Wednesday, 26 August 2009

New Vehicles Leave MPG Standard Behind

Long the Barometer Used to Gauge Fuel Efficiency in the U.S., the Gasoline-Based Measure Falls Short for Electric, Hybrid Cars
General Motors promises its forthcoming Volt hybrid electric car will push fuel-economy levels to new heights. It also could spark an overhaul of the miles-per-gallon standard, a number that doesn't tell consumers enough about the next generation of vehicles.
In recent weeks, GM has touted the Chevrolet Volt's expected 230 mpg fuel economy in city driving. The big number dwarfs the mileage of any car on dealer lots.
Yet high mileage claims for the Volt and other planned plug-in automobiles highlight a deep flaw with the mpg standard: As automobiles increasingly rely on multiple fuel sources, or on electricity alone, gauging their efficiency in terms of gasoline risks giving consumers inaccurate information about the financial and environmental costs of driving.
One problem is that in hybrid vehicles, mileage variation could be extreme, depending on which fuel source is being used.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency hasn't finalized rules for how it will measure fuel economy on the Volt or other cars that can be plugged into an electrical outlet. Until then, manufacturers' claims won't be fully comparable.
For instance, the 230-mpg figure for the Volt, which will be able to run on both electricity and gasoline, doesn't incorporate the use of electricity. The Volt's mpg claim also is based only on city driving -- a standard that favors electric cars.
Different drivers "will get wildly different numbers for the exact same vehicles," since some drivers will rely more on gasoline, says Jon Lauckner, GM's vice president of global product planning. "That's why the EPA needs to develop a robust methodology."
Calculating the Volt's fuel economy is complicated because of its two power sources. The Volt's battery, when fully charged, can power trips of about 40 miles, according to GM. Battery-fueled trips won't use any gasoline, although they will require electricity. Once the battery runs out, the engine begins drawing on gasoline. So drivers who use the Volt only for short trips, relying only on electricity, in theory could enjoy infinite fuel economy. Meanwhile, drivers who routinely use the Volt for long journeys, where gasoline power would be necessary, would see a far lower fuel economy than the 230 mpg advertised.
GM's Mr. Lauckner says the company based its numbers on EPA draft regulations. An EPA spokeswoman says the agency doesn't have a draft available for public consumption.
Since the Volt's economy varies so much depending upon the distance between charges, GM had to make numerous assumptions about how Volt drivers would use their car before the company came up with the 230-mpg figure. By studying government surveys on driving patterns, the company predicted a range of fuel-economy numbers that Volt drivers would see, and aggregated those into one figure.
The EPA, which does its own evaluations of automobiles' fuel efficiency, could arrive at a different number. "We took that into account when we chose 230 as the number we went with," Mr. Lauckner says, calling it conservative. "We say 'at least 230.'" The company, however, hasn't disclosed the equivalent figure for highway driving, saying only that the car's combined city-highway rating should be in the triple digits.
Nissan, meanwhile, says its all-electric vehicle, dubbed the Leaf, will get 367 mpg. That number, a combined city/highway figure, is based entirely on converting electricity usage into a petroleum equivalent, because the Leaf won't use gasoline at all.
Although the mileage number is lofty, it doesn't mean that operating the Leaf will be seven times as efficient as driving a 50-mpg Toyota Prius hybrid, because electricity costs vary by region and even by time of day. It also is more difficult for consumers to calculate their savings, because electricity costs aren't posted at roadside stations like those for gasoline -- at least, not yet.
Another problem with applying the mpg standard to next-generation automobiles is that car makers are accounting for electricity usage differently. In the case of GM's Volt, electricity usage isn't incorporated into the 230-mpg figure at all. GM says that since the EPA is likely to separate fuel consumption from electricity usage on labels for cars such as the Volt, it decided not to factor in electricity use.
That, too, could pose a challenge for car buyers. Consumers are accustomed to figuring their fuel costs from mpg figures, but running the Volt will have additional costs.
The complications that mpg numbers could pose for consumers as more electric cars arrive on the market should lend fuel to a related movement to jettison mpg in favor of a more consumer-friendly barometer. Last year, Richard P. Larrick, who teaches management at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, co-wrote a paper in Science suggesting that gallons per mile -- a measure whose metric equivalent is standard in much of the world -- would be far more useful for conveying fuel consumption and potential savings.
Flipping mpg on its head shows that the biggest fuel savings come from upgrading from the most fuel-inefficient vehicles. For instance, a plug-in car with a 200 mpg label might sound a lot more impressive than a 50-mpg hybrid. But over 500 miles of driving, the plug-in saves just 7.5 gallons compared with the hybrid.
Gallons per mile has gained some traction. Prof. Larrick says that some major auto reviews now include the figure. But just as the metric system remains far from U.S. adoption, mpg appears here to stay for a while.
Meanwhile, researchers are struggling to determine the best way to calculate a single fuel-efficiency rating for vehicles that rely on both electricity and gasoline. Should the conversion factor be based on how much energy each fuel source produces? On how much petroleum is required? Or on the level of harmful emissions produced?
Jeff Gonder, a research engineer at the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory who serves on a panel advising the EPA on these issues, says there might not be one ideal approach. "If it's for consumers, maybe a cost comparison is best," Mr. Gonder says. "If it's for studying global warming, maybe it should be on the basis of greenhouse gases used."
The Department of Energy has come up with guidelines that draw from several competing approaches. Citing those guidelines, Nissan says 82 kilowatt hours of electricity are the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline for the all-electric Leaf. Using the same standard, the GM Volt's city fuel economy could drop to about 130 mpg, if the car's expected electricity consumption were factored in.
Mr. Gonder says the committee is leaning toward recommending that the numbers for gasoline consumption and electricity usage be reported separately, as GM is anticipating. "No matter what you do, I think it will be a challenge with these vehicles to convey the information people really want."

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Guy Hands in Talks for Wind-Farm Deal

Private-equity investor Guy Hands is in advanced talks to invest up to $350 million for a controlling stake in EverPower Wind Holdings Inc., a New York-based developer of wind farms, according to a person familiar with the situation.
EverPower, which is developing wind farms in Oregon, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania, will use the money in part to expand and also refinance a loan. The company has one completed project in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Mr. Hands already owns Infinis, a U.K. renewable energy company that has made a push into wind power.
The American Wind Energy Association estimates the U.S. will add 5,000 megawatts of new capacity this year, down from 8,500 last year. The U.S. last year surpassed Germany as the leading producer of wind-power, with 25,300 megawatts -- enough to power seven million homes.

Because of the large amounts of capital required to build wind-turbine projects, large public utilities largely dominate the business. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Corp., through its MidAmerica Energy Holdings Co., is one of the largest wind-power players.
Private-equity investment in the sector has been limited. First Wind Holdings of Newton, Mass., and Noble Environmental Power LLC, both backed by private-equity firms, filed initial public offerings last year that stalled amid the financial crisis.
Some alternative-energy projects have been scaled back in recent months as developers have struggled to secure financing. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens delayed his much publicized wind farm in Texas until at least 2010.
But investors are taking a renewed interest in the sector as the Obama administration's stimulus package includes wind- energy incentives. The price of wind turbines has also fallen as demand has dropped.
An investment by Mr. Hands in EverPower, through his Terra Firma Capital Partners private-equity firm, would cash out minority owner Good Energies, an investment fund owned by Dutch retailing family Brenninkmeijer. The company is 55%-owned by existing managers who are expected to remain.
Mr. Hands runs Terra Firma, which was spun out from Nomura Holdings in 2002. The London-based buyout firm has struggled with its investment in record company EMI Group Ltd. Since that 2007 acquisition, Mr. Hands has done only one other deal, purchasing cattle ranches from Australia's Packer family.
Write to Peter Lattman at

Islay to be entirely powered by tides

Exclusive: ScottishPower is to build turbines in the Sound of Islay that will generate enough electricity for the island's 3,500 inhabitants – and its famous distilleries
Tim Webb, Tuesday 25 August 2009 20.32 BST
ScottishPower is planning a tidal energy project that will supply all the electricity for one of Scotland's most famous islands, the Guardian can reveal.
The company is close to signing a supply contract with Diageo, the drinks group, to provide electricity from the project to eight distilleries and maltings on Islay – including the makers of the renowned Laphroaig and Lagavulin whiskies.
The 10MW tidal project, one of the world's largest, will provide enough electricity for Islay's 3,500 inhabitants for 23 hours a day.
ScottishPower will submit a planning application in the next couple of months and expects the ten 30-metre underwater turbines to be operational in 2011. The turbines will cost about £50m to install.
The tidal waters in the Sound of Islay, the channel dividing Islay from the Jura, move at up to three metres a second.
Energy companies and representatives from the Scottish government will publish on Wednesday a "marine energy roadmap" outlining how to reach the target of generating up to 2GW (2,000MW) of electricity from tidal and wave power by 2020. It will call for more grants and revenue support to enable developers to build commercial scale demonstration projects, such as the Islay installation, over the next two years.
The renewable energy industry admits the techniques to generate electricity from marine energy are in their infancy. Morna Cannon, from Scottish Renewables, said: "This makes it very hard to pin down the costs of the technology at the moment."
Alan Mortimer, head of renewables at ScottishPower, admitted tidal energy is more expensive than offshore wind, which costs up to £3m for each megawatt built and itself is only barely economic. Tidal developers earn more subsidies under the Renewable Obligation Scheme than offshore wind, but only once schemes are operational.
Marine energy developers such as Martin Wright, managing director of start-up company MCT, complain that few investors want to risk their money. But the Islay project has heavyweight backers. ScottishPower is owned by Spanish group Iberdrola and has teamed up with Norwegian oil firm StatoilHydro to develop and finance the project.
There is also strong support on the island, although it is by no means universal. Kevin Sutherland, manager of the Islay group of Diageo distilleries, works at the Caol Ila distillery, which overlooks the Sound. The distillery, like the rest of the island, gets the majority of its electricity from the Hunterston nuclear reactor on the mainland. But the reactor is being decommissioned in 2016 and the distillery suffers frequent power cuts in stormy weather when pylons are blown over.
When the tidal project is built, the distilleries on the island will enjoy a much more secure electricity supply, confounding critics of renewable energy – primarily wind power – who say it is intermittent and unreliable.
One of the biggest obstacles for renewables in Britain has been planning permission. Onshore wind applications are frequently rejected because locals object to the visual impact. Because the Islay generators will be on the seabed, no one can see them and the Scottish government will have the final say on planning.
Operating underwater brings its own problems, says Cannon from Scottish Renewables. George J Gillies is a local fisherman who fishes for crab and lobster at either end of the channel in winter. He complains that his lobster nets could get tangled in the turbines and says the project threatens the livelihood of eight local fishing families. But he seems resigned: "If it's going to generate money, it will get the go-ahead."
The Islay Energy Trust, a community organisation chaired by Philip Maxwell, has been helping to lobby local politicians and opponents of the project. In return, it will receive a small slice of the revenue to fund community projects on the island, such as a swimming pool.

Vow to speed up wind farm grid connection

Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Moves aimed at making it easier to connect renewable energy to the National Grid were announced yesterday.
The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, said the shake-up would help new projects waiting for a date to feed electricity into the grid to get out of the "queue" and would particularly help renewable energy such as wind farms.
Around 200 projects are waiting to be connected to the grid with capacity for 60 gigawatts (GW) of new generation – 17 GW from renewable sources.
The Government announced last summer that it wanted to reform the previous "first come first served" system of grid connection, meaning that some wind farms were given connection dates years after they were due to start producing electricity.
Mr Miliband said: "Access to the electricity grid has been one of the key barriers to the generation of renewable energy in this country. We are determined to resolve this issue... We need these new projects hooked up to the grid as soon as they are ready, to help tackle climate change and secure our future energy supplies."

Shake-up to make green energy more accessible to National Grid

Published Date: 26 August 2009
By Alan Jones
MOVES to make it easier to connect renewable energy sources to the National Grid have been announced by the government.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said the shake-up would help new projects waiting for a date to feed electricity into the grid to get out of the "queue" and would particularly help renewable energy such as wind farms.Around 200 projects with capacity for 60 gigawatts (GW) of new generation – 17 GW from renewable sources – are waiting to be connected to the grid .The government said last summer that it wanted to reform the "first come first served" system of connection, which meant some wind farms had connection dates years after they were due to start producing power.Mr Miliband said: "Access to the electricity grid has been one of the key barriers to the generation of renewable energy in this country."We need these new projects to get hooked up to the grid as soon as they are ready, both to help tackle climate change and secure our future energy supplies."For the first time, the government will make the detailed reforms to grid access rules that are necessary to overcome the delays. Previously, reforms were proposed by the industry and approved or rejected by the regulator, Ofgem.The Department of Energy and Climate Change said it was consulting over the next three months on three options for how the new system will work.David Cameron, chief technical officer at Scottish Renewables, said: "Our industry welcomes DECC's intervention in this process. There is a pressing need for renewables to connect up quickly to the grid and to be managed on to the system rather than waiting for years in a queue."Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy said the proposed rules would help Scottish renewable projects link into the UK grid

Green and Confused: Is surfing green?

Kieran Cooke
While buying some wax for my surfboard, I noticed that various “eco-friendly waxes” were on offer. Is this just a marketing ploy? I thought surfing was a “green” sport anyway.
Unfortunately even laid-back surfers can't get away from petroleum products. Almost all surfboard waxes are made of fossil fuel derivatives, usually paraffin and petroleum jelly plus synthetic “tackifiers” for extra stickiness. The trouble is that most of these waxes do not biodegrade but break up into ever smaller pieces, which are often ingested by marine life.
Small surfing-accessory companies have been producing waxes made of beeswax, coconut oil, soy, pine resin and other natural products for some years. Financially stretched surfing dudes have balked at paying double the price for these products but now the bigger wax companies, such as Dr Zog’s Sex Wax and Sticky Bumps, are catching the environmental wave and costs are falling.
Surfers are a restless bunch: they move from Australia to Hawaii to Patagonia to Cornwall to Ireland for the challenge of the waves. All that flying adds up to a considerable amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Then there are the boards and wetsuits. With surfing’s growing popularity, up to a million boards are produced each year. Traditionally these have been made from a cocktail of toxic materials including polyurethane foam, fibreglass, polyester and epoxy resin. While these boards can break easily in crashing waves, they take thousands of years to degrade.
Wetsuits — considered a great modern invention, allowing winter surfing even in the freezing North Atlantic — are made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber, and nylon material derived from petroleum.
But surfing is getting more ecologically aware. More boards are being fashioned from materials such as bamboo, vegetable foam, hemp and vegetable-based resins, the ultimate aim being a board that you can eat when its sea days are numbered.
Surf clothing companies – are also producing more organic goods. So enjoy the waves, dude. But spend a bit extra on environmentally kinder products.
Send your eco dilemmas to

New Lanark ‘eco’ town will build on reformer’s ideals

Charlene Sweeney
A century after the social reformer Robert Owen pioneered a kinder, more communal way of living at New Lanark, a charity is adopting his model to build Scotland’s latest new town.
Owenstown, named after the 19th-century industrialist, will be located on a 2,000-acre site, five miles south of Lanark, at the village of Rigside. It is expected to have a population of 20,000 people and could create 8,000 jobs.
The £1.5 billion project is the brainchild of the Hometown Foundation, a charitable trust established to build new self-sustainable communities, and will be organised along many of the principles that Owen favoured when he managed and co-owned the mill at New Lanark from 1800 to 1828.
He helped improve the living conditions of his workers by creating a co-operative store in the village, with profits invested in community facilities such as schools. However, Owen, who left New Lanark in 1828, never realised his ambition to see his ideals adopted elsewhere in Scotland.
Jim Arnold, chairman of the proposed town’s co-operative, and director of the New Lanark Trust, said: “This will be a new and inspired modern version of Robert Owen’s dream — a realisation of his ideals. Owen was ahead of his time and never fully achieved his ambition.
“It would be wonderful to realise the dream in 21st-century Scotland. We’ve been speaking already to local and central government to seek their views on it.”
The charity’s plans go on public display at New Lanark next week, opening a six-month period of consultation. It is hoped a planning application will be submitted next year, allowing construction to start in as little as three years.
If it is approved, the new town will be self-sufficient, eco-friendly, run on co-operative principles and managed by its residents.
Houses, produced in kit form by a factory located in the town, will be sold or rented, with the profits being ploughed back into the community. The factory will also be the first major employer in the community, which hopes that low overheads will help to attract new businesses. The town will have its own wind farm, producing low-cost energy, and a green heating system powered by recycled waste.
A farm on the outskirts will grow organic produce for local consumption and each household is to have its own garden or allotment plot to encourage the growing of fruit and vegetable.
A fleet of low-carbon electric vehicles will be the principal mode of transport for those whose journeys cannot be made on foot or bicycle, and routes for visitor traffic will be established to reduce any adverse impact on the town.
Although decisions will be made by a board of trustees elected by residents, local government would still have a role in running the town. Dr Arnold said that Owenstown would not bypass the system of elected local councillors.
Stuart Crawford, a trustee of Hometown Foundation which has bought the land and set up the Owenstown co-operative, said: “This is an innovative and ground-breaking project. The general response has been one of enthusiasm.”
Karen Gillon, the local MSP, and Scottish Labour’s rural development spokesman, described Owenstown as ambitious and exciting, adding: “A new town would revitalise the area and would have beneficial knock-on effects for the local economy.
“I back this development and I would be keen to work with Hometown Foundation to ensure it comes to fruition.”
Once planning permission is granted, a loan can be requested from banks or building societies to start construction. Businesses interested in being in the new town can also contribute money to its development.

Putting people before profit

From tomorrow, Climate Camp will highlight how disastrous the financial system is for us all. We must rediscover the eco-system

Alistair Alexander, Tuesday 25 August 2009 15.30 BST
At noon tomorrow thousands of activists will swoop on London for this summer's Climate Camp. Following the death of Ian Tomlinson at G20 and subsequent outrage at the policing at Kingsnorth, we're assured we'll be greeted with "community-style" policing.
So then, no intimidation by using blanket stop-and-search powers to confiscate dangerous items, like string and soap; no psychological warfare of low-flying helicopters to disrupt sleep patterns; no midnight raids of overwhelming force to confiscate board games; and, presumably, no shock-and-awe baton and shield charges on protesters with their hands up, chanting "This is not a riot".
As for many years policing of protests has taken place under the virulent sprawl of anti-terror legislation (a trend which, of course, began long before 9/11), it should be no surprise that a "war on terror" mindset has typified police tactics. And it has had predictably violent – and tragic – results.
Clearly, there are deeper forces in play here than just protecting and serving the public. Reports suggest close co-ordination between the police, the security agencies and the corporations that protesters target. At Kingsnorth the police were planning their strategy with E.ON. And, clearly, the energy companies have a network of moles reporting to them and the police. So when we're promised community policing, you'll forgive us if we remain sceptical.
These links between the state and corporations partly explain why we're coming to London. In the last 20 years, we've seen the emergence of a carbon-industrial complex; an interconnected web of political and corporate interests, whose profits are dependent on herding us over the precipice into the chasm of climate chaos.
Consider our previous targets: Drax Group's stockmarket valuation of £1.7bn is almost wholly dependent on its eponymous power station, Britain's largest carbon emitter; E.ON, a German corporate behemoth, is investing billions in new coal power stations, whether or not Carbon Capture and Storage technology is ever really feasible. There's Heathrow, owned by a Spanish oligarch and financed by highly leveraged bridging loans, cooked up in the City.
But it's not just for financing big energy that we're focusing on London. As the epicentre of global finance, the City is overwhelmingly responsible for spearheading our delusional economic model of limitless growth and wealth accumulation, all driven by manic debt-fuelled consumption.
It's a model that serves the bankers exceptionally well – all the more so since being bailed out to the tune of £25,000 by every person in the UK, while still holding on to their bonuses. But, for most of Britain, it has led to massive inequality, a collapse in quality of life and huge debts that will take decades to clear.
Financial capitalism has been as disastrous for the planet as it has been for the rest of us. Growth is inextricably linked to energy consumption – no economist has plausibly explained a way to "decouple" them – so this model that has led to economic meltdown is also leading to climate meltdown.
Capitalism might be a busted flush, but still the City plans to impose market solutions on us to tackle climate change. As markets got us into this mess, it's impressively perverse to believe they can somehow get us out of it. There is no market price for de-carbonising the planet; it's simply something we have to do, whatever the cost.
Climate campers understand that if we are to make the transition to a zero-carbon society (and lets not quibble here – a 50% cut simply won't cut it) then it must be a "just transition", in other words a transition that puts people before profit; communities before corporate power.
If we are ever to dismantle the carbon economy, we must wrench ourselves from this financial system and re-root ourselves in our eco-system. As the bankers desperately try to rebuild global capitalism from the wreckage of the crunch, the Climate Camp will be in the City to imagine a different future; a future that belongs to all of us.

The ties that bind Europe and Africa have never mattered more

Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Bonds of history are stronger between Europe and Africa than between Africa and any other part of the world. And this century was – until recently – a fairly good one for the continent. In spite of the tragedies of eastern Congo, Somalia and Darfur, we did see a distinct reduction in violent conflicts and the number of people affected by them. Globalisation started to lift an important part of Africa on to a new path of growth and development. Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa averaged 6 per cent during the first part of this decade.
We should also note that co-operation between the countries of Africa advanced during this period. We are seeing the African Union emerge as an increasingly important factor and partner in a wide variety of areas. And there was progress also in the critically important field of governance. Today more than half of the countries of the continent are on a democratic path of development. But much remains to be done – and must be done in the years to come. Africa's possible evolution will depend on its ability to play on two major levels: democratic-style government, and economic transformation. By 2025, there will be a further 350 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa with a total population of approximately a billion people.
At the same time there is a severe risk that climate change will start to negatively affect the already problematic prospects for food production in large parts of the continent.
In fact, sub-Saharan Africa is the part of the world most in danger if there is not a halt to the increase in the temperatures that we now witness. The IPCC estimates that climate change could leave more than 200 million additional Africans short of water, and farmers in Africa that rely on rain-fed agriculture could see declines in their yields by 50 per cent in 2030. The Copenhagen meeting in December should thus be of particular importance from the African point of view, and I can assure everyone that the intensifying green diplomacy of the European Union will do its utmost to achieve a result that will start to lessen the strain that, otherwise, climate change will impose on Africa. And we naturally look forward to constructive contributions from Africa itself in this work.
Taken from a speech given by the Swedish Foreign Minister in Rimini, Italy, last week