Friday, 11 September 2009

France Moves to Levy Carbon Tax on Fossil Fuels

Environmentalists Worry Rate Is Too Low to Have Much Impact
PARIS -- France is likely to begin taxing carbon-dioxide emissions by both households and companies starting next year in the hope that consumers and producers gradually shift to more environmentally friendly goods.
From Jan. 1, a special tax of €17 ($24.74) will be levied on each metric ton of CO2 emitted by fossil fuels such as heating oil, gasoline, coal and natural gas, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a speech Thursday. "We cannot keep on taxing labor, taxing capital and ignore taxes on pollution," he said.
Parliament has yet to approve the measure, but it is likely to pass as part of the wider annual budget plan.

Like other European countries and the U.S., France is seeking ways to meet a series of environmental commitments. The French government has pledged to cut its CO2 emissions to one-quarter of 1990 levels by 2050 by relying on nuclear power -- which generates few greenhouse gases -- better insulating buildings and boosting the use of renewable energies.
France wants to emulate Finland and Sweden, which have succeeded in curbing C02 emissions with the introduction of greenhouse-gas taxes in the early 1990s. Mr. Sarkozy is also eager to show that France is making progress on its environmental promises ahead of a United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December.
The carbon tax, however, has become a hard sell. When Mr. Sarkozy was elected president in 2007, surveys showed that French people backed the idea. More recent opinion polls suggest enthusiasm has faded as people grow wary that the tax will dent their spending power amid the economic crisis.
In his speech, Mr. Sarkozy said the tax would help the French economy grow while being energy conscious. He added the tax would be offset by subsidies for some payers. Taxes and subsidies would rise in following years, but Mr. Sarkozy offered few details on the timeline or rate of change.
Yet, environmentalists were skeptical of the tax's benefit. They said it has been set at a low level and criticized the subsidies planned for households and business to offset its impact.
"With this tax, the incentive to shift to energy-efficient goods will be close to zero," said Pascal Husting, head of the French branch of Greenpeace.
Mr. Sarkozy's plan falls short of recommendations from a report he commissioned that called for setting the tax at €32 per ton of CO2 in 2010 and increasing it by 5% every year after in order to reach a level of €100 in 2030. The €100 mark is necessary to achieve the broader goal of slashing CO2 emissions, the report said.
The French president said he opted for an across-the-board level of €17 a ton because he was concerned that households wouldn't agree to pay significantly higher taxes on CO2 emissions than big industrial emitters -- which are already subject to a European Union mechanism aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. European CO2 emission certificates trade at about €15.
Mr. Sarkozy, who has pledged not to increase taxes despite France's rapidly widening budget deficit, has said the money raised through the new tax would be returned to taxpayers.
Households subject to income tax will be awarded tax rebates as early as February 2010; those that are exempted from income tax will receive a check from the fiscal administration. Companies won't be awarded rebates but a local corporate tax will be scrapped to help offset the new carbon tax.

Write to David Gauthier-Villars at

Sarkozy launches carbon tax to help 'save the human race'

French president vows to lead fight against global warming with tax to encourage cuts in fossil fuel consumption
Angelique Chrisafis, Thursday 10 September 2009 17.15 BST
Nicolas Sarkozy today vowed to lead the fight to "save the human race" from global warming, launching a carbon tax to encourage French families and industry to cut their use of fossil fuels.
From 2010, France will become the biggest European economy to levy a carbon tax, following other successful schemes introduced by Nordic countries in the 1990s.
The tax – initially set at €17 (£15) per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions – will be levied on individuals and businesses for fossil fuel consumption.
It means family fuel bills will rise, while businesses will pay more for factories run on fossil fuels.
In a speech peppered with warnings about the need for France to take the lead in fighting climate change, Sarkozy said: "There are no reserves left. It's a question of survival of the human race."
He said his aim was to change French habits to prepare for a post-petrol economy, reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and tax people for actions that were damaging to society.
"There is one objective: to encourage homes and businesses to change their behaviour," he added.
After weeks of government gaffes and public rows about the form the tax would take, polls before Sarkozy's speech showed two-thirds of French people opposed the measure.
Sarkozy had likened his "historic" task of convincing the public to support the carbon tax to other key moments in France, such as decolonisation and the abolition of the death penalty.
But families in isolated areas had feared being punished for using their cars.
Farmers and transport companies warned that the tax was unfair and opposition parties called the president Monsieur Taxe for bumping up the fiscal burden.
However, green politicians and environmental campaign groups said the tax as a wasted opportunity and did not go far enough.
Greenpeace said the plans was "dramatically lacking in ambition", a wasted effort and a failure from the outset.
Pascal Husting, the head of Greenpeace France, said excluding electricity and starting the tax at such a low rate meant "it would change absolutely nothing in terms of behaviour" nor encourage energy-saving or renewable energy.
Although the tax will apply to oil, gas and coal, it will not apply to electricity.
Sarkozy argued that, with 80% of electricity produced in France coming from nuclear plants – which have low emissions – it would make no sense to increase the price of this form of power.
Some green campaigners had wanted the tax to start at a higher rate than €17 per tonne of CO2 emitted, but the president said the tax would begin at a low level and gradually rise in the coming years to give the French a chance to change their lifestyles.
Sarkozy said state would not make money from the tax, with all the €3bn collected being returned to families and business through tax credits, tax cuts and other green incentives.
The system will differentiate between people who live in urban areas with good public transport and those who live in rural areas and are more dependent on cars. Rural households will get more money back from the state, the president said.
Although the tax will apply to oil, gas and coal, it will not apply to electricity.

Schellnhuber: developed countries are 'carbon insolvent'

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Germany's climate adviser and respected physicist, shares his stark but simple view of how much CO2 we can emit by 2050.
Carbon Commentary, Thursday 10 September 2009 11.42 BST
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is the German government's climate protection adviser and a distinguished physicist. He was interviewed by the German magazine Der Spiegel last week and gave a starkly simple view of how much CO2 the world can emit.
To achieve a two-in-three chance of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees, humanity can only emit about 750 billion tonnes of CO2 between now and 2050, he said. (I assume that after 2050 Schellnhuber believes that net emissions must fall to zero or below.) 750 billion tonnes spread over today's world population of 6.7bn means about 110 tonnes per person between now and mid-century.
It sounds a lot. But European countries today emit about 11 tonnes annually for each inhabitant. It would be more if we counted the embedded emissions in goods we buy from China and elsewhere. Using Schellnhuber's rough numbers, Europeans will exhaust their allowance within ten years if emissions do not fall.
Put another way, to meet the target Europe's countries need to reduce per person emissions by about half a tonne a year every year for the next twenty years. Achieving this would require a near 5% cut next year, rising to 10% a year by 2020 and 20% annual reduction by 2025. As Stern has pointed out (Stern Review, p. 231) the only time even a 5% emissions reduction has ever been achieved over a large country for several years was the 1989 to 1998 period in the former Soviet Union, when emissions fell 5.2% per year.
The 110 tonnes figure for the maximum permitted emissions per person omits consideration of the probable 40% increase in world population by 2050. This would cut the figure to 85 tonnes or so – less than eight years of current European per capita emissions. It also assumes that all world citizens have an equal right to a certain volume of emissions even though the developed world has been responsible for more than 80% of the increase in CO2 in the last century. Schellnhuber points out that if we allocated emissions rights in inverse proportion to historical CO2 output the developed countries would already be 'carbon insolvent'.
He concludes by saying that the richest one sixth of the world should pay $100 a year per person to help reduce the future emissions of low income countries. In effect, we would be paying poor states to hold their cumulative emissions per head below 110 tonnes so that we can overshoot our allowance. Compensating the least polluting countries for the almost certain failure of the developed world to keep within our quota must surely be the broad outline of any Copenhagen scheme that will be acceptable to the global south?
• From Carbon Commentary, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Europe must pay €15bn in climate aid, says top environment official

Rich countries should pay €100bn a year by 2020 to cover the cost of climate change in developing countries, and the EU should contribute up to €15bn, says Stavros Dimas
Ian Traynor in Brussels, Thursday 10 September 2009 18.08 BST
Rich countries should be paying around €100bn (£88bn) a year by 2020 to cover the cost of climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, according to the EU's environment commissioner.
The announcement is the first time that Brussels has identified the cost of tackling global warming in poor countries, an issue that is central to achieving a global deal at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December. Europe's top climate official, Stavros Dimas, said that the EU should contribute between €2bn and €15bn of the total. It is likely to be seen by many observers as an opening bargaining position.
"A deal on financing will be central to achieving agreement at Copenhagen," said the commission proposal. "UN negotiations are dangerously close to deadlock."
Dimas added: "This cannot, of course, be a blank cheque. But if there is no money from the developed countries, there will be no deal in Copenhagen."
Today's announcement is the first detailed set of proposals from any side before Copenhagen, although Dimas' figures are similar to the $100bn price tag proposed by Gordon Brown in a speech two months ago.
"With less than 90 days to go the clock is ticking," said the UK's Department for Energy and Climate Change. "We welcome the commission's constructive contribution on how the world puts in place the finance that's needed to tackle climate change. We stand firm to the commitment to contribute our fair share."
The announcement was greeted with ridicule by some NGOs and campaign groups. Greenpeace, Oxfam and WWF said the EU should be contributing around €35bn. The World Wildlife Fund called the EU's calculations "financial jiujitsu".
"The methodology is flawed and the amounts are totally insufficient ... It is hoped that the optimistic assumptions in Europe's favour are not seen by others as unwillingness to live up to its obligations," said a spokesperson for the charity.
Dimas's proposed total annual figure is made up of three parts. If Copenhagen achieves an agreement for a 30% cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 in the developed world and slowing rate of emissions growth by up to 30% in the developing world, the commission proposed that international public funding of €22-50bn should be provided to the poor countries annually by 2020.
Additionally, it concluded that the international carbon market could supply a further €38bn a year, and predicted that private and public finance in the developing countries themselves would generate up to €40bn.
But diplomats, analysts and campaigners said the proposals were deliberately vague and riddled with problems, potential conflicts and inconsistencies. It is not clear, for example, how much of the EU fund could be diverted from existing aid money to the developing world, reducing the volume of genuinely new funds.
Elise Ford, the head of Oxfam International's EU office said it would be "scandalous" to divert money from existing aid budgets. "This would rob tomorrow's hospitals and schools in developing countries to pay for them to tackle climate change today. This will undermine progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals," she said. "Funds to help developing countries to tackle climate change must be additional to aid – not instead of it."
The commission blueprint enshrines "the principle of additionality" for climate change funds without quantifying what proportion would be "additional" to existing development aid. Also, the EU admitted that the "size of the carbon market cannot be predicted with certainty".
The British government said that no more than 10% of aid budgets could be used for the climate change fund.

US must lead at G20 on climate - development group

Reuters, Friday September 11 2009
By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - The United States should show decisive leadership at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh this month and rally heads of state to prepare for the next global crisis -- climate change.
In a speech before the G20 meeting on Sept. 24-25, Nancy Birdsall, president of the Washington-based Center for Global Development, said preparing for climate change was key because it was a new issue and because the world's poor will be severely hurt by it.
Influential think tanks in Washington typically schedule briefings and speeches ahead of big international gatherings in a bid to influence the agenda. This week, G20 ministers are meeting in Washington to finalize the agenda for Pittsburgh.
"To make this summit a success the heads of government must look beyond the current (financial) crisis and begin to prepare for the crisis next time," said Birdsall.
She proposed G20 leaders pledge to work together, before the next summit in Seoul, South Korea, on reaching agreement on ways to implement a future global climate pact.
International climate talks resume in December in Copenhagen where countries will try to thrash out a new international climate change regime beyond 2012 amid increased discord over the role development countries can play in reducing harmful green gas emissions.
Birdsall said the G20 should agree on the role the World Bank, the world's biggest development agency, should play in preparing the poor for the effects of climate change, she added.
She said the G20 should call on the World Bank and other development institutions to develop innovative risk management tools for poor countries, including insurance against natural disasters and bonds indexed to terms of trade.
"I believe that all parties can agree in principle on the importance of effective implementation of whatever (climate change) agreement is eventually reached," she said.
"Beginning now to identify the functions and appropriate institutional arrangements has intrinsic value and it can be a way of creating common ground that can help in getting to yes on a meaningful accord," she added.
She said the World Bank was poorly designed and ill-equipped to deal with such issues as combating trade protectionism and global epidemics to investing in research on renewable energy and climate-resilient crops.
Birdsall said focusing on the poor was especially important because they live in high-risk areas, poor families depend on agriculture for income and to feed themselves, and poor countries have fewer resources to manage and adapt to climate change risks.
"Irreversible climate change could wipe out much of the development progress of the past, and the put future progress, especially in the low-income countries that are not represented in the G20, at grave risk," Birdsall added. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Carol Bishopric)

Kenya's wildlife threatened by drought

Serious threat to elephants as rivers dry up and grasslands shrivel in parched game reserves
Associated Press, Thursday 10 September 2009 13.27 BST
A drought in Kenya has become so bad that the country's famed elephants are dying, as rivers dry up and grasslands shrivel in parched game reserves.
The drought has killed hundreds of cattle and many hectares of crops, threatening the lives of the people who depend on them for food. There is no human death toll for the drought, but the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has said that 3.8 million Kenyans are at risk and in need of emergency food aid.
The zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who founded Save the Elephants, said the drought is the worst he has seen in 12 years and poses a serious threat to the animals, whose presence in Kenya's broad savannah help draw a million tourists each year.
"It may be related to climate change, and the effect is elephants, particularly the young and the old, have began to die," he told AP Television News. "When they do not have enough food they also seem to be vulnerable to disease, their immune system weakens and they catch all sorts of diseases."
Elephants, which have no predators, must roam widely to get their daily ration of as much as 52 gallons (200 litres) of water and about 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of grass, leaves and twigs. But the water is disappearing and the grass is all but gone.
In the past two months, over 40 elephants have died in Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu districts, the Daily Nation newspaper reported. It was initially thought to be a disease outbreak but laboratory tests failed to detect disease. The only probable reason the animals are dying is drought, Moses Litoloh, a senior scientist with the Kenya Wildlife Service, told the newspaper.
"Preliminary investigations reveal that the elephants have not been getting enough fodder, especially the young ones," he said. "Young elephants are unable to keep up the pace with their mothers while grazing. They are also not able to browse tall trees which are the only source of food left."
The species is hardly at the brink of extinction: there are 23,000 elephants in Kenya and fewer than 100 have died from the drought but wildlife experts say they are concerned.
Making matters worse, herders are driving their livestock into the elephants' domain in search of fresh pasture and competing for forage.
The prime minister, Raila Odinga, last month warned of a "catastrophe" if seasonal rains don't come in October and November. Kenya's grain harvest is expected to be 28% lower. Food prices have jumped by as much as 130%.
The WFP has called for $230m (£138m) in donations to feed hungry Kenyans.

People power is crucial to making Copenhagen a success

A huge show of popular support should empower our political leaders to reach a wise and visionary agreement in Copenhagen
Bob Ward, Thursday 10 September 2009 12.06 BST
We have reached a defining moment in the global battle against climate change, and the role of the public is now more crucial than ever.
There are now less than 100 days until the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, which my colleague Nicholas Stern, the former head of the UK Government Economic Service and author of the Stern review has described as "the most important international meeting since the second world war".
A strong international agreement on climate change can still be achieved at Copenhagen, which would set the world on a path that avoids the huge risks from "business as usual" emissions of greenhouse gases. But many significant hurdles remain which could prevent a treaty for action on mitigation and adaptation.
Agreement will only be possible if political leaders begin to focus now on the task of agreeing measures that will reduce emissions, while ensuring sustainable, low-carbon economic growth. The conference will be a failure if politicians are too distracted by other issues, such as the global downturn. Recession may be significant now, but it does not pose long-term risks to people's prosperity and well-being in the same way as climate change. Hence public pressure on political leaders to concentrate on reaching an agreement that can make a real impact.
But that is not all people can do to increase the chances of success in Copenhagen. They can also demonstrate firm support for constructive, far-sighted domestic measures to tackle climate change as well.
UK policies on climate change are now guided by the recommendations by the Committee on Climate Change, which has charted a route for reducing the nation's emissions by at least 80% by the middle of this century.
At present, the UK emits the equivalent of 11.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide per head of population each year. By 2050, that figure needs to be cut to about two tonnes per head. This is the UK's most important long-term challenge.
The Committee on Climate Change calculates that the UK can reach its target cost-effectively if it reduces emissions at an average rate of two or three per cent each year, over the next four decades. The 10:10 campaign could provide a big first step towards the target if it persuades many people to cut their annual emissions by 10% next year.
In a survey of European countries carried out earlier this year, 77% of UK respondents claimed to have personally taken actions aimed at helping to fight climate change, a higher proportion than for any country except Sweden. This is despite the fact that 40% thought that climate change is "an unstoppable process".
These results suggest that the overwhelming majority of the public will take at least some action to tackle climate change, even if many do not believe that the scientific evidence is beyond reasonable doubt. Public support for domestic climate change policies will perhaps provide the strongest impetus for political leaders ahead of Copenhagen. They are no doubt aware that a low-carbon economy would provide many new opportunities and benefits, without suffering the crippling economic and social consequences of climate change from current emissions.
But they also recognise that changing our current high-carbon economy will involve initial costs and difficult choices for taxpayers and consumers. There is a danger that the small but vocal minority, who perceive their short-term vested interests to be best served by maintaining the high-carbon status quo, will frame the public debate only in terms of these initial costs.
Instead we need a strong and vigorous public discussion about how best to promote future prosperity and well-being, not just for us now, but for our children and future generations as well.
If the leaders of developed nations such as the UK can make strong and credible commitments on climate change, based on well-informed domestic policies with solid public backing, then there is a very good chance of success in Copenhagen. A huge show of popular support, together with vigorous public action in cutting emissions, should empower our political leaders to reach a wise and visionary agreement.
• Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.
Sign up for 10:10 at

Tesla, BrightSource IPOs could be late 2010

Reuters, Friday September 11 2009
* Investor says Tesla, BrightSource good cases for IPO
* Says green sector watching potential A123 Systems IPO
By Poornima Gupta
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors and solar thermal energy firm BrightSource Energy would not launch their initial public offerings until 2010 if market conditions don't improve, a venture capital investor in both companies said on Thursday.
"There's a group of companies that is pretty close (to an IPO)," Stephan Dolezalek, managing director of VantagePoint Venture Partners, told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco.
Tesla, BrightSource and smart-grid networking firm Silver Spring Networks are among the most likely candidates, he said.
"If the market stays the way it is today, at the earliest is end of 2010," he said, referring to potential IPOs from Tesla and BrightSource. "There is no rush to go public."
After a spate of IPOs by alternative energy companies in 2007 that performed well, there have been very few newcomers to the market.
Both Tesla and BrightSource, which has $9 billion in booking contracts for solar plants, have no urgent need to tap the public markets but being a successful company is "critically important" for growth, Dolezalek said.
"Most of us have a longer term view. The IPO is a financing event, it's not an exit," Dolezalek said. "We easily see those companies as being $5 billion to $10 billion."
Silicon Valley-based venture fund VantagePoint has funded more than 20 green technologies companies that cover a number of sectors including solar, electric vehicles, technology that extracts fertilizers from waste water and biofuels.
Its investments include electric car infrastructure firm Better Place, LED manufacturer Bridgelux, biofuel firm Solazyme, energy efficiency firm Tendril along with Tesla and BrightSource.
Both BrightSource and Tesla are on a growth path. Tesla said operations were profitable for the first time in July, when the electric car manufacturer shipped a record 109 electric sports cars.
Privately held BrightSource has picked up big contracts to deliver solar thermal power to California utilities Edison International Inc and PG&E Corp.
BrightSource's Chief Executive John Woolard told the Reuters Summit on Tuesday that the health of the public markets was a major consideration. ID:nN08295809
"They are perfectly capable of raising money," Dolezalek said. "There is no pressure to say let's rush this into a public market where things are still uncertain."
VantagePoint, which has more than $4.5 billion in committed capital overall, has a sector-specific investment strategy focused on funding the leading companies in the sector it believes has big potential to grow such as solar thermal and energy storage.
Dolezalek said he expects cleantech IPOs to debut in the fall.
"I suspect (A123 Systems) will be first," he said. "I think at least there's a 50-50 chance that somebody else will be the first out."
Lithium ion battery maker A123 System, which counts General Electric among its investors, has set terms for its IPO in a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this week.
The company, which Chrysler has chosen to produce lithium-ion batteries for its upcoming electric cars, set an IPO price range of $8 to $9.50 per share, which would raise up to $244 million, based on the 25.7 million shares it plans to sell.
A123 System's efforts at raising money from public markets is being closely watched by the green technology sector. Analysts have said a successful IPO from A123 could jump-start the cleantech IPO sector.
Dolezalek said the green market needs a successful model.
"It requires a bellwether company so that people could say you can actually make a return," he said. (For summit blog: (Reporting by Poornima Gupta; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

BMW's hybrid X6 accelerates nonsense about fast low-emission cars

BMW is launching the 'world's most powerful hybrid' at Frankfurt motor show but its eco-friendly claims are weak

Fred Pearce, Thursday 10 September 2009 07.00 BST
It's the holy grail for motorists with a green conscience – a high-performance eco-friendly hybrid car. Well, that is what BMW will have us believe when it unveils its latest model at the Frankfurt motor show in Germany next week.
The show is likely to see a stream of new hybrids, cars that combine a combustion engine with an electric motor for improved fuel efficiency. And pole position is likely to be taken by BMW's ActiveHybrid X6, which it styles the "world's most powerful hybrid".
The new X6 goes from 0-60 mph in under six seconds and has a top speed of 130 mph.
But the company gives equal prominence to its pitch that the new hybrid is "eco-friendly", because its carbon emissions are 20% less than those of a regular X6.
For a few days last month you could read the same claim on the website of the Energy Saving Trust, the "impartial" adviser on energy efficiency set up by the British government.
But is it too good to be true? Of course. As one incredulous reader who spotted the story on the Trust's website pointed out: "The Trust is promoting a car as eco-friendly with emissions TWICE that of my 6 year old Honda Civic hybrid!"
The ActiveHybrid X6's official CO2 emissions rating with the European Union is 231 grams per kilometre. That compares badly with the EU's 2012 target for average emissions from new cars of 120 grams. It is also higher than the emissions from most of the new Lexus hybrid range and more than twice the emissions of a Toyota Prius, for instance.
The fact that it is better than the regular X6's rating of 299 grams per kilometre does not make it eco-friendly, I am afraid. The claim is greenwash.
I suspect we are going to see a rash of these high-performance high-emission hybrids masquerading as green. Back in the lab, BMW is developing a hybrid "supercar" that will reach 155 mph and 0-60 mph in less than five seconds.
Sure, hybrids are more fuel-efficient than the equivalent old models. The key is that the fuel does not have to be burned in inefficient surges as the car accelerates and brakes. It can be burned efficiently in a smooth flow, and the energy transferred to a battery that supplies the electric motor that drives the car itself. The battery can also make use of energy generated during braking.
But to call these high-performance models eco-friendly, or low-emissions as they burn up the autobahn is nonsense. They are, in reality, slightly less polluting gas-guzzlers.
The Energy Saving Trust seems to take a similar view. When my correspondent pointed out the dodgy nature of the car's green credentials, the offending story swiftly disappeared from its site. "Once we noticed it, we removed it straight away," a spokesman told me.
The rise of these new hybrids has important implications for green-minded legislators. For instance, it should increase the pressure on London's mayor to reconsider his blanket exemption from congestion charges for hybrid cars. Surely, only truly low-emitters should qualify.
Interestingly, the BMW PR promotes the idea that the driver of the hybrid X6 can "experience silence without coming to a stop", while the electric motor is running alone.
It sounds fun. But speaking as a pedestrian, I'm a bit scared at the idea of a car that can go from 0 to 60mph in less than six seconds without making any noise. Green or not, it sounds like a stealth killer.

Marine energy companies to get funding boost from Carbon Trust

Tidal and wave power developers encouraged to thrive as Britain aims to become centre of marine energy industry
Alok Jha, Green technology correspondent, Friday 11 September 2009 00.05 BST
Two of the UK's leading marine energy companies will receive a boost today from the Carbon Trust, with grants of £400,000 to help scale up their technologies and bring them closer to commercial reality.
Marine Current Turbines (MCT), developer of the SeaGen tidal power device, and Pelamis Wave Power, which makes a wave-energy converter that looks like a giant snake, will share the money to design and build more efficient ways to install their machines. Installation can account for up to half the cost of a project and the Carbon Trust says will delay more widespread use of the marine technology unless costs are brought down.
Wave and tides could provide a fifth of the UK's electricity needs, according to the Carbon Trust. It found that the UK was home to around a quarter of the world's emerging wave technologies and that Britain should be the "natural owner" of the global wave power market with the possibility of an industry worth £2bn a year by 2050 and up to 16,000 direct jobs. The government has also recognised wave and tidal as a promising area - in the recent white paper on energy, ministers allocated around £60m for the development of the sector.
"We're beginning to recognise [marine] as an important sector," said Stephen Wyatt of the Carbon Trust. "You need an energy mix in the UK for renewables and wave and tidal energies will play an important role in that. Both in terms of de-carbonising the grid but also the economic opportunities it represents. If we create a buoyant wave and tidal business in the UK, that's also an export opportunity for us."
Pelamis has designed a 180 metre-long "snake" that rides waves to generate electricity. Each device has the potential to make 750KW of electricity and the first commercial installation of four devices was made off the coast of Portugal last year. Its £250,000 grant from the Carbon Trust will be used to tackle the problem of manoeuvring the machines into position, several miles off the coast. Specifically Pelamis will invest in a remotely operated vehicle, so that the boat carrying the devices out to sea can be smaller. The company hopes the new technology will make the projects quicker, cheaper and safer and thereby reduce the overall cost of the resulting electricity.
"This project will allow more machines to be installed more often and more cheaply as we will not be as reliant on good weather conditions and specialist boats for the operation," said Beth Dickens of Pelamis Wave Power.
MCT will spend its £150,000 on an experiment to test out a remotely operated underwater drilling platform which could install foundation piles into the sea bed. That means the main turbine can be installed later as a single unit and will also require fewer and less expensive support vessels. The SeaGen devices have already been in operation at Strangford Lough and, if the remote drilling technology works, it will be used at the next MCT project, a 10MW tidal farm planned for early next deade near Anglesey and which would use seven SeaGens, in partnership with RWE npower renewables.
Both companies have had their problems in the past year: the first wave farm using Pelamis, off the coast of Portugal, fell victim to the global economic downturn after the collapse of its majority owner, Australian-based infrastructure giant Babcock & Brown. And MCT's project in Strangford Lough suffered technical problems with snapped blades during the test phase. Despite this, the Carbon Trust considers the two devices "front runners" in the marine energy area.
Carbon Trust director of innovations, Mark Williamson, said cutting the price of wave and tidal technology was critical. "Our analysis shows that the UK is already leading the world in wave energy. If we can bring down the costs of deploying this technology, we will be able to generate marine energy on a scale that will help meet our 2020 renewable target and deliver significant economic value as well."

Optimism for Clean-Technology Market

SHANGHAI -- A group of Western companies says it can see a $500 billion to $1 trillion market annually for clean technology in China, according to a report published Thursday meant to highlight how a big new industry might develop in the world's most-populous nation.

The China Greentech Report 2009 outlines more than 300 clean energy, construction, transport, water and other businesses that might realistically open in China. The report was assembled by a group called China Greentech Initiative, made up of more than 80 mostly large Western companies and organizations with interests in the environmental sector.
The headline figure of up to $1 trillion annually reflects revenue the group says ultimately could be generated from widespread adoption of cleaner solutions, a best-case scenario given expectations about China's growth trajectory.
The figures are neither a projection, nor is the report the first attempt to draw attention to the seemingly vast market potential in China. "The story that has emerged is largely an optimistic one, tempered by the complexity of China's markets and the challenges that must be overcome," says the report.
The report's outline of China's potential market size for companies from China, the U.S. and elsewhere is designed to persuade government and corporate policy makers that spending money to tackle the world's environmental challenges will pay off.
China, the world's fastest-growing resources consumer, and the U.S., the biggest, together generate 40% of global emissions and use a third of the energy. Support by leaders of these countries for corporate clean-technology efforts, at forums such as a major climate conference planned for December in Copenhagen, is therefore considered crucial.
Today, without government support, many wind, water, solar and other clean technologies don't yet make financial sense. When projects do get government backing, they can be on a grand scale.

This week, China's government gave preliminary approval for an Arizona-based company, First Solar Inc., to develop a colossal system of panels over the coming decade to produce 2 gigawatts, or 2 billion watts, of electricity in the desert of Inner Mongolia.
Earlier this week at a Greentech Initiative conference in Shanghai, Fu Zhihuan, a senior Chinese legislator, summed up the bilateral relationship by noting the U.S. has "technology, capital and expertise." Mr. Fu added, "China has huge markets."
How likely businesses will be to realize the growing ambition remains unclear.
China and the U.S. have already signed at least 17 bilateral agreements on the environment in the past 12 years. Still, corporate executives at this week's Shanghai conference blamed both nations for holding back progress through trade barriers, trade secrets, trade-finance difficulties and other issues.
Write to James T. Areddy at

Clean energy future has humble beginnings

Reuters, Friday September 11 2009
* Gas and efficiency may win near-term cleantech race
* Avoiding dangerous climate change may need breakthroughs
By Gerard Wynn and Peter Henderson
LONDON/SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Humble, established technologies including natural gas and energy efficiency are top picks to lead a clean energy race through 2020, policymakers and senior executives told Reuters this week.
But a longer fight to avoid dangerous climate change including droughts, floods and rising seas may require multiple breakthroughs in nuclear power, farming, biofuels, as well as today's top renewables -- solar and wind energy.
Industry and banks are placing bets on the climate-friendly energy of the future in a contest that may have many winners, business and policy leaders told Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit.
"If one wins and others lose, we've all lost," said Google Inc Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl. Coal, maligned for its emissions of greenhouse gases that stoke global warming, won't give up its dominance in electricity generation easily.
Competing priorities such as U.S. healthcare and global recession threaten fast movement and decisive action at a major U.N.-led climate meeting in Copenhagen in December.
Both Californian and British officials saw energy efficiency as top priority. Efficiency actually makes money, by cutting fuel bills, unlike expensive solar power, for example.
Britain's minister for energy and climate change, Joan Ruddock, said efficiency "is the most critical thing" to meet Britain's 2020 goal to cut greenhouse gases by more than a third.
California's chief climate official, Mary Nichols, said efficiency would contribute most carbon cuts from electricity generation -- not renewable energy.
The United Nations' top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said energy efficiency was a no-brainer. "We're rather stupid not to be driving that revolution more forcefully than we are anyway," he said. "The odd thing for me to say is that you don't need Copenhagen to drive a revolution in energy efficiency."
But not enough people are actually buying efficiency. "It's a failure of economics," rued Richard Kauffman, chief executive of green venture investment firm Good Energies.
The head of Deutsche Bank's global asset management Kevin Parker saw another existing fuel -- natural gas -- as a sure winner because of new reserve finds, low prices, and an established supply network. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, but burns much cleaner than oil or coal.
Longer term, transportation may usher in the biggest changes in energy use -- especially if they run on electricity instead of biofuels.
"The key thing that will look different is we will be consuming a lot more electricity as we substitute electricity for heating and transport," said Paul Golby, chief executive of the UK arm of German utility E.ON AG.
"Potentially, the road ahead is a golden age for electricity ... because of a shift to transport," said HSBC's Nick Robins. "That is where the potential for disruptive breaks occurs, for costs -- particularly in solar -- to come down considerably."
Beyond 2020, electricity would also have to be supplied by an untested technology to trap and bury carbon emissions from coal plants, called carbon capture and storage (CCS), said the head of Britain's science academy, Martin Rees.
"Unless CCS can be implemented in the 2020s there is no chance whatever of turning around the graph where carbon emissions are rising," he said.
"In 20 years we are not going to phase out coal completely, no way," said Google's Weihl, agreeing carbon capture was an important bet to make.
"Biofuels, genetic (crop) modification, fourth generation nuclear power, fusion, battery technology should all be developed with urgency," Rees added.
In developing countries with no power grids, roof-top solar power generation could leap-frog centralised power plants, said Carl Pope, executive director of Sierra Club.
"In very many parts of the world we haven't begun to tap the solar potential," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme. "We are just beginning to tap the wind power potential." (Reporting by Gerard Wynn in London and Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Michael Szabo and Nina Chestney in London, Alister Doyle in Oslo, Svetlana Kovalyova in Milan, Matt Daily in New York; Editing by Gary Hill)

Google plans cheap mirrors to reduce cost of solar energy

Google is developing mirror technology that could reduce the cost of solar-powered turbine plants as part of its investment in green innovations.

By Alastair JamiesonPublished: 11:17AM BST 10 Sep 2009

The internet search giant is focusing on solar thermal technology in which the sun's energy is used to turn a turbine. Mirrors are used to focus the sun's rays.
Bill Weihl, the company's green energy czar, said: “We've been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on.”
He told a conference in San Francisco that Google is looking to cut the cost of making heliostats, the fields of mirrors that have to track the sun, by at least a factor of two, "ideally a factor of three or four."
The California-based company hopes to have viable technology for internal review within a couple of months.
It is also working on turbines that would run on solar power rather than natural gas, an idea that has the potential of further cutting the cost of electricity.
Google has invested in two solar thermal companies, eSolar and BrightSolar but is not working with these companies in developing the cheaper mirrors or turbines.
In wide-ranging remarks, Mr Weihl also called on the United States to increase government-backed research, particularly in the very initial stages to encourage breakthrough ideas in the sector.
He said there is a lack of companies that have ideas that would be considered breakthroughs in the green technology sector.
After announcing its plans to create renewable energy at a price lower than power from coal, it has invested less than $50 million in the idea because there was little on which to spend money.
“I would say it's reasonable to be a little bit discouraged there and from my point of view, it's not right to be seriously discouraged,” he said. “There isn't enough investment going into the early stages of investment pipeline before the venture funds come into the play.”