Monday, 17 August 2009

North Sea’s new bonanza

Jonathan Leake
Britain could be in line for a new North Sea bonanza following research which reveals its suitability to store billions of tons of waste carbon dioxide.
Scientists have found the rock formations beneath the sea bed have enough room to store up to 300 years’ worth of emissions from northern Europe’s power stations.CO2 It means Britain could potentially earn up to £4 billion a year by allowing countries such as Germany, France and Denmark captured from their power stations into rocksto pump CO2 beneath UK waters.
“We believe the carbon storage business could be huge for Britain with a value of £2 billion to £4 billion a year by 2030,” said Mike Stephenson, head of science for energy at the British Geological Survey (BGS). “We estimate it could sustain 30,00-60,000 jobs.”
The technology for capturing and burying CO2 has existed for some time but there has not been an incentive for power companies to adopt it.
However, the threat of global warming is now prompting governments and the European Union to tax utilities for the they emit. amount of CO2 As a result, “carbon capture and sequestration” (CCS) is increasingly becoming financially attractive. Two new studies have shown that Britain is better placed to exploit the technology than any other European country. One of the studies, by geologists at Edinburgh University, has shown that the parts of the North Sea controlled by Britain overlie vast tracts of sandstone rock strata that are ideal for holding CO2 These rocks are porous, allowing them to absorb large amounts of gas, but are capped by mudstone, a thick, impermeable rock, that stops the carbon dioxide escaping.
Professor Stuart Haszeldine, who oversaw the Edinburgh survey, said: “Our research suggests we could store up to 200m tons of CO2 in those rocks each year for 200-300 years.
“This is far more than Britain needs so we could take all the CO2 generated by power stations in north European countries. The British government needs to realise it has a huge asset here.”
The second study was carried out by Stephenson’s colleagues at the BGS who have been probing the fate of 10m tons of CO2 pumped under the sea bed by Statoil, the Norwegian energy company, since 1996. It showed the CO2 is stable and so unlikely to bubble back out as some had feared.
Such findings will reassure British ministers who are studying several proposals from utilities companies to start pilot carbon capture projects.
Under such schemes, power stations would extract CO2 from their flue gases, compress it into a liquid and pump it through pipelines to hubs on the North Sea coast.
From those hubs more pipes would carry CO2 along the seabed to installations similar to oil rigs. These would force it down boreholes into rock strata lying up to three miles beneath the seabed. The cost of these pilot schemes, if approved, would be passed on to customers through a levy of up to 2% on power bills.
Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax Power, which operates the UK’s biggest coal-fired power station, said: “In the long term we hope that CCS will be a viable solution for carbon abatement.”

Australia Takes Steps to Move Toward Caps on Emissions

CANBERRA, Australia -- The government announced interim measures that could ensure swift passage of laws setting a mandatory renewable-energy target for the country, despite the failure of a related bid to cap greenhouse-gas emissions.
Lawmakers Thursday rejected plans to introduce a cap-and-trade program in July 2011 -- similar to one operating in Europe since 2005 -- that would limit Australia's carbon-dioxide emissions, forcing heavy polluters to buy so-called carbon permits to account for their emissions.
That move also jeopardized plans to require that 20% of Australia's electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2020, from less than 5% now -- even though lawmakers broadly supported the renewable energy bill -- because the two pieces of legislation were linked.
The center-left Labor government has vowed to bring back the cap-and-trade legislation for a second vote in November. But industry groups fear that any further delay in implementing the renewable-energy target could curtail investment.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong Sunday announced interim industry assistance under the renewable-energy target that will unlink the two bills until the Senate passes the cap-and-trade one. If that plan hasn't passed by Jan. 1 -- when expanded renewable-energy targets starts -- interim aid will go to certain sectors that are high energy users and exposed to international trade.
Write to Rachel Pannett at

Canberra Carbon Race

The United Nations climate change confab is in December, and Australia's ruling Labor Party is eager to show "leadership" beforehand by passing a sweeping emissions trading scheme. Luckily, the Senate in Canberra is showing more common sense.
In a show of unity Thursday, the opposition Liberal Party and its coalition partners voted en masse to reject Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's flagship proposal. Mr. Rudd and climate change minister Penny Wong want to cut carbon emissions by between 5 to 25%, depending on what is agreed at the U.N. meeting in Copenhagen. Their bill would force most of Australia's biggest companies to adhere to emissions limits or buy pollution permits from Canberra or from other countries selling tradeable permits. Canberra would then redistribute the wealth as it saw fit.
Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull opposes the bill because it's too onerous on business. The Treasury estimates it will collect $11.5 billion Australian dollars ($9.6 billion) in the first two years of the scheme, which is set to start in 2011. Companies will pass those costs straight to consumers. The bill could raise consumer prices by 1.1% and shave 0.1% off annual GDP to start. Canberra hasn't released any studies on the potential impact on unemployment—an odd omission, given joblessness has been trending upwards amid the global economic downturn.
Mr. Rudd's plan also represents a transfer of wealth abroad. Many of Australia's biggest exporters are raw material producers who would be hit hard by the government's restrictive emissions targets. It may be cheaper for them to buy emissions permits offshore than to retool their operations back home. Never mind that Australia only counts for 1.5% of total global emissions, so Australians would bear this cost without it making an iota of impact on the global climate.
The Rudd government is trying to push the bill through before the public can come to grips with the fine print. Banking on its majority in the lower house and Mr. Rudd's personally high approval ratings, the Labor government didn't negotiate at all with the Liberals before Thursday's defeat. They are still trying to strong arm their opponents. Ms. Wong said after the vote "this government is not going to give up; we will be bringing this bill back before the end of the year." Mr. Rudd called the vote "the most appalling collapse in the authority of Liberal leadership" he had ever seen.
It is, in fact, the best leadership the Liberals have seen in some time. Since the Howard government fell in late 2007, the opposition has bickered over how best to address a shift in public mood that favors some sort of environmental legislation. Mr. Turnbull, a former banker, wants a "greener, cheaper [and] smarter plan" that business could live with. The longer he can keep the party united and stall Mr. Rudd's bill, the more time he'll have to garner industry's backing—a shift which is already underway.
There are already signs that Labor's position is weakening. The government piggybacked a renewable-energy target bill to the emissions trading bill, but yesterday Ms. Wong said Labor would decouple the two bills, in a win for the opposition. Mr. Turnbull says he's willing to bargain. If Australia wants to brag in December, best to bring a green idea that encourages innovation, rather than taxes and redistributes wealth.

My microclimate is hotter than yours

Chris Gourlay
Since moving to balmy Dymchurch on the south Kent coast, Debbie and John Playford say their lives have been transformed. The village is sheltered by gentle hills and seems immune from much of the washout summer that has afflicted Britain.
John, a 67-year-old retired engineer, credits his local microclimate. “Whatever the weather forecasts say, it’s always different down here,” he said. “So when someone tells us it’s going to rain we just ignore them.
“Even last winter, when just 20 miles down the coast they were experiencing the most terrible blizzards, we had just half an inch of snowfall and it was all melted by the end of the day.”
The couple, who run a guest-house, claim that the microclimate means they are often able to wheel out the barbecue while the rest of the country is damp with drizzle.
“The climate is more like the south of France than the south of England. Palm trees thrive in Dymchurch and we’ve got vines in the garden.”
In a summer of downpours, a microclimate has become the latest must-have and the last refuge of the optimist. Never mind if it’s grim, goes the theory, for those in the know, there are hidden corners of Britain where the sun always shines.
The tourism industry is all for microclimates. Torquay enthuses about its swaying palms, claiming “summer really does linger longer” there. Great Yarmouth in Norfolk is so determined to prove its microclimate outshines Met Office forecasts that it has set up a 24-hour webcam to prove it.
Eastbourne’s weather is so special that it claims “year-round sunshine”. Michael Fish, the now semi-retired weather forecaster who is a resident of the town, says it enjoys a sunny, temperate environment because it is sheltered by the 600ft cliffs of Beachy Head. He reckons the country is littered with secret places offering respite from the gloom.
For those condemned to ominous grey skies this summer, talk of sun-kissed Mediterranean climes just round the corner sounds alluring. But are microclimates a genuine meteorological phenomenon or the stuff of overheated imaginations? How much difference can they really make?
THERE’S no doubt that the country’s geography means there are some basic rules for avoiding bad weather. Prevailing winds dump most of the rain on the west coast, so the southeast and East Anglia tend to be drier. The further north you go the colder it gets, and for every 300ft increase in altitude, the temperature drops by 0.6C.
However, within these broad parameters there can be dramatic local anomalies. Microclimates can be caused by everything from the shelter of hills to the colour and texture of the soil. The eccentricities of our geography mean you can find everything in Britain from subtropical fern forests to abnormally cold “frost pockets”.
“The most extreme natural microclimates are in Cornwall and Scotland’s west coast where the gulf stream hits land,” said Tim Smit, the envi-ronmentalist who restored the Lost Gardens of Heligan in a natural microclimate and founded Britain’s most famous artificial microclimate, the Eden Project.
“In Cornwall, you’re able to grow plants that wouldn’t survive anywhere else in the country because of these amazing microclimates. The British, being absolutely bonkers about growing stuff, will always flock to these places because you can grow exotic plants and it convinces them that they’re in the south of France.
“We have plants in Heligan that don’t grow anywhere except for the southern tropics and the Amazon. In the 19th century, there were these extraordinary competitions for growing exotic fruits in Cornwall – people were, out of a sort of vanity, producing giant pineapples and bananas. They’d boast about their 12lb pineapples over dinner.
“My favourite microclimate is on the Helford River. There are three cracking gardens just dripping with almost Amazonian vegetation.”
Even in cooler Scotland, microclimates can make a dramatic difference. While the valley of Glencoe endures some of Britain’s wettest weather, Aberdeen, to the east of the Highlands, is surprisingly dry and warm. Liz Bentley, an analyst at the Royal Meteorological Society, said: “Places such as Aberdeen benefit from the ‘foehn’ effect. Air is warmed as it goes over mountains and when it comes down the other side, clouds form, releasing latent heat and causing the area to get warmer.”
In the Alps the foehn can warm a locality by 10C. In UK the effect is less marked - about 3C or so - but noticeable.
Given Scotland’s reputation for poor weather, some areas are convinced that their benign microclimates are being unjustly overlooked.
Residents in the village of Carrbridge in the Highlands claim that it is a haven of dryness nestled amid the Cairn-gorms. They are so concerned that the BBC’s regular rainy forecasts are deterring visitors that they have complained about the corporation’s forecasting methods.
“We have sun. It says rain,” said one local. “It’s driving the visitors away.” On one occasion when the BBC, which offers forecasts related to postcodes, had been announcing rain for days, the local woods were so dry that they were declared a fire risk.
In north Wales Tony Burns, manager of the St George’s Hotel in Llandudno, is also keen to talk about the virtues of his “special climate”. He enthused: “They name here the queen of the Welsh resorts. In my 17 years in the town, I can only once remember snow, for instance. It’s genuinely known as a miniature Riviera, the Welsh Riviera, and it’s all due to this wonderful setting and the little microclimate we have.”
PICK the wrong microclimate, of course, and you’re in trouble. Take the residents of Rickmansworth, an attractive commuter town in Hertfordshire. Though the area is filled with good schools and graced with lakes and woodland, it has a down-side that’s not apparent at first sight.
Part of Rickmansworth lies in a “frost pocket” - which means that it is often up to 10C colder than surrounding areas. That is one reason why it holds the record for the biggest temperature rise in a single day in Britain - from a low of 1.1C one August night to 24.9C the following day.
The quirky climatic conditions are caused by the town’s local geography. “It has a very peculiar situation,” says Bentley. “In the winter the cooler air flows down the surrounding hills and gets trapped by a railway embankment and just stays there. It creates a very counterintuitive effect. The lower you go, the icier it gets.”
Shrewsbury in Shropshire, Redhill in Surrey, and Chesham in Buckinghamshire are similarly afflicted.
Michael Dukes, forecasting manager of MeteoGroup, a weather analysis firm, was unpleasantly surprised to discover his local microclimate after moving to Chesham five years ago. “I didn’t have any idea that it has this peculiar climate when I moved,” he said. “The town is right at the end of the Metropolitan line and there have been days when I’ve left work in London when it’s 4C. When I get home it is -7C.
“It’s all to do with the chalk valley,” he added. “It collects cold air and the chalk drains the heat. From a meteorological point of view it’s interesting. I’ve kind of grown to love my microclimate.”
Other unfortunate microclimates include the soggy Sprinkling Tarn in the Lake District, whose location in the lee of surrounding fells reputedly makes it the most rained on place in England.
There is even a suggestion that microclimates may contribute to extreme weather. In 2000 Selsey Bill, on England’s south coast, was struck by its second 100mph twister in two years, ripping off roofs, pelting inhabitants with golf-ball-sized hailstones and sending Patrick Moore, the local resident and astronomer, to take cover under the table ina curry house.
“We don’t fully understand why Selsey keeps getting hit but it is likely to be susceptible to tornadoes because of its location,” said Dukes.
“Tornadoes could form anywhere that cold air hits the warm English Channel. But Selsey’s location downwind of the Isle of Wight could causea wind shear effect, creating rotating thunder storms, which triggers tornadoes. ”
NATURALLY, in a Britain obsessed with weather and property, the concept of the microclimate has even become a selling point for estate agents.
“They can make a difference to a place,” said Liam Bailey, head of residential research at Frank Knight. “The biggest problem estate agents have is proving that to people. Often the difference is quite subtle and people might just think it’s a sales pitch.”
Nevertheless, research by Knight Frank reckoned to finda 21% “microclimate premium” for properties in sheltered estuary locations compared with more exposed coastal locations. John Couch, an estate agent who has lived in Torquay for 40 years, having moved from east London, says the local “microclimate premium” has had a dramatic effect on prices.
“The microclimate here proves a massive draw for people wanting to move to the area,” he said. “As a result, properties here are on a par with those in the home counties.”
Experts also agree that cities can create such powerful microclimates that they generate temperatures 10C higher than surrounding areas because of the “urban heat island” effect.
Mark McCarthy, urban climate specialist at the Met Office, said: “During the day buildings absorb heat, which combines with energy given off from all the cars and general activity, which heats the urban microclimate. That energy is released slowly at night, meaning there are very few frosts.”
And yet, as the grey skies blight the summer, can you really escape and find sunshine by banking on a microclimate?
“There’s no doubt that some microclimates are more favourable to sunshine,” said John Hutchinson, senior meteorologist at MeteoGroup, who has no desire to put a damper on people’s hopes. “But I’m afraid they are only so resilient. If you’ ve got a big front sweeping the country with rain, whatever your microclimate the chances are you’re going to get wet.”

Energy experts call for carbon capture scheme for gas fired power stations

Executives from leading energy firms argue that new gas plants should fit carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology
Tim Webb, Sunday 16 August 2009 20.06 BST

New gas plants should be subject to the same rules that force new coal plants to fit carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, according to leading energy bosses.
Experts fear that the government's new policy on CCS for coal power will lead to a boom in the construction of gas plants which do not have to bury their carbon emissions.
Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, said there was no point forcing only new coal plants to fit the expensive and largely untried technology. "We have to have a consistent rule applying to everyone. If you want to decarbonise electricity we need to do it [fit CCS to gas plants].'
Joan MacNaughton, senior vice-president at Alstom, the power generation firm, formerly one of the government's most senior energy advisers, said that CCS should be fitted to new gas plants soon. "We can't do everything at once," she said. "That means fitting CCS technology to new coal plants is the priority as they produce more emissions. But we do have to do new gas plants pretty soon. Building more 'unabated' fossil fuel plants for years to come would just mean we have a much bigger problem to tackle later on."
In April, energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband announced that new coal plants built in Britain would have to capture about a quarter of their carbon emissions from the outset. Once CCS technology has been technically and commercially proved, which could take at least a decade, all the plants' emissions will have to be captured. The government launched a consultation on its new CCS policy, which closes early next month.
The policy appeased some campaigners concerned about the environmental impact of new coal plants planned for the UK because coal power is one of the most carbon-intensive ways to generate electricity. As a result of the policy, only the handful of coal plants which qualify for government financial support to fit the technology will be built, prompting concern that unabated gas plants could fill the generation gap.
Power generation firms expect they will have to fit CCS technology to their gas plants at some point. EDF Energy's gas plant under construction at West Burton has been designed as "carbon capture ready" so equipment can be fitted later.
The government has set a target of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. To have any chance of meeting this, all electricity generation would have to come from renewables and low carbon technologies such as nuclear power and fossil fuel plants which have CCS fitted.

High-speed rail strategy not so green, report says

Study argues that building and operating London-Manchester rail network will generate more CO2 than air route
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent, Monday 17 August 2009
A government-commissioned report has raised doubts over the green credentials of high-speed rail by warning that a new 300kph (185mph) London to Manchester line could be less environmentally friendly than the same air route.
A study by Booz Allen Hamilton, a consultancy, argues that building and operating a new north-south rail network in England will generate more CO2 than taking the same route by air over a 60-year period.
The environment is an important factor in the case for high-speed rail and the transport secretary, Lord Adonis, has made the demise of domestic air travel an explicit target of the policy. The report, Estimated Carbon Impact of a New North-South Line, argues that travelling on a domestic air service could be the greener option if you are travelling from the capital to Manchester.
"There is no potential carbon benefit in building a new line on the London to Manchester route over the 60-year appraisal period. In essence, the additional carbon emitted by building and operating a new rail route is larger than the entire quantity of carbon emitted by the air services," said the report.
However, the report adds that a high-speed route from London to Glasgow or Edinburgh will achieve a net carbon saving, and therefore justify itself in environmental terms, if it wins a 62% market share against airlines. Currently, rail controls 15% of the rail/air market between London and Scotland and has greater potential to win passengers from airlines, as opposed to London to Manchester where rail already controls about half of the rail/air market according to Booz Allen Hamilton.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said the report, completed in 2007 but only published this year, admitted to using a "simplistic model" and had not factored in the possibility of winning market share from car drivers. High Speed Two, the company established by Lord Adonis to draw up plans for a north-south link, will submit its own report, including an environmental study, at the end of the year.
The Booz Hamilton Allen study adds that the case for high-speed rail becomes harder to justify if the number of trains operated between London and Scotland doubles from four to eight an hour. Under that scenario, rail would need a market share of between 73% and 85% in order to achieve a net carbon saving because running high-speed trains so frequently uses up more energy and generates more CO2. Instead, the report says, the government could concentrate on increasing capacity on existing lines through the removal of bottlenecks and installing more advanced signalling systems.
Another Booz Hamilton Allen report for the DfT, produced with consultancies First Class Partnerships and Temple, highlights the potential cost of a high-speed route amid pressure on the public finances. The study envisages a 1,240km London to Scotland "hybrid line", comprising new and upgraded lines, built in four sections: from London Euston to Birmingham, including Heathrow; then onwards to Manchester and Scotland; a cross-Pennine link from Manchester to Leeds and Sheffield; and an east coast branch from south east Birmingham to York.
The capital cost of a hybrid line with new high-speed tracks is priced at £39bn, plus £20bn in operating costs over 30 years, including the acquisition of trains and carriages.
The core route of London to Glasgow via Birmingham and Manchester is priced at £29bn, with London to Manchester costing £15bn.
Meanwhile, Heathrow's owner, BAA, is arguing that a north-south link will boost the case for a third runway, even if it replaces domestic air travel. BAA believes that a high-speed route joining with Heathrow will funnel more of those passengers to Heathrow, putting further pressure on capacity and boosting the case for a new landing strip.
The RAC Foundation, the roads thinktank, said the environmental analysis, contained in a series of government-commissioned reports that also outlined high construction and maintenance costs, exposed potential flaws in the government's high speed rail strategy.
Stephen Glaister, a leading transport academic and director of the RAC Foundation, said: "It is unwise for the government to have committed so heavily to high-speed rail in advance of the completion of the High Speed Two review, when they already have available their own comprehensive studies calling into question the environmental benefits and suggesting much higher costs for the taxpayer."

Kenya shows the way on green phones

Diary was delighted to hear that Kenya's largest mobile network operator Safaricom had launched a solar-charged phone. The handset, developed by ZTE and Intivation, is also made from recycled materials to supersize its environmental friendliness. What a shame that even in the heat of summer, the phone may not work in the UK.

Solar-Energy Loses Some Shine

MADRID -- Solar-energy companies are feeling the pinch of the global downturn, leading investors to dump what had become popular growth stocks.
Particularly damaging to the global market for photovoltaic solar panels, which transform sunlight into electricity, has been the collapse of demand in Spain, after the government cut what had been generous aid for the sector.
Spain accounted for more than 40% of all new solar panel installation globally last year, installing 2.7 gigawatts -- five times the 2007 figure -- out of a global total of 5.6 gigawatts. According to Spain's photovoltaic industry association, Asif, the country's market was worth €16.38 billion ($23.24 billion). This year, with cuts to aid and a more complicated application process, there has been no new installation in Spain.
Other countries are introducing aid to the solar sector, particularly the U.S. But the new U.S. measures aren't expected to arrive in time to shore up demand this year. And while China has pledged support for the solar industry via economic-stimulus packages, support is likely to primarily benefit its own low-cost producers that have easy access to credit from state-owned Chinese banks.
Second quarter results painted a bleak picture of the problems faced by Europe's solar-power companies.
Q-Cells SE, a German maker of solar cells -- the key electricity-converting component of a solar panel -- announced a second-quarter net loss on Thursday of €305 million, compared with a net profit of €27.6 million a year earlier, while Norwegian integrated solar company Renewable Energy Corp. ASA reported a second-quarter net loss on Tuesday of 684 million Norwegian kroner ($112 million), compared with a profit of 496 million kroner.
Q-Cells became the latest major European solar firm to announce production and investment cuts as manufacturers struggle to remain afloat amid a glut of solar panels.
The company said it will shut down four production lines at its Thalheim plant in Germany, slashing 500 jobs and 25% of output costs. It also plans to cut €100 million of investments and save €200 million via cash management.
"The financing situation for [solar] projects remains difficult," Q-Cells' Chief Executive Anton Milner said in a conference call Thursday. "Over-capacities have become a big problem."
While European firms idle production and reduce costs and jobs, Chinese firms such as Suntech Power Holdings Co. and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. continue to increase solar-cell production in a global contest for market share, Henning Wicht, senior director of the iSuppli consultancy in California, said in a news release last week.
As a result, global production of solar panels is set to rise 15% this year to 7.5 gigawatts, from 6.5 gigawatts in 2008, and will add to oversupply, Mr. Wicht said.
But Mr. Wicht expects new solar installations to dwindle to only 3.9 gigawatts globally this year. That would be 30% less than the 5.6 gigawatts installed last year according to data by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association. "This inventory glut will have a long-term impact on the solar business, with panels set to remain in a state of oversupply until 2012," he said.
As a result, Suntech will push Q-Cells aside and become the world's biggest producer of crystalline cells in 2009, iSuppli says.
Mr. Milner said overcapacity and price pressure were likely to continue for the rest of this year and next, despite rising sales volumes.
Solar companies have already cut prices to around half of last year's level, with a well-known German or Japanese manufacturer now selling crystalline silicon at around $2.40 a watt, and a well-known Chinese manufacturer selling at around $2 per watt, Jenny Chase, head of the solar team at London-based consultancy New Energy Finance, said.
Early last week, China's QS Solar was selling thin-film silicon modules for $1 a watt, she said.
Smaller European solar-energy companies are the hardest hit by oversupply and price pressures. Spain's panel maker Solaria Energia y Medioambiente SA said it is temporarily reducing the working hours of 403 workers by 85% at its main panel factory in Puertollano, Spain. BP PLC's solar subsidiary, in a recent shake-up, closed manufacturing units in several countries, among them Spain.
Manufacturers in Spain have been especially hard hit as the home market has been at the epicenter of the recent meltdown in demand. The collapse in Spain's photovoltaic sector has been so drastic that jobs plunged from a peak of 41,700 early last year to 13,900 in the spring of 2009, Asif said.
Spain's market is liable to be only a shadow its former self. "We'll add at most between 200 and 250 new megawatts this year," Javier Anta, president of Asif, said in June.
China is vigorously backing its own domestic producers. Part of the Chinese expansion drive came ahead of an announcement in July by the Chinese government that it will subsidize half of the construction costs of on-grid solar power plants. The government targets a solar power capacity in China of between 10 and 20 gigawatts by 2020.
While Chinese expansion plans are likely to mostly benefit cheaper-producing Chinese manufacturers, moves to increase aid for renewable power elsewhere, in particular in the United States, may eventually bring about a global recovery in the sector.
But that may not come fast enough to compensate for the standstill in Spanish installations, Mr. Chase said.
"Although there's growth in the U.S., the stimulus packages are taking a lot of time to come through and probably won't impact 2009 demand," Mr. Chase said. "So while the U.S. might easily double in market size, it won't pick up the slack of Spain."—Selina Williams and Elizabeth Adams in London, and Jonathan Shieber in Shanghai contributed to this article.
Write to Bernd Radowitz at

New Priorities For Our Energy Future

Our natural gas reserves contain more energy than Saudi Arabia's oil.
Renewable energy and clean-burning natural gas are the basis of a new strategy the world needs to create a cleaner and more secure future. And the global transformation to a clean-energy economy may be the greatest economic opportunity of the 21st century. According to the authoritative Potential Gas Committee (administered by the Colorado School of Mines), the U.S. sits on top of massive reservoirs of natural gas—an estimated 2,000 trillion cubic feet—that contain more energy than all the oil in Saudi Arabia.
Harnessing this large supply—plus developing wind, solar and biofuel energy sources—is essential to achieve three strategic national priorities:
• Energy security: The internal combustion engine makes us dependent on oil that's concentrated in a handful of countries in some of the world's most volatile regions. In June, we imported 374 million barrels of oil, nearly two-thirds of what we used, at a cost of $24.7 billion. With 70% of imported oil going into cars and trucks, our transportation system is perilously at risk to shaky oil markets and even shakier regimes.
• Economic security: Last year more than $155 billion was invested in clean energy technologies such as wind and solar, and China and India plan to invest hundreds of billions in renewable energy sources. The annual market for clean energy may escalate in the next decade to between $1 trillion and $2 trillion. The race is on.
• Climate security: Likewise, the clock is ticking on potentially devastating climate changes. We already are witnessing the disintegration of polar ice, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and altered weather patterns. But if we act now, we can prevent catastrophic human and economic impacts.
Long-term economic and environmental interests compel us to put a priority on energy independence and a price on carbon pollution. Natural gas and renewable energy are obvious sources for cheap, clean and reliable electric power and transportation fuels.
In the electricity sector, natural gas is already cheap, available and ready to meet the nation's power needs while improving climate security. It emits about half the carbon dioxide per British thermal unit of energy, and far fewer of the heavy metals than does coal.
Adopting a "cash-for-clunkers" program in the utility sector can save money and reduce emissions right away by retiring the oldest, least efficient and most polluting power plants in exchange for modern gas-powered plants. New coal plants should be required to combine natural gas with the coal they burn, resulting in cleaner emissions, and every power plant should meet strict carbon-emissions standards.
We should also adopt a strong national standard requiring that electrical generation include a growing percentage of renewable fuels to help bring down costs over time, and ensure America's place in the burgeoning global competition for innovative renewable and efficiency technologies. Numerous state initiatives have already demonstrated the feasibility of these standards on a smaller scale.
In the transportation sector, renewable energy and natural gas can also be deployed immediately. For a quarter century, natural-gas vehicle technology has been available but stymied by lack of leadership. Of the 10 million natural gas vehicles in the world, fewer than 150,000 are in the U.S.
We can begin transitioning the nation's fleet of 6.5 million 18-wheelers that run regular routes. It would take just 20 refueling stations along a single highway to get trucks from one coast to the other. Centrally fueled urban business and government fleets also can quickly move to natural gas. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are in the process of buying new natural gas vehicles for their fleets, and many municipalities are harnessing the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas-powered buses.
Renewable biofuels should also be part of a new energy strategy. Advanced biofuels produced from cellulosic material, such as forest residues, municipal waste or even algae, can play a key role in reducing the vulnerabilities, emissions and costs associated with imported oil, while also providing new economic opportunities for America's farm communities.
The economic, environmental, and national security imperatives of America's energy posture are clear, as is the proven potential of domestic natural resources like gas, wind and solar power. Coupled with energy efficiency, these resources have the potential to help jump-start the economy, drive prosperity and reduce emissions well into the 21st century. The keys are in our hands. All we have to do is unlock the door and start the engine.
Mr. Pickens is CEO of BP Capital. Mr. Turner is Chairman of Turner Enterprises Inc.

Wind of change blows across the Great Lakes

The New York Power Authority hopes to create a giant wind farm as it looks to new and sustainable technologies

Alexandra Frean, US Business Correspondent
The New York Power Authority (NYPA), America’s largest state-owned power organisation, is appealing to the private sector, including Britain's National Grid, to help it to generate electricity from one of its most prized assets — by turning a corner of the Great Lakes into a giant wind farm.
With an ageing power infrastructure, energy imports running at $700b illion (£423 billion) a year and with projected electricity demand in the United States expected to double by 2030 and to triple by 2050, utility companies have little choice but to invest in new sustainable technologies.
The NYPA hopes that its Great Lakes Offshore Wind project, harnessing the winds blowing on the New York State waters of Lakes Erie and Ontario, will excite private sector interest worldwide.
It is developing the project in response to a target set by David Paterson, the New York Governor, for the state to meet 45 per cent of its electricity needs through energy efficiency and renewable sources by 2015.
“Harnessing the power of wind is critical to achieving that goal and the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project will help us to reach it,” Mr Paterson has said.
According to Energy Composites Corporation, a Canadian engineering company firm keen on promoting offshore wind generation on the lakes, nearly 23 per cent of the US population lives within 25 miles of the Great Lakes, allowing for short transmission lengths without power loss.
National Grid, which does half its business in the US and is the second-biggest energy supplier in America, said that it had given a commitment to the NYPA to work with it on the project, subject to the results of five feasibility studies.
National Grid already has experience in other countries of bringing energy onshore from offshore sites.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, offshore wind power is probably the region’s largest untapped renewable energy resource.
As the shallowest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie has already drawn interest from developers along its shoreline and there is an existing onshore wind project on a 30 acre site in Lackawanna just south of Buffalo, New York.
A Michigan State University study last year found that Michigan’s portion of the Great Lakes alone could theoretically produce nearly 322,000 megawatts of power from wind, equal to roughly one-third of all electricity generated in the US, although that would require nearly 100,000 turbines.
But despite the obvious attractions of ‘free’ energy, harnessing the offshore wind power of the lakes will not be without problems. Turbines and offshore transmission lines will have to withstand ice pack and ice floes in winter. There are also enormous environmental concerns about the impact on fish habitats and flight paths for birds and planes.
NYPA said it intends to hold public and community forums to address these and other concerns.

Wind power is safe, unlike this flawed medical research

Sunday, 16 August 2009
Wind turbines are safe. That is the conclusion of every reputable scientific study conducted into the impact of wind turbines on human health, based on a range of international research.
In 2004, a World Health Organisation report categorically showed that wind power was one of the most benign forms of electrical generation in terms of direct and indirect health effects. However, despite this wealth of scientific evidence, the myth persists that wind energy is harmful. The latest claims come from Dr Nina Pierpont, who alleges that wind turbines cause ailments ranging from sleeplessness to tinnitus.
Despite a veneer of scientific respectability, Dr Pierpont's findings, contained in her self-published book, are not endorsed by academics who specialise in low-frequency sound. The work flies in the face of decades of established medical research. It cites Manchester University's recent research into the workings of the human ear. However, the author of that research, Dr Neil Todd, wrote in this paper last week: "Our work does not provide the direct evidence suggested .... I do not believe that there is any direct evidence to show that any of the above acoustico-physiological mechanisms are activated by the radiations from wind turbines."
Given the lack of robust evidence to support Dr Pierpont's work, it is surprising that her assertions have received coverage in the UK's media, not least in the pages of The Independent on Sunday. Bad science is not just misleading; it can be damaging and disruptive, as the MMR and autism débâcle has clearly shown.
The recent report on Dr Pierpont's new book aired her familiar argument that a new condition "wind turbine syndrome" is causing a rash of local illnesses. In response, the main NHS website stated: "This study provides no conclusive evidence that wind turbines have an effect on health or are causing the set of symptoms described here as 'wind turbine syndrome'" – explaining that "the study design was weak, the study was small and there was no comparison group".
Dr Pierpont's findings are based on a sample of only 38 self-selected people in 10 families based at wind energy projects. Furthermore, her findings have not been through any process of independent peer review by recognised experts in the field.
Dr Pierpont is a known campaigner against wind energy in North America. Until her work is published in a reputable medical journal and is reviewed by independent qualified experts it will be hard to view her allegations as anything other than yet another scare story peddled by the opponents of wind power.
Unsupported health scares are not the only myths which are used to undermine the case for wind energy. The opponents of wind energy continually promote a series of inaccuracies, half-truths and lies.
If the UK is to meet its commitment to reducing our carbon emissions and tackling climate change, then we have to transform the way we produce and use our energy. That means we need to expand our use of renewables, especially wind energy.
No form of energy is perfect; wind power, like any other technology, must overcome its own obstacles and objections. The energy debate, including that surrounding the expansion of wind energy must be based on facts, not myths. Opponents of wind energy must not be allowed to continue to cloud the debate with such egregious misinformation and distortions.
Maria McCaffery is chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association

Retailers want a scrappage scheme for fridges

Marcus Leroux, Retail Correspondent
Retailers are seeking a scrappage project for domestic appliances such as fridges. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that a plan similar to the “cash for bangers” scheme for the car trade would protect jobs and help Britain to hit carbon emission targets by encouraging people to switch to more energy-efficient white goods. It is also calling for tax relief on energyefficient items.
Sales of big-ticket electrical items have fallen during the recession. DSG, the owner of Currys, the electrical goods chain, lost £140 million in its latest year, after a 9 per cent fall in like-for-like sales.
Stephen Robertson, the director-general of the BRC, said: “The Government is working against its own objectives when it sets targets for reducing carbon emisssions while charging full VAT on the efficient products that will move us towards those targets ... Removing VAT and exploring the possibility of a scrappage scheme would do a lot to get old energy and water-squandering appliances out of people’s homes.”
The BRC says that its idea would cost £507 million a year in forgone VAT, equivalent to two weeks of the bill for cutting VAT from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent last year. Removing VAT from the most energy-efficient goods would cut domestic emissions by 1 per cent, according to work done by the Centre for Economic and Business Research for the BRC.
Britain has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 34 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Green and confused: How can I convince my family to save water?

Why you need to tap into conserving water now
Kieran Cooke
Living in a rural area, we don’t have our water metered but I’m always telling my menfolk not to leave taps on. They say there’s plenty of rain and I shouldn’t badger them. Do you have some ammuntioon to convince them?
Next time they’re making you wash their clothes, throw this fact at them: to manufacture just one T-shirt — that’s growing the cotton, producing and dyeing the material and transporting it — involves using a whole pond of water, about 2,500 litres or 660 gallons. The idea of including all water-related processes along the supply chain, called “virtual water”, is to shock people such as the men in your home into understanding how profligate is our use of this vital resource.
We are composed mostly of water and in the absence of liquids, we quickly die. Yet we waste water — flushing needlessly large amounts down the toilet, leaving taps running, literally throwing it away. We should all visit a village in northern India or Central Asia where people have to walk miles for just one container of precious water.
While water shortages might be seen as problems of the developing world, as climate change begins to bite in Britain taps will run dry and water restrictions will be increasingly frequent. Climate modellers predict that the high temperatures experienced in the summer of 2003 could be the norm by 2040.
Rainfall patterns will alter: while little change is likely in the North of Scotland, the South of England could experience a 40 per cent decline in summer precipitation, meaning aquifers would dry up, rivers become a trickle and crops and gardens wither. By navigating round the UK Climate Impacts Programme website ( you can look at predictions for your area and how dry it’s likely to be.
Even if you’re in a part of the country likely to undergo only marginal change, it’s a fallacy to think that you’re going to escape the impact. The average consumption of water a person in the UK is 150 litres a day. But add in the “virtual water” content used to produce and transport food, clothing, computer chips and other items in the UK and that figure comes to a 4,600 litres a person a day.
We live in an interdependent world in which water resources are under severe strain. So tell your family to keep quiet — and shut off that tap.
Send your eco-dilemmas

Sunken steel cages could save coral reefs

• Low-level electric current attracts coral to structure• Maldives resort reports encouraging growth
Gaia Vince, Sunday 16 August 2009 22.58 BST
Scientists are reporting encouragingly rapid coral growth on giant underwater steel cages – structures that they hope will help to regenerate battered reefs and improve protection of some vulnerable coastlines from rising sea levels.
Coral reefs support a quarter of life on Earth and last month David Attenborough warned that carbon dioxide is already above the levels that will condemn corals to extinction.
And while the metal cages, fed with electric current, are not a solution to the global problem of dramatically contracting reefs, they do appear to be providing promising results in small, local projects, and – in some cases – rescuing resorts where coral was vanishing fast.
A team of researchers on Vabbinfaru island in the Maldives submerged a huge steel cage called the Lotus on the sea floor. The 12-metre structure, which weighs 2 tonnes is connected to long cable which supplies a low-level electric current. The electricity triggers a chemical reaction, which leads to calcium carbonate coming out of solution in the water and being deposited on the structure.
Corals seem to find that irresistible, perhaps because they use the same material to grow their protective skeletons, and the Lotus has been so thoroughly colonised by coral that it is difficult now to make out the steel shape beneath all the elaborate shapes and colour.
The idea was initially developed by an American architect, Wolf Hilbertz, who sold the concept to various resorts around the world. The Lotus is the largest and most successful of those, and has helped researchers to test the technique.
The El Nino Pacific-warming phenomenon of 1998 killed 98% of the reef around Vabbinfaru, so the researchers there have been able to compare the growth rates for corals grafted on to concrete structures on "desert" patches of seafloor, and those stuck on to the Lotus. Abdul Azeez, who is leading the Vabbinfaru project, said coral growth on the structure is up to five times as fast as that elsewhere.
The electric reef may also make the corals fitter and better able to withstand warming events, perhaps because the creatures waste less energy on making their skeletons. A smaller prototype device was in place during the 1998 warming event and more than 80% of its corals survived, compared to just 2% elsewhere on the reef.
Hilbertz, who died in 2007, believed that his structures could be multiplied across the world to repopulate reefs and protect shorelines. But many experts think the cost and effort involved make it impossible to do except on a small scale.
"I would like to be able to carry out genetic analysis of the algae in the coral to find out whether we can transplant heat-tolerant ones to parts of the reef where it is more exposed and so build coverage there," says Robert Tomasetti, a marine biologist also based at Banyan Tree resort in Vabbinfaru. "We don't have that level of equipment so we're really just growing pretty reefs for the tourists but not in a construction way to protect the island."
While welcoming the positive impact that the project has had on Vabbinfaru, Shiham Adam, the director general of the Maldivian government's Marine Research Centre in Male warned that the wider picture for his country remained bleak. "Sprucing up small bits of reef can add value to a tourist resort but it certainly won't help protect the Maldives from sea level rise," he said.