Sunday, 14 March 2010

European investors see IPO markets opening

London, 11 March: Most European investors expect to see an increasing number of clean technology companies floated over the next 18 months, according to a survey by investor communications firm Carbon International.
In a survey of 90 clean-tech venture capital and private equity investors across Europe, 65% considered an initial public offering (IPO) in 2010 or 2011 to be “a feasible exit” for at least one of their investments.
However, given the severe lack of IPO activity over the past 18 months, 87% said exiting an investment via a trade sale was more likely than an IPO.
A large majority (87%) of respondents reported that their environmental investments are either outperforming, or performing as well as, the general market. Despite this, the survey found a strong reluctance from investors to invest in early-stage or capital-intensive companies such as wave and tidal – and this could lead to a shortage of investable companies in 2012-13.
“Our survey reveals some positives: the environmental sector is performing well and there is a strong expectation that the IPO markets will re-open,” said Tom Whitehouse, CEO of Carbon International.
“But the survey also raises concerns. The majority of investors fear that early-stage sectors, particularly capital-intensive ones such as wave and tidal power, energy storage and bio-sequestration, will fail to secure sufficient funding to grow from either private or public markets. If so, it’s difficult to see renewable energy targets being met.”
One comment from the survey read: “Current capital market weakness is reducing the flow of capital and thus fewer companies and projects are being funded. This will lead to delays in the deployment of renewable energy and will probably delay the cost reductions required for renewable energy to become more efficient and competitive with existing hydrocarbon-based energy sources.”
Investors said they were most excited about opportunities in energy efficiency, waste-to-energy and solar. Fuel cells and biofuels were ranked the least exciting sectors, although Carbon International noted they still had “hardcore fans”.
Whitehouse said that “less glamorous” environmental sectors such as recycling, waste treatment and energy efficiency had good prospects of making money on the back of EU legislation.
One firm in the electronic waste recycling sector, UK-based environCom, is presenting to the London Stock Exchange later this month to gauge interest from public equity investors.
“One of the options we are considering to raise the funds for our expansion is the public market, and AIM [London’s Alternative Investment Market] is an option that we are seriously considering,” said environCom CEO Joe Quigley. “But at this stage we have no preference for public or privately raised capital. We are keeping our options open”.
According to Carbon International, other UK companies keen to gauge interest from public equity investors include Genwat, a waste-to-energy company, biofuels company TMO Renewables and solar power installer Solarcentury.

Wind industry calls for US RES, as first project guaranteed

New York, 11 March: The economic stimulus package has provided valuable support for the US wind energy sector, but a national renewable electricity standard (RES) is the policy tenet most critical to the industry’s development, project sponsors said.
Using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Department of Energy (DOE) this week authorised the first loan guarantee for a wind energy project. The agency’s $117 million guarantee will help finance construction and start-up of a 30MW wind project in Kahuku, Hawaii. The project, by Boston-based sponsor First Wind, aims to contribute to the state’s goal of meeting 70% of its energy needs with clean energy by 2030 – a major reversal as Hawaii currently relies on imported oil for 90% of its energy supply.
But the renewable energy grant programme has been the major source of support for the sector from the Recovery Act. Iberdrola Renewables has received the largest portion of the funds dispersed from the grant programme, more than $500 million, said Donald Furman, senior vice-president of the Portland, Oregon-based company and president of the board of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
The Recovery Act has allowed renewable energy producers to change their investment profiles to move capital to the US. For example, the looming expiration of a production tax credit in 2008 motivated AES Wind Generation to spend 80% of its $1 billion investment for 2009 outside the US, said Arlington, Virginia-based Ned Hall, executive vice-president of the firm. But the Recovery Act will allow the company to reverse that trend this year, with roughly 80% of its investment in the US, he said.
“Anything that creates additional uncertainty certainly motivates us to rethink where we focus our efforts,” Hall said.
While the stimulus funds have clearly played a tremendous role in the sector in the last couple of years, the industry needs a stable, long-term policy, said Victor Abate, vice-president for renewables for GE Energy, which has invested more than $1 billion in wind energy technology in the past decade.
“The next move from a policy perspective is demand,” he said. “We need to drive demand in the alternative energy sector through the next decade in a very stable way, a predictable way, and that’s through a renewable energy standard.”
A national RES is part of the discussions on an energy and climate legislative proposal expected to be offered soon by senators John Kerry (D-Mass), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn), said Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA.
“No, I don’t think we’re in trouble,” she said in response to a question on whether the wind energy industry was losing momentum. “I think we’re very well positioned to get something done and to get it done quickly.”

Stern backs $100bn IMF climate fund plan

London, 11 March: A climate fund proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 has won support from climate change economics guru Nicholas Stern.
Speaking in Nairobi on Sunday, IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said: “Sustainable growth in developing countries will require large-scale, long-term investments for climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Copenhagen Accord suggests that $100 billion a year is needed by 2020, over and above existing aid commitments. This will be difficult to do with the standard approach – a series of ‘pledging conferences’ for decades to come.”
He said that, ultimately, financing will come from “budgetary transfers from developed countries, drawing on scaled-up carbon taxes and expanded carbon trading mechanisms”. However, these revenue sources will take time to be put in place, so an IMF 'Green Fund' could “act as a bridge to large-scale carbon-based financing in the medium term”.
In a subsequent interview with wire service AFP, Strauss-Kahn said that the IMF is going to publish a working paper on the Green Fund in the next couple of weeks. However, in the Nairobi speech, he stressed that the IMF would not manage the fund.
Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said: “The ‘Green Fund’ is a creative and constructive idea which shows that the International Monetary Fund recognises clearly the very serious risks that climate change creates for future global economic growth and development.”
Late last year, George Soros, the former hedge fund manager and now billionaire philanthropist, suggested that such a fund tap ‘Special Drawing Rights’, the international reserve assets held by the IMF to supplement its members' official currency reserves.
However, Soros’ proposal was for a modest $100 billion over 25 years, rather than the $100 billion per year by 2020 apparently on the table from the IMF.
In January, Strauss-Kahn floated the idea of an IMF-led green fund, at the Davos meetings in Switzerland.

Bureaucracy holding up DOE renewables cash – GAO

New York, 11 March: The US Department of Energy (DOE) is encountering numerous obstacles to releasing funds for clean energy projects from last year’s economic stimulus package, including federally-mandated environmental reviews and monthly reporting requirements.
As of 28 February, the DOE had committed $25.7 billion or 70% of the $36.7 billion provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but has only spent $2.5 billion or 7% of the funds, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“It appears that it’s bureaucratic delays that have hampered spending and to no one’s surprise it appears that much of that delay could be pointed back to us and the decisions made in Congress,” said Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
For example, the DOE has only committed and spent 1% of the $3.97 billion provided to its loan guarantee programme by the Recovery Act to support renewable energy and electricity transmission projects.
The loan guarantee and other DOE programmes have stalled largely because they could have significant environmental impacts that trigger extensive reviews under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), according to the GAO report.
“DOE has SWAT teams on it now and they are working tirelessly to get those reviews done and they’ve established a pretty aggressive agenda for when they want to do that, but it is a concern moving forward,” said Michele Nellenbach, director of the natural resources committee for the National Governors' Association.
Another major concern is a DOE requirement that states file monthly reports on energy and weatherisation programmes, which is problematic because they are reducing staff and hours because of budget issues, she said.
But the monthly reporting helps the DOE focus on assisting potentially high-risk projects, said Matt Rogers, the DOE’s senior advisor overseeing economic stimulus investments. “The challenge is without that data ... we end up having to search around and find those areas in most need,” he said. “It gives us the kind of managerial data that frankly any business has.”
A major obstacle has been the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires that workers on federally-funded projects receive proper wages and benefits. Its provisions were applied by the Recovery Act for the first time to the weatherisation assistance programme, which forced many states to wait for wage determinations from the Department of Labor.
“I would encourage Congress to think about our experiences with Davis-Bacon before they apply that requirement to new programmes because it has been an impediment to getting dollars spent quickly,” said Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administrator and vice-chair for the National Association of State Energy Officials.
Some Recovery Act programmes have been successful in funding clean energy projects. The DOE and Treasury Department allocated $2.3 billion in clean energy manufacturing tax credits to 183 projects, an investment that will be matched by up to $5.4 billion in private sector funding. But Rogers said he was disappointed by the agency’s inability to fund all the “terrific” projects that applied.
“We could have easily done double that,” he said, adding that the administration is asking Congress to provide another $5 billion.

Musicians look to clean up their acts

Industry gathers to discuss how to make lavish rock'n'roll tours more environmentally friendly
By Paul Bignell
Sunday, 14 March 2010
Imagine U2 clambering on to a train to take them to a sold-out stadium; Keith Richards swigging from a bottle of organic, Fairtrade booze while Bon Jovi recycle their post-gig waste. Unlikely as it sounds, it may yet come to pass as rock'n'roll's tradition of painting the town red fades to an ethical shade of green.
Polluting private jets, excessive dressing room demands and arena-busting tours are no long sustainable, according to the biggest study so far on the effect of the live music industry on our environment.
In recent years, musicians such as U2, Kasabian and Madonna have been criticised for the size of their carbon footprint due to the huge scale of their tours. Notwithstanding Sting's personal enviro-activism, his group, the Police, was recently condemned as "the dirtiest band in the world" in an NME survey, because of the size and length of their 2007 reunion tour.
The report, which will be published in May, is the first to map the carbon footprint of live music – from platinum-selling rock stars and orchestras to theatre groups and pub bands. Although it doesn't name and shame, it does blame performers for releasing about 540,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases every year – the amount emitted by a town the size of Great Yarmouth in Suffolk.
Music agents, promoters and managers met in London yesterday to discuss how the industry can clean up its act but still make money.
The study was produced by Julie's Bicycle, a not-for-profit company which was set up specifically to research the music industry's carbon footprint. It maps everything from the number and size of tours, right down to the greenness of the band's rider or list of dressing room demands.
The study's suggestions range from fans car-sharing to get to gigs to bands leaving their Lear jets in the hangar and letting the train take the strain. It is also recommends that band T-shirts be ethically produced.
The organisation looked at 90 artists' tours around the UK, Europe, US and Asia. It then interviewed dozens of people working on them.
Some bands have led the way in revealing the environmental impact of their tours. Radiohead have produced an audit of two of their tours in the US and made it publicly available. Other green champions include Sheryl Crow, John Legend and Coldplay.
Jazz Summers, the chief executive of Big Life Management and a founder of Julie's Bicycle, said at yesterday's event: "There is a lot of fear around the music industry getting greener. There's a real fear that it's going to cost the industry money. But that's why we're doing this report – like anything else, it's about information."

'Green' plastics may be worse for environment

By Steve Connor, Science Editor, and Kevin Rawlinson
Saturday, 13 March 2010
A type of degradable plastic bag that was supposed to be better for the environment may not be completely biodegradable, a Government-commissioned study has found. The bag is made with metal salts that are supposed to accelerate degradation, but scientists found the material was not fully biodegradable and might contaminate the way plastics are recycled.
Hundreds of millions of plastic bags and packaging items have been produced by the process, and they are widely used by some of the leading British retailers, including Waitrose, Ocado, JD Sports, Accessorize, River Island and Tesco.
Plastics with the additives are meant to break down quickly and fully in the presence of light and air by a process called oxidative degradation. But the term biodegradable is "virtually meaningless" said the Loughborough University scientists who ran the study. "The bags cannot be composted and there are concerns about the effects of the plastic in recycling facilities," said the scientists, who added that the best way of disposal was incineration or landfill.

Honey bees secret world of heat revealed

Honey bees precisely control the temperature inside their hives to determine which job their young will perform in the colony when mature, new research has revealed.

By Richard Gray, Science CorrespondentPublished: 9:00PM GMT 13 Mar 2010

The secret of honey bees' success has been discovered living deep inside their hives - a special type of bee which acts like a living radiator, warming the nest and controlling the colony's complex social structure.
The "heater bees" have been found to play a crucial, and previously unappreciated, role in the survival of honey bee colonies.

Using new technology that allows sceintists to see the temperature inside the bee hives, researchers have been able to see how heater bees use their own bodies to provide a unique form of central heating within a hive.
They have found that these specialised bees, whose body temperatures are considerably higher than other bees in the colony, not only keep the hive warm but also control the social make-up within a colony.
Bees, and other social insects such as ants, share jobs within a colony so each individual has specific role that benefits the colony as a whole.
It is this division of labour that has allowed bees to become so successful as they behave like a highly organised, single "superorganism" rather than a cluster of selfish individuals.
Heater bees are responsible for maintaining the temperature of the brood nest in a hive, where young bees, known as pupae, are sealed into wax cells while they develop into mature bees.
The scientists discovered that the heater bees work to subtly change the temperature of each developing pupae by around a degree and this small change determines what kind of honey bee it will become.
Those kept at 35 degrees C turn into the intelligent forager bees that leave the nest in search of nectar and pollen.
Those kept at 34 degrees C emerge as "house keeper" bees that never leave the nest, conducting chores such as feeding the larvae and cleaning the nest.
Professor Jürgen Tautz, head of the bee group at Würzburg University, in Germany, said this allows the heater bees to control what sort of job a bee will fulfil when it matures and so ensure there are always enough bees filling each role within the colony.
He said: "The bees are controlling the environment they live in to make sure they can fill a need within the colony.
"Each bee in a colony performs a different profession – there are guard bees, nest building bees, brood caretaking bee, queen caretaking bee and forager bees, which are the ones we are familiar with as they leave the colony.
"By carefully regulating the temperature of each pupae, they change the way it develops and the likelihood of the role it will fulfil when it emerges as an adult."
The findings will be revealed later this month in a new BBC series Richard Hammond's Invisible World, where technology is used to give a glimpse into previously unseen worlds.
Thermal imaging cameras reveal how individual heater bees warm up the nest to precisely the right temperature.
By beating the muscles that would normally power their wings, heater bees increase the temperature of their bodies up to 44 degrees C – nearly 10 degrees hotter than a normal bee.
They then crawl into empty cells within the brood nest, transmitting heat to the surrounding cells where the bee pupae are developing. The waxy cells also help circulate the heat around the rest of the hive.
In the past beekeepers have seen these empty cells as undesirable and have attempted to breed queens that did not leave them empty, but Professor Tautz now claims they are an essential part of ensuring the health of a bee colony.
Warmth is essential for bees as they need a body temperature of around 35 degrees C to be able to fly.
The heater bees, which can number from just a few to many hundreds depending on the outside temperature and size of the hive, also press themselves against individual cells to top up the temperature of each pupae to ensure it develops into the right kind of bee.
Professor Tautz added: "The old idea was that the pupae in the brood nest were producing the heat and bees moved in there to keep warm, but what we have seen is that there are adult bees who are responsible to maintaining the temperature.
"They decouple their wings so the muscles run at full power without moving the wings and this allows them to raise their body temperature extremely high.
"Their body temperature can reach up to 44 degrees centigrade. In theory they should cook themselves at that temperature, but somehow they are able to withstand this high temperature.
"By creeping into empty cells, one heater bee can transmit heat to 70 pupae around them. It is a central heating system for the colony.
"Now we know that these empty cells are important, then bee keepers can try to avoid selecting for queens that don't leave these cells empty. It can help to ensure that colonies can regulate their temperature properly and have the right mix of individuals."
Temperature is known to have an influence on the development of young in other animal species.
In crocodiles, the sex of hatchlings is determined by the average temperature of the eggs during a key point in the incubation period, so if they are kept above 34.5 degrees C the offspring will be male.
Many species of fish and turtles also use temperature to determine the sex of their young.
Dr David Aston, chair of the British Beekeepers Association's technical and environmental committee, said: "There has never been a good reason for the presence of individual empty cells across the face of the comb.
"Now Professor Tautz has provided an explanation and beekeepers will look more closely at the brood combs to see if they can observe heater bees at work."
Richard Hammond's Invisible World will begin on BBC One on March 16. The episode with the heater bees will be shown on March 23.

Government rebuked over global warming nursery rhyme adverts

Two nursery rhyme adverts commissioned by the Government to raise awareness of climate change have been banned for overstating the risks.

By Matthew MoorePublished: 9:25AM GMT 14 Mar 2010
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the adverts – which were based on the children's poems Jack and Jill and Rub-A-Dub-Dub – made exaggerated claims about the threat to Britain from global warming.
In definitely asserting that climate change would cause flooding and drought the adverts went beyond mainstream scientific consensus, the watchdog said.
It noted that predictions about the potential global impact of global warming made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "involved uncertainties" that the adverts failed to reflect.
The two posters created on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change juxtaposed adapted extracts from the nursery rhymes with prose warnings about the dangers of global warning.
One began: “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. There was none as extreme weather due to climate change had caused a drought.” Beneath was written: “Extreme weather conditions such as flooding, heat waves and storms will become more frequent and intense.”
The second advert read: "Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub — a necessary course of action due to flash flooding caused by climate change.” It was captioned: “Climate change is happening. Temperature and sea levels are rising. Extreme weather events such as storms, floods and heat waves will become more frequent and intense. If we carry on at this rate, life in 25 years could be very different.”
Upholding complaints from members of the public, the ASA said that in both instances the text accompanying the rhymes should have been couched in softer language.
The newspaper adverts were part of a controversial media campaign launched by the DECC last year which attracted a total of 939 complaints.
The watchdog found that the other elements of the campaign, including a television and cinema advert in which a father read his daughter a nightmarish bedtime story about a world blighted by climate change, did not breach its guidelines.
Ed Miliband, the Environment Secretary, said that that his department had been "comprehensively vindicated" by the ASA but promised to better reflect scientific uncertainty about global warming in future campaigns.

£3bn coal power plant will test strength of Ed Miliband's environment rules

New plant in Scotland will have to prove that carbon capture technology works

Tim Webb, Friday 12 March 2010 18.54 GMT
The first application to build a coal plant in Britain since energy secretary Ed Miliband introduced tough new environmental rules will be submitted next week, the Guardian has learnt.
UK-based conglomerate Peel Group is pressing ahead with the £3bn project to build a 1.6GW plant at Hunterston in Scotland, which will partially fit experimental carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Its former partner, Dong Energy, dropped out last year, citing the recession. The application, which is expected to be submitted to the Scottish government on Monday, signals Peel's confidence that the unproven technology can work.
Hunterston is likely to become the UK's first CCS plant, ahead of the controversial Kingsnorth project in Kent, which E.ON still hopes to build.
Miliband announced that Kingsnorth, and Scottish Power's project at Longannet, will move into the final stage of a government-funded competition to build what it had said would be the UK's first pilot CCS plant. But no winner will be announced until next year, making Peel's project the most advanced. The technology is supposed to allow coal plants, which emit twice as much carbon as gas plants, to capture and store their emissions underground, but the technology has not been proven on a large scale and the government is relying on it working to meet its carbon targets.
Last year Miliband announced a radical new policy to force all new coal plants to be partially fitted with carbon capture technology. The government hopes the technology will be technically and commercially proven by 2025, by when all existing plants that have partially fitted the technology would have to use it to capture and store all emissions. But ministers have not spelt out what happens if the technology does not work or cannot be fitted to the whole plant. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace are concerned that if this happens, plants like Hunterston built under the new policy will remain open and end up emitting vast amounts of carbon dioxide.
Greenpeace has campaigned for an "emissions performance standard" which would restrict the operation of coal plants that had not fully fitted the technology. A coalition of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and rebel Labour MPs narrowly failed to include the provision in the government's energy bill in a recent vote.
Joss Garman, climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: "This application is a worrying sign that the government has failed to shut the door completely on dirty coal in the UK. Despite huge uncertainties over their ability to pay for carbon capture and storage technology, [Peel subsidiary] Ayrshire Power has decided to go ahead with these plans and call Labour's bluff.
"It will take a brave minister to shut down a functioning plant in the future, even if it has failed to deliver the clean coal technology it promised in 2010. That's why an emissions performance standard is needed from the start, to warn companies they face tough legal consequences if they fail to keep their promises."
Peel Group, which is backed by Saudi investors, owns airports, ports and a 28% stake in UK Coal. It is run by John Whittaker, 28th in last year's Sunday Times Rich List with £1.3bn.

London landmark building will generate 8% of its energy needs

Rooftop turbines on the 'Razor' are first in world to be built into fabric of apartment block
Adam Vaughan, Sunday 14 March 2010 08.00 GMT
Peering down 148 metres from the top of the latest addition to London's skyline, the traffic-clogged Elephant and Castle roundabout and its notorious neighbour, the Heygate estate, below feel an unlikely location for a world first. But next week, this new skyscraper, nicknamed "the Razor", will take a crucial step towards becoming the world's first building with wind turbines built into its fabric.
While wind speeds in the concrete jungle at the tower's base would render a wind turbine pointless, at 42 storeys up they are capable of 35mph gusts – a serious challenge for the workers who created the complex steel structure – and are projected to generate 8% of the building's electricity needs.
The building – officially called the Strata tower – is a £113m milestone in the £1.5bn project to regenerate the Elephant and Castle area. The Strata development, which comprises the tower and a smaller "Pavillion" building, is a statement of the new demographic Southwark council hopes the area will attract – its 408 apartments range from £230,000 to £2.5m.
But the tower also marks an innovation for the building sector, which under government regulations will have to make all new buildings zero-carbon by 2019.
Justin Black, director for Brookfield, the developer, said the decision to choose wind was a "conscious decision to experiment". He pointed out that the entire southern facade of the building would have had to be covered in solar photovoltaics to generate the same amount of energy. "The brief we gave to Hamilton's Architects was we wanted a statement, we wanted to create benchmarks for sustainability and urban living. We wanted something bold, we wanted remarkable. It's what I term Marmite architecture – you either love it or you hate it, there's no in between," Black said.
Next week the blades for the 9m-diameter turbines arrive on site and will be winched on to the roof for installation in early April, before the building is opened by London major Boris Johnson – circumstances permitting – on 1 July. The 19kW turbines, which were made bespoke for the project, will have five blades rather than the usual three to reduce noise. Vibrations to the rest of the building should be eliminated by a five-tonne base fitted with four anti-vibration dampeners.
Unlike a conventional turbine standing in a field, the three in the Strata tower are expected to use the Venturi effect — think of wind being forced between two large buildings — to suck wind in from many angles and accelerate it through the tubes. As well as generating a predicted 50MWh annually, the turbines will also generate money – an estimated £16,000-£17,000 annually – through the government's new and controversial feed-in-tariff, which starts on 1 April.
Other attempts have been made to minimise the tower's environmental footprint, which is 6% above the energy efficiency required under building regulations. For example it uses a natural ventilation system and there is no air-conditioning. A wholly glazed building was ruled out to increase insulation and reduce noise.
Paul King, chief executive of UK Green Building Council, hailed the building as pioneering but warned that wind power was unlikely to become widespread in skyscrapers: "You've got to take your hat off to the design team for delivering a building that clearly captures the imagination. I doubt whether wind power will become a common feature in high-rise inner-city projects – but without this type of bold innovation, how would we ever know? Let's see how it works and learn from the real performance data that is gathered."
Strata is not alone among efforts to build wind-powered "cities in the sky". The Bahrain World Trade Centre already has wind turbines slung between its two towers, China has plans for high-rise buildings with turbines built into their fabric, and the Lighthouse tower in Paris' La Defense district should be topped by turbines when it's completed in 2015. Not all such wind towers have met with success though: Dubai's Anara Tower was cancelled, while New York's Freedom Tower, which was to replace the World Trade Centre, lost its proposed turbines in a redesign.

Chinese PM rebuts criticism over Copenhagen role

Wen Jiabao US on currency and defends China's place on world stage, saying his conscience is clear on climate deal
Tania Branigan and Jonathan Watts in Beijing, Sunday 14 March 2010 11.43 GMT
The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, today launched a robust defence of his country's place on the world stage, including a sharp rebuttal of what he called "baffling" criticism of his country's role at the Copenhagen summit.
Acknowledging "serious disruption" in ties with the US and rising criticism of Chinese assertiveness on the climate, currency, trade and other issues, the premier said he wanted to set the record straight.
"Some say China has got more arrogant and tough. Some put forward the theory of China's so-called 'triumphalism'. You have given me an opportunity to explain how China sees itself," Wen said.
In a press conference marking the close of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament, Wen said the country was still developing and would never seek hegemony even when fully modernised, but had always sought to uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity. He said China was a "responsible" nation that took an active part in international co-operation on major issues.
In the angry aftermath of the Copenhagen climate conference, China was accused of wrecking a deal by blocking emission reduction targets for 2050 and failing to send its most senior delegates to key meetings. In his most detailed public comments yet about the conference, Wen responded to critics.
"My conscience is untainted despite rumours and slanders from outside," he said. "It still baffles me why some people are trying to make the issue about China. Climate change is about human survival, the interest of all countries, and issues of equity and justice in the international community."
He accused foreign leaders of a shocking breach of protocol in their attempt to press him, with advance warning, into an unscheduled meeting after a welcome banquet. "Why was China not notified of this meeting? So far, nobody has explained. it is still a mystery to me," he said.
The final deal was the best that could be achieved in the difficult circumstances, he said, promising China's support for the Copenhagen accord.
Asked about other areas of friction, particularly with the US, the premier responded: "The responsibility for the serious disruption in US-China ties does not lie with the Chinese side but with the US."
He cited Barack Obama's recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, the announcement of US arms sales to Taiwan and disagreements over exchange rates and trade. "We are opposed to the practice of engaging in mutual finger-pointing or taking strong measures to force other countries to appreciate their currencies. That is not in the interest of reform of the renminbi's exchange rate regime," the premier said.
There is growing pressure for revaluation from the US and Europe, where many analysts argue that the renminbi is massively underpriced. Chinese experts have also argued that a rise in the currency would be in the country's own interests.
Wen told reporters: "I understand some countries want to increase their exports – what I don't understand is the practice of depreciating one's own currency and attempting to press other countries to increase theirs, just to improve exports. In my view that is a protectionist measure."
He went on to warn the US on its own currency, as he did at his last news conference. China holds more US treasury debt than another country.
"If I said I was worried [about the US dollar] last year, I still want to make the same remark this year," he said. "We cannot afford any mistake, however slight, when it comes to financial assets ... I hope the US will take concrete steps to reassure investors."
Turning to domestic issues, the prime minister warned that China faced "an extremely difficult task" in promoting steady and fast growth while restructuring the economy and managing inflationary expectations. Inflation, corruption and unfair income distribution taken together would be "strong enough to affect social stability and even the stability of state power," he said.
The government is seeking to gradually withdraw from the massive stimulus that helped to see China through the global slump, particularly given soaring property prices and rising inflation, which hit 2.7% in the year to February. But it must do so without damaging confidence.
The premier warned of the risk of a double-dip in the global economy and said that while the domestic economy had stabilised, many Chinese businesses were still reliant on the stimulus measures.

The innovator: Matthias Kauer

The 39-year-old inventor who created a solar cell that can generate 100 times more power than an ordinary cell

Lucy Siegle
The Observer, Sunday 14 March 2010
"Small is beautiful" is a longstanding eco mantra – and its latest example is a stamp-sized incarnation of the solar panel. Even with its minute proportions, the new solar cell generates three to four times the amount of power (10-12 watts) that a conventional cell could at the same size. "But the real point," explains Matthias Kauer of the Sharp Solar Research & Development Laboratory, "is that once you add in a comparatively cheap bit of kit like a lens, this tiny cell can then generate 100 times more power than an ordinary cell."
It's exactly the power surge solar photovoltaic panels need. PV panels use a thin layer of semi-conducting material, usually silicon, to generate an electric charge when exposed to sunlight. They are often derided, the assumption being that they don't generate a useful amount of energy, but Dr Kauer is quick to point out that even the average panel is 15 to 20 times more efficient at converting solar energy than plants.
His solar cell is superior still. It's already 35.8% efficient in sunlight, and he's confident that in future years that can increase to 50%. At the heart of the pint-sized innovation is the new material in the cell. The day the research team found the right proportions of indium gallium arsenide nitride, the super cell began to come together. "Those breakthrough days are good," says Kauer. "I've had a couple in my 10-year career so far, and this one was major."
If only we lived in a sun-soaked country. "That's a common misconception," says Kauer. "The UK has as much sun as parts of Germany, where solar panels are commonplace." The average amount of sun hitting an area 30cm in diameter is equivalent to the power of 20,000 AA batteries. "The exciting thing is that we can keep gaining efficiency," says Kauer, "and one day have cars, planes, ships and entire cities running on free solar power." The outlook is sunny.