Wednesday, 10 June 2009

House Passes 'Cash for Clunkers' Bill

Associated Press

WASHINGTON--The House passed a plan to boost auto sales by providing vouchers of up to $4,500 for consumers who turn in their gas-guzzling cars and trucks for more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The House bill, which passed by 298 votes to 119, is aimed at stimulating car sales during a bleak period for the auto industry and increasing the nation's fleet of cars that get more miles to the gallon.
General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC have received billions of dollars in government aid and the entire auto industry has watched car sales plummet during the past year. In May, overall sales were 34% lower than a year ago.
"Our industry has been stuck in neutral and really has not started to move,'' said Larry Kull, president of Marlton, N.J.-based Burns Kull Automotive Group, which includes General Motors, Honda and Toyota dealerships.
President Barack Obama has urged Congress to approve consumer incentives for new car purchases as part of the government's efforts to reorganize General Motors and Chrysler through the bankruptcy courts.
The vehicle scrappage bill has been under negotiations for months as lawmakers try to find a solution that boosts car sales while providing some environmental benefits. Proponents have pointed to similar programs in Europe that have enhanced auto sales.
Analysts said the bill, which has not yet been considered by the Senate, would encourage car shoppers but would not be a panacea for carmakers. The U.S. industry is expected to generate about 9.5 million vehicles sales in 2009, compared to more than 13 million in 2008 and more than 16 million in 2007.
Auto analysts questioned whether it would be enough of an incentive for many consumers burdened by debt or financially stressed by the troubled economy.
Separately, House and Senate appropriators were discussing providing $1 billion to a supplemental war funding bill for the "cash for clunkers'' program, which aims to generate about one million new auto sales. Since the yearlong vehicle program is expected to cost $4 billion, lawmakers would attempt to find the additional money later this year.
Under the House bill, car owners could get a voucher worth $3,500 if they traded in a vehicle getting 18 miles per gallon or less for one getting at least 22 miles per gallon. The value of the voucher would grow to $4,500 if the mileage of the new car is 10 mpg higher than the old vehicle. The miles per gallon figures are listed on the window sticker.
Owners of sport-utility vehicles, pickup trucks or minivans that get 18 mpg or less could receive a voucher for $3,500 if their new truck or SUV is at least 2 mpg higher than their old vehicle. The voucher would increase to $4,500 if the mileage of the new truck or SUV is at least 5 mpg higher than the older vehicle. Consumers could also receive vouchers for leased vehicles.
Rep. Betty Sutton (D., Ohio), the bill's chief sponsor, said the bill showed that "the multiple goals of helping consumers purchase more fuel efficient vehicles, improving our environment and boosting auto sales can be achieved.'' Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), has backed a similar version in the Senate, which has the support of automakers and their unions.
The bill would direct dealers to ensure that the older vehicles are crushed or shredded to get the clunkers off the road. It was intended to help replace older vehicles--built in model year 1984 or later--and would not make financial sense for consumers owning an older car with a trade-in value greater than $3,500 or $4,500.
Copyright © 2009 Associated Press

Airlines 'must take initiative' before climate-change talks, warns BA boss

UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation has failed to thrash out an emissions-trading scheme for airlines

Dan Milmo in Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday 9 June 2009 10.54 BST

Leading airlines have warned that they could be punished at the Copenhagen climate change talks this year because the industry has failed to influence environment ministers.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways, urged airlines to increase their lobbying efforts after delivering a warning about the efforts of the United Nations body charged with representing airlines, the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
ICAO, which is comprised of transport ministers from UN member governments, has failed to thrash out an emissions-trading scheme for airlines and is not due to meet again until October, by which point other groups could have proposed tougher measures for airlines.
Speaking at the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Kuala Lumpur, Walsh said Iata should take the initiative before it is too late.
"I don't think ICAO has done enough and I don't think they will be able to influence decisions at Copenhagen. That is why it is important for Iata to reach a position," he said.
Walsh also echoed fears among airline executives that carriers will be singled out by politicians because they have not been included in official carbon dioxide reduction targets.
"Getting our voice heard and being represented is critical. We have got to ask ourselves who is representing the airline industry at Copenhagen. We have got to do something to get our voice heard."
Walsh admitted that airlines had made an error by focusing their lobbying efforts on transport ministers and not their colleagues at environment departments.
"We tend to spend more of our time talking to transport ministers than environment ministers," he said. "It's not going to be the transport ministers who will be at Copenhagen. We may have been talking to the wrong audience and we have to turn that around very quickly."
Tony Tyler, chief executive of Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, said airlines still had an opportunity to state their case. "We don't want to be faced after Copenhagen with that feeling of 'oh my goodness we should have done something'."
Iata has been pushing ICAO to agree an action plan that would include a global emissions-trading scheme for airlines. However, ICAO's efforts have been stymied by a failure to reach agreement with emerging superpowers such as Brazil, India and China.
Other countries are preparing to fill the policy gap at Copenhagen while Iata stands on the sidelines. The world's poorest countries are pushing for a long-haul flight tax that would contribute $10bn (£6.2bn) towards fighting global warming and could be agreed at Copenhagen, where governments will thrash out a sequel to the Kyoto climate change agreement.
International aviation and shipping were carved out from Kyoto on the proviso that ICAO and the International Maritime Organisation came up with their own climate-change schemes – which both groups have failed to do after a decade of talks.

China alone could bring world to brink of climate calamity, claims US official

Business as usual in China would lead to 2.7C rise by 2050 even if all other countries slash emissions, says energy assistant

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Tuesday 9 June 2009 16.34 BST

China must be far more ambitious in tackling climate change if the international community wants to prevent calamitous levels of global warming, a senior US official told counterparts in Beijing today.
David Sandalow, assistant secretary of state for energy, said the continuation of business as usual in China would result in a 2.7C rise in global temperatures by 2050 even if every other country slashed greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.
"China can and will need to do much more if the world is going to have any hope of containing climate change," said Sandalow, who is in Beijing as part of a high-level negotiating team that aims to find common ground ahead of the crucial Copenhagen summit at the end of this year.
No effective deal will be possible without the US and China, which together account for almost half of the planet's carbon emissions.
Since Barack Obama entered the White House, hopes for a closer working relationship on climate change have surged along with a softening of rhetoric, but the official negotiating positions of the two sides remain far apart.
Before arriving for this week's talks, Todd Stern, the head of the US delegation, said China and other developing nations are not doing enough and "need to take significant national actions that they commit to, internationally, that they quantify."
China's position paper says the US and other nations that industrialised earlier should cut emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2020, as well as paying 1% of their GDP to help poorer nations deal with the consequences and causes of climate change.
But behind the scenes, there is scope for compromise on the transfer of clean-carbon technologies by the US and a commitment by China to scale back its emissions relative to economic growth.
In the coming weeks, the government in Beijing is expected to boost its climate credentials with a massive investment in wind, solar, nuclear and other forms of renewable energy.
Sandalow said China deserves credit for the effort it has already made, but he warned that there was mistrust on both sides that should not be allowed to derail the negotiating process.
Last week China's state-controlled Xinhua News Agency said the US position made it difficult to be optimistic about the prospects for a deal in Copenhagen.
"The key to getting negotiation results will be that the few developed countries do not shift blame on others and reduce emissions first," it said.
No details of this week's talks have been made public, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry described the meetings between Stern and deputy prime minister, Li Keqiang as constructive.
The sides agreed to "push forward the Copenhagen climate change conference to yield positive results," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.
Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, the Chinese government aims to move towards a low-carbon economy in its next five year plan, starting from 2011.
"We must incorporate addressing climate change and reducing the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions into national economic and social development plans," said the summary of a meeting on energy and climate change issues chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao last Friday, according to the central government website.
But even with the shift to renewables, clean car technology and ecologically friendly urban planning, China's overall emissions are not expected to drop for many years. The most optimistic scenario suggests 2020 may be a peak, but the majority of scholars and government officials do not think carbon consumption in China will fall until at least 2030.

China launches green power revolution to catch up on west

• Plan to hit 20% renewable target by 2020 • $30bn for low-carbon projects

Julian Borger and Jonathan Watts in Beijing
The Guardian, Wednesday 10 June 2009

China is planning a vast increase in its use of wind and solar power over the next ­decade and believes it can match Europe by 2020, producing a fifth of its energy needs from renewable sources, a senior Chinese official said yesterday.
Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice-chairman of China's national development and reform commission, told the Guardian that Beijing would easily surpass current 2020 targets for the use of wind and solar power and was now contemplating targets that were more than three times higher.
In the current development plan, the goal for wind energy is 30 gigawatts. Zhang said the new goal could be 100GW by 2020.
"Similarly, by 2020 the total installed capacity for solar power will be at least three times that of the original target [3GW]," Zhang said in an interview in London. China generates only 120 megawatts of its electricity from solar power, so the goal represents a 75-fold expansion in just over a decade.
"We are now formulating a plan for development of renewable energy. We can be sure we will exceed the 15% target. We will at least reach 18%. Personally I think we could reach the target of having renewables provide 20% of total energy consumption."
That matches the European goal, and would represent a direct challenge to Europe's claims to world leadership in the field, despite China's relative poverty. Some experts have cast doubt on whether Britain will be able to reach 20%. On another front, China has the ambitious plan of installing 100m energy-efficient lightbulbs this year alone.
Beijing seeks to achieve these goals by directing a significant share of China's $590bn economic stimulus package to low-carbon investment. Of that total, more than $30bn will be spent directly on environmental projects and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
But the indirect green share in the stimulus, in the form of investment in carbon-efficient transport and electricity transmission systems, would be far larger.
HSBC Global Research estimated the total green share could be over a third of the total package.
China also believes the price reforms that will take place in its economic recovery programme will lead to more efficient use of resources and an increased demand for renewable energy.
"Due to the impact of global financial crisis, people are all talking about green and sustainable development," Zhang added. "Enterprises and government at all levels are showing more enthusiasm for the development of solar for power generation, and the Chinese government is now considering rolling out more stimulus policies for the development of solar power."
He said the government would also plough money into the expansion of solar heating systems. He said the country was already a world leader, with 130m square metres of solar heating arrays already installed, and was planning to invest more. The US goal for solar heating by 2020 is 200m square metres.
Zhang was speaking in London on a day China came under increased pressure from Washington to do more cut its emissions.
David Sandalow, the US assistant secretary of energy, said the continuation of business as usual in China would result in a 2.7C rise in temperatures even if every other country slashed greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.
"China can and will need to do much more if the world is going to have any hope of containing climate change," said Sandalow, who is in Beijing as part of a senior negotiating team aiming to find common ground ahead of the crucial Copenhagen summit at the end of this year.
"No effective deal will be possible without the US and China, which together account for almost half of the planet's carbon emissions."
Zhang said China was pursuing "a constructive and a positive role" in negotiations aimed at agreeing a deal in Copenhagen. As part of that agreement, he said developing countries would have to pursue "a sustainable development path", and said Beijing was open to the idea of limits on the carbon intensity of its economy (the emissions per unit of output).
"We have taken note of some expert suggestions on carbon intensity with a view to have some quantified targets in this regard. We are carrying out a serious study of those suggestions," Zhang said.
Zhang told the all-party parliamentary China group in Westminster yesterdaythat Beijing's stimulus package was already showing signs of re-energising the Chinese economy. He said it grew by 6.1% in the first quarter of this year, and growth in the second quarter would be stronger than the first. He predicted that China would meet its target of 8% growth this year.

Japan to cut CO2 emissions 15 pct by 2020 -media

Reuters, Wednesday June 10 2009

* Japan to target 15% emissions cut by 2020 from 2005 -media
* Cut of this size 8% below 1990 levels vs Kyoto 6% promise
* Prime Minister Aso to announce 2020 target at 0900 GMT (Adds analyst comments, graphic)
By Risa Maeda and Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO, June 10 (Reuters) - Japan will cut carbon emissions by 15 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, Kyodo news agency said on Wednesday, a target greens and analysts say is not bold enough and could undermine global climate talks.
The world's fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter has been under huge pressure from developing nations to opt for deep reductions to ensure a strong outcome from talks for a new global climate pact talks at the end of the year.
But Prime Minister Taro Aso, facing elections within months, needs to balance the needs of industry and voters facing the worst recession since World World Two.
If Aso confirms the target at a 6 p.m. (0900 GMT) news conference, that is equivalent to a cut of 8 percent below Japan's 1990 emission levels, not much more than the 6 percent cut Japan committed itself to under the Kyoto Protocol for the 2008-12 period. [ID:nT176070]
For graphics on Japan's greenhouse gas emissions, click on:
"Prime Minister Aso's reported plan is appalling," said Kim Carstensen, head of WWF's Global Climate Initiative
"The new Aso target would mean that Japan effectively gives dirty industries the freedom to pollute without limits for eight years."
The opposition Democratic Party, which leads opinion polls, has said emissions cuts of 25 percent from 1990 were desirable. [ID:nT253978]
"It's balanced in light of domestic and global considerations, and balanced in terms of Japan's initial stance going into future negotiations in creating a post-Kyoto framework," Satoshi Hashimoto, an analyst at Mitsubishi Research Institute said of the target.
U.N. climate talks in December in the Danish capital Copenhagen aim to seal a broader climate pact to replace Kyoto from 2013. Japan's choice on a target is seen as an important signal as to the level of ambition by rich nations to fight global warming.
"This commitment is not strong enough," said Matthew Clarke, associate professor at the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University in Melbourne.
"Countries such as Japan must be willing to commit to deeper cuts in emissions if they are to encourage developing countries such as India and China to also make cuts to their emissions."
Zhang Haibin, an expert on environmental diplomacy at Peking University in Beijing, agreed.
"What Japan proposes is going to have a major impact, because it is one of the major developed countries. And China wants to see it set more ambitious goals than Kyoto if China is going to do more."
Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan has committed itself to cut emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels to 1.186 billion tonnes on average over the 2008-2012 period, but is struggling to meet the goal.
Unlike the target for the Kyoto pact, proposals for the 2020 target have excluded buying of emissions offsets from abroad.
Instead, they are based on feasible policy incentives and restrictions to cut emissions in Japan by conserving energy in households, using more low-emission cars and equipment and enhancing renewable energy sources.
Some saw the target as a good signal.
"This is a positive for Japan's clean energy sector, potentially giving rise to new demand throughout the Japanese economy and helping recharge industry as a whole," said Tetsuya Wadaki, an analyst at Nomura Securities.
The target is also in line with what is being proposed by other rich nations.
The European Union has promised to cut emissions 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels, equivalent to a 14 percent from 2005 levels, and by 30 percent if other rich nations follow suit.
In the United States, the only major developed nation outside Kyoto, a climate bill recently approved by a congressional panel aimed at a cut of 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. (Editing by David Fogarty)

'Global warming is hoax': the world according to Nick Griffin

BNP leader Nick Griffin launches into peak oil and climate change argument

Leo Hickman, Tuesday 9 June 2009 11.05 BST

Here's something that we're presumably going to have to listen to a lot more of as a result of the BNP's success in the European elections – Nick Griffin's views on climate change. As he was touring the radio studios yesterday morning, he popped in on BBC Radio 5 Live's Breakfast programme for a chat with Nicky Campbell. After a few minutes of fairly gentle jousting, Griffin interrupted Campbell as he tried to read out another text from a listener…
Griffin: The BBC is obsessed with race and immigration. It would be great to talk about something else for once.
Nicky Campbell: What would you like to talk about? What's the thing you'd like to say given this platform to speak to the nation this morning?
Nick Griffin: OK, how about the fact that I believe, along with the Czech politician [Vaclav Klaus] everyone is berating, that global warming is essentially a hoax. It is being exploited by the liberal elite as a means of taxing and controlling us and the real crisis is peak oil. We're running out of proper, real energy. And it is something with an immediate and catastrophic effect in a few years' time potentially — not worrying about floating polar bears in a 150 years.
(Go to 1.52:15 at this link to hear the interview)
My first reaction was: "As if there weren't already enough reasons not to vote BNP." But then another thought crossed my mind: isn't it interesting how he is convinced by the peak-oil argument, but still believes that global warming is a pinko conspiracy to squeeze yet more taxes out everybody?
Might it be that peak oil somehow fits into his far-right ideology (watch out everyone: let's burn our indigenous coal because we mustn't be slaves to the whims of those foreigners with big oil wells), whereas the regulatory politics of global warming rubs against his far-right libertarian instincts?

Climate talks on their own terms

Powerful global leaders – including Obama – are still refusing to take proper action to prevent a 2C+ rise in temperatures

Joss Garman, Tuesday 9 June 2009 19.00 BST

To observe the UN climate talks play out here in Bonn is to watch the governments of the world write the biography of my generation in advance. As the assembled delegates trawl over each line in the negotiating text that may eventually become the Copenhagen treaty this December, it's as if every single cultural and economic dispute in the earth's history, each grievance legitimate or otherwise, must be resolved before progress can be made. Stepping into the conference hall, that energetic sense of purpose and urgency which the climate movement outside instils in you, saps away. You find yourself faced with a room full of government negotiators arguing over trade rules, the complexities of different market mechanisms ... anything, it seems, other than the breakdown of our climate. It is frightening how detached this process has become from climate science, terrifying that what's on offer from the developed countries here is a recipe for a nightmarish 4C of global warming.
For years now, scientists have said – and most world leaders have acknowledged – that the imperative for a new global climate treaty is that it must keep the world below a 2C rise in temperatures. If warming of more than 2C isn't avoided, the UN estimates up to four billion people will become vulnerable to water shortages, agriculture will cease to be viable across whole swathes of the world, causing widespread famines, and the Amazon rainforest will collapse. It is clear this 2C consensus should determine the sorts of carbon-reduction targets countries must take on, and should set the parameters of a strong Copenhagen treaty. Anything else would be a pact for mutually assured destruction.
Yet it seems the US, even under Obama, is afraid that acknowledging this imperative would expose how their proposals are scientifically illiterate. It can only be for this reason that the US is consistently trying to dodge any promise of striving toward the necessary 2C goal. Asked this week if he's committed to it, Obama's slick chief negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, said the US was still looking at the science. Questioned by a youth delegate if he would pledge to try and save the communities whose very survival is already at stake because of rising seas, Pershing refused. It's obvious that the US is not so much "back" as "back to form".
For those of us who hoped Obama's team would be different, it's gutting to already be sensing a sinking feeling on this issue. You want to stand up and shout, "Yes we can. Remember?" Maybe it was naïve to think Obama might be strong enough to take on Big Carbon's stranglehold on the Hill, but I still believe if anyone can, he can. He was elected on a ticket of ending Bush and Cheney's eight-year assault on reason and with it the era of special-interest politics. With his dream team of science advisers and a global population willing him on, he could still do it.
Yet instead of signing up to a science-led global agreement, his US negotiators here are arguing that in the Copenhagen agreement countries should be able to set their own targets according to what they perceive to be politically feasible in their countries. They want to write our generation's history on their terms and on their turf.
You only have to look at the climate law passing through the US Congress at the moment, the so-called 'Waxman-Markey Bill,' to see what this would mean for the level of ambition we could expect to see in Copenhagen. Waxman-Markey commits the US to just a 4% cut in US emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels. Set this against the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change analysis showing that at least 40% cuts in emissions in developed countries are required, and you see the huge gap between the carbon budget being prescribed by scientists and the one being considered by politicians. The Waxman bill isn't even as ambitious for America as the Kyoto Protocol obligations that were put forward 12 years ago, and to add insult to injury, the proposed law would allow for 2bn tonnes of carbon offsets, meaning that the US wouldn't have to make any reductions domestically at all until the late 2020s.
Every new acronym I hear turns out to be another dirty trick designed to allow rich countries to go on with business as usual. For example, one dubious accounting measure being proposed here would mean that for every tree planted a country would receive a carbon credit, but for every tree felled they may not be debited. For millions of species and indigenous peoples, this would signal extinction as it would incentivise deforestation of ancient forests and pave the way for plantations.
America is far from alone amongst developed countries in dragging its feet. Canada is making desperate moves to prop up its tar sands and logging industries. Even supposedly clean, green New Zealand has no 2020 carbon target. Neither does Japan. Of course these industrial countries are joined by the caricature comedy baddies of the UN arena, rogue states like Saudi Arabia and Russia who throw regular wrecking spanners into the process.
But what's most worrying is that the European countries with the most engaged constituencies are themselves failing to stand up. Europe is only committed to a 20% cut in emissions by 2020, and Brown, Sarko et al have given no indication of how much money they'll put forward for developing countries to rescue those who would otherwise drown or starve because of our addiction to the black stuff.
With Copenhagen just six months away, targets that are completely inadequate, and no money forthcoming to help the most vulnerable, at the moment this is a race towards an empty treaty. The poorest and most vulnerable countries could very well walk away in December. And who could blame them?

Warmer seas 'flattens' reefs

Published Date: 10 June 2009

GLOBAL warming has "flattened" Caribbean coral reefs over the past 40 years, it was claimed yesterday.
The collapse of the reef structure has serious implications for biodiversity and coastal defences, say experts.The trend was revealed after scientists analysed 500 surveys conducted between 1969 and 2008. They found 75 per cent of the reefs were now largely "flat", against 20 per cent in the 1970s.Disease and warming sea temperatures cause levelling and flattening of coral reefs.Study leader Dr Lorenzo Alvarez-Filip, from the University of East Anglia, said: "For many organisms, the complex structure of reefs provides refuge from predators. "This drastic loss of architectural complexity is clearly driving substantial declines in biodiversity, which will in turn affect coastal fishing communities."

Ramco reveals £3.4m loss, plus funding drive

Published Date: 10 June 2009

RAMCO, the Aberdeen-based energy company, is seeking an investor to take a stake in its specialist wind farm business, SeaEnergy.

Despite raising £1.6 million to provide working capital for SeaEnergy in April, Ramco managing director Steve Bertram said yesterday that the company was seeking to raise a "moderate" further amount of funding.He said the amount raised would depend on whether it took on a purely financial investor or one with expertise to offer.SeaEnergy was formed after Ramco poached the team which built the giant Beatrice demonstrator turbines from North Sea oil and gas company Talisman, which deemed the project "non-core".It has been awarded stakes in two deep-water wind farm projects off the Scottish coast in joint ventures with Scottish & Southern Energy and RWE, and has applied for further sites set to be released from the Crown Estate later this year.Also yesterday, Ramco, which owns 80 per cent of SeaEnergy, reported a pre-tax loss of £3.4 million for 2008. Its other main interest – a large stake in Mesopotamia, a joint-venture company seeking Iraqi oil services contracts – has placed a tender for a 60-well contract from Missan Oil Company.Bertram would not give details of the size of the tender, but Houston-based Weatherford International recently won a 20-well contract in Iraq worth $224m (about £138m).

Unconventional sources promise rich natural gas harvest

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: June 10 2009 03:00

Global natural gas resources could be more than quadrupled, helping tackle climate change, if the world adopted US technology and expertise to tap unconventional sources, according to a report by PFC Energy, a consultancy.
For Europe, which geological surveys show has vast unconventional shale gas, coal bed methane and hard to access gas, this could ultimately lead to reduced dependence on Russia.
Globally, it could ease the transition from high carbon coal to cleaner burning natural gas in electricity production. "This is a game changer,'' said Robin West, PFC chairman.
PFC says that global unconventional natural gas resources, based on 1997 geological estimates that could rise with new technologies, total 3,250,000bn cubic feet. To contrast, the world's conventional natural gas reserves are 620,000bn cubic feet.
PFC does not put a timetable on how quickly these resources could be developed - indeed, some may be left in the ground forever. There are political, economic and bureaucratic obstacles to recovering this natural gas. But the technology is available and for the first time companies are considering the potential.
"You're talking about massive new resources,'' said Nikos Tsafos, PFC's upstream and gas group senior analyst. "Even if you only got 10 per cent of that, given the need for economic viability at each formation, you would increase the reserve base globally by 50 per cent.''
The growth in unconventional gas in the US underlines the potential. Richard Ranger, analyst at the American Petroleum Institute trade association, said accessing US shale had increased domestic natural gas supply estimates from 90 years' worth to 116 years.
"Unconventional gas has already transformed the supply picture in the US,'' Mr West of PFC said.
US unconventional gas supplies have doubled from 2000 to 2008, to 8,000bn cubic feet, PFC says, which is about two-thirds the gas volume that Europe imports from Russia.
Michael Steinhacker, project manager for Unconventional Gas Service at Wood Mackenzie consulting, said Europe's higher population density created problems in terms of the transportation of rigs and other equipment.
Supporting infrastructure, which is already in place in the US, would also have to be built.
The development of technologies to recover gas from shale - such as fracturing it with high-pressure water - has been led by independent natural gas company Devon Energy. Devon has formed a joint venture with Total, which is attempting to get a concession in France for 1.4m acres to produce shale gas.
While there is no active shale development project outside the US, testing is continuing on the commercial viability of some shales, said Bill Van Wie, Devon's senior vice-president of exploration.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Renewable energy: Sunny days ahead

By Peter Wise
Published: June 9 2009 15:22

“It was like the dotcom boom all over again. Everybody wanted to be in on the action. Everyone you met was doing something. It was all people talked about.”
This is how one energy executive describes the dash to register solar photovoltaic (PV) energy projects in Spain last year, as high incentives triggered a flood of licence applications.

The clamour led to a speculative bubble in which investors presented schemes with a total capacity of 1,300 MW – against a government target of 375 MW – in a year in which more than half the new solar PV capacity in the world was installed in Spain.
As the surge of applications – many of them containing errors or lacking adequate financial backing – swelled to a torrent, the government was forced to intervene, setting a deadline for registering projects and fixing new ceilings for total capacity.
The solar rush has led the government to overhaul legislation for all renewable energies, redefining capacity ceilings for wind, hydro and biomass production as well as solar in an effort to assert greater control over the country’s energy mix and to filter out non-viable projects.
This intervention to dampen the excitement has reignited the debate over the cost of renewable energy, the future of the nuclear sector and the possibility, as one think-think close to the Socialist government puts it, of energy in Spain being “100 per cent renewable by 2050”.
In May, Ignacio Galán, chairman of Iberdrola, the country’s biggest energy utility and the world’s largest producer of wind energy, proposed a plan whereby the country produced 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, 40 per cent from “efficient” thermal fuels, mainly natural gas, and 20 per cent from nuclear plants.
By the end of this year, renewable sources are expected to account for almost a quarter of national electricity production, well above the EU average in 2008 of less than 8 per cent. Depending on weather conditions and demand, wind energy alone can account for 30 – even 40 – per cent of power generation at particular times.
In a world in which the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency and the global recession have given new prominence to renewable energy as a means of tackling climate change and a stimulus for economic growth, Spain stands out as a pioneer of the green energy revolution. Many other countries now hope to follow suit.
After more than a decade of strong investment, Spain is Europe’s second largest producer of wind and solar energy after Germany. As a mountainous, but not densely populated country with long hours of sunlight, it benefits from favourable natural conditions.
But the push into clean energy is also driven by sheer necessity. Spain relies on imports for 81 per cent of its energy needs, subjecting the economy to the volatility of world oil prices. Imported oil and gas accounted for 47 percent of a trade deficit tof €94bn in 2008. Spain is also one the EU countries furthest away from meeting its international commitments to reduce CO2 emissions.
As the government budget swings from a surplus of 2.2 per cent of GDP in 2007 to a forecast deficit of more than 9 per cent next year, some analysts are calling into question the cost of the state incentives paid to encourage investment in clean energy. These totalled €950m last year.
The Spanish association of wind energy producers says these incentives have to be put into the context of an estimated 20m tonnes of CO2 not emitted, 500m tonnes of oil not imported and €2.5bn in exports of renewable energy technology – now worth more than exports of Spanish wine, according to energy industry officials.
Most analysts agree that these savings outweigh the cost of tariff premiums paid by taxpayers.
The “feed-in” tariff system adopted in Spain provides clean energy producers with a guaranteed remuneration at a premium to the market rate for electricity over a fixed number of years.
By giving investors the long-term financial stability to raise finance, it has proved a highly successful business model – almost too successful, in the words of one energy company executive commenting on the solar PV rush.
“The solar PV tariffs on offer were too generous,” says Miguel Salis, chief executive of N+1 Eolia, which manages Spain’s largest independent wind and solar PV operator. “This triggered a flood projects and left the government without any control over the total capacity being built.”
In response, the government is introducing legislation that redefines capacity limits for each type of renewable energy, cut-off dates for submitting applications and strict pre-qualification rules on the financial viability of would-be investors.
As each capacity target is met, the government will set new tariffs and a new deadline for the next tranche of capacity in each area, steadily reducing the premiums paid, as renewable technologies become more competitive.
According to operators, production costs for wind energy are already close to those of conventional energy sources.
“Spain needs to balance its renewable energy needs with what it can afford,” says José Guardo, a lawyer who specialises in renewable energy at Garrigues, Spain’s largest law firm.
“Money that is spent on solar PV tariffs, for example, cannot be spent on other types of clean energy. The new legislation will give the government more control over the type of energy capacity built and who builds it.”
Spanish companies have used the technological and business experience they have gained at home to become world leaders in the renewable energy sector.
Juan Sáez, general director of Acciona, a leading Spanish utility, says global stimulus programmes amounting to $436bn, of which 67 per cent is earmarked for energy, will create huge overseas opportunities for Spanish renewable companies.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Schwarzenegger's ebook plans are not a greener option

California's plans to drop traditional textbooks in favour of online material will no doubt spare a few trees - but Arnie should be choosing the greenest option by rolling out dedicated e-reader devices at the same time, says Duncan Graham-Rowe

Duncan Graham-Rowe, Tuesday 9 June 2009 15.28 BST

During his lengthy announcement about replacing text books in California's public schools with online ebooks Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger only made one brief reference to the environmental benefits this would bring. Until just recently such a seemingly obvious opportunity to seize a piece of the environmental high ground would not have been missed. But instead Schwarzenegger focused on the financial benefits, and merely briefly mumbled something about saving a few trees in the process.
The big man's eco-shyness may be more than an oversight but part of the growing awareness among policymakers of e-missions – the greenhouse gases incurred by the internet. When you take into account the additional energy used to make the computers used to read the ebooks, the data servers supporting the services and the internet infrastructure, the truth is that it's far from clear whether there is any environmental benefit at all.
True, millions of trees may well be spared the axe, not to mention the environmental damage caused by the pulping industry – it is the third largest consumer of fossil fuels and uses 10 litres of water to make just one piece of A4 paper. Yet even in the face of such waste this still doesn't necessarily make ebooks a greener option.
Take the newspaper industry for example. Given that in the US alone Sunday newspapers are responsible for more than half a million trees being felled each week, you might think that by reading the Guardian online you are reducing your environmental impact. But it turns out it may in fact depend on precisely what you're reading this on. An optimist may choose to cling to research which suggests that reading your newspaper via a wireless palmtop computer produces up to 140 times less CO2 and 67 times less water than a paper version.
But before you start congratulating yourself consider another more recent, and arguably more thorough, study which took account of the energy that goes into manufacturing devices and the e-missions entailed through regular downloading. According to this Swedish study, reading a newspaper online for 30 minutes a day produces more emissions than reading a paper version. The reverse is true if you read them for just 10 minutes.
Quite apart from suggesting that it's greener to read faster, it's a reflection of the e-missions entailed by having a computer plugged in and downloading. In other words, when reading a paper online, it's the electricity used by the computer that is the biggest carbon contributor. In light of this the study (funded by the Swedish newspaper industry) goes on to show that by far the greenest option is to switch to dedicated e-reader devices like the Amazon's Kindle DX, and Schwarzenegger would do well to do the same.
That's because devices like this not only allow content to be downloaded wirelessly without needing to go through a PC as well, but also because their novel electronic-paper displays use so little energy. Once an image is displayed on the screen it requires almost no power to keep it there, thus their operational energy requirements miniscule compared to other devices.
So California, by all means roll out the ebooks. But if you want to save the environment as well as money then you may want to roll out e-readers in the process.