Thursday, 4 March 2010

Budget 2010 puts Money where Mouth Is for Solar Energy

By Ameet Shah and Sourabh Sen
The 2010-11 budget is great news for renewable energy, and in particular solar energy, in India. In November of last year, the Government of India took a major stride forward in driving sustainable development with the announcement of the National Solar Mission targeting 20,000MW of installed solar power by 2022. But the fact that they’ve now included it in the budget is a critical step.
While the NSM set the vision for solar in India, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission’s tariff order laid out the details. These guidelines further strengthened the case for investing in the Indian solar sector by setting preferential feed-in-tariffs and declaring long term (25 year) power purchase agreements.
However, despite these important declarations, one of the common responses we continued to get from international investors when discussing the Indian solar sector is “Show me the money.” These groups want to see program funding before they commit capital. Well, now we can show it to them; in support of the NSM, the budget for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (the administrating entity) has been increased by 61 percent from Rs. 620 crore in 2009-10 to Rs. 1,000 crore in 2010-11.
In a previous post, we stated that the greatest promise of renewable energy lies in electrifying the masses. We’re very pleased to see the government explicitly recognize this promise with the Rs. 500 crore allocation to set up solar and small scale hydro projects in the Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir. To ensure India’s future growth is inclusive and sustainable, the government will also need to dedicate similar funding to additional locations such as Bihar and the Northeast with low rates of electrifications.
Lastly, the budget creates a framework which could, if executed well, will see significant national gains. Concessional customs duties on solar equipment can facilitate technology transfer. This will allow India’s developers, manufacturers and scientists to collaborate with their colleagues abroad in learning about the latest solar technologies and how they perform in the Indian environment. By creating a friendly import environment and establishing a Clean Energy Fund to support R&D efforts, the budget lays the foundation for a global innovation hub.
Going forward, it will be very important for the Government to facilitate NSM administration and project execution. Future budgets must also support the NSM as India’s solar capacity ramps up to 1,000MW and beyond. But for now, the ball is in the private sector’s court to make it happen.
Ameet Shah and Sourabh Sen are Co-Chairmen and Directors at Astonfield based in New York with offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

Supermarkets to offer 'green energy makeovers'

Supermarkets and DIY chains will offer 'green energy makeovers' to home owners as part of Government plans to transform Britain's housing stock.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM GMT 02 Mar 2010

Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, will announce a package of measures today to make Britain's homes "greener and warmer".
A key element will be the Pay as You Save or PAYS scheme which provides "green home loans" of up to £10,000 through supermarkets, DIY chains or local authorities but allows the homeowner to pay back the cost over time as savings are made on energy bills. For example, a home owner can insulate the loft or have solar panels installed and pay the cost back without noticing because it will be taken from savings on the electricity bill.

The scheme has been designed to make green home improvement cheaper and easier in order to meet Government targets on cutting emissions. But critics say it remains inaccessible to poor people who really need to reduce fuel bills.
The Government is committed to cutting emissions from households by 29 per cent over the next ten years.
Mr Miliband said the "great British refurb" will enable people to access money for home improvements, without having to pay it back immediately.
"This new approach will allow people to pay for home improvements after they have had them installed rather than before. More people will be able to get the work they want done. That means less energy used which is good for the environment and lower bills which is good for families, particularly when we have cold weather like we did this winter," he said.
The "green home loans" are expected to be made available from banks or through the Government. Builders, supermarkets or even mass communication companies could take out the loans and then offer to do the work and recoup the cost plus interest from the savings made on energy bills.
Legislation will make it possible to link the loan to the house rather than the person, so even if people move house there is still an incentive to take up the scheme.
In future leading supermarket chains like the Co-operative and Tesco and DIY chains like B&Q are expected to offer complete packages insulating people's homes or installing renewable energy devices like solar panels or wind turbines. Once the Government scheme is in place home owners could have the option of paying back the money over a period of up to 25 years, either through payments on the energy bill or through the local authority.
Local authorities could also offer green makeovers and then take the money back over time with no interest.
But Dave Timms of Friends of the Earth said more needed to be done to ensure that vulnerable elderly people can take advantage of the scheme.
"PAYS is a useful addition to the policy framework and it will work for many many able-to-pay households and could be especially effective in homes that are relatively cheap to improve. But for people in fuel poverty, for the private-rented sector and people living in hard-to-treat homes. There are limitations that mean the Government has to come up with other mechanisms and standards to make sure nobody is left behind."
John Alker of the Green Building Council said the Government needed to do more to encourage greener homes such as offering rebates on council tax or a cut in stamp duty if the house is improved.
"A comprehensive and radical government strategy on green homes is frankly long overdue. However we wait and see whether this announcement can live up to that challenge. We may well need to see additional incentives to encourage people to take up this scheme." he said.
The Conservatives have already pledged to introduce a similar scheme to PAYS called the "new green deal" that will also work with supermarkets and DIY chains to offer green makeovers.

Supermarkets to sell spirits in plastic bottles and milk in bags

Spirtis will come in plastic bottles and milk in bags as part of the latest consumer-led campaign to cut excess food packaging.

By Louise GrayPublished: 7:30AM GMT 04 Mar 2010

The major food retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer have all agreed to cut the carbon footprint of grocery packaging by 10 per cent over the next two years.
This will mean selling milk in bags, spirits in plastic bottles, meat in vacuum-packed plastic bags and loose fruit and vegetables. Even Easter eggs will come with less plastic packaging.

The agreement, that was driven by groups like the Women's Institute, will encourage retailers to provide facilities to recycle wrappings for bread and grapes as well as plastic bags.
To help consumers cut food waste, supermarkets will sell smaller portions such as half loaves of bread and suggest recipes for left overs.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that drew up the agreement, said it could save consumers £800 million over three years because of the reduction in the amount of food thrown away.
The commitments to tackle the environmental impact of grocery waste will also save the industry £200 million and cut greenhouse gas emissions by three million tonnes over the next three years.
Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, said the UK has to cut the amount of food and excess packaging sent to landfill.
"A fifth of household waste is packaging, and more than half of this comes from the groceries we buy. This packaging can be essential, but in many cases using less and smarter packaging can achieve the same result," he said.
:: Anti-litter campaigners have called on retailers and manufacturers to come up with more innovative designs for products and packaging to help cut levels of rubbish on England's streets.
The call is part of Keep Britain Tidy's manifesto for tackling litter and improving the quality of people's local environment.
Other proposed measures in the This Is Our Home document include making it easier to catch and fine motorists who throw litter from cars and a new "gold standard" awarded for the cleanest and best-managed towns and cities.

Governments Electric Dream

Written by: ECRA Bloggers
Under new proposals the government will offer £5,000 towards the cost of an electric car, create electric car cities and launch large-scale experiments with "ultra-green" vehicles.The scheme will see £30 million of investment in electric vehicle infrastructure for London, Milton Keynes and the North East.The three ‘Plugged-In Places’ will build over 11,000 vehicle recharging points in car parks, supermarkets, leisure and retail centres over the next three years.The proposals are part of a £250m strategy outlining a revolution in Britain's road transport network with the aim of cutting the UK's CO2 emisisons.Tranpsport minister Geoff Hoon said that decarbonising road transport had a big role in helping the UK meet its targets of reducing CO2 emissions by 26% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. "Something like 35% of all our carbon emissions are caused by domestic transport," he said. "Of that, 58% of the emissions are caused by motor cars."Car manufacturers are also a key part of the strategy with £100m available to car makers for research. "What we want to see is the UK firmly in the lead in the manufacturing sense because we want to ensure the incentives ... benefit, broadly, manufacturing in the UK," Hoon told the Guardian.In response to the announcement, Emma Gibson, Head of Transport at Greenpeace UK, said:"Providing help for people buying electric vehicles is exactly the kind of action that’s needed to cut carbon emissions and create green jobs. The simultaneous announcements from Mitsubishi and Siemens, investing in UK wind and tidal power, support the renewable generation needed to make these cars truly green. The much-vaunted low carbon economy finally seems to be coming together in the UK."

Institute of Physics forced to clarify submission to climate emails inquiry

Strongly worded submission to the parliamentary inquiry is being used to imply the institute questions the scientific evidence for climate change, statement says

David Adam, environment correspondent, Tuesday 2 March 2010 18.00 GMT
The Institute of Physics has been forced to clarify its strongly worded submission to a parliamentary inquiry into climate change emails released onto the internet.
The institute's submission, to the science and technology select committee, said the emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) contained "worrying implications for the integrity of scientific research in this field".
The submission has been used by climate sceptics to bolster claims that the email affair, dubbed "climategate", shows the scientists did not behave properly and that the problem of global warming is exaggerated.
The committee held its only evidence session yesterday and interviewed witnesses including Phil Jones, the climate scientist at the centre of the media storm.
In a statement issued today the institute said its written submission to the committee "has been interpreted by some individuals to imply that it does not support the scientific evidence that the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is contributing to global warming."
It says: "That is not the case. The institute's position on climate change is clear: the basic science is well enough understood to be sure that our climate is changing, and that we need to take action now to mitigate that change."
The institute said its critical comments were focused on the scientific process, and "should not be interpreted to mean that the institute believes that the science itself is flawed."
The statement appears to contradict sections of the original submission, which suggests the emails showed scientists had cherry-picked data to support conclusions and that some key reconstructions of past temperature cannot be relied upon.
The institute statement says its submission was approved by its science board, a formal committee of experts that oversees its policy work.
The Guardian has been unable to find a member of the board that supports the submission. Two of the scientists listed as members said they had declined to comment on a draft submission prepared by the institute, because they were not climate experts and had not read the UEA emails. Others would not comment or did not respond to enquiries.
An institute spokesperson said the submission was "strongly supported" by three members of the board. "All members were invited to comment. Only a few did, all concerned approved [the submission] unanimously."

Fury as EU approves GM potato

Critics claim plant could spread antibiotic-resistant diseases to humans
By Martin Hickman and Genevieve Roberts
Thursday, 4 March 2010
The introduction of a genetically modified potato in Europe risks the development of human diseases that fail to respond to antibiotics, it was claimed last night.
German chemical giant BASF this week won approval from the European Commission for commercial growing of a starchy potato with a gene that could resist antibiotics – useful in the fight against illnesses such as tuberculosis.
Farms in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic may plant the potato for industrial use, with part of the tuber fed to cattle, according to BASF, which fought a 13-year battle to win approval for Amflora. But other EU member states, including Italy and Austria and anti-GM campaigners angrily attacked the move, claiming it could result in a health disaster.
During the regulatory tussle over the potato, the EU's pharmaceutical regulator had expressed concern about its potential to interfere with the efficacy of antibiotics on infections that develop multiple resistance to other antibiotics, a growing problem in human and veterinary medicine. Amflora contains a gene that produces an enzyme which generally confers resistance to several antibiotics, including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin.
The antibiotics could become "extremely important" to treat otherwise multi-resistant infections and tuberculosis, the European Medicines Authority (EMA) warned. Drug resistance is part of the explanation for the resurgence of TB, which infects eight million people worldwide every year.
"In the absence of an effective therapy, infectious Multiple Drug Resistant TB patients will continue to spread the disease, producing new infections with MDR-TB strains," an EMA spokesman said. "Until we introduce a new drug with demonstrated activity against MDR strains, this aspect of the TB epidemic could explode at an exponential level."
After member states become deadlocked on the potato's approval, the European Commission approved it for use in industries such as paper production, saying it would save energy, water and chemicals. Once the starch has been removed, the skins can be fed to animals, whose meat would not have to be labelled as GM.
The EC, whose decision was backed by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), said there was no good reason for withholding approval. Health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli said: "Responsible innovation will be my guiding principle when dealing with innovative technologies."
"Stringent" controls would ensure none of the tubers were left in the ground, ensuring altered genes did not escape into the environment. Opponents fear bacteria inside the guts of animals fed the GM potato – which can cause human diseases – may develop resistance to antibiotics.
Some member states were furious. "Not only are we against this decision, but we want to underscore that we will not allow the questioning of member states' sovereignty on this matter," said Italy's Agriculture Minister, Luca Zaia. Austria said it would ban cultivation of the potato within its borders, while France said it would ask an expert panel for further research.
Campaigners accused Brussels of failing to follow the precautionary principle. Friends of the Earth's Heike Moldenhauer said: "The commissioner whose job is to protect consumers has, in one of his first decisions, ignored public opinion and safety concerns to please the world's biggest chemical company."
Campaigners suspect Brussels is in favour of the widespread planting of GM crops despite opposition by some member states. Yesterday it also announced its intention to allow states more leeway in backing GM organisms.

Houses with low energy efficiency will lose value in government plans

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Houses with low energy efficiency will lose value under government plans to intervene in the property market to help cut greenhouse gas emissions from homes by a third by 2020.
Estate agents will be given guidance telling them to take more notice of energy efficiency when deciding the value of homes. Ministers believe that homeowners are more likely to pay for efficiency measures such as solar panels and insulation if their investment clearly increases the property’s value.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change said in a strategy document that it had asked the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors for recommendations to ensure that a home’s energy performance was “better reflected” in its value. Council tax rebates of more than £100 a year will be offered to homeowners who improve insulation. Landlords will be barred from letting poorly insulated properties and will have to upgrade them to a minimum standard of energy efficiency.
Councils will be able to require energy companies to work with them to insulate social housing. Banks and shops will be encouraged to offer loans of £10,000 per home to householders who install solar panels, heat pumps and insulation. The repayments will be covered by savings in energy bills.

Legislation will allow the loans to be linked to the home rather than the owner, meaning that when the home is sold the new owner will inherit the debt. The National Association of Estate Agents said that such debts could make business more difficult.
John Healey, the Housing Minister, said that action was needed to reduce energy wastage in privately rented homes, which tended to be older and in poorer condition than owner-occupied homes. It is proposed to make the installation of loft and cavity wall insulation a condition of renting out a property.