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


Plug and play: Cars may soon plug into the power grid rather than the petrol pump. “FORGET hydrogen. Forget hydrogen. Forget hydrogen!”

Plug and play
Jan 26th 2006 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition

Cars may soon plug into the power grid rather than the petrol pump

“FORGET hydrogen. Forget hydrogen. Forget hydrogen!” That was the rallying cry of Jim Woolsey, a former director of America's Central Intelligence Agency, at an energy-technology event this week in Washington, DC. He was referring to the idea that America might make itself less dependent on foreign oil by encouraging the development of hydrogen-powered cars. Instead, the former spy-chief has joined a curious coalition of environmental activists, national-security hawks, clean-energy experts and politicians to unveil a national consumer campaign in favour of “plug-in” hybrid-electric vehicles. Another surprising supporter of plug-ins, Orrin Hatch, a senator from Utah and a conservative Republican not known for supporting green causes, also dropped by to declare that this obscure technology could be the “silver bullet” America needs to end its addiction to oil.

The event, and the campaign it was designed to support, are the brainchildren of Austin Energy, a power-generating utility owned by the city of Austin, Texas. Austin Energy's campaign has already won the endorsement of dozens of cities and towns, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver, as well as Austin itself, and also more than 100 utility companies. It now plans to collect millions of signatures from individuals requesting that big car firms start making plug-in hybrids.

Plug-in technology itself is a modified version of hybrid-electric cars such as the Toyota Prius. Instead of relying solely on energy from a petrol engine to charge them up, plug-in hybrids can, as their name suggests, be plugged into conventional power sockets. That allows a plug-in to travel 30-50 miles (50-80km) without petrol, rather than just a couple of miles, as with the Prius. Since most American motorists travel only 20-30 miles a day, they could drive in all-electric mode most of the time. This has the potential to lift fuel economy from the pitiful 20 miles per gallon common in American cars to 80mpg or more. But, as in a conventional hybrid, once the battery was drained, the petrol engine would kick in—thus ensuring that the driver was never stranded.

Enthusiasts reckon that this technology would dramatically reduce oil use (which is why the national-security types are interested) and curb greenhouse-gas emissions (which is why the environmentalists are interested, although this benefit would depend on what method was used to generate the electricity in the first place). And prototype plug-ins developed by the University of California, Davis, by the Electric Power Research Institute (the research arm of America's power industry), and by enthusiasts who have “hacked” Priuses to enable them to be connected to the grid, suggest that the idea can work in practice.

The main obstacle is that the longer range requires a bigger battery, and bigger batteries are heavier and more expensive. Andrew Frank, one of the researchers in the team at Davis, reckons that “retrofitting” a Prius-type hybrid with a big enough battery that uses conventional nickel-metal hydride technology adds about 70kg (150lb) to the vehicle's weight. Using lithium-ion batteries (common in mobile phones) adds less than 25kg, but costs much more. Still, it is an interesting idea, and if it came to pass it would radically restructure America's energy economics by shifting demand from the filling station to the power station. And, who knows, it might even shift the global balance of another sort of power—the political variety.

Renewables vs. nuclear: surveys offer contrasting picture

apologies for the duplicates

Renewables vs. nuclear: surveys offer contrasting picture, 25 January 2006 - Close to 80% of EU citizens back renewable energies as their preferred alternative to high-priced oil and gas imports, according to a public opinion survey. Nuclear power scores poorly with 12%.


The Eurobarometer survey was carried out via face-to-face interviews with 29,430 people in October and November 2005. The survey covers all 25 EU member countries, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Turkey and Northern Cyprus (Turkish community).


Governments should develop renewable energies and do more research in new technologies to reduce energy dependency, according to a Eurobarometer survey published on 24 January.

Forty seven per cent of those surveyed believe that the EU is the best suited level of decision-making to respond to energy challenges posed by high oil prices, global warming, and the security of energy supply issue. However, 37% said they thought the national level was the best suited level to take such decisions. The UK and Finland are the most eurosceptic with 66% and 67% respectively who think their national governments are in the best position to respond to these challenges.

Solar power ranked first (48%) among citizen's preferred alternative to imported energy sources while wind (31%) ranked third, totalling almost 80% for renewable energy sources. Promoting research in new energy technologies such as hydrogen and clean coal ranked second (41%) in citizen's single preferred alternative to reduce Europe's dependency on imports.

Regulating oil markets does not seem like a good option for most of those surveyed (only 23% support it) while nuclear power ranks last in the list with only 12% backing it as their preferred alternative source of energy.

But the survey also shows a majority of people (54%) are not yet ready to pay more for renewable energies, with opposition reaching 66% in EU-10 countries. However 27% are prepared to do so provided the price increase is limited to 5%. Opposition was lowest (below 50%) in Northern European countries (Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Netherlands) as well as in the UK, Spain and France.


Foratom, the trade association for the nuclear energy industry in Europe, said the Eurobarometer survey "does not accurately reflect the true state of public perceptions about the nuclear energy option". It argues that asking people to choose from a list of solutions "inevitably results in the public choosing a wish list of options that, while perhaps highly desirable, are equally unrealistic".

Foratom points to another Eurobarometer survey on nuclear waste, published in June 2005, which shows diverging views between EU countries. "On the one hand, there are entrenched views expressed in countries with a rigidly anti-nuclear culture, like Austria, Cyprus, Malta and Portugal. On the other hand, countries like Hungary (65%), Sweden (64%), Czech Republic (61%) Lithuania (60%), Finland (58%), France and the Netherlands (both 52%) show strong support for nuclear energy".

"We find the stated support on renewable energy and efficiency encouraging," said Mahi Sideridou, EU climate and energy policy director at Greenpeace.

Sideridou points out that, "in countries that have experience with solar energy such as Austria, Germany, Greece and Cyprus, citizens come out very strongly in favour". Likewise, she adds, "the Danes, who have the biggest share of wind energy, are the most convinced about this technology".

"We found Piebalgs' comment that nuclear should compete in the energy state aid very helpful and if this actually happens, we can wave goodbye to nuclear energy in Europe," Sideridou said.

In the UK, the government launched a wide public consultation on the country's long term energy options with the launch of an energy review on 23 January. The review raised controversy as it proposes to "look again at the role of nuclear electricity generation" in the face of rising energy prices.

Latest & next steps:

  • 8 March 2006: Expected publication date of Commission Green Paper 'A secure, competitive and sustainable Energy Policy for Europe'


Surveys and data

European Union ----- Forwarded by Jean-Francois Barsoum/Markham/IBM on 27/01/2006 12:39 -----
Jean-Francois Barsoum/Markham/IBM

27/01/2006 12:39

Record year for new US wind power: Wind developers in the US installed 2,431MW of new capacity in 2005, setting an annual record

Record year for new US wind power

Environmental Finance, 26 January 2006 - Wind developers in the US installed 2,431MW of new capacity in 2005, setting an annual record, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The new wind farms represent more than $3 billion in investment and increase total US capacity to 9,149MW, AWEA adds. In 2006, the group predicts that developers will add another 3,000MW, and it also expects a strong 2007.

Much of the success is due to Congress' August renewal of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), as part of the Energy Policy Act, AWEA says. The PTC provides operators with 1.9 cents/kWh tax rebate, and the wind industry depends on the credit for financing.

Congress must periodically renew the PTC, however, and in the past, it has often temporarily expired for part of a year, halting development. In 2005, though, Congress renewed the PTC before expiration for the first time, and it will stay in effect through 2007.

AWEA also expects high natural gas prices to support wind development, encouraging utilities to seek to buy power from resources that are not subject to fossil fuel price fluctuations.

FPL Energy was the most active wind developer in 2005, adding 500MW to its portfolio, followed by PPM Energy with 394MW, Horizon Wind Energy with 220MW, Invenergy with 200MW and enXco with 150MW.

GE Energy provided 60% of the turbines for the 2005 capacity, AWEA notes. Other major suppliers were Vestas with 30% and Mitsubishi with 8%, followed by Suzlon and Gamesa.

Among the states, California still has the most wind capacity in the US, with 2,150MW, but Texas is drawing close, with 1,995MW and more planned for 2006. Other states with significant capacity are Iowa with 836MW, Minnesota with 744MW and Oklahoma with 475MW.

AWEA estimates that the 2005 projects will displace 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year and provide $5 million in annual payments to landowners.