Saturday, 26 September 2009

Algae-Based Battery Could Be Used in Medical Diagnostic Applications

A novel battery developed by Swedish researchers is constructed primarily from algae, paper and salt-water. The thin and flexible batteries would be an inexpensive and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional lithium batteries. Developed at Uppsala University, the flexible battery uses thin mats of tangled cellulose fibers as electrodes and a saline solution as an electrolyte.
Lead researcher Maria Strømme suggests that it might be used to power cheap medical diagnostics devices or sensors on packaging materials or embedded into fabric. “You don’t need advanced equipment to make the batteries,” Strømme says. Potential applications include a variety of low-power portable devices including wireless sensors, smart cards, medical implants and RFID tags.
The battery uses a type of rechargeable thin-film design that many other researchers and companies have been working on for several years.
From the press release on the university’s website:
Despite extensive efforts in recent years to develop new cellulose-based coating substrates for battery applications, satisfactory charging performance proved difficult to obtain. However, nobody had tried using algal cellulose. Researcher Albert Mihranyan and Professor Maria Strømme at the Nanotechnology and Functional Materials Department of Engineering Sciences at the Ångström Laboratory had been investigating pharmaceutical applications of the cellulose from Cladophora algae for a number of years. This type of cellulose has a unique nanostructure, entirely different from that of terrestrial plants, that has been shown to function well as a thickening agent for pharmaceutical preparations and as a binder in foodstuffs. The possibility of energy-storage applications was raised in view of its large surface area.
“We have long hoped to find some sort of constructive use for the material from algae blooms and have now been shown this to be possible,” says Maria Strømme, Professor in Nanotechnology and leader of the research group. “The battery research has a genuinely interdisciplinary character and was initiated in collaboration with chemist professor Leif Nyholm. Cellulose pharmaceutics experts, battery chemists and nanotechnologists have all played essential roles in developing the new material.”
The article in Nano Letters, in effect, introduces an entirely new electrode material for energy storage applications, consisting of a nanostructure of algal cellulose coated with a 50 nm layer of polypyrrole. Batteries based on this material can store up to 600 mA per cm3, with only 6 per cent loss through 100 charging cycles.
“This creates new possibilities for large-scale production of environmentally friendly, cost-effective, lightweight energy storage systems,” says Maria Strømme.
“Our success in obtaining a much higher charge capacity than was previously possible with batteries based on advanced polymers is primarily due to the extreme thinness of the polymer layer,” says Gustav Nyström.
The abstract on the research is available from American Chemical Society.Brian Buntz

Leaders Drop Climate Deadlines

By JONATHAN WEISMAN in Pittsburgh and STEPHEN POWER in Washington
Prospects for securing a global agreement this year to attack climate change dimmed Friday, as the Group of 20 largest economies asked their finance ministers for a "range of possible options" to finance deployment of technology to curb greenhouse gases, but dropped demands that a final proposal be drafted before the world climate summit in Copenhagen in December.
At the Clinton Global Initiative, Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd says that it makes no sense to have an institution of global economic governance that excludes China, Mexico and Brazil.
G-20 heads of government also dropped efforts to set a date for countries to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies, despite a push for action on the issue by President Barack Obama.
The G-20's resolutions on climate issues have been vague and lacking in hard deadlines, illustrating the reluctance of leaders to take tough action to curb the long-term threat of global warming at a time when their economies are struggling to recover from the more immediate effects of the financial crisis.
"The G-20 has not fundamentally transformed the deadlock in the Copenhagen negotiations," said Michael Levi, a senior fellow on energy and environmental issues at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Until we resolve what Copenhagen is supposed to accomplish, we're going to have trouble accomplishing anything."
Leaders in Pittsburgh put off timetables and avoided detailed explanations. They didn't produce a target figure for financing climate-change mitigation and control in poor countries. They agreed to phase out government subsidies for the production and consumption of fossil fuels but didn't include a deadline.
Michael Casey of Dow Jones Newswires wraps up an eventful Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh, including an unprecedented shift of priorities and power to developing countries.
In the face of opposition by the largest subsidizers, such as Russia, the summit's communiqué says such government supports should disappear "over the medium term." In climate-change parlance, that can mean 2020, White House officials said.
Obama administration officials defended the results. "The fact that we brought together these 20 countries, about half of them being big subsidizers, and got them to say we going to work to reduce subsidies we think is a big step forward," a U.S. official said. "If someone says 'medium term' means 2030, 2040 we're going to push back hard."
Mr. Obama is finding it difficult to persuade some lawmakers to go along with his push to scale back billions of dollars in tax credits for oil and natural-gas production that his aides say have led to "overinvestment" of the nation's resources in oil and natural gas.
Oil and natural-gas companies say the president's tax proposals will discourage domestic production of oil and natural gas.
It is also uncertain when the Senate will vote on legislation to curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. The chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), is expected to unveil her proposal to curb emissions next week.—Siobhan Hughes and Min Zeng contributed to this article.
Write to Jonathan Weisman at and Stephen Power at

Barack Obama plays down the need to finalise a deal on climate change

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Friday 25 September 2009 19.56 BST
Barack Obama has talked down the importance of sealing a global deal on climate change before the end of the year, world leaders said yesterday.
Obama's comments, made in private talks at the G20 summit, downplay the need to reach a strong deal at UN talks in Copenhagen in December and contradict the United Nations and others, who have billed the meeting as a crucial moment for the world to avoid catastrophic global warming. The president did win a partial victory on his signature climate issue at this G20 summit – removing fossil fuel subsidies – but there was no headway on the much bigger issue of climate finance, which Obama had taken up as his issue at the last G20.
Barring small but significant steps forward from China and India, there has been little progress this week at a UN summit or the G20 towards a deal at Copenhagen. Obama's remarks yesterday resonated among world leaders, who have been looking to America – as historically the world's greatest polluter – to lead on climate change.
"I would cite what President Obama said to us at our meetings and that is that while Copenhagen is a very important meeting we should not view it as a make or break on climate change. It will be a step, an ongoing step, in an important world process to deal with this critical issue," Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, said yesterday. Harper cited the comments when he said he was not inclined to take up Gordon Brown's challenge to attend the meeting himself, in order to add political weight to the negotiations.
South Korea's Lee Myung-bak also referenced Obama's remarks. "The Copenhagen climate summit meeting is not the end, but it is going to be the start of a new beginning, and having that kind of perception is more realistic," he said. There was no immediate comment from the White House on Obama's remarks.
It is accepted that the Copenhagen negotiations will not be able to finalise all details of a treaty to get the world to act together on global warming. But Obama's comments could jeopardise efforts to get the most comprehensive agreement possible, said observers. "What is causing increasing concern is the continuing deadlock in political action to deal with this challenge," said Rajendra Pachauri, the UN top climate scientist who shared a Nobel peace prize with Al Gore. The G20 did agree to back Obama's efforts to end the world's $300bn of annual subsidies on fossil fuel, which encourage the burning of polluting fuels. However, the leaders failed to agree on Obama's five-year time frame for phasing out subsidies, agreeing only on "medium term" action.
The subsidy deal will do little to advance the Copenhagen negotiations, said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "It's clearly a victory for Obama to get something meaningful on this," he said. "But it is not going to help us get a deal at Copenhagen."
The issue that could have unlocked negotiations – finance for developing countries to cope with global warming impacts and pay for green energy technology – got pushed to the sidelines at Pittsburgh. Although Obama had wanted this G20 to produce hard figures on climate finance, world leaders decided instead to postpone the issue to a finance ministers' meeting in November.

The Constant Economy by Zac Goldsmith

Caroline Lucas spots some obvious gaps in a 10-step plan for the environment
Caroline Lucas
The Guardian, Saturday 26 September 2009
The challenge of raising the profile of green issues is hardly a new one. Back in 1974, Teddy Goldsmith fought a general election on behalf of "People", which later became the Green party. Searching for an eye-catching way of highlighting the issue of soil erosion in East Anglia, Teddy led a camel on a lead bearing the slogan: "No deserts in Suffolk. Vote Goldsmith." Perhaps unsurprisingly, he lost his deposit.
The Constant Economy
: How to Build a Stable Society
by Zac Goldsmith
Atlantic Books
Buy The Constant Economy at the Guardian bookshop
Thirty five years later, his nephew, Zac Goldsmith, parliamentary candidate for the Conservative party in Richmond Park, is unlikely to lose his deposit, and he has chosen a more orthodox method of promoting his ideas. His new book, The Constant Economy, sets out 10 steps which the government must take to "restore balance to our relationship with the world around us".
For Goldsmith, a "constant economy" is one in which resources are valued, food is grown sustainably and goods are built to last. It is a system which recognises nature's limits, where energy security is based on renewable resources and strong communities are valued as the most effective protection against social, economic and environmental instability.
Each chapter elaborates on one of the 10 steps, and offers inspiring examples of where solutions are already being practised (frustratingly without footnotes or references). Yet for a book nominally about the economy, Goldsmith has surprisingly little to say about economics. In spite of its title, the book doesn't draw on the ground-breaking work of Herman Daly and his development of "steady state economics", nor does it go as far as the Sustainable Development Commission's equally ground-breaking recent report, Prosperity Without Growth.
Rather, it repeats the well-trodden ground of the limits to GDP and the importance of alternative economic indicators, perhaps reflecting in its reluctance to enter deeper into the economics debate his own ambivalence about the role of the market.
Caricaturing the green movement as having "fractured" into "lighter" greens, who promote green consumerism, and "darker" greens, who promote "alarm, pessimism and disenchantment", he criticises the latter for believing that "we are faced with a choice between the economy and ecology."
Yet that's not what most greens, dark or otherwise, believe. The choice, rather, is between a steady state economy, in balance with our wider environment, or an economy based on endless economic growth, which is likely to destroy our environment, yet which continues to be promoted by all three of the larger parties.
And while it is certainly true that, in the past, the green movement has not spent enough time promoting the benefits of a post-carbon economy, if he really thinks that most greens deliberately identify "the hardest, most punitive solutions, and when they describe the challenge, it is invariably insurmountable", then he's spending too much time with the wrong people.
The 10 steps which Goldsmith describes are certainly good ones, but I'm not sure we can let him off the hook for the issues he chooses not to address – population growth, for one. To his credit, he acknowledges that it "deserves a chapter to itself", but he declines to give it one because "this book is about solutions, and there are not obvious or ethically acceptable solutions to population growth". At a time when millions of women in the south are desperate for the means to control their own fertility, and when governments in the north are perversely giving incentives to women to have larger families, this seems an odd conclusion to draw.
Electoral reform is another issue conspicuous by its absence. Goldsmith boldly announces that we need "radical and urgent reform of our political system ... to galvanise the people and rejuvenate democracy", yet the one reform which would make the most difference is absent. Localism is promoted instead. Yet while popular referenda and recall systems are useful ways of generating greater engagement in the political process, to ignore the need for a fairer voting system seems perverse.
Throughout the book, Goldsmith builds a compelling case that the solutions to the environmental crisis exist, and all it requires is the political will to implement them. I agree – but is David Cameron's Conservative party likely to oblige? Presumably Goldsmith believes it will – or he wouldn't have chosen to be a Conservative candidate.
But while I admire his optimism, it's hard to find much justification for it, when measured against the way most Tory politicians actually behave. Take his MEP colleagues: on just about all of the very sensible proposals Goldsmith makes – proposals which, I can't resist pointing out, are championed by the Greens – Conservative members have consistently voted against. Whether it's promoting a zero-waste strategy and higher emission standards for cars, for example, or a moratorium on all aviation expansion and a rejection of nuclear power, his Tory colleagues are stubbornly opposed to progress.
Despite all of this, The Constant Economy is a compelling read, and inspiring in its positive, solution-oriented focus. Whether Goldsmith will be given the latitude to pursue this agenda if the Conservatives win the next election is another question.

Why 350 is the most important number on the planet

Carbon target is key to winning hearts and minds
Bill McKibben
The Guardian, Saturday 26 September 2009

This autumn, as we speed towards Copenhagen, an almost infinite number of words will be spilled about the environment, the atmosphere, the climate, the horror. I'm pretty much all in favour of this – last year, for instance, I edited a massive doorstop of an anthology called American Earth for the Library of America. It collected America's single greatest literature – the stories of the encounter between people and nature – from Thoreau through Muir through Rachel Carson through the amazing bloom of contemporary environmental writers: Rick Bass, Terry Tempest Williams, the incomparable Wendell Berry. I'm proud to have played some small role in that flood of words myself: The End of Nature, when it came out in 1989, was the first book for a general audience about climate change, and since then I've gone on to write a dozen more.
But right now –this autumn, with much on the line – I've put my faith not in letters but in numbers. In digits, in Arabic numerals.
We've been running a huge ­ campaign – it's blown up into the first real grassroots global political protest about global warming – called The number comes from new science that followed the shocking melt of Arctic ice in the summer of 2007. Researchers became convinced that climate change was happening faster than they had previously expected, and that they had enough data to put a real number on it. That number was 350, as in parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. Above that level, in the powerful (and peer-reviewed) words of Nasa scientist James Hansen, we can't have a planet "similar to the one on which civilisation developed or to which life on earth is adapted".
So we took that number and ran with it – not with a slogan, not with a motto, but with a number. We're building toward a giant day of global action on 24 October, that will see thousands of events from every corner of the Earth, as far-flung a political protest as the planet has ever seen. And as far as I know, there's never been a big political campaign built around a scientific data point. But it's worked, and for a few reasons – a few reasons that help us think about how science might become integrated a bit more easily into the work of artists of various kinds.
First, it sets a clear target, which is useful in a world of confusing and shifting political messages. When the world's leaders come to Copehagen in December, too many journalists will be watching to see if they produce "an agreement". Of course they'll produce an agreement – but an agreement is not what we need. We need a solution which in this case is defined not by political fiat but by science. The negotiation isn't really China versus the EU versus the US, it's all of us versus physics and chemistry. And since physics and chemistry really refuse to negotiate, we better meet their bottom line, which appears to be 350 parts per million. It's a way to make sure our leaders are dealing with the actual situation, not their particular political fortunes.
Second, Arabic numerals are the one thing that cross linguistic boundaries. I was in the hills above Bethlehem the other day, for a meeting with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian activists. Their plan for 24 October: on the Israeli shore of the Dead Sea (which is shrinking rapidly as the planet warms) a giant human "three"; on the Palestinian beach, a "five"; on Jordan's strand a giant zero. We're doing the same kind of planetary Scrabble in many of the world's big cities; in London, for instance, a giant human "five" along the Thames near the London Eye. The resulting pictures will be as comprehensible in Beijing as in Vancouver, in Delhi as in Quito.
Best of all, in a way, the three digits are themselves devoid of significance. When we began they meant nothing to anybody – they were inscrutable. So we get to fill them with emotion, and that's exactly what's been happening. Dozens of musicians have written 350 songs and anthems; painters (and graffiti artists) have done beautiful renderings. Some of the world's best writers have produced 350-word poems and stories and essays. And slowly, over time, the numbers have come to hold their own meaning: as a kind of warning, and as a kind of hope.
They're arguably the most important numbers on earth, the boundary condition for our continued existence here. They are tough and radical, those digits – we're already past them, at 390 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere, and rising by 2% annually: that's why the Arctic is melting, why Australia is burning, why the world is changing in front of our eyes.
To meet their challenge we'd need a very quick end to fossil fuel burning on this planet, and then we'd need real cooperation from the planet's oceans and forests, which can slowly suck up the excess carbon. The challenges are immense – the call for 350 goes far beyond what most of our leaders want to hear, because the economic and political change will be impossible to disguise as business as usual. It may all be too much.
But there's something bracing about reality, and for human beings on this earth those numbers are as close to reality as we're going to get. They don't cosset any of us, or let us imagine that "every little bit counts". They make it clear that, for the future of the atmosphere, only very big steps count. We need a global agreement, and the only way to get that is to build political pressure. And the only way to get that is to build a movement. That's what we're doing, and the fact that the movement grows from a wonky number shows the ability of the human imagination to grapple with its fate, even if that fate is expressed numerically. At least for this autumn I'm a numbers guy, and I'm finding it unexpectedly moving.
Bill McKibben's Deep Economy: Economics As If the World Mattered is published by Oneworld. He is founder of

There's only one area British voters trust the EU - on the environment

Ask Britons what they like about the European Union, and right at the top of a minuscule list comes its impact on environmental policy.

By Geoffrey LeanPublished: 8:00AM BST 25 Sep 2009

EU is scrambling to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020
Polls show they believe Brussels "plays a negative role" in most areas, from policing to education, from economic policy to public transport. They disapprove of its impact on health care, inflation and tackling unemployment by majorities of two to one, on housing by three to one, and on tax by four to one.
But when it comes to the environment, nearly three times as many Britons say that the EU has had a good effect as disagree; only fighting terrorism runs it close. And it is the sole issue where opposition has not grown since the middle of the decade. It is also is one of the very few areas where Britons forget their hostility to Brussels regulations. Nearly twice as many say decisions about the environment should be made jointly with the EU as want them taken by Westminster alone.

And – with immigration and crime-fighting – it is one of the areas they most want the European bureaucracy to focus on. In both cases, support is growing.
They are not wrong. Ever since Britain joined Europe, Brussels has been the driving force in reducing pollution and protecting the environment. A stream of directives – backed up with prosecution when governments have failed to implement them – has cleaned our beaches and drinking water, reduced air pollution, protected wildlife areas and the countryside, and forced developers to assess major projects' environmental impact.
And it's still going on. The Government is facing prosecution in Europe for not observing legal limits on air pollution by particles believed to kill at least 24,000 people in Britain every year, and is likely to be in the dock soon for not controlling nitrogen dioxide, increasingly implicated in the asthma epidemic that afflicts one in seven children. Ministers are about to get into more trouble after the Environment Agency revealed this week that three-quarters of our rivers fail new EU standards.
Even more important, EU policy is beginning to bring about a long overdue revolution in energy policy, to take Britain into the low carbon future essential for combating climate change and generating economic growth. Britain gets the third lowest proportion of its energy from renewables in Europe (after Luxembourg and Malta) despite having the most plentiful resources, and also has the worst insulated houses.
Now, thanks to the decision of a 2007 EU summit, it is scrambling to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020, and is committed to greatly increasing energy efficiency.
But this time there is a difference. Past EU-initiated clean-ups have been popular, but have not emerged from a particularly democratic process. The directives have usually been initiated by bureaucrats, sometimes heavily influenced by pressure groups: they have, it is true, had to be approved by environment ministers, but these are usually greener than their colleagues. And Britain – long castigated as "the dirty man of Europe" – has often been brought stumbling along in the rear.
The new energy measures, by contrast, were largely a British initiative, sold to fellow political leaders by an alliance of Angela Merkel (providing credibility) and that arch-salesman Tony Blair. They were part of a EU commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 – rising to 30 per cent if other countries follow suit – that has put, and kept, it in the van of the attempt to conclude a new climate treaty in Copenhagen in December.
Gordon Brown has taken similar leadership, this summer proposing a $100 billion a year fund to help poor countries deal with climate change, to try to break deadlock in the international negotiations. Other EU countries, particularly France, were sceptical, but are coming round.
Perhaps our leaders are finally beginning to realise that in this area, almost uniquely, European action is popular.

Fossil fuels

Environmental campaigners are likely to be disappointed that while the draft of the G20 agreement endorses the phasing out of subsidies for fossil fuels there is no deadline, only a promise to do it in the "medium term".
Several countries, such as India and China, give financial incentives either in the form of tax breaks or cash payments to companies producing fossil fuels including coal that are major contributors to climate change.
Dumping subsidies could cut global warming by 10% by 2050, according to figures form the International Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in the draft. The G20 will discuss possible ways of phasing out subsidies at their next meeting.
"Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change," the draft reads.
G20 leaders will agree to investigate ways of providing financial help to countries threatened by climate change, according to the draft, and "intensify our efforts" to reach a UN climate change agreement at the upcoming talks in Copenhagen.

Google Earth launches climate simulator

Al Gore stars in promo video for new emissions scenario features developed by Google Earth to coincide with Copenhagen climate conference
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words should we afford Google Earth? Hours can be lost skydiving your way towards your favourite locations. Seeing somewhere you know so well from above provides valuable extra servings of knowledge and perspective.
It's pleasing, therefore, to see Google announcing on its official blog that it has developed some nifty new features to coincide with the Copenhagen climate conference, now only a matter of weeks away.
In collaboration with the Danish government and others, we are launching a series of Google Earth layers and tours to allow you to explore the potential impacts of climate change on our planet and the solutions for managing it. Working with data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we show on Google Earth the range of expected temperature and precipitation changes under different global emissions scenarios that could occur throughout the century.
To help introduce us all to these features, Google has asked Al Gore – who acts as a "senior advisor" to the company – to provide the commentary on an accompanying video.
The search engine has also teamed up with CNN to establish a dedicated YouTube channel. Entitled "Raise Your Voice", it features a series of videos by world leaders and well-known faces (Emma Thompson and the crown prince of Denmark, to date) to help explain why the conference is so important. Submissions from the public are welcome, and the best will be aired during the conference in the meeting rooms and on CNN.
I've had a quick play around with the new Google Earth features – they allow you to "view" any location on earth up till the year 2100, according to both the IPCC's high and low emissions scenarios. You may be asked to install a plugin, as I was. Google promises more features in coming weeks.
By the looks of Al Gore's video, we can expect additional versions allowing us to see predicted sea-level rises, water depletion and polar ice-sheet melting. Extra tours are promised that will help us "learn about the range of available solutions". According to Gore, "you will visualise a new world of renewable energy, and see what individuals and communities around the world are doing to both reduce their carbon footprint and adapt to their changing climates".
If Google can keep on adding tools and features, this could develop into something truly useful – particularly for schools.
And it would be nice, too, if the crowd-sourcing potential of Google Maps could somehow be exploited by users. What additional layers of information would you like to see? Predicted impacts on habitats? Likely spread of malaria endemic areas? Data showing variations in public attitudes to the threat of climate change? Regional increases (and decreases) in human population? The location of existing and planned nuclear power stations? Over to you.

Solar-Power Incentives in Germany Draw Fire

Industry Executive Urges Cutting Government Subsidies in Campaign Against Asian Rivals
As cheaper Chinese rivals threaten to outshine Germany's pioneering solar-power industry, the head of a leading German solar company is proposing a radical counteroffense: cut the generous government subsidies that let German solar firms flourish in the first place.
SolarWorld AG Chief Executive Frank Asbeck has been pitching the proposal at a European solar-energy conference in Hamburg this week, and it is the latest salvo in the growing trade tensions between European and Asian solar companies.
It is also likely to reignite debate over how much government support is necessary to maintain Germany's prime advantage in a critical new energy industry. Some German policy makers and economists say the industry has to be weaned off the incentives faster to protect consumers from high electricity bills and to spur domestic companies to become more cost-efficient. But Mr. Asbeck is among the first within the solar industry to support the idea.
Chinese solar-cell and solar-module makers are starting to profit from Germany's generous solar incentives more than domestic ones. With as much as 30% lower production costs, China has overtaken Germany as the largest producer of solar cells. But half of the world's photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into energy are sold in Germany, making it a key market for Chinese and domestic companies alike.
The booming German demand stems from the above-market prices the government guarantees homeowners, farmers and other entrepreneurs who have rushed to buy solar installations over the past decade. Power companies are required to buy any alternative energy they produce at the higher fixed prices, providing them a guaranteed return on their investment.
Zuma Press
SolarWorld AG CEO Frank Asbeck has been pitching a plan to reduce the generous government subsidies to German solar firms.
Until now, German solar-equipment makers have warned that cutting subsidies too quickly would kill their industry. But Mr. Asbeck suggests cutting them slightly more to show the German industry is serious about lowering the cost of solar power, and in exchange for implementing new quality and environmental standards that apply to both domestic and foreign companies.
"We're saying the [incentives] can be reduced, but then we have to have a chance as serious producers to compete" on an even playing field, he said.
In recent months German solar companies have accused Chinese rivals of price dumping, and Mr. Asbeck a month ago led a charge for a "Buy European" policy there.
Jenny Chase, an analyst at research firm New Energy Finance in London, said it is unclear how new environmental criteria to sell in Germany would affect Chinese rivals. Major ones already produce solar cells and modules of the same quality as German companies.
Steve Chadima, vice president of external affairs for Suntech Power Holdings, China's biggest solar-panel maker, said Mr. Asbeck's proposal falsely assumed companies such as his weren't manufacturing at the same standards. "I think he believes the reason we're able to produce at such lower costs is that we're somehow cutting corners," he said. "That's not true."
No German lawmaker has yet lent public support to Mr. Asbeck's plan, but it could get more reception among Christian Democrats who have pushed for steeper price-subsidy cuts in recent years. Some have argued that the volume of solar-powered energy is rising so fast that consumers will end up paying billions of euros in extra energy costs over the next five years and that the subsidies will eventually benefit less expensive foreign producers.
"That's exactly what's happening," said a spokesman for Joachim Pfeiffer, a member of Parliament who led a legislative effort last year to cut price subsidies by as much as 30% this year. Lawmakers eventually compromised on an 8% to 10% annual decrease over the next three years.
Mr. Asbeck supports cutting them as much as 15%.
Write to Vanessa Fuhrmans at

India offers UN annual update on carbon emissions

Delhi follows China's lead on climate change by proposing non-binding annual report on greenhouse gas emissions
Randeep Ramesh in Delhi, Friday 25 September 2009 16.10 BST
India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, has offered to report once a year to the United Nations on how successfully the country is curbing greenhouse gas emissions – another concession to the demands by developed nations ahead of the Copenhagen climate change summit talks in December.
With the Kyoto protocol due to expire in 2012, negotiations for a new treaty to fight global warming have foundered amid disagreements over how to share reductions in carbon emissions. Developing nations say their emissions must rise to fuel the economic growth that will alleviate poverty for billions of their citizens. However, developed nations say that without some restrictions on the developing world's emissions, they cannot commit to their own deep cuts.
The new move from India comes in the same week that China took a significant step towards lower emissions by saying it would set a carbon intensity target, the rate at which fossil fuels are used compared with GDP. At the same UN summit, President Obama offered strong rhetoric but little substance as he faces fierce domestic opposition to proposed carbon cuts.
India has been working to overcome its reputation for prickliness after repeatedly refusing to accept the possibility of any binding cuts. Delhi argued that emissions needed to grow in order to provide electricity to 400 million poor people, and pointed out that the average Indian has a carbon footprint one twentieth the size of the average American, and one tenth that of a Briton.
The country has been at the forefront of a campaign to force the developed world to come up with the funding and technology necessary to prevent global warming and adapt to its consequences. In July, Ramesh was involved with a public spat with US secretary of state Hilary Clinton during her trip to Delhi.
India has appeared to become less abrasive in recent weeks towards developed countries, especially the US. Ramesh was previously involved with a public spat with US secretary of state Hilary Clinton in July during a trip to Delhi.
Ramesh, who had been at the UN to hear Obama's stirring address to the general assembly, said: "The US is making small steps [on climate change]. Remember, without the US there will be no international agreement. So there is no point in hectoring or beating up on them like the Europeans seem to be doing."
Ramesh set out the details of the new Indian initiative today, proposing the publication of a "national communication" to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change which would chart the progress of its green action plan. The report would spell out whether India was on track to meet its "domestic targets" on curbing emissions growth without being enforceable under a new treaty.
The minister said India had already announced a number of green goals, without setting any method for monitoring and verifying progress. Targets include increasing the renewable share of energy output to 20% by 2020, and ensuring that 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions are "sequestered by forests" before 2030.
"An annual communication to the UN will say what we are doing, what the results are, how is it being implemented, the impact," said Ramesh. "We want to be transparent to the international community but domestically accountable to our voters."
A similar communication is already published once every six years and quickly forgotten. Ramesh said that, as India is unilaterally taking action to tackle global warming, an annual public statement would demonstrate "international commitment" on climate change.
He added that Obama's call at the G20 for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies was complicated in India by the dependence of poor families on fossil fuels to heat and light their homes.
"There may be a case for better monitoring of who is enjoying these subsidies because the middle class tends to suck these up," he said. "But in a developing country there will be a place for subsidies for poorer sections of society."
Ramesh also said it was important to be realistic about what was possible in Copenhagen, saying the talks would be "starting point, not the final destination" for climate change negotiations.
"We may have to come back to Copenhagen six months later," he said. "No harm done. I am saying: let's clinch agreement on those issues where there is consensus such as forestry, technological co-operation and finance for the poorest nations. Let's not make these hostage to the idea that unless we have emission cuts we have nothing. Let's instead start moving."

EU: carbon policy could leave UK in the dark

Britain's old coal-fired power plants have only six more years to live at the most. Their death sentence has been passed by the European Union, which decreed that the most polluting stations must be retired after a fixed number of hours.

Rowena Mason Published: 7:30AM BST 25 Sep 2009
Britain's old coal-fired power plants have only six more years to live at the most. Their death sentence has been passed by the European Union, which decreed that the most polluting stations must be retired after a fixed number of hours. But experts predict that the phasing out of these reliable but dirty old beasts will leave the UK facing a catastrophic shortage of energy that may lead to power cuts and vastly inflated bills.
New nuclear plants will not arrive until 2017 at the very earliest and Britain will be reliant on gas at a time when North Sea reserves are depleting and supplies must come from unstable regions, such as Russia and the Middle East.

When it comes to energy issues, the EU's priorities are firmly on the side of tackling climate change. Some experts are privately beginning to question whether the UK needs to prioritise its own expensive energy security needs over the rising cost of meeting the EU's objectives on climate change.
"If it came down to a choice, and I believe in the short term that it does, then fulfilling our obligations to the EU under Kyoto ought to be second priority to the issue of national energy security," says Rupert Soames, chief executive of the FTSE-250 emergency power supplier Aggreko.
Many power generators and heavy users of electricity are supportive of the EU's carbon trading emissions scheme – a market-based incentive to invest in clean energy – but sceptical about directives that place additional pressures on industry. In order to meet the EU's targets, the Government has added on "green taxes" that now make up 9 per cent of customer bills, a proportion likely to rise to 20 per cent by 2020, according to Ofgem, the energy regulator.
"The sometimes surprising steps that the EU takes are anything but market orientated," says David Porter, chief executive of the Association of Electricity Producers. "A great example of the market is the EU carbon emissions trading scheme. But there is also the directive that says the UK must have 15 per cent of our energy from renewables by 2020. Left to its own devices, the market would probably have delivered a good amount of this. But trying to enforce it has left the market in turmoil and uncertainty."
Others are not so positive about carbon trading, the EU's grand plan to encourage investment by which major polluters are given a permit to emit each tonne of carbon. They can use these permits or sell them on the carbon exchange. If they need more, they will have to buy them on the open market or face hefty fines for excessive emissions.
This works in theory, but City analysts worry that too many free permits have been handed out to big power companies and heavy industry.
Compounding this problem, the recession has reduced industrial output, meaning companies can hoard permits because they need fewer. This has pushed down the price of traded permits, meaning there is little incentive for power companies to start reducing emissions – stifling investment in renewables such as wind farms, solar plants and biomass fuel.
UK fuel bills, though they have soared in the past few years, are some of the lowest in Europe, after the gas and electricity markets were opened up to competition in the 1980s. But under-investment in the network and power plants means this could be a short-term benefit for UK consumers
Analysts are quick to point out that the country has an embarrassing dearth of gas storage plants. Even after a new super-terminal opened this year, the UK still has approximately 26 days of storage, compared to more than 112 days in France and over 99 days in Germany.
When the EU turned its attention to Europe-wide energy policy in 2007, it was forced to admit that "meaningful competition does not exist in many member states and often customers do not have any real possibility of opting for an alternative supplier." France and Spain have given the political equivalent of a shrug when faced with the idea of opening up their impenetrable electricity and gas markets.
The EU's third directive on market liberalisation is due to come into force. This latest rule demands more disclosure on trading gas and reserves, but provides little assurance that countries like France will be forced to share their customers with international power companies.
Eluned Morgan, a UK MEP, has been instrumental in fighting for European energy companies to be restricted from owning both the electricity network and the retail businesses that sell this power. But last March, the EU backed down on including this limitation on electricity "unbundling".
So faced with better-prepared European neighbours and a seriously under-invested energy sector, what can Britain do now?
"The Government needs to take control and formulate a national energy policy," says one senior industry source. "We are running out of power fast and the only way to stop the lights going off is taking some decisions in the national, rather than European interest for once."

North Sea could store 100 years worth of carbon dioxide

More than 100 years' worth of carbon dioxide emissions from UK power stations could be stored under the North Sea instead of being released into the atmosphere, Ed Miliband, Minister for Energy and Climate Change has claimed.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 4:16PM BST 25 Sep 2009
Underwater geological formations have the potential to store CO2 captured from power stations and transported to the sites under the process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
It is hoped the process, which has not been tested at scale, could massively reduce emissions from fossil fuels, which continue to provide the lion's share of electricity generation worldwide.

It could also prove to be a massive industry for the UK, replacing North Sea Oil.
To encourage investment in research and development, London is to host a meeting of energy and environment ministers from 23 countries in October.
The Energy Department is also launching a consultation today proposing how exploration, development and management of potential sites can be carried out safely and effectively.
Ed Miliband, the UK Energy Minister, said it could help tackle climate change.
"There's enough potential under the North Sea to store more than 100 years worth of CO2 emissions from the UK's power fleet," he said.
"We are also working closely with Norway and other North Sea Basin countries to ensure the North Sea fulfils its potential in the deployment of CCS in Europe.
"We want to get the UK regulatory framework in place so we can harness that potential and make the North Sea part of the CCS revolution."
He warned that without CCS, which could cut up to 90 per cent of emissions from fossil-fuelled power plants such as coal-fired stations, there was no solution to climate change.