Friday, 26 March 2010

New CO2 'Scrubber' from Ingredient in Hair Conditioners

ScienceDaily (Mar. 25, 2010) — Relatives of ingredients in hair- conditioning shampoos and fabric softeners show promise as a long- sought material to fight global warming by "scrubbing" carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the flue gases from coal-burning electric power generating stations, scientists reported at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Francisco. Their report, the first on use of these so-called aminosilicones in carbon dioxide capture, concluded that the material has the potential to remove 90 percent of CO2 from simulated flue gas. The new "scrubber" material may be less expensive and more efficient than current technologies for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the main "greenhouse" gas linked to global warming, the scientists say. Robert Perry, Ph.D., and colleagues pointed out that coal-burning electric power plants are a major source of the carbon dioxide that has been building up in Earth's atmosphere. An estimated 2.8 billion tons of the gas enters the atmosphere each year from the 8,000 coal- fired power plants in the United States alone. Those are among 50,000 coal-fired generating stations worldwide. Perry cited a critical need for practical technology to remove carbon dioxide from flue gases before it enters the atmosphere. The new scrubber material would meet the goal of the U.S. Department of Energy, which funded the research, of developing carbon capture technologies with at least a 90 percent CO2 capture efficiency. "We're very excited about this technology that may pave the way for a new process for carbon dioxide capture," Perry said. He is with GE Global Research in Niskayuna, N.Y. "The development of a low-cost solution for CO2 capture would go a long way in helping to address our clean energy goals. In the future, the gases that come out of power- plant smokestacks will be virtually free of carbon dioxide emissions." Perry and colleagues hope to overcome the high costs and inefficiency of current CO2 capture methods with a new type of aminosilicone, a group of materials widely used in fabric softeners, hair conditioners, and flexible high-temperature plastics. In laboratory-scale tests using a device to simulate flue gas conditions of continuously streaming gas and relevant temperatures, the new material captured more than 90 percent of the CO2 added to the system. If future tests at the pilot-scale in a power plant prove successful, the material would be used as part of a larger, active absorber system. In this scenario, the liquid aminosilicone solvent will absorb CO2 and be transferred to a desorption unit where CO2 would be removed from the aminosilicone and sequestered. The aminosilicone solvent would be recycled to react with more CO2-rich flue gas.

LG's eco friendly Remarq phone

March 25 2010 - 9:14 pm ET Sylvie Barak

LG was showing off the Remarq mobile phone, its latest little lean, green eco machine at CTIA this week, made from predominantly recycled material. The device, being offered by Sprint, was made using “Earth-friendly engineering,” with a 19.7 per cent recycled plastic casing and boasting 87 per cent recycled materials overall. The Remarq's charger is also setting the green standard, meeting the required Energy Star efficiency level. And instead of a weighty paper manual, LG has had the good sense to go for an online version instead.

China's 1st int'l co-op platform for low-carbon economy launched in Tianjin

13:33, March 25, 2010
China's first international cooperation platform for boosting low-carbon economy has been established at Tianjin Economic Development Area (TEDA) in the northern China's industrial hub.Named TEDA Eco Center, the newly established has recruited 18 senior advisors and partners, including China office of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the Japan Research Institute, Limited.An industrial symbiosis project aided by the European Union has been launched with the help from TEDA Eco Center.The four-year project, with a cost of 1.85 million euros, aims to achieve recycling of resources, energy efficiency and emissions reduction through share of raw materials, energy, logistics and human resources among different enterprises. Source: Xinhua

China, Germany lead the race toward a low-carbon economy

Thu Mar 25, 2010 2:08pm EDT
Smoke rises from a chimney of a power plant near a Chinese national flag in Taiyuan, Shanxi province December 2, 2009.
Credit: Reuters/Stringer
(SolveClimate)( - As countries around the world set emissions targets and ramp up their national climate policies, the race toward a vibrant low-carbon economy is under way, and there is a growing consensus that the United States will not take the lead.
A report from Deutsche Bank Group's Climate Change Advisors found that when considering all of the world's major emissions and climate change policies as a measure of movement toward a low-carbon economy, China and Germany are extremely well positioned. The U.S., meanwhile, lags far behind.
"The countries that move first to a low-carbon economy are definitely going to have a head start in terms of relative growth rates," said J. Scott Holladay, an economics fellow at New York University School of Law's Institute for Policy Integrity.
"In the not-too-distant future there is going to be a huge market for green energy, and it feels like the Scandinavian countries and Germany are leading that charge, and China is quickly catching up. In the U.S., it doesn't seem to be a huge policy priority."
The Deutsche Bank report identified 154 new policy initiatives announced in countries around the world since October, clearly representing the run-up and then follow-up to the Copenhagen climate summit in December.
The new emissions pledges would result in a reduction of annual emissions of about 2.8 gigatons. Add that to all the emissions policies already in place, and, if implemented successfully, they could reduce emissions by 9 gigatons in 2020. That would still fall 3 to 5 gigatons short of the goal of the "stabilization pathway" — the total needed to keep CO2 levels below 450 parts per million and the global temperature rise less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Notably, the biggest contributors to the additional 2.8 gigatons of emission reductions since October are China and Brazil.
China set a target for emissions intensity reduction, which is a measure of greenhouse gases released per unit of GDP, of 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Brazil set a hard emissions target of about 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Each would result in almost a gigaton of emissions reduction on its own.
"Based on that, you can assume that there will be a market response," said Kate Brash, assistant director of the Columbia Climate Center at Columbia University and part of the modeling team that contributed to the Deutsche Bank report. "The ambition is clearly not particularly high."
Germany already leads the pack in many ways, having long ago established feed-in tariffs that reward consumers for producing renewable electricity and feeding their excess power into the grid; the Deutsche Bank report calls feed-in tariffs "an integral underpinning of any prosperous green economy."
China, meanwhile, has installed renewable energy capacity per unit of GDP that exceeds both Germany and the United States. As Holladay points out, though, this may position the country well economically, but it does not imply much about its environmental and global warming mitigation potential.
"The rubber meets the road when you look at emissions per GDP data," he said. "The renewables are a step in the right direction, but when you look at the emissions per person or emissions per GDP data, I think the U.S. and China are both kind of lagging."
A Chunk of $2.3 trillion
Purely economically, though, the world's most populous country is embracing a green revolution. According to another report on low-carbon transitions by the Center for American Progress, clean energy will be a $2.3 trillion industry by 2020, and China will be right in the middle of it.
China, along with Germany and Spain, has multiple national policies that position it well for the next decade. All three countries have something resembling a government-run "green bank." The China Energy Conservation Investment Corporation will have about $15 billion in assets by 2012, consisting of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, among other things.
"Each of these countries has a long-term, sustained plan of how to ramp up clean energy industries and also lower carbon emissions," said Kate Gordon, one of the CAP report's authors and the organization's vice president for energy policy. "And the U.S. has 100 percent short-term and state-by-state policies. They're not comprehensive; they're scattershot."
Comparing the U.S. to these countries in any number of environmental or economic measures shows the widening divide. Germany, China and Spain all have feed-in tariff programs, while in the U.S., only a small handful of states have even experimented with the idea. All three countries also have national renewable energy standards, energy efficiency plans and carbon emission reduction plans. The U.S. has none of these on the federal level.
Holladay thinks that the United States' slow start won't necessarily keep it down forever.
"I wouldn't say it spells economic doom for the United States," he said. "Energy is a significant fraction of our economy, but so much of the U.S. economy is service-based now that you could imagine us continuing to do relatively well in terms of growth with below-average energy policy, or low-quality energy policy that doesn't take into account the changing international landscape."
Furthermore, both the Deutsche Bank and Center for American Progress reports use current policy — which includes state and local initiatives along with federal law — as the context. With Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) set to unveil a compromise climate and energy bill on Capitol Hill soon, some of those parameters could change. If they do, Holladay thinks lost economic ground can be made up.
"If there was some sort of pricing on carbon, the U.S. economy is uniquely suited to take advantage of those kinds of changes and develop new technology," he said. "You would imagine that we would have a good chance of catching up to the pack quickly. But that first part is a big ‘if.'"
Gordon agreed that putting a price on carbon would start a radical shift in economic progress, as would setting a national renewable energy portfolio standard.
"Every country we looked at has a renewable energy standard at the national level," she said. "Having a renewable energy standard sends a message that we're serious about this, but also sets a goal. So that would change the dynamic as well."
She pointed out that in spite of the long-standing complaints that the Kyoto Protocol did not work well to start bringing down carbon emissions around the world, there are some measures indicating that signatories to the agreement saw some economic benefit.
Countries that did participate in Kyoto saw an average increase in renewable energy technology patent applications of 33 percent since the time they signed. Over the same period, notable abstainers Australia and the U.S. saw no measurable increase.
Such measures would most likely change, though, if some of the proposed measures on Capitol Hill pass.
"There is no question that a piece of national legislation that made a strong statement about a commitment to a low-carbon future would change the game," Gordon said.

Home owners at risk of coastal erosion should be compensated

Homes at risk of coastal erosion should be given compensation, according a new report by MPs that calls on the Government to double spending on flood protection to £1 billion every year.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM GMT 25 Mar 2010

Over the next 20 years, 200 homes are likely to be made unsafe to live in due to coastal erosion and an additional 2,000 could become at risk, largely as a result of climate change.
But at the moment home owners who lose their property to the sea have no guarantee of compensation.

The Environmental Audit Committee said the Government should put in place measures to ensure that home owners can move on.
Tim Yeo, Chairman of the EAC, said the compensation formula should be based on how long the owner has lived in the property so that it does not apply to people who were aware of the risk when they brought the house. He also suggested developers and local authorities that encourage homes to be built on flood plains or eroding coastlines should contribute to compensation.
A figure for compensation has not be been decided, although the Government has suggested £6,000 to help home owners deal with removal costs and demolition.
In a report on the risks faced by Britain from climate change, Mr Yeo said the Government will have to spend a lot more on dealing with floods and extreme weather events.
At the moment the country spends £600 million per annum on flood protection but he said this should increase to £1 billion by 2035.
Mr Yeo also said the UK also needs to be better prepared for heatwaves and droughts.
"For a long time the climate change debate has focused on reducing carbon emissions, but adapting to the inevitable impacts of rising global temperatures is equally critical, " he said.
"Even if all the world's power stations were switched off tomorrow past emissions mean that some climate change will still take place and we will face more floods, droughts and heatwaves."

Climate change puts Australian reef on 'knife edge'

The world's southernmost coral reef is on a "knife-edge" after warmer seas blamed on climate change bleached large parts of it for the first time, an Australian scientist warned on Wednesday.
Peter Harrison, who has been monitoring the world heritage-listed Lord Howe Island since 1993, said a two degrees Celsius (four Fahrenheit) rise in sea temperatures had drained much of the reef of its distinctive colours.
"We're hoping the vast majority of these corals will be able to recover, but at the moment this whole system is on a knife-edge and we don't know what's going to happen," Harrison told AFP.
Harrison, whose Southern Cross University team surveyed the reef about 600 kilometres (370 miles) east of Sydney this month, said the unusually warm water had travelled down from tropical seas around Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
He blamed the warmer seas on climate change and said the reef could face "an even more severe event" in the future.
"It's exactly what you predict from warming seas," Harrison said. "This is a warning of likely future increases of stress on this world's southernmost reef."
Harrison said the reef will survive if the seas return to their normal temperatures quickly enough, but could take decades to recover from a severe bleaching.
He added that the damage was also affecting other marine life, including a type of anemone which provides a home for a rare type of fish.
Bleaching occurs when overheated corals expel crucial algae that give them their colour.

Rising seas claim island at centre of 30-year dispute

India and Bangladesh will fight no more over speck of land in Bay of Bengal
By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent
A low-lying island in a sprawling mangrove delta which has been disputed by India and Bangladesh for almost 30 years will be squabbled over no more. It has disappeared beneath the waves.
In what experts say is an alarming indication of the danger posed by rising sea levels brought about by global warming, New Moore Island has become totally submerged. "It is definitely because of global warming," said Professor Sugata Hazra of Jadavpur University in Kolkata. "The sea level has been rising at twice the previous rate in the years between 2002 and 2009. The sea level is rising in accordance with rising temperatures."
Known as New Moore Island in India, and South Talpatti in Bangladesh, the uninhabited outcrop in the Sundarbans delta region measured barely two miles in length and one-and-a-half miles in width. Yet the island had been angrily disputed by the two countries, almost ever since Bangladesh secured independence from Pakistan in 1971.

In 1981, with high-level meetings failing to resolve the matter, Delhi dispatched the armed frigate INS Sandhayak and a small military team to erect an aerial mast and the Indian flag. Bangladesh lodged a high-level protest, saying that the island was an integral part of its territory.
The problem in resolving the issue was that the flashpoint island was situated directly beneath the mouth of the river Hariabhanga, which marked the agreed international boundary between the two countries. Technically, possession of the island depends on which side of the island the main channel of the river flows. That has never been agreed by the two countries.
Yet such vagaries of ocean flow no longer matter. Mr Hazra said the island, first noticed in 1974 and possibly created by a massive cyclone that tore across Bangladesh, was no longer visible on satellite imagery.
The disappearance of New Moore Island, which was never more than two metres above sea level, may be a doom-laden portent for many islands in the delta. Professor Hazra said countless other islands were threatened by sea levels that for the past decade have been rising by around five millimetres a year. Before that, they were rising by around three millimetres a year.
Indeed, several islands in the Bay of Bengal have already had to be abandoned. The island of Lohachara was abandoned in 1996, while 48 per cent of Ghoramara is reportedly underwater. Thousands of so-called climate-change refugees have already fled. At least 10 other islands are said to be immediately at risk.
Bangladesh, with a population of around 160 million, may be one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Officials have estimated that around 20 per cent of its coastal area could become submerged and up to 20 million people forced to move if sea levels rise by one metre by 2050, as some climate-model projections have predicted.
Last month, a report issued by the World Wide Fund for Nature warned that the sensitive Sundarbans ecosystem, made up of mangrove forest and home to many tigers, could be swallowed up by rising tides within 60 years.

Blighted beaches: Britain's shores are drowning in litter

Beach litter figures down overall, but quantity of plastic found on shorelines grows to unprecedented levels
Sonia Van Gilder Cooke
The Guardian, Friday 26 March 2010

From the mundane debris of food wrappers and cigarette butts, to a laboratory incubator and a dead goat, Britain's beaches are strewn with litter, according to the Marine Conservation Society.
The volunteers who conducted the survey, the UK's biggest, found one piece for each step along the shore. The results showed litter levels along the coasts have increased dramatically since 1994, from 1,000 items per kilometre to over 1,800 items. It also found that plastic litter was at its highest level ever.
In 2009, the overall number of items on beaches declined - falling 16% from last year's record high to 342,000. But the percentage of plastic litter reached an unprecedented 64%. Emma Snowden, litter projects coordinator at MCS, said: "It's a lot of these single throwaway items."
The most common type of litter was small plastic pellets, broken down from larger items. Other items in the top 10 include food wrappers, cigarette butts, plastic drinks bottles, chunks of polystyrene and cotton bud sticks, of which nearly 13,000 were found.
The report warns that coastal communities are bearing the brunt of the rising tide of litter, which can harm tourism, fishing and water sports. Marine animals are also at risk - thousands of birds, turtles, fish, and marine mammals are thought to die each year by eating or becoming tangled in litter.
The rise of plastic is of particular concern because it breaks up into ever-smaller pieces rather than degrading. "In the marine environment, plastic just doesn't disappear," said Snowden. Scientists suspect that these plastic pellets may absorb potentially toxic chemicals which are then ingested by marine animals.
The government plans to convene a round table this autumn to discuss the problem of marine litter. Each major party has signalled their support for government action on the issue.
The MSC stresses, however, that it is also matter of personal responsibility. "Every bit of litter has an owner," said Snowdon. "We can all help by not dropping or throwing it out the window, by taking a cloth bag to the supermarket, by refilling water bottles. Sewage-related debris is a really easy one to stop. If people would stop using their toilets as a wet bin, we wouldn't have this on the beach."
The public was responsible for nearly half of the rubbish surveyed this year - items such as crisp wrappers and drink bottles made up 42% of the total collected. Fishing, shipping, and sewage-related debris added a further 22%. Although some items travelled from countries as far away as China and Saudi Arabia, most of the rubbish, according to Snowden, comes from the UK. "Of the litter we can source, the majority is from us: the great British public. People are dropping it on the beach, but even in towns and cities, it's washed down the drains."
Some parts of the country were harder hit than others. Welsh beaches had the highest level of litter this year, up 21% from last year, to 3,100 items per kilometre. Scotland's levels of litter declined 26% in 2009, but its beaches were still polluted enough to put it into second place. England came in third overall, but the south west was the most rubbish-strewn region in the entire country with 3,269 items per kilometre.
These statistics reflect geographical location as well as how many people use the beaches. "The south west always tends to have the highest because it's a popular destination for tourists," said Snowden, "but also because of its proximity to shipping lanes."
The south west receives about twice the national average of shipping debris, according to the report, but the south east has been affected as well. Last year, Northern Ireland had the lowest densities of litter - this year, the beaches of the Channel Islands were the UK's cleanest.

UK must help homes adapt to climate change, MPs say

Britain must increase its efforts to adapt infrastructure and homes to cope with the effects of climate change, parliamentary committee warns
Press Association, Thursday 25 March 2010 10.16 GMT
A programme to "retrofit" homes with measures to make them more energy and water efficient and resilient to flooding is needed to help households cope with climate change, MPs said today.
The environmental audit committee also warned that new housing developments should only get planning approval if they are designed to suit future changes in the climate, as part of efforts to make sure the UK adapts to rising temperatures.
And there needs to be greater focus on "green infrastructure" including water storage, more trees and more open spaces which can tackle flash flooding and hot city summers, the committee said.
A report by the committee of MPs warned efforts to adapt to a changing climate needed to be as much of a priority as cutting the greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming.
The UK is already locked in to a rise in temperature, and is expected to experience wetter winters, drier summers and a higher likelihood of heatwaves, storms and flooding.
To maintain current levels of flood protection will require real terms spending on defences to increase from around £600m a year now to £1bn in 2035.
And by the end of the century some £7bn may be needed to improve the Thames barrier and tidal defences.
The committee called on the government to ensure there was a coherent approach to adaptation that involves all Whitehall departments and helps local communities tackle the risks posed by climate change.
The government should also be clear how it is going to help those worst affected by climate change - for example those whose homes face the risk of coastal erosion.
Tim Yeo, chairman of the committee, said: "For a long time the climate change debate has focused on reducing carbon emissions, but adapting to the inevitable impacts of rising global temperatures is equally critical.
"Even if all the world's power stations were switched off tomorrow, past emissions mean that some climate change will still take place and we will face more floods, droughts and heat waves."

The new parliament must innovate to build a low-carbon economy

The next parliament is the last one that can meet the 80% cut by 2050 target. Whoever wins the general election must tackle climate change immediately

Jonathon Porritt, Thursday 25 March 2010 11.34 GMT
At precisely the moment when this government has finally got its act together on addressing climate change, public confidence in the science of climate change would appear to have hit a new low. Depending on which opinion poll you read, the percentage of people who now believe both that climate change is happening and that it's primarily happening as a consequence of the emissions of greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere, has gone down to less than 50% of us, and possibly as low as 30% of us.
That makes it a lot harder for the politicians, in that such scepticism (and even hostility) provides little encouragement that leadership in this area will play well electorally. Despite that, the government is pressing ahead regardless, and the speed and scope of new initiatives churning out of the Department of Energy and Climate Change at the moment is mind-boggling. Not only has Ed Miliband achieved more over the last 18 months than all of his predecessors over the preceding 11 years, but he's also got Peter Mandelson, Andrew Adonis and even the Treasury on board. No mean achievement.
That doesn't necessarily mean that climate change will feature as a big issue during the general lection. Labour may feel it's already done enough, and there are some who believe that the Tories have been quietly scaling back their own climate change commitment, despite David Cameron's earlier leadership. The Lib Dems and the Greens will certainly try to force it up the agenda, but past experience has demonstrated just how difficult this can be. "It's the low-carbon economy, stupid!" is unlikely to dominate as an election slogan. Which means there's still going to be all to play for once the election is over and the new parliament is in place.
What's already clear is that this will be the last parliament that will be able to do what needs to be done if we're to meet the targets in the Climate Change Act. That "80% cut by 2050" target provides a false sense of reassurance that we've still got decades to play with, and can therefore comfortably defer some of the difficult things we have to do for many years to come.
Pre-empting that kind of complacency is what the Green Alliance's new report - The Last Parliament: Priorities for Urgent Action on Climate Change - is all about. The Green Alliance didn't want just another policy wonks' treatise, so it brought together myself, Barbara Stocking of Oxfam, Steve Holliday (chief executive of the National Grid), Bob May (former president of the Royal Society), James Cameron (vice chair of climate change) as well as Green Alliance director Stephen Hale, to come up with a plan of action on climate change for the next parliament.
An odd bunch, you may say. But the reality is that there's an extraordinarily strong consensus about climate change that binds together the UK's scientific establishment, almost all progressive business leaders, the NGO community and the smart end of the UK's capital markets. The profoundly irresponsible line taken by a major segment of our media (headed by the Daily Mail and Daily Express), setting out systematically to dismantle a body of scientific work that remains largely unscathed by the University of East Anglia's hacked climate emails case, let alone by the failure of Copenhagen, has only served to stiffen the sinews of those who want to see our politicians just get on with it.
Our panel focused on four priority areas:
• International leadership
• Low-carbon infrastructure
• Developing resilient communities
• Innovating new finance mechanisms.
And all of these will have to be underpinned by a concerted effort to rebuild public support for action on climate change. A huge amount of ground has been lost over the last year, partly because of the science controversy, and partly because the government's way of engaging with the general public (through the Act on CO2 Campaign) has been ill-judged and counter-productive.
You can't beat people into submission on climate change. All the evidence shows that promoting the benefits that flow from concerted action – in terms of jobs, skills, innovation, eliminating fuel poverty, energy security, resource efficiency, increased competitiveness and so on – works so much better than threatening people (and their children) with the four riders of the Apocalypse.
Happily, there's a solid foundation to build on here. The UK has been in the forefront of international negotiations, and now has the chance to drive forward the debate about new financing mechanisms. Closer to home, we have (at long last) got the outline of a strategy to retrofit existing housing stock, and the whole renewable energy scene is picking up rapidly. The Climate Change Act remains the best thing the Labour government has done on climate change since it is was elected.
But the next parliament will have to move much faster in terms of overhauling the entire regulatory system (particularly Ofgem, the Office of Electricity and Gas Markets ) and on incentivising greener, leaner technologies. It will need to get the green investment bank announced in yesterday's budget up and running and promote a wide range of new financial products such as Green ISAs, mortgages and pensions. Local authorities will need to be given a much more central role, working closely both with the energy companies and community organisations to get real action on the ground.
All of this depends on the restoration of trust between parliament and the people. And that means, above all, that politicians will have to show they mean it themselves, acting as role models in their own lives and their constituencies.
•Jonathon Porritt is founder director of Forum for the Future and chairman of the Last Parliament panel.

Jeremy Leggett: caught between low carbon and high-voltage rows

Former scientific director at Greenpeace is at the leading edge of a green energy revolution, and under fire from environmentalists

Terry Macalister, Thursday 25 March 2010 21.00 GMT

A tiny doorway next to a BetFair shop in south London is the unassuming headquarters of Solarcentury, a company that arguably stands to gain most on 1 April when the feed-in tariff – or "great green rip-off" as some call it – comes into force.
The company, or at least its founder, is at the heart of the next phase of Britain's low-carbon revolution by encouraging homeowners to fix panels on their roofs to generate renewable energy.
But while executive chairman Jeremy Leggett should have been devoting 24 hours a day preparing for the busiest period of his commercial life, he has been forced to spend some of his time fighting off an unexpected assault by environmentalists in the Guardian blogosphere. The irony is that Leggett is an ex-Greenpeace employee and, as a former Imperial College geologist, a powerful and knowledgeable ally to the environment campaigners on a range of issues, including "peak oil" – the point when global demand outstrips supply.
The debate over whether the feed-in tariff costs too much for the expected carbon reductions rumbles on but even this "social entrepreneur", who has always enjoyed a good tussle with more traditional foes, admits he has had enough of swapping increasingly fraught online words with George Monbiot, Chris Goodall and other notable greens.
"It certainly perplexed me," he said. "If I did not know the individuals involved, I'd have presumed that this is the nuclear industry pushing back at a time of imminent possible success for the renewables industries. They [atomic power firms] have declared a form of war, with EDF and E.ON having this line to government that says 'You can have nuclear or you can have renewables, but you can't have both', when previously they argued you could have both.
"But I know the actors [environmentalists] so I know it is not possible [for them to be nuclear lackeys], but George and Chris must know how damaging it is at this time. At the very minimum it is annoying that George has come out with this heady rhetoric, yet as far as I know did not actively engage in the government's long consultation on the issue."
A third career
The bruising public blog encounters and equally robust private email exchanges have taken the gloss off what should have been an exciting time for a company such as Solarcentury, which has a 50% share of the domestic market.
Has public confidence been eroded by the argument? "No, the phone lines have been ringing constantly and although the government has tailored the tariff for the domestic sector we are also getting interest from the commercial sector. The tariffs just about work for commercial companies so we can expect growth in that market as well, I think. So it's very encouraging."
This is in many ways what Leggett has been waiting for since 1999, when he set up Solarcentury wanting to do something very practical about climate change after six years of campaigning on it for Greenpeace. He likes to think of it as his third "career" following a period of academia at Imperial College.
From next week homeowners installing typical 2.5 kilowatt solar panels could earn up to £1,000 through selling clean power back to their electricity companies or reducing their own electricity bills, government claims.
Leggett disputes Monbiot's assertions that the whole cost of the scheme to the public will be in the region of £8.6bn and represents a tax on the poor, who will end up paying for the tariff in higher bills. But he gives some ground to critics who worry that the feed-in tariff will become some kind of magnet to unscrupulous businessmen trying to sell poor-quality products to poorly advised homeowners trying to go green.
"We are really careful about who we do business with, and all the products have to be checked through the government's micro-power certification scheme, as it does elsewhere and which costs us £250,000 annually worldwide.
"We are very well aware of what can happen and that the industry is only as strong as its weakest link. I am optimistic that industry and government can work together to shut out the cowboys in a way that the double-glazing and solar thermal sectors have singularly failed to do historically. I say that with fingers crossed."
But he also expects an influx of larger companies from the US and elsewhere that could push down prices for users and give Solarcentury – now partly owned by a large utility, Scottish & Southern Energy – a run for its money.
So how much of the public cash being injected into this new initiative will stay in Britain? Solarcentury, which provides builders and others with panels but also undertakes its own projects, says it sources materials all over the world but half the products it uses are assembled at a Sony-owned plant in south Wales.
Leggett has also crossed swords with Monbiot over the latter's claim that it is an "impossible dream" to build up a proper British renewables products industry given the competition from low-cost areas such as China: "I say that is needless defeatism because the global market is pitifully small. Seven gigawatts of solar was installed last year, the equivalent of seven nuclear power plants, and to think we cannot catch up and have a fully integrated national industry is needless defeatism."
And this is an area where Leggett's scary view about the world running out of oil much faster than anyone expects neatly gels with the need to promote a self-standing renewables sector.
"Security of energy supply is going to be a real issue so should we not be deliberately building a vertically integrated renewables industry on the British Isles? I think the world is going to change dramatically and globalisation, of necessity, is going to be massively set back by the unaffordability of oil, so trade routes are going to shrink and there is going to be an incredible explosion of independent thinking.
"Companies and governments are going to think much more than they do now about this. We need to be making much more stuff at home. We can't be dependent on markets far overseas."
Leggett has pushed the peak oil debate on to the political agenda by getting an increasingly broad church of industrialists – such as Sir Richard Branson, Brian Souter of Stagecoach, and Philip Dilley of Arup – to come on board. The bandwagon seems finally to have made its impact on the UK government, which is softening its former position that peak oil was being over-hyped.
He still enjoys campaigning. He was in Copenhagen for the climate change talks (boasting about travelling there by boat, not plane) and even at the Oxford Literary Festival, arguing the toss on nuclear power. He has written three books about energy and climate change and you have to wonder if, in his mid-fifties, he has yet another "last career" left in him. and retreats to the executive chairmanship of the company he founded.Understandably, if this son of a science teacher from Hastings who now lives off Holland Park in central London has thought about it, he is not going to muse on that to the media. Leggett admits the only other job he really wanted was a professional golfer – but that was at the age of 17 and today it's hard to imagine this green on the green.
The CV
Born 16 March 1954 in Hastings
Education 1965-70 Hastings grammar school; 1970-72 Hastings college; 1972-75 University of Wales, BSc; 1975–78 Oxford University, DPhil earth sciences
Career 1978–89 Imperial College: earth sciences lecturer; 1989–96 Greenpeace: scientific director; 1997– Solarcentury: executive chairman; SolarAid: founder of SolarAid charity and private equity fund for renewables New Energies Invest; author of The Carbon War; Half Gone and editor of The Solar Century
Interests Running, books and films

General Electric to build offshore wind manufacturing plant in UK

US conglomerate says its £100m investment in UK wind industry will create up to 2,000 clean energy jobs

Damian Carrington and agencies, Thursday 25 March 2010 13.34 GMT
The US conglomerate General Electric (GE) announced plans for an offshore wind turbine manufacturing plant in Britain, creating up to 2,000 jobs.
The company said it had not yet decided where to build the facility, but its plans would result in about £100m being invested in Britain, creating clean energy jobs at both the new site and in the supply chain. The UK is well placed to harvest clean energy from powerful sea winds, but the closure of a Vestas plant on the Isle of Wight last August was highly embarrassing for ministers, leaving Britain without a significant turbine manufacturer. .
The construction of thousands of huge offshore turbines is a key part of government plans to meet its commitments to cut greenhouse gases, as well as ensure the continuity of energy supply over the next decade as nuclear and coal-fired stations reach the end of their life.
GE's plans are linked to an announcement in yesterday's budget of a £60m competition to help develop port facilities for the offshore wind industry. "This investment is tied to the successful deployment of the UK government's port development fund," a company statement said.
The company said the project will form part of a €340m (£305m) investment in Europe's wind energy industry over 10 years. In addition to the UK manufacturing site, it plans to build development centres in Norway, Sweden and Germany.
GE's UK managing director, Magued Eldaief, said: "We believe offshore wind has a bright future. These investments will position us to help develop Europe's vast, untapped offshore wind resources."
Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, said: "This is great news from GE, a vote of confidence in UK low-carbon manufacturing which should create a huge number of jobs." The climate and energy secretary, Ed Miliband, said: "We're creating the right conditions and incentives to maximise the potential of our wind resource."
Greenpeace policy director, Doug Parr, said: "Clean technology is set to be the growth industry of the 21st century, and this announcement shows that, with the right incentives from government, Britain could be in pole position to benefit."
Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said: "GE's announcement turns the vision of the UK as an industrial hub for the offshore wind industry into a reality … the offshore wind industry could be employing 70,000 people in the UK by 2020, creating a net economic benefit of £65bn over the next 40 years."