The New York Times carried the following article today on the rise of wind power in India and China. Homegrown Indian wind turbine manufacturer, Suzlon, is leading the market in India and rapidly expanding throughout the world. With manufacturing facilities in India, the United States (Minnesota) and now China, Suzlon has rapidly climbed its way to fifth largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world, by installed capacity, despite the fact that the Indian company wasn't even in the top 10 as recently as 2002.
Wind installations in India and China are growing at a rapid rate (48% and 65% last year, respectively). In 2005, India passed former world leader, Denmark, to take the number four position worldwide for both installed wind power capacity (4,430 MW) and added capcity (1,430 MW in 2005), trailing only Germany, Spain and the United States. Installed capacity has already risen to 5,500 MW since the beginning of 2006. (And here's an interesting side note to wow your friends with at the next game of Trivial Pursuit: India is the only country in the world with a ministry of renewable energy).
Driven by a new policy setting a target of 15% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, China is also rapidly expanding the use of it's abundant wind resources. Official plans call for 20 gigawatts of wind power by 2020, but experts within the Chinese industry believe that 40 GW can be delivered within 15 years; rising to ten times this by 2050.
So, without further ado, "The Ascent of Wind Power", from the New York Times:
KHORI, India — Dilip Pantosh Patil uses an ox-drawn wooden plow to till the same land as his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. But now he has a new neighbor: a shiny white wind turbine taller than a 20-story building, generating electricity at the edge of his bean field.
Wind power may still have an image as something of a plaything of environmentalists more concerned with clean energy than saving money. But it is quickly emerging as a serious alternative not just in affluent areas of the world but in fast-growing countries like India and China that are avidly seeking new energy sources. And leading the charge here in west-central India and elsewhere is an unlikely champion, Suzlon Energy, a homegrown Indian company.
Suzlon already dominates the Indian market and is now expanding rapidly abroad, having erected factories in locations as far away as Pipestone, Minn., and Tianjin, China. Four-fifths of the orders in Suzlon’s packed book now come from outside India.
Not even on the list of the world’s top 10 wind-turbine manufacturers as recently as 2002, Suzlon passed Siemens of Germany last year to become the fifth-largest producer by installed megawatts of capacity. It still trails the market leader, Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark, as well as General Electric, Enercon of Germany and Gamesa Tecnológica of Spain.
Suzlon’s past shows how a company can prosper by tackling the special needs of a developing country. Its present suggests a way of serving expanding energy needs without relying quite so much on coal, the fastest-growth fossil fuel now but also the most polluting.
And Suzlon’s future is likely to be a case study of how a manufacturer copes with China, both in capturing sales there and in confronting competition from Chinese companies.
Suzlon is an outgrowth in many ways of India’s dysfunctional power- distribution system. Electricity boards owned by state governments charge industrial users more than twice as much for each kilowatt-hour as such customers pay in the United States — and they still suffer blackouts almost every day, especially in northern India.
Subject to political pressures, the boards are often slow to collect payments from residential consumers and well-connected businesses, especially before elections. As a result, they often lack the money to invest in new equipment.
To stay open and prevent crucial industrial or computer processes from stopping, a wide range of businesses — including auto parts factories and outsourcing giants — rely on still more costly diesel generators.
With natural gas prices climbing as well, wind turbines have become attractive to Indian business. The Essar Group of Mumbai, a big industrial conglomerate active in shipping, steel and construction, is now working on plans for a wind farm near Chennai, formerly Madras, after concluding that regulatory changes in India have made it financially attractive.
“The mechanisms didn’t used to be there; now they are,” said Jose Numpeli, vice president for operations at Essar Power. The electricity boards “know how to cost it, they know how to pay for it.”
Roughly 70 percent of the demand for wind turbines in India comes from industrial users seeking alternatives to relying on the grid, said Tulsi R. Tanti, Suzlon’s managing director. The rest of the purchases are made by a small group of wealthy families in India, for whom the tax breaks for wind turbines are attractive.
Wind will remain competitive as long as the price of crude oil remains above $40 a barrel, Mr. Tanti estimated. To remain cost-effective below $40 a barrel, wind energy may require subsidies, or possibly carbon-based taxes on oil and other fossil fuels.
Mr. Tanti and his three younger brothers were running a textile business in Gujarat, in northwestern India, when they purchased a German wind turbine — only to find that they could not keep it running. So they decided to build and maintain turbines themselves, starting Suzlon in 1995 and later leaving the textile business.
To minimize land costs, wind farms are typically in rural areas, chosen for the strength of the wind there as well as low prices for land. But that can mean culture shock.
“There were no big changes until the turbines came,” Mr. Patil said, pausing from plowing here with his father in this remote, hilly, tribal area 200 miles northeast of Mumbai, where oxen remain at the center of farm life and motorized vehicles are uncommon.
Doing business in rural areas of the developing world carries special challenges. The new Suzlon Energy wind farm in Khori is a subject of national pride. More than 300 giant wind turbines, with 110-foot blades, snatch electricity from the air. But it has also struggled with the sporadic lawlessness that bedevils India.
S. Mohammed Farook, the installation’s manager, was far from happy one recent afternoon. At least 63 new turbines, worth $1.3 million apiece and each capable of lighting several thousand homes when the wind blows, could not be put into service because thieves had stolen their copper power cables and aluminum service ladders for sale as scrap.
The copper or aluminum fetches as little as $1 from black-market scrap dealers. But each repair costs thousands of dollars in parts and staff time, in a country that is desperately short of electricity and technicians.
“I am crying inside,” Mr. Farook said.
Despite such problems, Suzlon has expanded rapidly as global demand for wind energy has taken off. Its sales and earnings tripled in the quarter ended June 30, as the company earned the equivalent of $41.6 million on sales of $202.4 million.
The demand for wind turbines has particularly accelerated in India, where installations rose nearly 48 percent last year, and in China, where they rose 65 percent, although from a lower base. Wind farms are starting to dot the coastline of east-central China and the southern tip of India, as well as scattered mesas and hills across central India and even Inner Mongolia.
Coal is the main alternative in the two countries, and is causing acid rain and respiratory ailments while contributing to global warming. China accounted for 79 percent of the world’s growth in coal consumption last year and India used 7 percent more, according to statistics from BP.
Worried by its reliance on coal, China has imposed a requirement that power companies generate a fifth of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This target calls for expanding wind power almost as much as nuclear energy over the next 15 years. India already leads China in wind power and is quickly building more wind turbines.
Chinese and Indian officials are optimistic about relying much more heavily on wind.
“I believe we may break through these targets — if not, we should at least have no problem reaching them,” said Zhang Yuan, vice general manager of the China Longyuan Electric Power Group, the renewable-energy arm of one of China’s five state-owned electric utilities, China Guodian.
Kamal Nath, India’s minister of commerce and industry, was even more enthusiastic. “India is ideally suited for wind energy,” he said. “The cost of it works well and we have the manufacturing capability.”
International experts are more skeptical that wind will displace coal to a considerable extent, saying that while electricity production from wind is likely to increase rapidly, the sheer scale of energy demands suggests that coal burning will expand even more.
Suzlon still sees plenty of opportunity in China and has decided to build some of its latest designs in China for the market there, despite the risk of having them copied by Chinese manufacturers.
“Being an Asian leader,” Mr. Tanti said, “we cannot afford to ignore China.”
A dozen Chinese manufacturers have jumped into wind-turbine manufacturing as well. They have struggled with quality problems and have limited production capacity so far, resulting in long delivery delays.
But the Chinese producers already have an edge on price over imported equipment, according to Meiya Power of Hong Kong, which owns and operates power plants in China and across Asia, and is considering a wind farm in windswept Inner Mongolia.
Mr. Tanti said that rapid innovation and design changes would allow Suzlon to stay ahead of copycats. “It’s a time-consuming process,” he said, estimating that it would take two to three years for rivals to clone Suzlon turbines because they use unique or proprietary parts.
Suzlon manufactures its turbines at two factories in India, but has begun test production at a just-completed turbine-blade factory in Minnesota, where it already supplies turbines for a wind farm operated by the Edison Mission Group and Deere & Company. It has also begun test production at a Chinese factory that will make both turbines and blades.
To reach the Suzlon wind farm here, the huge rotors travel by night on special trucks for a 300-mile journey from northwestern India on a succession of paved and dirt roads.
Squatter huts have had to be removed along the way to allow the long trucks to turn; Suzlon is not required to pay compensation but often makes donations in these cases, Mr. Farook said.
The truck crews also carry wooden poles to prop up electricity wires across the road and pass underneath. The trucks sometimes attract gawkers, and live wires occasionally burn bystanders.
“With human error, it may touch human flesh,” Mr. Farook said. “In that case, we have to pay compensation.”
Villagers in Khori said that thievery and even robberies by rock-throwing gangs were nothing new, and were a problem long before Suzlon began setting up wind turbines. The company’s response — stepping up patrols by security guards — has reduced everyday crime. That has made villagers more willing to rent land at the edge of their fields for the turbines.
At first, “we were really confused about what was going on,” Mr. Patil said. “But now we’re O.K. on it.”
Thursday, September 28, 2006
The New York Times carried the following article today on the rise of wind power in India and China. Homegrown Indian wind turbine manufacturer, Suzlon, is leading the market in India and rapidly expanding throughout the world. With manufacturing facilities in India, the United States (Minnesota) and now China, Suzlon has rapidly climbed its way to fifth largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world, by installed capacity, despite the fact that the Indian company wasn't even in the top 10 as recently as 2002.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Green Car Congress (GCC) has been providing excellent coverage of panels at the ongoing California Air Resources Board Zero Emissions Vehicle Symposium (many of the presentations are available online along with webcasts of some speakers). The following post summarizes a series of presentations focusing on a the potential of vehicle-to-grid capability to accelerate the adoption of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and battery electric vehicles (BEV):
[From GCC:] The premise is that the additional cost to consumers of full-function zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) or near zero-emission vehicles—whether full battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles or fuel-cell vehicles—can be partially offset by providing grid power support to utilities or major power consumers.
The dual use of ZEVs for clean transportation and grid power support with some form of shared capital cost or chargeback offset could thus encourage the earlier adoption of ZEVs.
The need is not trivial on either side of the equation. Utilities that are incorporating—voluntarily or by mandate—more renewable power will be looking for mechanisms to help them manage the variability of that power source. Several of the presentations took a back of the envelope approach to calculating the potential benefit of ZEVs in that role—and it appears potentially substantial.
Unintentionally underscoring the discussion, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law on the same day a bill (SB 107) that requires the state’s three major utilities to provide 20% of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy within four years.
Grid-connected vehicles can provide four types of benefits, argued Jasna Tomic from WestStart-CALSTART:
Tomic discussed the analysis of the potential of two fleets of EVs for ancillary services: 100 Th!nk City EVs in New York, and 252 Rav 4 EVs in California.
Both studies, each in different markets, showed significant economic potential for V2G providing ancillary services. Important parameters in the assessment were the market value of the ancillary services, the kW capacity of the vehicles nd electrical connections, and the kWh capacity of the vehicle battery.
Willett Kempton from the University of Delaware then spoke on a project done with SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) on modeling V2G for a utility with a high wind generation portfolio.
Dr. Kempton developed the electric vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concept. His two current research, speaking, and publishing foci are V2G and offshore wind power. (Earlier post.)
Wind is wonderful low-cost, low-CO2 power, but it fluctuates. For utility operators, a heavy reliance on wind thus raises the problem of ancillary services needed to handle the minute-by-minute and hourly fluctuations.
Kempton and his partners at SMUD are proposing a paradigm shift: the use of the customers’s vehicle fleet to provide responsive charging (G2V when too much wind) and discharging (V2G when not enough wind).
As a more modest first step, the V2G-capable vehicles could provide A/S, especially short-term regulation, to manage wind fluctuations and match to ramp rates of gas-fired generators.
A more aggressive approach would be to use V2G as storage to move summer night wind energy to serve the next day’s peak load.
SMUD serves some 570,000 households, and has a peak summer-time load of 3,300 MW and a minimum load of 750 MW.
-A robust electric vehicle with a 30 kWh battery, 220v and a 20 kW line;
-½ of households have V2G-capable cars (this is not a short-term scenario), of which ½ are available when needed, each with ½ storage, then:
-V2G power = 570,000 * ½ * ½ * 20 kW = 2,850 MW
-V2G energy = 570,000 * ½ * ½ * ½ * 30 kWh = 2,138 MWh
In other words, V2G could power 86% of SMUD’s peak load with no other generation, and hold it for 45 minutes (2,850 MWh/1,425MW= .75 hour)
SMUD currently has 39 MW of wind power, but plans to grow it. Kempton and co-author Cliff Murley from SMUD calculated the vehicle numbers required to support three scenarios—39 MW, 250 MW and 850 MW—assuming that 100% of wind capacity was needed for regulation, but for less than 1/2 hour.
In a scenario with full BEVs, they found that only 0.3% of households would need to be online (1.950) to provide summer wind regulation for 39 MW. With PHEVs, the requirement was higher—3%.
They concluded that BEVs could offer all wind regulation and storage needed. PHEVS could provide regulation but may not be large enough for diurnal wind storage.
More detailed studies and modeling are needed, but the emerging picture is that there is an economic incentive for utilities to electrify transportation and to capture value back to the utility. Money that would have gone to pumped storage or combustion turbines instead goes to ZEVs.
Eugene Nishinaga from BART took that further, with an analysis that suggested it might be in BART’s interest to fund the conversion of hybrids to PHEVs and establish charging stations at BART stations.
BART schedules power in advance and buys, in essence, in bulk. If BART demand is lower than projected, it still pays for the scheduled power; excess power required above the scheduled levels costs more than three times the base amount.
Having commuter fleets of PHEVs at BART stations for charging and discharging could save the transit company more than $260,000 per year by reducing extra energy purchases, according to Nishinanga’s analysis.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Warnings from a Warming World: NASA Study Finds Global Temperatures Reaching Warmest Levels in 12,000 Years
[This post begins one more irregularly reoccuring series at Watthead, this one focused on global climate change and entitled 'Warnings from a Warming World':]
A new study by NASA climatologists finds that the world's temperature is reaching a level that has not been seen in thousands of years.
The study appears in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authored by James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, N.Y. and colleagues from Columbia University, Sigma Space Partners, Inc., and the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). The study concludes that, because of a rapid warming trend over the past 30 years, the Earth is now reaching and passing through the warmest levels in the current interglacial period, which has lasted nearly 12,000 years. This warming is forcing a migration of plant and animal species toward the poles.
The study includes worldwide instrumental temperature measurements during the past century. These data reveal that the Earth has been warming at the remarkably rapid rate of approximately 0.2° Celsius (.36° Fahrenheit) per decade for the past 30 years. This observed warming is similar to the warming rate predicted in the 1980s in initial global climate model simulations with changing levels of greenhouse gases.
"This evidence implies that we are getting close to dangerous levels of human-made (anthropogenic) pollution," said Hansen. In recent decades, human-made greenhouse gases (GHGs) have become the dominant climate change factor.
[Image: Because of a rapid warming trend over the past 30 years, the Earth is now reaching and passing through the warmest levels seen in the last 12,000 years. This color-coded map shows a progression of changing global surface temperatures from 1880 to 2005, the warmest ranked year on record. Dark red indicates the greatest warming and dark blue indicates the greatest cooling. Click image to view animation. Credit: NASA]
The study notes that the world's warming is greatest at high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, and it is larger over land than over ocean areas. The enhanced warming at high latitudes is attributed to effects of ice and snow. As the Earth warms, snow and ice melt, uncovering darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight and increase warming, a process called a positive feedback. Warming is less over ocean than over land because of the great heat capacity of the deep-mixing ocean, which causes warming to occur more slowly there.
[Image:This study notes that the greatest warming is occurring at high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Here, white, snow-covered terrain acts a giant reflector that bounces incoming solar radiation back into space. As the snow cover melts, the percentage of sunlight reflected, or “albedo,” decreases. Instead, the darker ocean and exposed ground can absorb the light and heat-up, thus adding more energy for continued melting. Click image to view animation. Credit: NASA]
Hansen and his colleagues in New York collaborated with David Lea and Martin Medina-Elizade of UCSB to obtain comparisons of recent temperatures with the history of the Earth over the past million years. The California researchers obtained a record of tropical ocean surface temperatures from the magnesium content in the shells of microscopic sea surface animals, as recorded in ocean sediments.
One of the findings from this collaboration is that the Western Equatorial Pacific and Indian Oceans are now as warm as, or warmer than, at any prior time in the Holocene. The Holocene is the relatively warm period that has existed for almost 12,000 years, since the end of the last major ice age. The Western Pacific and Indian Oceans are important because, as these researchers show, temperature change there is indicative of global temperature change. Therefore, by inference, the world as a whole is now as warm as, or warmer than, at any time in the Holocene.
According to Lea, “The Western Pacific is important for another reason, too: it is a major source of heat for the world’s oceans and for the global atmosphere.”
In contrast to the Western Pacific, the researchers find that the Eastern Pacific Ocean has not shown an equal magnitude of warming. They explain the lesser warming in the East Pacific Ocean, near South America, as being due to the fact this region is kept cool by upwelling, rising of deeper colder water to shallower depths. The deep ocean layers have not yet been affected much by human-made warming.
Hansen and his colleagues suggest that the increased temperature difference between the Western and Eastern Pacific may boost the likelihood of strong El Ninos, such as those of 1983 and 1998. An El Nino is an event that typically occurs every several years when the warm surface waters in the West Pacific slosh eastward toward South America, in the process altering weather patterns around the world.
The most important result found by these researchers is that the warming in recent decades has brought global temperature to a level within about one degree Celsius (1.8° F) of the maximum temperature of the past million years. According to Hansen
“That means that further global warming of 1 degree Celsius defines a critical level. If warming is kept less than that, effects of global warming may be relatively manageable. During the warmest interglacial periods the Earth was reasonably similar to today. But if further global warming reaches 2 or 3 degrees Celsius, we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know. The last time it was that warm was in the middle Pliocene, about three million years ago, when sea level was estimated to have been about 25 meters (80 feet) higher than today.” Global warming is already beginning to have noticeable effects in nature. Plants and animals can survive only within certain climatic zones, so with the warming of recent decades many of them are beginning to migrate poleward. A study that appeared in Nature Magazine in 2003 found that 1700 plant, animal and insect species moved poleward at an average rate of 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) per decade in the last half of the 20th century.
That migration rate is not fast enough to keep up with the current rate of movement of a given temperature zone, which has reached about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) per decade in the period 1975 to 2005. “Rapid movement of climatic zones is going to be another stress on wildlife” according to Hansen. “It adds to the stress of habitat loss due to human developments. If we do not slow down the rate of global warming, many species are likely to become extinct. In effect we are pushing them off the planet.”
It is becoming more and more clear that we are quickly running out of room to act to mitigate the effects of global climate change. This study finds that we have approximately 1 degree C more of tolerance before temperatures begin to usher in a new kind of planet not seen in the past 12,000 years.
We humans can likely adapt to changing temperatures, but at what cost? Will we let our coastal cities become inundated by rising seas? Will we be able to afford the devestating effects on rural economies as agriculturally productive climate zones shift latitutes and former bread baskets become drought-ridden dust bowls? Will we accept the increases in tropical diseases, like malaria, that will accompany a warmer climate in many parts of the world?
As a whole, we humans will likely adapt, but we must recognize that this 'grand expiriment' of climate change that we have embarked upon will have severe costs and will put human ingenuity to the test, and many of us will not survive - the sad and unjust part being that those who will suffer the most from climate change will be those in poorer and less developed nations who lack the resources to adapt and yet have contributed least to the greenhouse gas emissions. The World Health Organization estimates that global warming is already responsible for 150,000 deaths each year, with developing nations being the hardest hit [see map below]. This casualty rate will only increase as warming increases.
And while we humans may adapt (as a whole), many of the other denizens of this planet Earth will not fare as well. We have already seen shifts in climatic zones and warming sea temperatures drive many species to the brink of extinction or beyond, and this will only increase as climate change continues [here's one anectodatal example of how warming can wreck havoc on an entire food chain].
Wouldn't we rather live on the kind of planet we have enjoyed and evolved to master over the past 12,000 years?
I certainly say yes. And if we do, we've got to start putting together comprehensive and aggressive strategies to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gas emissions. The United States must not only do it's share, but ought to also take the lead in tackling climate change. We have the resources, we have the innovative minds, we have the technology. Time is running out and the longer we wait, the harder and more rapid the transition will have to be to a post-carbon world in order to avoid dangerous climate change. The time to start was yesterday - let's get moving!
[A hat tip to Green Car Congress]
Monday, September 25, 2006
As frequent Watthead readers might have noticed, I've written a number of posts focusing on China in the past year (see here, here and here, for example). There are plenty of reasons to be interested in what's going on in China these days, especially in regards to their rapidly expanding and voracious thirst for energy.
China has been experiencing double digit economic growth for the past several years and now stands poised to emerge as an economic and political world-power. At the same time, China's demand for energy and resources - be it oil, coal, steel, cement, natual gas, copper etc., etc. - has been expanding at a mind-boggling pace, fueling the ever-growing Chinese economy.
I've decided that I am going to start another irregularly continueing series and begin to group any future posts on China under the headline, "Eye on China." I'll start off with this short essay written by University of Oregon Professor Greg Bothun that I think nicely sums up the many reasons we all ought to be concerned with the path of China's economic development and associated energy use and environmental impact:
China’s rapid emergence into the global marketplace carries with it a potential resource footprint that will negatively impact the entire world. While no one should deny China the right and capacity to emerge in this way, conditions are now different than they were 100 years ago when the US emerged to change the world forever. The US method of emergence was to do so as rapidly as possible, using energy sources as the basic foundation. No wisdom, forethought, or global consideration was applied in this case; we can not afford a similar oversight now.
Currently China is adding approximately 1 new 1000 Megawatt coal fired electricity plant, per week, to its energy infrastructure - this is approximately a 50,000 Megawatt increase in capacity per year. In the US, based on primary energy source, coal accounts for 44% of our annual production. This equates to approximately 275,000 Megawatts – China can therefore reach this level by continuing its current pace for the next 5 years – it certainly has the in country coal resources to do this. In addition, the transportation sector is the fastest growing energy sector in China. During the 1990’s, the volume of private cars in China grew by an average of 23% per year (or an exponential doubling time of 3 years). Presently the transportation sector accounts for 10% of total energy consumption in China, but at the rate of increase of private cars, this will increase to 1/3 by the year 2040.
Conclusion 1: At the present rate of fossil fuel usage in electricity production and transportation China’s output of greenhouse gases will exceed that of the US by around 2020 and this could occur even sooner if the transportation sector escalates even more rapidly.
Many climatologists and climate models are suggesting that we are nearing the point of irreversibility in terms of our ability to mitigate global climate change. Thus, the total greenhouse gas emissions by China over the next 10 years or so may ultimately prove to be critical in the kind of climate system that will dominate the earth for the next 100 years. If those emissions continue at the current rate, we may well cross the threshold. Indeed, a very disturbing piece of data began to emerge in 2003. Measurements of the buildup of atmospheric CO2 since 1960 indicate a mostly uniform increase of about 1.3 ppm per year. However, starting in 2003, those measurements reveal an increase of about 2.5 ppm per year – in other words, the planet has apparently doubled its yearly CO2 production. While the sources of this extra CO2 have not yet been unambiguously identified, the most scientifically plausible hypothesis is that this represents additional vehicular and fossil-fired power plant emissions from India and China.
In addition, China’s impact on the current “Peak Oil” situation is potentially very large. In principle, rapid escalation of gasoline usage in China could dramatically shorten the lifetime of known, conventional sources of oil. Not unreasonable scenarios lead to exhaustion of known resources by the year 2020 – leaving china out of the scenario leads to the more typical exhaustion year of about 2050. How the world will react to demonstrable oil shortages is completely unclear, however, clearly, it would be unwise to approach this state.
When considering the impact of China on the rest of the world it is useful to scale things as that gives a perhaps more revealing, provocative and, scary perspective.
Conclusion 2: The world is not sufficiently resilient to the same Business As Usual growth as dominated the last century. We must act wiser.
Conclusion 3: Resource rate usage in China potentially puts us in an Earth-material limited situation – humanity has never been there before. China’s growth therefore is not scalable by any measure.
I think that it's clear that in the coming decades, China's influence on the global economy, from the prices of commodities, construction materials, energy resources, etc. will be inescapable. At the same time, if China's growth is not planned with foresight and concern for sustainabilty development, the nation's influence on the global environment may be inescapable as well.
As Professor Bothun accurately pointed out, the world cannot afford to see China develop in the haphazard and environmentally destructive manner that the United States did in it's earlier days (India and other rapidly developing nations are also of concern, as well, of course). We who strive to bring about a transition to a sustainable energy future must keep China and other developing nation's in mind as we consider smart strategies to bring about that clean and sustainable future. No matter how well we may do to push the developed nations of the world onto a path towards a sustainable energy future, we must remember, in the 21st century, as goes China, so goes the world...
[stay tuned for another installment of 'Eye on China', sometime soon...]
Friday, September 22, 2006
A couple of posts at Green Car Congress (GCC) over the past week indicate that Toyota may have gotten the message that a pro-active business strategy focused on fuel efficient vehicles is the best bet for automakers in the coming years.
The Asahi Shimbun reports (via GCC) that Toyota will shift its strategy for the North American market to fuel-efficient small and mid-size cars in response to high gasoline prices and a slowing US economy.
As a result, Toyota plans to operate its new Texas plant - which produces the full-size Tundra pickup - at less than full capacity initially, according to the report. Output in 2007 is planned to be about 150,000 units, down from the capacity of 200,000. Toyota had earlier planned 220,000 units of the Tundra in 2007, including overtime work, according to the article.
At the same time, Toyota will reportedly double production of the Camry to 200,000 units a year with production support from Subaru’s Indiana plant (Toyota took an 8.7% state in Subaru Indiana, a US subsidiary of Fuji Heavy Industries, last October). In addition to the Camry production at the Fuji Heavy subsidiary, Toyota’s second plant in Ontario, Canada is scheduled to be completed in 2008 and will produce Camry's for the North American market.
After US production of the Camry doubles in October 2007, Toyota plans to stop exporting the model to North America from Japan, according to the report. The Tsutsumi plant in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, which makes the Camry for the North American market, will instead increase production of the Prius gas-electric hybrid for export to North America.
GCC also relays a report today from Nihon Keizai Shimbun. According to the report, Toyota plans to increase the production of the Prius in Japan by 50% to about 300,000 vehicles in 2007.
Toyota currently manufactures the hybrid almost completely in Japan and exports the vehicles to 40 countries and regions. The company already plans to increase annual output by 15% to about 200,000 vehicles in 2006, but demand for the Prius continues to exceed production.
Toyota intends to increase Prius production while curbing investment by reorganizing production lines. Production of models other than the Prius are to be moved to other sites from two plants in Aichi Prefecture that currently roll out the hybrid vehicles.
Toyota has set a sales target of 1 million hybrids annually by the early 2010s. The company plans a combination of increasing output of the Prius and offering more hybrid versions of other models.
Earlier this week, Toyota announced it is targeting global sales of 9.8 million vehicles in 2008, up from 8.13 million in 2005, by selling more cars in China and the rest of Asia as well as by tapping emerging markets.
The plan positions Asia as the region with the sharpest growth and calls for tripling Chinese sales from the 2005 figure to 600,000 vehicles by building up dealer and service networks for such models as the Corolla and Camry. Toyota also manufactures the Prius in China.
The company will push for increased market share in the BRIC countries (i.e., Brazil, Russia, India and China) with the introduction of a new low-priced small car around 2010.
Other automakers, particularly Detroit's Big Three, should be taking their queues from Toyota's smaller vehicles-focused strategy for the coming years. As a recent study concluded (see recent post), smaller, more fuel efficient cars are the Big Three's best bet at avoiding as much as $3.6 billion in lost profits assuming $3.10/gallon gas prices in Model Year 2010.
The study concluded that at $3.10 a gallon, domestic automakers could increase profits by $2 billion collectively, with an annual profit increase of $1.4 billion at Ford, $500 million at GM and $100 million at DaimlerChrysler, by shifting their business strategy away from the gas-guzzling SUVs and light trucks that have been the Big Three's traditional profit earners, to an array of smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles. Even at $2 per gallon, the Big Three could increase profits by $1.3 billion, the report concluded.
According to the study, Japanese automakers stand to lose money in the coming years given higher gas prices and the resulting decrease in overall sales volume. However, as Toyota surely recognizes, these losses will be considerably smaller if Japanese automakers also refocus their efforts on fuel efficient vehicles, a market segment in which they already have a clear advantage.
As an American, I honestly hope that the Big Three make smart and forward thinking strategy decisions in the coming months as to what they will focus on in the next few years. Automakers have very little time in which to decide what products they plan to roll out a few model years from now, and the wrong decision at this point could cripple any one of the auto giants. Needless to say, the downsizing and layoffs that would follow $3.6 billion in lost profits would have detrimental and widespread effects on the U.S. economy. In this day and age, we need all the manufacturing jobs in the U.S. we can get, no one wants to see the U.S. lose more and more jobs in the auto industry.
It's time to wake up and smell the gas prices, Detroit. What are you going to bet on? SUVs, or Hybrids?
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Purdue Researchers Develop New Corn Ethanol Production Method - Reduces Environmental Footprint and Costs
As Green Car Congress (GCC) reports, Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new front-end processing technique for the production of ethanol from corn that is more environmentally friendly and less costly than conventional wet- or dry-milling processes.
Called the Chen-Xu method after the two developers - Li-fu Chen and Qin Xu - the process produces corn oil, corn fiber, gluten and zein as byproduct of ethanol productions. Zein is a protein that can be used in the manufacture of plastics.
With the dry milling process, distillers dried grains (DDG), an animal feed, are produced after fermentation and distillation of ethanol. A centrifuge is used to extract DDG from the residual after ethanol is distilled from the distiller. In contrast, the Chen-Xu method extracts the co-products before fermentation, eliminating the need for a centrifuge.
The Chen-Xu Method produces about 2.85 gallons of ethanol for every bushel of corn processed, GCC reports. That output is slightly higher than current methods (~2.7 gal/bu for dry-mill and ~2.6 gal/bu for wet-mill methods), and the same process that creates the ethanol also creates other marketable products. Furthermore, total processing time from corn to ethanol is expected to be less than 24 hours, GCC reports. The fermentation step in the Chen-Xu method takes only 4 hours, while it can take 48 hours in the dry-milling process.
According to GCC, throughput is lower than in conventional processes, however. [This doesn't make sense to me though: if processing time is considerably shorter, how can throughput be lower?]
Chen said the method also meets federal Clean Air Act standards, eliminating costs that other methods incur in meeting environmental regulations. Both wet- and dry-milling ethanol plants often have environmental problems in the form of pollutants and offensive odor. In 2002, twelve Minnesota ethanol plants were fined by US Department of Justice for violation of Clean Air Act and each agreed to spend more than $2 million for installation of control devices to reduce air pollutants, which were caused primarily by the manufacturing of Dry Distiller Grain animal feed.
In 2003, Archer Daniels Midland agreed to spend $340 million over 10 years for installation of control devices to reduce air pollutants from its processing plants, according to GCC. The EPA estimated about 90% of ADM’s pollution violations stemmed from the ag. giant's corn processing and ethanol operations.
According to Li-fu Chen:
One of the common methods of manufacturing ethanol, called dry milling, is often the cause of air pollutants by drying and storage of DDG, a byproduct of the process. Another method - wet milling - produces an odor because it requires the input of sulfur dioxide. The Chen-Xu Method eliminates both issues, and the only odor comes from the smell of the corn and yeast fermentation.Using a machine originally designed to make plastics, the Chen-Xu Method grinds corn kernels and liquefies starch with high temperatures. According to Chen, the new process reduces water use by 90% compared to wet milling. Wastewater output is also cut by 95%, and electricity use is reduced by 47%.
The total operating cost of a Chen-Xu Method ethanol plant should be much less than that of a wet-milling plant, and total equipment investment is less than half. And with proper planning and management, total equipment investment should be less than that of a dry-milling plant.According to GCC, funding for the work came from industry donations and one year of support from the Value-Added Grant Program of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. Chen said the next step for the fledgling company is to commercialize the technology worldwide. The technology was licensed to Bio Processing Technology Inc. through the Office of Technology Commercialization, a division of Purdue Research Foundation.
This seems to be an excellent incremental improvment to the ethanol production process. The reduced emissions, water use, wastewater discharge and electricity consumption will all reduce the environmental footprint of ethanol production from corn.
I wonder what the direct energy inputs for this new process are like compared to wet and dry milling processes. Coal or natural gas consumption for process energy at ethanol production plants is the main contributor to fossil energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions in a well-to-wheels ethanol production pathway. Reducing these inputs is thus the greatest lever to increase ethanol's net energy ratio and reduce well-to-wheels greenhouse gas emissions [see my full well-to-wheels study more ... a lot more...].
I hope that this process is quickly commercialized. While I am not a huge fan of ethanol from corn, it does offer an incremental improvement over gasoline in terms of fossil energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and does help reduce petroleum consumption. More efficient processes with less environmental impact will make corn ethanol more beneficial.
As mentioned above, one of the best ways to greatly enhance the environmental and fossil energy reduction benefits of corn ethanol would be to eliminate the fossil energy inputs for process heat. This could be done by relying on biomass or biogas instead of coal or natural gas. An integrated biorefinery that utilized both the corn kernels and the rest of the plant - corn stover - to produce both corn-based and cellulose-based ethanol while using the lignin portion of the corn stover as process fuel would have a favorable environmental footprint and offer excellent reductions in fossil energy use, petroleum energy use and greenhouse gas emissions relative to gasoline. An even more integrated process could include an on-site animal feeding operation that used the distillers dried grains or other animal feed co-products from the corn ethanol production process. The resulting animal waste could then be fed to anaerobic digestors to produce biogas that could be used for process heat/steam for the ethanol production plants. Such a facility would likely be able to export a bit of electricity as well.
I hope that in the not-so-distant future, that the ethanol production industry moves in the direction of integrated biorefineries like the one described above. Such facilities could form a sort of industrial ecosystem with one process utilizing the 'waste' from one or more of the other processes. The result would be a much more efficient collection of processes with greatly reduced waste streams and environmental footprints.
[An obvious hat tip to Green Car Congress]
Monday, September 18, 2006
Study Concludes that Pro-active Business Strategy Based on Fuel Efficient Vehicles is Best Choice for Domestic Automakers
[From Green Car Congress:]
A study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) has concluded that the strategy with the best financial outcome for domestic automakers is to focus on improving fuel-economy across their lineups.
The study - Can Proactive Fuel Economy Strategies Help Automakers Mitigate Fuel-Price Risks? - refutes the industry’s assumption that customers value fuel economy only when fuel prices are high.
The paper incorporates data-driven estimates of the value of fuel economy into an automotive market simulation model that has three components: a consumer demand function that predicts consumers’ vehicle choices as functions of vehicle price, fuel price, and vehicle attributes (the new estimates of the value of fuel economy are used to set the parameters of the demand function); an engineering and economic evaluation of feasible fuel economy improvements by 2010; and a game theoretic analysis of manufacturers’ competitive interactions.
Walter McManus, head of UMTRI’s auto analysis division said:
Even the Big Three now acknowledge that high gas prices and their overdependence on fuel-inefficient SUVs and pickup trucks have accelerated their financial freefall. The findings of our report prove in sharp detail Detroit automakers’ long-term vulnerability to volatile gas prices and show that improved fuel economy fleetwide—above and beyond current regulation—is the key not just to their survival but their success, even if the price of gas goes down.
Looking ahead to the 2010 model year, the study uses three gas-price scenarios: $3.10, $2.30 and $2 per gallon. If all automakers take a proactive strategy to increasing fuel economy, the report concludes that:
What is surprising is that each automaker is financially safer if they follow a proactive fuel-economy strategy, regardless of what their competitors do. Sure, Ford might not capture sales if their competitors make a better car that has high fuel economy, but what is certain is that Ford cannot capture those sales without higher fuel economy.The study also estimated the impact of strategic choices by automakers on US employment. At $3.10 a gallon, a marketwide proactive fuel-economy strategy could save nearly 35,000 jobs at GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler, while costing foreign automakers with plants in North America more than 19,000 jobs. By contrast, a business-as-usual approach could result in Big Three job losses of nearly 43,000, compared to less than 1,900 job cuts at the foreign transplants.
McManus had this counsel for the US automakers:
Automakers must decide their fuel-economy strategies for 2010 today, knowing neither the future fuel prices nor the decisions their competitors have made. With only cash on hand for one cycle of product development, as gas prices dip—for the moment—will these struggling automakers be tempted to remain dependent on their once-profitable gas guzzlers? Our report provides stark evidence that the riskiest thing domestic automakers could do is continue business as usual.
Deploying new technologies takes time and money to accomplish, and time and money are in short supply in Detroit. While management is currently focused on cutting capacity through massive layoffs, they need to undertake a deep transformation to much more fuel-efficient fleets to avoid going under. The dilemma the Detroit automakers face is that while they may believe that they cannot afford to make fuel economy a high priority, in actuality, it turns out that they cannot afford not to.
This study concludes what has always seemed common sense to me: facing high (and increasing) gas prices over the next decades, GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler (DCX) are simply foolish if they think they will continue to make a profit with their current business model and it's overreliance on sales of SUVs and light trucks. That strategy may have worked when gas was cheap during the 1990s, but if the Big Three arent agile or prudent enough to change strategies to adapt to a changing market, they will go under.
As a consumer, I haven't been much of a fan of the US domestic auto manufacturers, preferring instead the generally more innovative and fuel efficient vehicles produced by Japanese and European manufacturers.
However, as an American, I have no desire to see Ford, GM or DCX go under, as the blow to the US economy from any one of these three going bankrupt would be tremendous. For the sake of the US economy, I can only hope that the US Big Three wake up and pay attention to this study. As McManus pointed out, they have very little time in which to decide what products they plan to roll out a few model years from now, and the wrong decision at this point could cripple any one of the auto giants.
If any of you out there are stockholders in any of the US auto giants, I would strongly encourage you to write a letter to the company to demand that they act prudently with your investment and heed the advice of this study: fuel efficient vehicles are the best bet ... and time is running out to make the switch.
Governments, public schools and universities often lead the way on issues of social and environmental responsibility. From puchases of locally produced and sustainable products and fuel efficient vehicles to a commitment to renewable energy and green building design, public institutions often put their sizable purchasing power to work to create demand for responsible, sustainable, and often cutting edge products and technologies.
Now, it looks like Portland metro area public schools could be the next to lend their support to sustainable practices. The Oregonian reports today that 11 Portland-area school districts are planning a new building boom that could result in up to 19 new 'green' school buildings - schools designed to meet national energy efficiency and environmental sustainability standards such as the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
[Image: Portland-area North Clackamas High School incorpates many green design features including ample daylighting incorporated into the building's lighting system through ambient light sensors that automatically adjust lighting to supplement natural light levels. Daylighting, along with other green building features, has been shown to reduce sick days and increase students' productivity.]
The following is from the Oregonian article, by Nikole Hannah-Jones:
If voters support the November bond hopes of 11 Portland-area school systems, it will trigger a construction boom that could dot the landscape with an unprecedented number of shiny new green schools.
Metro school districts want to build 19 buildings in coming years. If they get the money, most of the districts are considering erecting buildings that meet national environmental and energy efficiency standards.
Six Oregon schools -- including North Clackamas High School and the cafeteria at Beaverton High -- currently hold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications. Portland's new Rosa Parks Elementary School and a school in Canby are awaiting the certification.
LEED certification comes from the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit coalition working to promote the construction of buildings that are "environmentally responsible and sustainable."
"In the beginning, people were just building schools with four walls to house kids," said Gregory Churchill, an energy analyst with the Oregon Department of Energy. That is changing, he said, and "it is a really good sign for Oregon."
Churchill works with districts interested in making their schools more environmentally friendly and efficient.
LEED certification requires that projects meet a number of standards, such as avoiding wetlands, building near public transportation, conserving water, reducing energy use, recycling, letting in daylight and providing clean indoor air.
Schools can boost their rating status by including options like waterless urinals, solar panels, furniture crafted from renewable wood and systems that capture rainwater to be used for irrigation.
Sherwood school officials voted Wednesday to design the new elementary and middle schools the district hopes to build to meet LEED standards.
"It is important that the district be a good steward of resources," said Mark Christie, Sherwood's school board chair. "We want to show students good modeling so that they continue to make the good decisions that we made all along."
Courtney Wilton, the business manager for the David Douglas School District, said his district will build its newest elementary to LEED standards, pending bond approval.
Hillsboro, McMinnville, North Clackamas and others are also considering LEED certification or at least building schools close to those standards. A Forest Grove spokeswoman said her district is not far enough along in the design process yet, but "that is something we'd like to do."
Boon to wallets, health
While LEED schools can cost a little more upfront, going green can save green over time, said Katrina Shum-Miller, who works for a Portland environmental building consultant company.
LEED buildings use less water and energy than traditional ones, with power bills showing savings of as much as 40 percent.
And increasingly, green schools are being built for the same cost as traditional schools. When North Clackamas built its new high school to LEED standards, the price tag came in at less than a regular high school. "It makes sense economically in the long run, and I also think it is the right thing to do," David Douglas' Wilton said. "We're living in a world where energy is getting more expensive."
The Oregon Department of Energy offers grants and other incentives to help districts recoup additional costs for going green.
But cost savings and conversation are not the only benefits.
Green schools are simply healthier for students and staff. The low-toxin carpets and paints that are used produce cleaner air to breathe. Studies have shown that daylighting -- using large, well-placed windows to let in natural light -- improves student performance.
Districts also use green schools as learning tools for students.
Kids at Clackamas High School can go online and monitor temperatures around the building. A similar system is built into Rosa Parks, and students will also be able to study the school's bioswale area, which catches storm water and cleans it before allowing it to seep back into the ground.
With just 30 LEED-certified schools nationwide, this year's bonds provide an opportunity for the Portland-metro area to stand out.
"This would be a huge increase," Churchill said. "It would be really something, actually."
If you are a Portland metro-area voter, I would strongly encourage you to vote for your local school construction bond this November. The bonds are an important and responsible investment in our children, their educatio and health, and the environment that they will inherit.
I would ultimately hope that Oregon joins Washington in requiring that all new public buildings - be they schools, fire houses, libraries or city halls - meet LEED silver equivalent standards. Such a policy is part of Governor Kulongoski's Oregon Renewable Energy Action Plan, but has yet to make it into legislation, as far as I know.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that my alma matter, the University of Oregon recently committed to build all of its new buildings to conform with LEED silver equivalent standards. The UO is currently home to a LEED Silver-rated building, the new Lillis Business Complex and just finished construction on the new Living Learning Center dorm complex which conforms to LEED silver standards (the certification process itself costs quite a bit of time and money, so UO buildings are not required to actually pursue certification with the USGBC).
[Image: the UO's LEED Silver-rated Lillis Business Complex]
Thursday, September 07, 2006
It looks like volume-production lithium ion batteires for use in hybrid electric vehicles could be coming soon.
Green Car Congress reports that the Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions (JCS) joint venture has signed a letter of intent with a major vehicle manufacturer to supply lithium-ion hybrid vehicle batteries. The LOI is for the development phase, which is expected to lead to volume production for a late 2008 model year vehicle.
JCS will reportedly invest $15-$20 million for the production of the lithium batteries. This will be the first JCS European HEV lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant.
Last month, the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) - a consortium of the US Council for Automotive Research&mash;an umbrella organization for collaborative research among DaimlerChrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. - awarded the JCS joint venture a 24-month contract to continue its development work for advanced, Li-Ion batteries for HEVs.
The focus of that project is on accelerating Li-Ion technology development by improving battery power in low temperatures, and creating solutions that reduce battery system costs.
JCS says that it has made tremendous progress in both the chemistry and manufacturing of lithium-ion hybrid batteries for HEV applications since the launch of the joint venture in January 2006, due to the combined strengths of both parents.
Lithium ion batteries have had problems with safety, with cold starts and with charge times that have made them a second-choice to Nickel-Metal-Hydride (NiMH) batteries for hybrid applications, up to this point. However, Li Ion batteries offer:
These characteristics make Li Ion batteries the presumed long-term replacement for NiMH (although carbon-nanotube ultracapacitors could give Li Ion a run for its money eventually) and it looks like the time is nearing when Li Ion batteries begin to replace NiMH for use in automotive applications.
[It's also worth noting that it seems like the large majority of hybrid and electric concept cars unveiled in the past year have featured lithium ion battery packs (see for example: the Ford Reflex hybrid, Subaru's B5-TPH hybrid and R1e urban electric car, and Mitsubishi's Concept-CT hybrid all shown at the Detroit Auto Show plus Mitsu's Concept-EZ electric vehicle, Volvo's 3CC hybrid, and of course the smokin' Tesla Roadster to name a few (dozen)).]
[From Green Car Congress:]
EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson today proposed a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program designed to double the US use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The program, authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, will promote use of fuels largely produced by American crops.
The new regulation proposes that 3.71% of all the gasoline sold or dispensed to US motorists in 2007 be renewable fuel. Last December, EPA issued a rule implementing the Energy Policy Act’s default standard of 2.78% for 2006, which will continue to apply through this calendar year.
The EPA must set the standard for each succeeding year representing the amount of renewable fuel that a refiner, blender, or importer must use, expressed as a percentage of gasoline sold or introduced into commerce.
This yearly percentage standard is to be set at a level that will ensure that the total renewable fuel volumes will be used based on gasoline volume projections provided by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The standard for each year must be published in the Federal Register by November 30 of the previous year.
Various renewable fuels can be used to meet the requirements of RFS program, including ethanol and biodiesel. While the RFS program provides the certainty that a minimum amount of renewable fuel will be used in the United States; more can be used if fuel producers and blenders choose to do so.
In 2006, there will be about 4.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel consumed as motor vehicle fuel in the United States. The RFS program requires that this volume increase to at least 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. The RFS program is designed to cut petroleum use by approximately 3.9 billion gallons a year in 2012—roughly 1.0 to 1.6% of the petroleum that would otherwise be used by the transportation sector—and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 14 million tons annually.
This proposal also provides a preliminary analysis of the expected emissions, air quality and economic impacts of the expanded use of renewable fuels:
It's worth noting, that (as the article mentions) 4.5 billion gallons of biofuels are expected to be consumed in 2006, meaning that the 4.7 billion gallons target for 2007 isn't much of a stretch. This standard doesn't appear to be driving renewables quite as much as the ban on MTBE as an oxygenate (and its subsequent replacement with ethanol), at least so far. In later years, the standard may outpace other market drivers.
It's also worth noting that while the billions of gallons of gasoline mentioned above sound like big numbers, this standard amounts to a whole lot of nothing when you consider the scale: the renewable fuels standard will reduce total petroleum consumption in the transportation sector by just 1-1.6% by 2012. To be fair, a 1% reduction isn't nothing, but it does dwarf in comparison to the kinds of petroleum reductions that we must - and certianly can - achieve in order to reduce our reliance on mostly imported and increasingly expensive oil and to mitigate and stabalize our impact on global climate change.
From next-generation biofuels (BTL synthetics, cellulosic ethanol, biobutenal, etc.) to plug-in and grid-indepent hybrids and from vehicle downsizing to increased fuel efficiency, we could easily slash both petroleum imports and greenhouse gas emissions if the will was there. Perhaps President Bush ought to be looking West towards the Governator for ideas about what a concerted effort to reign in petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions really looks like. Maybe this is why the Oregonian editorial board recently dubbed Gov. Schwarzenegger the real 'leader of the free world' on these kinds of issues...
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Report Shows Over 100,000 Customers Voluntarily Purchasing Renewable Energy in the Pacific Northwest
The number of utility customers voluntarily purchasing "green power" in the Northwest topped 100,000 for the first time ever in 2005, according to a new report released today by the Renewable Northwest Project (RNP). Entitled “Powerful Choices VI,” the report summarizes the retail green power programs that are allowing customers to voluntarily invest directly in a clean energy future.
Throughout the Northwest, in markets both urban and rural, thirty-nine Northwest utilities are offering customers a choice of an environmentally preferred power source – wind power, solar power, landfill gas power, or low-impact hydro power. Participation in these programs continued to increase in 2005, with overall participation in Northwest green power programs growing by more than 18% between 2004 and 2005.
“The continued increase in the number of green power program customers in the Northwest demonstrates a strong and consistently growing demand for environmentally-friendly power sources, and a greater awareness of the benefits of renewable energy,” said Rachel Shimshak, director of RNP, a regional renewable energy advocacy organization. “Along with utility investments in renewable energy, customers are using their ‘Powerful Choices’ to help drive a clean energy future,” she added.
Voluntary retail green power purchases help to push the market for the construction of new renewable energy projects forward. During the past year, Northwest green power customers purchased over 733.5 million kilowatt-hours of green power – the equivalent of the annual output from a large 250 megawatt wind farm, or enough energy to power over 63,400 homes for a year. This is over 29 times the retail green power sold in voluntary programs reported in the first Powerful Choices report in 2000.
Since the last report, the number of customers buying green power has grown significantly. An additional 15,507 customers signed up for green power in 2005, bringing the Northwest total to over 101,000 residential and non-residential customers. Increased general awareness of the benefits and importance of buying green power and more sophisticated marketing techniques have contributed to higher sales and customer participation.
In response to the new developments in retail green power, Ms. Shimshak went on to say:
“Increased development of the Northwest’s home-grown renewable power resource will help to insulate Northwest customers from future electricity price volatility. In addition, rising concern over the impacts of conventional power generation on our climate, our environment, and our health is prompting a surge of interest in clean, climate-neutral, renewable power.” The Powerful Choices report from this year and previous years can be found on the RNP web site at www.RNP.org.
If you are a Northwest ratepayer and would like to sign up for a voluntary green power program, check the list of NW utilities offering green power programs in the Powerful Choices Report, or head to RNP's 'Go Green' page to find out if your utility offers a green power program.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Assemblyman Joe Nation’s (D-Marin/Sonoma) Assembly Bill 1012, the Foreign Oil Independence Legislation (FOIL) Act of 2006, passed the state Assembly on a 41-35 vote and now heads to the Governor for signature or veto.
“By signing AB 1012, Governor Schwarzenegger has a historic opportunity to curb our addiction to foreign oil,” said Assemblymember Joe Nation. “Our reliance on foreign oil is a threat to our national security, environmental health, and long term economic stability. With the volatility of fuel prices, the shrinking supply and increased demand for oil across the world, California again must lead the nation in taking a stand on environmental policy. Governor Schwarzenegger now must decide whether to truly lead this environmental fight or shrink to the will of big oil and automaker special interests.”
The bill would provide the California Air Resources Board (CARB) with the authority to require that by 2020, 50% of new passenger cars and light duty trucks be clean, alternative fuel vehicles such as hydrogen, plug-in hybrids, and flex fuel vehicles. In order to qualify as an alternative fuel, AB 1012 requires that a blended fuel must be constituted of less than 50% petroleum. In addition, the legislation will strengthen CARB’s authority to ensure for the sufficient availability of alternative fuel stations in the state.
“The challenge for California and the world in the 21st century is to reduce our dependence on petroleum,” stated Michael Eaves, President, California Gas Vehicle Coalition. “California has been a world leader in reducing air pollution from vehicles, and now we need to lead on diversifying our transportation fuels and using cleaner alternative fuels.”
CARB and the California Energy Commission have recommended that the state adopt a goal of 20% non-petroleum use by 2020 and 30% by 2030.
“This bill will reduce California’s dependence on imported oil by breaking the stalemate on alternative fuels,” said V. John White, Legislative Director of the Clean Power Campaign. “Requiring the auto industry to phase in alternative fuel cars and then requiring the oil companies to make alternative fuels available to the consumer, will help curb our oil appetite and create new jobs and economic development.”
This landmark legislation will help shape national energy policy.
The full text of the legislation can be found here.
Well, California has been busy lately. There's been a flurry of activity coming out of Sacramento in the past week or so, including:
As usual, California has set itself up as the vanguard of the United States on progressive and proactive strategies to reduce the impact of climate change and the end of cheap oil.
I've been quite busy lately and haven't had a chance to delve into the specifics of either this piece of legislation, or the carbon cap scheme announced yesterday, so if anyone has details they want to discuss, I'd love to hear it. I'll take a closer look soon.
Obviously this piece of legislation dovetails nicely with the carbon cap on the industrial sector and the gradually increasing standards on CO2 emissions from vehicles. When you throw in California's pioneering Renewable Portfolio Standard and the state's strong solar incentives, and it looks like California is piecing together a pretty comprehensive package of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum consumption. And in the absence of this kind of action at the federal level, it's heartening to at least see an influential state like California taking proactive action like this.
[From Green Car Congress:]
California legislative leaders and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reached agreement on a compromise version of an assembly bill (AB 32—the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) that is intended to bring statewide emissions of greenhouse gases back down to 1990 levels by 2020—an estimated cut of 25%.
The California Senate approved the measure on Wednesday; it now is in the Assembly, where final approval is expected.
[Terminating Global Warming? The Governator takes the lead on climate change solutions]
The bill, which would make California the first state in the country to legislate a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, requires the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to:
The greenhouse gases covered by AB 32 are: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexaflouride. The bill does not address vehicles as a source. California had already passed a bill limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases from new vehicles - a bill currently under challenge by the auto industry in Federal court [see previous post].
The basic implementation timeline is as follows:
Governor Schwarzeneggar had this to say:
"The state is the 12th largest carbon emitter in the world despite leading the nation in energy efficiency standards and its lead role in protecting its environment. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an issue we must show leadership on.Last month, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a climate change pact with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Once again, California and the Northeast are pushing things forward on climate change solutions in the absence of any meaningful action at the federal level.
With the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on the right coast and the California carbon cap on the left coast, greenhouse gas emissions caps will fall on a good chunk of the United States' economic activity. These state/regional initiatives will also go a long way towards driving action at a national level by building political momentum for federal action. Additionally, industries doing business in states with carbon caps will likely push for a nationwide cap in order to level the playing field, and ease the regulatory mess of dealing with multiple state or regional caps. Industrial leaders are already expecting a cap in the near future, and the sooner they know what they are dealing with, the sooner the uncertainty and risk posed by an impending but unknown carbon cap can be mitigated.
Bravo to California for moving forward. Let's hope this galvanizes action throughout the nation.