Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Swedish leader plans to use climate change miracle to cut greenhouse gases

The Times
July 1, 2009
David Charter in Stockholm

Sweden plans to use its “climate change miracle” to convince China and the United States to sign up to tough cuts in greenhouse gases at the Copenhagen summit to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish Prime Minister, said yesterday that his country, which takes over the EU presidency today, would present its own example of 50 per cent economic growth since 1990 combined with a 10 per cent cut in CO2 emissions to try to win over sceptics.
Mr Reinfeldt said that the Copenhagen agreement had to include all the developing countries that were effectively left out by Kyoto if it was to meet the goal of keeping global warming to no more than 2C (3.6F).
He said that Sweden would also try to lead Europe by example into adopting a tough CO2 tax regime based on his own model, which he boasted had the highest rates in the world.

The Swedish presidency has come at the right time to lead the EU into the Copenhagen process after picking up the reins from the Czech Republic under President Klaus, the author of a book on the myth of man-made global warming.
Since 1991 Swedes have paid 20p per litre in carbon tax for petrol, which has helped to cut emissions by 20 per cent, partly by encouraging public transport systems to switch to biogas. “You need to get the right price signals. We introduced a CO2 tax nearly 20 years ago and it is the highest in the world,” Mr Reinfeldt said.
“It puts a price on carbon so consumers feel the cost effect of greenhouse gas and it makes it interesting to look for renewables. I have seen my friends throw out fossil-fuel-based heating and install geothermal, so the carbon tax is very smart and very effective.”
Since the EU has no power to set domestic taxes, Sweden will have to sell its carbon tax to others by example. All of Sweden’s electricity comes from hydroelectric or nuclear power, giving it a 20 per cent rate of renewable energy. “We have put our renewable target at 50 per cent for 2020, so we are preparing for a huge increase in wind power,” he added.
Mr Reinfeldt is braced for tough talks with developing countries already arguing for financial aid from developed countries to go green.
“I came in as Prime Minister in 2006 when everyone was talking about climate change and watching Al Gore’s film,” he said. “It is a much tougher environment now and a lot of countries tend to negotiate as if the outcome should be to get more resources, not more mechanisms to alter the direction of the economy towards a low carbon economy. In Sweden we have shown you can have growth as well as cutting emissions and this is the discussion you have to have with the Chinese, who think we are trying to question their right to growth.”
Sweden has signed an £84 million deal with China to develop wind power. Mr Reinfeldt has also held talks with Gordon Brown on the amount of aid the EU will offer to help the developing world to cut emissions.

Greens won't cheer when Swedes take over EU presidency from the Czechs

Stockholm is accused of lacking ambition ahead of Copenhagen, despite its good record on renewables and reducing emissions

Gwladys Fouché, Tuesday 30 June 2009 09.00 BST

You would think environmentalists would be thrilled at the prospect of Sweden taking over the EU presidency on Wednesday from the Czech Republic. A nation whose president flatly denies that climate change is caused by people is being replaced by one of the world's greenest countries.
Many environmentalists are not happy, though. Some green campaigners are worried about a lack of ambition from Stockholm for the climate summit in Copenhagen in December, where it will lead Europe's negotiating team.
"The Swedish government is like any of the other governments: so far it has made a lot of long-term commitments, but has not been willing to put money on the table when it comes to the financing of CO2 emission cuts around the world," argues Mads Flarup Christensen, head of Greenpeace in Sweden. "Words come cheap. We want to see the money."
Less sceptical, but just as cautious, is the Nordic nation's oldest green pressure group. "Sweden says it has ambitions for Copenhagen, but it has not clearly explained what its goals are," said Emma Lindberg, a climate change expert at the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation.
"At the level of ministers' advisers, we often hear that 'Copenhagen is only the beginning'," she says. "This is in complete contradiction to the tone, much more determined, of the European Commission. The government talks little either about the questions of who will pay for the CO2 cuts of developing nations."
Green campaigners were not reassured either when they opened the Financial Times on 5 June. In an article entitled The main tasks for Sweden's EU presidency, PM Fredrik Reinfeldt and finance minister Anders Borg did not mention once the words Copenhagen, climate change or global warming at all. Instead the focus was on the economic crisis and the need for budgetary discipline.
But even Reinfeldt's critics would agree Sweden taking over the reins is a huge step forward. Instead of Václav Klaus, the Czech president who spoke at a major conference of climate change deniers, Europe will be led by a country whose king switches off the royal palace's lights at night and has the EU's highest share of renewable energies in its energy use – around 43%.
Sweden also tops the list of countries that did the most in 2009 to save the planet, for the third year running. According to Germanwatch, a German green group. Between 1990 and 2006, Sweden cut emissions by 9%, exceeding its Kyoto protocol target, while enjoying economic growth of 44%. Sweden has proven its green credentials.
Others are upbeat about the prospect of Sweden leading the EU at the Copenhagen talks. "Copenhagen and the economic crisis are the two most important priorities of Sweden's presidency," assesses Göran von Sydow, an analyst at the Swedish Institute of European Political Studies.
"Getting a deal in Copenhagen is extremely important to the government," agrees Christian Azar, a professor of energy and the environment at Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg. "This is my impression from my meetings with Reinfeldt, and from the general atmosphere surrounding Swedish public debate."
Stockholm is already making efforts. In March it announced it would cut the country's carbon emissions by 40% on their 1990 levels by 2020 - more than the EU's current target of cutting emissions by 20% over the same period (30% if other countries commit). Stockholm also wants to introduce a comprehensive EU carbon tax to make pollution more expensive.
"We want to show that the EU is taking the problem [of climate change] seriously," says the Swedish minister of environment, Andreas Carlgren.
The question, however, is how will Sweden reconcile its twin goals of tackling the economic crisis with getting a deal in Copenhagen. How can it ask member-states to spend money on climate change on the one hand, while on the other telling them that they must cut back on public spending?
The fear is that climate change will end up playing second fiddle. "Sweden is lowering its ambitions on combating climate change because it is going to cost money," says Von Sydow. "It's going to be harder to do what they want because of the financial crisis."

Droughts and floods threaten China's economic growth, forecaster warns

Cost of crop failure soars as weather disasters become more frequent and severe

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Tuesday 30 June 2009 13.22 BST

China faces an increase in weather disasters which will threaten crops and economic growth, the country's most senior forecaster has warned.
He Lifu, of the National Meteorological Centre, told the China Daily newspaper that events such as droughts, floods and storms had become more frequent and severe since the 1990s and the trend was likely to continue.
"Extreme weather will be more frequent in the future due to the instability of the atmosphere, and global warming might be the indirect cause," the forecaster told the English-language paper. He said his agency responded to 16 emergencies last year, the most since its foundation in 1949.
The annual economic cost of extreme weather has soared from 176.2bn yuan (£15.6bn) on average in the 1990s to 244bn yuan (£21.5bn) between 2004 and last year, according to ministry of civil affairs figures cited by the paper.
Farmers are resorting to their own measures to avoid losses. Wheat producers in Henan, Shandong and Hebei fired chemical pellets into the clouds this month to prevent hail and heavy rain from damaging their harvest.
The State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters has also warned that drought has become more frequent since the 1990s, causing more crop failures.
According to the China Daily, the headquarters figures show that annual grain loss caused by drought has averaged 37.3m tonnes since 2000 – almost twice the level in the 1980s – while the annual average proportion of damaged crops has risen to 59.3%, compared with 48% in the 1990s.
Sun Jisong, the chief forecaster at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, cautioned that part of the apparent increase in extreme weather might be due to more advanced observation techniques and improved recording.
He added that dealing with the rise would require reduced consumption of energy and resources to tackle the causes and improve forecasting and defences.
Last month, the annual Red Cross report said that a rise in weather-related disasters worldwide over the last decade – from around 200 a year in the 1990s to around 350 – was continuing. Its secretary general, Bekele Geleta, warned that extreme-weather events would become more frequent and more severe.

Drax train hijackers 'planning to turn trial into second protest'

Prosecutors accuse 22 activists who took control of a coal train last year of 'misusing the court process to continue the action'
Martin Wainwright, Tuesday 30 June 2009 15.55 BST

Climate change campaigners who hijacked a power station coal train were accused today of planning to turn their trial into a second public protest on energy policy and global warming.
Prosecution lawyers claimed that 22 men and women who clambered aboard a 21-wagon supply service to Drax in north Yorkshire last year were bent on "misusing the court process to continue the action."
The dock at Leeds crown court overflowed into the well as the group, aged between 21 and 48, pleaded not guilty to obstructing a railway engine contrary to the Malicious Damage Act of 1861.
The court heard that they had carried out "a well-planned and orchestrated action," halting the train with red flags and fake railwaymen's uniforms precisely by a river bridge which they could use to climb on to the huge coal hoppers.
"They effectively took control of the train," said Richard Mansell QC, prosecuting, "and then started shovelling its coal on to the track below." Makeshift tents were erected on two of the wagons while other protesters manacled themselves to the train and bridge girders, using locks that police specialists did not cut through for 16 hours.
The protest was aimed at greenhouse gas pollution from coal-burning at Drax, the largest power station of its kind in Europe, and fuel trains were disrupted for two days. Mansell told the jury of six men and six women that passenger and freight services had been disrupted, causing financial loss to several companies, and the clearing of the coal and ballast cleaning had cost £30,000.
The court heard that there was a good-humoured atmosphere on all sides during the confrontation, which ended at midnight when a specialist police team unlocked the last protester. One of the group, who are from London, Manchester, Leeds, Wales, the south-east and Scotland, had dressed as a canary. She carried a placard with the words "How many warnings do we need? The Canary". She also joined in a request – which was not met – that the chief executive of Drax come the two miles down the rail line to talk to them.
The jury heard that the group had come thoroughly prepared, with 15 shovels, advice on what to do if arrested and scarves to avoid inhaling coal dust. The two who stopped the train initially told its driver Nicholas Wilson that they were stopping him because there was "a load of protesters on the line ahead". They then revealed that they were part of the group, but assured him that he would come to no harm.
Wilson, who worked for the EWS company that ran the train, had no option but to stop because of the health and safety risk of people on the tracks.
Mansell told the trial, which is expected to last for a fortnight, that the 22 would be representing themselves and were likely to seek political sympathy rather than challenge the facts. He said that there was no question that the train had been illegally stopped and boarded, and the defendants would not seek to deny their actions.
"You may wonder therefore what possible issue it is that you are here to try," he said. "We must wait and see, but the Crown suspects that what is happening here is that the defendants may seek to play on your emotions, and your sympathies with their cause, if you have them, so as to find them all not guilty.
"If you were to do this, by effectively ignoring the evidence, that would not be true to your oath or affirmation. If they are guilty in law of the offence, then the only true verdict is one of guilty."
"The Crown says that they are preparing a misuse of the court process to continue the protest action which they started when they boarded that train just over a year ago."

Manufacturing 'must grow to help on climate change'

Published Date: 01 July 2009
BUSINESS leaders will press the case today for a bigger manufacturing base to help tackle challenges such as climate change as well as boosting the economy.
The Engineering Employers Federation said manufacturing should be at the centre of a more diverse and durable economy.A report called for a new industrial bank to invest in industry as well as a National Economic Council to help deliver improvements.The growth of sectors such as aerospace, medical equipment and energy will be vital if the UK is to provide the solutions to climate change, demographic shifts and future security needs with domestic manufacturing capacity, said the federation.Chief executive Gilbert Toppin said: "Manufacturing must play a bigger role if we are to meet the challenges facing us. It can be a major player in addressing climate change and meeting our demographic and security challenges as well as helping to claw back the twin deficits in the public sector and on trade."

Official heatwave likely to be declared as UK temperatures soar

Social services and hospitals on alert for hot weather casualties, with no relief from heat expected until weekend

Maev Kennedy, Tuesday 30 June 2009 10.41 BST

An official heatwave health warning will be issued tomorrow morning, meaning that schools, hospitals, local authorities and social services must take action to avoid casualties, unless temperatures plummet tonight.
London and much of the south-east has already sweltered through two days where temperatures topped 30C, and tonight temperatures in the low 20s are expected in many areas. The lowest temperature anywhere in the Greater London area on Monday night was 18C.
The temperature hit 31C today at Heathrow. The highest temperatures recorded so far this week were 31.4C at Wisley in Surrey, and 30.4C in St James's Park, London, both on Monday.
The scorching end to the month made June the hottest, driest and sunniest month since July 2006. Ladbrokes has cut the odds on a record-breaking UK summer from 9-2 to 4-1.
According to climatologist Philip Eden, England and Wales had on average 222 hours of sunshine in June, 117% of the figure for 1971-2000, while rainfall was only 80% of the same period.
Already this week Tesco reports that sales of electrical fans are 20 times that of last week, and they expect to sell 100,000 before any relief from the heat is forecast at the weekend.
Tomorrow could be the hottest day of the year, with temperatures predicted to reach 33C.
The Met Office has issued a warning of heavy rain across most of Wales this evening, and advance warnings of thundery downpours in the west tomorrow which could cause localised flooding.
The hottest spell in three years is already leaving the elderly, very young, frail and those with breathing problems particularly vulnerable. Advice on health, travel, and how to manage the heat in homes, schools and workplaces is available on the government's Directgov website, drawing together information from the Met Office, NHS, and the Highways Agency.
During record temperatures in 2003, an estimated 2,000 people died from heat-related conditions.
NHS Direct and the London ambulance service, which will bear the brunt of pressure in the capital, are gearing up for a major demand on their services.
The UK's heatwave plan remains at level two, but the Met Office believes it will be raised to level three.
Official advice says anyone who can should stay indoors from noon to 3pm, draw curtains to shade rooms, drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen while outdoors.
Many schools are already keeping children out of playgrounds during breaktimes.
Care homes have been advised to monitor indoor temperatures four times a day, identify high-risk residents and prepare a cool room.
Officials are urging people to identify the coolest room in their home, stock up on essential supplies to cut down on shopping trips and check on neighbours, relatives and friends, especially those with mobility problems.
The Department of Health and the lifeboat service have warned people to be careful if going swimming.
A teenage boy, who has not yet been formally identified, drowned while swimming with three friends in the river Severn yesterday.
Search teams using a helicopter and boat recovered the boy's body. He was confirmed dead on arrival at Worcestershire Royal hospital.

Government to set clear targets for UK energy mix

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

Britain is set to turn its back on a wholly liberalised energy market and will return to a more interventionist, state-directed model, according to Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary.
In an interview with The Times, Mr Miliband said that a more assertive role for government was the only way that Britain could achieve its present target of slashing its carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.
“The market on its own is not going to ensure that we make the transition to low carbon,” he said. “It's not necessarily going to ensure the right diversity in our energy mix.”
Mr Miliband, who is pushing for a big rise in electricity generated from low-carbon sources, said that this summer the Government would set out a clear framework for Britain's future energy mix — specifying future targets for total power generation from nuclear, gas, “clean coal” and renewables for the first time since the 1980s. The so-called Summer Strategy, dubbed the “2030 Masterplan” by senior industry executives, will also provide a long-term framework for the development of the National Grid, which is facing a big overhaul in order to support a huge increase in offshore wind power in the UK, as well as a fleet of new nuclear reactors.

Mr Miliband insisted that “dynamic markets” and private investment would remain central to future UK energy policy, but said: “The days of an energy policy of ‘let's leave it to the market and the market will take care of it' are over.”
He said that this return to a more state-directed model of energy policy represented the biggest turning point since Nigel Lawson called for the free market to govern the mix of fuels in the 1980s. He said that Mr Lawson's approach had been forged when Britain still had access to plentiful supplies of North Sea gas and when there was no consensus over the threat of climate change.
Since liberalisation of the industry in the early 1990s, the Government has refused to issue targets for the desired portion of electricity to be generated from a single fuel type.
But that has led to uncertainty over the long-term direction of UK energy policy and encouraged many energy companies to make short-term decisions on energy investments.
“There is an old view, a Lawsonian view that government shouldn't take a view on the energy mix. But government does need to give people a sense of its vision for the energy mix and for the grid.”
Mr Miliband said he believed that a more directive approach from government would be greeted positively by the energy industry.
About 76 per cent of Britain's electricity is generated from fossil fuels — chiefly coal and gas — but the Government is trying to replace much of this with a huge increase in more expensive, low-carbon power sources.
A spokesman for Centrica, owner of British Gas and one of the Big Six energy companies, said: “It is important that the right framework is put in place in order to make it economic to deliver the investments which will bring about the low-carbon energy industry that we are all looking for.”

Royal Bank of Scotland should be transformed into 'bank of sustainability'

Sustainable Development Commission launches 275 'breakthrough' ideas to 'inspire and motivate policy makers'
John Vidal, environment editor, Tuesday 30 June 2009 14.51 BST

The Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 70% owned by the public, should be transformed into the Royal Bank of Sustainability with a brief to back renewable energy, improve public transport, and to raise money to resolve Britain's housing crisis.
The suggestion is one of 275 potential "breakthrough" ideas submitted by members of the public to the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) to improve the quality of people's lives, increase community involvement and make Britain a fairer society.
Other suggestions include a radical switching of 20% of all health spending towards preventing illness rather than treatments by 2020, getting young people more connected to the natural world by holding more classes outdoors, and turning under-used city land into urban farms.
"Compared to the combined governments' response to the implosion in the capital markets the response to civilisation-threatening crises [has been] stumbling and uninspired… We seem bogged down on so many fronts. We wanted to bring together a dynamic portfolio of ideas that could really inspire and motivate policy makers and others to set the UK much more decisively on the path to becoming a sustainable society," says the report entitled Breakthroughs for the Twenty-First Century, which is published tomorrow.
Many of the ideas, like making cycling mainstream and setting up low carbon zones to reduce emissions and combat health problems, are not new but need invigorating, says the report. Others, like using algae to capture emissions, are controversial. But together, said outgoing SDC chief Jonathon Porritt, the 275 ideas could reinvigorate the political process.
One suggestion, known to be gaining ground in the Treasury, aims to raise billions of pounds to reduce carbon emissions by releasing "green bonds' which would be issued and backed by government. Like standard government bonds (known as gilts) these would be super-safe investments that guaranteed a fixed interest rate, but the money would be ring-fenced for environmental spending by government.
Another suggestion, from the Yorkshire village of Todmorden, would set up a national competition to inspire towns and communities to grow more food grown in both public and private spaces. "Food is the trigger for greater involvement with the big issues such as climate change and health," said Pam Warhurst of Todmorden.
In addition to inviting people from every walk of life to contribute ideas, the authors of the report surveyed groups of young people who told them that what mattered most was the quality of their environment, better transport, fairness, education, sustainable food and farming and the need for leadership.
But some ideas are very unlikely to go down well with the present or even the next government. "What I truly honestly believe would improve the lives of every single person in this country is an end to the capitalist free-market system. If the human race is ever going to progress then it will only be done by a socialist alternative to materialism," said a youth, identified only as "Fred, from the SW".

Households face rise in bills because of Government failure on renewables

Consumers will have to pay hundreds of pounds more on their electricity bills in future because the Government has failed to invest enough in cheap alternative sources like wind and solar power, the Royal Society has warned.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Published: 7:00AM BST 30 Jun 2009
The UK Government has committed to cutting greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050 to tackle climate change. Most of the cuts will have to come from switching from fossil fuels such as oil and coal to renewable energy sources like the wind or waves.
However a new report by the Royal Society has found a "disappointing rate of progress" on new technology such as offshore wind turbines, solar panels and biofuels.

The document by the country's leading scientists said the UK will have to invest billions more in developing new technologies as well as building a new generation of nuclear power stations and investing in "clean coal". The bill is most likely to be paid by energy companies through a system of incentives and taxes.
Professor John Shepherd, lead author of the report, said ultimately consumers will end up paying.
"We have to be prepared to pay more for energy as a whole than we have been used to in order to avoid the side effects on the environment and have cleaner sources of energy in the future," he said.
Lord Turner, the Government's adviser on climate change, has already warned that electricity bills may have to rise by around £500 per annum over the next decade.
Prof Shepherd said it was likely to cost the consumer hundreds of pounds every year. However he said the cost could be even greater if the UK continues to rely on fossil fuels as the cost of oil and coal continues to rise.
"Would a few per cent on your electricity bills really be too much to pay for a sustainable energy future?" he asked. "I do not think it would."
Prof Shepherd also said the UK will have to invest in nuclear despite safety concerns. Britain's nuclear watchdog recently admitted there were more than 1,750 leaks, breakdowns or other "events" over the past seven years.
Again Prof Shepherd said the Government has failed to invest in the technology but the industry could be developed by employing more engineers and experts from abroad.
Coal will also have to be used in the future despite concerns about the carbon emissions through investing in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The Royal Society are calling for any new power stations to capture 90 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 – much tougher than the Government's "disappointing" current policy.
However in the long run Prof Shepherd, a climate scientist at Southampton University, said the UK must rely on renewables like solar and wind.
"For the sake of future generations we cannot afford to wait until our climate is changed dramatically or the oil runs out before we end our dependency on fossil fuels," he warned.
Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change minister, said the UK will be setting out a vision for renewables in a white paper due to be revealed next month.
"We have identified ways to tackle the challenges – we will need a mix of renewables, clean fossil fuels and nuclear and we're already making world leading progress in those areas," he said.

Toyota Builds Thicket of Patents Around Hybrid To Block Competitors


The Obama administration's tough new fuel-efficiency standards could pose problems for some car makers, but Toyota Motor Corp. is hoping to benefit.
The Japanese company is betting the rules will give an advantage to its expanding lineup of hybrid vehicles, and it also aims to boost revenue by licensing to other car makers the patents that protect its fuel-saving technologies.
Since it started developing the gas-electric Prius more than a decade ago, Toyota has kept its attorneys just as busy as its engineers, meticulously filing for patents on more than 2,000 systems and components for its best-selling hybrid. Its third-generation Prius, which hit showrooms in May, accounts for about half of those patents alone.
Toyota's goal: to make it difficult for other auto makers to develop their own hybrids without seeking licensing from Toyota, as Ford Motor Co. already did to make its Escape hybrid and Nissan Motor Co. has for its Altima hybrid.
"Our system is the best technology for hybrids to get the best carbon dioxide emissions and best fuel economy. [Rivals] will not be able to compete," said Gouichiro Kuriyama, a manager in Toyota's product planning division.
Whether Toyota's strategy will pay off is unclear. While the Prius has won a strong following among environmental-minded consumers, it will face stiffer competition to win mass-market appeal.
Almost all car companies are working on more fuel-efficient gasoline engines that could boost miles-per-gallon ratings enough to damp interest in hybrids.
Makers also have diesel vehicles coming to the U.S. that deliver nearly the same fuel economy as the Prius.

Car makers for decades have sought patents on their innovations, and Toyota's strategy to seek revenue from its technology is hardly new. But its early work on hybrids may give it a leg up in the current rush to create more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The Obama administration plans to require fuel economy of cars be 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. To hit these new targets, many car makers need to quickly develop highly fuel-efficient vehicles and technologies.
"Toyota's patent-filing strategy has made it far too risky to copy the Prius without Toyota's blessing," said Justin Blows, a patent attorney with Griffith Hack Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys in Australia.
In a recent study of intellectual property for hybrid vehicles, Mr. Blows found that Toyota has about 2,100 patents, nearly double that of its closest rival, Honda Motor Co. It is a fact that Toyota hasn't been shy about promoting, as it did in its launch of the new Prius at the Detroit auto show in January.
Toyota, which isn't known as a particularly litigious company, declined to say how many attorneys it uses to file and defend its hybrid patents. No lawsuits involving the patents have become public. Toyota also won't say how much revenue it has received from licensing its patents, if any. Patent cross-licensing may involve no exchange of money.
Once ridiculed as impractical and a gimmick, Toyota's hybrid system, which the car maker plans to make available in all of its vehicles by 2020, has slowly won industry acceptance. "Clearly in the arena of the hybrid Toyota is far ahead of the others. Their years of endeavor are now being rewarded," said Tatsuo Yoshida, an analyst at UBS Investment Research in Tokyo.
To be sure, there are other ways to design hybrids without infringing on Toyota's patents, as Honda proved.

Toyota's "full hybrid" system weds battery-powered electric motors with a gasoline engine, allowing it to shift seamlessly between either electric or gas power as driving conditions and battery charging require.
Honda's simpler, lower-cost system, called a "mild hybrid," relies mainly on a highly efficient, lightweight gasoline engine to move the vehicle, but it is assisted by battery-powered motors.
The new Prius gets 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Insight is rated at 40 mpg city, 43 mpg highway.
A Honda spokeswoman said that while Honda's current hybrid technology doesn't conflict with Toyota's patents, Honda may encounter the issue as it develops new technologies, such as hybrid systems for larger vehicles.
"Patent conflicts happen in every development as auto manufacturers compete with each other for a new technology," she said.
Instead of trying to catch up to Toyota in hybrid vehicles, Nissan has chosen to pour its resources into developing a mass-produced electric car starting in 2010. "
That's what competition is about. Everybody makes a bet on a different technology and then let the consumer choose," said Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn.
Ford, meantime, said it developed its own hybrid technology but agreed to cross-license patents with Toyota to prevent any legal issues. No money changed hands, Ford said.
"Our hybrids are 100% Ford-developed and engineered," said spokeswoman Jennifer Moore by e-mail. Although conceptually the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid are described in similar ways, Ford officials said the execution and architecture are different.—Matthew Dolan contributed to this article.
Write to John Murphy at

Big Spring Planting Bodes Well for Food, Ethanol Companies


U.S. farmers planted more than expected this spring, potentially giving some relief to ranchers, food companies and ethanol makers, which have endured relatively high grain prices in the past two years.
Unless there is a dramatic change in weather over the growing season or some other unexpected disruption to the crops, corn and soybean prices could stay relatively low over the coming months, analysts say.
"If there's a potential winner in this game it's going to be the end users," says Joe Victor, vice president at Allendale Inc., a commodity research advisory firm based in McHenry, Ill. Finally the industries using corn and soybeans have "got a reprieve...they can take a big breath."
The crop estimate released Tuesday by the Agriculture Department comes despite cool, wet weather early in the spring.
American farmers planted an estimated 77.5 million acres of soybeans this spring, up 2% from last year and the biggest on record, according to the Agriculture Department's crop acreage estimates. The agency estimated that the U.S. corn crop will come in at 87 million acres, up 1% from last year and the second-largest planted acreage since 1946.
The report is bearish for investors and traders who had been expecting smaller increases in planted acres this year since inclement weather was thought to have kept farmers from getting into the fields on time.
On the Chicago Board of Trade Tuesday, corn traded about 29 cents lower at $3.48 a bushel, while soybeans traded 11 cents higher at $12.26 a bushel.
John McConnell, a grain farmer in North Dakota, said the wet weather this spring caused him to plant his crops late, and he ended up leaving 10% of his ground without seeds.
"There's concern because our crops are behind," Mr. McConnell said. "Any abnormal weather would impact our yield in the future. We are a little apprehensive that we might get less than optimal weather, which would have a bad impact because we started seeding so late."
The livestock and ethanol industries have been hit hard in past months by high grain prices, pushing producers big and small into the red. Exacerbating the situation, the global recession has cut into demand for meat.
Tom Graham, a cattle and hog farmer in Frazeysburg, Ohio, said that despite the lower grain prices, he is still bracing for a tight year. "The year is just going to be marginal," he says. "Beef prices are down. We're going to be lucky to break even."
The meat industry is cautiously optimistic. "While this crop report is welcomed news for our business, there's still a lot of the growing season to come," said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman at meat giant Tyson Foods Inc., of Springdale, Ark. "We expect continued price volatility in corn and soy."
In the near term, lower corn prices could bode well for the ethanol industry. But ethanol prices will likely fall along with corn prices, meaning more challenges ahead for the industry, according to Jeff Broin, chief executive of POET, one of the nation's largest ethanol producers, based in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Currently there is a glut of ethanol in the U.S., and the industry has been pushing for the government to raise the so-called blend wall, the cap on the amount of ethanol that can be blended into the nation's gasoline supply.
Write to Lauren Etter at and Carrie Porter at

You ask, they answer: Smart Solar

Put your energy questions to Smart Solar, the Oxfordshire-based firm that supplies photovoltaic solar panel systems for domestic use, Tuesday 30 June 2009 15.30 BST

In the You Ask, They Answer spotlight this week is Smart Solar, an Oxfordshire company that produces photovoltaic solar panel systems for domestic use. Managing director, Jonathan Stobart, will be on-hand to answer all your questions about how to install solar generation in your home and garden.
What are the pitfalls in applying for planning permission for solar panels? How do you qualify for the government's £2,500 grant to help you install the technology? What will the "feed-in tariff" planned for next year mean? Is it really sunny enough in the UK to make it worth it anyway?
Jonathan will be answering intermittently until Friday so please add your comments and questions below.