- Siemens Drops US Wind Workers as PTC Comes Close to Expiration (Romney Wants to Kill PTC, but Blames Obama for Layoff)
- Traveling is Alive with Playful Spaces
- Air Force Vet Converts Silos to Low-Cost Wind Turbines for Small Farms
- New California Law to Boost Sustainable Materials Industry
- Metal Surface Developed That Can Self-Repair
- Steel Giant POSCO to Fund Renewable Energy Micro-Grid System in Abu Dhabi
- Clean Car & Bike News Roundup
- 2 GW of Solar PV Pointed in the Wrong Direction in Australia?
- Solar Is Not Just for the Rich
- Solar Much Cheaper in Germany than US for 1 Clear Reason — Soft Costs
- Romney–Obama Energy Policy Differences Clear as Day
- Coal Now Qualifies for Emissions Reduction Credits — Say What?
Posted: 24 Sep 2012 12:00 AM PDT
First we'll tell it the way it happened. And then we'll tell it the way Mitt Romney's campaign thinks it happened.
Chapter 1: Since 2008, U.S. wind generation has increased 171 percent, bringing in nearly $20 billion in private investment and supporting 75,000 American jobs.
Chapter 2: Partly helped by a bi-partisan tax credit originally crafted by a Republican Senator from Iowa and championed by President Obama, wind accounts for 32 percent of new capacity in 2011.
Chapter 3: That development helps fuel new growth in manufacturing. In 2006, only 35 percent of components for wind turbines came from American companies. Today, with 500 manufacturing facilities operating around the country, 67 percent of components for turbines now come from American companies.
Chapter 4: All that new manufacturing activity helps some struggling Midwestern towns with high unemployment gain back their manufacturing jobs. It even helps Iowa get 20 percent of its electricity from wind.
Chapter 6: Congress balks.
Chapter 7: Mitt Romney says he supports killing the tax credit; Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says Romney's position is "like a knife in my back." Soon after, Paul Ryan says he opposes the tax credit. Ryan then goes back out of the campaign stump pushing his "austerity" budget, which preserves $40 billion in permanent tax credits for the fossil fuel industry.
Chapter 8: The wind industry starts frantically reminding people about projections from Navigant Consulting showing a loss of 37,000 jobs if the tax credit expires.
Chapter 9: The projections start playing out. As the expiration date for the wind tax credit approaches, wind companies start cancelling projects and laying off workers due to a slump in demand for 2013. Manufacturers and developers in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania cancel projects, lay off workers, or announce plans to lay off workers.
Chapter 10: On Tuesday, Siemens announces that it will lay off 615 wind workers in Kansas, Florida, and Iowa. The company blames political uncertainty around the production tax credit for wind. At no point does Siemens blame President Obama.
Begin Romney campaign version:
Appendix 1: Responding to the Siemens wind announcement, the Romney campaign tries a different approach to the story — oddly blaming the layoffs entirely on Obama:
Appendix 2: No one notices because everyone is too preoccupied with secret tapesshowing Romney calling 47 percent of Americans "dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 11:00 PM PDT
Imagine hoping the bus is late, because the bus stop is so much fun:
“Playful Spaces” is a project completed by Bruno Taylor as part of an MA Industrial Design Course at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. The project aims to bring play back into public spaces.
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 10:30 PM PDT
Small Farms, Big Wind Power
Insulating small and mid-sized farms from potentially devastating energy price spikes is a significant challenge for the U.S. agriculture sector. Agri Wind Turbines founder and president Jeff Brown says that his idea for wind power for small farms could work out financially for independent farmers working on thin margins, since they could use their existing infrastructure and grid connection to support a modest wind energy investment.
He anticipates that a vertical axis wind turbine design would provide enough energy for most of a typical small or mid-sized farm’s electricity needs. The grid connection would come into play in cases where the turbine generates excess energy, which the farmer could sell back to the local utility.
Another rural energy program that could come into play is AgStar, under which the Obama Administration has been encouraging livestock farmers to install energy-saving manure-to-biogas equipment.
Yep, We Built This!
It’s also worth noting that Mr. Brown’s endeavor has all the markings of a small, innovative business rooted in personal inspiration, hard work and willingness to take risks, along with the resourcefulness to take advantage of the available support network, aka publicly funded programs.
That includes participating in the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) Federal and State Technology mentoring program, and winning a Technology Transfer Assistance Grant from the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority in 2011.
The Technology Transfer grant has gone to support Brown’s market research, and the USDA grant of $100,000 is being used to test the feasibility of the technology through computer modeling.
For Brown, the rewards of success will not only be a benefit to him. He’ll also be able to realize a personal goal of helping more of his fellow state residents build careers in Arkansas, both in agriculture and in the wind power sector.
As Brown explained in a recent article for ASBTDC:
“Arkansas is the number one manufacturer of wind turbines in the U.S. There are really smart people in Arkansas that do not want to live anywhere else. Arkansas is home.”
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 10:20 PM PDT
It is. And, unlike material mining in general, which technically causes destruction for every unit of minerals extracted, minerals such as lithium, manganese, and other minerals can be extracted from what is called geothermal brine.
California’s Gov. Jerry Brown has signed AB 2205 into law to pave the way for the geothermal brine mineral extraction industry. It is intended to bring extraction regulations “up to date.”
"AB2205 will accelerate the green economy in California," said Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett. "Lithium and other critical materials found in the Salton Sea Geothermal Region are vital to electric vehicles, grid storage, and other clean energy technologies needed to meet the state's climate targets."
How Brine is Obtained from Underground, and How Geothermal Power Plants Work
Geothermal power plants utilize heat from under the earth’s surface (geothermal heat) to boil water and produce steam which is used to drive a steam turbine. They normally operate by pumping water into what is called a geothermal well, and the geothermal heat raises the water temperature, and the water exits the well, and enters the power plant.
At this stage, the water is now brine because it contains salts and minerals from the well, including the lithium and manganese I mentioned above.
The brine is under pressure, but, when it enters the steam power plant, it is allowed to rapidly expand (vapourize) into steam, which then rushes through steam turbine blades, forcing them to turn.
The salts I mentioned above are not necessarily sodium chloride (table salt), but brine can contain lithium salts (lithium chloride). Lithium chloride is a compound from which pure lithium can be extracted.
Elemental lithium is rare, so it is obtained from more abundant compounds, including lithium chloride, lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide, and hectorite clay.
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 10:10 PM PDT
A group of researchers from SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have spent most of the last two years developing “ground-breaking expertise in coatings and thermal spraying. The researchers are now testing whether it is possible — where two metal surfaces are in contact with each other — to apply a coating to the surfaces formed of hard particles and capsules filled with liquid lubricant.”
There are many types of machinery that depend on being lubricated at all times — if a leak occurs and causes the moving parts to dry out, that creates huge damage and massive costs to repair. The metal surfaces will grate against each other and eventually seize up, sometimes resulting in the complete junking of the machinery.
To create the surface, the researchers “apply the lubricant using a thermal spray technique, where powder and capsules are fired at the surface using a flame,” says Sergio Armada of SINTEF Materials and Chemistry. “When the metal surfaces come into contact with each other, the coating is broken down in a controlled manner, releasing the contents of the capsules, and the lubricant will then prevent further friction.”
To test the material, the researchers have done a number of tests using slide bearings in industrial settings, measuring the friction on surfaces with the capsules and without them. “When a coating without capsules was applied to the slide bearing, the friction coefficient was 0.7, while friction was reduced to 0.15 in bearings coated with a layer of capsules.”
The researchers think that this coating also has uses in the medical sector, especially in joint replacements.
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 10:00 PM PDT
The project coordination will be done by GGGI, while design and simulation of micro-grid with renewable energy will be undertaken by the Masdar Institute.
The financial support of about $1 million for the project is provided by GCCI and POSCO, the world’s fourth-largest steelmaker.
MI and RIST project team unveiled conceptual design of the micro-grid. The design encompasses a control system, energy storage, and a high-efficiency DC distribution system. The system will be designed to incorporate renewable energy sources such as solar PV, small wind power, and biofuel production from waste and algae. The micro-grid system can also be linked to seawater desalinations units and can power the electric boats for island access.
Dr Sultan Al Jaber the UAE's Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change and CEO of Masdar said: "This project is another powerful example of the leading role Abu Dhabi and the UAE are playing in clean energy innovation. Masdar has funded development projects on small islands that can potentially benefit from micro grids and we are interested in their potential role in supporting renewable energy deployment in rural areas."
The initial model and action plan of the project is expected to be presented at the 2013 World Future Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi.
The views presented in the above article are author's personal views only
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 03:39 PM PDT
ChargePoint is giving away (yes, giving away… for $0) electric car chargers. “ ChargePoint says it will give away a free charging station and offer discounted installation costs to any company looking to install electric car charging stations for its employees and visitors.”
Chance to win $30,000… if you can design a better BMW than anyone else. “Local Motors is teaming up with BMW to offer a $30,000 grand prize to anybody who can design an urban car concept good enough to be an Ultimate Driving Machine.”
Coda is looking to grab more of the EV market: “the California-based automaker plans to take its electric car nationwide in the coming year, working up to a 30-dealer network that spans coast to coast.”
Daimler is betting on lower costs attracting more people to electric vehicles. The company well known for its Smart car (oh, and Mercedes-Benz) is looking to offer the cheapest electric car on the market. The first deliveries of its new e-Smart have been sent. “The e-Smart will offer about 145 km/90 miles of driving per charge, well within the 30 or so miles most Smart car owners currently drive in Europe, and it will do it at the lowest price point for any EV; 18,910 Euros, or about $24,600 U.S. dollars.”
Smart also has a cool-looking concept car called Smart ForStars. The car’s all-electric drivetrain comes from “famed” Mercedes tuner BRABUS, Chris Demorro informs us. The interesting new Smart car “will offer around 87 miles of range from a 17.5 kWh battery pack.” More pretty pics over on Gas2.
Toyota Rav4 EV will be leasing for $599/month. “With $3,499 down, well-qualified lessees could driving off in a Toyota Rav4 EV for only $599 a month. Yup, that'll cost you, though it is still a good deal less than you'd pay trying to buy the Rav4 EV.”
A BMW hybrid will likely be BMW’s first front-wheel drive car. “The BMW Concept Active Tourer hasn't officially been given the FWD designation, mind you, but speculation and comments by BMW executives point to that being the case. The Concept Active Tourer uses a 1.5 liter turbocharged 3-cylinder gas generator to charge a lithium-ion battery pack good for up to 20 miles of EV-only driving. After that, the gas generator kicks in. The Active Tourer will reportedly go from 0-60 mph in 8 seconds, better than most hybrids.”
An upcoming Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid has had its brochure leaked. The car will have 800 horsepower while getting 78 mpg, according to the leaked brochure. It will also look quite pretty.
And the 10 “Best Value Hybrid Cars” are… over on Gas2. Interestingly, not all hybrid cars save you money. 11 of 25 hybrid cars tested by industry analysts reportedly save you money in the long run, “with the 2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid saving buyers $7,001 while the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid cost buyers over $8,065 more to own (than comparably equipped conventional vehicles).”
Hot weather killing Nissan Leaf batteries? Independent tests done by Arizonans who own the car seem to be showing that it is. I wouldn’t say it’s 100% verified yet, but if the tests done by these owners are legit, the heat in Arizona is decreasing the lifespan of their batteries much faster than Nissan promised.
Smith Electric Vehicles, which we just announced was pursuing an IPO, has quickly pulled that plan and intends to withdraw its registration statement. "We received significant interest from potential investors, however, we were unable to complete a transaction at a valuation or size that would be in the best interests of our company and its existing shareholders," said Bryan Hansel, Smith's chief executive officer. "We have instead elected to pursue private financing opportunities to support the execution of our business plan."
Mercedes has a classy electric concept car for us all to gawk at. “The Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive uses a 100 kW/134 horsepower electric motor and a lithium-ion battery of unmentioned size to give the B-Class a range of around 125 miles…. With up a 230-volt and 400-volt recharge port, the B-Class Electric drive can be recharged in as little as an hour. However, the B-Class is still 35 miles behind the 160 miles of the base-class Tesla Model S sedan.”
Speaking of the Model S, if you’re one of the lost souls who doesn’t think EVs are fun, check out this great video of Pikes Peak racing legend Monster Tajima driving a Tesla Model S:
Bikes & Trikes
Interbike 2012 looked like a lot of fun, and Gas2′s Susanna Schick has some interesting notes from the conference to share. Just as a taster, here’s the start to her article: “Twice as many bicycles as cars are sold in the US each year, and the past few years have seen an exponential rise in commuter cycling. The recession has inspired people from all walks of life to save gas money by getting out of the car and onto a bike. The benefits of increased commuter cycling far outweigh the risks, even for daredevils like me- less CO2, more endorphins, better bodies, less traffic… The list goes on and on.”
Polaris electric bike unveiled… at Interbike 2012, of course. “The big product launch here at Interbike, for those of is into EV's, is the Polaris's electric bicycles, or eBikes. They're launching a full line of 5 electrified bicycle models designed to meet a broad range of rider's needs.”
Peugeot has a a companion vehicle for its upcoming diesel-electric Peugeot Onyx supercar, “the three-wheeled plug-in hybrid Onyx Scooter Concept.” And the cool, Bond-esque trike actually transforms. “Now, about that transforming bit. The Onyx Scooter Concept features a center-mounted ‘clip box’, which when removed Onyx Scooter into ‘Urban Mode’, and makes it look like, well, a scooter. But with the clip box in, the Onyx Scooter is more superbike than scooter. Also, three-wheels!”
The new Cannondale CERV is a ”bike that adjusts its geometry to respond to straights, hills, and more – so the rider doesn't have to.” Interesting. It certainly looks different. Jo’s got more details over on Gas2. More images, too, but I’ll just share one more here that demonstrates how the bike can be adjusted:
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 01:45 PM PDT
Adam McHugh, a lecturer in energy economics and energy policy at Murdoch University, argues instead for a new pricing system that would encourage householders to point their rooftop solar PV panels westward rather than north. Or they could go to the shops, the cinema or the beach at times of peak demand rather than sit at home with the air conditioning.
McHugh says rooftop PV could play a major role in reducing network costs, because the price of these systems had fallen so much that they were economically attractive for households to install. However, under the current tariff arrangements, most systems – and it is estimated more than 2,100MW of rooftop solar will be in place in Australia by the end of the year – face north because that is where they produce most electricity, and deliver the best returns for households.
McHugh's tariff system is all about reducing the summer peak demand, which occurs in about a dozen interval periods marked by hot, sunny weather. And they occur in mid to late afternoon, when west-facing PV is producing.
"By basing tariffs around peak kW capacity, rather than overall consumption measured in kWh, McHugh says households would face significantly lower bills in winter, spring and autumn, and much higher bills in summer, the season of peak demand. This would encourage them to install solar PV, and point it west, or enter other demand management arrangements that would see them switch off appliances when peak demand was reaching the top 10 or 12 peak intervals. (Tariffs based on individual peak demand would be a PV killer and would not be as effective at reducing network costs.)
Households would be alerted and could take action to slash their bills. In effect, they would be paid to switch off and go to the cinema or the shops, where the air-conditioning would be running regardless of whether there were 2 or 2,000 people in the store. "Why not get in a bit of movie time or retail therapy during the peak?" McHugh says. "Escape the heat and boost the retail sector while cutting your annual electricity bill in half."
He says this system would encourage owners to orient their PV sytems to the west, and others to install interval meters, rather than an imposing an overall cost by rolling them out to all consumers. Everyone (except the monopoly network businesses) would benefit from the tariff change, but those who benefit the most will be customers who buy interval/smart meters that want to participate in system-peak demand reduction activities.
"About 40 per cent of the retail electricity price is caused by network costs," he says. "Under system-peak pricing, if you had west facing PV and went to the movies during the peak you would not only avoid that 40 per cent, but would receive a credit on your bill for your negative system-peak contribution. North facing PV would also receive a credit, just not as much."
McHugh says that PV facing west and meeting peak demand meant it was effectively acting as a competitor to transmission networks, which is delivering power from distant sources of generation to major demand nodes. This competition may explain some of the perverse tariffs that were now being contemplated, such as the "bi-directional" tariff approved recently by WA's Economic Regulation Authority which will allow Western Power to charge a higher rate to owners of rooftop panels, even though these mostly north facing panels have reduced peak demand by around 125MW, or the size of a gas-fired peaking generator. Western Power wants to extend such arrangements to battery storage and electric vehicle systems.
"In my view the ERA's approval of the tariff is a case study in regulatory capture," he writes in a submission to the Senate inquiry on power pricing. "It seems to me that the bi-directional pricing arrangements approved by the ERA are intended to serve the interests of the regulator and the regulated entity rather than the interests of the public."
It would not be the only example, as RenewEconomy has pointed out here.
McHugh says a new pricing system would change the way in which consumers think about their contribution to those few half-hourly trading intervals of the year when most of the system costs are incurred. Given that network costs make up such a large proportion of a consumer's bill, the effect of this change would be to incentivise consumers to reduce their contribution to system-peak demand and therefore lessen the need for network augmentation.
"My hypothesis is that the price of electricity should reflect the cost; then people will orient their PV in whatever direction is best for them," McHugh says. "North facing PV is good for energy production, west facing PV is good for meeting peak demand."
"The fundamental flaw in spreading network costs that occur due to system-peak demand across units of energy consumption in other billing periods of the year. Energy-based average pricing (kWh pricing) of this nature does nothing to signal the actual cost of network augmentation to consumers.
"A customer's individual peak demand will not affect the capacity requirement of the system unless it happens to coincide with the system-peak. So under energy-based network tariffs, or tariffs based on a customer's individual peak demand, residents and businesses have few incentives to reduce their contribution to system-peak demand and, therefore, network costs."
He also suggests a new formula for network operators, which instead of rewarding them for inflating demand forecasts, would penalise them for 'gold plating' their network. He wants to put the risk of an overly high peak demand forecast on the regulated entity rather than on electricity consumers.
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 01:36 PM PDT
Is rooftop solar really just for the rich and comfortably well off, as its detractors would have everyone believe? Or is it, as some in the industry suggest, already approaching mass market commodity?
It's a question RenewEconomy sought to address in July, using data from the US, which pointed to the fact that rooftop PV had moved well beyond the niche markets of technology enthusiasts and the upwardly mobile. It found that the average income of solar households in the US was just $US57,000, thanks to the solar leasing model which dominates sale in that country, and allows installations for no up front payment.
The RAA – in its submission to the Climate Change Authority's review of the Renewable Energy Target, says just over half of the 1.48 million solar systems (both PV and solar hot water) installed in Australia are located in regional and rural communities. And in the capital cities, the suburbs with the highest penetration were typically in the out metropolitan mortgage belt.
It noted that the average income of the most popular areas in regional areas was between $43,000 and $49,000. The suburbs with the highest penetration in the cities had an average income of $69,000.
"A broad range of communities have accessed solar under the RET scheme and the … figures explode the myth that the RET is supporting metropolitan middle class welfare," the RAA submission says.
This table below illustrates its findings.
The RAA analysis also found that the suburbs with the highest income levels did not correspond to those with highest penetration. If anything, the opposite was more likely.
"Solar penetration has been higher in those suburbs with lower incomes," it says. "In terms of solar system installations in capital cities, wealthy inner suburban suburbs are under-represented …. the (small scale renewable energy scheme) SRES is clearly delivering a clear equitable return to those suburbs by enabling them to reduce their exposure to rising electricity prices.
It would be good if politicians understood this, rather than railroaded and snowballed by networks and energy retailers seeking to protect their own business models, despite their protestations that they are here to save the consumer. As we pointed out in this article, the falling upfront cost of rooftop solar – courtesy of cheap modules and innovative financing – could be a big issue in an election campaign focused on cost of living.
This graph illustrates the point.
The RAA also provided further data which debunks some of the myths about rooftop solar. These are useful to repeat, because as Bill Clinton told the US solar industry last week, the biggest challenge is to make politicians, and the general public, aware of the facts.
Some of these statistics include:
- Around 18 per cent of Australian families now have solar systems. For PV, it is roughly one in ten, although in South Australia, the state with the highest penetration, it is one in five.
- Up to 2,200MW of solar PV will be installed by the end of 2012.
- Solar PV and solar hot water systems accounted for nearly half of the 3.2 per cent reduction in electricity consumption on the National Electricity Market since 2008, delivering both environmental and economic benefits to the Australian public.
- This lower level of consumption helped wholesale power prices to their lowest levels in more than 10 years, and will reduce peak power consumption, in turn lowering network investments and costs to the public.
- The solar industry currently employs approximately 25,000 people driving an investment in skills from the installation and manufacture through to the financing of such systems.
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 02:37 AM PDT
Now, a study has been put out by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) further confirming that the soft costs of solar in Germany are much lower than in the US. Herman Trabish of NewEnergyNews recently excerpted some of the key points of the LBNL solar costs study, reposted below:
Why Are Residential PV Prices in Germany So Much Lower Than in the United States? A Scoping AnalysisSeptember 19, 2012 (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
"The wide disparity between the installed price of residential PV in Germany and the United States has been well documented and can be attributed primarily to differences in "soft" costs (or business process costs). In order to better characterize the nature of these differences, LBNL fielded a survey of German PV installers to collect granular data on the number of labor hours and labor costs associated with various soft cost elements for residential PV in Germany…The comparison focuses specifically on host-customer-owned systems installed in Germany in 2011 and in the U.S. in 2010.
"Key findings from [Why Are Residential PV Prices in Germany So Much Lower Than in the United States? A Scoping Analysis] include… German installers reported average soft costs of $0.62/W in 2011, which is roughly $2.70/W lower than the average soft costs reported by U.S. installers… Customer acquisition costs averaged just $0.07/W in Germany, or roughly $0.60/W lower than in the U.S…"
"… Installation labor requirements averaged 7.5 hours for German systems, leading to $0.55/W lower installation labor costs than in the U.S. (though these survey data diverge substantially from other estimates, suggesting a need for further validation)… Permitting, interconnection, and inspection (PII) processes required 10 hours of labor, on average, in Germany, with no permitting fee, resulting in PII costs roughly $0.20/W less than in the U.S…
"… German residential systems are exempt from sales/value-added tax, while U.S. systems are subject to an average sales tax of roughly $0.20/W (when considering the geographical distribution of U.S. systems and the existence of sales tax exemptions for PV in many U.S. states)… The remaining gap in soft costs between Germany and the U.S. (~$1.15/W) is associated with overhead, profit, and other residual soft costs not captured in the categories above…"
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 02:23 AM PDT
One surefire way to understand policy direction is to look at the people those candidates appoint to offices that are not just talking heads, but actual "rubber hits the road" decision makers. Nowhere is this distinction more clear than in the energy sector.
President Obama's Energy Secretary is Dr. Steven Chu. Chu is a Nobel Prize winning physicist, headed the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and has taught physics at Stanford. One of his main accomplishments in his four years as Energy Secretary include creating a requirement that new appliances decrease or eliminate the amount of vampire power they use (energy used while plugged in but not turned on–about 15% of the total energy used, and a total waste). Chu has also written and directed policy aimed at improving the nation's electricity grid, something that most scholars believe can help change the landscape for allowing more renewables, and better decisions by energy users to decrease their consumption–and their bills. He has also actively promoted weather stripping, caulking and other energy efficiency measures, and pushed for tax incentives for these programs. (Editor’s note: he’s also implemented some great programs to bring down solar and wind power costs.)
In contrast, Republican Candidate Mitt Romney's energy advisor to this point is Harold Hamm, CEO of an oil services company, who lobbied aggressively in front of congress to maintain the $4.1 billion in subsidies that taxpayers give to oil companies every year.
With both candidates saying that the election couldn't be a clearer choice for the direction of the country, I'd have to say, I agree entirely. When it comes to energy policy, we have an extremely clear choice.
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 02:14 AM PDT
The CDM is a trading platform set up by the UN that allows developed countries to obtain verified emissions reduction credits through renewable energy, energy efficiency, power plant fuel switching, and sustainable transportation projects in developing countries in order to meet Kyoto Protocol targets.
Now the UN has added coal to the list of eligible projects. Again.
At a CDM Executive Board meeting last week, the organization approved new rulesthat allow more efficient supercritical coal plants built in developing countries to obtain carbon credits. So theoretically, a coal-fired power plant in Europe could be "offset" by carbon credits not through renewable energy, but through another carbon-burning coal power plant in India.
The Sierra Club and the watchdog group CDM Watch say there are 40 plants in China and India waiting for CDM approval.
It's uncertain how many coal plants in that queue will qualify. The current system will only be in place until the end of 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol comes to a close. With only a few months left before the transition of the CDM, there is limited time for plant operators to qualify and sell credits into the largest markets.
"We'll have to see if these plants rush to meet the deadline. That's unclear. But the real issue is about how this market sets standards long-term. We now have all these regional carbon market in development, and they're all going to look somewhere for these standards," said Guay.
This isn't the first time the UN has added coal to the list of eligible technologies under the CDM. In November of 2011, the Sierra Club reported on coal plants that were receiving millions of credits through the mechanism — all of which would have likely been built without CDM funding.
The UN board overseeing the mechanism even warned at the time that emissions reductions from coal plants were overestimated by up to 50 percent, possibly resulting in a net emissions increase.
The methodology was eventually suspended at the COP 17 climate conference in Durban. But the board approved a new standard last week, again allowing higher-efficiency coal plants to gain certification through January 1st.
Supporters of using CDM to encourage higher-efficiency coal plants say the method is no different than encouraging efficiency in any other sector: The end goal is realizing emissions reductions where ever possible. If the mechanism encourages more efficient supercritical coal plants over older subcritical technologies, then it is performing as designed.
But critics say that argument is dangerously flawed for a variety of reasons.
The most obvious concern is the promotion of coal at all. Echoing the view of the world's climate scientists, Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, warned in 2011 that the world's chances of combating dangerous climate change would be "lost forever" if countries fail to quickly reduce reliance on fossil fuels : "If we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."
The other flaws are more specific to the CDM mechanism itself.
One revolves around the concept of "additionality" — a problem that has plagued the CDM in a variety of sectors. In order for a credit to have an impact on emissions, it must prove to bring a new project on line. But in the case of large infrastructure projects — specifically coal, hydro, and industrial gas — a large number would get built even without credits.
In 2011, the Stockholm Environment Institute looked at whether decisions to build supercritical coal plants in China and India were based on CDM credits. It found that most of the projects were going ahead anyway, largely due to new technology standards within the countries:
The report estimated that Chinese and Indian projects in the pipeline could result in a 250% over-crediting — flooding the market with coal-based credits, and thus reducing the environmental integrity of the system while pushing down prices further.
Along with general concerns over financing coal in the first place, this over-crediting issue is one of the biggest worries for groups watching the market.
According to a recent report from Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, there is currently a supply glut of credits worth 13.1 billion tons of CO2 for the Kyoto period through 2012. This is due to low demand for credits during the recent economic crisis and lenient rules on the use of offsets. In the next Kyoto period, the surplus could be between 16.2 billion tons and 17.2 billion tons, depending on if Australia and New Zealand decide to participate.
That's more CO2 than the European Union is expected to emit over the next five years, according to the report.
Adding more coal plants to the mix will only make the problem worse, say onlookers.
"It's unfortunate that the executive board has made this decision given that carbon markets are collapsing right now because of an oversupply of credits," said Anja Kollmuss, a carbon markets expert with CDM Watch.
After the UN executive board approved new CDM rules for coal, prices for certified emission reduction credits fell to an all-time low of $2.01 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent.
"It's really kind of a mystery as to why they approved this," said Kollmuss.
While the decision may seem nonsensical to those pushing for real emissions reductions, it is not inconsistent with the standards set by other international institutions working in climate finance.
The World Bank has come under fire in recent years for financing large coal plants — most famously providing a $3.75 billion loan for one of the world's largest coal plants, located in South Africa. The Bank, which ironically says lack of action could make climate change "unmanageable," is also being criticized for pushing a 600-MW coal plant in Kosovo.
Two large U.S. development agencies, US AID and the Export-Import Bank, have raised the ire of some groups for their support for large, carbon-intensive projects. US AID, an organization that calls climate change "one of the greatest global challenges" is also backing the Kosovo coal project. And the Ex-Im Bank is facing a potential legal battle with environmental groups for considering assisting coal and gas export projects that would ship fossil fuels across the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
Even the UN's new Sustainability For All Initiative, an international public-private partnership designed to help 1.5 billion people gain access to modern energy services, is being criticized by some entrepreneurs for focusing too much on large, centralized projects — some of them fossil-based.
Across a range of development institutions — even those with strong stated missions to combat climate change — fossil fuels are still a major part of the mix.
"When you look at the contradictory standards set by these organizations, it shows how insane the framework for discussion has become," says the Sierra Club's Guay.
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