Wednesday, October 12, 2011

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Australia Passes Controversial Carbon Tax

Posted: 12 Oct 2011 08:42 PM PDT

CO2 emissions per capita, per country

Following the initiative of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Australia's Parliament today passed a plan to cut carbon to 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.

As drafted, Australia’s 500 leading greenhouse gas emitters will pay $23 (AUS$1 = US$0.99) for every ton of carbon they emit. The carbon pricing is set to take effect next July, assuming the Senate agrees in November, as expected.

The bill is regarded by many as a huge environmental step for Australia, the world’s largest exporter of coal and one of the leaders in greenhouse gas emissions on a per-capita basis.

Government estimates the carbon price will cost Australian households around $10 per week. However, the bill also returns more than half of the revenue raised to people via a number of tax credits and direct payments.

The net result of this legislation makes burning fossil fuels more expensive. It is hoped efficient technologies and renewables will be encouraged. According to Labor estimates, Australia’s carbon emissions will be reduced by 159 million tons in 2020, or 5 percent of all emissions.

The idea of taxing carbon has been a divisive issue in numerous countries, particularly ones that produce high levels of greenhouse gases (see map). The bill (part of a large package) passed by a 74 to 72 margin.

Insiders say the carbon taxation plan is a political gamble for Gillard, whose popularity in public opinion polls declined when she introduced the carbon tax in July.

On the conservative side of the government, Federal Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has promised to ditch the tax if he wins office. “We can repeal the tax, we will repeal the tax, we must repeal the tax," Abbott after Wednesday’s final vote. “I am giving you the most definite commitment any politician can give that this tax will go,” Abbott promised, calling his words “a pledge in blood.”

Business reaction to the legislation has been mixed, in part, because some entities stand to benefit from new markets that are created.

As reported by Ray Brindal of The Wall Street Journal, Frank Jotzo, Director of the Center for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University, has said such carbon pricing legislation will give businesses more certainty for their investments. It is also reasonable to expect some large resource companies and financial entities will do quite well from new markets that will be emerging, especially on the renewable energy side of the fence.

Map: Wikimedia Commons

 

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  3. Australia’s Climate Legislation Meets a Surprise Success


National Energy Awareness Month Closeup

Posted: 12 Oct 2011 02:04 PM PDT

Since this is National Energy Awareness Month, sponsored by the Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program, it is fitting to take this year's theme, "Turn Words Into Action; Turn Actions Into Results," at face value.

We start by listing some easy action steps anyone can take to support energy saving practices for organic waste – something all of us produce. These five steps come from Massachusetts-based, Harvest Power, which specializes in transforming organic waste into renewable soil and energy.

Harvest Power was asked to provide a short list of recommendations for what people can do at the local level to capitalize on the energy potential of typical throw-away items like pizza crust and banana peels. Here is what I received, thanks to Jena Coletti:

Top 5 Local Opportunities for Utilizing Organics

  1. Compost, compost, compost! It doesn’t take much equipment or expertise to set up a backyard (or back stoop) compost bin, and everyone has the ingredients!
  2. Use a community compost heap. Most local dumps offer areas to dispose of compostable materials. If you can’t get to the compost heap, some cities offer special services to collect your organic waste for a small fee.
  3. Get involved with your local government. Many city councils are proposing organic waste pickups. The folks at Cool 2012 – Compostable Organics Out of Landfills by 2012 – can help your efforts get off the ground. 

(Note: Even though composting is a great practice, it also creates methane.)
  4. Support stores and restaurants that source separate organics. Many businesses that generate organic waste compost, and they’ll be glad to tell you about it if you ask. Support these businesses since they are part of the solution.
  5. Shop smart! Food waste prevention is the best way to save energy (and money!).  Shop wisely and protect your produce using tips from Love Food Hate Waste.

What is very interesting is how Harvest Power uses organic materials not only to enrich the soil and produce fertilizer, but also to produce energy, capturing the methane that is naturally produced from anaerobic digestion, or decomposition without air.

On its website, the company writes that it “enables communities to produce renewable energy and high-value soil, mulch and organic fertilizer products from organic materials.” It is worth a visit to watch how organic waste can be managed to harvest sustainable energy and improved soil.

 

Photo: Steve Bowbrick

 

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Fossil Fuel Subsidies Still Too High

Posted: 12 Oct 2011 12:00 PM PDT

Big oil gets big money from the government — as CleanTechnica readers may remember, $4 billion was awarded to big oil in the form of tax breaks in 2011 alone. Given that subsidies worldwide rose to at least $470 billion worldwide in 2010 — according to International Energy Agency analysts — that is perhaps more surprising than it should be.

You read that correctly — fossil fuel subsidies ROSE in 2010, despite G20 member countries agreeing to reduce them. To be fair, total subsidies were lower than 2008 (the great oil price peak of the 21st century) — but they were still much higher than 2009.

While the governments paying out like to tell us that they're helping keep the cost of gas down, only about a quarter of the subsidies benefit gasoline. According to the IEA, only 8% of the subsidies reach their alleged beneficiaries — the poorest 20% of the population.

Also low on the list of facts made public is increased dependence on foreign oil — the cheaper oil is, the more of it countries are encouraged to buy. The percentage of domestically generated (and hopefully cleaner) energy drops.

If fossil fuel subsidies could be eliminated over the next ten years, the IEA believes global energy demand would drop as oil demand drops. CO2 emissions could also drop by as much as 1.7 billion tons per year (that's the current total output of the UK, Germany, Italy, and France combined). Half the G20 countries are said to be taking steps, according to the IEA, but money speaks the loudest. Vote with your wallets, guys. Go green and buy less oil.

Source: The Guardian | Picture: Gas2.0

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Panasonic Batteries + Tesla Model S Sedan = Still Awesome?

Posted: 12 Oct 2011 11:07 AM PDT

Tesla's Roadster is one of the sexiest electric cars on the road, and their new sedan looks pretty sweet, too. Not only does it seat up to 7, there's also a performance model available (0-60 in 4.5 seconds!). Helping keep costs down so more of us can ride in this sweet silent sedan is Panasonic, providing the lithium-ion battery cells.

Both companies say that the agreement will help Tesla meet its costs and margin targets for the Model S, according to a statement released Tuesday. As the base model is priced at $57,400 (before the applicable federal tax credit, which is $7,500 and any other incentives), it's anyone's guess what that margin is. The Roadster, in comparison, costs upwards of $109,000 (presumably using the same type of batteries, but hey, it's a sports car).

Panasonic's involvement with Tesla is nothing new; they've been providing batteries since 2009 (for the Roadster – what else?), and in 2010, Panasonic made a $30 million investment to "deepen the partnership and foster the growth of the electric vehicle industry." The continued association is welcome for Tesla; co-founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk called it an "endorsement of our technology."

Enough batteries for 80,000 Model S vehicles will be supplied by Panasonic over the next four years, including the 6,000 preorders in 2012. However, given the increasing number of EVs entering the market and the amount of research going into EV battery technology, both Tesla and Panasonic have their work cut out for them to stay competitive.

Source: Reuters | Picture: Tesla Motors

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Hydrogen Storage-Fuel Cell System to Smooth Out Intermittent Wind Power in Germany

Posted: 12 Oct 2011 05:48 AM PDT

Photo courtesy of Siemens AG

Ontario’s Hydrogenics has won a contract to supply a hydrogen production, storage and fuel cell system to the German city of Herten, the Mississauga-based company announced today.

Developing the means to manage intermittent electricity generation from wind power farms has been a key challenge for grid operators, one that Herten city officials decided was best addressed by using a Hydrogenics’ HySTAT 30 hydrogen generator to electrolyze water, storing the resulting hydrogen and then converting it back to electricity using a Hydrogenics’ HyPM 50-kilowatt (kW) fuel cell power system.

“Electrolyzing water into hydrogen using excess intermittent renewable energy is the optimal clean pathway to smart grid stabilization and energy storage capacity, Hydrogenics’ president and CEO Daryl Wilson stated in a press release.

“It has real advantages over alternative energy storage solutions. We are very pleased that such a globally recognized hydrogen cluster as the City of Herten has awarded us the opportunity to demonstrate this capability.”

Wind Power Storage, Zero Emissions Conversion

One of the system’s key benefits is that the entire hydrogen production, storage and power generation process will be accomplished with zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

It’s much more common to produce the hydrogen fuel cells need from natural gas, and to a lesser but growing extent from biogas. Electrolyzing water to produce hydrogen requires more energy, and hence is more costly. That’s what the system at Herten will do, however, given the ready availability of electricity from wind power and local water resources.

The success of the system could have large implications for Germany and the country’s energy industry as it strives to shut down all its nuclear power plants and replace the lost electrical power with electricity from clean, renewable power sources by 2022.

The project could also make a big impact on the fortunes of the Nasdaq-listed developer and manufacturer of hydrogen generation and fuel cell systems.

Located in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, Herten is recognized as a “major German hydrogen cluster for electro-mobility, as well as renewable energy projects,” according to the press release. Success there would provide Hydrogenics with a proven, solid system that it could then market more widely in Germany and Europe.

Shared Fortunes

The fortunes of fuel cell systems and hydrogen production and storage companies are tied together to some degree, as commercial fuel cells rely on hydrogen gas as a feedstock to produce electricity. Hydrogenics is active in both.

Demand for hydrogen production, storage and fuel cell systems is ramping up globally. The commercialization of fuel cell vehicles is viewed as a key driver. A recently released report from Pike Research forecast that commercialization of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) will accelerate in 2015 and grow to reach $16.9 billion in annual revenue by 2020. Demand from the Asia-Pacific region will outstrip that other regions, according to Pike’s research.

The possibilities, and business prospects, may be equally as great if the combination of wind power-hydrogen generation and storage-fuel cell systems proves successful.

In September, Hydrogenics announced that it had received C$5 million (US$4.92 million) worth of orders to deliver electrolyzers from unnamed companies in Asia and South America over the ensuing six to nine months.

For more on hydrogen storage and fuel cells, check out:

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