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


Alternative Energy newsclips for July 31st, 2009: Electric cars in Portugal, cars running on sun-fuel, and smart meters under-used

Has Portugal Solved The Electric Car Problem?
Date: 31-Jul-09
 Paul Ames

Has Portugal Solved The Electric Car Problem? Photo: Luke MacGregor
Electric powered G-Wiz cars are charged at the roadside in central London April 18, 2009.
Photo: Luke MacGregor

LAGOS - It's a hot summer weekend and the parking lots around Lagos marina are filling quickly with the BMWs, Range Rovers and Porsche SUVs of the Portuguese yachting set.
The scene is repeated across the sun-splashed Algarve coast, but a new government plan could make the gas-guzzling race to the south coast a thing of the past.
Prime Minister Jose Socrates is seeking to make Portugal a European trendsetter in green transport. In June, he launched groundbreaking plans for a nationwide network of recharging stations that would allow battery driven electric automobiles to cruise the highways.
By 2011, Socrates' Socialist administration wants 1,300 stations around the country where environment-friendly motorists can plug-in their electric cars as part of a drive to "liberate Portugal from its dependency on foreign oil."
The first station in the Mobi-E network opened in Lisbon on July 23. A hundred are due to be up and running by the end of this year and 320 should be in place in 2010. In the meantime Renault-Nissan says that Portugal will be one of the first markets for the launch of its electric vehicles in 2011.
The charging network is part of a wider Portuguese plan to switch to green energy that involves investments in wind-turbines, solar panels and wave farms. The plan takes advantage of the country's location on Europe's sunny, but breezy, southwest tip.
Socrates' motives are not purely ecological. Portugal has no domestic coal, natural gas or oil and has been forced to import most of its energy. By investing in renewables, Western Europe's poorest nation is seeking to find cheaper energy alternatives for itself and to create a niche as an exporter of green technology.
Portugal already produces over one-third of its electricity from renewable sources, double the average of the 27 European Union nations. Socrates says the proportion will rise to 45 percent by 2010.
Near the southern town of Moura, Portugal has built one of the world's biggest photovoltaic power stations. The world's first commercial wave farm began producing electricity from the coast of northern Portugal last year. Hill tops and cliffs around the nation are covered by giant wind turbines, many operated by the power company EDP, Portugal's lead electricity supplier that has emerged as a world leader in wind technology.
"Portugal is a global leader in renewable energy. The next step is to make Portugal a pioneer in zero emission mobility," Socrates said announcing the decision to create a web of recharging sites in gas stations, shopping malls, hotels, airports and parking lots.
Socrates hopes the state investment will encourage vehicle manufacturers to locate new production facilities in his country, which has been hit hard by the global recession.
On July 20, Renault-Nissan announced it will build a new 250 million euro ($355 million) plant in Portugal to produce 60,000 lithium-ion batteries a year for electric cars.
The Franco-Japanese alliance has also agreed to make Portugal one of a number of pilot markets for the roll out of electric cars over the next few years, along with Denmark and Israel. The first vehicles should be on the Portuguese market within the next two years.
Although the early Renault-Nissan models will be made in France and Japan, Portugal is hoping the battery plant and recharging network will be stepping stones to a much greater investment in car manufacturing in Portugal.
The cooperation between Portugal and Renault-Nissan aims to overcome the chicken-and-egg dilemma that has long dogged electric car projects.
Manufacturers have been reluctant to invest in mass production of battery-powered vehicles without guarantees that customers will have a recharging network. At the same time, governments and power companies have been wary of investing in the networks when the cars are not on the market.
To kick start the battery car market, the Portuguese government says it will give the first 5,000 buyers a 5,000 euro ($7,100) reduction on the price of their battery-powered car, plus tax breaks for companies that turn to electric for their fleets. Setting an example, the authorities say 20 percent of all new public vehicles will be battery-run by 2011.
The first phase of the government's plan will set up recharging sites in 21 cities. Customers are expected to be offered a range of charging options from a cheaper six- to eight-hour recharge, to an express deal lasting less than 30 minutes. Drivers will be able to pay using a pre-paid charge card. No announcements have been made about the price of recharging.
The first generation of mass-produced electric vehicles are expected to have a range of 160 kilometers (100 miles) before needing a recharge, meaning they are more suited to urban driving than long-distance trips.
However, according to government estimates, Portugal could have 180,000 electric autos on the roads by 2020. The network of recharging stations could have expanded to 25,000 by then, it says. EDP, a partners in the project, estimates the recharging market could be worth up to 2 billion euros ($2.8 billion) by then.
© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

U.S. Company Hopes To Make Fuel From Sunlight, CO2
Date: 31-Jul-09
 Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON - U.S. start-up Joule Biotechnologies hopes to make commercial amounts of motor fuel by feeding engineered organisms high concentrations of carbon dioxide and sunlight, its top executive said.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company, which launched on Monday, hopes to make up to 20,000 gallons per acre of fuel a year by late 2011 or early 2012 at prices competitive with $50 oil. It concentrates sunlight in a solar converter, directing it and carbon dioxide to engineered organisms to make fuel similar to ethanol.
"This is the first solar company that is producing liquid fuel as opposed to electrons," said Joule President and CEO Bill Sims. He said Joule is different from companies that make biofuels from plants because its process does not need a lot of land to grow food and energy crops like corn or switchgrass.
"This is definitely not a biofuels company," Sims added.
He would not reveal what the organisms are, only saying they are not algae, another life form companies are experimenting with to make biofuels. In addition, Sims said the organisms do not need fresh water but can be grown in both brackish water or graywater, which is nonindustrial waste water from sources like baths and washing machines.
Joule, which has less than $50 million in funding, is one of dozens of companies hoping to make motor fuels from sources other than corn.
Making ethanol from that grain has been criticized for needing a lot of water and land and helping to lift food prices. Some companies hope to make cellulosic ethanol, or fuel from the tough woody bits of plants like switch grass and poplar trees, but progress has been slow.
The federal government offers incentives for companies to blend advanced fuels into gasoline and mandates for the such blending rise annually.
Sims said since the Joule organisms absorb the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the fuel could eventually play a role in efforts to cut such emissions. He hopes the company will be allowed to generate carbon credits from making the fuel, which should help keep the cost of producing the fuel competitive with oil.
(Editing by Christian Wiessner)

Smart Meters Get Mixed Reviews
smartmeterAs smart electricity meter programs start to roll out globally, there are some grumblings about a lack of standards and government regulation, as well as the use of low-tech meters, in some cases, that don't incorporate the needed functionality to help reduce energy consumption and costs.
In New Zealand, for example, the environment commissioner is calling on the government to take a more hands-on approach to the roll-out of smart meters, reports 3News. Nearly 1.3 million households in New Zealand are expected to have "smart" electricity meters installed by 2012 but the nation's top environment officer warns that most of those meters will not be smart enough, according to the 3news network.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, said in the article that electricity-generator retailers are currently deploying most of the smart meters and are not incorporating the functions crucial to delivering environmental and consumer benefits. She also said the meters should at least have home area network (HAN) communication capability and real-time in-home displays, which will allow for load shedding and shifting.
Wright told 3News that regulatory intervention is needed to ensure environmental and consumer benefits can be delivered.
So far, there have been three smart meter rollouts in New Zealand. According to 3News, electricity distributor Vector has signed a contract with Genesis Energy for the roll-out of advanced metering to 500,000 homes and businesses, using a joint venture with Siemens (NZ), Advanced Metering Services (AMS); power metering and supply company Pulse Utilities is launching its consumer retail brand, with the target of 25,000 installations within two years and 65,000 within four years, and Meridian Energy has installed 50,000 smart meters in more than 112,000 households.
A new smart meter initiative in Texas may be one of the most comprehensivedeployments in the U.S., with the goal to replace 3.4 million standard meters with smart meters by 2012. Electric distributor Oncor and IBM are working on the system, which should help reduce overall electricity use through smarter use of the grid. IBM, along with Cisco, also is involved in a smart meter project in Amsterdam, working with energy firm Nuon.
Yet, some utilities are waiting for an industry standard interface before jumping on the smart-meter bandwagon. As an example, Pacific Gas and Electric of California is holding off on signing up with one of the many smart grid start-ups such as Google's PowerMeter and Microsoft's Hohm until a standardized interface is approved by the Open Smart Grid group, reports
Holding out means not getting locked in with a particular vendor, and therefore the utility maintains flexibility to choose the best services later on for their customers, says Jaymi Heimich, Science & Technology writer for Tree Hugger in his blog.
What's happening instead is that companies are rolling out their own goods and services and working to sign on utilities, says Heimich, but the industry needs standardized platforms so that infrastructure put into place now won't need to be replaced every other year.
There are also problems on the customer side. Any roll-out of demand response programs that doesn't take customer concerns into account is almost certain to run into serious difficulties, according to a blog written by Tom Raftery at The Energy Collective. He thinks unless utilities start listening to their customers, they will fail when they roll-out their smart grids.


Green newsclips for July 20th, 2009: US vehicle and building emissions, insurance costs rising, and the answer to the question: "Who believes in climate change?"

U.S. Can Cut Vehicle Carbon Emissions in Half by 2050
Focusing solely on energy-efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels will not address the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent report released by Urban Land Institute (ULI). A key finding indicates that the U.S. could cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by as much as 24 percent by 2050, without road pricing strategies, through changes to current transportation systems and operations, travel behavior, land use patterns and regulatory strategies.
With pricing measures such as pay-as-you-go drive insurance, direct fees for vehicle miles traveled, carbon pricing or increased gasoline tax, GHG emissions reductions could be as high as 41 to 52 percent.
The report, Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, evaluates incremental reductions in U.S. carbon emissions that could occur within the transportation sector as a result of a variety of transportation- and land use-related actions and strategies to minimize auto use. The report finds that land use strategies will produce the most emission reductions of all 50 strategies analyzed by the report.
The research, prepared by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., focuses on strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled and improve the efficiency of the transportation network. Land use is one of nine categories of strategies, along with transportation pricing and taxes, public transportation improvements, non-motorized transport, regulations to moderate vehicle use and speed, intelligent systems, expanded highway capacity and more efficient freight movement.
The report also indicates that overall carbon emission levels from the transportation sector remain unchanged because the lower carbon emissions resulting from those improvements will be offset by increased motorized travel. Only when additional strategies are factored in to curb vehicle use does the baseline emission level start to decline, according to the study.
The study finds that making the transportation sector more efficient is critical to meeting the energy and climate legislation passed by the House that would require carbon dioxide emissions to drop 17 percent below 2005 levels and a total of 83 percent by 2050, reports the New York Times.
John Porcari, deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation, said in the article that the report shows that lawmakers looking to change the nation's transportation system to curb emissions and fuel consumption will need to look at a number of options and policy changes.

Companies Embrace Innovation Through Their Buildings

This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert's views alone.

This morning, I attended a private tour of the new Eco Office at Southface Energy Institute in Atlanta, Georgia.   Southface is an organization who works in green building advancement.  Long before the USGBC began gaining momentum through its LEED certification platform, Southface was already tackling issues pertaining to superior sustainable design in both commercial and residential applications.  Today's new Eco Office was created not only to house the organization's staff, but also to serve as a model for how commercial building can and will work in the future.  The space boasts many efficiencies, such as daylighting window shading, linked to the heating and cooling of the building, rainwater harvesting, solar energy, and the latest technology in composting toilets.  And, like many environmentally advanced buildings, much of the technology for energy is captured by an electronic dashboard, allowing users of the building to monitor usage of water and energy down to the minute.  
 One of the members of the tour asked a very critical question.  How do we take this knowledge, relate it to the dollars saved and share it with the larger business audience looking at the return on investment connected to capital improvements to existing buildings.   The savings is there.  Any where from 10% - 70% savings in energy and water dependent on what measures are taken.    A simple cost analysis can illustrate the benefits and timeline for realizing the true ROI of the investment. 
But the even better news is that is there are now government incentives in place to make these improvements to our existing buildings.
 Today's business climate around going green in regard to internal energy efficiencies feels a bit like a gold rush as the Department of Energy moves significant amounts of money to the state level.   This past week, I attended a monthly sustainability roundtable,  which serves our community to educate stakeholders on various environmental programs throughout the region. This month's topic was presented by the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA), the governmental body tasked with doling out the hundreds of million dollars for energy efficiencies in our state.  Here in Georgia, our dollars are allocated to various funding categories – from water, sewer, and energy efficiency to renewable energy programs – all a result of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a.k.a. The Stimulus Bill.
 The reason I draw attention to this Act and the subsequent dollars is because the amount of business and innovation anticipated to be created from out of these funds is staggering.  Business Loans and investments into green energy technology are a significant part of the final bill. In fact, of the total $288 billion dollars $63 billion is allocated for Energy.  
 In the past few months, I have spoken to numerous consultants in energy and other issues of sustainability who are working with companies, big and small, to help manage the process of how we re-tool our energy usage to renewable sources and create greater efficiencies in the process.  Over the next several weeks, I will highlight businesses that are taking advantage of this time in our history to better their businesses for a sustainable future.

Americans at Bottom of the List for Wanting Environmental Change

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2008.11.22 - Union Flag

What do the U.S., Iraq and Pakistan have in common? They don't care about the Environment as much as the rest of the world.
Perhaps it's our guilt complex at knowing that we produce 25% of the worlds CO2 emissions. Maybe it's that our global impact, impacts us last. Could it be our cultural "Hurray for me and the hell with the rest of the world" mentality?
A majority of peoples around the world want their governments to put action on climate change at the top of the political agenda, a new global public opinion poll suggests. Unfortunately Americans are not among them.
Only 44% of Americans thought climate change should be a major preoccupation for the Obama administration, the survey coordinated by the University of Maryland's Programme on International Policy Attitudes said. The only other two countries unwilling to see their governments make climate change a top focus were Iraq and the Palestinian territories. In 15 other countries though there was strong support for governments to do more to deal with climate change.
Britons were among the most enthusiastic supporters for greater government intervention, with 77% urging officials to do more.
"The public is pulling for more — a lot more, no, but a bit more, yes. There is definitely political capital there to move the ball forward and that is pretty much universal," said Steven Kull, the director of the survey which drew on data gathered by academic and marketing polling organizations in the respective countries. Overall about 73% of those polled believe governments should make climate change a top priority.
The poll, which sampled the opinions of 18,578 people in 19 countries, found broad popular support for making climate change a top priority extended even to those countries whose governments have yet to commit to global action. In China there was overwhelming support — 94% — for the government to keep climate change on the front burner. And in India, which is also rapidly emerging as one of the world's leading producers of global warming pollution, 59% of the public wanted their government to make climate change a top priority.
Around the globe, the public was unconvinced their governments were assigning high enough priority to climate change. The disconnect suggests that there is greater public support for action on public change than elected officials realise, Kull said. "There is a tendency among policy makers to underestimate people's readiness for action."
Although the majority of Britons, 58%, credit the government with making climate change a major priority, even greater numbers, 89%, believe there is room for the government to do even more.
How do we reconcile these numbers? I wish we could sponsor a "Global Warming" tour. I'd take people to Glacier National Park and have them try to find a glacier. I'd take them to the Maldives and introduce them to the folks who are about to become environmental refugees. I'd  take them scuba diving to some of the worlds coral reefs, where they could run their fingers through the muck that used to be coral. Perhaps a can of Fosters with an Australian farmer would help convince them.
In the interim, we'll continue to share environmental news, advocacy and activism with our readers, while hoping that we all wake up.
Source: Guardian  photo credit:  a.drian

Which countries believe in climate change?

A new poll shows different attitudes to climate change around the globe

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 county's power plant in Zhangjiakou, northeast China's Hebei province
Residents walk down a road that leads to the county's power plant in Zhangjiakou, northeast China's Hebei province, 19 June 2005 Photograph: STR/AFP
Does the world believe its governments are doing enough about climate change? These are the results of a 19-nation survey of 18,578 people by
The poll finds majorities in 15 countries who think their government should put a higher priority on addressing climate change than it does now - including the largest greenhouse gas emitters: China, the US, and Russia.
Members of the public were asked to answer the questions using a 0 to
10 rating system in which 0 meant "not a priority at all" and 10 meant
" a very high priority". The percentages shown below are for those
answering between 6 and 10. If you want the full thing, 
download the spreadsheet, here.
The nations surveyed comprise 60% of the world's population, and we've summarised the data below. If you download the spreadsheet, there's also information on survey samples. Take a look and see what you think
• DATA: attitudes to climate change
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Country Thinks the govern't places the highest priority on addressing climate change, % Thinks the govern't SHOULD place the highest priority on address- ing climate change, % Thinks the average person in their country believes the govern't should place the highest priority on address- ing climate change, %
Attitudes to climate change
Click heading to sort
Chile 34 79 49
Mexico 45 90 76
US 21 44 18
France 44 89 66
Germany 78 83 66
Great Britain 58 89 65
Poland 44 77 51
Russia 26 65 59
Ukraine 7 72 64
Egypt 40 82 71
Iraq 17 35 32
Palestinian terr. 17 34 60
Turkey 33 83 60
Kenya 26 63 61
Nigeria 49 89 82
China 78 94 52
Hong Kong 29 76 62
Macau 28 60 53
India 43 82 67
Indonesia 50 59 61
S Korea 30 75 62
Taiwan 34 82 32
Average 39 73 57

...and to highlight the irony of it all:

Global warming pushes up building insurance costs

Flash floods and giant hailstones help increase claims by 15% and insurance premiums by 10%

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Patrick Collinson
The Guardian, Thursday 30 July 2009
Article history
Flood water on a road in Bledlow, Buckinghamshire 2009
An abandoned car in flood water in Bledlow, Buckinghamshire, February. Increased flooding is pushing up insurance claims and premiums. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Householders face higher building insurance premiums after a sharp increase in property damage blamed on climate change. A rise in insurance claims has been caused by flash floods and storms in areas of Britain previously immune to severe weather events.
The AA, which produces an insurance premium index monitoring costs, reports a 15% rise in claims in the first six months of 2009 over the same period in 2008 "in the number and cost of payments for buildings damaged by flash floods and storms in areas with little or no previous record of such claims."
It cited one village, Carbrooke in Norfolk, where homes were damaged by giant hailstones during an ice storm in late spring. The storm also caused the roof of a supermarket to partially collapse, and when the hailstones melted, a local school was flooded. "It happened in an area with no previous record of severe weather events," said the AA.
Insurers are now demanding higher premiums to meet the cost of such freak weather, linked to climate change.
The AA found that, in the 12 months to June 2009, the average quote for buildings insurance had risen by 10% — though customers who shopped around were able to limit the increase to 5%.
Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, said: "Insurers are beginning to reflect concerns about climate change in their premiums. The industry is expecting rising cost and frequency of claims for flooding, subsidence and storm damage.
"Meanwhile, tighter building regulations mean repairs must meet modern standards for such things as electrical wiring and insulation. As a result, the cost of meeting a claim — particularly for older properties — has been rising steadily."
At the same time households are benefiting from a fall in the cost of home contents insurance to a 15-year low. The AA said that despite reports of a recession-related rise in the number of burglaries, there is little evidence of this from the industry.
One reason is that insurers are making more specific calculations of premiums based on local crime rates. So although the average cost of home contents cover is falling, the figure masks a growing disparity between high and low crime areas.
Fraudulent claims are also contributing to a steep rise in car insurance costs, which are growing at their fastest rate for nearly a decade, said the AA. Drivers are typically being charged £526.42 for fully comprehensive cover, up 10% over the past year — the fastest increase since 2000.
"The industry continues to suffer underwriting losses, which are predicted to be in excess of £240m this year," said Douglas. "Although the number of accidents on Britain's roads is thankfully falling, the cost of claims continues to rise — particularly personal injury claims and legal expenses. During the current downturn, fraudulent claims are also putting pressure on premiums, leading to an increase in the number of people who drive without insurance, currently estimated to be 1.6m.
"The burden of claims involving uninsured drivers unfortunately falls to honest drivers, to the tune of £30 per policy."
Worst hit are drivers under the age of 21. The average premium for third party, fire and theft cover, typically bought by young drivers, rose 4.6% in the second quarter of 2009 over the first to £968.22.


Alternative Energy newsclips for July 29th, 2009: BP's alternative energy record; Smart grid, EVs, and hybrids

BP chief defends green energy record

Chief executive Tony Hayward denies firm has turned its back on renewables as it reports massive slump in profits caused by fall in oil price

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David Teather, Tuesday 28 July 2009 20.26 BST
Article history
BP chief executive Tony Hayward today defended the company's record on renewable energy, as it reported a dramatic slump in profits for the latest quarter due to the decline in oil prices.
Hayward said it was "not true" that the oil firm had turned its back on the alternative energy industry, despite the recent closure of separate offices for the division and the decision to pull it into the main headquarters. He said the company would invest between $500m and $1bn this year and was on track to exceed the $8bn (£5bn) of investment it pledged over 10 years in 2005. But he reiterated that the money would be more clearly focused, and mostly outside Britain – bemoaning the lack of available land for wind power and the difficulty in gaining planning permission.
"We established the alternative energy business in 2005 with the purpose to explore options, which we did," he said. "It was now right to look at the array of options before us, and to step back and say 'What can make commercial returns? What could be material to BP? And, frankly, what would have some synergies with the existing business?' It is a perfectly reasonable way of proceeding."
The company is concentrating on four main areas: biofuels, chiefly in Brazil; carbon capture and storage in the US and Abu Dhabi; solar power – where manufacturing has been shifted to India and China; and wind, in the US.
"We have focused on onshore wind power in the US, because you can do it at scale," he added. "We have a wind farm in Texas the size of Berkshire, which would be rather difficult in the UK, and it gives us economies of scale. It is very challenging to do onshore wind in this country because of scale and permitting issues." BP has interests in six large wind farms in the US, producing 1 gigawatt of power – enough to supply a medium city. The company later said the largest farm is at Fowler Ridge in Indiana, which is being expanded to 350 turbines producing 600MW.
BP reported second quarter profits of $3.14bn, a drop of 53% on the same three months a year earlier.
The business said it had managed to reduce costs by $2bn in the first half of the year, cutting 5,000 jobs in the process, and that it now aimed to exceed targets by taking another $1bn out of the business before the year end. But Hayward said there were unlikely to be any more large-scale job losses, with further cuts coming from third parties and deflation in the supply chain. "We have done the vast majority of everything we expected to do," he said.
The company would not be taking the axe to its dividend, he added, describing it as "sustainable at this point in time".
Hayward reiterated his view that a price of $60 to $90 for a barrel of oil was "a sensible range", although he acknowledged that the price was likely to hover near the lower end of that range for the near future. The price reached highs of $147 last year and slumped to as little as $35 a barrel. It is now hovering in the mid-60s. "We see little evidence of any growth in demand and expect the recovery to be long and drawn out."
The company said production of oil and gas rose 4% in the quarter compared to last year, the equivalent of 4m barrels a day, as new fields were exploited. Hayward said he hoped to finalise a deal to develop the Rumaila oil field in Iraq later this year. The Iraqi oil field is the third or fourth largest in the world, depending on the measure, with 65bn barrels of oil in place.
There were suggestions from environmental groups this week that the world might soon face a peak in oil demand as governments grow more concerned over climate change, energy security and the economic damage wrought by volatile oil prices. But Hayward dismissed the scenario. "I don't see it coming anytime in the near future. One day the world will stop demanding oil, but it is decades away in all likelihood. More than 60% of the world's energy needs in 2050 will still come from fossil fuels."
Analysts praised the cost cutting. "BP may not be able to control the price of oil, but their measures to streamline the business and reduce costs show the board is in tune with the ebbs and flows of the market," said Manoj Ladwa at ETX Capital.

Toyota, Nissan vow to do better; green cars key

Reuters, 23 June 2009 - Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co promised shareholders they would do better to recover from the worst industry downturn in a generation, each focusing on different types of cleaner cars to steer their revival.

Japan's No.1 and No.3 carmakers both face a second straight year of losses in the financial year to March 2010, reeling from a sharp sales slide in all major developed markets.

The industry slump, fuelled by tight credit and rising jobless numbers, has already helped drive U.S. rivals General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and both Japanese automakers said they saw no near-term relief.

"We expect to face continued hardship in our business environment for the near term, despite signs of recovery in some areas," outgoing Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe told the annual general meeting on Tuesday, adding that the company would try to achieve deeper cost cuts than planned.

"We are sorry to have worried our shareholders," he said.

His counterpart at Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, also expressed regret, and said he saw no convincing recovery yet in the United States, Japan and Europe.

"I feel your disappointment," Ghosn said, responding to a shareholder who declared he had "never imagined" that Nissan would pay no year-end dividend.

"We really feel very bad about it. But I can say as soon as we see free cash flow significantly positive and the financial crisis behind us ... immediately I can tell you we will pay the dividend," he said.

Asked about management responsibility, Ghosn, who also heads French partner Renault SA, repeated that he would stay on to see Nissan through the rough patch.

Toyota and Honda Motor Co, meanwhile, both replaced their chief executives, Watanabe and Takeo Fukui, with the younger Akio Toyoda and Takanobu Ito, to steer the companies as the race heats up to develop the next generation of cleaner and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Honda's shareholders' meeting, which was not open to the media, yielded no details about its financial results, and at least one shareholder thanked the company for staying in the black unlike its rivals, a spokeswoman said.

Hurt by concerns about the economic recovery and a rise in the yen, shares in the automakers fell between 1 and 5 percent on Tuesday. Nissan has rallied more than three-quarters this year, while Honda is up a third and Toyota has risen almost a quarter.


Despite the losses looming at Toyota and Nissan, few grumbles were heard from shareholders -- one Nissan shareholder only asked to borrow the GT-R sports car, get Ghosn's autograph and business card and his picture taken with him -- with most queries directed at what was in store for next-generation vehicles.

Toyota reiterated its strategy of placing hybrid technology at the core of its efforts, arguing that pure electric vehicles will require a breakthrough in battery performance that it does not see in the foreseeable future.

Toyota has announced plans to sell pure electric cars by 2012, but sees their application as limited due to the short driving range and high battery prices.

Nissan, meanwhile, sought to knock down the hybrid hype.

"We do not put electric cars and hybrids in the same category," Ghosn told shareholders.

"Hybrids are fuel-efficient technology. EVs are no fuel. Hybrids are an optimisation of combustion engines. EVs have none. Hybrids reduce emissions by 20 to 30 percent. EVs have none."

Ghosn stressed that Nissan and Renault were the only carmakers with a mass-volume EV strategy to date, saying he was optimistic that they would proliferate with crude oil at a relatively high $67 a barrel even in a global recession.

Nissan and Renault are due to launch three electric cars each into different model segments by 2012. The first of the Nissan EVs will be unveiled on Aug. 2 at the opening ceremony of its new headquarters in Yokohama, near Tokyo, he said.

Nissan will build more than 100,000 electric vehicles a year when it starts U.S. production of the zero-emission vehicles at its Smyrna, Tennessee plant in two to three years' time. A decision on a European site for battery production and electric car assembly will be made soon, Ghosn added.

"We have a different strategy from other manufacturers when it comes to electric cars," he told a news conference after the meeting.

"We are the only one working to mass-market EVs and investing for mass marketing -- which is a risk, but we think it's a bet in the right direction," he said. (Additional reporting by Yumiko Nishitani in TOKYO; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Sourced from the Thomson Reuters Carbon Markets Community - a free, gated online network for carbon market and climate policy professionals.

Vehicle-to-grid technology gains some traction

ClimateWire, 22 July 2009 - As American car buyers prepare to kick the tires of the first new generation of electric cars to arrive since the 1920s, Willett Kempton already has bigger plans for these vehicles.

Kempton, 61, directs the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware. He is the originator of a concept that would make electric vehicles a boon to today's electricity grid, and a potential solution for one of the biggest climate-related question marks hovering over the grid's future: how to store renewable energy.

The idea is to allow electric vehicles not only to draw power from the grid, but to send electricity back into it, as well. It effectively would use the cars' batteries as a big storage system to help buffer the constantly fluctuating balance of electricity in the system -- ups and downs that are expected to become steeper and more unpredictable as the share of renewable energy rises.

While electric cars are a new idea to most people, Kempton, who teaches renewable energy policy, has had these ambitions since the mid 1990's. While he was mulling over the problem of how to extend the use of solar power when he happened to attend a discussion of electric vehicles in Washington, D.C. Suddenly a light bulb went on in his head. "There's going to be batteries everywhere there's a garage or a driveway," he recalls thinking.

His lab has been researching the idea since then and more recently testing it. Now he has applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to launch the first field-scale demonstration of the concept. His new project will come in an environment that has become markedly more serious about the idea of electric vehicles, and where increasingly large players are investigating the potential of his concept, which is called vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, for short.

"The electric system in the country is one of the biggest, most complex just-in-time delivery systems that exists today," explained Sunil Chhaya, senior project manager of the plug-in hybrid vehicle program at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.

"The way I see whether this technology is a serious contender or a serious technology for the future is to see if the mainstream players get involved," he added. "And now that is happening."

In an indication that they expect -- or at least hope -- electric vehicles can reach mass-scale market penetration, auto manufacturers have begun collaborating with utility companies to investigate the implications of connecting these two industries that have been almost entirely separate since their births.

Meanwhile, pilot projects are springing up across the country, following Kempton's lead. Companies are seeking to commercialize the necessary technology and governments and utilities have begun to ponder regulatory frameworks that will be necessary for the shift.

Helping the grid handle its ups and downs

Vehicle-to-grid would benefit the grid because under the current system electricity supply must match demand, immediately. Otherwise, there is the possibility for temporary brownouts, even blackouts.

"Right now, electricity is a product that is produced and consumed at the same time," said Steven Letendre, a professor at Green Mountain College in Vermont who has modeled the economics of vehicle-to-grid.

Because demand stems from the activities of consumers, and these activities fluctuate constantly, the grid must adjust continuously. That's not only to ensure a continuous power supply, and not waste excess electricity, but also to keep power flowing at the right frequency.

The grid sends signals to power plants every 4 seconds to tell them to make the minute up-or-down adjustments to their generating capacity, based on the needs of the grid.

Vehicle-to-grid proponents say this could just as easily be done by drawing electricity from or putting it into storage. "Right now, the power grid has ... virtually very little storage," Letendre said.

Studies show that electric vehicles could be plugged into the grid as much as 20 hours a day on average. If enough of the cars were out there, they would be a ready source of storage.

The second-to-second adjustments are called frequency regulation, and utility regulators pay power generators to provide the service. Typically, the units added to balance the grid must be at least 1 megawatt.

In 2007, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order that would allow electric storage facilities to be treated equally to generation.

In Kempton's plan, cars would be aggregated so that their batteries would collectively form 1 megawatt of capacity. Together, they would constitute a frequency generation unit and they would get paid. Letendre estimates that a single electric car owner could earn $2,000 to $4,000 a year by selling power from his car back to the grid.

That would not only benefit electricity consumers, but effectively lower the price of the vehicles to buyers. Experts say the cars' relatively high prices are the largest barrier to their entry into the market.

A longer-term application would be for the cars to provide storage for wind and solar energy, which are intermittent. That would eliminate the need for renewable energy plants to be built with back-up fossil-fuel generators -- but also prevent excess energy during times of high wind or solar availability from being wasted. For example, the wind often blows most strongly at night, when power demands are low.

"It's kind of a way of increasing the amount of renewables we can use, we can tap into," said Jon Lilley, the vehicle-to-grid project coordinator and a graduate student in Kempton's lab.

Last month, Denmark announced a plan to use vehicle-to-grid to help an island of 40,000 people become entirely wind-powered. Kempton was a key adviser on the project.

A stimulus to get the juice flowing

Though interest in V2G has been around for years, few cars have been hooked up. Isolated tests have been done by companies like the large West Coast utility Pacific Gas and Electric and AC Propulsion of San Dimas, Ca., the electric vehicle manufacturer that supplied Kempton's first car.

Now interest is beginning to grow. In Boulder counto, Co., three plug-in hybrids -- converted Toyota Priuses -- will begin sending electricity back to the grid in the fall, under the county's smart grid progrm. Talks of pilot projects are taking place in Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island.

This year, two utility companies in Delaware were the first in the country to authorize vehicle-to-grid.

Kempton, meanwhile, has put in an application for $29 million of federal economic stimulus funding that would be used to fund a demonstration project of 450 vehicles. Much of the money would go toward subsidizing vehicles from AC Propulsion, a company that currently sells cars for $70,000 down to $40,000.

Kempton says this will make a big difference for increasing the volume of the vehicles. Less than 20 have been sold so far.

"I'm quite confident that we can sell 450 at that level," he said.

Those 450 vehicles would be aggregated into frequency regulation units in the mid-Atlantic region, New England and California. In exchange for the subsidy, buyers would be required to participate in the vehicle-to-grid program.

Kempton says the major auto companies have not expressed serious interest in vehicle-to-grid. "It's ridiculous," he said. "These Fortune 500 companies are scared to try this stuff out."

"We think the best way to get this rolling is to ... show them that it works," Kempton says.

Automakers interested but uncertain

Paul Denholm, an expert on the grid and electricity storage at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said it's too early to tell just how good a technology vehicle-to-grid is.

"There's a lot of uncertainty about the role of vehicle-to-grid," he said. "You're going to find a lot of people out there that have some legitimate concerns about the difficulties of making a business case for vehicle-to-grid. This is not an easy technology to implement. This is going to take a lot of work for it to get out there."

For example, he said, many auto companies are concerned that increasing the charge and discharge cycles on a battery will shorten its lifetime.

Furthermore, there have to be regulatory changes and, more importantly, a computerized system for coordinating the communication between the cars and the grid.

Then there's the fact that electric vehicles are not even on the mass market yet.

Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Volt, agrees that vehicle-to-grid is a far cry from commercialization. But he says that GM is interested.

A year and half ago, GM began partnering with EPRI and 50 utility companies around the country to start researching questions surrounding putting cars onto the grid. Ford Motor Co. and Daimler AG have similar, if smaller collaborations. Chhaya -- who previously worked on hybrid and plug-in-hybrid vehicles for 10 years at GM -- would not give the names of other companies EPRI has spoken to. But, he said, all major companies "that we have spoken with have shown interest."

Posawatz said that GM's first priority is to get the cars on the market and to test the integrity of the battery, which it wants to have a 10-year lifetime.

"Once you have these vehicles in the marketplace for other reasons, if they can stand on their own, then it makes sense to have this additional application," Chhaya said.

Europe's carbon war has room for electrics, hybrid cars

Reuters, 27 July 2009 - European carmakers are likely to rely on a mix of clean car technologies to achieve big emission cuts even as they gear up for fully electric cars, battling to put infrastructure in place and convince wary drivers.

The auto groups must cut global-warming gases from new vehicles by 18 percent within six years and analysts said that while electric cars would gain prominence, hybrid models would play a big role in the next few years.

Japanese carmaker Nissan Motor Co plans mass commercialisation of electric cars from 2012 globally and is set to unveil its first electric model -- a five seater vehicle with a range of 160 km on a full charge -- in Yokohama on Aug. 2.

Many major manufacturers are also studying plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology, which cuts greenhouse gas emissions and combines an internal combustion engine with a battery that can be recharged by plugging in to a power source. Conventional gasoline-electric hybrid cars have batteries that are only charged when the driver brakes.

"We believe the electrification of the car appears increasingly inevitable, with plug-in hybrids providing the bridge technology to fully electric vehicles," Credit Suisse analysts said in a research note.

Consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that pure electric vehicles could represent between 2 and 5 percent of total light vehicle output by 2020.

"Inadequate infrastructure will also delay a widespread shift to electric vehicles," said Steve D'Arcy, global auto leader at PwC.

But Nissan sees electric cars forming the "centrepiece" of its portfolio, which will also include clean diesel and fuel-cell, as well as hybrid versions of some high-end models.

"Honestly, we weren't front-runners with hybrids, Toyota were. On the electric vehicle we've decided we're going to try to be the people that take this technology out of the laboratory and front-run it," Colin Dodge, Executive Vice President, and chairman of the management committee for Africa, Middle East, India and Europe said earlier this month.

"Even though we've got hybrid technology, we still believe the vast majority of the segment of the future is best served with the ultimate solution on CO2 -- zero emissions," he said.

Credit Suisse analysts said that while technology developments for conventional internal combustion engines could cut CO2 emissions by up to 30 percent, and hybrid technology could make for a further reduction of 50 percent, "further improvement from here will likely require more radical powertrain alternatives."

But some analysts believe early electric vehicles may face acceptability problems, and that hybrids will continue to be more popular for drivers wanting to travel longer distances.


Nissan said on Monday it was developing a hybrid system to power smaller cars as an interim solution to improve mileage before pure electric cars take over.

General Motors may be among the first to market a plug-in hybrid, with the launch of the Chevrolet Volt due next year.

Meanwhile, hybrid market leader Toyota Motor Corp is introducing plug-in hybrid technology on its popular Prius model. The group has sold 139,174 Prius cars in Europe since they were launched there in 2000.

France's PSA Peugeot Citroen is working with Mitsubishi Motors Corp on introducing an electric car to Europe at the end of 2010 or in early 2011, based on Mitsubishi's iMiEV, which was launched last week in Japan. Each company is also working separately on plug-in hybrid technology.

In Europe, a market that has traditionally had a high proportion of diesel-powered cars, full-hybrids, with their limited extra fuel savings, will remain present, but as a niche market, Credit Suisse analysts said.

But their role will be important, even as electric vehicles become more mainstream, said Tom De Vleesschauwer, associate director, automotive consulting at forecasting and analysis group IHS Global Insight.

"Electric vehicles are primarily going to be city cars. There's also a future for hybrid vehicles -- they're just going to be operating in different segments," he said.

Analysts said a hybrid vehicle would make sense for larger, heavier vehicles where the additional cost was a smaller percentage of the price. Mercedes-Benz launched the S400 hybrid sedan earlier this year in Europe.

De Vleesschauwer noted, "I don't there's going to be any dominant technology that's going to win out of all of this. 'Normal' engines as we know them and diesel engines will still be around in 2020 without a doubt."

(Additional Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo, Editing by Sitaraman Shankar)

Carbon newsclips, July 29th 2009:France's carbon tax and US transportation emissions

France Faces Internal Fight Over Carbon Tax
Date: 29-Jul-09
 Sophie Hardach and Anna Willard

PARIS - France should aim to introduce a tax on carbon dioxide emissions by 2010 to help fight global climate change, a panel advising the government said on Tuesday.
The plan has already drawn fire from intensive fuel users such as farmers and fishermen, and the government pledged to offset any tax with cuts elsewhere while the head of the panel indicated the scheme might have to be delayed.
"Carbon dioxide emissions are a threat to life on the planet ... among the many necessary responses, a significant tax on carbon dioxide emissions is one the most pertinent and efficient," the panel concluded.
France is aiming to divide its greenhouse gas emissions by four by 2050.
Under the carbon tax plan, France would bill 32 euros ($46) for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted in 2010 and lift the levy progressively to 100 euros per ton by 2030.
This would add between 7 and 8 cents to the cost of a liter of petrol. The tax will affect all sectors that are not part of existing emissions trading programs.
The report is expected to provide the basis for legislation, due to be debated after parliament's summer break. It will face intense discussion as details are thrashed out.
"This is the beginning of a wider process of reflection and consultation," Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said after the report was presented.
While most politicians agree emissions must be cut to fight global warming, a key part of the debate is on how to compensate poorer households, workers in certain sectors and those who need to drive because they work at night or live in rural areas.
"This contribution will be strictly offset by a cut in other contributions, so that the purchasing power of households and the competitiveness of companies will be ensured," Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and Lagarde said in a statement, reiterating an earlier pledge.
But the idea of such a compensation has attracted criticism from budget watchers who point to France's growing debt burden -- already exacerbated by the economic crisis.
The extra cost would vary according to the size of households and their location. The report said a couple with children living in the country could pay about 303 euros a year extra, while a single parent family in a big city might pay only 78 euros a year extra.
The levy would bring between 8-9 billion euros to state coffers, divided roughly equally between households and businesses, the report said, although the level of the tax will be one of the key points under discussion.
Borloo said the final result could be no more than 2-4 billion euros and business daily Les Echos said the levy could be set at just 15 euros per ton instead of 32 by the time it is approved.
Given the scheme's complexity, former Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who chaired the panel, said he did not know if it would in fact be ready in 2010.
"The best would be for it to be ready in 2010 but it's true that all these details ... are complicated," he told French radio earlier on Tuesday.
The opposition Socialists supported the proposal but said companies should be prevented from passing on the cost to households, and that people living in areas where they had to use the car should not be disproportionately punished.
Business associations, on the other hand, worry that the tax may hurt their competitiveness.
"The carbon tax should not be an umpteenth tax used for filling up the state coffers," the small business union, the CGPME, a small business union, said in a statement.
Sweden, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, will soon present an EU-wide carbon tax plan. Sweden, Denmark and Norway already have carbon taxes in place and China has been studying the idea.

U.S. can cut half its transportation emissions by 2050 -- report

Greenwire, 28 July 2009 - The United States can cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in half by 2050 with strategies ranging from cutting speed limits to imposing road pricing, according to a report released today by federal agencies and environmental and industry groups.

Examining about 50 transportation strategies, the report found transportation emissions could be reduced 24 percent by 2050 by acting to change travel behavior and land-use patterns. The emissions reduction hit 47 percent by adding road pricing techniques, ranging from pay-as-you-go insurance to charging Americans for every mile driven.

The report found environmental gains from advances in fuel efficiency would be mostly undermined by increased travel and population, making it important to address the efficiency of the transportation sector by investing in public transit, land-use planning and other low-carbon alternatives.

John Porcari, deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation, said the report shows that lawmakers looking to recast the nation's transportation system to curb emissions and fuel consumption will need to look for combinations of policy changes. "There is no magic bullet," he said. "There is no single strategy that can be pursued to help us turn our corner. We need to look at a number of options."

Transportation accounts for roughly 28 percent of the United States' greenhouse gas emissions, and the sector has been one of the fastest-growing in the past two decades -- representing nearly half of the nation's total increase in greenhouse emissions since 1990.

The sweeping energy and climate measure that the House passed last month, H.R. 2454, would require carbon dioxide emissions to drop 17 percent below 2005 levels and a total of 83 percent by 2050. The study released today finds that making the transportation sector more efficient is critical to meeting those goals.

"We can't get there from here without reducing emissions from transportation," said Colin Peppard, climate and infrastructure policy director for Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups that commissioned the report.

The report was written by consulting firm Cambridge Systematics. Its sponsors include DOT, the American Public Transportation Association and Shell Oil Co.

'Blowtorch to the behind'

If all goes according to plan for many advocates of transportation reform, the climate effort will draw the outlines of a policy that pushes Americans out of their personal vehicles and into trains and buses, leaving the door open for the reauthorization of the federal highway bill to provide massive amounts of cash to build and sustain alternative systems.

When the reauthorization will occur, and what form it will take, remains uncertain.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hopes to pass its reform-minded, six-year bill before the current authorization expires at the end of September. The House effort, however, has run into multiple roadblocks, with Senate leaders and the White House instead pushing an 18-month extension of the current law.

The committee chairman, James Oberstar (D-Minn.), applauded the report today, saying it could serve as a "blowtorch to the behinds" for those pushing to postpone his effort. He also took a shot at the DOT officials who have asked for the extension so they can have more time to consider the reforms Oberstar is proposing.

"They need to go to Head Start for transportation and catch up with us on the Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure," Oberstar said, noting that the report suggests many of the same transportation policies included in his bill.

The study's authors said their report is the first to offer a comprehensive analysis of transportation efficiency and its relationship to greenhouse gas reductions and consumer savings.

This article is reproduced with kind permission of E&E Publishing, LLC. 
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Jim Harris' first five columns for the National Post: Escalators, White Roofs, and Vampire Power, among other topics

Here are the first five columns:
Going Green Pays Dividends . . . . . . . . . . . .
Savings rise with efficient escalators . . .  . . .
Oil prices force turn to green . . . . . . . . . . . .
White roofs save a trillion . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
Electronic devices wastes billions when "off" .
The National Post is Canada's business newspaper. With a weekly readership other more that 1.1 million, the National Post is a must-read for the country's corporate elite and savvy investors.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jim Harris, Author, Blindsided! How to Spot the Next Breakthrough That Will Change Your Business Forever
     A #1 International Bestseller, published in 80 countries worldwide
     by UK based Capstone (an imprint of John Wiley & Sons of New York)
Author, The Learning Paradox
     Nominated, National Business Book Award with 40,000+ copies in print
Co-author, The 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada
     a National bestseller with over 50,000 copies sold