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Monday, January 29, 2007

Climate Change Conversations with ExxonMobil, Part 2: He Said, She Said

This post is Part Two (of two) detailing a recent conference call discussing climate change policies between bloggers (including myself), and Ken Cohen, Vice President of Public Affairs for ExxonMobil (a full list of participating blogs and bloggers can be found at the end of this post).

Part One unwrapped the significance of the simple fact that this conversation even occured. Part Two will deal with the details of who exactly said what. Here goes...

Let me begin by saying that Mr. Cohen is clearly quite good at his job. As any good PR representative will do, Mr. Cohen was careful not to say anything of too much substance, nor to endorse any specific policy position.

However, Cohen did outline the following principles which Exxon apparently uses to analyze and compare various climate policy options. According to ExxonMobil, good climate change policy proposals should:

  • Maximize the use of market forces.
  • Ensure a uniform and predictable cost of reducing CO2.
  • Promote global participation.
  • Minimize complexity and administrative costs.
  • Provide transparency to companies and consumers.
  • Adjust to new developments in climate science and the impacts of policies

  • Cap and Trade?

    When Tom Yulsman, of Prometheus: the Science Policy Weblog, pointed out that a cap and trade program is a market based policy mechanism and asked Mr. Cohen if Exxon would support a cap and trade program or something like it, Mr Cohen responded that Exxon is very familiar with and operates very well in the downstream cap and trade system implemented in Western Europe. He said that cap and trade systems do indeed utilize market forces, but was careful to point out that "the devil is in the details."

    Cohen referred back to the above policy guidelines, asking:
    "Does it impose even costs for carbon across the economy?

    Is it a downstream or upstream cap?

    Whichever we adopt, we can't lose site of the very global nature of the problem. If we focus on Western Europe and North America to the exclusion of very large developing economies in Asia, we're not addressing the problem. That's not to say we don't need to take action here, but the type of action we take needs to encourage the developing world to join us.

    Does it minimize complexity to minimize administrative costs?

    Does it provide transparency to companies and consumers?

    Does it adjust to new developments in science and the economic impacts of policies? That is, is 550 parts per million the right target? It may turn out to be lower, or hopefully, will be higher, we just don't know."
    So, the short answer, does ExxonMobil support a downstream cap and trade policy? "The answer is a definite maybe," says Cohen.

    Carbon Tax?

    Susan Smith, Law Professor at Willamette University and proprietor of the Environmental Law Professor Blog then pointed out that it looks like a carbon tax best fits the guidelines outlined by Exxon. Mr. Cohen responded that, "Most economists who have looked at this issue would come away saying a carbon tax makes the most sense. It’s the most efficient policy, the most sector-neutral," Mr Cohen said. " It doesn’t favor or disfavor one part of the economy over another."

    When asked specifically if Exxon would support a carbon tax proposal, Mr. Cohen half joked, "If Exxon came out in favor of carbon tax today, many people would react by saying 'if Exxon is in favor, there must be something wrong with it.'" (Probably not entirely off the mark!).

    Cohen went on to say:
    "As far as policy options go, there are standards (like CAFE, efficiency standards, etc.), there are downstream and upstream cap and trade, and there's carbon taxes.

    We look seriously at carbon tax proposals, but again, the devil is in the details. Remember that it is a regressive tax, so do we make it revenue neutral - that is, do we take out another regressive tax like the income tax? Does it apply across the whole economy, or just to one or two sectors?

    In theory, it looks good, but the devil's in the details."
    I asked Mr Cohen to respond to the USCAP announcement calling for immediate action addressing climate change, and asked him if Exxon would consider joining the partnership. Mr Cohen said:
    "We're part of several discussion groups that look like USCAP. Their proposal is going to be one of many - at last count there are seven bills of substance under consideration - and there are now various groups coming forward with proposals. Groups we are involved in will be making proposals soon. This is all part of a healthy dialogue and process."
    I then asked if they would support policies aimed at achieving the science-based goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 80% by 2050 (as the USCAP proposal does), to which Mr Cohen responded:
    "As far as a specific number, 80%, for example, the question is what is the cost? Is it feasible? That gets at the political reality of making it happen."
    To me this is NOT the right question. The question is a) what do we NEED to do to avoid dangerous climate change, based on the science of what it will take to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels at 450-550 parts per million? and b) how much will it cost NOT to achieve this target? Only then can we ask what will it cost to get to 450-550 ppm. The question, 'how much will it cost,' has no meaning if not considered in the context of how much it will cost to do nothing.

    As with any economic question, it's a matter of opportunity costs, and if the Stern Review is even close to accurate, the cost of doing nothing is far too high!

    Investing in Alternatives, and Making Environmentally Responsible Decisions Pay

    Maria Surma Manka of Green Options brought up the fact that most of Exxon's competitors, including BP, Shell and Chevron, are investing in alternative fuels and energy sources, from wind and solar power to biodiesel and ethanol. Maria implied that perhaps Exxon was not remaining competitive in a shifting energy marketplace and asked Mr. Cohen what steps the company was doing to show it's investors that Exxon was diversifying it's portfolio.

    Mr Cohen responded by pointing out that, first of all, ExxonMobil was one of the world's largest purchasers of biofuels. Exxon's basic gasoline is an E3 to E10 blend, Mr Cohen said (that is, it contains 3% to 10% ethanol by volume). He also pointed out that Exxon is funding cellulosic ethanol research at Stanford University and elsewhere.

    As far as Exxon not investing in wind and solar, as some of it's competitors have, Mr Cohen unapologetically responded that this is "simply a business decision. We are looking for technologies that will stand on their own as cost effective."

    "We are a research company," Mr Cohen said, "with over 2,000 Ph.D.s on staff. That's how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors. We wish the competition luck with their investments, but when we find a proposal that looks like we can get in there and make money doing it, we'll do it."

    This was one of several times Mr Cohen asserted that Exxon had analyzed alternative energy projects and simply found them unprofitable. He also reiterated at least twice that Exxon was looking for investments that "stood on their own two feet."

    I pressed Mr Cohen on this issue, arguing that I wasn't sure how to make sense of what it meant to talk about technologies 'standing on their own two feet' in an industry, like the energy industry, as highly influenced by subsidies, environmental regulations, and other public policies that affect how the market works. I asked Mr. Cohen if Exxon was truly looking for technologies that stand on their own in an absolute free market/no government intervention sense, or if they were looking for projects that are profitable given the existing public policy and market environment?

    To this, Mr Cohen replied that they were looking at the policy environment as well, but went on to say:
    "First, you have to differentiate between policies that have a good environmental outcome as their goal, and ones that simply support a product for the product's sake.

    Ethanol is a good example: the average rack price for ethanol was more than $3 per gallon last year, while the price for gasoline was $1.90. If customers had to pay the true price of ethanol, no one would buy it. And what is the goal of this subsidy? What does it achieve?

    What you want are policies designed with a valid environmental aim that use the power of the marketplace to spread evenly across the market."
    Now that is exactly what I've been saying all along!

    I'd love to sit here today and rant about Exxon needing to put the environment first and profit second in their business practices, or at least to ask the company to adopt a 'triple bottom line' approach - weighing environmental and social value equally with monetary value in their business decisions.

    But in reality, I have to recognize that that Exxon is a publicly traded corporation, and as such, they have a responsibility to their investors to maximize the return on their investment, and that the company will attempt to do so as best as possible, given existing market and policy forces. Exxon's whole purpose is to make money, and to that end, it is very successful.

    Given that, the single best way to affect the company's actions is to enact public policy that changes those market forces so that doing the environmentally sound thing is also simultaneously the profitable thing. Or perhaps I should put that the other way around: with the right policies in place, doing the profitable thing will (from a businesses point of view) also incidentally be the environmentally responsible thing to do.

    Until we enact policies that bring together market prices and true environmental (and societal) costs, we will constantly be fighting against market forces, a hopelessly uphill battle (if not a losing proposition from the get go). If, instead, we get market forces to work with us, a sustainable business will be the only profitable business.

    This should be our public policy goal, and carbon taxes or cap and trade programs are one step towards that goal.

    This is something that is apparently not lost on Rex Tillerson, the new CEO of ExxonMobil. In a speech before the Boston CEO Club in November, 2006 (the speech was included in our background materials before the conference call), Tillerson had this to say about public policy:
    "Policies that promote stable tax, regulatory and legal frameworks over the long-term encourage the investments needed to not only meet current ends, but also the technological advances to meet future needs while reducing environmental impacts."
    Well said, Mr. Tillerson. Now I hope you don't mind when we enact a carbon cap and trade system and give you the long-term policy framework that will make investments in low-carbon products the only profitable option for your company!

    As Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Cohen, and I all seem to agree, the beauty of the market is that businesses do an excellent job of finding ways to make a profit within given market forces, and those forces are shaped by public policies that create the tax, regulatory and legal environment in which the market functions. (Wow, now I've agreed with both President Bush and ExxonMobil in the span of five day ... yikes!)

    Implementing a carbon cap or tax will send long-term, stable price signals to companies that reducing their carbon emissions is the profitable thing to do.

    Until we use policies to break down the false dichotomy between a profitable business venture and an environmentally responsible one, we can hardly fault a company like Exxon for doing their job and making money, often at the expense of the environment. We can appeal to their good nature, for what little good that will do, or we can organize boycotts or bad PR to put some economic pressure on their bottom line, but those efforts only have success in very limited cases, and even then are very tough battles which generally affect only one company at a time.

    What will bring about lasting and widespread change in corporate actions and put us on the path to a sustainable economy - in both the environmental and economical sense of the word - are smart public policies that use, as Mr Cohen put it, "the power of the marketplace" to ensure that making a smart investment means making an environmentally responsible investment.

    Until then, we will be fighting a constantly uphill battle, one, I would argue, that is ultimately fated to fail.

    [In closing, I'd like to thank Mr Cohen for taking some of his time to speak with me and my fellow bloggers, as well as Pam Franklin and David Wescott of APCO Worldwide for organizing the conference call. It truly was an interesting and unique opportunity.]

    Participants in ExxonMobil Conference Call (and their Blogs):

  • Yours truly (of course)
  • Tom Yulsman,Prometheus: the Science Policy Weblog
  • Susan Smith, Environmental Law Prof Blog
  • Stuart Staniford, The Oil Drum
  • Maria Surma Manka, Green Options
  • Ken Cohen, Vice President of Public Affairs, ExxonMobil
  • Pam Franklin, Online Marketing Strategist, APCO Worldwide

  • Read more!

    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Climate Change Conversations with ExxonMobil, Part 1: Reaching a Tipping Point?

    A strange thing happened to me last Friday: I participated in a conference call that put humble bloggers like yours truly in a conversation with Ken Cohen, the Vice President of Public Affairs for ExxonMobil, the largest publicly traded corporation in the world.

    The topic of the day? ExxonMobil's position on climate change and public policy solutions, which the oil giant's VP for Public Affairs apparently felt it necessary to take an hour and fifteen minutes of his busy schedule to clarify for the members of the blogosphere (a full list of participating bloggers can be found at the end of this post).

    And what is Exxon's postition on climate change these days?

    "We believe climate change is a serious issue and that action must be taken,” Cohen said during the conference call.

    Mr. Cohen even came suprisingly close to endorsing a particularly policy approach - the carbon tax - over another - the cap and trade approach currently favored by most policy proposals (including several bills currently introduced to the 110th Congress, as well as the proposals of the United States Climate Action Partnership, USCAP, and it's industry and environmental member organizations).

    "Most economists who have looked at this issue would come away saying a carbon tax makes the most sense," Cohen said. "It’s the most efficient policy, the most sector-neutral. It doesn’t favor or disfavor one part of the economy over another."

    That's right, Exxon now seems to be singing a different tune on climate change than they have been as recently as several months ago.

    Mr. Cohen argued repeatedly that this was not, in fact, a new position, but rather that Exxon's position on climate change has been consistently misunderstood. Cohen maintained that Exxon's opposition to the Kyoto protocol specifically has been mistakenly equated to an opposition to any action seeking to address climate change.

    However, it seems to me that even if this is the case, Exxon has had ten years since the Kyoto Protocal was negotiated to clarify it's position on climate change, and considering that the world's largest publicly traded company certainly has access to the best PR firms in the world, either they did a very poor job of correcting this misunderstanding, or they didn't consider it important enough to correct.

    Either way then, it is still quite significant that Exxon is now taking this opportunity to publicly clarify its position on climate change, and to bloggers at that.

    I'll get into the details of Friday morning's discussion with Mr Cohen in a post to follow sometime tomorrow, but first it's worth taking a moment to unwrap the significance of the simple fact that this conversation even occured...

    A Tipping Point?

    The fact that ExxonMobil spent an hour and fifteen minutes discussing climate change mitigation solutions with a group of bloggers is a clear sign of a rapidly shifting political landscape.

  • In 2005, ExxonMobil gave $5.7 million to 39 groups that, according to a 2006 British Royal Society report, 'misrepresent the science of climate change,' including the American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The British Royal Society report was echoed by a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists released earlier this month, which further details Exxon's funding of organizations employing tobacco lobby-style tactics to spread disinformation and confusion regarding climate change science or solutions. According to the report, ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.

    (To be fair, Mr. Cohen also pointed out that Exxon has funded a variety of organizations, including those engaged in research into climate change mitigation technologies, including Stanford University's Global Climate and Energy Project, the US EPA's "Smartway" Transport Partnership and others).

  • In the first quarter of 2006, ExxonMobil quietly issued their latest policy and science research funding figures, showing that they had now stopped funding these organizations, a decision Cohen said was reached sometime in 2005, but not publicly announced at the time (a major PR mistake if you ask me!).

  • In the beginning of 2007, ExxonMobil is now saying that they they "believe climate change is a serious issue and that action must be taken."

    After Friday morning's conversation, I'm not at all convinced that ExxonMobil will become a valuable ally in the push to enact comprehensive climate change mitigation policies. But the simple fact that they are apparently no longer actively standing in the way of action is a huge step forward, in my opinion.

    It is a sign that ExxonMobil now clearly understands that a position of denial concerning global warming is simply an untenable position. They've apparently seen the writing on the wall: climate change policies are inevitable.

    Be it this year, the next, or even the one after that, the United States will soon join most of the rest of the world and enter into a new carbon constrained age by enacting policies capping or taxing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Exxon now knows that the policy debates occuring today are not to be trifled with and that they had better attempt to get their input in and shape the policies to their benefit.

    And Exxon's new-found interest in climate change policy solutions isn't the only sign of a shifting policital landscape.

    Last Monday, the heads of 10 major U.S. corporations teamed up with four leading environmental organizations to form the United States Climate Action Partnership, calling on Congress and the president to support mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions "at the earliest practicable date." The group included the chief executives of Exxon's competitor, BP America, as well as GE, Duke Energy, DuPont, PG&E, Alcoa and others [full list on the USCAP website].

    The corporations have joined together with Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and the World Resources Institute. USCAP has put forward a series of policy recommendations designed to cut U.S. annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 10 to 30 percent below today's levels in just 15 years, with the ultimate goal of a 60-90% reduction over today's emissions levels by 2050 (this is based on the scientific consensus that we must stabilizeatmospheric CO2 levels at 450-550 parts per million to avoide global temperature increases in excess of 2 degress C (3-4 degrees F) and the dangerous climate change that will result).

    Then, on Tuesday, President Bush issued his State of the Union address, in which he finally acknowledged, "the serious challenge of global climate change."

    Sure, it was just a throw away line in his speech (although it did elicit a spontaneous standing ovation from many in the audience, which in turn elicited a priceless smirk on President Bush's face). Just like Exxon deserves little praise for it's new position on climate change, the president deserves little credit for including this one line in the address (why should we praise them for finally admitting what practically everyone else has been saying for years? Actions speak much louder than words Mr President - and Mr. Cohen).

    However, both subtle shifts in position are significant indications that we are now reaching a tipping point on the path to climate change action.

    As Tom Yulsman of Prometheus: the Science Technology Weblog, another participant in the conference call, writes:
    An earthquake occurs when enough strain builds up along a fault line, causing the ground on opposites sides to suddenly break free and shift violently. In the past few years, we’ve witnessed a steady build up of strain along the fault line marking the divide between the science of global warming on one side, and public, corporate and political perceptions on the other. The scientific evidence clearly linking human activities to a warming climate has been pulling hard on the fault for years, causing some creep but no major release.
    Over the past year, we have seen that faultline strain more and more, and now, perhaps, we are seeing the first signs of tremors.

    Is a true earthquake soon to come?

    A New Media Age

    The fact that Exxon had this conversation with bloggers and not the mainstream press is also significant (as of yet, I have not seen any mainstream press focused on clarifying Exxon's climate change position).

    Perhaps Time Magazine was right when they selected 'You' as the 2006 Person of the Year, citing the growing influence of web-based, people-powered media like blogging!

    You know we live in a new and decidedly more democratic age of media and communication when an executive of the world's largest company sees fit to not only take notice of the blogosphere, but also actively seek out bloggers to talk to (representatives of APCO Worldwide, a global PR firm, set up Friday's conference call and contaced the bloggers who participated in the call).

    If this is a tale of David and Goliath, than perhaps we haven't yet slain the giant, but we've certainly made him take notice of our little slingshot. Our blogs have now given us a big enough megaphone that, collectively, we can bend the ear of the world's largest companies, a not unsignificant change from a short three or four years ago.

    Participants in ExxonMobil Conference Call (and their Blogs):

  • Yours truly (of course)
  • Tom Yulsman, Prometheus: the Science Policy Weblog
  • Susan Smith, Environmental Law Prof Blog
  • Stuart Staniford, The Oil Drum
  • Maria Surma Manka, Green Options
  • Ken Cohen, Vice President of Public Affairs, ExxonMobil
  • Pam Franklin, Online Marketing Strategist, APCO Worldwide

  • Stay tuned for Part Two, where we'll get into the details of 'he said, she said'...

    Read more!

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    News From My Backyard: Legislative Proposals Could Make Oregon Leader on Clean Energy and Climate Change

    Legislative proposals would increase the use of renewable energy, biofuels and efficiency

    [From the Salem Statesman Journal:]

    Oregon is poised to be a national leader in renewable energy and responder to climate change if the legislature acts on a series of biofuel, tax credit and renewable energy proposals this session, program proponents said Wednesday.

    In addition to his five energy legislative proposals, Gov. Ted Kulongoski is backing a proposal that would force utilities to increase energy efficiency, increase their reliance on renewable energy and limit greenhouse gas emissions.

    [Oregon drivers could see more highway signs for alternative fuels, if legislation enacting a biofuels standard is passed this session. Rising Phoenix Biofuels, in Southern Oregon, serves only biofuels. The state is poised to be a leader in renewable energy.]

    He said he would work with other Western states to discuss a regional program called cap-and-trade, but an initial program just within Oregon also is viable, said David Stewart-Smith, the chairman of the governor's task force on this program.

    Stewart-Smith made his formal recommendation to the governor as part of a discussion on the next steps the state should take to address global warming and move toward energy independence.

    Stewart-Smith said the program would reduce the average cost to utility customers, but only if energy conservation measures were also adopted.

    The cap-and-trade program is only one piece of the governor's plan to reduce greenhouse gases within the state -- which would help halt, or even reverse, the global warming trend.

    Among the state's goals are:

  • By 2010, arrest growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • By 2020, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels.
  • By 2050, reduce greenhouse gases to 75 percent below 1990 levels.

  • Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco, who was chairwoman of the governor's advisory group on global warming, said that it is urgent that global-warming policies are enacted now. She said that conclusive evidence shows that climate change is real and it's happening even faster and with more detrimental consequences than originally predicted.

    Lubchenco said that Oregon's leadership -- in concert with actions in California and other states -- could force federal dialogue on global-warming policies.

    "If we enact our priorities this session, we will create a sustainable economy and a sustainable environment for future generations," Kulongoski said. "We can't wait any longer."

    "Global-warming pollution takes awhile to have an effect on temperature, and temperature takes awhile to have an effect on snow levels and the sea," said Jeremiah Baumann of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group. "Even if we could stop all global-warming pollution now, the Earth would continue to warm. It's good news for the country -- and the planet really -- that Oregon is ready to take a leadership role."

    Just an hour after the governor's remarks on climate change, the House Committee on Energy and the Environment began hearings on biofuels legislation. The package of proposals includes a requirement that biodiesel and ethanol are ingredients of fuels sold in Oregon, expansion of property tax incentives for biofuel production facilities and creation of an income tax incentive for consumer use of biofuel.

    The biofuels package is one of the pieces of the governor's climate change initiative, but it also is touted as a key to economic development and energy independence for Oregon.

    It's the third legislative session for some of these proposals.

    Jeff Kropf, a former Republican legislator and grass seed farmer from Sublimity, testified in front of the committee Tuesday. He proposed similar legislation last session with Rep. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, who supports the biofuels package this year.

    Kropf said that promoting the biofuel industry in Oregon is also good for air quality. Burning biodiesel instead of regular diesel reduces particulates in the air, and both biodiesel and ethanol reduce carbon emissions, said Andrew Ginsburg of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

    Summary of the Governor's Legislative Proposals:

  • Senate Bill 232: Authorizes state agencies to develop renewable energy on state forests, campuses and other state lands. This bill will help achieve the governor's goal for state agencies to meet 100 percent of their electricity needs from renewables by 2010.

  • House Bill 2211: The Business Energy Tax Credit is amended to provide greater incentives for renewable energy -- including increasing credit for renewable energy systems installed by businesses from 35 percent to 50 percent and increases the project cost limit from $10 million to $20 million; and providing that the costs of constructing facilities to manufacture renewable energy systems and components are eligible for the increased tax credit for renewable energy.

  • House Bill 2212: Changes to the Residential Energy Tax Credit to allow use of the credit for more than one qualifying item in the same year, e.g. for a solar water heater and for a solar electric system; and increases the maximum tax credit for fuel cells and for wind generation from $1,500 to $6,000 over four years.

  • House Bill 2210: Biofuels Fuels Package expands property tax incentives for biofuel and certain fuel additive production facilities; establishes a new tax credit for producers and collectors of biofuel raw materials; establishes a Renewable Fuel Standard for biodiesel and ethanol based on in-state production; provides that the existing mandate on state agencies to use ethanol also applies to biodiesel; creates an income tax incentive for consumer use of biofuel.

  • House Bill 2209: Establishes a Renewable Portfolio Standard for electricity. The bill requires that 25 percent of Oregon's electric load come from new renewable energy by 2025.

  • Well, I've been meaning to write a summary of the renewable energy and biofuels legislation introduced this session in the Oregon Legislature, but I guess this article basically does it for me. There's a lot going on in Salem this session to pay attention to, and environmental and renewable energy advocates have been racking up the miles between Portland and Salem these past three weeks since the session commenced (hopefully they're carpooling ... in hybrids!).

    If you are an Oregon citizen, I'd encourage you to contact your state representatives to let them know you support the full range of the Governor's renewable energy proposals and expect them to support them as well. Committee hearings are underway currently on a number of the bills (the biofuels bill looks like it will move first) so it would be fine timing to call or write your reps.

    Expect more details on the Renewable Energy Standard bill, which I'm pretty closely involved in, soon. Unlike the other bills (all of which are much less complicated), the RES bill hasn't come out of legislative council yet (they're the ones that make the bill proposal into legalese!), and will likely undergoe one more round of revision before being introduced into the Senate (most likely in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Senator Brad Avakian). The current HB 2209 described above is simply a placeholder bill number awaiting the real bill sometime very soon (next week perhaps).

    Read more!

    Eye On China: China One-ups President Bush

    China Shoots for 25% Biofuels by 2020

    [From Green Car Congress:]

    The Chinese government plans to use liquid biofuels produced in rural areas to cut the country’s consumption of petroleum products by 10 million tons [roughly 72 million barrels], or more than 25%, by 2020.

    China is the world’s third largest oil importer after the United State and Japan, and imported a record-high 36.38 million tons (about 267 million barrels) of refined oil products last year, 15.7% up on 2005, to fuel an estimated annual economic growth of 10.7% percent.

    [Will China imitate the United States and turn to its cornfields to meet it's biofuels targets, or will they adopt a more sustainable (environmentally and economically) biofuel?]

    In his State of the Union Address this week, US President George Bush unveiled his Twenty in Ten goal—a reduction in gasoline consumption of 20% in 10 years through the use of biofuels (15%) and increased fuel efficiency (5%).

    China's one-uped you Mr. President! Mr. Bush's 20 in 10 proposal calls for biofuels to displace 15% of gasoline by 2017, while this Chinese proposal calls for biofuels to replace 25% of total national petroleum consumption.

    On an absolute basis, the President's proposal does take the cake, calling for 35 billion gallons of biofuels by 2017, as compared to roughly 72 million barrels of oil equivalent, or nearly six billion gallons of ethanol.

    Still, these are ambitious goals for China, and will help take a large chunk out of their growing oil consumption, if they can produce that much biofuel, that is (six billion gallons should be pretty achievable though).

    I'm assume that China is calling for a 25% reduction over demand in 2020, not a 25% reduction over current demand, which would be much more ambitious. The president's proposal calls for a 20% reduction in gasoline consumption over forecasted demand in 2017, not a 20% reduction over current demand levels. While this amounts to a larger number in absolute terms, it means the US gasoline consumption, let alone petroleum energy consumption, may continue to increase in the future.

    Read more!

    Largest Youth Mobilization on Global Warming: Events on 575 Campuses and Schools

    An Inconvenient Truth Screenings Will Anchor Week of Action, JAN. 29 - FEB. 2

    [From It's Getting Hot in Hear: Dispatches from the Global Youth Climate Movement:]

    In the largest mobilization in the history of the youth global warming movement, students are rising up to demand immediate action to end our addiction to fossil fuels. Students on over 575 college and high school campuses across the United States and Canada are urging their campus administrators to enact clean energy policies as a key solution to the impending climate crisis. The demands are part of Rising to the Climate Challenge: Visions of Our Future, a week-long series of actions coordinated by the Campus Climate Challenge. “The Challenge” unites young people to win 100% clean energy policies at their schools.

    Anchoring the week of action are hundreds of screenings of the Oscar-nominated documentary An Inconvenient Truth. In partnership with The 11th Hour Project and Truth on Campus, the Challenge is making copies of the DVD and public screening licenses available to college and high school campuses across the U.S. and Canada.

    In addition to the film screenings, students are organizing rallies, educational forums and requesting meetings with members of Congress to urge that the U. S. take a leading role in reducing greenhouses gases. Events are planned in 49 states and 8 Canadian provinces.

    Events include:

    • Students at Rutgers University have collected 200 invitations sent to Rep. Frank Pallone D-NJ to at a screening and discussion of An Inconvenient Truth. The screening will also kick-off a campus-wide dorm competition to save energy.
    • Students from Ivy League universities are joining together to call for their campuses to go climate neutral.
    • January 30: Billionaires for Coal will be rallying outside the New York headquarters of Merrill Lynch to protest its investment in TXU, a company proposing to build 11 new coal power plants in Texas.
    • January 31: West Virginia elementary school students will be presenting letters to Governor Manchin urging him to build them a new school away from the coal silo that sits 150 feet from their current school.

    For a complete list of events during the week of action, please visit

    “Students recognize that climate change is the most critical issue facing their generation. Throughout the Week of Action they are demanding less talk and more action to end our addiction to fossil fuels,” said Michael Crawford, communications director for the Campus Climate Challenge. “Beginning with their college campuses and extending to the halls of Congress, young people are sounding the alarm about global warming and providing real solutions that move us towards a clean energy future.”

    “At American University, we have already held a successful student referendum to move the university towards wind-generated energy,” says student Claire Roby. “But that’s not enough. We are joining with students from around the country during the week of action to demand real solutions to stop global warming.”

    “There is a growing sense of urgency about global warming among young people because we are the generation that will be most affected.,” says Andrew Nazdin, a freshman at the University of Maryland. “The week of action is a way for students to demand real solutions to end our addiction to fossil fuels.”

    The Campus Climate Challenge, a project of the Energy Action Coalition, unites young people to organize on college campuses and high schools to win 100% clean energy policies at their schools. Energy Action Coalition is a network of 41 organizations from across the United States and Canada, founded and led by youth to help support and strengthen the student and youth clean energy movement in the United States and Canada.

    Energy Action Coalition partners are: Americans for Informed Democracy, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Brower New Leaders Initiative, California Student Sustainability Coalition, Campus Progress, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Air Cool Planet, Climate Crisis Coalition, ConnPIRG, CoPIRG, Dakota Resource Council, Earth Day Network, Energy Justice Network, Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, Global Exchange, Greenpeace Student Network, Indigenous Environmental Network, INPIRG, Kids Against Pollution, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund: Project Democracy, League of Young Voters, MarylandPIRG, MASSPIRG, MoPIRG, National Association of Environmental Law Societies, National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology Program, NJPIRG, OhioPIRG, OSPIRG, Rainforest Action Network, Restoring Eden, Sierra Student Coalition, Sierra Youth Coalition, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Students United for a Responsible Global Environment, Sustainable Endowments Institute, SustainUS, Utah Clean Energy, WashPIRG, WISPIRG, Young People For and Youth Environmental Network. is helping colleges, universities and high schools across the country increase the positive outcomes from their screenings of “An inconvenient Truth.” Coordination is being led by Better Days Alliance, a Connecticut-based 501(c)(3) organization with support from Aveda, Annie’s Homegrown, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Clif Bar, Stonyfield Farm and the 11th Hour Project.

    This is great! I'm actually speaking at an event at a Beaverton, OR Middle School that's part of this Week of Action and doubles as a kick off event for the Focus the Nation on Climate Change movement.

    I strongly feel that the voice of people of my generation must be heard on this critial issue. Whatever we're dubbed (Gen Y, Gen Next, or whatever else), this generation of young people coming to age in the beginning of the 21st century will ultimetly be the ones who will live first hand with the consequences of the actions, or inactions, of our elected leaders today.

    It is up to us to decide what kind of future we wish to live in, and to fight to ensure that that future is realized.

    If we don't make our voices heard, and demand represenation as a constituency deeply invested in the outcome of the current debates on climate change legislation, we will have noone to blame but ourselves if things don't go our way.

    I love to see these events going on at campuses and schools across the country. They will hopefully help us find our voice. I hope that in addition to leveraging their own campus communities, the people gathering at these events also look outward to the larger political landscape. We are at a momentous point in history today wherein we will craft the policies that shape the future we will inherit, and if we gather our voices into one, we have the power to shift the political landscape.

    Let's not forget the power of student movements of the past. It was organized and consistent pressure from student activists across the country that was crucial to the passage and ratification of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1971, which extended the right to vote to 18, 19 and 20 year olds. If student activism can change the Constitution of the United States, it can shift the politics of global warming.

    I am currently kicking around ideas for ways I can help organize this growing youth climate change movement into focused political pressure on key committee members who will debate the seven or so climate change bills currently introduced in the House and Senate. Any ideas about how to go about that, or contacts you might have for campus activists, organizers, professors, etc. who might be interested in getting involved, please send them my way (you can find my email info in the sidebar for this blog).

    Read more!

    Evangelicals and Scientists Start Climate Campaign

    [I guess I missed this one last week... From MSNBC, January 17th:]

    Saying they share a moral purpose, a group of evangelicals and scientists committed themselves Wednesday to work together to convince the nation’s leaders that global warming is real.

    The Rev. Rich Cizik, public policy director for the National Association of Evangelicals (pictured above left), and Nobel-laureate Eric Chivian, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, were among 28 signers of a statement that demands urgent changes in values, lifestyles and public policies to avert disastrous changes in climate.

    “God will judge us for destroying the Creation. Therefore, we as evangelicals have a responsibility to be even more vigilant than others,” Cizik told a news conference.

    “Science can be an ally in helping us understand what faith is telling us,” he said. “We will not allow the Creation to be degraded, destroyed by human folly.”

    Among the project’s supporters are Edward O. Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning scientist and author; James Hansen, a prominent NASA climatologist; and Calvin B. DeWitt, president of the Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists.

    Chivian said evangelicals and scientists are not as odd a couple as they may seem.

    “We discovered that we were both speaking from our hearts and our minds. We found that we really like each other,” he said.

    Dissenting view

    Not all evangelicals were on board.

    The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, formed by evangelicals who say scientific evidence counters claims of climate change, derided Wednesday’s announcement as “just another attempt to create the impression of growing consensus among evangelicals about global warming. There is no such growing consensus.”

    The alliance charged that the National Association of Evangelicals’ board never approved the new collaboration. The NAE said its board approved a “dialogue,” but no specific actions.

    The new effort represents the boldest evangelical step yet into the world of environmental activism.

    To start, the coalition is meeting with congressional leaders, both Democrat and Republican, organizing a summit on environmental issues and developing public relations tools such as a “Creation Care” Bible study guide.

    It also has requested a meeting with President Bush. Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, all signaled their support Wednesday for the collaboration of evangelicals and scientists.

    Initiative born at retreat

    Their pairing grew from a retreat last year at which all sides agreed that human behavior and public policy have put the environment at risk.

    In the past, conservative Christians who embraced that cause have met significant resistance.

    The Rev. Joel Hunter of Northland megachurch in Longwood, Fla., refused to become president of the Christian Coalition of America last year because he said the group would not expand its agenda to include the environment and poverty. Hunter has now endorsed the new project.

    Related Posts:

  • Bishop of London: It's Sinful to Contribute to Climate Change - July 24th, 2006

  • God Is On Our Side ... or at Least 86 Evangelical Christian Leaders Are - February 11th, 2006

  • Read more!

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    Renewable Energy Industry Reacts to State of the Union

    [I provide the following article, from Renewable Energy, without specific comment, except to say that my own response to the president's State of the Union address is similarly lukewarm. I will likely work on my own response to the president's address this weekend when I hopefully have some more time to write. Until then...]

    Proponents of the renewable energy industry quickly reacted to U.S. President George Bush's recent State of the Union Address, specifically those portions of his plans addressing solar and wind energy, cutting U.S. gas consumption 20 percent by 2017, raising the fuel standard for renewable fuels, and increasing battery research for hybrid cars [again, for a summary of the energy proposals in the State of the Union, see this Green Car Congress post].

    "These technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change," said President Bush.

    Yet amid slight praise for broaching the topic of how to address climate change through the use of renewable energies, increased R&D for ethanol, and an RFS, many renewable energy advocates agree: it's not enough.

    Scott Sklar, President, The Stella Group, Ltd.:
    "While the President actually mentioned the word "climate change" in his State of the Union speech, the environmental groups got none of what they directly wanted towards establishing some sort of mandatory emissions caps. ... As was seen from the President's subdued delivery, focus on Iraq, and acknowledgments on the shift of power to a divided government -- all these energy proposals will be sifted, added to and modified by the Democratic Leadership in the House and Senate. The speech signifies the formal start of this process, and now the political theater and process begins."

    Bill Prindle, Acting Executive Director, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy:
    "The President sets extremely ambitious goals for alternative fuels, while making tepid promises on fuel economy. While we need new clean fuels, energy efficiency is the first fuel in the race for energy security. Congress should set a stronger CAFE standard that would save at least 12 billion gallons of gasoline in 2017 and 50 billion in 2030."

    Chris Flavin, President, Worldwatch Institute:
    "Beyond biofuels, the array of other promising renewable energy sources -- including solar energy, wind power, and geothermal energy -- received only a mention in the president's speech, and is generally ignored in his detailed energy plan. It will therefore fall to Congress to develop the kind of solid, far-reaching national commitment to renewable resources and efficiency that will be needed to fuel a strong domestic economy and lower the consumption of oil and other fossil fuels."

    Ken Bossong, Coordinator, The Sustainable Energy Network:
    "Curbing gasoline use by 20 percent over the next decade is a positive goal but it is not enough. It is time to pull out all of the stops and launch an intensive national effort to significantly reduce total energy use and greatly increase the share of energy coming from renewable sources - with a goal of at least 25 percent by 2025. This would include at least a near-term doubling, if not tripling, of federal tax incentives as well as federal funding of research, development, and deployment of the full spectrum of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies -- with heavy emphasis on actual deployment."

    Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President, Biotechnology Industry Organization:
    "By proposing a new renewable energy standard that will require fuel blenders to use up to 35 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2017, the President is sending a dramatically positive signal to the investment community, to farmers, to biotech companies and to gasoline refiners that our government will work with the private sector to make the biofuels sector a major contributor to our energy independence. Biotechnology is the key enabling technology that can help the United States significantly reduce its use of foreign petroleum. America could soon be producing a significant portion of its transportation fuel needs from crops and crop residues with the help of improved crop yields from agricultural biotechnology, increased ethanol production efficiency from industrial biotechnology, and the production of cellulosic biomass ethanol."

    Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President, American Coalition for Ethanol:
    "President Bush's call to increase the use of renewable and alternative fuels, including ethanol, to 35 billion gallons by 2017 sends a very powerful signal that an ambitious yet attainable Renewable Fuels Standard goal is the ideal strategy to strengthen energy security and independence in the U.S. An RFS level of 35 billion gallons by 2017 is consistent with ACE's call for an RFS of 60 billion gallons by 2030, and we are pleased that this and other important aspects of ACE's legislative plan have already been included in S. 23, the Biofuels Security Act introduced in the 110th Congress by Senators Harkin and Lugar."

    Scott Faber, Farm Policy Campaign Director, Environmental Defense:
    "Expanding the production of ethanol will help boost the profitability of our farmers and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. To ensure that ethanol feed stocks are grown in ways that meet our environmental challenges, Congress should double funding for voluntary USDA conservation programs when Congress renews farm and food policies this year. ... Renewal of farm and food policies creates an opportunity to dramatically increase renewable energy development on our farms, ranches, and forest lands. The next Farm Bill should expand USDA grants and loan guarantees to develop renewable energy, and should for the first time link USDA investments in renewable energy to an index of environmental benefits."

    Read more!

    President Bush Issues Executive Order to Federal Agencies: Reduce Fuel Consumption, Use Biofuels and Buy Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles

    [From Green Car Congress:]

    The morning after his State of the Union Address [see earlier GCC post for summary of energy provisions in the State of the Union speech], President Bush issued an executive order to Federal Agencies that, among other things, requires a 2% reduction in consumption of petroleum products per year through the end of 2015 in fleets larger than 20 vehicles.

    The order also specifies an increase of total fuel consumption that is non-petroleum-based by 10% and requires the use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) when the plug-ins are commercially available at a cost reasonably comparable, on the basis of life-cycle cost, to non-PHEVs.

    President Bush, speaking at DuPont 24 Jan 07, said:

    "Today I signed an executive order that says we’re going to commit the government to the following things: that we’re going to purchase more hybrid and flexible-fuel vehicles that run on ethanol—because we own a lot of cars, and therefore, it’s one thing to say, this is the goal; it’s another thing to actually participate in achieving that goal, and that’s what we’re going to do.

    Secondly, we're going to purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles as soon as they hit the market. I think that will give some surety to those who have invested in new technologies to know that the federal government is going to be a purchaser, when commercially available."

    The Executive Order consolidates a number of pre-existing orders and adds new requirements. Other requirements in the Executive Order are:

  • A reduction in energy intensity of 3% annually through the end of fiscal year 2015, or 30% by the end of fiscal year 2015, relative to the baseline of the agency’s energy use in fiscal year 2003;

  • Ensuring that at least half of the statutorily required renewable energy consumed by the agency in a fiscal year comes from new renewable sources, and that to the extent feasible, the agency implements renewable energy generation projects on agency property for agency use;

  • Beginning in FY 2008, to reduce water consumption intensity, relative to the baseline of the agency’s water consumption in fiscal year 2007, through life-cycle cost-effective measures by 2% annually through the end of fiscal year 2015 or 16% by the end of fiscal year 2015;

  • Requiring in agency acquisitions of goods and services the use of sustainable environmental practices, including acquisition of bio-based, environmentally preferable, energy-efficient, water-efficient, and recycled-content products; and use of paper of at least 30% post-consumer fiber content;

  • Ensuring that the agency reduces the quantity of toxic and hazardous chemicals and materials acquired, used, or disposed of by the agency, increases diversion of solid waste as appropriate, and maintains cost-effective waste prevention and recycling programs in its facilities;

  • Ensuring that new construction and major renovation of agency buildings comply with the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings set forth in the Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings Memorandum of Understanding,, and 15% of the existing Federal capital asset building inventory of the agency as of the end of fiscal year 2015 incorporates the sustainable practices in the Guiding Principles; and

  • Ensuring that the agency when acquiring an electronic product to meet its requirements, meets at least 95% of those requirements with an Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)-registered electronic product, unless there is no EPEAT standard for such product, enables the Energy Star feature on agency computers and monitors, establishes and implements policies to extend the useful life of agency electronic equipment, and uses environmentally sound practices with respect to disposition of agency electronic equipment that has reached the end of its useful life.

  • The Order directs agency heads to implement within their agencies environmental management systems (EMS) at all appropriate organizational levels to ensure the use of EMS as the primary management approach for addressing environmental aspects of internal agency operations and activities, including environmental aspects of energy and transportation functions, the establishment of agency objectives and targets to ensure implementation of this order, and the collection, analysis, and reporting of information to measure performance in the implementation of this order.

    The head of an agency may exempt law enforcement, protective, emergency response, or military tactical vehicle fleets of that agency from the provisions of the order.

    This may be the first thing President Bush has done that I'm happy about... I'm trying to remember something else, but nothing's really coming to mind (extension of the PTC in EPAct 2005 I suppose...)

    Halting the forward march of exponential growth should be our goal whenever possible when resource use is concerned. The provisions outlined in this Executive Order set the federal government on the path to reducing resource consumption in a number of areas, and I applaud President Bush for issuing this order (now there's something I never thought I'd say).

    For once, at least on this small thing, the president has attempted to walk his talk.

    I'm also happy to see a committmen to purchase plug-in hybrids when the become commercialized. Large fleet purchases have consitently been drivers of new technologies.

    Just this once (begrudgingly), I salute you President Bush!

    (I feel dirty now... I'm going to go take a shower...)

    Read more!

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Massachusetts (Re)Joins Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

    Mass. Power Plants to Pay Emissions Penalties

    [From The Boston Globe:]

    Massachusetts power plant owners will have to pay a penalty for every pound of emissions that contribute to global warming under an agreement signed by Governor Deval Patrick yesterday that is expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for an ambitious energy conservation and renewable energy program.

    Patrick agreed to rejoin the seven-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which aims to gradually reduce the production of greenhouse gases in the Northeast. Reversing his predecessor Mitt Romney, who pulled out of the pact over concerns that the emissions fee would drive up the already-high price of electricity, Patrick predicted that electricity costs would ultimately drop because the penalties would generate up to $125 million a year to spend on conservation.

    [Image: Governor Deval Patrick was applauded yesterday at a news conference at the University of Massachusetts after signing an agreement to have the state rejoin a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. (Source: Boston Globe)]

    "Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time," Patrick said at a press briefing at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "On this day, we want everyone to know that Massachusetts will not stand on the sidelines."

    The new governor also announced that he would set aside $17 million to increase the purchase of renewable energy for use by state government.

    Patrick's announcement puts him at the forefront of a growing movement in states and the new Congress to take stronger action against global warming, which scientists say is largely driven by human releases of carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil, gas, and other fuels.

    As leader of the state with the biggest energy demand in New England, Patrick's move could influence other states as they decide how to implement the carbon dioxide fees called for in the greenhouse gas initiative. Under the agreement, Patrick could have simply given power plants permits for most of their carbon dioxide emissions, but he decided to make them purchase all the permits at a regional auction, raising more money for energy projects.

    Vermont and New York have already decided to use that approach, but the four other participating New England states haven't taken a final position. Rhode Island is the only state in the region not taking part.

    "What a breath of fresh air to switch from our previous governor who walked away from the climate crisis altogether," said Brian Thurber of Clean Water Action, one of many environmental groups that sang Patrick's praises yesterday. "Massachusetts is usually a regional and national leader on air pollution and energy issues. It's nice to be back in the game."

    But power companies and many large electricity users, who have opposed the carbon dioxide charge, remain wary about Patrick's plan. A spokesman for Associated Industries of Massachusetts said the group knows that the new fees are inevitable, but its leaders declined Patrick's invitation to attend yesterday's announcement because they don't want to appear overly supportive.

    "At this point, we're for making this thing work because we have to, but we are not for having this done the wrong way," said Robert Rio , vice president for government affairs at the association. He said any money raised from the initiative should go directly to projects that lower overall energy costs.

    Under the agreement Patrick signed, Massachusetts power plants with a capacity of 25 megawatts or more would face an overall cap of 26.6 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the air in 2009, a limit that would require little, if any, immediate cuts in emissions. Plant owners, however, would have to buy credits at a regional auction for each ton of carbon dioxide they release. Though no one knows what the price will be, a credit for a ton of carbon dioxide now sells for about $4 in Europe, which already has a carbon dioxide-control system.

    Money from the sale of credits -- estimated to total $25 million to $125 million a year for Massachusetts, depending on the auction price -- could be invested in such projects as installing energy-efficient streetlights or a computerized system that would allow utilities to automatically turn down major customers' air conditioning to reduce energy demand on the hottest days. Patrick estimated that the average family will initially pay about $3 a year more for electricity because of the program, but within a few years, they could be saving $70 or more due to energy conservation efforts.

    States in the greenhouse gas initiative would have to gradually reduce carbon dioxide emissions starting in 2015, and by 2019, the cap will be 10 percent lower. If the cutback is achieved, that would mark a striking turnaround from current trends: Carbon dioxide emissions have been rising steadily since 2001 throughout the Northeast.

    Ian Bowles , the environmental affairs secretary, said important technical issues need to be resolved before the carbon dioxide limits go into effect, but, fundamentally, he said the charge for carbon dioxide emissions will give power companies new incentive to use less coal, oil, and natural gas, and more wind, solar, and other forms of power that do not release carbon dioxide.

    Bowles, however, agreed that efforts by the Northeastern states alone won't be enough to stop global warming. "The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is an important first step, but the US needs a federal policy here," he said.

    More good news. Patrick is sure a nice change of pace from Romney. Maybe now the Cape Wind Project can move forward as well...

    Read more!

    Eye On China: China Could Become World's Largest Wind Power Producer

    Report Forecasts 150,000 MW of Wind Power Installed in China by 2020

    [From China]

    China is expected to overtake Germany and the United States to become the world's largest wind power producer by 2020, a report forecast.

    The 2006 Annual Report on China's New Energy Industry says that the 10th Five-Year Plan (2000-2005) period saw a rapid development of wind power industry, with the installed capacity rose by 30 percent on an annual average, rising from 350,000 kw in 2000 to 1.26 million kw in 2005, ranking 7th in the world.

    The report quotes a prediction by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC)that the total wind power installed capacity in China will probably reach 150 million kw in 2020, making China one of the world's major wind power markets.

    As a country with long coastal lines and abundant wind power resources, China boasts of wind power resources of 3.2 billion kw, of which one billion kw can be developed, according to the report.

    China has set up more than sixty wind power farms around the country, developed key technologies and trained personnel specialized in designing and operating wind power farms, making the country well prepared to large-scale development of the industry, the report says.

    According to China's national development plan, the total installed capacity of wind power will reach five million kw by 2010 and 30 million kw by 2020.

    During the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010), China will set up about 30 large wind power projects of 100 MW at regions with abundant wind power resources, such as eastern coastal areas, Hebei Province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China.

    In terms of small wind power projects, China has already developed the largest market in the world. By the end of 2005, China has installed 320,000 small wind turbine generators with a total capacity of 65,000 kw, supplying power to residents in remote areas, according to the report.

    I hope for all our sakes that China develops at least that much wind power. They're going to need all of the carbon-free, renewable power they can get their hands on as they try to feed their rapidly growing economy.

    I was interested to see that China has already captured the world's largest market for distributed, small-scale wind generation, with 65 MW of installed capacity already. I'm not sure where we are at in the U.S., but I would bet our small-scale wind industry is on the order of 1-5 MW of installed capacity. China is also the world's leader in solar hot water heating and is home to a rapidly growing solar photovoltaic market (both in terms of demand and manufacturing).

    Read more!

    Wind Power Capacity in U.S. Increased 27% in 2006

    AWEA Expects Growth in 2007 to Reach an Additional 26%

    [From AWEA via Renewable Energy]

    Wind power-generating capacity increased by 27 percent in 2006 and is expected to increase an additional 26 percent in 2007, proving wind is now a mainstream option for new power generation in the U.S., according to a market forecast released today by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

    The U.S. wind energy industry installed 2,454 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in 2006, an investment of approximately $4 billion, billing wind as one of the largest sources of new power generation in the country -- second only to natural gas -- for the second year in a row. New wind farms boosted cumulative U.S. installed wind energy capacity by 27 percent to 11,603 MW, well above the 10,000-MW milestone reached in August 2006.

    Wind power has attracted the support of state and federal government legislatures. The U.S. Congress recently extended the federal production tax credit (PTC) through December 2008 to further expand the number of wind farms throughout the U.S. Based on the success of the PTC to date, AWEA is calling for extending the provision an additional five years.

    "Wind is a proven, cost-effective source of energy that also alleviates global warming and enhances our nation's energy security," said AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher. "The industry has demonstrated a generous return on the investment of both private and public investment in wind," said Swisher. "Extending the PTC five years will significantly increase the progress America is making in expanding its use of new forms of energy when they've never been needed more."

    Read more!

    A New Look at Geothermal Energy's Vast Potential

    MIT-led Panel Backs Geothermal as Key U.S. Energy Source

    [From MIT via Renewable Energy]

    A comprehensive new MIT-led study on the potential for geothermal energy within the United States has found that mining the huge amounts of heat that reside as stored thermal energy in the Earth's hard rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the electricity the country will need in the future -- probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.

    An 18-member panel led by MIT prepared the 400-plus page study, titled "The Future of Geothermal Energy." Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, it is the first study in some 30 years to take a new look at geothermal, an energy resource that has been largely ignored.

    The goal of the study was to assess the feasibility, potential environmental impacts and economic viability of using enhanced geothermal system (EGS) technology to greatly increase the fraction of the U.S. geothermal resource that could be recovered commercially.

    Although geothermal energy is produced commercially today and the United States is the world's biggest producer, existing U.S. plants have focused on the high-grade geothermal systems primarily located in isolated regions of the west. This new study takes a more ambitious look at this resource and evaluates its potential for much larger-scale deployment.

    "We've determined that heat mining can be economical in the short term, based on a global analysis of existing geothermal systems, an assessment of the total U.S. resource and continuing improvements in deep-drilling and reservoir stimulation technology," said panel head Jefferson W. Tester, the H. P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT.

    "EGS technology has already been proven to work in the few areas where underground heat has been successfully extracted. And further technological improvements can be expected," he said.

    The expert panel offers a number of recommendations to develop geothermal as a major electricity supplier for the nation. These include more detailed and site-specific assessments of the U.S. geothermal resource and a multi-year federal commitment to demonstrate the concept in the field at commercial scale.

    The new assessment of geothermal energy by energy experts, geologists, drilling specialists and others is important for several key reasons, Tester said.

    First, fossil fuels -- coal, oil and natural gas -- are increasingly expensive and consumed in ever-increasing amounts. Second, oil and gas imports from foreign sources raise concerns over long-term energy security. Third, burning fossil fuels dumps carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Finally, heat mining has the potential to supply a significant amount of the country's electricity currently being generated by conventional fossil fuel, hydroelectric and nuclear plants.

    The study shows that drilling several wells to reach hot rock and connecting them to a fractured rock region that has been stimulated to let water flow through it creates a heat-exchanger that can produce large amounts of hot water or steam to run electric generators at the surface. Unlike conventional fossil-fuel power plants that burn coal, natural gas or oil, no fuel would be required. And unlike wind and solar systems, a geothermal plant works night and day, offering a non-interruptible source of electric power.

    Prof. Tester and panel member David Blackwell, professor of geophysics at Southern Methodist University in Texas, also point out that geothermal resources are available nationwide, although the highest-grade sites are in western states, where hot rocks are closer to the surface, requiring less drilling and thus lowering costs.

    The panel also evaluated the environmental impacts of geothermal development, concluding that these are "markedly lower than conventional fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants."

    "This environmental advantage is due to low emissions and the small overall footprint of the entire geothermal system, which results because energy capture and extraction is contained entirely underground, and the surface equipment needed for conversion to electricity is relatively compact," Tester said.

    The report also notes that meeting water requirements for geothermal plants may be an issue, particularly in arid regions. Further, the potential for seismic risk needs to be carefully monitored and managed.

    According to panel member M. Nafi Toksoez, professor of geophysics at MIT, "geothermal energy could play an important role in our national energy picture as a non-carbon-based energy source. It's a very large resource and has the potential to be a significant contributor to the energy needs of this country."

    Toksoez added that the electricity produced annually by geothermal energy systems now in use in the United States at sites in California, Hawaii, Utah and Nevada is comparable to that produced by solar and wind power combined. And the potential is far greater still, since hot rocks below the surface are available in most parts of the United States.

    Even in the most promising areas, however, drilling must reach depths of 5,000 feet or more in the West, and much deeper in the eastern United States. Still, "the possibility of drilling into these rocks, fracturing them and pumping water in to produce steam has already been shown to be feasible," Toksoez said.

    Panel member Brian Anderson, an assistant professor at West Virginia University, noted that the drilling and reservoir technologies used to mine heat have many similarities to those used for extracting oil and gas. As a result, the geothermal industry today is well connected technically to two industry giants in the energy arena, oil and gas producers and electric power generators. With increasing demand for technology advances to produce oil and gas more effectively and to generate electricity with minimal carbon and other emissions, an opportunity exists to accelerate the development of EGS by increased investments by these two industries.

    Government-funded research into geothermal was very active in the 1970s and early 1980s. As oil prices declined in the mid-1980s, enthusiasm for alternative energy sources waned, and funding for research on renewable energy and energy efficiency (including geothermal) was greatly reduced, making it difficult for geothermal technology to advance.

    "Now that energy concerns have resurfaced, an opportunity exists for the U.S. to pursue the EGS option aggressively to meet long-term national needs," Tester observed.

    Tester and colleagues emphasize that federally funded engineering research and development must still be done to lower risks and encourage investment by early adopters. Of particular importance is to demonstrate that EGS technology is scalable and transferable to sites in different geologic settings.

    In its report, the panel recommends that:

  • More detailed and site-specific assessments of the U.S. geothermal energy resource should be conducted.

  • Field trials running three to five years at several sites should be done to demonstrate commercial-scale engineered geothermal systems.

  • The shallow, extra-hot, high-grade deposits in the west should be explored and tested first.

  • Other geothermal resources such as co-produced hot water associated with oil and gas production and geo-pressured resources should also be pursued as short-term options.

  • On a longer time scale, deeper, lower-grade geothermal deposits should be explored and tested.

  • Local and national policies should be enacted that encourage geothermal development.

  • A multi-year research program exploring subsurface science and geothermal drilling and energy conversion should be started, backed by constant analysis of results.

  • It's great to see a fresh look at geothermal energy. This often overlooked renewable already provides as much clean, renewable energy as the entire wind and solar industries combined and has the relatively unique distinction amongst renewables of offering reliable, baseload power.

    The DOE's proposed 2007 budget initially axed all funding for geothermal R&D, arguing that the technology was already well established and didn't warrant future R&D efforts. This attempt was thwarted by geothermal and renewable energy advocates, and this new MIT study should explode the notion that geothermal energy has shown us all it can offer. Clearly, we've only tapped the tip of the iceberg of geothermal heat potential, and there is much more R&D needed to be done to unlock the renewable resources true potential.

    The MIT study focuses on the potential of enhanced geothermal energy systems, which sounds like the Hot Dry Rock technology being pioneered by researchers at Australian National University (which I've blogged about before, here).

    HDR geothermal power utilizes the hot temperatures (up to 570 C) of underground granite rock layers that are mildly radioactive (the heat source) and are trapped beneath insulating layers of low thermal conductivity sediments. As ANU's hot rock site explains:
    Heat is extracted by pumping water through an engineered heat exchanger connecting two or more wells. This heat exchanger is a volume of hot dry rock with enhanced permeability. It is fabricated by hydraulic stimulation. This involves pumping high pressure water into the pre-existing fracture system that is present in all rocks to varying degrees. The high pressure water opens the stressed natural fractures ... The result is a million-fold permanent increase in permeability along the fracture systems and a heat exchanger that can be used to extract energy.
    Water is then injected into a borehole and circulated through the "heat exchanger". The water is heated through contact with the rock and is then returned to the surface through another borehole where it is used to heat another liquid with a lower boiling point within in a closed loop system. This liquid is flashed into steam which is used to spin turbines and generate electricity. The water is then re-injected into the first borehole to be reheated and used again. The HDR plant thus involves two closed-loop systems, the subsurface water loop and the power plant loop that generally contains organic fluids such as refrigerants and iso-pentane.

    This HDR or EGS technology differs from traditional geothermal energy systems which rely on an existing hydrothermal reservior - an underground reservior of superheated water - that can be tapped to spin turbines and generate power. HDR or EGS technologies manufacture such a reservior by enhancing the permeability of hot subterranean rock strata and injecting water into the artificial reservior to flash into steam. Being freed from a reliance on an existing hydrothermal reservior means that HDR/EGS geothermal systems can be deployed over a much greater range of the United States and the technology offers considerably larger energy potential.

    In the coming and necessary transition from fossil fuel dependence to sustainable energy independence, we're going to need all of the technologies in our 'toolbox' that we can get. Hot Dry Rock/Enhanced Geothermal Systems technology has considerable potential and warrants a devoted research, development and deployment effort from public and private entities.

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    Monday, January 22, 2007

    EEStor - A Battery Breakthrough or Just Plain Old Hype?

    [From MIT's Technology Review:]

    A secretive Texas startup developing what some are calling a "game changing" energy-storage technology broke its silence this week. It announced that it has reached two production milestones and is on track to ship systems this year for use in electric vehicles.

    EEStor's ambitious goal, according to patent documents, is to "replace the electrochemical battery" in almost every application, from hybrid-electric and pure-electric vehicles to laptop computers to utility-scale electricity storage.

    [Image: The ZENN car will be the first commercial application of EEStor's new energy storage system. The company is expecting delivery of the systems later this year. (Credit: ZENN Cars)]

    The company boldly claims that its system, a kind of battery-ultracapacitor hybrid based on barium-titanate powders, will dramatically outperform the best lithium-ion batteries on the market in terms of energy density, price, charge time, and safety. Pound for pound, it will also pack 10 times the punch of lead-acid batteries at half the cost and without the need for toxic materials or chemicals, according to the company.

    The implications are enormous and, for many, unbelievable. Such a breakthrough has the potential to radically transform a transportation sector already flirting with an electric renaissance, improve the performance of intermittent energy sources such as wind and sun, and increase the efficiency and stability of power grids--all while fulfilling an oil-addicted America's quest for energy security.

    The breakthrough could also pose a threat to next-generation lithium-ion makers such as Watertown, MA-based A123Systems, which is working on a plug-in hybrid storage system for General Motors, and Reno, NV-based Altair Nanotechnologies, a supplier to all-electric vehicle maker Phoenix Motorcars.

    "I get a little skeptical when somebody thinks they've got a silver bullet for every application, because that's just not consistent with reality," says Andrew Burke, an expert on energy systems for transportation at University of California at Davis.

    That said, Burke hopes to be proved wrong. "If [the] technology turns out to be better than I think, that doesn't make me sad: it makes me happy."

    Richard Weir, EEStor's cofounder and chief executive, says he would prefer to keep a low profile and let the results of his company's innovation speak for themselves. "We're well on our way to doing everything we said," Weir told Technology Review in a rare interview. He has also worked as an electrical engineer at computing giant IBM and at Michigan-based automotive-systems leader TRW.

    Much like capacitors, ultracapacitors store energy in an electrical field between two closely spaced conductors, or plates. When voltage is applied, an electric charge builds up on each plate.

    Ultracapacitors have many advantages over traditional electrochemical batteries. Unlike batteries, "ultracaps" can completely absorb and release a charge at high rates and in a virtually endless cycle with little degradation.

    Where they're weak, however, is with energy storage. Compared with lithium-ion batteries, high-end ultracapacitors on the market today store 25 times less energy per pound.

    This is why ultracapacitors, with their ability to release quick jolts of electricity and to absorb this energy just as fast, are ideal today as a complement to batteries or fuel cells in electric-drive vehicles. The power burst that ultracaps provide can assist with stop-start acceleration, and the energy is more efficiently recaptured through regenerative braking--an area in which ultracap maker Maxwell Technologies has seen significant results.

    On the other hand, EEStor's system--called an Electrical Energy Storage Unit, or EESU--is based on an ultracapacitor architecture that appears to escape the traditional limitations of such devices. The company has developed a ceramic ultracapacitor with a barium-titanate dielectric, or insulator, that can achieve an exceptionally high specific energy--that is, the amount of energy in a given unit of mass.

    For example, the company's system claims a specific energy of about 280 watt hours per kilogram, compared with around 120 watt hours per kilogram for lithium-ion and 32 watt hours per kilogram for lead-acid gel batteries. This leads to new possibilities for electric vehicles and other applications, including for the military.

    "It's really tuned to the electronics we attach to it," explains Weir. "We can go all the way down from pacemakers to locomotives and direct-energy weapons."

    The trick is to modify the composition of the barium-titanate powders to allow for a thousandfold increase in ultracapacitor voltage--in the range of 1,200 to 3,500 volts, and possibly much higher.

    EEStor claims that, using an automated production line and existing power electronics, it will initially build a 15-kilowatt-hour energy-storage system for a small electric car weighing less than 100 pounds, and with a 200-mile driving range. The vehicle, the company says, will be able to recharge in less than 10 minutes.

    The company announced this week that this year it plans to begin shipping such a product to Toronto-based ZENN Motor, a maker of low-speed electric vehicles that has an exclusive license to use the EESU for small- and medium-size electric vehicles.

    By some estimates, it would only require $9 worth of electricity for an EESU-powered vehicle to travel 500 miles, versus $60 worth of gasoline for a combustion-engine car.

    "My understanding is that the leap from powder to product isn't the big leap," says Ian Clifford, CEO of ZENN, which is also an early investor in EEStor. "We're the first application, and that's thrilling for us. We took the initial risk because we believed in what they are doing. And energy storage is the game changer."

    The key challenge, however, is to ensure that the barium-titanate powders can be made on a production line without compromising purity and stability. "Purification gives you better production stability, gives you better permittivity, and gives you the high voltages you're looking for," says Weir. "We've now got the chemicals certified and purified to the point we're looking for." (Better permittivity of the insulator improves the amount of charge that can be stored without letting the current leak across the two plates.)

    EEStor announced this week that the first automated production line for its powder has performed as required and that permittivity will meet or exceed expectations. It also said that it achieved 99.9994 percent purity for its barium-nitrate powder, a crucial ingredient in the dialectric. San Antonia-based Southwest Research Institute independently confirmed the results.

    In a traditional ultracap, that permittivity is given a rating of 20 to 30, while EEStor's claim is 18,500 or more--a phenomenal number by most accounts. "This is a very big step for us," says Weir. "This puts me well onto the road of meeting high-volume production."

    Jim Miller, vice president of advanced transportation technologies at Maxwell Technologies and an ultracap expert who spent 18 years doing engineering work at Ford Motor, isn't so convinced.

    "We're skeptical, number one, because of leakage," says Miller, explaining that high-voltage ultracaps have a tendency to self-discharge quickly. "Meaning, if you leave it parked overnight it will discharge, and you'll have to charge it back up in the morning."

    He also doesn't believe that the ceramic structure--brittle by nature--will be able to handle thermal stresses that are bound to cause microfractures and, ultimately, failure. Finally, EEStor claims that its system works to specification in temperatures as low as -20 °C, revised from a previous claim of -40 °C.

    "Temperature of -20 degrees C is not good enough for automotive," says Miller. "You need -40 degrees." By comparison, Altair and A123Systems claim that their lithium-ion cells can operate at -30 °C.

    Burke, meanwhile, says that there's a big difference between making powder in a controlled environment and making defect-free devices in a large quantity that can survive underneath the hood of a car.

    "I have no doubt you can develop that kind of [ceramic] material, and the mechanism that gives you the energy storage is clear, but the first question is whether it's truly applicable to vehicle applications," Burke says, pointing out that the technology seems more appropriate for utility-scale storage and military "ray guns," for which high voltage is an advantage.

    Safety is another concern. What happens if a vehicle packed with a 3,500-volt energy system crashes?

    Weir says the voltage will be stepped down with a bi-directional converter, and the whole system will be secured in a grounded metal box. It won't have a problem getting an Underwriters Laboratories safety certification, he adds. "If you drive a stake through it, we have ways of fusing this thing where all the energy is sitting there but it won't arc … It will be the safest battery the world has ever seen."

    Regarding concerns about temperature, leakage, and ceramic brittleness, Weir did not reply to an e-mail asking him how EEStor overcomes such issues.

    Nonetheless, the company has some solid backing. Its board has attracted Morton Topfer, former vice chairman of Dell and mentor to Michael Dell.

    The company is also backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture-capital powerhouse that has an impressive track record: it made early and highly successful bets on Google,, and Sun Microsystems, among others. Whether EEStor can translate that success to the energy sector remains to be seen.

    "I'm surprised that Kleiner has put money into it," says Miller.

    Weir maintains that his company will meet all of its claims, and then some. "We're not trying to hype this. This is the first time we've ever talked about it. And we will continue to meet all of the production requirements."

    EEStor is finally breaking a bit of the secrecy that has surrounded the development of their energy storage devices. Their claims, like any potentially revolutionary claims, are both hard to believe and very exciting. I'm not really qualified to comment on whether or not EEStor can pull off what they claim they can, but we shall all find out before too long. The first ZENN electric vehicles featuring EEStor energy storage devices will be off the production line later this year. At that point, the public will finally have a chance to take a close look at EEStor's product and see just how revolutionary it is.

    I know I for one am keeping my fingers crossed...

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