Friday, 12 June 2009

British 'Searaser' invention promises green power revolution on the waves

The 'Searaser' uses the power of the ocean to pump water inland for electricity generation. Mark Anslow reports on the simple invention that could soon be making waves in renewables. From the Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Mark Anslow, the Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Thursday 11 June 2009 11.15 BST

Alvin Smith had his eureka moment not in the bath, but in the swimming pool. 'I was swimming round the pool, making little waves, and it struck me how much power there was in the displacement of the water,' he remembers. 'You think of a 500-tonne boat: a wave comes along, lifts that whole boat, and then drops it down again. You must be able to harness some of that, I thought.'
His subsequent invention would have made Archimedes proud, and should be making the renewables industry very excited.
Dubbed 'Searaser', it consists of what looks like a navigation buoy, but is in fact a simple arrangement of ballast and floats connected by a piston. As a wave passes the device, the float is lifted, raising the piston and compressing water. The float sinks back down on the tail of the wave on to a second float, compressing water again on the downstroke.
What is particularly clever about Searaser, however, is its simplicity. Where most marine energy devices have sealed, lubricated innards and complex electronics, Searaser is lubricated entirely by seawater, has no electronic components and is even self-cleaning. Smith describes it as 'Third-World mechanics', but this belies the sophistication of the concept.
'The beauty of it is that we're only making a pump, and bringing water ashore,' he explains. 'All the other technology needed to generate the electricity already exists.'
Searaser is designed to pump water either straight through a sea-level turbine to generate electricity, or up to a clifftop reservoir, where the water could be stored until needed, then allowed to flow back down to the sea through turbines, generating electricity on demand.
The second option is the one about which Smith is most passionate. By effectively storing the energy generated by Searaser to be used on demand, his system would solve a problem that dogs almost all renewable technologies – their variability. Energy that can be summoned at will is not only more valuable, but also allows the grid to compensate for other, less easily controlled renewables such as wind and solar.
Early trials of the prototype Searaser, one of which was completed in April, have proved encouraging. Despite being less than a tenth of the size of the version he hopes will eventually be supplying power to our homes, Smith's homemade machine managed to pump some 112,000 litres of water a day during the trial, at times operating from waves a mere 6in high.
The eventual machine will be capable of generating 1 megawatt of electricity – enough to supply some 1,700 homes – at prices that the team behind Searaser believe will be lower than most other renewable technologies.
As an intermediate step, a trial of two midsize machines should go ahead towards the end of this year, with a university invited to monitor the trial and provide independent accreditation of the results. Although these machines won't generate electricity (they will simply pump water through a flow meter to determine their potential) they will demonstrate whether the technology can work for prolonged periods and in rough conditions.
For Smith, however – a man who could use a welder by the age of eight – the incremental steps between prototype and commercial deployment seem almost an irritation. His vision is already far advanced, and includes using the pressurised saltwater generated by Searaser to produce drinking water, using the same reverse osmosis process used in conventional, energy-hungry desalination plants.
'All you'd have to do is reduce the size of the piston and increase the size of the floats to increase the pressure,' he explains.
He has also put plenty of thought into how he would persuade planners and landowners to allow him to build reservoirs on top of cliffs to provide the energy storage for Searaser.
'The planning will frighten everyone,' he says, 'but if you were trying to produce as much energy from wind turbines, they'd be very visible; a reservoir you'd only see from above.'
Smith has also put thought into how the reservoir could be made as water-tight as possible – vital to avoid saltwater leaching into soils. By double-lining the reservoirs and including an outlet pipe in between the two linings, you would instantly be able to see if the uppermost lining had a puncture by watching the end of the outlet pipe.
'If you saw any water coming out, you'd know you had a leak and you could drain down the reservoir and sort it out,' he says.
Beyond being simply functional, however, Smith believes the reservoirs could be beautiful, providing recreational spaces for watersports or sites for shellfish farmers. 'I bet the birds would love it, too,' he adds.
Although Searaser is clearly a commercial project and Smith hopes to see a return on his patents, he is also keen to see the technology deployed abroad, given that its simplicity lends itself to installation and maintenance in the less-industrialised world.
'It's a modular system: a community could start off with two or three machines, and expand as necessary. It can go round the globe, it really can,' he says.
• Mark Anslow is the Ecologist's News Editor. This article appeared in the June issue of the Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Lamborghini emits some V12-powered nonsense

Carbon emissions from Italian sports cars are so great that even a 35% C02 reduction still leaves them bottom of the class

Fred Pearce, Thursday 11 June 2009 10.13 BST

A green Lamborghini. It doesn't sound likely, does it? I can't quite imagine a car with a V12 engine and maximum speed of 350kph having an emissions bypass.
But last week, the Italian sports car maker announced plans to cut 35% from the carbon dioxide emissions of its cars by 2015. And meanwhile it is putting 17,000 square meters of solar panels on the roof of its main factory at Sant'Agata Bolognese near Bologna, and introducing other measures such as better insulation to cut factory emissions by 30%.
Stephan Winkelmann, the president and chief executive of Lamborghini, said: "We have an objective to reduce CO2 emissions to the greatest possible degree." The goal is to make the company's cars "more considerate of the environment, in terms of emissions and the use of resources".
The announcement harvested some handy headlines. Not least in the Daily Telegraph in Britain, which announced that "Lamborghini's green pledge" would commit the "Italian supercar maker" to a "low-CO2 future". The company said its investment shows its "sense of social responsibility regarding the environment".
Well, hold your horsepower. The big question is: how bad are the emissions now? Just what is being reduced by 35%?
Check the European Union's list of emissions from all cars sold in the UK and it turns out that, of more than 4,800 models on sale, Lamborghini's models cluster right at the bottom, with the worst emissions, and various versions of its Murcielago occupy the bottom four places. In the standard EU test drive, they emit 495g of CO2 for every kilometre driven.
That's more than three times the emissions from a typical saloon and five times that from the lowest carbon petrol cars.
The Murcielago easily beats off gas-guzzling challengers like Ferraris, Aston Martins, Bentleys and even Hummers. In fact it's in a class of its own. The next worst, the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, makes do with emitting 470g.
It is so bad that even if the "supercars" designers cut its emissions by 35% tomorrow, the filthy four would still be among the 2.5% most-polluting models on the market. "More considerate of the environment"? Well not much.
Still, Lamborghini's greenwash is a turn-round of sorts. This time last year, Winkelmann dismissed out of hand EU calls for him to make emissions cuts. He claimed he made so few cars that it didn't make any real difference to the climate what they emitted. Now, however, Winkelmann insists that his company is "committed to its policy of environmental management".
And don't forget that the 495g rating only applies to emissions from the European Union's standard test, which is designed to mimic regular day-to-day motoring by regular day-to-day vehicles. Any vehicle with 6,500cc of engine capacity is unlikely to be driven like a shoppers' hatchback. So we can be fairly sure the actual emissions of a Murcielago roaring through the French riviera or hurtling up the autobahn will be even higher than suggested in the EU charts.
I guess nobody expects the Lamborghini to be like others cars – nor that their owners will treat them like regular vehicles. Batman drove the top-polluting Murcielago 640 in the movie The Dark Knight. And last summer an owner in Qatar reportedly air-freighted his Lamborghini to London for a service. But these people do share the same planet as the rest of us, even if they'd probably rather they didn't.
Trying to put a green halo on this ultimate gas guzzler is like giving Jack the Ripper a medal for taking a night off.
• Do you know of any green claims that deserve closer examination? Email your examples to or add your comments below

US wind farm energy up in the air over climate change, says study

Measurements from wind towers across the midwest show average and peak winds may have been slowing since 1973

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 11 June 2009 12.48 BST

The great gusting winds of the American midwest – and possibly the hopes for the most promising clean energy source – may be dying, in part because of climate change, according to a new report.
A study, due to be published in August in the peer-reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research, suggests that average and peak winds may have been slowing across the midwest and eastern states since 1973.
The authors of the study note that their findings are preliminary and some of their data is ambiguous. But the study, based on measurements gathered from wind towers across the midwest raises the possibility of yet another new side effect from global warming: declining wind speeds.
"We have noted there have been some periods in the past ... where there was a pretty substantial decrease in wind speed for 12 consecutive months," Eugene Takle, the director of the climate science initiative at Iowa State University and one of the authors of the study, said. "We suspect that it's some large-scale influence that we don't yet understand."
Areas of the midwest have seen a 10% decline in average wind speed over the past decade. Some places – such as Minnesota – have seen a jump in the number of days where there was no wind at all.
Takle said climate modelling suggested a further 10% decline in wind levels could occur over the next four decades. "Generally we expect there will probably be a decline in wind speeds due to climate change."
The sharpest fall off in wind speeds recorded in the study occurred in the eastern United States including Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, northern Maine, western Montana and Virginia.
Other areas, like west Texas, which is the heart of America's wind power industry have been relatively unaffected, the study found.
The yet-to-be-published study was first reported by the Associated Press which also noted that the research was preliminary.
Takle noted that data could be skewed by changes in instruments for measuring wind, or reforestation, which could also slow wind speeds.
Other scientists have also raised doubts about the findings.
But if the findings are borne out, the dying winds could deliver a serious setback to plans to expand the use of the renewable energy.
The US is the world's largest producer of wind power, and investment in the sector had explosive growth before the economic downturn, hitting $17bn last year. Wind turbines are now a common sight on high rises across many American states.
But a 10% fall in peak winds could translate into a 27% reduction in energy, Takle said. "On moderately windy days when wind turbines are struggling to get as much as they can out of the wind available and they are not letting any extra power go through that could make a big difference."
Wind industry analysts downplayed the potential impact of a reduction in wind levels in some regions of the US. "I don't think that at this point you could definitively say there are going to be across the board decreases in wind," said Michael Goggin, an industry analyst for the American Wind Energy Association. "The abundance and diversity of wind resources in the United States is so great. We are called the Saudi Arabia of wind for a reason. There are enough different climate regimes that even if some are negatively affected – and at this point that is speculative – others could do better."
Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at Nasa's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, told the Guardian the study had yet to establish a clear pattern of declining winds, and that it was too soon to be thinking of the effects on wind energy industry.
"It's still very preliminary. My feeling is that it is way too premature to be talking about the impact that this makes.

EU power lines 'too old to deliver 2020 renewables target'

Ageing grid cannot transfer energy over the long distances demanded by renewable power stations, say academics

Alok Jha, Thursday 11 June 2009 11.45 BST

A concentrating solar power (CSP) plant in Spain, similar to those proposed for north Africa. Photograph: AP
Europe's electricity grid needs a radical overhaul if it is to distribute the renewable energy capacity that governments have committed to building by 2020, according to Europe's leading science academies. They argue that the continent's ageing grid infrastructure is incapable of transferring energy over the long distances demanded by renewable power stations, which are often built in remote locations, far from population centres.
In a report for the European Commission, published today by the the European Academies Science Advisory Council (Easac), experts called on national governments to co-ordinate their grids and invest in new technologies such as high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines to better prepare Europe for a future of green electricity.
"The whole transmission and distribution system needs redesigning," said Mike Sterling, an electrical engineer and fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, who chaired the electricity grid working group on behalf of Easac.
The EU has committed to sourcing 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 but experts said this generating capacity will be wasted unless it can be distributed properly.
"The change in the generating sources is well known and, unless we can get clean coal or nuclear back up again, there will be a dramatic change in the distribution of the energy sources," said Sterling. Renewable energy for the UK, he said, might come from remote locations in the North Sea or off the west coast of Scotland and the power sector needs to work out how to bring that power to the places it is needed.
"We must make major changes to the current delivery systems in the EU and become more co-ordinated if we are to meet these targets," said John Holmes, secretary to the Easac working group, "This report gives the EU Directorate General a blueprint for a brighter, greener future in Europe."
Upgrading the grids in individual countries should be done to common standards, said the report, and eventually the movement of electricity across Europe might even be managed centrally. Any extensions to the grid could incorporate HVDC transmission lines so that electricity could be moved from, say, solar plants in the Sahara to northern Europe whenever there is no wind. These lines are preferred because they lose less of their energy during long-distance transmission compared to standard AC cables, but they are also more expensive to build.
Scandinavian countries potentially have excess capacity in hydroelectric plants that could, ideally, be sold to places such as Germany. If agreements can be made with north African countries, solar power collected in the Sahara desert could be transported up into southern Europe. "In order to do that, you need to design the transmission system so it can cope with the large power flows through existing countries' networks [but] Italy's transmission system is not designed for that, nor is Spain's."
Electricity companies warned a committee of MPs in April that the government was in danger of missing its target on renewables without substantial investment in a new national energy grid.
Last year, EU scientists also proposed a plan for a Europe-wide supergrid that could share Europe's renewable energy resources across the continent. They said the grid could allow countries such as the UK and Denmark ultimately to export wind energy at times of surplus supply, as well as import from other green sources such as geothermal power in Iceland.
The scientists working on the project envisaged that, by 2050, solar power plants in north Africa could produce 100 GW, more than the combined electricity output from all sources in the UK, with an investment of around €450bn. But they also said this could not be transferred to northern Europe without a major restructuring of grid infrastructure in the transfer countries such as Italy and Spain or Greece or Turkey.

China shakes off image as climate criminal with green revolution

Coal-hungry China's low-carbon ambitions are to its economic advantage as it jostles for position at Copenhagen with the US

Isabel Hilton, Thursday 11 June 2009 15.29 BST

China's intentions to set new and ambitious targets for renewable energy, revealed in the Guardian yesterday might come as a surprise. It is China's dependence on coal that has claimed our attention, and China's status as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases make its image as a climate change criminal hard to shed. But despite its poor reputation for climate policy, a quiet revolution is underway as China positions itself for a low carbon future.
China and the US are the two elephants in the climate change room, the two economic powers that between them account for half of the world's annual emissions of greenhouse gases. Both have been judged major obstacles to the global effort to reduce emissions, and each has used the other as its prime excuse: US conservatives argue that the US should only reduce emissions once China and other major developing countries have also pledged to do so. China insists that the problem was created by rich countries and they have the means and the responsibility to fix the problem.
The finger pointing continues: the US points to China's gross emissions; China to the US's world-beating per capita emissions, 20 tonnes per head each year compared with China's two. More recently, as the pace has quickened in the global climate negotiations that culminate in Copenhagen in December, China has suggested that since exports to developed countries generate a substantial proportion of China's emissions, they should be attributed to the purchasing countries.
On the surface these attitudes seem to spell deadlock. But behind the public posturing a different process is unfolding, triggered by the departure of George Bush from the White House and China's ambitions to increase the manufacture of high-value technologies. The US is back in the global climate game, even, belatedly, claiming leadership. China is obliged to respond, or risk bearing all the opprobrium.
Today, the world's biggest emitters are led by governments that understand the climate threat and their own exposure to future risks and international hostility. Each has the power to wreck agreement on a deal, but together they have a huge potential to drive the real reductions in emissions that the world needs. As the Copenhagen deadline approaches, all eyes are fixed on the possibility of a bilateral deal that could transform the future.
With Obama's election, the way was opened for the US and China to look for the mutual benefits of cooperation on climate, instead of clinging to mutually assured destruction. The question now is whether thesynergies offered by China's potential for large-scale manufacturing and deployment and American technological innovation can overcome the rivalry between the incumbent superpower and its biggest economic rival. At the end of a two-day visit by Obama's chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, the mood music in Beijing this week was promising.
Both have much to gain. The Chinese leadership is well aware of the dangers that climate change poses to its future development. China is highly vulnerable to sea level rise and to falls in agricultural production. Above all, it is haunted by the water shortage which already grips north China and which threatens to become Beijing's most intractable crisis as the melting glaciers of the Himalayas wreak havoc with Asia's rivers and monsoon patterns.
Beijing is looking for the chance to move beyond the exhausted and wasteful model of export-led manufacturing and into high-value technologies. The rewards of becoming a leader in the clean, low-carbon technologies of the future are perhaps better understood in Beijing than in some western capitals. As GM collapses, strangled by its attachment to old models, China is developing electric cars.
In this fast moving game, both powers know that the chances of striking a global deal in Copenhagen in December that will prove sufficiently radical are slim. A new climate treaty remains vital, but a treaty alone will not produce the radical emissions reductions the crisis demands. Both risk being seen as selfish powers indifferent to the threat climate change poses to humanity. Each faces substantial domestic opposition: the US labours to discard the legacy of eight wasted years under Bush. Today, despite his claim of climate leadership, Obama's ambitions remain constrained by a recalcitrant domestic opposition. Beijing has to negotiate with powerful regional leaders who need to deliver jobs and growth at home, Obama with powerful oil and coal interests stirred into action by the change in the US position.
But despite China's ambitions to continue its rapid growth, Beijing knows that the carbon-heavy path it is following would render the efforts of the rest of the world to reduce global emissions futile. A leading economist, Hu Angang, recently proposed, in a radical article, that China should take on early emissions reduction targets for its own interests. For the two big emitters, the prize is to find a bilateral deal that enables them to share profits rather than sacrifice them, and that promise has to be convincing enough to overcome the doubts of domestic constituencies that see the other as the main strategic rival.
China is already the world's leading investor in renewable technologies and government encouragement has produced a surge in installed wind power. Now that China's target of 15% renewable energy by 2020 will be upgraded to 20%, China can argue that its efforts to avoid dangerous climate change are at least on a par with the EU, currently the leader in declared targets. Although under the Kyoto treaty China is not obliged to take on reduction targets, Beijing does aim to stabilise emissions by 2020. Given China's soaring energy needs, advanced technology and energy efficiency will be key components of that effort.
China might achieve this alone. In partnership with the US, both have the potential to become the solution rather than the problem.
Isabel Hilton is editor of

Blitz spirit revived for the climate change war

Published Date: 11 June 2009

DURING the Second World War it was a campaign to prevent Britian going hungry, but now the city's tenement dwellers are being urged to "Dig For Victory" once more.
The Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association (ECBA) is set to revive the wartime spirit that turned thousands of green spaces into temporary allotments in a bid to battle global warming.The project is the brainchild of ECBA founder Greig Robertson, 39, who started the ECBA with a small pilot project in Gorgie/Dalry in 2005, and has recently expanded into Shandon, Polwarth, Marchmont, Newington, Easter Road and Leith Walk.The aim of the association is to turn Victorian tenement backgreens – many of which are used as drying areas or bin stores and are overgrown with weeds – into mini-village greens.Boosted by lucrative grants from community charities and green groups, including £80,000 from the Tudor Trust and £73,000 from Climate Challenge, the association hopes to revive another ten backgreens by the end of the year. In keeping with the wartime theme they are now currently recruiting for the "Backgreen Blitz", a bid to attract more than 100 people from every community to transform their backgreens.Mr Robertson said: "The original Dig For Victory campaign was a necessity when the trade routes were blockaded and shipping was reserved for the transport of armaments, so the government turned gardens, lawns, parks, bowling greens and sports pitches into allotments."The world is under threat again, not from war but from global warming, and one of the main causes of this is the obscene amount of food miles racked up by supermarket products."As well as providing the means to help people grow their own food, which has become very popular in recent years through chefs like Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, we give advice on buying locally grown produce."The funding the group has received so far will allow it to install and equip ten community sheds – known as Co-Sheds – in each of the backgreens, with all the tools the community needs to create and maintain the area.The ECBA will supply soil and timber to create a raised bed to grow vegetables, provide help with landscaping and may eventually see the installation of picnic tables and barbeque areas.Mr Robertson added: "Some of these tenements have up to 300 families living in them, and if you were to flatten them out and transport them to the suburbs they would resemble small villages."We'd like to see these backgreens turned into the tenement equivalent of village greens, where the community can come together to maintain and enjoy a beautiful green space."The ECBA is already running classes for greenfingered residents every week in each of the backgreen areas, and has also started a monthly "grow your own" class on the last Saturday of every month.

Climate spending poised to propel AEA

By John O’Doherty
Published: June 12 2009 03:49

Heavy spending by the Obama administration on environmental measures will boost sales at AEA Technology, the energy and climate change consultancy said, as it digests its recent acquisition of PPC, a US-based environmental data group.
“The stimulus package that [President] Obama has put forth includes $40bn (£24bn) to invest in emerging technologies and energy efficiency initiatives,” said Mike Nigro, former chief executive of PPC and now chief operating officer at AEA.
“The administration has already appropriated much of the monies and we’ve written six proposals already for $150m that we couldn’t have written had it not been for the AEA capabilities ... over the next three years we see about $2bn worth of opportunities that we now can go after because of the relationship between AEA and PPC.”
So called “secure sales” – a measure of orders received by the company to date that are expected to be delivered in the coming year – stand at £57.5m ($95.3m), up 14 per cent from the £50.5m reached this time last year.
AEA Technology grew out of a subdivision of the UK’s Atomic Energy Association, advising the British government on measures to reduce smog in London in the 1950s. It now advises the UK’s Climate Change Committee and consults with governments and private sector organisations in Europe and China on environmental policy.
Andrew McCree, AEA’s chief executive, said the acquisition of PPC would add expertise from the US in the collation and analysis of emissions and climate data to PPC’s existing skills in policy formulation in Europe. “The two markets are at different points in their cycle,” he said.
“In the US, they’re starting to formulate policy, whereas in the UK, the policy is all done and in place, and it’s now in the space of implementation.”
For the full year ending in March, pre-tax profit fell 6 per cent to £7.5m on revenues that increased by 16 per cent to £93.7m. much of the profit decline was due to a £2.2m investment in sales and marketing operations, and AEA’s operating profit increased by 5 per cent to £10.4m.
Shares in AEA Technology closed up 1¾p at 22¾p on Thursday.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

BA boss: Airline passengers will have to pay for pollution

Willie Walsh, British Airways chief, says airline emissions trading scheme will mean fares rises

Dan Milmo, Thursday 11 June 2009 20.39 BST

Airline passengers will have to pay for the environmental impact of their journeys through fare increases if carriers join a global emissions trading scheme, according to British Airways boss Willie Walsh.
Airlines could contribute $5bn (£3bn) a year to help developing countries fight climate change if a scheme goes ahead, according to the Aviation Global Deal Group, whose members include BA, Virgin and Air France-KLM.
Under one version the industry would be limited to an amount of carbon dioxide emissions – for instance, 97% of 2005 emissions in 2005 – and would receive free carbon permits equating to 85% of its permitted emissions, and would bid for the rest. A proportion of those auction proceeds would go to developing countries.
The group made the proposal amid mounting frustration over negotiations for the Copenhagen climate change conference in December, which will thrash out a sequel to the Kyoto agreement. Airlines are concerned their representative body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, will not produce a robust proposal in time and could expose them to measures such as an international air travel levy.
Walsh said fares would "have to" rise in order to cover the cost of a global trading scheme. Walsh added that the sector's "unsustainable" financial state, with a total loss of $9bn forecast this year, made fare rises inevitable. "This is going to add billions to the industry's cost base and the industry is unlikely to be able to absorb the cost. For the industry to play its part the people who benefit from that industry will have to pay for it as well."
Walsh said the European Union should use its emissions trading scheme as a fore-runner for a global programme but not attempt to drag in non-EU airlines lest they take legal action.

US nuclear industry tries to hijack Obama's climate change bill

Republicans seek federal financing for 100 new reactors despite huge capital costs and unsolved problems of storing waste

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 11 June 2009 18.46 BST

America's nuclear industry and its supporters in Congress have moved to hijack Barack Obama's agenda for greening the economy by producing a rival plan to build 100 new reactors in 20 years, and staking a claim for the money to come from a proposed clean energy development bank.
Republicans in the House of Representatives produced a spoiler version of the Democrats' climate change bill this week, calling for a doubling of the number of nuclear reactors in the US by 2030. The 152-page Republican bill contains just one reference to climate change, and proposes easing controls for new nuclear plants.
In the Senate, Republican leaders, including the former presidential candidate John McCain, also called this week for loan guarantees for building new reactors to rise from $18.5bn (£11.2bn) to $38bn. Other Republicans have called on the administration to underwrite the $122bn start-up costs of 19 nuclear reactors, whose applications are now under review by the department of energy.
"If you care about climate change ... 100 new nuclear power plants is the place to start," said Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee who is the strongest proponent of nuclear power in the Senate.
Another crucial element of the Republicans' "nuclear renaissance" are two rival proposals for a "clean energy bank" now before Congress. One version, under consideration by the Senate, envisages almost unlimited federal loan guarantees to encourage wind and solar power and, nuclear proponents hope, new reactors.
Ellen Vancko, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: "The nuclear industry would like to be able to finance the next generation of nuclear reactors using the faith and credit of the US taxpayer to underwrite the expansion. They don't want to be responsible for any risk of financing these plants and neither do their lenders."
No new reactors have been ordered in 30 years, not least due to the challenges of raising $5bn-$12bn to build a new plant.
But the industry is hoping for a surge in orders for new reactors around the world and assurances from Obama's energy secretary, Steven Chu, of nuclear power's place in America's long-term energy mix.
Nuclear industry executives told Congress this week that 429 new nuclear plants were planned or under construction around the world. In the US, the energy department is reviewing 19 applications for new nuclear reactors. Construction, if they are approved, could begin in 2011.
Much of the push for nuclear power comes from the conservative south, which has more reactors than anywhere else in the US and which is less suited than other regions for wind or solar development.
The campaign faces two challenges: the huge cost of construction and the lack of permanent storage for nuclear waste.
The Obama administration has blocked a 22-year project to dump waste from reactors in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. But the biggest obstacle to Republican dreams of a nuclear renaissance is start-up costs. Last month, John Rowe, chairman of Exelon, which operates 17 nuclear reactors, said he would cancel or delay construction of two new reactors in Texas without federal loan guarantees. He said the government assurances were "imperative" because of the high capital costs of nuclear reactors.
Obama's $787bn economic recovery plan set aside $50bn for the nuclear industry but Democrats in Congress cut out the funds. Frustrated fans of nuclear power, such as McCain, accused Obama and Chu of ignoring its potential. "They remember Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and all those scenes in the movies that are apocalyptic about nuclear power," he said.
If Republican efforts in Congress for a nuclear energy bill and a clean energy bank fail, the US nuclear renaissance is likely to be restricted to new reactors already being built. Jim Riccio, Greenpeace nuclear analyst, said: "The renaissance is on hold or maybe dead on arrival."

Amazon deforestation leads to development 'boom-and-bust'

Study challenges argument that chopping down trees improves economic and social conditions, writes Alok Jha

Alok Jha, Thursday 11 June 2009 19.00 BST

Chopping down the Amazon rainforest to make way for crops or cattle has no economic or social benefit for local people in the long term, according to a major new study.
The finding undercuts the argument that deforestation, which causes 20% of the globe's greenhouse gas emissions, leads to long-term development.
Conservationists showed communities develop rapidly but temporarily when forests are cleared. But rates of development quickly fall back below national average levels when the loggers move on and local resources near depletion.
More than 155,000 square kilometres of Amazonian rainforest in Brazil have been cleared for timber or burned to make way for agricultural land since 2000. Every year, around 1.8m hectares are destroyed — a rate of four football fields every minute. The Amazonian rainforest is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, guarding against climate change by absorbing CO2 and maintaining geochemical cycles.
But some argue that local communities, which are among the poorest in Brazil, should be able to benefit from the local resources by creating farms or logging the trees. To calculate these potential benefits of deforestation for local communities, a team of international scientists analysed the life expectancy, literacy and income of people living in 286 areas around the Brazilian Amazon.
Their results, published today in Science, showed that the quality of life for local communities improved rapidly when a forest first cleared. "The monthly average income started out at 74 Reals per month," said Rob Ewers of the department of life sciences at Imperial College London, a member of the study team. "Then it went up to as much as 196 Reals per month in the middle [of the deforested area] and then to 82 once the resource is gone. Literacy went from 68% at the frontier [of the forest] up to a maximum of 83% then dropped down to 69%."
The researchers said that the cycle occurred because, at first, the newly available natural resources in an area of cleared forest attract investment and infrastructure. New roads can lead to improved access to education, medicine and an increased overall income gives people better living conditions.
But once the timber and other resources dry up, things change. "A lot of the agricultural land is only productive for a few years so once you lose that, you also lose that as a source of income," said Ewers. "On top of that you tend to have much higher populations because a lot of people have been attracted to the area."
This higher population has to survive on ever-dwindling local resources, pushing the standard of living right down again.
Ana Rodrigues of the Centre of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in France, and lead author of the study, said: "The Amazon is globally recognised for its unparalleled natural value, but it is also a very poor region. It is generally assumed that replacing the forest with crops and pastureland is the best approach for fulfilling the region's legitimate aspirations to development. This study tested that assumption. We found although the deforestation frontier does bring initial improvements in income, life expectancy, and literacy, such gains are not sustained."
Greenpeace forests campaigner Sarah Shoraka said the research undermined any arguments that deforestation tackles poverty. "Slashing and burning rainforest to make way for cattle ranches or soya farms is simply not sustainable, because profits are short lived and the big companies simply move elsewhere. Instead we need sustained international funding to protect this massive natural resource, to make trees worth more alive than dead."
Andrew Balmford of the University of Cambridge said that the "current boom-and-bust trajectory of Amazonian development is therefore undesirable in human terms as well as potentially disastrous for other species, and for the world's climate. Reversing this pattern will hinge on capturing the value of intact forests to people outside the Amazon so that local people's livelihoods are better when the forest is left standing than when it is cleared."
This could be achieved in part, he said, by international schemes where rich countries could pay Brazilians to maintain their forests, which would lock up the carbon contained within them in a bid to tackle climate change but also provide locals with an income.

UK beaches set for clean-up following damning report

Government vows to halt deterioration of nation's coastal areas after European report places 25 resorts on dirty list

Press Association, Thursday 11 June 2009 14.08 BST

The government today vowed to boost efforts to clean up the coastline after the latest European beaches report criticised the quality of water at more than two dozen resorts.
The vast majority of the nation's favourite coastal areas meet strict EU bathing water cleanliness standards. But too much rain is being blamed for putting the chic Cornish resort of Rock on the dirty list, as well as Sandgate in Kent and 23 other swimming areas on the country's tourist map. Most of the UK bathing areas needing improvement were in the south-west – Devon and Cornwall – and in Scotland.
"We're working to improve sewerage systems and are aware of the effect heavy rain and flooding can have on our coastal bathing waters" said a government spokesman. "The proposal to make connections to sewers subject to meeting national standards will result in less water reaching sewerage treatment works, and consequently reduce the risk of flooding and pollution to our beaches."
The EU report echoed a survey last month, which recorded a fall in the number of English beaches awarded "blue flags" for cleanliness in 2009. The fall was attributed to the heavy rain and flooding in 2008 and 2007, which washed pollutants into the sea and affected water quality. Earlier this year, the Marine Conservation Society also claimed litter on British beaches had reached record levels, more than doubling in the past 15 years and putting marine life at risk.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says it is currently tackling pollution from agriculture source, including grants to build fences between livestock and watercourses, and advice to farmers on reducing water pollution.
The latest report is based on 2008 water cleanliness tests carried out at more than 21,000 bathing spots around the 27 EU countries. The large majority meet EU hygiene requirements – 96% of the total coastal bathing areas and 92% of bathing sites in rivers and lakes were found to be up to standard.
The commissioner for the environment, Stavros Dimas said: "High quality bathing water is essential for the well-being of European citizens and the environment – and this goes for all other bodies of water too. I am pleased to see that the overall quality of water in bathing areas is improving throughout the union."
The largest number of coastal bathing waters can be found in Italy, Greece, France, Spain and Denmark, while Germany and France have the highest number of inland bathing waters.
The UK beaches and inland swimming spots failing to meet minimum EU clean water standards in 2008 were:
Northern Ireland
Machrihanish ( Argyll and Bute)
Saltcoats/Ardrossan (North Ayrshire)
Sandyhills (Dumfries and Galloway)
Portobello Central (Edinburgh)
Rosehearty (Aberdeenshire)
Cruden Bay (Aberdeenshire)
Seaton (Cornwall)
East Looe (Cornwall)
Rock (Cornwall)
Readymoney (Cornwall)
Porthluney (Cornwall)
Plymouth Hoe East (Devon)
Plymouth Hoe West (Devon)
Exmouth (Devon)
Instow (Devon)
Coombe Martin (Devon)
Allonby (Cumbria)
St Bees (Cumbria)
Aldingham (Cumbria)
Windermere, Millerground landings (Cumbria)
Yorkshire and Humberside
Staithes (North Yorkshire)
Sandgate (Kent)