Tuesday, 12 January 2010

India to Boost Support for Solar Power

NEW DELHI -- India aims to install 20 million square meters of solar thermal panels and 20 million solar-powered lights as part of a plan to add 20 gigawatt of solar-based power generation capacity by 2022, the country's renewable energy minister said Monday.
"We propose to provide up to 90% support for setting up solar power plants," Farooq Abdullah said at the launch of the National Solar Mission.
"In many other solar applications, where the initial cost is still very high, we're considering proposals for providing up to a 30% grant in aid," he said.
Currently, about 10% of India's total installed generation capacity of 155.859 gigawatt is renewable-sources based. India plans to increase its renewable energy generation capacity in order to reduce its heavy dependence on coal and cut emissions.
Mr. Abdullah later told reporters that within next three years India plans to add 1,300 MW solar power, out of which 1,100 MW will be grid-connected and 200 MW will be off-grid.
"This is our first benchmark," he said. "If we achieve this, achieving the remaining target would not be impossible."
State-run power producer NTPC Ltd.'s power trading arm, NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Ltd., will purchase solar power at the rate fixed by power tariff regulator Central Electricity Regulatory Commission for the first three years, Abdullah said. He didn't say how much of the solar power generated will be purchased by NTPC unit.
NTPC's unit will bundle four units of thermal power with each unit of solar power to bring down the cost of power to around 5 rupees per unit or 5.5 rupees per unit. One unit is equal to one kilowatt hour.
The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission in September said power produced by solar photovoltaic plants could have a tariff of 18.80 rupees ($0.4) per kilowatt hour. The power produced by coal-fired plants located at the pit head site costs around 1.70 rupees per kilowatt hour while imported coal-based power costs up to 2.60 rupees per kilowatt hour.
Earlier Monday, in his speech on the launch of the National Solar Mission, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the solar mission was "no doubt ambitious, but doable."
"In the mean time we may need to explore hybrid solutions combining solar power generation with gas, biomass or even coal-based power," he said.
Write to Sunil Raghu at Sunil.Raghu@dowjones.com

Fusion breakthrough a magic bullet for energy crisis?

By Pat Pilcher
Monday, 11 January 2010
Sceptics and environmentalists may be locked into endless arguments around global warming, but there's little debate that an energy crisis looms large.
A Florida based research team, however, may have found a solution to the world's energy woes that could provide a clean and near limitless supply of energy in as little as a decade.
The Energy Crisis
Global energy production and consumption is a complex beast and many nations remain heavily reliant on a lethal mix of oil and coal, both of which are finite, and have huge impacts on the environment.
While there is much conjecture on just how long oil and coal reserves will last, the stark reality is that they will both eventually run out.
In the 1950s, many thought atomic energy would allow humanity to dodge the energy crisis, with newly nuclear fission reactors providing an affordable and near limitless supply of energy.
More recently however, incidents such as the Chernobyl meltdown, the growing pile of incredibly toxic nuclear waste and the spectre of rogue nations manufacturing weapons- grade plutonium have taken the shine off nuclear fission.
With the energy requirements of developed nations continuing to grow, and developing nations gaining a serious appetite for energy consumption, demand will soon outstrip supply, and many predict that massive economic and social impacts are probable.
The fusion magic bullet?
Thankfully, a new type of nuclear fusion energy generation technology holds the potential to provide a cheap and clean source of energy without toxic radioactive waste or the environmental impacts of oil or coal.
Unlike nuclear fission, where the nucleus of an atom is split to release energy, nuclear fusion uses the same process as our sun and works by fusing atoms together to release of large amounts of energy.
Nuclear fusion generates energy leaving little to nothing in the way of by-products, and uses fuels that are plentiful but far less dangerous than the uranium used with conventional nuclear fission reactors.
Whilst physicists have generated nuclear fusion reactions, doing has involved creating the earthbound equivalent of a small star, which in turn has required ultra-strong magnetic fields to contain superheated gases many times hotter than the surface of the sun.
Unfortunately, doing so has tended to consume almost as much energy as was being generated by the fusion reaction. Creating a nuclear fusion reactor that is commercially viable and able to output surplus energy beyond sustaining its own reaction was thought to be at least 20-30 years away.
Thanks to work being done by a group of physicists at the University of Florida, all things fusion related could however be set to change in as little as a decade.
Where conventional fission reactors use uranium which can be refined to make nuclear weapons, the University of Florida's concept uses hydrogen and an isotope of boron called Boron 11, both of which are abundant on earth and can't be used to make atomic weapons.
When fusion reactions occur in the heart of a star such as our sun, atoms are subject to intense heat and pressure which stops the atoms from repelling each other, allowing them to fuse.
To date, experimental fusion projects have largely been focused on generating intense heat so they can fuse, and containing the super hot gases from this reaction consumes most if not all of the energy being produced by the fusion reaction.
The University of Florida have taken a different tack, by putting hydrogen and boron fuel into an accelerator that fires them towards each other at incredibly high velocities. When the hydrogen and boron 11 atoms smash into each other, they fuse, producing fast moving helium nuclei whose motion is converted into electricity.
This new process is clean, highly efficient and most important of all, simple. The output of the new reactor is electricity with its by-product being the same helium gas used to make voices squeaky and party balloons float, so there's no toxic radioactive waste to dispose of.
Initial calculations also show that this new type of fusion generation could produce clean electricity at similar levels but far more cheaply than oil or coal.
Because the reactor also operates using relatively simple engineering principles (especially compared to the current crop of fusion reactors), commercialising it is likely to involve significantly shorter time-frames than other fusion technologies.
Although technology is still however very experimental and has yet to be fully proven, a feasibility study into this new fusion process has been kicked off, and if it is found to be viable, it could become commercially available in as little as a decade, here's hoping.
Source: NZ Herald

Petrol engines will rule for at least another decade - top GM executive

The car industry may be all atwitter with talk of plug-in cars and hybrid engines. But there was a cold, hard assessment on the ongoing dominance of petrol today from Bob Lutz, the veteran vice-chairman for product design at General Motors.
Lutz, a top lieutenant to GM's chairman Ed Whitacre, predicted that more than 90% of the automotive industry's sales will continue to be petrol-driven vehicles for at least another decade - because the vast majority of motorists simply will not pay extra for the more expensive technology of eco-friendly cars.
"For the next ten years or so, we're going to be heavily dependant on the internal combustion engine," Lutz told a group of reporters, including The Guardian, at the Detroit motor show. "It's going to be years and years before [alternatively powered vehicles] even make up 10% of the US market."
Unless the cost of fuel at the pump rockets, Lutz said the cost of cars such as GM's own widely hyped Chevrolet Volt, which can generate its own electricity on the go, are simply going to be too high to snatch significant market share.
The problem, he argues, is straightforward economics - parts and components for electric vehicles are not being manufactured in sufficient volumes to make them competitive. If a manufacturer set out today to invent the internal combustion engine, Lutz said petrol-powered cars would initally cost "$200,000 each" because of a lack of large-scale factories to make, say, piston shafts.
"Other than the 5% of the public who will willingly make a sacrifice to buy green vehicles, the other 95% will ask 'what am I getting? What's the deal?'" said Lutz. "They're not going to spend an extra $5,000 to $6,000 on technology they don't need and don't particularly care about."
A 77-year-old industry authority who was a top figure at Chrysler during the 1990s, Lutz has never been one to hide his opinions - two years ago, he caused a raising of collective eyebrows by describing global warming as "a total crock of shit".
His views have since mellowed slightly - and curiously, he has some sympathy for a graduated tax on petrol to encourage the shift towards greener motoring. Although he stopped short of endorsing such a policy, he said a government commitment to increase fuel tax by, say, 25 cents per gallon annually, would create visibility both for consumers and carmakers.
"It would have the benefit of giving automobile companies a planning base and of giving families who own a vehicle a planning base," said Lutz, suggesting that carbuying couples might say "look, sweetheart, we'd better go one size down because we know what fuel prices are going to do".
That's a considerably more radical suggestion than the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is willing to countenance. Visiting the Detroit show, Pelosi waxed lyrical about using "the soil, the wind and the sun" as fuel, adding that green technology was "a moral issue if you believe, as we do, that this planet is God's creation".
But when asked about the possibility of raising petrol taxes, she was blunt: "There certainly is an advocacy for such a position. But it certainly doesn't have a majority in the United States Congress at this time."
Incidentally, there are those who feel that America's leading carmakers were short-sighted in the run-up to the global economic crisis in concentrating too hard on gas-guzzling trucks and sports utility vehicles, rather than moving faster towards smaller vehicles. Lutz, who is the top four executives at America's biggest carmaker, isn't having anything of it, pointing out that nobody anticipated the volatility of fuel prices over the past two years - and that the gestation period of a new model of car is at least 36 months.
"People say 'those dumb Detroit companies just didn't get it - they just kept building trucks as oil prices rose'," said Lutz. "Some of your colleagues think designing and producing new cars is like putting the evening's edition together and then printing it the next day."

Sweeep frustrated in efforts to get loans

An award winning recycling company that wants to recover valuable metals from old TV screens by investing in new processing technology has been frustrated by the reluctance of its bank to lend it any more money .

By Richard TylerPublished: 12:01AM GMT 12 Jan 2010
Sweeep, based in Sittingbourne, Kent, has recycled 20,000 tonnes of electronic and electrical waste that can no longer be sent to landfill and had planned to expand to take advantage of the piles of old TV sets piling up across the UK to extract valuable lead, copper, steel, aluminium and precious metals from circuits boards.
But attempts to secure the £1.5m it needs to buy the innovative British-made waste treatment equipment stalled when its bank, Barclays, baulked at extending further credit lines to the profitable company, which made sales of £5m last year and has £2m of outstanding borrowings.

Pam Watts, who founded the business with her husband Patrick, a former professional touring car driver, in 1997, said: “We buy very expensive, innovative and complicated machinery that’s at the forefront of the recycling sector. We employ it to create a profit and as soon as it’s established Patrick is on to the next project that will require more investment. For the recycling sector to move forward it needs support from banks that trust us to get on with the job.”
She added: “We are now relying on a 25 year old partnership with Barclays which has been pretty exemplary and we are hoping that will be taken into account.”
Sweeep have been finalists in Barclays’ own green business awards and have been endorsed by Tory leader David Cameron, who visited their recycling facility in 2008.
Mrs Watts said they began talking to their bank manager early last year but the application was only submitted in November. Barclays said it would be considered by its asset finance arm, but this may now switch to its team that considers Government-backed Enterprise Finance Guarantee loan applications.
Mrs Watts said: “[Lord] Mandelson is telling the public both the government and banks are supporting industry and small businesses financially and Britain is fully behind the green revolution and reducing carbon emission. Sweeep ticks almost every box in all of this.
“We are offering innovation and a new project to reduce landfill and recover lead from hazardous old style TV glass. We have a proven track record, years of experience, no hidden failures in the past, a profitable business, can demonstrate our ability to service debt comfortably, employ over 100 unskilled workers and have the confidence to offer our banks personal guarantees. Yet somehow getting hold of this financial support is like catching mist.”
Barclays said it was “exploring all possible options” to help finance the company. A spokesperson said: “Sweeep is a valued client and quality business, with a strong track record and excellent prospects for growth. However, the business has already borrowed very heavily, and has utilised virtually all of its available security for this borrowing.
“Therefore we need to be innovative in how we approach new lending; with high borrowing comes high risk, for us and for the business. We are currently working through options with Sweeep including asset based lending and an Enterprise Finance Guarantee loan to try and find a way forward.
“In cases such as this, where taking on more debt is becoming increasingly risky for the size of the business, many clients we work with will instead seek out new, long term investment, as it spreads the risk and takes the focus away from servicing loans.”

Electric Cars' Range Is Expected to Vary

Robert Lutz, General Motors Co.'s vice chairman, said Monday that the first buyers of electric vehicles may be unpleasantly surprised by how quickly the batteries run down during certain driving conditions.
GM plans to launch its battery-powered Chevrolet Volt in California later this year, and said Monday that Michigan would be the second launch state in 2010. The auto maker has promised the car will travel 40 miles on battery power alone, and then draw from a gasoline engine to keep the vehicle going once the charge has been spent.
Mr. Lutz said he drove one of the early vehicles for a weekend recently and found that, during a Michigan winter, the battery's range was only 28 miles.
Weather, driving conditions and drivers' behavior can cause the battery range to vary far more than mileage on a traditional vehicle.
GM is banking on the Volt to help create a green image similar to Toyota Motor Corp.'s success with its Prius hybrid. —Sharon Terlep

PV Crystalox - Solar stock

Solar power stocks risk getting short shrift on grey, near-zero-degree days in January. So it proved with PV Crystalox Solar, the Oxfordshire-based maker of silicon wafers used to produce solar cells. Shares in the mid-cap company — one of the London stock market’s dozen worst performers in 2009 — failed to budge, despite a year-end trading update that showed shipments over the past four months modestly better than forecast.
Ironically, the improvement in sales — largely in Germany and Japan — can be credited to the phenomenon that has brought the company’s shares so low: the collapse in solar cell prices. With prices down 45 per cent last year (amid static demand and increased Chinese supply), the economics of solar generation have become much more favourable — closer to the point of “grid parity”, where the cost of consumers producing their own power from roof-top panels is the same as buying it in from the grid.
PV Crystalox’s immediate appeal is that, fuelled by government initiatives to meet long-term renewable energy targets, solar installations in Europe are forecast to rise strongly in 2010: to 10.8 GW from 6.8 GW in 2009 on usually reliable industry estimates. The concern is whether solar prices will get any worse.
However, PV Crystalox remained profitable even at last year’s depressed prices (a forecast £40 million at the pre-tax level), sits on £56 million of net cash, has a strong customer base and, through a new manufacturing plant in Germany, is less reliant on buying silicon from elsewhere. Those strengths suggest that the low rating of shares — about nine times 2010 earnings — owes more to the lack of a London-listed peer group than its medium-term prospects.
At 68¼p, buy.

White House climate adviser offers hope after Copenhagen

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 January 2010 22.11 GMT

More considered verdicts of what was -- and what was not - achieved at the Copenhagen climate change summit are beginning to come out. In this the first assessment of the new year from the Obama administration, Carol Browner, the White House environment and climate change adviser, admits that the summit did not live up to expectations. Those who went to Copenhagen hoping for a binding legal treaty, or even an operational agreement, did not get what they wanted.
"But what is important is that you now have China and India among the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions agreeing that it is time to do something," she said today.
Browner's silver lining-in-the-cloud assessment came in a 30-minute White House video chat, which cut out a little early because of a coughing fit. It was the first of four web chats on foreign policy, the economy and other matters.
Some US commentators have argued that the last-minute deal Obama put together between the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa would be just as effective as a treaty because it includes the world's greatest emitters.
Browner did not go that far. She said the focus still had to be on reaching a deal with the full force of international law. The Obama deal -- which left out Europe and more than 180 other countries that were represented at Copenhagen -- was just a step in that direction, Browner said.
"It's an important step and with time the world will find its way to a binding international treaty."
She went on to say that America still needed to do its share by putting laws in place for energy reform.
The reminder is important. The Senate has yet to take up a climate change bill -- in part because Democratic leaders are reluctant to take on a huge battle with Republicans immediately after the bruising confrontations over healthcare. They also have an eye on the mid-term elections next November. It might be smarter politics to come out with a jobs plan for the Democrats to campaign on next autumn.
The Democratic leadership could get even more skittish next week. The Alaska Republican, Lisa Murkowski, is pushing for a vote on 20 January to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. A spokesman for the senator -- who was on her way back from Afghanistan today -- said she was determined to go ahead. A vote against EPA regulation could cast the whole issue of regulating emissions in a negative light.
Some environmental organisations fear it would make it all but impossible to get to climate change legislation this year.
Browner did not get into a timetable for legislation, or the specifics of Murkowski's efforts to block the EPA. But it's interesting to note that the White House is not entirely letting up the pressure on the Senate to act.

Leading climate scientist challenges Mail on Sunday's use of his research

Mojib Latif denies his research supports theory that current cold weather undermines scientific consensus on global warming

David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 January 2010 16.47 GMT
A leading scientist has hit out at misleading newspaper reports that linked his research to claims that the current cold weather undermines the scientific case for manmade global warming.
Mojib Latif, a climate expert at the Leibniz Institute at Kiel University in Germany, said he "cannot understand" reports that used his research to question the scientific consensus on climate change.
He told the Guardian: "It comes as a surprise to me that people would try to use my statements to try to dispute the nature of global warming. I believe in manmade global warming. I have said that if my name was not Mojib Latif it would be global warming."
He added: "There is no doubt within the scientific community that we are affecting the climate, that the climate is changing and responding to our emissions of greenhouse gases."
A report in the Mail on Sunday said that Latif's results "challenge some of the global warming orthodoxy's most deeply cherished beliefs" and "undermine the standard climate computer models". Monday's Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph repeated the claims.
The reports attempted to link the Arctic weather that has enveloped the UK with research published by Latif's team in the journal Nature in 2008. The research said that natural fluctuations in ocean temperature could have a bigger impact on global temperature than expected. In particular, the study concluded that cooling in the oceans could offset global warming, with the average temperature over the decades 2000-2010 and 2005-2015 predicted to be no higher than the average for 1994-2004. Despite clarifications from the scientists at the time, who stressed that the research did not challenge the predicted long-term warming trend, the study was widely misreported as signalling a switch from global warming to global cooling.
The Mail on Sunday article said that Latif's research showed that the current cold weather heralds such "a global trend towards cooler weather".
It said: "The BBC assured viewers that the big chill was was merely short-term 'weather' that had nothing to do with 'climate', which was still warming. The work of Prof Latif and the other scientists refutes that view."
Not according to Latif. "They are not related at all," he said. "What we are experiencing now is a weather phenomenon, while we talked about the mean temperature over the next 10 years. You can't compare the two."
He said the ocean temperature effect was similar to other natural influences on global temperature, such as volcanos, which cool the planet temporarily as ash spewed into the atmosphere reflects sunlight.
"The natural variation occurs side by side with the manmade warming. Sometimes it has a cooling effect and can offset this warming and other times it can accelerate it." Other scientists have questioned the strength of the ocean effect on overall temperature and disagree that global warming will show the predicted pause.
Latif said his research suggested that up to half the warming seen over the 20th century was down to this natural ocean effect, but said that was consistent with the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "No climate specialist would ever say that 100% of the warming we have seen is down to greenhouse gas emissions."
The recent articles are not the first to misrepresent his research, Latif said. "There are numerous newspapers, radio stations and television channels all trying to get our attention. Some overstate and some want to downplay the problem as a way to get that attention," he said. "We are trying to discuss in the media a highly complex issue. Nobody would discuss the problem of [Einstein's theory of] relativity in the media. But because we all experience the weather, we all believe that we can assess the global warming problem."

Pope Benedict XVI denounces failure of world leaders at Copenhagen summit

In a speech to ambassadors, the pontiff criticises the 'economic and political resistance' to fighting environmental degradation

Associated Press
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 January 2010 16.14 GMT
Pope Benedict XVI denounced the failure of world leaders to agree to a new climate change treaty in Copenhagen last month, saying that world peace depends on safeguarding God's creation.
He issued the admonition in a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, an annual appointment during which the pontiff reflects on issues the Vatican wants to highlight to the diplomatic corps.
Benedict has been called the "green pope" for his increasingly vocal concern about the need to protect the environment. Under his watch, the Vatican has installed solar photovoltaic cells on its main auditorium to convert sunlight into electricity and has joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.
In his speech, the pontiff criticised the "economic and political resistance" to fighting environmental degradation and creating a new climate treaty at last month's negotiations in Copenhagen.
The weak agreement known as the Copenhagen accord that emerged from the summit urged deeper cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming, it did nothing to demand them.
"I trust that in the course of this year ... it will be possible to reach an agreement for effectively dealing with this question," Benedict said.
He said the issue was particularly critical for island nations and in places like Africa, where the battle for resources, increased desertification and over-exploitation of land has resulted in wars.
"To cultivate peace, one must protect creation." Benedict told the ambassadors, many of whom wore their national dress or were medal-draped formal attire for the audience in the frescoed Sala Regia of the Vatican's apostolic palace.
The pontiff said the same "self-centred and materialistic" way of thinking that sparked the worldwide financial meltdown was also endangering creation. To combat it will require a new way of thinking and a new lifestyle and an acknowledgment that the question is a moral one, he said.
"The protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, inasmuch as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God," he said.
To illustrate his point, the German-born pope pointed to the experiences of eastern Europe under the "materialistic and atheistic regimes" of the former Soviet bloc.
"Was it not easy to see the great harm which an economic system lacking any reference to the truth about man had done not only to the dignity and freedom of individuals and peoples, but to nature itself, by polluting soil, water and air?" he asked.
"The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation."

'Green' Products to Get a Push

Seventh Generation, Method Mount Campaigns for Their Household Staples
Encouraged by resilient sales, some leading makers of environmentally friendly household products are boosting their marketing firepower, mounting a broader challenge to manufacturers of mainstream consumer goods.
Seventh Generation and Method Products, which both tout their cleaning and personal-care lines as safer for people and the environment, plan to launch their first major marketing campaigns this week. Both companies are hoping to capitalize on the momentum behind "green" products, which have posted surprisingly strong sales despite the weak economy.
In a TV spot debuting Monday, a man replaces his household cleaners with Seventh Generation products.
The campaigns come as the two companies take other steps designed at least in part to prepare them to compete more directly with their mainstream counterparts. Seventh Generation is introducing a line of disinfecting wipes and sprays, while Method is expanding its lineup to include a new laundry detergent. They are also polishing their management credentials: The founders of both companies recently brought in consumer-product industry veterans to take over chief-executive duties.
While many shoppers switched to cheaper products during the recession, sales of products promoted as environmentally friendly have held up relatively well, despite their premium prices. Over the past five years, U.S. sales of "ethical" household products—what the industry calls items marketed on the basis of meeting an ethical standard—have nearly tripled, reaching an estimated $1.6 billion in 2009, according to market-research firm Packaged Facts.
"People may be trading from steak to poultry, but the people who buy these green products believe the health and safety of one's family is more important," says Burt Flickinger III, managing director of consulting firm Strategic Resource Group.
Indeed, a spokeswoman for Seventh Generation says sales at mass-market retailers rose 20% last year from the year before. The company says its 2009 totaled sales about $150 million, but declined to disclose profits.
Seventh Generation plans to launch its first TV ad on Monday. In the past, the Burlington, Vt., company has relied on small, mostly online, campaigns to promote its products, which include diapers, trash bags and laundry detergent it touts for attributes like biodegradability or natural ingredients.
The new ads, based on the slogan, "Protecting Planet Home," describe a household that uses Seventh Generation products as a place where "no one holds their breath while they're cleaning." Seventh Generation declines to disclose how much it is spending on the ads, which coincide with its introduction of wipes and spray that use a thyme-based disinfectant technology.
Method has depended on offbeat marketing tactics, including a Web site that lets people wash away their sins virtually with its hand soap. Now it is rolling out its largest ad campaign ever to plug a new superconcentrated laundry detergent. The product, scheduled to hit U.S. stores this month, comes in a slim bottle with a pump dispenser.
San Francisco-based Method is spending $10 million on the campaign, which includes a new detergent Web site that launches this week and print and online ads that begin next month. The pitch takes aim at the company's bigger laundry-aisle competitors with the tagline "Jug-Free America," suggesting that consumers don't need to lug around heavy detergent bottles.
One ad compares a Method detergent bottle with a large orange one, a not-so-subtle swipe at market leader Procter & Gamble's Tide.
Droga5, a boutique ad firm in New York, created the campaign. Method, which posted about $100 million in sales in 2008, declined to disclose its profit or more recent sales figures.
The two brands, which hold a niche market, still have a long way to go to reach a more-mainstream audience. Seventh Generation says that 9 out of 10 Americans haven't heard of its brand, while Method estimates that just 15% of consumers know about its products.
Even with stepped-up spending, the two companies can't hope to match the promotional budgets of industry giants like P&G and Reckitt Benckiser Group. P&G of the U.S. and Reckitt of Britain each spend more than $100 million a year in the U.S. on their respective Tide and Lysol brands alone, according to WPP's TNS Media Intelligence.
Big household-product makers, meanwhile, are trying to tap Seventh Generation and Method's niche. In recent years, Clorox has launched a line of earth-friendly household cleaners dubbed Green Works, and SC Johnson has introduced one called Nature's Source.
"Clearly we need to make every dollar work," says Eric Ryan, Method's co-founder and chief brand architect.
Branding experts say all companies in the green-product market need to tread lightly. People's guard is going up with the surge of green products, says Jonathan Asher, a branding expert at marketing-research firm Perception Research, and with the Internet they can easily check out claims.
To help ease their growing pains, Seventh Generation and Method recently hired consumer-product veterans. In June, Chuck Maniscalco became Seventh Generation's CEO, after serving as president and chief of PepsiCo's Quaker Tropicana Gatorade business. Drew Fraser took the helm at Method, after posts at Whirlpool, Clorox and P&G.
Write to Ellen Byron at ellen.byron@wsj.com and Suzanne Vranica at suzanne.vranica@wsj.com

CES 2010: Is it time to end consumption electronics?

This year's Consumer Electronics Show didn't produce any startling hits or misses - but the contradictory messages about environmental efforts hit a sour note
For the thousands of people who thronged the halls of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas over the past week, innovation was harder to come by than they might have expected.
While plenty of new products were launched, ideas paraded and deals forged at this year's event, proceedings were ultimately overshadowed by two companies who didn't even launch anything there.
Apple, which had competitors scrabbling to compete with rumours – just rumours - of a tablet computer, routinely sidesteps the exhibition. Google meanwhile, had decided to launch the Nexus One phone not in Las Vegas but at its own headquarters on the eve of the event.
As a result, the show – which has been the birthplace of technologies like the DVD, CD player and the video recorder in the past – was relatively light on innovation. Instead of going out on a limb with new concepts, many manufacturers decided to crowd behind a just a handful of ideas, particularly electronic books and 3DTV.
But of all the things that personally disappointed me, the biggest was the lip service paid to environmentalism. Hundreds of the exhibitors were trumpeting their green credentials – from hydrogen fuel cells to laptops made from recycled CDs - and even the expo itself boasted about its recycling programme and "sustainable planet" exhibition.
While the industry has made strides in recent years, and many companies have started cleaning up their act, it seems ultimately doomed to failure unless something more fundamental changes.
That's because even if the claims and assertions made by the industry were accurate – and for the most part, they are merely marketing chaff – they don't address the wider the deeply-embedded conflict between the technology industry and protecting the environment.
As its name suggests, the consumer electronics business – worth $165bn a year in - is one built on consumption: consumption of materials, of power and (most importantly) of products. As long as we are encouraged to keep buying, we are unlikely to make inroads on the vast environmental footprint that our gadgets and gizmos leave behind.
Despite that, though, there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the role that technology can play in improving our environment. For starters, virtual trade can cut carbon footprints and increase energy efficiency: moving bits over wires is a lot less than environmental damage than physically transporting goods.
But for every positive possibility, there are social, cultural, economic and environmental drawbacks.
Despite the promise of internet connectivity, we don't yet live in a world of widespread telecommuting. Indeed, rather than negate the need for travel (a common promise of futurists) the high-speed, always-on world has simply meant that we now work in all the spaces that exist between the office and the home. Every public space is now a mobile office; every worker with a laptop or a BlackBerry is constantly on call.
And for every energy-saving technology, there are a hundred more that entreats us to spend more, buy more and use more power for no good reason other than to keep the industry tumbling forward.
Just take this year's big topic, 3DTV. Nearly every major manufacturer was chanting in unison about the incredible possibilities of 3D television sets, even though it is a technology that still feels a very long way from being a fixture in our living rooms.
And while on one hand companies like Sony shout about their green designs, on the other they encourage us to buy huge new TV sets to watch our 3D programming. And, to make matters worse, this comes from the selfsame groups who - just a couple of years ago - encouraged us all to buy high definition sets. It's another technology we can't live without and that will change we live. The only thing that doesn't change is the need to buy, buy, buy.
This isn't me entreating you to stop buying new gadgets. I don't expect hairshirts or the collapse of the consumer electronics business. But after days of being bombarded by gadgets, I prefer realism and honesty to glitzy advertising and PR guff.
The first step to squaring the circle of the consumer electronics industry? Perhaps pausing the endless cycle of 'must-have' products. Perhaps an end to the shameless copycatting. Or perhaps even just a better understanding of how CES's attempts to go green conflicts with its Las Vegas surroundings.
After all, any message about saving the planet can't help but feel like window dressing when it's delivered by billionaires in a city that revels in orgiastic levels of consumption.

States Want Delay on Emission Rules

A growing number of state regulators are urging the Obama administration to slow the rollout of proposed federal rules curbing industrial greenhouse-gas emissions, saying the administration's approach could overwhelm them with paperwork, delay construction projects and undercut their own efforts to fight climate change.

The concerns echo some criticisms that business groups -- including the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers -- have voiced about the potential consequence of new regulations, though the states generally don't challenge the legality of the proposed regulations, as some business groups have. Indeed, many state regulators continue to say they support the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to regulate greenhouse gases. Their concerns, they say, have more to do with how quickly such rules should be phased in, and how to pay for an expansion in regulatory oversight at a time when their budgets are in the red.
Regulators from around the U.S., including Kansas, Pennsylvania, Florida and California, are calling on the EPA to go slowly with its new rules, and in some cases warning that they lack funding to regulate some of the new emissions sources that would be covered.
The states' warnings vary in urgency, with some saying the EPA's proposal can be easily tweaked and others urging the agency to reconsider the proposal, predicting dire consequences. South Carolina regulators, in a letter to EPA dated Dec. 23, said the proposal will cause chaos and warned that many construction projects -- and jobs -- are at risk.
In a Dec. 24 letter to the EPA, the California Energy Commission, which oversees energy policy in the state, said the EPA's proposal "will likely retard, rather than facilitate," reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions from its electricity sector.
Because California, which has been a leader among states in pursuing its own emissions efforts, plans to require electric utilities to use more renewable power than they do currently, the state needs new natural-gas-fired power plants to provide back-up power when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine. Most of those new plants aren't subject to the EPA permit process but will require permits under the EPA's proposal, the state says.
"We are gravely concerned that EPA's current proposal will likely create a huge administrative burden," said Melissa Jones, the commission's executive director. While most states stop short of predicting job losses, California says the proposed rules would cause "gridlock" on the construction of power plants.
Kansas's Department of Health and Environment has warned that the EPA proposal will affect some animal-feeding operations as well as some municipal solid-waste landfills, and Florida's Department of Environmental Protection has called the proposed permitting approach unmanageable.
The EPA declined to comment about the criticisms raised by state regulators. "We are still reviewing the comments. No decisions have been made about the final rule," an EPA spokeswoman said.
The Obama administration has said it would prefer that Congress pass legislation that would use a so-called cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. Under a cap-and-trade system, the government would require companies to hold permits in order to emit greenhouse gases. Over time, the government would issue fewer permits, bringing emissions down while allowing companies to buy and sell permits among themselves. But prospects for that legislation passing the Senate -- at least in its current form -- are dim, leaving EPA regulation as the administration's main tool.
In order to acquire a permit, facilities would be required to demonstrate to state or local regulators that they are using the best practices and technologies to minimize greenhouse-gas emissions. The decision on what constitutes those practices would, in most cases, be left to states, which are expected to rely heavily on guidance from the EPA. The EPA is expected to publish such guidance in the coming months.
Officials in other states say they worry the EPA won't give them enough time to revise their own state rules, which generally set much lower emissions thresholds for regulating air pollutants. If the EPA doesn't give them enough time, state officials say, tens of thousands of new air-quality permits would need to be issued over the next 18 months or so, a scenario that state officials say could delay the process for many new facilities.
Citing budget shortfalls, some state agencies are suggesting the EPA propose new fees on businesses that could generate revenue that states could use to hire more employees to process permits. But the proposals would likely encounter opposition as many businesses are still struggling to recover from the recession.
"This issue [of permits] is an extraordinarily hot topic among the states," said William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Mr. Becker said that during a recent conference call organized by his group and involving more than 100 state and local air-quality agencies, "most, if not all, said EPA is seriously underestimating the number of sources" that would be subject to regulation under its proposal.
Mr. Becker emphasized that most of his group's members support EPA regulation of greenhouse gases and that most of the problems they have identified are surmountable. His group has suggested that the EPA wait until at least 2011 to trigger permitting requirements for major stationary sources of greenhouse gases.
A central issue is an EPA proposal slated to take effect as early as the spring to require facilities emitting at least 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year to obtain construction and operating permits. The EPA relies on states and local agencies to administer air-quality permits, and has said its proposed emissions threshold is high enough that it will effectively exempt small businesses, such as farms and restaurants.
In comments filed with the EPA last month, the Office of Advocacy at the U.S. Small Business Administration said the EPA's proposed rules "are likely to have a significant economic impact on a large number of small entities."
Business groups, meanwhile, have questioned the EPA's legal authority to pick and choose which facilities to regulate, citing federal statutes that set much lower emissions thresholds for requiring permits.
Referring to the federal law that defines the EPA's duties for protecting and improving air quality, Carl Pope, executive director of the environmental group Sierra Club, said, "The fact that the Clean Air Act permitting authority is not a particularly good way for dealing with my backyard barbecue...does not mean that we should not have a Clean Air Act permit on...major fossil-fuel power stations."
Write to Stephen Power at stephen.power@wsj.com and Ian Talley at ian.talley@dowjones.com

Three Britons charged over €3m carbon-trading 'carousel fraud'

• Belgium alleges VAT scam over carbon emissions permits • Europol fears fraud will be used in energy trading markets

Phillip Inman
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 January 2010 17.20 GMT
Belgian prosecutors highlighted the massive losses faced by EU governments from VAT fraud today after they charged three Britons and a Dutchman with money-laundering following an investigation into a multimillion-pound scam involving carbon emissions permits.
The three Britons, who were arrested last month in Belgium, were accused of failing to pay VAT worth €3m (£2.7m) on a series of carbon credit transactions.
European authorities believe the EU has lost at least €5bn to carbon-trading VAT fraud in the last 18 months. Europol, the EU's law-­enforcement operation, fears the fraud will be used in other areas, especially gas and electricity trading markets, after criminals found VAT fraud was one of the most lucrative financial frauds.
Pollution permits for businesses were launched in the European Union in 2005 in an effort to cut carbon emissions. But the lack of harmonised tax regimes across the EU has prevented the creation of an orderly market that eliminated fraud.
The fraud occurs when carbon credits are bought and imported tax-free from other EU countries, then sold to domestic buyers, charging them VAT. The UK allows credits to be sold without adding VAT, while Belgians must pay VAT when they buy credits. Once the transaction, or series of transactions, are complete, the sellers disappear without paying the tax.
The three Britons allegedly set up a firm in Tournai, in west Belgium, which bought the credits in Britain and sold them on to banks via an intermediary, pocketing the 21% VAT charged in Belgium.
The three British suspects deny the charges. Last August, the British tax office arrested seven people in London in a suspected £38m carbon market VAT fraud.
Several other EU states have raised concerns about the potential for fraud in the market. A European commission working group approved a proposal in December to apply a "reverse charge" mechanism to carbon trading to stop VAT fraud.
The move came too late to stop the an estimated £5bn believed fraud, which critics argue has largely to have been siphoned off successfully by criminal gangs. In December, French authorities arrested four people suspected of a €156m carbon carousel fraud on France's BlueNext exchange. Britain lost about £10bn from VAT fraud in 2006 and 2007.

A fair comparison of CO2 emissions requires a more detailed analysis

The diverse uses of public buildings make measuring efficiency a complex task

Philip Steadman
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 January 2010
Your article reported some useful data on carbon emissions (Red faces as hospitals and prisons rank bottom in public buildings CO2 audit, 1 January). These come from the energy certificates that all public (but not yet private) buildings must display.
There are huge opportunities for improvements here, some of them simple changes in behaviour, others needing investment in fabric, heating systems, air conditioning and lighting. But your analysis by average emissions per building is misleading.
You label New Scotland Yard "the most polluting police station" and praise the station at Whetstone as "one of the most efficient". But Scotland Yard is a much bigger building. Broadly speaking, energy use in buildings increases with floor area, so one needs to calculate figures per square metre as a more meaningful basis for comparing efficiencies.
Although floor area and other factors are taken into account in the energy certificate scores A to G which you report, these distinctions are lost by taking averages. You pick out prisons and hospitals as "the biggest polluters on average", while "schools are relatively energy-­efficient". But the average hospital in England and Wales has more than five times the floor area of the average school.
Then there are the different uses to which buildings are put. Hospitals and prisons are not only large institutions, they run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and use a lot of energy for cooking, laundry and hot water – unlike, say, law courts or citizens' advice bureaux. Given their special functions, it is possible that some individual prisons and hospitals are relatively efficient in their own terms.
A more comprehensive approach is needed. Since 1990 I have been working with colleagues on energy use in the entire non-domestic building stock of England and Wales. The task is complex because of the diversity of activities, the range of sizes of buildings, and the fact that many commercial buildings contain mixtures of shops, offices, clubs, restaurants, etc. Many private sector buildings – which are much more numerous – are possibly even less efficient than those in the public sector.
One hears much rhetoric about Britain's post-industrial economy but, by our estimates, industrial buildings in England and Wales use around 60,000 gigawatt-hours annually (for the ­buildings only and excluding industrial processes). This compares with some 55,000 gigawatt-hours for schools, ­hospitals and offices put together.
In an excellent initiative, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is developing two new databases that will link information on floor area and activities for all buildings in the country – domestic and non-domestic – to their energy bills. The domestic database is well advanced, the non-domestic at the pilot stage. Our team at the UCL Energy Institute is helping and advising. These databases will make it possible to compute national average levels of energy use per square metre, against which the efficiency of any individual building can be compared. And it will be possible to estimate the likely impact of future programmes and to monitor them as they are implemented.

UK emissions cuts 'meaningless' without global deal, warn MPs

The UK must nevertheless cut emissions to prove it is serious about an agreement, says the environmental audit committee
Press Association
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 January 2010 10.56 GMT
Action in the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions could be rendered "meaningless" if a global deal on tackling climate change is not secured, a committee of MPs warned today.
But the Environmental audit committee urged the government to cut emissions more quickly at home – to prove to other countries Britain was serious about backing up its attempts to get an international agreement with action.
A report by the committee examined the progress the UK was making in meeting its "carbon budgets", targets for cutting emissions over five-year periods set down in the Climate Change Act.
It warned the government was only on track to meet the first budget (2008-12) because of the recession, and urged ministers to deliver the promised reductions and bring forward new measures to increase the rate of progress.
The EAC also said the target for cutting emissions by 2020 should be increased to 42% on 1990 levels – a pledge by the UK which has been dependent on the EU strengthening its overall aims as part of an ambitious international deal – regardless of what Europe did.
Setting the stronger long-term target, an increase on the current aim of 34% by 2020, would provide more stability to drive investment than if it was not clear what the goal would be, a report by the committee said.
But ministers should only move to the 42% aim once the country is on track to meet its current targets.
At the moment, emissions are falling at around 1% a year, but the rate needs to more than double to 2-3% annually.
A recent analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers said that the slow rate of UK emisssions cuts means that "we now need to decarbonise at a rate of 3.5% a year to get back on track by 2020 – four times more than we have managed at the global level since 2000".
The committee said the UK seemed "reluctant" to move unilaterally on tackling climate change, but said the country would not secure the competitive advantage it is looking for in a low carbon economy – including green jobs – without being an early mover.
And being active in shaping international standards governing a low-carbon economy could remove the risks of moving to cut emissions at home.
The committee said it was crucial the UK led the way on international negotiations in the wake of the Copenhagen climate summit – widely regarded as a failure – in an effort to reverse global increases in greenhouse gases by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change.
The government needed to be prepared to make much bigger cuts if the science demanded it and be clearer about the costs of action, spelling out to the public that those costs are not additional but an alternative to the price of not doing anything, the report said.
The committee also warned against relying too much on carbon markets to drive down emissions as the price of carbon was too low and too volatile.
Tim Yeo, the committee's chairman said: "The UK's efforts to tackle climate change could be rendered meaningless if global leaders fail to reach a deal to reverse the growth in emissions by 2020.
"We must send a clear signal to developing countries that we are serious about making an international deal work – by meeting our own targets more quickly.
"The slower our progress, the less credibility we will have internationally."

Toyota Pushes Ahead on Alternative Vehicles

DETROIT—Toyota Motor Corp. is pushing ahead with releases of electric and fuel-cell vehicles in the next few years, as the Japanese auto maker moves forward with multiple alternative technologies in addition to its flagship gas-electric hybrid engines.

The company plans to begin sales of a small electric vehicle in 2012 and to begin selling hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in 2015. Toyota said it plans to release eight new hybrid models in the next few years and aims to sell one million hybrid vehicles world-wide annually by the early part of this decade.
Toyota Motors Sales President Jim Lentz said he just received approval from Japan to expand the Prius into what he hopes will be a line of several new models.
A likely contender to join the Prius family is a concept hybrid-compact vehicle that Toyota unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show on Monday. The new car is smaller than the Prius and would be more affordable, in an effort to draw younger buyers.
"Prius has become a great brand and we can capitalize on that," Yoshi Inaba, president of Toyota Motor North America, told reporters.
This decade, Mr. Lentz expects the Prius family of vehicles to outsell the Toyota Camry, currently the top-selling passenger car in the U.S. Mr. Lentz said electric vehicles are still constrained by the limited distance current battery technology is capable of.
Toyota has put conventional hybrids at the center of its alternative technology strategy and has set a goal to have that option in all its models by 2020.
At the same time, The company is also moving forward with electric, fuel-cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles and will begin mass producing lithium-ion batteries with its partner Panasonic Corp. next year. That partnership will be capable of making one million hybrid batteries by the end of the year.
The electric vehicle Toyota plans to begin selling in 2012 will be a subcompact city vehicle that will have a range of about 100 miles. The company, however,Toyota has yet to decide whether it will seat two or four people, Mr. Lentz said.
In last year's difficult U.S. sales environment, Toyota managed to increase its share and outsold General Motors Corp. in the U.S. retail market.
But it wasn't without some struggles. The company announced its biggest recall ever related to sudden acceleration issues Toyota says were caused by floormats jamming under the accelerator pedal.
Mr. Inaba reiterated that the company is doing everything possible to resolve the issue. "We have really strengthened our antenna to collect technical data so we can react quickly," he told reporters. "We learned the lessons."
Toyota will be installing a new brake override system on all vehicles by the end of the year to help address the issues, in addition to a series of changes to the gas pedal and floor pan. Toyota dealers have begun making the changes to several of the models.
This year, Toyota's Mr. Inaba said he expects U.S. vehicle sales to rebound moderately this year but to accelerate in the next two years. The company predicts U.S. sales will rise to about 11.5 million vehicles this year from 10.4 million last year. "I think there will be a bigger increase in 2011 and 2012. The next two to three years will be very robust growth," said Mr. Inaba.
Anticipating higher sales this year, Toyota plans to increase production to about 1.9 million or two million cars and trucks, Mr. Inaba said. The company, which produced about 63% of its products in North America last year, is considering increasing local production but has yet to make any firm determinations, he said.
U.S. auto sales fell to their lowest level since 1982 last year as the sluggish economy and job losses kept consumers away from big ticket purchases.
Write to Kate Linebaugh at kate.linebaugh@wsj.com