This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


Alternative Energy Newsclips - Eath Day After 2010 Edition 

Electric cars can cut federal deficit by $336 billion -- study

ClimateWire, 8 April 2010 - Massively scaling up electric-drive cars would actually reduce the federal deficit once Americans' incomes rise and they start paying less at the pump, a new report out today finds.

The Electrification Coalition -- a group of utilities, electric-car makers, software and battery companies -- floated a $120 billion plan last year to aggressively promote electric cars and infrastructure. Today, it will release an economic analysis claiming the plan would also cut the federal deficit by $336 billion by 2030.

The analysis says driving on electricity is cheaper than gasoline, so it would save Americans money and allow them to spend on other things. Secondly, the report claims, the growing demand for electric cars, parts and infrastructure will generate jobs and pump up the economy. It also maintains the economy would be less vulnerable to the whimsies of world oil prices.

"That is, the policy package can be thought of as a self-financing insurance policy that will make the economy more robust in good times and more resilient when subjected to energy shocks," the report says.

Last year, the coalition published a "Roadmap" report proposing the government target a few "electrification ecosystems" with strong incentives like a tax credit to make a new plug-in hybrid car the same price as a gasoline car of the same size. It also proposed loan guarantees for automakers so they could retool their production lines.

The idea would be to accelerate the deployment of electric-drive cars far beyond current trends. According to the report released today, plug-in hybrids and electric cars are currently on track to make up 0.2 percent of all U.S. cars in 2030. The coalition says its plan can boost that figure to 42 percent -- 122.7 million cars.

The report doesn't specifically address how that many plugged-in cars would affect greenhouse gas emissions.

More cars, less emissions?

Electric-drive cars are thought to cause less emissions than gasoline-powered cars. But since the grid currently gets half its power from coal, plug-in cars still have a carbon signature.

According to a 2007 analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Electric Power Research Institute, no matter how a plug-in hybrid gets its power -- fully from coal power plants, from the national average fuel mix, or from renewable energy -- it always has a smaller carbon footprint than a gasoline car.

Thus, said Sam Ori, the Electrification Coalition's director of policy, millions of plug-in cars wouldn't raise emissions, but instead would probably reduce them.

David Friedman, research director for clean vehicles at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that given the current grid, plug-in hybrids' emissions signature roughly clocks in about the same as a top-end regular hybrid car today. These cars don't plug into a wall socket, but they do improve the efficiency of the gasoline engine.

In some parts of the country, where coal makes up a bigger part of the fuel mix, he said a plug-in hybrid could cause more emissions than a regular hybrid. But even in the coal-heaviest areas, he said, it would never exceed the emissions of a conventional gasoline car.

A separate question is whether millions of electric cars will mean more power plants, more transmission and a bigger price tag than the Electrification Coalition projects.

A 2007 paper from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory said that at night, when power demand slumps, there is enough spare power generation in the United States to power hundreds of millions of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs.

Charging time matters

So if people charge at night, Friedman said, the grid won't need a facelift. But researchers aren't yet certain how people will actually behave.

If people charge during the daytime, then that will add demand to the everyday load of people awake and at work, watching TV and using home appliances. To deal with the higher electricity demand, utilities would have to fire up backup generators -- which would most likely be natural gas.

"The long and short of it is, we really don't know when people will recharge, so we don't really know what the emissions will be. But a good estimate is that they will be similar to driving around in a really good hybrid," Friedman said.

Ori said the whole grid is generally trending toward natural gas and other, lower-emission sources anyway, so PHEVs and other cars with electric plugs will cause less and less emissions as time goes by.

"As the emissions profile of the power sector decreases, it has a spillover effect to your transportation sector ... so it is like killing two birds with one stone," he said.

The Electrification Coalition didn't clarify whether its proposal would mean new power plants, transmission or distribution costs that could possibly raise electric rates.

France to build charging networks for electric cars

ENDS Europe Daily, 14 April 2010 - The French government announced on Tuesday an agreement with 12 collectivités territoriales (local authorities) and carmakers Renault and PSA to develop charging infrastructures for electric and hybrid vehicles.

The agreement is part of an action plan on electric vehicles announced in October. A group of 20 companies including Air France, AREVA and Veolia also committed to buy 50,000 vehicles. The government hopes a total of 100,000 vehicles will be purchased by 2015 to encourage market take up.

The adoption of a draft law called "Grenelle 2", which will be debated by the lower house of the French parliament, the Assemblée Nationale , on 4 May, is expected to boost the development of charging infrastructures because it gives local authorities powers in this area. The proposal has already been debated in the senate.

Other EU countries are also very active in this area. Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero recently announced his government will invest €590m in the production of electric cars over the next two years. Spain plans to have 250,000 electric vehicles in circulation by 2014.

The Spanish presidency of the EU is also pushing for a European plan on electric cars. The European Commission is working on a wider strategy to support clean and energy efficient vehicles. Its strategy, due to be published on 20 April, will set out an action plan for decarbonising the transport sector.

French Study Says Land Use May Cut Biofuel Benefits
Date: 09-Apr-10
 Gus Trompiz

Changes in land use linked to the growing of crops like soybeans and palm oil may cancel out the benefits of biofuels in terms of emissions savings, according to an official French study released on Thursday.
Biofuels may even have a worse emissions profile than traditional fossil fuels, said the authors of the study commissioned by French energy and environment agency Ademe.
Factors such as the clearing of forests to grow crops could cut the emissions benefits of both non-European biofuel production, and also output in Europe through the indirect effect of importing biofuel components, they said.
Critics of the current generation of biofuels, made using grains, sugar or oilseeds, say they encourage environmentally damaging land clearance. This issue has also been raised by the European Commission in its own analysis.
"The significance of these effects ... warrants further work in order to establish how to take into account land use changes in the (emissions) balances of products made with agricultural raw materials," the French study said.
In an updated version of a study first released in October, the authors reiterated substantial emissions savings from biofuels versus standard fuels when land-use changes are not measured, with savings ranging from 24 percent to 91 percent.

Ontario Announces New Phase Of Green-Energy Push
Date: 09-Apr-10

Ontario announced 184 contracts for green energy projects on Thursday that it says will lead to thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment in Canada's most populous province and top energy consumer.
When completed, the solar, wind, water and biofuel projects will power 600,000 homes, generating more than 2,500 megawatts of electricity, the provincial government said.
The contracts announced on Thursday are in addition to 510 "medium-sized" green projects already awarded by the government earlier this year.
"This is the big one," Brad Duguid, minister of energy and infrastructure, said of the latest announcement. "This is the 2,500 megawatts that's coming on line."
The two sets of projects will generate 20,000 direct and indirect green jobs and attract about C$9 billion ($8.9 billion) in private sector investment, as well as investment in new Ontario-based manufacturing, Duguid said.
Ontario plans to phase out all its coal-fired power stations by 2014 and replace them with cleaner energy sources.
Last October, it unveiled the most generous set of feed-in tariffs in North America to attract green energy projects and the manufacture of green energy equipment.
The incentives, part of the province's Green Energy Act, guarantee sellers of renewable power fixed, above-market prices for 20 years to feed their production into the electricity grid.
Some critics have complained that moving away from cheap coal power will add too much to the price of electricity.
"There is a higher cost to green energy," Duguid said in an interview. "It's not huge, but it's something that I think our generation is willing to accept because this gives us an opportunity to provide a cleaner environment and healthier lifestyle for our kids and grandkids and generate a green economy that is going to generate jobs for the future."
So far this year, two prominent green energy players -- South Korea's Samsung C&T Corp and Germany's Bosch Solar Energy AG -- have said they will set up manufacturing facilities in the province, and the government said it expects more to follow. ($1=$1.01 Canadian)

China overtakes US in green investment: study

AFP, 24 March 2010 - China has surpassed the United States as the top investor in clean energy with the rising Asian power becoming a "powerhouse" in the emerging field, a study by environmentalists said.

The report said that China has shown determination to be on the frontline of green technology, while US investors have been put off by uncertainties amid the legislative battle on climate change.

Chinese investment in clean energy soared by more than 50 percent in 2009 to reach 34.6 billion dollars, far more than any other country in the Group of 20 major economies, the study led by the Pew Charitable Trusts said.

Total US investment was about half that at 18.6 billion dollars, the first time in five years that the world's largest economy lost the top spot in clean energy, the study said.

"China is emerging as the world's clean energy powerhouse," Phyllis Cuttino, global warming campaign director of the Pew Environment Group, told reporters on a conference call.

"This represents a dramatic growth when you consider that just five years ago their investment totaled 2.5 billion dollars," she said.

China has also overtaken the United States as the top emitter of carbon blamed for global warming and came under fire for its role in December's much-criticized UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

But the study found that China had made a strategic decision to invest in wind and solar technologies as it copes with sharply rising demand for energy -- and has set some of the world's most ambitious targets on renewable energy.

The study also found strong investment by Britain, which ranked third with 11.2 billion dollars for clean energy; Spain, which came in first in green investment when taken as percentage of gross domestic product, and Germany.

Nations seen as struggling in the clean energy competition include the United States, Australia and Japan, the study said. Cuttino said the three nations have "less consistent, clear and long-term policies in place."

US President Barack Obama, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama have all championed climate action but none of the countries have set in motion nationwide plans to curb emissions.

But the study noted that Australia had potential in wind energy and said Japan was "one of the G-20's most promising growth markets" if the resource-poor nation carries out plans to ramp up solar and wind power.

The study found that even though the United States dominates technological innovation, its investment in clean energy tumbled 42 percent last year from 2008 levels.

The researchers partly blamed the global economic slowdown but also said there was a lack of direction. Climate legislation has been stalled in the Senate, although Obama allies have vowed to push it ahead now that Congress has completed the top priority of expanding health care.

John Woolard, chief executive officer of California-based solar plant builder BrightSource Energy Inc., said that the government needed to take action to create markets.

"We have never had certainty or predictability in the United States,"

Woolard said. "We have not had a thoughtful and coherent energy policy in this country for decades."

Obama and his congressional allies argue that curbing emissions will open up a new green economy, helping fuel the economic recovery.

Many Republican leaders are skeptical, saying that restrictions on carbon would only worsen a fragile economy.

Renewables: Strong international competition in race for green jobs

Financial Times, 29 March 2010 - Clean energy and "green" jobs were a mantra for politicians across the developed world before the financial crisis struck, and the effects of the recession served only to intensify the rhetoric.

Meeting targets on greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy security will require hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in renewable technologies, and this opens up the attractive prospect of an explosive growth in jobs in these new industries at a time when more traditional jobs are disappearing.

But the big question for the developed world is where those jobs will be. While countries such as the US, the UK, Germany and Japan have all bid to be centres of green technological development, parts of the rapidly industrialising world have also seen the opportunity.

Last year, for the first time, China surpassed the US and all other G20 countries in investing in clean energy, according to a new study. China invested $34.6bn in clean energy in 2009, dwarfing the $18.6bn spent by the US.

Pew Charitable Trusts of the US, which led the study along with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a consultancy, said global investments in clean energy had risen threefold since 2005, with the G20 countries accounting for the vast majority.

Investment in the sector by nearly all of the G20 countries increased by more than half in the past five years, but China has surged ahead remarkably.

"The facts speak for themselves," says Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "China is now clearly the world leader in attracting new capital and making new investments in this area."

Although the recession took some of the shine off the growth that the clean energy sector had enjoyed in the good times, last year clean energy investments reached $162bn globally, according to the study.

Renewables, such as wind and solar energy farms, now account for 6 per cent of global energy. More than 250GW of renewable capacity has been installed around the world.

"Even in the midst of a global recession, the clean energy market has experienced impressive growth," says Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Environment Group's global warming campaign. "Countries are jockeying for leadership. They know that investing in clean energy can renew manufacturing bases, and create export opportunities, jobs and businesses."

Western governments are acutely aware of the need to build up their green industries quickly, or face being outdone by the rapid growth in China, particularly in the onshore wind turbine manufacturing and solar panel manufacturing industries.

In the UK, for instance, efforts are focusing instead on areas of green technology that are still not mature, such as offshore wind turbines, marine technologies such as tidal and wave power, and on nascent but promising ideas such as carbon capture and storage technology, an area where the British government believes the country's expertise and assets in North Sea oil and gas give it an edge.

The race is still relatively open. Although China surged ahead last year in investment, another study suggests the US may have a better showing next year. An HSBC report examined the effects of the "green stimulus" – the proportion of public sector stimulus funds awarded in the wake of the financial crisis to "green" projects.

The bank found that China was also ahead in this broader green market, which includes spending on projects such as high-speed rail and efficiency. Last year, China spent $61bn of public funds on a green stimulus, according to this analysis.

But Nick Robins, head of the HSBC climate change centre and author of the report, says other governments will have time to spend more of their allocated funds this year.

He notes that China benefited from a large proportion of "shovel-ready" projects, including some already under way that were reclassified as stimulus spending.

By contrast, other governments found it more difficult than expected to pump the money into useful environmental projects quickly.

"When we were first looking at the green stimulus, last February, we had not fully appreciated all of the administrative issues surrounding the disbursement of this money," Mr Robins says.

The US was on track to spend most of its stimulus this year, the bank found. However, Mr Robins warns, if money goes unspent this year, there is a high risk of it being axed "owing to austerity measures generally".

Although investment in renewable energy and other green technologies is tracked closely, it is much more difficult to discern whether the promised growth in "green jobs" has kept up with the investment levels.

Little research has so far been done on this area, and some of it is confusing. For instance, the UK government claims there are already 400,000 green jobs in the economy, but this includes a wide variety of roles, including waste collectors and cleaners, as well as water engineers and renewable energy specialists.

A clearer picture on green jobs will have to wait until more of the stimulus money has been spent.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Published: 7:30AM BST 22 Apr 2010

The European Union, including the UK, has set a goal of obtaining 10 per cent of its road fuels from renewable sources by 2020.
But a new report commissioned in Brussels found some biofuels can lead to four times more carbon dioxide polluting the atmosphere than equivalent fossil fuels.

Related Articles
Frankfurt motor show: Kia
Cars to be started by lasers instead of spark plugs
Smarter driving tips that can save £250 in fuel bills
Porsche Cayenne Diesel: on sale now
Electric car sales fall
Motoring preview of 2009: 10 highlights

Biofuels have already been criticised for causing food shortages in countries where land for rice or wheat has been displaced by fields of soy beans or sugarcane for fuel.
Environmental campaigners say the latest report proves the renewable energy source is also bad for climate change, since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that causes global warming.
The report for the European Commission, released under Freedom of Information rules, looked into the "indirect emissions" from biofuels caused by land use change. The worse example is soy beans in America. Because the land that used to grow soy beans for animal feed is now being used for biofuels, it means that more soy beans must be grown in the rainforests of Brazil to make up for the loss in the domestic market.
Soybeans grown in America therefore have an indirect carbon footprint of 340kg of CO2 per gigajoule, compared to just 85kg for conventional diesel or gasoline.
Biodiesel from European rapeseed has an indirect carbon footprint of 150kg of CO2 per gigajoule, while bioethanol from European sugar beet is calculated at 100kg – both much higher than conventional diesel because of indirect use of land in other countries to replace the food crops that are no longer grown in Europe.
By contrast, imports of bioethanol from Latin American sugar cane and palm oil from southeast Asia have relatively low indirect emissions at 82kg and 73kg per gigajoule respectively. But these biofuels have high direct emissions because although no land for food is being displaced, rainforest it being cut down to grow the crops in the first place.
The European Commission insisted that biofuels is a complex issue and further studies need to be done.
But Kenneth Richter, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said the report proves that biofuels are not the answer to tackling climate change.
"Most of the crops used for biofuels at the moment produce more emissions than fossil fuels therefore biofuel targets in Europe make no sense and are doing opposite of what they are supposed to be doing," he said.