Monday, 3 August 2009

India looks to the sun for ambitious surge in green power

Jeremy Page in Delhi
For centuries Hindus have revered the sun god, Surya, as a source of health and prosperity, building lavish temples and holding festivals in his honour across a country with more than 300 days of sunshine a year.
Now India is putting its faith in the sun in a more literal sense by revealing what experts describe as the world’s most ambitious plan to develop solar energy over the next three or four decades.
Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, will chair a meeting today to decide whether to approve a National Solar Mission designed to curb India’s carbon emissions and ease its crippling power shortages. It proposes boosting India’s solar power generation capacity from almost zero to 20 gigawatts (20 billion watts) by 2020, 100GW by 2030 and 200GW by 2050, according to a draft seen by The Times. The entire world can generate about 14GW of solar power today.
India’s plan also proposes reducing the price of solar power to the same level as that from fossil fuels by 2020, according to the draft, dated April 29. Solar power in India currently costs about 15 rupees (20p) per kWh, compared with an average 3.5 rupees per kWh for electricity from the national grid, which is largely produced by coal-fired thermal power plants.
Other targets include forcing all government buildings to have solar panels by 2012 and developing micro-financing to encourage 20 million households to install solar lighting by 2020. The plan also outlines a system — similar to Germany’s — of paying households for any surplus power from solar panels fed back into the grid.
To achieve these and other goals, the mission proposes that the Government invest 920 billion rupees (£11.5 billion) in developing, manufacturing and installing solar technology over the next 30 years.
The mission is primarily designed to improve India’s energy security as it has abundant supplies of coal — the dirtiest of the fossil fuels — but has to import 70 per cent of its crude oil and half its natural gas. It is also meant to ease a chronic power shortage that has left 400 million Indians without electricity, causes daily blackouts in cities, and represents one of the biggest obstacles to economic growth.
India now has the capacity to produce 150GW — less than a fifth of China’s — and demand outstripped supply by 9.5 per cent between 2008-09, and by 13.8 per cent during peak hours, according to the Power Ministry. Indian officials also hope that the mission will help to ease the pressure from Western governments at international talks for a new UN climate pact in December.
Environmental campaigners have welcomed the plan, saying that solar energy is India’s most realistic alternative power source, as it does not have the space for large wind plants. Siddharth Pathak, chief climate change campaigner for Greenpeace in India, said: “India’s putting a very strong argument in front of developed countries that it has huge potential for renewable energy.” However, some government officials remain sceptical about risking so much money on new technology, rather than spending it on providing all Indians with electricity from conventional sources.

New Jersey Outshines 48 of Its Peers in Solar Power

Lacking California's Sunshine and Deserts, State Capitalizes on Utility Poles and Flat Industrial Roofs to Claim No. 2 Spot
New Jersey's biggest utility is outfitting 200,000 utility poles with solar panels, part of the state's embrace of a try-anything strategy that has made it the nation's second-biggest producer of solar energy behind California.
Instead of bemoaning what it doesn't have -- bright sunshine, high winds, empty land -- New Jersey has looked for places where solar capacity can be squirreled away inconspicuously. In addition to utility poles, the state is pushing solar panels for industrial locations with many flat roofs.
Enterprise Group, the state's biggest utility, plans to install about 200,000 solar units on utility poles in its territory. The solar units also will have radio capability to alert the company of outages.

FedEx Corp., for example, said Thursday it will begin installing solar panels atop its distribution hub in Woodbridge, N.J., next month. Covering about three acres and capable of generating 2.42 megawatts of electricity, it is expected to be the largest rooftop solar facility in the U.S. when completed in November. The solar array will satisfy about 30% of the facility's electricity needs.
Other states may adopt New Jersey's practical approach, if Congress pushes ahead with plans to create a national renewable-energy mandate. In Southeastern states, this could mean burning more wood chips or farm waste to make electricity.
"We don't have the land to do big, grid-connected, utility-scale solar projects, so we've had to think more creatively," said Ralph Izzo, chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. The big utility received regulatory approval this week to install 40 megawatts of solar panels on utility poles and another 40 megawatts at its industrial yards and on rooftops.
Rooftop projects avoid the environmental hurdles associated with the use of pristine, desert locations, often sought out in Western states like California. Nor is there the problem of trying to get leases from the federal government, the biggest landowner in the West. And, of course, when solar energy is scattered on rooftops, it's literally sitting right on top of customers, so there is no need for major new transmission lines.
"We need to break away from the mindset of putting solar energy where there's lots of land but no people," said Mr. Izzo.
The Garden State's generous financial incentives for solar installation are helping to generate interest. "I've had plenty of people ask me, 'Why New Jersey? Why not Arizona?' " said Paul Vicarro, a facilities managing director at FedEx. "The answer is: That is where the money is, that is where incentives are to make the deal financially viable."
California also is on a solar tear. It wants "a million solar roofs" a decade from now, and is spending $3.3 billion on subsidies, hoping to get 3,000 megawatts installed. More than 158 megawatts of grid-tied solar power were installed in California last year, double the amount installed in 2007. Since the 1980s, California has installed nearly 500 megawatts of grid-tied solar power, equivalent to one large power plant, but still a tiny fraction of the 40,000 megawatts the state needs on a summer day.
New Jersey's $514 million program will double its solar capacity to 160 megawatts by 2013, and will be funded by utility customers. Costs will be defrayed slightly by a 30% federal tax credit, roughly $1 million a year in proceeds from the sale of solar renewable energy credits. In addition, solar energy fetches higher prices in the state's deregulated market, because it's produced at peak times.
PSEG will get more than electricity from the pole-mounted systems, which cost about $1,000 apiece. The solar units will have a radio capability, so they can alert the utility to outages and relay other grid data. "As they deploy these systems, they get a smart grid network," said Shihab Kuran, chief executive of Petra Solar in Plainfield, N.J., which is manufacturing the systems locally.
Jesse Pichel, an alternative-energy analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., said a change in government incentives should stimulate more solar development. Beginning Aug. 1, renewable-energy companies can get cash grants from the federal government, instead of a credit against taxable income, for 30% of the cost of projects. The change will make it easier to finance projects.
Even though panel prices have fallen amid abundant supplies of polysilicon, the primary material used to make panels, the electricity still costs more than power generated from conventional fossil-fuel sources. "We've got to stop pretending solar power will lower the cost of energy. It's going to increase the cost, and people have got to understand why it's worth more," said PSEG's Mr. Izzo. He listed the names of pollutants produced by coal or gas incineration that don't occur with solar technology.
Jeanne Fox, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, said her state has 4,000 solar installations, or "more per square mile than California." There are limits, though, she added, "because the ratepayers can't afford to have solar everywhere, even though the cost is dropping."
New Jersey's goal is to garner 3% of its electricity from the sun and 12% from offshore wind by 2020, part of a larger effort to meet 30% of the state's electricity needs through clean sources.
Write to Rebecca Smith at and Russell Gold at

Battersea Power Station refit plans submitted to council

The planning application for the £4bn redevelopment of Battersea Power Station has been informally submitted to Wandsworth Council, with hopes rising that the latest proposals could be given the green light by authorities.

By Graham RuddickPublished: 10:25PM BST 02 Aug 2009
The project has so far been dogged by political opposition, with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, rejecting previous plans that included a glass eco-tower that was 1,000 ft tall and potentially the highest building in London.
The present site owners, Real Estate Opportunities, are the third since the power station was decommissioned in 1983. There are fears that the building's structure cannot survive if another proposal is rejected.

However, the new design, unveiled in June, does not include any building visible from behind the Palace of Westminster, as requested, and is believed to have won positive signals from the authorities.
Treasury Holdings, the project manager, is planning to restore the Grade II listed structure and convert its interior into 650,000 sq ft of offices, an event space, and a 2,000-seat conference centre with apartments on the roof.
Outside will be curving blocks of office, retail, residential and hotel space, as well as a hospital. The Northern Line would also be extended from Kennington to the site, which would cost around £450m.
Treasury is believed to have submitted plans on an informal basis on Friday. Overall, the plans form the biggest planning submission made in London apart from the Olympics.

Nissan unveils its electric car, the Leaf

• Sunderland in running to make five-door hatchback • Nissan claims Leaf is first electric-only mass-market car
Tim Webb, Sunday 2 August 2009 19.29 BST
Nissan has unveiled what it claims to be the world's first mass-market electric car — a five-door hatchback called Leaf which its Sunderland plant is vying to build for the European market.
The family-sized car, which has a maximum range of 100 miles and a top speed of about 90mph, will be in showrooms in Britain, Europe, the US and Japan by the end of next year.
The Leaf is the first of Nissan's new range of fully electric powered cars, which produce no carbon emissions, unlike hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, which uses a petrol-powered engine as well as an electric battery. Nissan's range of electric cars will include small, medium-sized and large saloon cars.
A Nissan spokeswoman would not disclose how much the Leaf would cost consumers, other than to say it would be similarly priced to other family-sized cars in the £10,000-£15,000 bracket. This excludes the cost of the electric battery, which drivers would have to buy at a cost of several thousands pounds, or lease for a monthly fee.
The Japanese carmaker announced last month that it had selected its Sunderland plant to make lithium-ion batteries for the European market at a new £200m factory. But the north-east plant is also bidding to make the cars. The factory is up against plants in France, Spain and Portugal also owned by Nissan and its French partner Renault.
Nissan is in discussions with the British government about what financial support could be offered because the economics of making electric cars on a large scale are unproved. The European Investment Bank has already offered the company a €400m (£340m) loan to build environmentally friendly cars in Europe but this needs to be guaranteed by the government for the UK to get a slice of production.
Business secretary Lord Mandelson has assembled a £2.3bn package of loan guarantees for the car industry but none have been extended yet, despite growing frustration from companies.
Nissan hopes that the Leaf will become the world's first truly mass-market electric car. Unlike its Japanese rival Toyota, which makes the hugely popular Prius, Nissan is focusing its energies and investment on "pure electric" cars.
Electric cars currently on the market have a niche appeal with motorists put off by their limited range, size and speed. The tiny G-Wiz in Britain, for example, has been popular among commuters in large cities such as London, where it is exempt from the congestion charge. But even the latest model has a speed limit of only 51mph and a maximum range of 70 miles before it needs recharging, limiting its use.
High performance electric cars are prohibitively expensive. Tesla Motors, maker of the Tesla Roadster, has spent years trying to get costs down to about $100,000 (£60,000) for each sports car.
The Leaf car battery can be charged to 80% capacity in about 20 minutes, compared with almost three and a half hours needed for the G-Wiz. The first batch of cars, primarily for the Asian and North American markets, will be made in Japan and the US.

SSE protests as it misses out on wind-farm subsidy

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor
One of Britain’s biggest energy companies will miss out on renewable energy subsidies worth more than half a billion pounds because it placed an order to buy equipment for a huge offshore wind farm too early.
Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), told The Times that it was “unfair” that its £1.3 billion Greater Gabbard wind farm, off Suffolk, would be excluded from fresh incentives designed to kick-start stalled investment in the industry.
In the Budget, in April, Alistair Darling unveiled a 33 per cent boost in subsidies available for offshore wind energy. Developers will gain from the extra £525 million in incentives over 20 years, but projects qualify only if turbine orders were placed between April 2009 and March 2010.
SSE’s competitors, including Centrica, the owner of British Gas, and the German groups RWE and E.ON, had all lobbied for the increase and will now all qualify for their own projects. However, the Greater Gabbard scheme will miss out because SSE ordered turbines and other equipment a few months before the announcement.
Mr Marchant is pressing the Government to alter the scheme, which he said left the SSE project’s economics at a permanent disadvantage. “We are not convinced that this is right,” he said.
Nick Hyslop, of RBC Capital Markets, said that SSE was effectively penalised because it had made a commitment to offshore wind, an emerging technology, too early. “This does not seem to be a very level playing field,” he said. “It ... disadvantages those who have already made a commitment.”
The Greater Gabbard wind farm is 23 kilometres (14 miles) off Suffolk. It will include 140 Siemens turbines generating 500 megawatts of electricity — enough, when the wind blows, to power a city of half a million people.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change said that the Government was still consulting on the exact terms of the programme. A spokesman said: “Based on the evidence we have, we consider that where contracts were signed before the Budget announcement, this was on the basis that projects were commercially viable.”

Drug, Energy Firms Buck Lobbying Decline

WASHINGTON -- Drug makers and oil-and-gas companies boosted their lobbying in Washington during the three months ended June 30 amid a flurry of congressional action on health care and climate legislation.
But overall, Washington's lobbying business continued to slump as the economy pinched budgets at some big companies and trade associations.
Companies, nonprofits, unions and other organizations spent $814.6 million to influence Congress and the Obama administration in the second quarter, down 1% from $825.3 million during the same three-month period in 2008, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of lobbying data. The data were supplied by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The decline continues a rare recession in Washington's lobbying business. But groups at the center of big legislative pushes still invested heavily to sway lawmakers.
The campaign by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats to overhaul the nation's health-care system provided a big boost to lobbyists for health-industry interests. Drug manufacturers increased lobbying spending 13% to $68 million in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to the data.
Pfizer Inc. spent $5.6 million on lobbying in the quarter, up 82% from the quarter last year. Amgen Inc. reported a 19% increase in expenditures to $3.4 million. GlaxoSmithKline increased spending by 27% to $2.3 million in the period, according to the data.
A representative for Pfizer didn't respond to requests for comment.
Kelley Davenport, a spokeswoman for Amgen, said that as a regulated company, Amgen lobbies Washington "in an effort to effectively shape health-care policy and ensure patient safety and access to products."
Kevin Colgan, a spokesman for Glaxo, attributed the company's rise in lobbying spending to "the timing of certain annual expenditures and by some organizational changes."
Overall, the health-care sector reported a 5% increase in lobbying expenditures to $133 million, making it the single largest spender on lobbying of the 10 major industry sectors tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics. Health-insurance companies increased lobbying activity by 11% to $7.8 million, according to the data.
Labor unions increased spending by 4% in the second quarter from a year earlier, to $10.6 million, according to data from the center.
The AFL-CIO spent $1 million in the April-to-June period, an increase of 23% from a year earlier. The federation is lobbying on issues including the health overhaul and a bill that would make it easier for employees to join labor unions.
The Blue Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups, registered to lobby for the first time in the second quarter. It reported spending $720,000 in the period, making it the second largest labor group by expenditures.
Debate over a broad-ranging climate and energy bill prompted more spending by energy interests. Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP PLC and other oil-and-gas companies increased spending on lobbying by 30% to $37.7 million in April, May and June of this year, compared with the same quarter in 2008. That coincided with the House debate over a sweeping climate-change and energy bill.
ConocoPhillips doubled its lobbying spending to $3.3 million during the second quarter; Chevron increased spending 88% to $6 million; and BP posted a 54% rise in lobbying spending to $4 million, according to the data.
Exxon Mobil Corp. cut quarterly lobbying expenses by 16% from the same period in 2008 to $4.3 million.
Representatives for Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP said that part of their increase in spending is the result of an increase in dues paid for lobbying to industry trade association the American Petroleum Institute. A spokesman for Exxon didn't respond to requests for comment.
Wall Street, once a rich and fast-growing source of lobbying money, is showing the lingering effects of last year's financial crisis. Wall Street firms spent $109.4 million on lobbying in the second quarter, down 4% from the same period in 2008, according to the data.
Write to Brody Mullins at and T.W. Farnam at

British people do not trust firms to keep green vows

By David Prosser
Monday, 3 August 2009
Consumers believe businesses will use the recession as an excuse to row back on pledges on environmental and social behaviour, a report warns today.
Only a third of Britons trust companies to honour corporate and social responsibility commitments made in the past, with the costs of such promises seen as an easy target for cuts during the downturn, the survey for consultancy OgilvyEarth found.
But the poll also suggests that businesses which do go back on their word are likely to pay a price for doing so, with shoppers not minded to give companies any leeway. Nearly 40 per cent of respondents were more concerned about social and environmental issues than a year ago, OgilvyEarth said. "When buying products and services, 29 per cent [of respondents said they were] paying more attention to the credentials of products and services they buy than 12 months ago," it added.