Sunday, 28 June 2009

We’re out of step with the world on green issues

The Sunday Times
June 28, 2009
Eamon Delaney: As the rest of the globe invests in renewables, Ireland risks being left behind when it comes to the environment
Eamon Delaney

Last week the British government unveiled the world’s largest co-ordinated trial of environmentally-friendly vehicles, designed to accelerate the introduction of electric cars. This is a development that should interest us here, as a country with huge car dependency and the consequent effects on planning, traffic congestion, global emissions and child obesity. Some chance of that.
As the rest of the world goes forward on green issues, Ireland seems to be in reverse gear. In the recent local and European elections, the Green party was punished, and purely because of the economic policies of their larger partner in government, Fianna Fail. But green ideas are now central to the political systems of most European countries — especially in France. The Greens became the majority party in Paris in the European elections. In Ireland they are being pushed further to the margins.
Not only is this terribly short-sighted, it is also an indictment of just how parochial our political system is. John Gormley, the Green party leader, had hoped that voters in the local elections would focus on issues such as planning, but instead the electorate dwelt on the knockabout of national politics, and on personalities in the European contests.
And yet Ireland should care more than most countries about green issues. We are a small island, with a generally unspoilt landscape, dependent on a long-standing tourist industry. Agriculture has been a mainstay of the economy, and we should be benefiting from the international move towards locally produced food at the expense of mass-produced fare tainted with chemicals. Meanwhile, our cities and towns are clogged with private cars. Worst of all we have a crippling dependence on fossil fuels when we should be developing alternative energy sources, as other countries are doing.
Green is now good business. Ecology is no longer seen as “anti-growth” and, in fact, investment is pouring into low-carbon technology. The Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change — made up of the heads of companies such as Unilever, Tesco and Philips — persuaded Tony Blair and EU President José Manuel Barroso to make the issue a priority. General Electric, Dow and Alcoa were equally active as members of the US Climate Action Partnership. A far cry from the days when the Greens were scorned by the corporate world, just as they’re still ridiculed here by some knuckleheaded politicians and tabloid pundits.
Last year, for the first time, wind, solar and other renewables are thought to have accounted for more investment worldwide than coal- and gas-generated electricity projects. It has been estimated that 2.3m people worldwide are working either directly in the renewables sector or in supplier industries. There could be 2.1m people employed worldwide in the wind sector alone by 2030, and 6.3m people in solar-energy programmes.
All this may point the way out of the global economic crisis. China, which has been accused of being a great polluter, has now wholly embraced the development of other sources of energy, as has America under Obama.
But in Ireland, we are still behind. When a highly innovative wind project, the Spirit of Ireland, was launched recently, it was virtually ignored by our politicians and media, despite its potential to transform the Irish economy, lessen our dependency on fossil fuels, and reduce energy costs for consumers. It could even turn us into a net exporter of energy to the rest of Europe. It would certainly help reduce our level of carbon emissions, which remains incredibly high.
If we don’t take action, due to continued laziness and ignorance, we will be forced to do so by the international community and the EU. This is usually the way with Ireland; outside bodies have to force us to do things that are good for us. Meanwhile, our Greens suffer at the polls, and not because of their policies.

The index that measures companies’ shades of green

The Sunday Times
June 28, 2009
Tricia Holly Davis

COMPANIES in energy, chemicals, manufacturing and engineering have emerged as Britain’s unlikely low-carbon leaders, according to a set of new environmental investment indexes launched by FTSE Group this month.
The market-information specialist has created 18 new green indexes. The main international index, the FTSE Environmental Opportunities index comprises 472 companies from around the world, 30 of which are listed in Britain. Among them are Oxford Instruments, the technology group, Ricardo, the automotive engineer, and Spice, which provides services to power and water firms.
Companies are ranked by a new classification system aimed at helping investors identify companies that have significant exposure to environment-related markets. They are judged on the percentage of revenues generated from the sale of environmental goods and services, and then by stock-market value.
To make the list, companies must generate at least 20% of revenues from areas such as renewable energy, waste, pollution, water, and energy efficiency. There are 18 indexes covering different sectors and geographical regions.

Critics of the indexes say the FTSE has mixed high-emissions construction, engineering and manufacturing firms with renewable-energy companies in the solar and wind sectors.
But Ian Simm, head of the specialist environmental investment bank Impax, defended the choice. “This has nothing to do with ethics. The FTSE index is about getting more investors in the areas of waste, water, pollution and renewable energy.” In the separate UK index, the firms included are Charter International, Halma, IMI, Johnson Matthey, Oxford Instruments, Invensys, Spirax Sarco, United Utilities, Severn Trent, Eaga, PV Crystalox Solar, Scottish & Southern, WSP Group, Hyder Consulting, and Pennon Group.
Novera Energy and China Shoto, a battery maker, rank in the top five of UK environmental companies listed on the junior Alternative Investment Market (AIM).
Conspicuously absent from the international index are companies such as General Electric, which failed to meet the 20% revenue threshold, despite being perceived as a low-carbon leader.
Last year the firm reported that sales of products from its “Ecomagination” portfolio reached $17 billion (£10.4 billion), up 21% over the previous year.
FTSE Group said the objective of the index was to clarify what is meant by the “environmental” sector.
This should boost investment, creating new derivative products and investment funds. FTSE estimates there is about €2.5 billion (£2.1 billion) invested in funds that track environmental indexes. This compares with roughly €10 billion that it estimates is tracking the FTSE4Good ethical series, created in 2001.
Since 2004 companies listed in the UK index outperformed the FTSE All-Share by 78% (see chart on right), while the index covering AIM, London’s junior stock market, beat the FTSE AIM All-Share by 6%.
“The impact of climate change is set to alter the shape of the global economy over the coming years,” said Will Oulton at FTSE Group. “We expect to see rapid growth in those companies and sectors.”

‘Coal-eating’ bugs may solve energy crisis

The Sunday Times

June 28, 2009

Jonathan Leake

Craig Venter, the controversial American scientist who helped decode the human genome, has announced the discovery of ancient bacteria that can turn coal into methane, suggesting they may help to solve the world’s energy crisis.
The bugs, discovered a mile underground by one of Venter’s microbial prospecting teams, are said to have unique enzymes that can break down coal. Venter said he was already working with BP on how to exploit the find.
Venter even suggested the discovery could open up the world’s coalfields to an entirely new form of mining, where coal is infected with the bacteria, allowing methane to be harvested “without even digging up the coal”.
Venter, speaking at the recent La Jolla research and innovation summit, in La Jolla, California, told an audience of researchers and technology investors how he had harvested 20m new genes by analysing the DNA of micro-organisms collected underwater or deep underground.
He said: “We have found a huge number of microbes a mile or so deep in the earth. In fact, there is more diversity under the surface of the earth than in the ocean. It is absolutely stunning.
“Some of these underground water sources have been isolated for 50m to 135m years and we have found totally unique organisms.”
Venter flashed up a black-and-white image of a piece of coal that appeared to be carpeted with a mossy substance.
He said: “We have a large number that eat coal and break it down into organic acids, hydrogen, CO2 and so on. Then we have other organisms with enzymes that can take those organic acids, hydrogen and CO2 and make methane.”
Venter added: “We have a deal with BP to look at the biological conversion of coal into natural gas, where microbes colonise coal particles and produce methane.”
He also showed a second image with coal submerged in a liquid from which bubbles, said to be methane, were rising.
He added: “We and BP think we can scale this up substantially to provide a huge increase in the amount of natural gas available without even digging up the coal.”
Such ideas need to be treated with caution. The biotech industry is renowned for making claims that later turn out to have been excessive. This is often driven by the need to attract investors.
Venter does have a good track record, as shown by his lead role in the race to decode the human genome, but his discovery would need far more research and investment before it could be deployed on an industrial scale.
If it worked, however, the potential would be huge. Coal is the world’s most important fossil fuel with about 6.5 billion tons used each year. This is expected to rise by more than 60% by 2030.
This has serious environmental implications because coal is highly polluting, generating more CO2 per ton than any other major fossil fuel.
There is, however, no ready alternative to coal, especially in power generation, which means greenhouse gas emissions are likely to keep rising for decades if more is burned.
Methane, by contrast, is significantly less polluting. Venter also described separate research that, he said, could one day lead to CO2 being seen as a resource in the manufacture of biofuels.
He described how researchers at Synthetic Genomics, the firm he founded, had genetically engineered an algal species to produce large amounts of lipids — liquid fats that can be used to make biofuels.
All the cells needed was sunlight, a growing medium and CO2. They would then pump out lipids that would float to the top of the container, where they could be skimmed off.
He said: “We see CO2 as raw material. We have been engineering cells to use CO2 driven by sunlight to make biopolymers, methane and sugars.
“One of the most exciting breakthroughs is that we have engineered algal cells to pump out lipids in a pure form into the growing medium. You can literally skim the cream off the top and isolate it like a biocrude and we are not too far away from scaling this up on a very substantial scale.
Venter said: “Why do this? If we look around the world, we are going from 6.5 to 9 billion people in the next 40 years. We have never had the challenge of trying to feed and provide medicine, clean water, shelter and energy for that change in population. We are not doing such a great job right now.”
Click here to watch Venter describe his research

Green venture capital fund plans to make long-term plays

By Mark Leftly
Sunday, 28 June 2009

Barry Williams, the co-founder of the Secondary Market Infrastructure Fund (SMIF), is forming a new renewable energy business to invest in a range of projects from solar power in Italy to biomass generation in the UK.
Aleltho Energy, of which Mr Williams is chief executive, has access to £75m from cornerstone funders and is looking for another £100m from asset investors by the end of the year. Mr Williams is joined by chairman Perry Noble, the former co-head head of the global finance practice at law firm Freshfields.
Aleltho will invest up to £30m in any one renewable energy asset. Unlike more short-term venture capital-type backing, Aleltho will typically invest for 10 or more years.
Mr Williams is identifying solar projects in Spain and Italy, as well as waste and biomass energy schemes predominantly in the UK.
"The first investment will be made, judging conservatively, in October this year," Mr Williams said. ""We have signed one arrangement and are considering £150m of opportunities."
SMIF was bought by Trillium, then part of the Ftse-100 property giant Land Securities, in 2007. Trillium was sold to Telereal, the property outsourcing group, for £750m in January.

US House passes landmark climate change bill

By Edward Luce in Washington
Published: June 27 2009 00:51

The United States took its first step towards reducing carbon emissions on Friday night when the House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that would set the country’s first ever limits on its greenhouse gas production.
President Barack Obama hailed the vote, which scraped through by a 219-212 tally, as a “bold and necessary step” that marked a “spirit of change” towards climate change in the US – echoing the words of Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, who had described a “sea change” when she met the US president earlier in the day.

However Mr Obama reminded those celebrating the “historic” vote that the bill’s passage was still far from assured. “Now it is up to the Senate to take the next step,” he said.
In a statement, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said the upper chamber, which is considered a tougher hurdle for cap-and-trade than the House, would start work on the bill in September.
The House version would reduce US carbon emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 per cent below 2005 levels by 2050 by establishing a system for trading carbon permits within an ever-tighter ceiling. It would also mandate electricity producers to source a fifth of all production from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and wave, by 2020.
Many environmental groups hailed the bill’s passage as a big step forward in advance of the Copenhagen summit on climate change in December. “[It] will finally allow the United States to help lead the efforts toward a global agreement in which the major economies of the world, both developed and developing, play their part to address the climate challenge,” said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change.
But some green groups, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, said the 1,300 page bill was hedged around with too many compromises and let-out clauses to have the desired effect. The legislation led by Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, the Democratic lawmakers who spearheaded the effort, was the product of several months worth of backroom deals with centrist Democrats from rural and manufacturing states.
In spite of the many compromises, which included giving away 85 per cent of carbon permits to various industry groups, against the 100 per cent auction that Mr Obama wanted, 44 Democrats still voted against the bill. Only eight Republicans, out of a caucus of 183, voted in favour.
The Republican leadership, which spent much of Friday in a last-ditch effort to derail the bill, says it will introduce a “national energy tax” that will cost millions of jobs. Independent estimates of the bill’s effects say it will impose a small cost of between 22 cents and 48 cents a day on the average American – less than the cost of a first class postage stamp.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

President Barack Obama clears major global warming hurdle

President Barack Obama has cleared a major hurdle in getting the US to tackle global warming after Congress passed a sweeping bill to transform America's use and production of energy.

By Leonard Doyle in Washington Published: 5:30PM BST 27 Jun 2009

The Jeffery Energy Center coal power plant near Emmitt, Kansas. Sweeping legislation to curb the pollution linked to global warming and create a new energy-efficient economy is headed to an uncertain future in the Senate after squeaking through the House. Photo: AP
It is the first major action by the US to address climate change.
The legislation, approved by the House of Representatives, would force American industries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, but the plans have drawn the ire of critics.

Republicans argue that they would destroy jobs.
The Senate must now approve the legislation, and the president used his weekly radio and internet address yesterday to urge it to do so.
The President described the bill as "a bold and necessary step." He said he wanted to sign the legislation quickly, "so that we can say, at long last, that this was the moment when we decided to confront America's energy challenge and reclaim America's future."
It took personal pleas from Hillary Clinton, former vice president Al Gore, and Mr Obama to persuade Democrats and some Republicans to get the legislation through the House of Representatives.
Congress finally voted 219 to 212 late on Friday, just one vote more than the simple majority of 218 needed.
Forty Democrats voted against the bill and only eight Republicans supported it, a reflection of the fragility of efforts to reduce America's voracious appetite to consume energy. Democrats and Republicans, especially those from coal producing and industrial states, are politically vulnerable at a time of economic difficulty and widespread unemployment.
The climate change bill is a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases, in effect a tax on energy use. The licences would grow more restrictive over time, pushing up the price of carbon emissions while persuading industry to adopt cleaner ways of making and consuming energy.
Months of wrangling now lie ahead in the Senate, where it takes 60 votes to end a debate. Although Democrats hold 59 seats, the expected impact of the legislation on job losses makes them especially vulnerable to defections.
Mr Obama wants the legislation in place before December so that he can claim leadership at the big planned international climate change conference in Copenhagen.
Rep John Culberson of Texas, a Republican, said the bill "is the equivalent to a light switch tax - if this bill becomes law, Americans will pay higher taxes every time we turn on our lights."

Britain's green shame

Jonathon Porritt steps down from Blair's sustainability commission with UK still second-worst greenhouse gas emitter in Europe
By Jonathan Owen
Sunday, 28 June 2009
The embarrassing report comes just days after Gordon Brown's proposals for a £60bn international fund to help poorer countries deal with climate change were announced

When it comes to environmental sustainability, the prognosis is grim: Britain is "winning battles, but still losing the war".
The UK is failing to hit a raft of key targets on sustainable living, according to a new report to be published this week. In its critical analysis, released on Wednesday, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) warns that progress on a number of green targets has been "undermined by stasis or even reversion". Jonathon Porritt, outgoing SDC chair and one-time "green guru" to Tony Blair, claims sustainability plays second fiddle to the drive for consumption-driven economic growth. "The thing that stands out is the very limited progress we've made on reducing inequity in our society... it's a startling indictment of this Government that more people will be living in fuel poverty at the time of next election than were living in fuel poverty in 1997," he said.
The "review of progress on sustainable development" details how the "Securing the Future" strategy launched by Tony Blair in 2005 has failed in a number of areas. It says Britain remains the EU's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and is not on track to meet its target of a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010.

Britain remains well behind most European countries on supplying renewable energy, which accounts for less than 2 per cent of overall energy consumption, according to the report, which also predicts the proportion of energy produced by renewables in 2020 will be just 5 per cent – far short of the EU target of 20 per cent. And while recycling is on the increase, there is a long way to go to meet the 40 per cent target by 2010, with the UK heavily reliant on landfill, says the report.
Mr Porritt, who steps down next month, admitted: "I feel some disappointment inevitably because I would have wanted to see faster progress," and cites a new energy White Paper as something "they could, and should, have done four or five years ago".
The embarrassing report comes just days after Gordon Brown's proposals for a £60bn international fund to help poorer countries deal with climate change were announced. The Prime Minister is also arguing for aviation and maritime emissions to be included in global climate-change talks taking place in Copenhagen in December.
The Government's record on sustainability also came under attack from politicians and pressure groups last night. Greg Clark, Tory spokesman on energy and climate change, said: "This is a time when we need action rather than spin."
And Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth said of the Government: "They've produced strategies and had press conferences but there hasn't been conviction... that sustainable development is of critical importance."
In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We're grateful to the SDC for the work they've put into this report. We look forward to its publication... and we will consider its content carefully."
Greenhouse gas emissions
Government target
Twenty per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2010, and an 80 per cent reduction by 2050.
What the report says
Britain remains the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe. In 2007, CO2 emissions were 8.5 per cent below 1990 levels.
Britain is not on track to meet its target on emissions. An apparent decrease becomes a significant increase once emissions embedded in trade and travel are taken into account.
Energy production
Government target
Britain to supply 10 per cent renewable energy by 2010. Twenty per cent of EU energy production from renewables by 2020.
What the report says
In 2007, the percentage of final energy consumption from renewable sources was less than 2 per cent. Projections suggest that this will increase to 5 per cent by 2020.
Britain is one of the poorest performers in Europe in supplying energy from renewables and is not on track to meet national and EU targets.
Existing homes
Government target
To eliminate fuel poverty in all households by 2016.
What the report says
Cavity wall insulation is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce carbon, yet 8.5 million UK households do not have this. In 2006, there were approximately 3.5 million UK households (14 per cent) in fuel poverty, an increase of 1 million since 2005. Some 2.75 million of these were classed as 'vulnerable' households.
Despite some improvements, significant energy efficiency improvements are required to meet climate-change targets.
Healthy and safe mobility
Government target
To encourage cycling and walking and reduce dependence on cars.
Halve the number of children killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads by 2010.
What the report says
Between 1986 and 2003, the average number of trips by foot fell by 30 per cent. There has been a 52 per cent fall in children killed or seriously injured on roads.
Road traffic volume has risen by 20 per cent since 1990, and the frequency of car journeys in the UK outranks walking, cycling and public transport.
Government target
Halt increase in childhood obesity in under-11s by 2010.
Reduce adult smoking rates to 21 per cent.
Reduce health inequalities by 10 per cent by 2010.
What the report says
Almost 40 per cent of the population is expected to be obese by 2020.
Average smoking rates have fallen to 22 per cent.
In Scotland, life expectancy in deprived areas is around 10 years lower than the general population.
Britain has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the EU.
We are not on target to meet the 2010 goal of reducing inequalities.
Sustainable communities
Government target
Eradicate child poverty by 2020.
Reduce the proportion of children living in workless households by 5 per cent between 2005 and 2008.
What the report says
Between 1997 and 2007 the number of children in workless households decreased from 19 to 16 per cent. One in five children still live in poverty.
Some progress has been made on reducing income inequalities, but the gap between the richest and poorest is increasing. The UK is not on track to meet its child poverty target.
Local economies
Government target
Job and business creation with benefits for the community, and town centres that are economically viable and attractive.
Eighty per cent overall employment rate.
What the report says
There are more than 55,000 social enterprises in Britain generating more than £27bn in turnover. Over the past decade Britain has had high rates of employment but this fell to 74 per cent in December 2008.
The economic downturn has caused increases in unemployment. Unemployment is not distributed evenly across the UK, and basic and intermediate skills need improving.
Domestic waste
Government target
Reduce household residual waste by 29 per cent in 2010.
Recycle or compost 40 per cent of household waste by 2010.
What the report says
In England, total household waste fell by 2 per cent between 2006/07 and 2007/08. The national household recycling rate has reached 34.5 per cent but is short of the 40 per cent 2010 target. The UK is also still heavily reliant on landfill.
Households are recycling more of their waste, but most of that which is not recycled still goes to landfill. A third of the food we buy goes to waste.
Government target
To halt biodiversity loss by 2010. To deliver 95 per cent of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) into 'favourable' or 'recovering' condition by 2010.
What the report says
Eighty per cent of SSSIs are in 'favourable' or 'recovering' condition. Sustainable development issues, including biodiversity, risk being sidelined by Rural Development Agencies, due to an overriding focus on economic growth.
Britain is not on target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. Protected area arrangements appear to be working but the lack of cross-government action means non-protected areas are particularly vulnerable.
Air quality
Government target
The EU Air Quality Directive sets standards for major pollutants, including levels of particulates, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone.
What the report says
Overall emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulates and sulphur dioxide have been steadily decreasing since 1990. Despite this, air pollution in 2005 was estimated to reduce life expectancy by seven to eight months and cost up to £20.2bn per annum.
Despite decreases in overall emissions of air pollutants, 20 cities fail to meet EU legislation for particulates, and the UK is at risk of missing targets for nitrogen dioxide levels.

Masdar to launch clean-tech fund

By Andrew England in Abu Dhabi
Published: June 27 2009 03:00

Masdar, Abu Dhabi's renewable energy initiative, plans to launch a new clean-technology fund this year with capital of at least $250m as it seeks out investment opportunities created by the global economic turmoil.
Sultan al-Jaber, Masdar's chief executive, told the Financial Times that its existing $250m venture capital fund launched in late 2006 with Credit Suisse, Consensus Business Group and Siemens has already fully deployed its cash.
The new fund will be either the same size, or slightly larger, and will be launched in the fourth quarter, he said. He declined to name the new fund's partners.
Masdar is at the core of oil-rich Abu Dhabi's ambitious plans to become a global leader in renewable energy technology and it acquires strategic stakes in clean-tech companies - either through its funds or direct investments - to transfer technology to the emirate, as well as tap into the commercial benefits of renewable energy.
"We have always had an ambition to be a serious global player in this field and I believe there is an opportunity that we need to capitalise on which will help accelerate us become a real player in the market, by us having more stakes and more positions in different technologies around the world," Mr Jaber said.
Over the next five years, Masdar, which was launched in 2006 with $15bn capital, is likely to invest between $1.5bn and $2bn in stakes in companies.
The entity, which is wholly-owned by Mubadala, a government investment vehicle, has already been identifying potential investments in medium-sized companies across the US, Europe and Asia and is currently doing due diligence on a shortlist of companies, he said.
The size of the clean-tech funds investments range from $2m-$12m, but the acquisitions currently being looked at would require investments ranging from $50m to about $200m, Mr Jaber said, suggesting Masdar would invest directly in those companies.
Since its launch Masdar has directly invested $820m in clean-tech companies, including acquiring a 46 per cent stake in WinWinD, a Finnish wind turbine manufacturer. It also has a 20 per cent stake in a joint venture with Eon and Dong Energy to develop the London Array offshore wind farm.
It plans to invest $2bn in plants manufacturing solar power technology with its first facility, which is based in Germany, scheduled to begin production in October. A second Abu Dhabi-based plant is expected to begin production in January 2011, Mr Jaber said.
At the centre of Abu Dhabi's plans is the creation of the $22bn Masdar City, which has a target of being carbon-neutral while generating 70,000 jobs and, housing 40,000 residents when it is fully operational.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Hong Kong bid for wind farms

From The Sunday Times
June 28, 2009

Danny Fortson

ASIA’S richest man could inject £150m into Centrica, the owner of British Gas.
Li Ka-shing, whose empire spans property and shipping to retail and the internet, is considering bidding for a stake in Centrica’s newly-operational wind farm at Lynn and Inner Dowsing, off the Lincolnshire coast. Sam Laidlaw, Centrica chief executive, is seeking new sources of cash for his global buying spree, snapping up gas fields that are relatively cheap after last year’s fall in the oil price. The wind farm, the largest in the world, is one of Centrica’s most bankable assets.
Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi has been hired to raise £350m of debt against the project, while Credit Suisse has begun an auction for a 50% equity stake that could fetch up to £150m.
Li Ka-shing’s Hongkong Electric is one of four bidders in the auction. The others are American private equity giant KKR, RREEF, Deutsche Bank’s infrastructure arm, and Datang International Power Generation, a Chinese utility.

Earlier this month, Centrica agreed to pay about $800m (£485m) for a slice of a new gas development in Trinidad. The Takeover Panel, meanwhile, has given the British Gas owner a “put-up or shut-up” deadline of July 13 to bid for Venture Production, in which it has a stake.

Scottish start-up defies the crunch

From The Sunday Times
June 28, 2009
Launched just before the economic meltdown, Scottish climate change consultancy Ecometrica is flourishing despite the recession

Ian Fraser

A Scottish start-up founded at the height of the credit crunch has grown to employing 18 people, with sites in Edinburgh and Montreal, and secured £500,000 funding in just nine months
Gary Davis, 29, launched the climate change consultancy Ecometrica in September 2008, just before the financial world went into meltdown.
Two months later, he secured his investment from two London-based private investors. He said he is considering opening additional offices in America and China.
The consultancy advises clients including National Express, the BBC, BP and the UK government’s Renewable Fuels Agency on carbon mapping, carbon footprinting and the cradle-to-grave assessment of individual products and brands.
The firm has had assistance from the Edinburgh Pre-Incubator scheme (EPIS), which is funded by Scottish Enterprise and run in tandem with Edinburgh University.
The scheme gives promising start-ups help with both business and academic mentoring, accommodation and £10,000 in interest-free loans.
Ecometrica’s scientific backers also include Imperial College, Oxford University, Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory and Nasa.
“It was just what we needed to get on with it,” said Davis. “It took us three months to get the business ready to the extent we felt able to put it to potential investors.”
He said the consultancy’s backers are “private individuals with an interest in biodiversity and carbon mapping”.
Davis, Ecometrica’s operations director, worked at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management (ECCM), a consultancy where he specialised in quantifying greenhouse gas emissions.
Managing director Richard Tipper, also previously with ECCM, has advised organisations including the UK and Mexican governments, the OECD and the United Nations Environment Programme.
“We want to change the way people and businesses think about their activities” said Bertrand Revenaz, managing director of Ecometrica's North American division.
“People need to under-stand how their habits affect climate change and the environment.”

At last, Britain is ready to build hybrid cars

The Sunday Times
June 28, 2009
Toyota expects to start making the Auris hatchback at its plant near Derby before the end of the year

Ray Hutton

BRITAIN is to make hybrid cars for the first time after a decision by Toyota to start production of the high-tech vehicles at its Burnaston plant near Derby.
The UK is the first European country the Japanese car giant has chosen for hybrid production, and only the third outside Japan. Toyota makes nearly all its hybrids in Japan, with small numbers produced in China and America. The best known of these cars is the Prius.
The introduction of the new vehicle to Burnaston – a hybrid version of the Auris hatchback – follows intense negotiations with the government in recent months. It is understood that Britain will provide financial assistance to help the move.
Official confirmation is expected in the next few months, with Gordon Brown expected to visit the Burnaston plant for the announcement. The Sunday Times has learnt that production is expected to start at the end of this year.

Ministers are expected to trumpet the move as an example of Britain prospering from a new low-carbon manufacturing sector. Ministers have forecast 1m “green-collar” jobs and have funnelled financial assistance for the motor industry towards hybrid and electric-vehicle projects.
Earlier this year Brown and Lord Mandel-son, the business secretary, said they planned to make Britain a centre for the production of low-emission vehicles.
Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, and Lord Drayson, the science minister, last week announced the award of grants under a £25m electric car trial (see panel on the right).
Besides introducing the hybrid Auris, Toyota will also participate in this electric-vehicle trial. A number of plug-in Prius prototypes will be included in the 340-model ultra-low-carbon vehicle demonstration programme set up by the Transport Strategy Board.
The Auris hybrid will not have a plug-in facility, but will use a petrol engine to drive the car in combination with an electric motor. It will share the 1.8litre petrol engine and electric motor with the new Prius, which has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any five-seater car, at 89g per kilometre, and an official average fuel consumption figure of 72.4mpg.
Although the Auris and Prius are built on the same chassis platform, the Auris is smaller and lighter and so is likely to have an even lower carbon-dioxide rating.
When it goes on sale early next year, it is expected to be priced below the £18,370 Prius, closer to the recently launched Honda Insight Hybrid, which starts at £15,490.
Burnaston makes the Auris and the larger Avensis in their entirety, using engines built at Deeside, North Wales, but the hybrid’s drive system (engine, motor, batteries and electronics) will be imported from Japan.
This will be the first hybrid based on an existing production model that Toyota has sold in Europe.
The popularity of the Prius on both sides of the Atlantic is at least partly because its futuristic styling identifies it as a special model – owners can be seen to be green. More than 1m Priuses have been sold world-wide since it first appeared in 1997.
It remains to be seen whether an Auris hybrid that looks like its petrol and diesel counterparts will be a success. The Honda Civic Hybrid – a version of an existing model – did not sell as well as the Prius, which is why the new Insight was established as a separate model with a remarkable similarity to Toyota’s trendsetter.
Toyota is working on a pure electric small car, based on the iQ, that will be recharged by plugging it into an external electricity supply, but the company continues to favour the petrol-electric hybrid system for mainstream models.
It has a target to build 1m hybrids a year. Those will include a wider variety of Lexus premium models and hybrid versions of the Toyota Yaris and Rav4.
Current plans for hybrid production at Burnaston do not extend beyond the Auris.
For most European markets, diesel engines are a stronger proposition in the Avensis size and price class.
Toyota is one of Britain’s largest motor-industry employers, with 4,300 staff at two plants – Burnaston and its engine plant at Deeside.
So far the plants have escaped the worst of the recession. While several British factories have had to close for several months, the Toyota facilities have been able to limit the fallout to a series of week-long stoppages, short-time working and a 10% across-the-board pay cut.
Last year Toyota’s car production in the UK fell by 20% to 213,000. Its sales of cars in the UK fell 13% to 124,382.
Akio Toyoda, who recently took over as president of Toyota, last week pledged a sweeping restructuring of the group to return it to profit. It lost $4.6 billion (£2.8 billion) last year and forecasts a bigger deficit this year.

IN THE MAGAZINE How to make Britain green and clean

Part one: Sea, shore and beach THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE TRIAL HITS THE STREETS EIGHT groups have been handed £25m by the Department for Transport to test-drive electric cars on our streets. The recipients range from car giants to groups led by local councils and technology companies. Ford will test a battery-powered version of the Focus, Britain’s best-selling car, while BMW will lead a team testing an electric Mini, and Toyota will try out a plug-in Prius. The aim is to make ultra-low-carbon vehicles an everyday feature of British life in less than five years.
In a separate move, four other companies – Ashwoods, Allied Vehicles, Modec and Smith Electric Vehicles – have been chosen by the Department for Transport to provide low-carbon and electric vans for government and council fleet trials.
The four will share £20m of government money to produce a fleet of 100 to 150 vehicles that will be put into service with council and government departments to assess their practicality and potential for fuel savings. Eventually, these trials will be used as the foundation for a larger, government-wide purchase of low-emission vans.