its favour is the reaction of high-profile business leaders, whose public comments range from positive down to acquiescent. The Climate Action Partnership, a group of US company chief executives, including from powerhouses such as General Electric, General Motors and the American subsidiaries of British oil giants BP and Shell, has come out in favour, saying Mr Waxman's compromise reflects a lot of what their own coalition has been pressing for.
Some of those same business leaders were in Copenhagen over the weekend to broaden support and add momentum to the process towards a new climate change treaty later this year. About 500 chief executives, business experts and campaigning celebrities said at the conclusion of the three-day World Business Summit on Climate Change that "immediate and substantial" emissions cuts were needed by 2020, followed by cuts of at least 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. They said governments should use the marketplace to set a global price on carbon instead of taxing it – and it looks increasingly likely that the US will be able to say it is signing up to that principle.

Crunch looms for green technology as China tightens grip on rare-earth metals

The Times
May 28, 2009
Leo Lewis, Asia Business Correspondent

Japan’s increasingly frantic efforts to lead the world in green technology have put it on a collision course with the ambitions of China and dragged both government and industry into the murky realm of large-scale mineral smuggling.
The robust international trade in illegally mined, quota-busting rare-earth metals highlights China’s near monopoly on the raw materials for environmental technology – a 95 per cent dominance of world supply that is likely to become more widely noticed as China tightens its grip.
The weight and magnetic properties of rare-earth metals have made them important for wind turbines, essential to hybrid cars, and indispensable if the world ever hopes to covert to fully electric vehicles.
One mining company president told The Times that governments that had promised a way out of economic turmoil with bold schemes to subsidise green cars, solar panels and other environmental technology had “spoken without understanding the upstream of modern products”.

Don Burbar, the chief executive of Avalon Rare Metals, said: “The crux of the matter is that there are now a lot of technologies that can’t work without rare earths, and China is currently in effective control of the global supply. China has positioned itself to retain control, and meanwhile politicians around the world do not appreciate how the supply side of green technology works.”
In Japan, the world’s biggest importer of rare-earth metals, more than 10,000 tonnes per year – about a fifth of the country’s total annual consumption – are thought to enter the country through a thriving black import network without which Japan would already be in a severe supply crisis, a senior government official said.
China has been lowering its export quotas for rare-earth metals by about 6 per cent annually since the start of the decade, with Japan expected to be allotted only 38,000 tonnes in 2009. Toyota and Honda alone will consume about that quantity and experts in Australia have predicted a wider global supply crunch within three years as demand surges beyond existing refinery and extraction capacity.
But rare-earth specialists at two of Japan’s largest trading houses said that loopholes and smuggling substantially raise the quantities of rare metals that enter Japan each year. Kazunori Fukuda, deputy director of the nonferrous metals division at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said: “If the Chinese export quota limits were the reality of what comes into Japan each year, we would be even more worried than we already are. All green technology depends on rare-earth metals and all global trade in rare earth depends on China.”
Ginya Adachi, from the Japanese Rare Earth Association, said that China’s dominance of rare earths would serve the developed world with a rude shock about global trade: Japan, America and Europe must now realise that some markets are not real, but political. But he added: “The Chinese Government wants full control but it doesn’t have it. It is not in control of the rare-earths market in the same way that Opec is in control of oil. Local miners will sell even if the government tries to control the price or the quotas.”
The Japanese Government has begun looking for alternative supply sources in Vietnam and elsewhere; rare earths are not as rare as the name suggests. There are potential supplies around the world, but prospective miners in Australia and the US are experiencing financing difficulties and as soon as new facilities have emerged in Asia and elsewhere, Chinese companies have quickly become majority investors.

Repair bill hits Clipper Windpower

By John O’Doherty
Published: May 15 2009 09:05

Losses at Clipper Windpower have widened in spite of a jump in sales as the maker of wind turbines was hit by defective turbine components and a recent slowdown in demand.
Pre-tax losses for the full year to December grew 63 per cent to $313m (£206m) on revenues that were 30 times as high as the previous year’s. Sales jumped from $24m to $734m.

Loss per share rose 43 per cent to $2.56. Clipper sold 248 turbines in 2008 compared with nine in 2007.
The losses were the result of a $300m programme of repairs on defective drive trains and rotary blades after defects were discovered in some Liberty-class turbines.
The company has completed half the “remediation” work on the defective turbines that are already installed. The rest of the work will be finished by the third quarter.
As a result of the global recession, a number of its customers have deferred deliveries.
Clipper still expects to deliver between 300 and 325 turbines this year.
At the start of the year the company slashed headcount by 90, a reduction of 11 per cent of its total employees and 30 per cent of its turbine production workforce.
“Our customers need financing in order to buy our turbines and finance their wind farm projects. So, as a result of the crash in the debt markets, our customers were not able to finance their purchases in turbines from us,” said Doug Pertz, chief executive.
“None of our customers has cancelled orders – they’ve just pushed them out.”
However, the company is looking forward to a boost in renewable investments from the US stimulus package.
“We think the stimulus package and the whole policy that the Obama administration has with both renewables and climate change will be extremely positive for the wind industry, for renewables and for Clipper,” Mr Pertz said.
“But while the policy is out there, and the laws have been passed, the implementation of it – the rules and the money – is not there yet.”
He was optimistic that policy measures to encourage capital markets to lend to the wind power sector would start to take effect “some time in the middle of this year”.
Shares in Aim-listed Clipper Windpower closed up 3p, or 2.4 per cent, at 129p.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

China has no other choice than to pursue sustainable development

China is making huge efforts to combat climate change despite the fact that it remains a low-income developing country, writes Zhenhua Xie, the country's special representative on climate change

Zhenhua Xie, Wednesday 27 May 2009 15.00 BST

China attaches great importance to tackling climate change. In 2007, it established the national leading group on climate change (NLGCC), headed by Premier Wen Jiabao.
That same year, China issued its national climate change programme, the first ever by a developing country, which set an objective to lower its energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20% by 2010 against 2005 levels.
In its mid- and long-term plan for the development of renewable energy, China also set an objective of increasing the proportion of renewables in the primary energy mix to 10% by 2010, and to 15% by 2020.
To achieve such objectives, China has adopted a series of effective policies and measures, achieving remarkable progress. First, China succeeded in lowering its energy consumption per unit of GDP by 1.79%, 4.04% and 4.59% respectively for 2006, 2007, and 2008, which strongly suggests it will meet the 20% objective by 2010.
Second, between 2006 and 2008, China shut down small thermal power generation units with a total installed capacity of 34.21GW, phased out 60.59m tonnes of backward steel-making capacity, 43.47m tonnes of iron-smelting capacity and 140m tonnes of cement-production capacity. All of these steps reduced pollution markedly.
Third, between 2000 and 2008, China increased its wind power generating capacity from 340MW to 10GW, hydropower from 79.35GW to 163GW, and nuclear power from 2.1GW to 9.1GW. It has also made great efforts to reduce agricultural and rural greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, by the end of 2007, more than 26.5m rural households were using household biogas digesters, cutting 44m tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Fourthly, China has increased its carbon sinks by promoting reforestation. China's forest coverage rate increased from 12% in the early 1980s to 18.21% today.
For this year, China will complete formulating provincial climate change programmes throughout the country, and promote effective implementation of the national scheme.
In China's economy stimulus package, 210bn yuan (£19bn) is allocated for energy conservation, pollutants reduction, and ecosystem protection projects, 370bn yuan for economic structural adjustment and technology renovation, and 400bn yuan for new energy-efficient housing that will use environmentally friendly materials. Some 370bn yuan will be used to improve rural living standards in an environmentally sound and sustainable way.
China is making huge efforts to combat climate change despite the fact that it remains a low-income developing country with a per-capita GDP of around $3,000 (£1,876). By United Nations standards, China still has 150 million people living in poverty. China has no other choice but to pursue sustainable development in order to meet the basic needs of its people and to eradicate poverty. In this process, the world is assured that China will make every effort to address climate change.
The international community has great expectations for reaching a positive outcome in Copenhagen. In China's view, the key to the success in Copenhagen lies in the realisation of the full, effective and sustained implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and its Kyoto protocol. Developed country parties to the protocol, collectively, must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25-40% below their 1990 level by 2020.
Non-protocol developed countries should undertake comparable commitments with quantified emission reduction targets. Developed countries should also fulfill their obligations under the Convention to provide financial support and technology transfer to enable developing countries to effectively tackle climate change.
In addition, appropriate mechanisms and institutional arrangements should be established for adaptation, financial support and technology transfer. Developing countries will, in the context of sustainable development and with measurable, reportable, and verifiable support in terms of financing, technology, and capacity-building, take nationally appropriate mitigation actions.
The global financial crisis has undoubtedly exacerbated the challenge of climate change. But since climate change is a more far-reaching and serious challenge, the world must not waver in its determination and commitment to addressing it. Indeed, the international financial crisis, if handled properly, may also be turned into an opportunity to reach a win-win solution for both climate protection and economic development.
With a deep sense of responsibility for its own people and the entire human race, China will continue to implement proactive policies and measures to address climate change and make unremitting efforts to protectEarth.
• Xie Zhenhua is President Hu Jintao's special representative on climate change and the vice-chairman of the national development and reform commission of China

Supertower offers glimmer of hope in polluted Chinese city

Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou is being billed as a green beacon amid the pollution of China's construction boom

Jonathan Watts in Guangzhou, Wednesday 27 May 2009 17.27 BST

You can see the carbon emissions rising by the day over the skyline of Guangzhou, where armies of construction workers are busy throwing up skyscrapers that will soon surpass anything in New York in terms of height and ­energy consumption.
Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China Artist's impression: Public Domain

It is the same story all over China where, despite the economic crisis, engineers are completing four more tower blocks every day – almost all fitted with air conditioning, heating, lighting and lifts that will run on coal-powered electricity.
The country is in the middle of the greatest building boom in human history. Six of the world's 10 tallest buildings completed last year were in China, including the 492-metre-tall Shanghai World Financial Centre. Even taller structures are on their way – such as the Shanghai Centre, 632 metres, and at 600 metres, the Goldin Finance 117 in Tianjin.
But among the giants there is one that could hold out hope for a low-carbon future. The Pearl River Tower, now being erected in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong province, is being billed as the most energy efficient superskyscraper ever built.
With wind turbines, solar panels, ­sun-shields, smart lighting, water-cooled ceilings and state-of-the-art insulation, the 310-metre tower is designed to use half the energy of most buildings of its size and set a new global benchmark for self-sufficiency among the planet's high rises.
Engineers say the tower could even be enhanced to create surplus electricity if the local power firm relaxes its monopoly over energy generation.
Due for completion in October 2010, the structure currently looks no different from the many other masses of steel and concrete that are reaching for the sky in Guangzhou.
The horizon is rising fast and grey in China's wealthiest province. By the time the Asian games begin next year, the provincial capital will boast a 432-metre-high TV tower, excluding its 150-metre antenna, and the 391-metre Zhongxin Plaza. Both structures will be bigger than any building in New York.
While Dubai and other cities in the Middle East are building a handful of still loftier structures, nowhere can compare with China for the sheer mass of supertowers being planned or under construction.
One management consultancy firm estimates that China will erect up to 50,000 new skyscrapers by 2025. Along with smaller structures, McKinsey ­estimates that buildings will account for 25% of China's energy consumption by then, up from 17% today.
More efficient buildings could drastically reduce this demand, though few are likely to go as far the 71-storey Pearl River Tower, which combines many of the world's leading energy-saving technologies on a scale never seen before.
The most spectacular feature will be the four wind turbines built into the belly of the structure. The building has been shaped to drive air through the cavities at maximum velocity so the ­turbines can generate 1m kilowatt hours of electricity a year. The building will also produce electricity via the photovoltaic cells of the solar shades cooling its east and west facades.
The biggest contribution to energy efficiency will come from the radiant ceiling technology, which uses piped water to keep the internal space cool. Energy will also be extracted from the difference in air temperature between the building's inner and outer walls. Rather than use fans to recirculate old air, fresh air will be delivered to every floor through natural buoyancy.
According to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the US architectural firm behind the design, the energy efficiency devices add about $13m (£8m) to the construction costs. But this could be earned back within five years by reduced electricity bills, lower maintenance costs and extra rent from the space not used for air ­conditioning ducts.
Roger Frechette, the firm's chief engineer, estimates the tower will reduce energy consumption by 58% compared with a standard building this size.
Under the initial design for a "zero-emission skyscraper", it could even have generated surplus energy with micro-turbines that could sell electricity back to the grid at night. But this proposal was dropped after opposition from the local utility company, which is cautious about allowing rival sources of power generation.
This may change. Faced by a deteriorating environment, uncertain world energy supplies and pressure to act on climate change, the Chinese government is trying to shift towards a more sustainable model of development. It is experimenting with ecocities and introducing new green building codes.
Guangzhou is following this trend. As the workshop of the world, the city has a reputation as a humid, heavily polluted sprawl. But it is trying to change this by building taller structures as well as improving the infrastructure for service industries.
"We are trying to make our city more energy efficient. In the past, we expanded too fast. That was a mistake we are trying to correct now," said Chen Qing, the deputy director of the city's Urban Planning and Research Centre.
Not everyone, however, is convinced that skyscrapers are the best way to achieve the city's green goals, given that the Pearl River Tower will be built with 26,500 tonnes of steel and more than 40,000 cubic metres of concrete, and that its main tenant will be a tobacco company.
Meng Qinglin, a professor at the ­environment and energy laboratory of the South China University of Technology, says urban planners are following global fashions without paying sufficient attention to whether low emission buildings are what they claim to be.
"There is a misconception that buildings can generate sufficient wind and solar power for themselves. We need to look deeper at how much pollution is caused and how many resources are used in the development and manufacture of those technologies," he said.
"They call it clean energy, but often the burden is simply being shifted to other places, where the silicon is mined and the turbines and solar panels are made."

GE Says 'Green' Business Revenue Grew 21%


General Electric Co. said it last year sold $17 billion worth of products and services that help customers conserve energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, a 21% increase over 2007. Those products, ranging from energy-efficient refrigerators to wind turbines, are part of a business-development campaign dubbed "Ecomagination," which GE started in 2005.
GE now has 80 such Ecomagination-labeled products and services in its portfolio, an increase of 30% over 2007, the company said in its annual Ecomagination report, released Wednesday.
GE is targeting $25 billion in revenue from Ecomagination products by 2010 "despite the tough economic environment," GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt and Vice President for Ecomagination Steve Fludder noted in the report.
GE said it is hoping to snag some of the roughly $400 billion it calculates global governments have set aside for economic-stimulus programs involving alternative energy, sustainable infrastructure and "green jobs."
The Fairfield, Conn.,-based conglomerate also said it has reduced greenhouse-gas intensity at GE facilities by 41% compared to 2005, surpassing an initial reduction goal of 30%. The company said it didn't make progress in 2008 toward its goal of reducing internal water use.
Write to Paul Glader at

Rail industry urges shorter trains off-peak to cut carbon emissions

Dan Milmo
The Guardian, Thursday 28 May 2009

The rail industry is urging the government to run shorter trains in order to meet Britain's climate change obligations. Removing carriages outside rush hour would conserve energy and reinforce rail's reputation as one of the greenest modes of transport, says an industry manifesto published today.
Network Rail, owner of rail infrastructure, and the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) argue they can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2020 by running shorter trains at off-peak times. Network Rail said: "It's about matching supply to demand and not transporting carriages full of air around the country."
Train operators have also mooted cutting carriages in response to the recession, which is depressing passenger numbers and threatening the future of franchises that have pledged billions of pounds worth of payments to the government. Ministers have so far rejected the idea.
The rail industry also raises funding concerns in the planning document, entitled Britain's Railway from 2014. It warns that the latest five-year plan for the railways, which runs until 2014, might have overestimated passenger numbers.
Railway funding over the next five years is predicated on farepayers footing three-quarters of the bill by 2014. However, Atoc has warned that total passenger numbers could fall over the next two years, contradicting expectations in the five-year plan of 3% annual passenger growth. Industry commentators have said that could result in franchises handing back contracts.
The document advocates an ambitious five-year plan from 2014 onwards, including a high speed line linking London to Birmingham and the north; more station improvements; electrification; and a bigger push for rail freight. It warns that urban rail services in south-east England are reaching capacity, even with the longer trains due by the middle of the next decade. Ministers will have to consider building new lines or changing timetables.

Hoon eyes new transport climate accord

By Robert Wright in Leipzig
Published: May 28 2009 01:26

The transport secretary will call on Thursday for an international consensus on ensuring that shipping and aviation are included in any global environmental deal in Copenhagen this year.
Geoff Hoon will tell the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany, that it was “a great missed opportunity” that the two dominant international modes of transport were omitted from the last global climate change deal, signed in Kyoto in 1997.

“That led to over a decade of inaction,” he will tell the conference. “We cannot afford to wait any longer. It is vital that we put that right at Copenhagen.”
However, the tone of Mr Hoon’s speech, which will dwell on the benefits of transport and the potential for improved technology to reduce emissions, is likely to worry many environmental campaigners on transport issues. Most believe use of some forms of transport, such as aviation, will need to fall to meet emissions reduction targets.
The International Transport Forum is an annual meeting of transport ministers and other policymakers, organised under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The audience will include many of those that the UK has to win over if it is to get agreement on including shipping and aviation in any Copenhagen deal. Mr Hoon will call for transport policymakers to take charge of the sector’s response to the climate change issue, rather than leaving it to others such as environment ministers.
“If we do not lead this debate, then others will,” he will say.
Transport “will leave itself wide open to accusations that it is part of the problem, rather than part of the solution” if ministers take no action, he will add. The sector could also find solutions imposed on it that do not take account of competition or the realities of international transport, he will say.
However, much of the speech is likely to focus on potential technical solutions to aircraft and ship emissions that many environmental campaigners believe will never be sufficient to curb emissions without substantial reductions in traffic volumes.
Mr Hoon will point to changes in aircraft technology such as blended wings, a technique that reduces drag and fuel consumption, and lighter composite materials as potential ways of reducing aviation emissions. He will also point to improved engine and ship design as means of reducing ships’ emissions. “Technological advances can also help to generate business and trade,” he will say.
Environmental campaigners fear that a focus on potentially less polluting means of transport could distract from the need to reduce overall use of some forms of transport.
While referring to a number of potential means of curbing transport emissions, including rail electrification, Mr Hoon will avoid any reference to road-user charging. A number of reports have found charging for road use – which is officially government policy but has received far less attention in the past two years – could bring about significant emission reductions.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Green home myths: you don't have to be wealthy or a tree hugger to make energy efficient changes to your home

Dick Strawbridge, BBC TV presenter and green home expert, dispels some of the myths surrounding eco home renovations

Dick Strawbridge, Wednesday 27 May 2009 12.25 BST

1) Environmentally friendly installation is expensive
All insulation is environmentally friendly. Some installation has better environmental credentials, but what matters is the energy it saves. There is something nice about insulating the loft with reused sheep fleece, or recycled bottles, but if the cost of the insulation is putting you off doing it don't think twice: buy the cheapest. Some stores have sold insulation as cheap as £1 a roll in the past. All insulation takes energy to make it, but that is not a reason not to invest in it. The savings, for both the planet and the bank account, can be impressive. Incidentally, you need about 270mm of insulation in your loft which is about a foot deep — anything less and you're wasting valuable heat.
2) The UK is not sunny enough for solar power
For a nation that spends a lot of time talking about the weather, we don't seem to realise just how much sunshine we actually get. Maybe that's because we tend to concentrate on the negative aspects. Every square metre in the United Kingdom has on average about 1,000W of solar energy incident on it every day. That's an awful lot of free power. Without getting too technical, a 1,000-watt photovoltaic system can be expected to produce 1,200kWh a year, an average of nearly four hours working at maximum power a day. Obviously, it's much more productive in the summer, and there are lots of days when it is not frightfully impressive, however, let's not forget we do get some lovely sunny spring, autumn and winter days. Even in the winter, my home's solar thermal system (that uses the power of the sun to heat water) is capable of harnessing the weak winter sun to preheat the water in our hot water tank.
3) Wind turbines only function on hilltops
I fully understand the physics and know that "laminar" airflow, or streamline, is what every wind turbine loves. In theory a wind turbine on a mast in the middle of a vast plain will give the best performance, but there are not too many locations that fit that bill. So we have to compromise. Most importantly, to get good performance from a wind turbine, it is necessary to have no obstacles near it that will disrupt the airflow. A built-up area with houses, hedges, and trees is a long way from the ideal location. However, if that is where you live and you want a wind turbine you don't have a lot of choice — and a turbine will still generate electricity in such a setting.
4) Most eco-renovation take decades to pay back the cost
Every time we decide to make an investment in an eco-project, the subject of payback comes up. It is possible to do the sums, and before we spend any hard earned cash I like to make sure that it's a good investment. For example, loft insulation can pay for itself in two winters, and with the 2010 feed-in tariff I would expect solar PV to pay for itself in about seven or eight years, and a DIY solar thermal system to heat your hot water should have paid for itself in four or five years. But surely this is missing the point: when it comes to environmentally friendly projects we seem unable to accept the fact that it can be an investment and will add to the value of the house. What is the payback time for a new bathroom or kitchen? If you install solar photovoltaic panels you can reasonably expect them to easily last 25 to 30 years. Everyone knows a new kitchen makes a house more saleable, but in the current economic climate, how much more saleable is a house that will cost the new owners very little to run or may even generate an income?
5) DIY loft insulation is horrid and itchy
It's a fair cop, installing fibreglass or rockwool insulation is not the most pleasant job in the world, but if you are installing your own loft insulation why choose fibreglass or rockwool? There are lots of alternative insulations that are very benign and easy to handle. You can now buy loft insulation that is made from high-tech composite material, recycled plastic bottles, hemp… the choice is almost limitless. Indeed, in our loft we have Thermafleece at one end (made from the fleeces of upland sheep that in the past has gone to landfill), and insulation made from recycled denim at the other. Lots of these materials are easy to lay and relatively pleasant to handle. However, we do have to face up to the fact that working in the loft is not the most pleasant of environments so, no matter what you sort of insulation you choose, you will end up being a bit sweaty and dusty!
6) It takes more energy to build a solar panel then it will ever create
This particular misconception has been doing the rounds for several years. It is fair to say that it takes a lot of energy to make photovoltaic panels because it is a complex crystalline structure. Depending on the type of panel it can take between two and four years of use to recover the energy needed to make it. That said, the efficiency of the modern solar panel and modern manufacturing techniques are improving every day. There are no moving parts, so it is reasonable to expect the PV panels, which are usually guaranteed for 25 years, to last an awful lot longer (some of the older ones have been going for nearly 40 years).
7) Eco-gadgets are cons
It would appear that the green revolution is a marketing man's dream. Everywhere we go there are eco-gadgets that claim to be saving the planet. Most eco-gadgets tend to be quite complicated. Wind-up and solar-powered radios, battery chargers and numerous small electronic devices, are usually marketed as being cool. It is fair to say that they are extremely useful if you do not have access to another power supply (which does not happen very often in today's world). So, if you find yourself in a situation where only an eco-gadget can save you they are definitely not a con. However, from an environmental standpoint, to justify the embodied energy it takes to produce them they have to be used a lot rather than being kept in a drawer full of other cool things.
8) You have to be an engineer to undertake your own eco home projects
In the 21st century there is no excuse for not being able to get stuck into any eco-project. Information is readily available and all the materials you need can usually be sourced within 10 miles. Of course, I have to acknowledge that there is some sensible legislation that means you are not allowed to fiddle with mains electricity, or get involved with structural engineering, unless you're suitably qualified. That does not mean you can't do most of the work yourself, which is by far the cheapest way. There seems to be a certain reticence when it comes to starting a project and a lot of excuses rather than reasons out there. If you have running water and a desire to have a water wheel, all you need is to know that the angle of the bucket is 114°. With a little bit of common sense, anything is achievable.

Business leaders call for climate policies that are long, loud and legal

More than 70 CEOs signed the Copenhagen Call, which asks governments to provide a framework to help business become part of the climate change solution

Steve Howard, Wednesday 27 May 2009 18.08 BST

The mood at the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen was framed by Ban Ki-moon's bold opening address. The UN secretary general said that the smart money was backing a low-carbon economy and described the world's high-carbon infrastructure a "toxic asset that threatens the entire portfolio of global goods".
In December, Copenhagen will host arguably the most important meeting of our time – the negotiation of a post-Kyoto deal on climate change. If successful, this deal will lock the world into emissions reductions of around 80%.
With around 200 days to go , business everywhere is waking up to the fact that the future will be green. Last month, Todd Stern, US special envoy on climate change at the US state department, said "high carbon goods and services will become untenable" as the world negotiates a new agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Such political rhetoric from around the world suggests a low-carbon economy will increasingly favour low-carbon players whether they are companies, cities, states or nations. At a time when global capital is in short supply and global politics is beginning to line up for a new global deal, businesses who continue to pursue high-carbon strategies will be risking their investments as well as the climate.
In a joint statement formally presented to the Danish prime minster and the executive secretary of the UN on Tuesday, more than 70 CEOs at the summit sent a clear message to the world's political leaders. They not only want "an ambitious and effective" global climate deal but that they are united and ready to be part of the solution.
Around the world, business leaders gearing up for the low-carbon economy not only understand the moral imperative of reducing emissions but the long-term economic benefits of such action. Their leadership will not only generate first-mover advantage but serve to drive transformative action across the wider business community.
Often part of the climate problem, business needs to become the solution and remains our primary lever to cut global emissions. However, to do this it needs strong practical policies that will create long-term certainty and a level playing field on which to base low-carbon strategies and to unlock billions of investment in low-carbon growth.
The "Copenhagen Call" asks governments to set out:
• A timeline of emissions reductions targets;
• Standards and regulation for energy efficiency;
• A standardised method for companies to report on their low-carbon progress;
• Economic incentives to drive the development, financing and deployment of low-carbon technology;
• Rapid scale-up of carbon markets;
• Immediate action to protect forests and a fund for adaptation.
Effective policy cannot be created in a vacuum and vigorous stakeholder consultation over the coming months and years will be vital. Evidence of this has been shown by members of the Aviation Global Deal (AGD) Group, representing those airlines quick to see the economic risks of patchwork environmental legislation and who have been calling for international aviation emissions to be included in a global policy framework.
On Sunday, Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of International Air Transport Association (IATA), announced new support for a proposal broadly based on principles the AGD Group have been advocating. He went one further, announcing his hopes for the aviation sector to be the first industry sector to achieve zero-carbon growth. Such ambition demonstrates the positive impact progressive business coalitions can have in environmental policy development across their sectors.
Power, finance and technology sectors are other major examples of industry sectors that can rapidly change the game in terms of the global response to climate change. They can have a significant impact on bringing down global emissions that goes way beyond cutting their own carbon footprints. With the right policies in place, transformative industry sectors like these can bridge the gap to a low-carbon economy.

Much is at stake and, in the run-up to UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December and beyond, business will need to work closely with government to create effective and practical rules and regulations that can help unlock the low-carbon investments and guarantee the world's long-term economic prosperity.
The next few months of negotiation require government and business leadership on climate change to be both united and bold. But the "Copenhagen Call" indicates that if the world's politicians can demonstrate the will for a prosperous low-carbon economy, then a growing number of the world's business leaders are uniting to show them the way.
• Steve Howard is the chief executive of the Climate Group and chairs the World Economic Forum's global agenda council on climate change

Scottish government is failing to hit greenhouse gas emission targets

The Times
May 28, 2009
Scotland Staff

The Scottish government is failing to hit its own targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, figures show.
Energy use in official buildings and emissions from business travel have both gone up — though the government has hit targets for reducing waste and cutting water consumption.
Yesterday it announced that it was teaming up with the Carbon Trust in a bid to reduce its carbon footprint. It said that its plan, which will cost £80,000 a year, has the potential to achieve a 20% cut in emissions by 2014, based on 2007 levels.
Stewart Stevenson, the Climate Change Minister, said: “This government is determined to play a leading role in global efforts to reduce emissions. As part of our drive to create a greener Scotland, we must lead by example and put our own house in order.”

The annual report on the environmental performance of government buildings found that energy use had increased by 2.5 per cent last year, and was now 2.2 per cent below 1999 levels.
One target requires government buildings to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 7,221 tonnes by March 2011, but the figure for last year was 8,082 tonnes. A waste recycling target, however, has been exceeded.
More than 1,000 tonnes of waste were produced last year — 17 per cent less than the previous year — and 76 per cent of this was recycled.
On government transport and travel, an emissions reduction target originally set for 2011 was achieved in 2007 and a tougher target was then set. This is not being reached and last year there was a 6 per cent rise in business travel emissions despite more use of video conferencing.
The official watchdog, Sustainable Development Commission Scotland, called for more scrutiny and independent reporting of progress.
Professor Jan Bebbington, of the commission, said: “At a time when government is promising to lead by example, it is clear that we need to see better progress in how government manages its offices and travel to reduce its impacts.
“What is of most concern is the need for greater transparency. The UK government has independent scrutiny of its environmental reporting and the Scottish government must put such a system in place in order to have credibility in leading Scotland in sustainable development.”

EU's global warming policy blazes a trail

By Ed Crooks
Published: May 28 2009 03:00

It has been a long while since "Old Europe" was at the frontier of anything very much. But in energy and environmental policy it has blazed a trail that many other economies are now following, most notably the US under Barack Obama, the president.
David Buchan, a former energy editor of the Financial Times and now a senior fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, has produced one of the first books to map out this uncharted territory.
In an admirably concise but comprehensive 214 pages, he covers all of the salient features of the new landscape for European energy.
His book will be indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the progress the industry has made in the past decade, and where it is likely to go in the next.
The framing narrative is the story of how the European Union's politicians and officials tried to forge collective approaches to meet three often conflicting challenges: competitiveness, energy security, and climate change.
Many of the EU's attempts to meet those challenges have failed. Initiatives to agree concerted policies for energy security, or to set common standards for nuclear power, have made little headway.
In its drive to tackle the threat of global warming, however, the progress made by the EU has been impressive. European policies such as the carbon dioxide emissions trading scheme and targets for the use of renewable energy are being taken up all over the world.
If there is ever a global framework for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, a system like the European ETS is likely to form the basis of it.
In many ways, the EU was ideally placed to rise to the challenge of global warming. Unlike the US, its governments have generally shared a view that the problem deserves serious attention, and many European countries have a tradition of pre-emptive action to address environmental concerns.
Even so, climate change has emerged as the central issue in European energy policy only relatively recently. Mr Buchan's story begins with the drive for energy liberalisation that began in 2005, following ineffectual earlier attempts.
That campaign is now just about finished, through the legislative route at least. The attempt to break up the large incumbent energy suppliers that also own their electricity and gas transmission networks - "ownership unbundling" as it is known - faced implacable opposition from countries such as Germany and France that were determined to defend national energy champions.
Their resistance meant the attempt to force unbundling through legislation was probably always doomed to failure.
Attempts at collective action on energy security have, if anything, been even less effective. EU member states have been determined to preserve national powers over energy supplies. As Mr Buchan observes: "Outside suppliers know this, and are only too happy to exploit it."
Brussels has been reduced to generally fruitless exhortations in its attempts to forge a concerted response to challenges such as Russia's dispute over gas with Ukraine, a key transit country for the EU's imports.
Russia gets a chapter to itself, which it deserves as "the EU's most important but most difficult energy partner". Mr Buchan does not give in to the fatalistic view that all the EU can do is take its gas and oil imports on Russia's terms, and trust in the Kremlin's commitment to preserving good relations with its customers.
He argues: "The EU as a whole can do more to assure its energy security. And it must do more." In the long run, he says, the best policy for securing energy supplies is the same as for tackling climate change: the "low-carbon revolution", to end Europe's dependence on oil, gas and coal.
Energy savings, renewables and nuclear power will all have a role to play. The emissions trading scheme, which rewards low-carbon energy, is at the heart of the strategy, and Mr Buchan concludes that "for all its early trials and errors", the ETS works.
The EU has gone for a "belt and braces" approach: setting targets for emissions reduction, energy efficiency and the use of renewables which are in danger of conflicting. But Mr Buchan concludes that the multiple targets and subsidies are needed to ensure success. "In normal peacetime, policy failure is not catastrophic," he writes. "But climate change is more like war: you don't have time to return to the drawing board."
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Oslo to fund EU carbon storage projects

By Joshua Chaffin in Brussels
Published: May 28 2009 03:00

Efforts to deploy carbon capture and storage technology got a fresh boost yesterday when Norway said it would contribute at least €140m to help fund projects in the European Union.
Jens Stoltenberg, Norway's prime minister, said the technology was an "essential" element in the fight against global warming. The EU has committed to building roughly a dozen CCS pilot plants, which would capture carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities and then bury them underground.
"Studies show that in the short and medium term, a large share of the world's energy supply will continue to be based on fossil fuels," Mr Stoltenberg said at a CCS conference in Bergen. "At the same time, we must make deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions. Developing and promoting the diffusion of CCS technologies will be important in resolving this dilemma."
European leaders courted controversy in March when they agreed to devote €1.05bn from a €5bn ($7bn, £4.3bn) European economic recovery plan to fund CCS projects. CCS projects will also receive revenues from the sale of hundreds of millions of carbon permits in the next phase of the EU emissions trading system.
The debate over CCS is likely to intensify as negotiations heat up over a global climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Several environmentalists and members of the European Parliament have argued that other efforts, such as promoting energy efficiency in buildings and renewable energy, would yield more immediate and cost-effective effects.
Critics have also complained that CCS technology is untested, and that it would prolong the EU's reliance on carbon-emitting fossil fuels such as coal.
But CCS backers - particularly in the energy industry - are urging the European Commission and member states to move more quickly to fund and select projects if the EU is to achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.
"We need another push to get to the next station," one energy executive said, arguing that the quick deployment of pilot plants would be crucial to make it commercially available in a reasonable timeframe.
Although Norway's contribution amounts to a fraction of the roughly €1bn cost of each pilot plant, it comes at a time when the economic crisis has stretched government budgets. Norway's funds will be earmarked from the country's pending contribution to the European Economic Area, of which it is a member.
Norway views CCS as a way to reconcile its ambitions to lead the fight against climate change with its standing as one of the leading oil and gas exporters. It already has pilot plants including the Sleipner facility in the North Sea, which is operated by the state-owned StatoilHydro.
Mr Stoltenberg also called yesterday for greater investments in energy efficiency projects and renewable energy, saying CCS - while "essential" - was not the only tool needed to fight global warming.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009