Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Greenpeace activists board coal ship bound for Kingsnorth power station

Police arrest six as four other protesters board ship, saying they have enough supplies to last several days

Haroon Siddique
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 June 2009 15.01 BST

Six people were arrested when climate change campaigners boarded a coal freighter and stopped it unloading its cargo at the planned site of the new Kingsnorth power station today.
Four protesters remain on board the ship, 10 metres up the foremast, and are in a stand-off with police on the deck of the ship.
"The coal hasn't been able to be unloaded – that's what we set out to do here," Sarah Shoraka, one of the activists in the crow's nest on the foremast said.
The 31-year-old said the protesters had enough food and water to allow them to remain on the vessel for several days.
"I think we can stay for a while, as long as it's safe to do so," she added.
"In the short term, we are trying to keep the ship from reaching the power station – it's got enough coal to release thousands of CO2 into the atmsophere.
"In the long term, it's about stopping the dirtiest power station for 30 years being built in the UK.
"There's a growing coalition against a coal station, and we're hoping we'll get more supporters."
Greenpeace said 10 activists had climbed on board just after midnight as the ship travelled along the River Medway to Kingsnorth, in Kent.
They used rigid inflatable speedboats to pull up alongside and attached climbing ladders to scale the 15-metre hull after flagging the vessel down with flares and banners. Others swam in the path of the ship to prevent it docking.
Greenpeace claims the new Kingsnorth power station would would pump 6m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, making a mockery of the government's claims that it is committed to tackling climate change.
Shoraka said police had boarded the ship and tried to persuade the protesters to come down, but emphasised that relations with officers had been "amicable" so far. "We don't have a problem with them," she said.
The Kent police assistant chief constable, Gary Beautridge, described the situation as "difficult and potentially dangerous".
He said officers were monitoring the protesters from a safe distance "in order to minimise the risk to life".
"A number of protesters' RIBs [rigid-hulled inflatable boats] are in the water at Kingsnorth and a similar situation applies – that is, we are monitoring their actions from a safe distance," he said.
The six protesters arrested are being held on charges of conspiring to commit criminal damage and having an unauthorised presence on a ship under Section 104 of the Merchant Seaman Act.
The arrests came as two women lodged a complaint to the IPCC over their arrest and detention during protests at Kingsnorth last year.
Video footage shows Val Swain and Emily Apple being bundled to the ground by police after challenging officers for not displaying their badge numbers.

Energetic Plans in Italy

'Microgeneration' Lets Consumers Save by Producing Power

ROME -- Italy's households and small companies are turning to mini-renewable power-generation projects to combat some of Europe's highest electricity tariffs.
Italy has lagged behind others, particularly Germany, in arranging financing for these projects. But the enthusiasm for harnessing environmentally friendly sources, such as the sun's rays, wind and water, to transform buildings into powerhouses by generating electricity could relieve pressure on Italy's energy infrastructure.
"I'd say about 20% of Italian buildings could be used for microgeneration," said Giovanni Battista Zorzoli of ISES Italia, a technical-scientific nonprofit association that organizes courses on renewable energy. "The incentives are such that families, thanks also to bank loans, can easily make such investments."
Microgeneration, or producing electricity on a small scale but from many outlets, might ease the need to build new large traditional power plants to meet growing demand. Soaring oil prices in recent years, which brought hefty energy bills, concerns over the security of energy supplies and increasing efforts to slash greenhouse-gas emissions, have turned renewable energy into a red-hot sector.
Promoting renewable energy is seen as necessary to trim greenhouse-gas emissions. The European Union wants 20% of energy to be generated from renewable sources by 2020; Italy's objective is 17%, a figure seen as challenging.
"The real potential of microgeneration is its capacity for being made up of thousands of small [renewable generation] facilities" as part of the effort to reduce emissions, said Edo Ronchi, head of renewable-energy foundation Sviluppo Sostenibile and a former Italian environment minister.
Observers also say microgeneration is important for Italy as a way to boost its energy security, since the country imports more than 80% of its energy supplies. Domestic oil and natural-gas reserves are dwindling, while plans to build power plants get bogged down in red tape and opposition from local communities.
The two key technologies are photovoltaic generation -- the use of rooftop solar panels -- and wind turbines. Currently it is the photovoltaic sector that is expected to attract the big bucks.
According to energy research body Institute Osservatorio sull'Industria delle Rinnovabili, "building-integrated" photovoltaic investments in Italian building could potentially amount to about €42 billion ($59 billion) in the 2009-2020 period. ISES Italia's Mr. Zorzoli estimates photovoltaic power could generate about 6% of Italy's electricity needs in 2020.
Most EU countries have an incentive-based system promoting photovoltaic power in dwellings and buildings used by small businesses. Sun-poor Germany leads the pack with about 5,000 megawatts of capacity versus Italy's 417 megawatts at the end of 2008.
In 2007, Miriam Di Palma, a married, working mother of two teenage girls who lives on the outskirts of Rome, installed five kilowatts of panels for about €37,000, including some roof work.
She sells the power generated in excess of her needs to the grid for a heavily subsidized price, while buying power back when she needs it by paying the lower market rate to her local utility.
The difference between what she earns and spends, averaged over the 20 years the incentive will last, makes for a sound investment. She calculates the investment will break even in five years, reaping profits after that. "I'm also happy I'm helping the environment," she said.
Such investments have what amounts to a state guarantee of a fixed return for a fixed period, a degree of security against which banks are very willing to make loans, experts said.
Key banks, such as Deutsche Bank AG, Intesa Sanpaolo SpA and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA, are among those making loans.
Write to Liam Moloney at liam.moloney@dowjones.com

Solar lessons from Silicon Valley

By Mike Splinter, chief executive of Applied Materials
Published: June 22 2009 11:03

This year’s summer solstice, when the sun reaches its farthest northerly arc, will see 970 trillion kilowatt hours of energy beamed to earth.
The northern hemisphere’s longest day is a timely reminder of the urgency behind renewable power generation – a topic likely to gain momentum ahead of a United Nations climate change conference this year.
Much has been written in recent months about slowing investment in renewable energy, amid falling prices for conventional energy and volatile demand for solar equipment.
But the short-term impact of the economic slowdown should not be exaggerated on an industry that has enjoyed extraordinary growth in the past five years, and whose “energy dividend” could be measured in generations to come.
The current economic challenge of the solar industry is a familiar theme for anyone in the technology sector: how to navigate short-term volatility – influenced in this case by rollercoaster energy prices – to deliver the long term benefits on next-generation power.
There are lessons for solar among the semi-conductor suppliers of Silicon Valley, some of whom are emerging as leading equipment suppliers for the renewable energy market.
Solar panels and semiconductor chips both use silicon to conduct electricity, are produced by similar types of nanotechnology tools, and are designed to facilitate the efficient travel of electrons. As a result, both solar panels and semiconductor chips are governed by the same rules of economics. The more of them you make, the cheaper they become, and the wider the range of cost-effective new applications.
To anybody who has worked in the chip industry, it is clear that solar will follow a similar innovation curve. Just as Silicon Valley’s ingenuity made it possible to combine a telephone, a camera, a stereo, and a mini-computer into one small device, similar innovation skills are driving down the cost of solar power to a level competitive with fossil fuels.
Hence, the cost of solar equipment and thus access to renewable energy will fall, enhancing its economic attraction against hydrocarbons.
Quite possibly, the industry is nearing an inflection point. We are at the dawn of the era when we move from burning raw materials to meet most of our energy needs, to assembling raw materials to meet our needs. For the first time, high-tech engineering prowess has become relevant to the price of energy. We can manufacture our way out of the energy crisis.
The key question is what the pace of clean energy innovation will be. The answer depends on long-term policy decisions being made in Washington DC, in Brussels, Beijing, and other cities, each likely to be reflected in the Copenhagen agenda later this year.
Policy-makers have the power to hasten the pace of technological change by passing a national law that would require utilities to increase the portion of power they produce from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and other sources.
Among the international proposals, one US renewable idea calls for progressively increasing the renewable power requirement to 25 per cent in 2025. This national “Renewable Electricity Standard” (RES) would halve the cost of solar generated power.
The proposal will only work, however, if it is given some “teeth”, in the form of incentives or penalties that will encourage incremental improvement. More important, it would help the US solar industry become the type of success story the domestic semiconductor industry has been, with the potential to create creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in every state.
One of the main benefits of this policy is something that Silicon Valley engineers understand intuitively. The RES would give innovation a faster drumbeat. In the computer industry, this rhythm is supplied by “Moore’s Law”, which suggests the power of computer chips would double about every 18 months. This exponential growth in computing power has made it possible for what would have been $3bn worth of technology in 1974 to fit inside a $250 iPod today.
Moore’s Law happened because people made it happen. While Moore originally offered his “law” as a forecast, it eventually became an urgent standard that engineers pushed tirelessly to achieve. It has not been easy. Silicon Valley runs at a round-the-clock sprint.
Over time, Moore’s Law became a fundamental part of the information economy. Based upon the expectation of a doubling in the power of chips every 18 months, computer manufacturers designed more powerful machines, software companies offered more sophisticated services, and venture capitalists invested in more ambitious businesses.
The computer industry developed a completely new type of management culture – one based upon continuous innovation, rapid adaptation of new technologies, and aggressive exploitation of the benefits of scale.
One of the most powerful arguments for the RES is that it would create a similar sense of urgency for green technology. By requiring companies to meet a constantly escalating external standard for the use of renewable power, it would ramp up the pace of innovation.
While the prosperity created by the “smaller, faster, cheaper” computer chip will continue, clean technology is the growth industry of the future.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

UK powers up plans for world's largest green car trial

UK government's £25m scheme to slash emissions from transport will allow public to take part in long-term trials of a range of electric cars

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 June 2009 00.05 BST

The UK government will today unveil the world's largest ever coordinated trial of environmentally friendly vehicles. The £25m scheme, which is designed to accelerate the introduction of electric cars to the UK will allow people to take part in long-term trials of everything from electric Minis and Smart city cars to sports cars and electric vans.
From the end of this year, around 340 of the vehicles will be available to qualifying members of the public in eight different locations around the country including Oxford, London, Glasgow, Birmingham and the north-east. Power companies, regional development agencies and universities will also be involved in coordinating the experiments, building infrastructure such as charging points and analysing the way the cars are used.
"Here's an opportunity to position the UK as a world leader in the adoption of this technology by supporting the largest ever trial of such vehicles," said Paul Drayson, the science minister. "That encourages companies working in this field to do their research and development here. That knowledge generated by the trial then gets fed back to the follow-on systems that come through."
Around 22% of the UK's carbon emissions come from transport, with 13% of these from private cars. According to a study for the Department for Transport (DfT), widespread adoption of electric vehicles capable of a range of 50km or more could cut road transport carbon emissions in half.
"We have about 33m cars on the road at the moment and it's going to go up by another 4-5m in the next 10 years," said David Bott of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the government-backed agency that promotes the development of new technologies and is coordinating the national demonstration project. "There's a lot of people buying new cars anyway so the question is how quickly can we get credible alternatives out there?"
Moving the UK's drivers onto cleaner forms of road transport would not be addressed by a single piece of technology, said Bott, and so the demonstration project had been designed to try out different cars in different places. "We get to find out what we can't do and we get a whole bunch of new problems that are real. We get confidence that we're on the right path or the knowledge that we need to change."
One branch of the trial will involve around 40 of BMW's Mini E available to those living in Oxford and south-east England. The 12-month project will evaluate the technical and social aspects of living with an all-electric vehicle and scientists at Oxford Brookes University will keep track of the drivers.
Anyone interested in taking part will need to meet certain criteria. "You'll have to have a garage, for example, and you'll have to have a fairly modern electrical wiring system," said Emma Lowndes of Mini UK. "A conventional cable on a normal socket would take over 10 hours to charge the Mini's battery. We're talking with Scottish and Southern Energy about putting in a 32 amp box into homes which would mean a charging time of just over 4 hours."
The cost of the Mini E has not been finalised but, in a similar scheme in the United States, the company charged customers around $850 (£520) per month to lease the car, a cost that included maintenance and insurance.
In Glasgow, 40 battery-powered cars will be made available by Peugeot, the local council and in partnership with the battery company Axeon. Scottish Power will provide 40 charging points around Glasgow and, during the year-long trial, the cars will be monitored using GPS to record the number and length of individual journeys. That data will be analysed by researchers at Strathclyde University.
Mercedes-Benz will make 100 of its latest electric Smart cars available in the west Midlands and in London."We're asking the public to come forward and apply to be one of the drivers of these vehicles," said Dermot Kelly, managing director of Mercedes-Benz cars.
"What we want is a diverse group who are commuting to work every day, who have the ability to charge their cars at home. The power supply companies will be supplying smart metering to work out when people would charge their cars up and when they would use them."
Kelly said he wanted to know how people used electric cars. "What we're hoping to learn is ... what we need to do to make the car as friendly and adaptable as possible to people's lifestyle."
For those who want their environmentally friendly cars with a bit more power, the EEMS Accelerate consortium — a group of small independent manufacturers — are making 21 electric sports cars available. These will include models from the Lightning car company, Westfield and Delta Motorsport. In addition, wind energy company Ecotricity will build and test an electric sports car that it claims will be the world's first charged only using energy from wind turbines.
Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner Tony Bosworth welcomed the new scheme, but said: "Ministers must boost the UK's flagging renewable energy industry because electric vehicles are only as green as the power they run on. Low-carbon vehicles are certainly needed, but we need broader changes to make the necessary cuts in transport emissions. Urgent action is needed to get people out of their cars by making public transport, cycling and walking more attractive options."
The government's demonstration project will also examine people's attitudes and behaviour around owning electric cars. Some people might hesitate to buy a typical electric car that might only have a range of 100 miles on a full charge, said Bott, but their attitudes might change if they tried the cars in question or realised that 95% of all UK journeys tend to be under 25 miles.
The demonstrations announced today are part of the government's wider £250m electric car strategy, unveiled in April, which includes potential incentives of up to £5,000 for consumers to buy electric cars. London's mayor, Boris Johnson, has also announced his intent to make the city the electric car capital of Europe. He wants to introduce 100,000 electric cars to the capital's streets and build an infrastructure of 25,000 charging points in public streets, car parks and shops.
Electric car top trumps
Mini E
Top speed: 95mph
Range: 150 miles
Charging time: Around 12 hours on a standard household socket
Cost: unknown but around $850 per month in the US
Good points: It's a Mini
Bad points: The back seats are taken up with a whopping battery
Cool factor: 5 out of 5
Smart Electric Drive
Top speed: 60mph
Range: 50-70 miles
Charging time: Full recharge from flat in 8 hours on a standard household socket
Good points: Nippy, perfect for cities
Bad points: Still looks like a toy car
Cool factor: 3 out of 5
Top speed: 130mph
Range: 180 miles
Charging time: 4.5 hours on standard household socket
Good points: sat nav, MP3 player, DAB digital radio and digital engine sound
Bad points: We don't know the cost but it doesn't look as though it'll be cheap
Cool factor: 4 out of 5
Peugeot eExpert Teepee
Top speed: 70mph
Range: up to 100 miles
Charging time: Unknown Good points: carries eight adults
Bad points: It's a box on wheels. Not the most stylish thing
Cool factor: 2 out of 5

Any real effort on climate change will hurt. Start with the easy bits: war toys

Our brains struggle with big, painful change. The rational, least painful change is to stop wasting money building tanks

George Monbiot
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 June 2009 20.30 BST

What would we be doing now if we took ­climate change seriously? Last week the ­government ­released a ­report on the likely temperature changes in the UK. It shows that life at the end of this century will bear no relationship to life at the beginning. It should have dominated the news for days. But it was too far away, too remote from current problems, too big to see.
Over the past few months Lord ­Giddens, one of the architects of New Labour, has been touting the ­hypothesis that people are reluctant to act on ­climate change until it becomes ­visible to them, by which time it will be too late. This thought, which has been ­common currency within the environment movement for at least 20 years, has been christened by this shrinking violet the "Giddens Paradox". It ranks among his other major discoveries, like the Giddens Postulate (people wear fewer clothes when temperatures rise) and the Giddens Effect (the Earth goes round the Sun). But despite his outrageous expropriation, the point remains a valid one. We will resist taking radical action until we have no choice, whereupon it will have no effect.
Our resistance to change is not ­peculiar to environmental issues. Even when confronted by crisis, we try to stick to the script. As the coaching ­theorist David Rock and the research psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz note, just coronary bypass surgery">one in nine people who have had ­coronary bypass surgery take their ­doctor's advice to lose weight and ­exercise more. Part of the problem, they show, is that confronting change means making use of parts of the brain which require more energy to engage.
When you drive along familiar roads, for instance, the brain's basal ganglia function as a kind of autopilot, ­performing routine functions without the need for conscious thought. When you go abroad, and have to drive on the other side of the road, you must make use of the prefrontal cortex, which burns more energy than the basal ­ganglia. We perceive high levels of energy use much as we perceive pain. For good biological reasons we seek to avoid them. We engage with change only when we have to.
That's a horribly simplified account of some very complex processes, but you get the general idea. Change is pain, a change for the worse is double pain. We pretend it's not there, up to – often beyond – the point at which it starts hammering on the door.
So environmentalists seek to ­persuade us that we'll love the green transition. Downshifting, voluntary ­simplicity, alternative hedonism – whatever they call it, it's presented as a change for the better. A new green deal will save the planet, the workforce and the economy. Energy efficiency will ­protect the bottom line as well as the biosphere. A less frantic life will allow us to enjoy the small wonders that surround us.
There is both exaggeration and truth in all this, but effective action also involves a change for the worse: ­regulation, rationing, austerity, state spending. "Little by little," the Roman historian Livy wrote 2,000 years ago, "we have been brought into the present condition in which we are able neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the remedies we need to cure them."
Everything we need to do has been made harder by debt. Net state debt now exceeds £700bn. The RBS and Lloyds shambles will add between £1 trillion and 1.5tn. National debt is likely to reach 150% of GDP next year: well beyond the point at which the IMF declares developing countries basket cases.
This introduces two environmental problems. The first is that there is no money left with which to fund a green new deal. The second is that we'll be able to pay off these debts only by resuming economic growth. Greenhouse gases grow because the economy grows. The UK's liabilities make the transition to a steady state economy, let alone a managed contraction, much harder to achieve. They appear to ­commit us to either growth or default for at least a generation. The debt crisis is an environmental disaster.
So we are left with only painful choices. We should be spending tens of billions a year to prevent climate ­breakdown, but how? Borrow the money and exacerbate the crisis? Raise taxes? Cut the health and education budgets? Any of the above would enhance public resistance to change. The least painful approach is to cut ­services that are of no use to anyone.
There are plenty of them. The prison building programme would yield a ­couple of hundred million a year if it were replaced with non-custodial schemes. The government could trim a billion or two from the Olympics budget without much tearing of cloth. The ­identity card scheme would be unmourned to the tune of half a billion a year. Nor would we be deafened by the gnashing of teeth if, as I suggested in May, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform were scrapped, saving £1.8bn a year. But this is still the wrong order of magnitude. Scanning the government's departmental spending limits, one figure jumps out. It accounts for 12% of state spending; a bigger budget than any department has except health and schools. Of the £38bn this office spends every year, almost all is wasted.
At the end of 2003, the Ministry of Defence observed that "there are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or Nato … it is now clear that we no longer need to retain a capability against the re-emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat". So why is most of this ministry's budget spent on retaining a capability against the emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat?
To read the MoD's ­spending stats is to read the accounts of a lost world: a faraway land where threats and funds are unlimited. Its ­private finance initiative service charges (£1.3bn) exceed the entire budget of the ­department of energy and climate change. The ­department for international ­development could be funded twice over from the MoD's budget for ­capital charges and depreciation (£9.6bn). Property management sucks up £1.5bn a year, consultants and lawyers £470m, bullets, bombs and the like, £650m.
What does it give us? Our wars make us less safe. We would be better protected from terrorism and global instability if the UK's armed forces stopped going abroad to make trouble. No one in office can produce a coherent account of why this money is needed: the ­ministry's budget is sustained by the greed of contractors and nostalgia for imperium long passed. We could cut defence spending by 90% and ­suffer no loss to our national security. Instead, the MoD has just dropped its spending on climate change research. This accounted for a quarter of the Met Office's climate programme.
The last time we faced a crisis on the scale of the global climate crash, the rational solution was to build tanks. Now the rational, least painful solution is to stop building tanks, and use the money to address a real threat.

How science teacher from Oregon became YouTube phenomenon

Greg Craven says he had to write a book to pay his 'Red Bull bill' debating climate change - but can he sell 7m copies?

Two years ago a science teacher from a high school in Oregon called Greg Craven became a web phenomenon when he posted a video on YouTube entitled The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See.
In the video, which has now been viewed more than 7m times, Craven sets out his take on why — from which ever angle you look at it — we must act to tackle climate change. His common sense approach to the problem was that a basic understanding of risk assessment suggests that we'd be pretty dumb not to spend some effort and cash now trying to avert the worst of the predicted climate change scenarios. In summary, he's arguing for a "better safe than sorry" approach to climate change.
Needless to say, the popularity of the video — and the follow-ups Craven posted on his YouTube homepage in the following months — irked the usual suspects and a trail of debate has followed Craven ever since.
But now he's back with a new video that is a not so subtle plug for his book What's the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate.
He's says he's written the book to help him pay for the "Red Bull bill" he's wracked up over the past two years trying to debate with people responding to his videos. I suspect that he's only half-joking.
"This book is my best effort to answer the question that has us all deadlocked in this debate over global warming: "When faced with contradictory statements from experts on a crucial issue, just what the heck is the over-busy lay person supposed to do??" And I think I managed to do it in a fair manner. In fact, the main criticism I got from both sides was — I went too easy on the other side! How's that for striking the middle ground? NO ONE likes me."
Craven says his dream is to try to get the book to sell out its first print run of 15,000 copies before its official release date on July 7. Judging by how quickly his call-out has gone viral — he only sent out his rallying email to friends, family and fans yesterday afternoon — he may well succeed.