Thursday, 29 October 2009

U.S.-China Climate Pact Isn't on Table, Envoy Says

SHANGHAI -- U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said he doesn't expect bilateral agreements on global climate issues when U.S. President Barack Obama visits China next month.
The U.S. and China will use the opportunity to look for common ground and try to facilitate agreements at the Copenhagen climate-change summit in December, he said.
"We are not trying to cut some separate deals," Mr. Stern told reporters. "We'll try to get as much alliance as possible [between China and the U.S.] to get a deal in Copenhagen," he said.
He also said the two sides will continue discussions on cooperation in clean energy and technology during Mr. Obama's visit, and these talks would also involve the private sector.
Mr. Obama is due to visit Beijing and Shanghai Nov. 15-18. His visit constitutes the last chance for high-level face-to-face talks between the two sides ahead of the United Nations summit in Copenhagen. Agreement between the two countries -- the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitters -- is widely seen as crucial to the success of any global effort to fight climate change.
The two nations have been locked in a stalemate for years over the degree to which either should have to commit to mandatory emissions cuts, and to what extent rich nations should have to help finance efforts by poorer nations to fight climate change.
During the visit, the two country's presidents may ask each other what their bottom lines are on climate-change issues, a Chinese government official told Dow Jones Newswires.
"Climate-change negotiation is not an issue between two countries. It is an issue at the United Nations," the Chinese official said, adding, "What the two countries would do is to learn about each other's need and concerns, and to see if these concerns could be resolved through the international pact."
Mr. Stern's comments came as representatives of major industries testified before a U.S. Senate panel that is holding hearings this week on a proposal to cut U.S. emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. Valero Energy Corp.'s chief executive told lawmakers the proposed bill could have a "staggering" impact on his company and cost the refining industry around $4.1 billion a year.

Blair whispers overshadow climate change agenda

David Charter: Analysis

Tony Blair is the elephant in the room at this summit. But frankly he is not the real reason that European leaders are gathering in Brussels today.
Inevitably, the chatter in the corridors and the questions at press conferences will be about the EU presidency, but 95 per cent of the formal agenda is focused on other things. The EU’s credibility is on the line over climate change; Gordon Brown is pushing for a new declaration on the economy and jobs; a solution has to be found to persuade the Czech President to sign the Lisbon treaty; and the the EU’s proposed new diplomatic service will be discussed.
This is the last chance for the 27 leaders to agree how much money they are prepared to give to help to reach agreement at the global climate change conference in Copenhagen next month. Despite the insistence of Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, many EU countries are against plans to fund developing nations to cut their emissions.
As with the appointment of Mr Blair, all eyes are on Angela Merkel, of Germany, who has resisted the call for Europe to spell out its part of an international package of up to €100 billion a year.

Gordon Brown has suggested that the EU should pay €10 billion a year from 2020 to help poorer countries to go green and has said that Britain would pay €1 billion. But the Germans view any commitment of figures as bad tactics before the tough negotiations expected in Copenhagen.
A group of nine former Iron Curtain countries led by Poland are also blocking the move, demanding to know exactly how much it will cost each nation before they sign up. Green campaigners believe that failure to agree a funding plan for Copenhagen backed by hard cash could be a mortal blow to the talks, which are aimed at setting emissions cuts across the world.
The leaders must also agree on a concession for President Klaus of the Czech Republic to persuade him to sign the Lisbon treaty, which has been ratified in all the other countries. They are likely to meet his demand for an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, similar to those granted to Britain and Poland.
Besides the possible choice of Mr Blair for president, the EU leaders also have to consider the appointment of a new EU foreign minister. The two posts will be assessed as a pair because they must be able to work together and should also come from different political backgrounds so that one party does not monopolise the top jobs in the EU.
Candidates for the foreign minister include Carl Bildt, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Olli Rehn, the Finnish EU Enlargement Commissioner, and two former foreign ministers: Ursula Plassnik of Austria and Dora Bakoyannis of Greece. The list of contenders seems lightweight and has led to speculation that David Miliband could be asked to take the job if Mr Blair is rejected for president. Mr Miliband has denied that he is interested in it.
EU leaders will hear a progress report on the creation of a diplomatic corps to work under their new foreign minister — the European External Action Service, which is already being referred to as a foreign office for the EU.
While all eyes have been on Tony Blair, the EU’s ambitions for a diplomatic service to boost its presence in countries around the world could be the most far-reaching result of this summit.

Honesty is a more sustainable climate policy

Talk of catastrophe and make-or-break summits is unrealistic. Small, positive steps will take us in the right direction
Bill Emmott

Here is an oddity. Most human progress, in overcoming natural obstacles or curing diseases, say, has been driven by optimism — the view that if we only try hard enough or apply enough brainpower, we can solve any problem. Perhaps, to wax philosophical for a moment, such optimism arises from our awareness of mortality: how else to keep ourselves going? So why, when it comes to the environment, do campaigners think that pessimism and fear is the way to drive us on?
Naturally, some fear or alarm is inherent in defining and acknowledging the size of any problem. But does it really help the cause of climate-change mitigation for us to be told that we will all have to become vegetarians soon?
Do we really benefit from being told by the purest greens that we need to change our whole lifestyles, digging allotments and owning our own windmills? Does it, indeed, help to describe the world’s current trajectory as “catastrophic”?
May I suggest, naive as I am, that honesty might be a better idea? The reason, to borrow a word beloved of environmentalists, is that honesty would be a more sustainable policy, in the face of the facts about the environment and about the Copenhagen climate change conference that is hurtling towards us in December.

For the moment, that event, scheduled to last just 11 days and to assemble 20,000 delegates from 192 countries for the task of agreeing on a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, is being billed as a unique opportunity, a make-or-break meeting to save the planet for the 21st century and beyond. It cannot possibly rise to that billing, and we should all hope that it doesn’t.
An agreement hammered out or even finalised at such a meeting is unlikely to be effective or credible. There are plenty of signs of progress in making climate-change mitigation a real, long-term strategy in all the biggest countries — the European Union, Japan, China, even the United States — even if that progress is considered inadequate by the climate lobbyists.
But anyway, a multicentury problem, if that is what global warming is (see later — I am not a denier), needs to be solved by a whole series of decisions, initiatives and efforts, not in some sort of big bang. To start by setting acceptable frameworks that can be tightened up repeatedly later makes perfect sense, especially amid a global recession.
An honest way to describe the world’s current trajectory, from the point of view both of climate change and of greenhouse-gas emissions, would surely be more like a school report: “Improving, but needs to try harder.” A more honest way to describe the trend in global temperatures is: “Stabilising, but don’t depend on it.”
And if honesty is applied to the great bogeyman of a melting of the polar ice caps it would need, since the recent Catlin Arctic Survey conducted by Pen Hadow and his explorers, to say that “the ice got thicker last year, but we’re not sure that improvement will last”.
Instead, people who point out these “inconvenient truths”, to use the phrase that won a fear-mongering failed American politician a Nobel prize, get demonised. Lord Lawson of Blaby, who pointed out in his book An Appeal to Reason that global temperatures have in fact been stable for the past decade, says that he has twice been disinvited from the BBC’s Question Time, presumably because his view on climate change is too reasonable. Bjørn Lomborg, the Danish statistician whose brilliant book The Skeptical Environmentalist exposed, by calmly laying out the facts, the falsity of so many claims that we are heading for an apocalypse, is a hate figure for greens the world over.
By now, this column will have annoyed a lot of people. But annoyance is not the only intention: it is to advocate not just honesty but positive thinking. As Dr Lomborg showed, we have succeeded in making the air much cleaner in developed-country cities and the water more drinkable and supportive of biodiversity in developed-country rivers.
Britain, like many developed countries, has more forest cover than a century ago, not less as the deforestation mantra would have it. This is worth noting not to advocate complacency but to point out that environmental improvements can be achieved, because they have been in the recent past, without resorting to hair shirts or giving up economic growth.
This is exactly what the International Energy Agency has just forecast is likely to happen in China. In a section of its annual World Energy Outlook, released early to inform the climate debate, it said that if China carries out its stated programme for energy efficiency and emissions reduction, its annual output of carbon dioxide in 2030 will be about 7 gigatonnes instead of the 11.1 gigatonnes previously predicted — and not because China is expected somehow to give up getting richer.
What this cut by a third shows is how predictions that cover decades can be hugely influenced by changes in the assumptions fed into them. Of course, there is no guarantee that this forecast will be anywhere near accurate, or that China will succeed in implementing its programme — but then all the predictions in the climate debate, of economic growth, of energy efficiency, of global temperatures, are highly uncertain. That, in fact, is the nub of our problem, not some inevitable catastrophe.
What the Chinese forecast, combined with past evidence of successful environmental policy, also suggests is that this task, of dealing with the risks arising from the unfavourable long-term trend in global temperatures, is a matter of mitigation, of adaptation and of technological development. It is not a drastic, all-or-nothing affair. It is an area of public policy and private activity in which changed government regulations and targets will need to be mixed with price signals and technological breakthroughs to produce a successful and adequate change to the world’s trajectory.
That is a more mundane, long-drawn-out and, ultimately, less costly process than the catastrophe theorists would prefer us to believe in. But it is more realistic, more honest and more likely to attract widespread public acceptance.

Climate change will devastate Africa, top UK scientist warns

Professor Sir Gordon Conway warns continent will face intense droughts, famine, disease and floods
John Vidal, environment editor, Wednesday 28 October 2009 17.41 GMT
One of the world's most influential scientists has warned that climate change could devastate Africa, predicting an increase in catastrophic food shortages.
Professor Sir Gordon Conway, the outgoing chief scientist at the UK's Department for International Development, and former head of the philanthropic Rockefeller Foundation, argued in a new scientific paper (pdf) that the continent is already warming faster than the global average and that people living there can expect more intense droughts, floods and storm surges.
There will be less drinking water, diseases such as malaria will spread and the poorest will be hit the hardest as farmland is damaged in the coming century, Conway wrote.
"There is already evidence that Africa is warming faster than the global average, with more warm spells and fewer extremely cold days. Northern and southern Africa are likely to become as much as 4C hotter over the next 100 years, and [will become ] much drier," he said.
Conway predicts hunger on the continent could increase dramatically in the short term as droughts and desertification increase, and climate change affects water supplies. "Projected reductions in crop yields could be as much as 50% by 2020 and 90% by 2100," the paper says.
Conway held out some hope that east Africa and the Horn of Africa, presently experiencing its worst drought and food shortages in 20 years, will become wetter. But he said that the widely hoped-for 8-15% increase in African crop yields as a direct result of more CO2 in the atmosphere may fail to materialise.
"The latest analyses of more realistic field trials suggest the benefits of carbon dioxide may be significantly less than initially thought," he said.
Instead, population growth combined with climate change would mean countries face extreme problems growing more food: "We are going to need an awful lot more crop production, 70-100% more food will be needed than we have at present. Part of [what is needed] is getting more organic matter into Africa's soils, which are very depleted, but we also have to improve water availability and produce crops that yield more, and use nitrogen and water more efficiently."
Sir Gordon, now professor of international development at Imperial College London, oversaw a major expansion in the UK government's support for GM research in developing countries, and said that new technologies must be part of the African response to tackling hunger and droughts. "In certain circumstances we will need GM crops because we wont be able to find the gene naturally. GM may be the speediest and most efficient way to increase yields. Drought tolerance is governed by a range of genes. It is a big problem for breeders of [both] GM and ordinary plants", he said.
He called for more research into climate change. "There is much that we do not know. The Sahel may get wetter or remain dry. The flow of the Nile may be greater or less. We do not know if the fall in agricultural production will be very large or relatively small. The best assumption is that many regions of Africa will suffer more droughts and floods with greater intensity and frequency. We have to plan for the certainty that more extreme events will occur in the future but with uncertain regularity".

Why we need a world environment organisation

There is an urgent need for an environmental organisation within the UN system with real political clout
Stefania Prestigiacomo and John Njoroge Michuki, Wednesday 28 October 2009 17.17 GMT
Global environmental crises, from vanishing biodiversity and degrading forests to collapsing fish stocks and climate change, will not be solved without some tough thinking about international governance.
The world's response to these unfolding challenges has become a bewildering array of institutions, agreements and treaties that is in urgent need of reform.
That urgency has been given momentum by Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Sarkozy of France. In a letter to the UN secretary general they emphasised that we must overhaul environmental governance and use Copenhagen climate talks in December to progress the creation of a world environmental organisation. Other world leaders adopted a similar tone, albeit in the corridors, at the recent UN summit on climate change and at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh.
Many minsters of environment have known for some time that solving environmental challenges and seizing opportunities will prove impossible without political clout and effective institutions.
International organisations charged with addressing the sustainable development have a welter of mandates – but all too often their hands are tied by a lack of sufficient funding or authority to deliver on them. The UN Environment Programme (Unep), which is mandated as the global authority for the environment, has one of the lowest annual budgets in the UN system – less than the price of a new Boeing 737. A lot of the funding that is available for the environment is also often channelled through facilities and funds that are disconnected from the very agency requested to set the global environmental agenda.
The problem is made worse by the fact that most of the hundreds of treaties meant to solve global environmental concerns have separate secretariats, which makes cooperation among the collection of bodies difficult, to put it mildly.
It is also a drain on scarce funds – a recent independent study has estimated the costs of separate secretariats are four times more compared with organisations that have all their related treaties under one roof. Resources could be better used to address the challenges.
For developing economies with scarce human and financial capacity, it is a particular challenge in terms of costs but also the sheer complexity and time-consuming nature of the current landscape. Over the period 1992-2007 for example, there were over 540 meetings linked to 18 international environmental treaties. These meetings generated more than 5,000 decisions, upon which countries are required to act.
There is an urgent need for an environmental organisation within the UN system with real influence that can stand side by side with strong organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and World Heath Organisation.
History has proven that strong international institutions are the precondition for building any successful international cooperation. The global financial crisis and the collaboration through the G20 and the International Monetary Fund are recent examples. A planet of six billion people, which will be nine billion by 2050, requires governments to plan for tomorrow, otherwise tomorrow will plan itself.
If that planning is to be serious about solving persistent, systemic and emerging environmental crises, and if governments now accept that a low-carbon, highly resource efficient economy is the only way for the world to survive, let alone thrive in the 21st century, then strengthening the international environmental governance system must be part of the package of enlightened reforms under worldwide debate.
• Stefania Prestigiacomo is the minister for environment, land and sea for Italy and John Njoroge Michuki is the minister for environment and mineral resources for Kenya, and they co-chair the Unep Consultative Group of Ministers or High-Level Representatives on International Environmental Governance.

Centrica issues green energy warning

Firm to go ahead with £725m windfarm but says renewable targets will not be met unless government continues current subsidy levels
Tim Webb, Wednesday 28 October 2009 16.51 GMT
Centrica gave the go-ahead to one of the UK's largest offshore windfarms today but warned the government that its 2020 renewable energy targets would be missed unless the current level of subsidy was maintained.
The firm, which owns British Gas, announced that it would invest £725m in the 270MW project off the coast of Lincolnshire, which will be able to power a city twice the size of Cambridge when the wind blows.
The government announced in the last budget that offshore windfarms approved by March next year would receive higher subsidies, or renewables obligation certificates (Rocs).
But officials said tonight that there were no plans to make this arrangement permanent, leaving the economics of offshore wind unviable, according to Centrica.
Sarwjit Sambhi, managing director of Centrica's power business, said: "Without [the higher subsidy] we could not have gone ahead with the Lincs project."
The project, which will boost the size of Centrica's wind portfolio by two thirds, secured planning permission months ago but the slump in energy prices has resulted in a host of wind and other power projects being scrapped.
The windfarm, 8km off the coast near Skegness, will have 75 turbines. Construction would begin next year and electricity would begin to be generated around 2012, the company said.
Centrica also announced that it had sold a 50% stake in three of its smaller offshore windfarms to a subsidiary of Société Générale's asset management arm for £84m. The company added it had raised a further £340m of debt, secured against the three windfarms, from a consortium of banks. The proceeds from both will go towards funding the Lincolnshire project.
Ofgem, the energy regulator, has predicted that £200bn will need to be invested in the next decade in green energy equipment to meet the 2020 renewable targets. These targets would require the UK to generate a third of its electricity from renewable sources such as windfarms. Centrica has promised to invest £15bn by 2020 but Sambhi said that other investors, beyond energy companies, would also be needed. "[£200bn] is a big chunk of investment to make. We need to attract other investor classes."
The government is setting up an independent body designed to handle planning applications for large projects such as windfarms or nuclear power plants. By taking such decisions away from ministers, the hope is that national concerns would take precedence over local objections and fewer schemes would get blocked.
Sambhi said that the 2020 targets could be met, but only if the current level of subsidies was maintained. "The new planning regulations would need to be as smooth as the government has promised," he added.
The Conservatives have promised to hand back the final say-so to ministers. Sambhi said that their decisions would have to be "transparent" for the system to work.
Sam Laidlaw, Centrica's chief executive, said: "Our decision to build Lincs illustrates our continued commitment to develop renewable generation and confirms our position as one of the UK leaders in green energy. The government's enhanced financial framework for offshore wind has been fundamental in improving the overall project economics of this development."

Fuel from waste — or even algae

The aim is to have 15 per cent of the UK’s energy derived from renewable sources by 2020
David Binning

The Government has said that by 2020 it wants 15 per cent of the UK’s energy to be derived from renewable sources. Things are not going quite to plan, however — the figure now stands at about 2 per cent.
Along with the large-scale proposals for wind and tidal power — and the highly controversial nuclear option — a number of other alternatives for power generation are being explored both in the UK and globally. One of the more advanced is biomass, the conversion of plant and other biological material into power, which generates no carbon emissions. Biomass has made a start in the UK with two 300-megawatt plants in Teesside and Port Talbot in development.
Around the world, much faith has been placed in solar energy, with China one of the world leaders in developing cheap and lightweight solar cell technology.
Another possibility is the conversion of waste into energy. About 100 million tonnes of waste produced each year could be converted to energy, with the potential to supply up to 4 per cent of the UK’s electricity and heating requirements, according to the Energy Technologies Institute.
When it comes to transport, there is no doubt that we need a real alternative to fossil fuels. And while there has been strong interest in electric and hybrid cars, it will be some time before they make any real impact.
Biofuels have long been touted as a panacea but enthusiasm has waned somewhat.
The Carbon Trust recently launched a programme to commercialise the use of biofuel produced from algae by 2030. It is estimated that algae-based fuels could replace some 70 billion litres a year of fossil fuel by 2030 — equivalent to 12 per cent of global jet fuel consumption

London's rubbish could power 2m homes, report says

• London assembly study says capital produces enough waste to fill Canary Wharf skyscraper every eight days• Boris Johnson considering plans
Hélène Mulholland and agencies, Wednesday 28 October 2009 14.48 GMT
Boris Johnson is considering plans to convert rubbish into energy as part of plans to save at least £100m in refuse collection and disposal costs, it emerged today.
City Hall signalled the move in response to a report by the London assembly which found that the waste generated by Londoners could be used to generate enough electricity to power up to 2m homes and provide heat for 625,000 houses.
The capital produced around 22m tonnes of waste every year, the report found, enough to fill the largest skyscraper at Canary Wharf every eight days.
More than half of London's rubbish ends up in landfill, with only a fifth (22%) being recycled, according to research by the assembly's environment committee said.
Converting non-recyclable rubbish such as leftover food into energy, through methods that did not involve incineration, could reduce the amount sent to landfill – an increasingly expensive option as the tax on dumping waste in the ground is high and rising.
Creating gas from the rubbish which could be used for heating or generating electricity could also cut London's carbon dioxide emissions by 1.2m tonnes and reduce emissions of another greenhouse gas, methane, which is produced when waste breaks down in landfill, the report found.
The environment committee called on Johnson to take the lead in developing the technologies to convert energy from waste such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis.
The technologies face a number of barriers, including public opposition, difficulties obtaining planning consent and long-term existing contracts for rubbish that prevent potential companies obtaining waste material.
Johnson, who is chair of the London Waste and Recycling Board, is already considering the move to turn rubbish into energy as part of plans to minimise refuse that ends up either in landfill or incinerated, according to his office.
"The mayor wants Londoners to recycle more, send less waste to landfill and take advantage of the massive economic opportunities available to the capital if we start to manage our waste more efficiently.
"We know that currently 75% of London's household waste is either landfilled or incinerated, whilst around 90% of municipal waste could actually be reused, recycled or used to generate greener energy. By recycling as much as possible, and using the remaining waste to produce energy, we estimate London could save at least £100m in collection and disposal costs."
The Waste and Recycling Board has £84m to spend over the next three years to find new ways to deal with waste.
The mayor's draft waste strategy for London, due to be published later this year, will address many of the issues contained in today's report, a spokeswoman added.

West Texas Town Recasts Itself as Wind-Power Hub

ROSCOE, Texas -- The dust has barely settled since this month's completion of the world's largest wind farm here, but the shoots of a "green" economy are already emerging among the cotton fields that have long been the staple of this West Texas rural community.
Wind-energy-service companies now sit on the same street as the old grocery store, and so does the headquarters warehouse of E.On Climate & Renewables, a unit of Germany-based E.On AG that owns the Roscoe wind farm. The project has 627 turbines -- one for every two inhabitants of Roscoe -- and employs about 70 technicians, including contractors and staffers. It has enough capacity to power 230,000 homes, most of them in the more populated eastern parts of the state.
"It's helped the city kind of reinvent itself," said city manager Cody Thompson, who on a recent day was putting the finishing touches on the third annual West Texas Wind Harvest Festival, a local celebration featuring live music from high-school bands and helicopter tours of the 100,000-acre project.
Roscoe is in Nolan County, which has about 17,000 people and nearly 10% of U.S. wind-power-generating capacity -- built at breakneck speed over the past decade. The financial crisis and bottlenecks in transmission capacity have slowed the proliferation of wind turbines, but the area has become a powerhouse for an emerging technology that advocates say would help reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.
Greg Wortham, the mayor of Sweetwater -- the county seat and economic hub -- said wind-power development in the region could be a model for revitalizing rural America, if the windy Great Plains are linked to the power-hungry East and West coasts. Already, local businesses and construction crews that cut their teeth in this area's pioneering wind farms are working in emerging wind-power hubs like Iowa.
Mr. Wortham said 20% of Nolan County's jobs are related to the wind-development rush here -- as many as those in oil and gas. He said many of these new jobs come with a base pay of about $50,000, nearly double the average per-job wage in 2007. In September, the county's unemployment rate was 6.4% -- lower than Texas's 8.3%. More than a decade ago, unemployment in the county was well above the state's rate.
"This is the microcosm of what's going to happen," Mr. Wortham said.
The area around Sweetwater, which is best known for its annual Rattlesnake Roundup festival, attracted wind developers because of its open spaces, constant winds and the availability of enough transmission capacity to get the power to Dallas-Fort Worth, some 200 miles away. Now there is congestion in that capacity -- meaning construction jobs have dipped -- but once more transmission lines are built here and across the country, other centers could emerge. "There's huge unexploited potential" in the U.S., said Kenneth Westrick, chief executive of 3Tier, a renewable-energy forecasting company.
At the peak of its building, the Roscoe wind project employed 600 people, said Patrick Woodson, chief development officer for E.On Climate & Renewables. Now the project employs about 10 permanent staffers. The company also employs about 60 contractors who perform maintenance on turbines made by Siemens AG, Mitsubishi Corp. and General Electric Co.'s energy unit.
Not everyone is sold on the wind-power idea. Susan Combs, Texas's state comptroller, said clean-technology jobs will replace a small fraction of the jobs she believes will be lost if Congress passes a climate-change bill penalizing refineries for emitting carbon. "I don't know where the new jobs are going to come from," said Ms. Combs, a Republican. "They're not going to come from wind."
Then there are the people who just don't like the turbines' aesthetics. "Some call wind energy eye pollution: They don't like the looks of it," said Ken Becker, executive director of the Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development. But Mr. Becker added that the industry's development has made the area's tax base expand to $2.3 billion from $500 million in 1998.
To monitor and service the hundreds of GE turbines in the vicinity, GE set up its first U.S. wind-energy service center at a former Coca-Cola distribution plant. The center employs about 120 technicians, many of them former utility workers, mechanics and even firefighters, said Tracy Chapman, the center's lead operations manager. Some were retired military from nearby bases looking for a new start -- "a very well paying start," Ms. Chapman said.
Royalties from turbines also are making some landowners wax poetic. Maz Webb a local grocer and rancher, has allowed California-based Third Planet Windpower to install a single turbine on her land.
"I love my turbine," she said. "We only have one, but it's the prettiest one out there."
Write to Angel Gonzalez at

Let’s work together

Government and industry need to work more closely towards developing solutions

As the true scale of energy and environmental challenges becomes clearer, there is a growing realisation of the need for government and industry to work more closely towards developing solutions.
One sturdy bridge between government and industry in the UK, the Technology Strategy Board, has sustainable energy and low carbon as one of its key remits.
Both the board and the Carbon Trust are working with numerous private entities to develop solutions for energy and the environment, focusing particularly on wind and tidal technologies.
A recently formed Public Private Partnership, the Energy Technologies Institute, is focusing on the big players, working with the likes of Shell, BP, E.ON, EDF, Rolls-Royce and Caterpillar, with the aim of producing commercial solutions to energy and environmental problems.
Next January the Technology Strategy Board will run a competition to find the best marine turbine designs in Britain. David Bolt, the board’s director of innovation programmes, said competitions had proved an effective way of connecting innovative Britons with government money to develop their ideas.
A separate competition resulted in the board forming partnerships with the likes of Nissan, Jaguar, Mitsubishi, Lotus, BMW and Peugeot to advance the development of electric cars in the UK.
These activities all fall under the board’s Integrated Delivery Programme, a £200 million investment scheme jointly funded by government and business and designed to accelerate the introduction of low-carbon vehicles on to Britain’s roads.
Oxford Yasa Motors, an Oxford University spin-off, is working to develop ultra-lightweight electric motors for cars. A project of the university’s commercialisation unit Isis Innovation, Yasa recently secured £1.45 million in private equity funding as well as securing £1.89 million from the Technology Strategy Board.
Of course, the financial commitment was contingent on Yasa competing for the money and demonstrating its worthiness, an approach that Bolt said was delivering real results.
“If we give you half the money we need to know what is going to happen bigger or faster — which applications demonstrate through a small business plan.”

How to meet the challenge

Population surging, oil running out and water scarce — we need solutions before then, says David Binning

By 2050 the world’s population is expected to exceed nine billion, at which point fossil fuels may be no more, countries will no longer be reliant on the Middle East for fuel, America will no longer be the world’s leading economy and areas now sparsely populated may be home to bustling metropolises.
The health of national and world economies as well as people and the environment at this juncture depends very much on widespread collaboration between governments and industries of all kinds to fast-track alternative energy programmes and global agreements on carbon trading and emissions caps.
Many hope that the Copenhagen summit in December will mark a big step in the right direction. However, no one is under any illusions about the difficulty of achieving a proper global accord, especially one that does not disadvantage developing countries.
The fact that we are in real danger of encountering some sort of energy crisis in the future is not debatable. At issue is finding the right balance between the need for long-term planning and more immediate action in identifying new reserves of fossil fuels and other short-term options.

One key concern is that the growing energy needs of countries such as China and India are pushing up prices for coal, oil and gas, leading to sharp rises in electricity costs for industry and homes.
While many acknowledge that most of the easily accessible oil and gas has been exploited, advances in geological mapping, drilling and computational modelling may buy us more time before we need to lose our dependency on fossil fuels completely.
Many people expect that nuclear power will emerge as the world’s dominant energy source in the decades to come. Once the scourge of environmentalists and people of virtually all political persuasions, nuclear has been recast as a possible environmental saviour. Some see it as the best short-term solution to addressing greenhouse emissions from the burning of fossil fuels but of all the energy types it faces the most opposition.
Some scientists stress that a reduction in CO2 emissions of the order of 80 per cent is needed within the next few decades if the world is not going to dry up, freeze or become submerged, depending on which Armageddon scenario you subscribe to.
Yet there is growing disagreement about the science of climate change. Many of the claims made in Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth have been debunked in the face of mounting evidence that the planet has been heating and cooling in the same cycles since long before the industrial revolution, and has not become warmer in the past ten years.
It would seem that people will have a different, certainly a more sophisticated, understanding of man’s effect on the weather long before 2050, a fact that will influence government and industry responses to the challenges now being outlined.
David Clarke, chief executive of the Energy Technologies Institute, calculated that Britain needs to spend about £100 billion to meet its 2020 energy and environment targets and at least that amount again before 2050. This includes the massive investments needed in carbon capture and storage.
“We have to understand what we need to do from a supply chain and skills point of view,” Clarke said. “We need to think about not just what we can do but what we need to do.”
Working in partnership with big corporations to solve energy and environmental problems, the Energy Technologies Institute employs complex computer modelling to learn more about key factors, including power, heat, transport and infrastructure and the interplay between them. Predicting population and demographic changes will also be key to developing a clean and sustainable future.
Professor Peter Dobson, head of Oxford University’s Begbroke Science Park and an expert in energy and sustainability, acknowledges that there are serious concerns surrounding energy and food, but predicts that the sourcing and supply of water will emerge as the biggest challenge facing the planet, come 2050.
“We are going to be running out of fossil fuel, that’s a given. However, in terms of energy challenges we have to integrate with a whole range of societal needs like water, which is of course essential for growing food.”

Powermeter: Google's household energy monitor arrives in UK

Online tool allows householders to monitor energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, thereby reducing consumption and saving money
Adam Vaughan, Wednesday 28 October 2009 05.00 GMT
Google may be best known for helping you find things on the web, but the online search company's latest move is a bid to make futuristic low-energy eco-homes a reality.
Launching for the first time in the UK today, Google Powermeter is an online tool that allows householders to monitor their home's energy use and greenhouse gas emissions via the web, and so reduce their consumption and save money.
Already being trialled in the US, the free energy-monitoring service uses new smart meters, or an add-on clip for conventional meters, to send electricity consumption to a personalised iGoogle web page. Users will be able to check their energy use anywhere in the world via a computer or mobile phone.
The idea is that householders will be persuaded to stop overfilling kettles, switch appliances off standby and turn off unused lights after being confronted with their daily energy use. Studies by organisations including the government's Energy Saving Trust have suggested such energy monitoring leads people to cut their bills by 3-15%, potentially saving the average UK household £75 a year.
Google Powermeter is itself free, but will initially be available to British homeowners either by buying a gadget called AlertMe Energy or switching to first:utility, a small energy supplier. AlertMe's device works using a broadband hub and a clip for your electricity meter. It can be bought from today for £69 with a £3 monthly subscription fee. First:utility customers will have to wait until next month to try the service.
Powermeter works by showing graphs of a user's energy consumption over time – by day, week or month – and comparing it to their previous usage and regional averages. Ben Coppin, an employee at AlertMe who has trialled it for the last six months, said using the software had led him to switch off an unnecessary immersion heater that was costing £300-400 annually, and to halve his tumble dryer's energy use by switching from its highest setting to its lowest.
Jens Redmer, director for business development at Google, said Powermeter's value came from "immediate feedback". He told of testers in California discovering pool pumps they hadn't used for years but that were draining energy, and one woman who saved her apartment from burning down by detecting a burning toaster while at work and alerting a neighbour.
Redmer added that a social element could be a next step for the service, which keeps users' energy usage private. "In the future, one new feature could be friendly competition – why can't I challenge my friends to say I'll save 10% over a year, and then trigger alerts when they're falling behind, so I could ping them to encourage them?"
Pilgrim Beart, the founder and CEO of AlertMe, said: "Many consumers feel they can't protect themselves from rising energy costs or do anything to stop climate change. However, more than a quarter of all energy use happens in our homes and this gives consumers the power to monitor, control, and reduce the energy they use." Heating and power for UK homes account for 27% of the UK's carbon footprint.
Powermeter's move into the UK puts it a step ahead of Microsoft's rival project, Hohm, which is in a US-only beta trial and works by creating an online dashboard of energy data from partnered utility companies. Unlike Google's software, it covers both electricity and gas use, and you can enter your usage manually.
Enthusiasts have previously developed kits using open-source code that allow homes to post their energy usage to Twitter, and several companies sell energy monitors – such as the OWL and Wattson – which show real-time electricity consumption on wireless handheld displays. One such gadget available in the US, the TED 5000, already works with Powermeter.
The UK government is consulting on the specification for smart meters – whether they should feature wireless displays, for example – which will be fitted in every home by 2020.

U.S. trumpets grants for advanced electricity-grid projects

ARCADIA, Fla.—The Obama administration launched a clean-energy blitz Tuesday, with President Barack Obama sweeping into this Central Florida hamlet to unveil $3.4 billion in stimulus grants for advanced electricity-grid projects and Vice President Joe Biden traveling to his home state of Delaware to open an electric-automobile plant.
The administration Tuesday released a list of about 100 companies and communities in 45 states and territories that will receive federal subsidies to modernize the electric grid. The administration promised the projects would create "tens of thousands of jobs."
Among the big winners are companies and communities in Florida, which received more than $267 million in grants, and North Carolina, which got more than $400 million, including more than $200 million for units of utility giant Duke Energy Corp., which has supported administration efforts to modernize technology and cap greenhouse-gas emissions.
When combined with funds from utility customers, the federal program is expected to inject more than $8 billion into grid-modernization efforts nationally, administration officials said. Even so, that represents just a fraction of what would be needed to bring the U.S. electrical grid into the digital age.
With 3,000 utilities in the U.S., federal funding still will leave millions of customers untouched. Department of Energy officials said they hope mass deployments would drive down costs for those utilities that haven't yet taken action and would help blaze a path.
Vendors still were sorting out whether they benefit from specific grants because many utilities didn't name specific vendors in applications. In some cases, utilities must now go to state utility commissions for permission to begin the projects because many don't have clearance to use the ratepayer funds they pledged in their grant applications. Grants passed over some big utilities in states like California, Texas and Illinois that have been pushing ahead with meter projects, perhaps on the assumption that no further assistance was needed.
A main goal of grid modernization is to give customers and utilities more data to use energy more efficiently—which represents an opportunity for software vendors as well as companies that make electrical-system hardware. "The richness of the information you get starts to explode" as digital meters and other controllers are put in place, said Jon Arnold, managing director of Microsoft Corp.'s power and utilities business.
Tuesday's twin events, and last Friday's presidential visit to a wind-energy-testing lab in Boston, signal a renewed push on energy issues by the Obama administration, after weeks during which energy and climate change have taken a back seat to fights over health care and future strategy in Afghanistan. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held its first hearing Tuesday on long-stalled climate-change legislation.
The administration also sought to tie its energy initiatives to jobs. In Delaware, Mr. Biden presided over the reopening of a shuttered General Motors plant in Wilmington that has been acquired by Fisker Automotive, which plans to use it to build a new line of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
The Department of Energy said grants of $400,000 to $200 million will lead to the installation of at least 18 million advanced digital meters.

Call for green label on laptop chargers

Jonathan Watts, Wednesday 28 October 2009 15.40 GMT
If laptop users were willing to pay an extra two dollars to upgrade their power supply units, the world could save more than 200m tons of carbon a year, according to a leading component supplier in Taiwan.
Delta Electronics, which makes more than half of the boxes at the end of the world's power cables, wants consumers to be informed of the carbon and energy efficiency of its products so that they can make a choice about whether to pay extra for greener computers.
The current energy efficiency standard for switching power supplies on laptop computers is 87%, though many firms fit devices that fall well below this level.
Delta says its best equipment could reach 93% for $1 or $2 more. It is not yet widely adopted because computer firms such as HP and Dell are reluctant to pass on the cost to consumers.
"The point is, consumers never know the efficiency of their computers," said Delta Electronics' founder and chairman, Bruce Cheng. "We are serious in our efforts to reduce global warming by our unrelenting research into ever more energy efficient products."
The firm expects to sell about 63m adaptors this year. With an improvement of eight percentage points, it estimates the average laptop could save 8.8kWh a year.
"Consumers should ask for higher efficiency. That's why we want a carbon label on goods. We would be the biggest benefactor," said Emelie Yeh, a company spokesperson.
Taiwanese firms supply most of the IT components, fans and power supply adaptors in computers and household appliances. Peter Rowling, of the environmental consultancy ERM, welcomed the push to inform the public. "This is good because carbon labelling is about disclosure, but what is important is that it looks at the whole life cycle of the product. We also need to know the energy and resources that go into products."
Taiwan is moving in this direction. Last month, AU Optronics, a leading producer of LCD televisions, announced one of Taiwan's first carbon-footprint verification schemes. Other firms are expected to follow.
Delta, however, said users could make big energy savings simply by switching devices off when they are not used rather than leaving them on standby. The company estimates that 5% of the world's household electricity is wasted this way each year – equivalent to the annual output of a 12GW power plant.