Monday, November 5, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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On Obama: CleanTechnica’s Evaluation & Endorsement

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 08:51 AM PST

 
Following up on my “On Romney” post from earlier today, here is my take on President Obama, especially in regards to cleantech issues we focus on here on CleanTechnica.

In the case of an Obama evaluation, we have the benefit of looking at what Obama has actually done in a presidential role. To be quite honest, it is a lot. Those who claim otherwise must be very uninformed. Here’s one simplistic quote on this matter that I really like:

“I have no idea what standard people are using to declare Obama’s first term a failure. To save us from a Great Depression, rescue the auto industry, re-regulate Wall Street, decimate al Qaeda, kill bin Laden and Qaddafi and provide universal healthcare? That’s failure?” – Andrew Sullivan

And that doesn’t even get into the issue we’re most focused on — cleantech policies geared towards preventing the biggest decimation of the human population in history (due to global warming and its ramifications). So, let’s just get right into that….

Clean Energy & Climate Change Policy

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), broad and varied support was provided to energy efficiency, solar energy, wind energy, geothermal, biogas, hydroelectricity, electric vehicles, a smarter grid, and green jobs.

Obama has also established an Energy Partnership for the Americas, a coalition that would “increase research and development in clean coal technology, the next generation of sustainable biofuels and in wind, solar and nuclear energy,” according to a campaign position memo. “The partnership will also look for ways for nations to coordinate to transport green energy across national borders. It will help Latin American and Caribbean nations become more energy independent and promote sustainable growth for the region. The partnership also will create additional markets for American biofuels and American-made green energy technology.”

Obama also initiated work towards creating a new climate service to help businesses transition to a green economy. “The bottom line is this — the better climate information that alternative energy companies have, the more profitable they can be, the more jobs they can create and the more they can actually meet the energy demands of our country and indeed the world,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. On a similar front, Obama kept a promise to help create a global climate change research and monitoring system.


 
Obama, some contend, failed on climate and clean energy in one big way by not prioritizing a climate and energy bill in his first two years in office. Though, it’s quite debatable if that would have gone anywhere, with so many members of Congress (in particular, Republicans in Congress) taking tons of money from Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Gas and vehemently protecting those industries’ profits in any way possible. Nonetheless, clean energy and climate action had (and still have) broad public support, and such a bill wasn’t prioritized in the Obama administration’s first two years despite having a Democratic majority in the House and Senate (notably, once the Tea Party got a strong hold on Congress 2 years ago, such a bill was hopeless… as was almost everything).

As part of a big jobs plan proposal, Obama also looked to give solar and wind companies tax credits that would spur their growth and job creation.

In January 2010, Obama ordered the largest energy consumer in the nation, the US government, to cut greenhouse gas emissions 28% by 2020, spurring energy efficiency and clean energy investments of all sorts.

Obama also proposed eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, in 2010, something that is common sense and which has strong public support, but which most politicians won’t utter and has been strongly blocked by super rich fossil fuel industries and their well-funded friends in politics.

The Obama administration also fast-tracked the cleantech patent application process. As I noted at the time, “normally, an applicant would wait about 2 years for a patent to be approved. Under this program, green technology innovators only have to wait about 49 days.”

And in yet another arena where Obama has enough influence to make a difference without congressional support, clean energy on public land has more than quadrupled under Obama. And an additional renewable energy projects totaling 10,000 megawatts were recently approved by the Department of Interior.

One minus in the Obama column is the person who he appointed to head the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). From delaying an important greenhouse gas pollution rule, to delaying just about every other rule to walk through OIRA’s door (and often modifying the for the worse), Cass Sunstein has been as bad as it gets in this role. OIRA “has changed more than 80% of the rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency,” a 2012 report found. ”None of these were changes for the good.”

Again in the “plus” column, Obama has established a Biofuels Working Group so that biofuels experts work in coordination to come up with a comprehensive approach to alternative fuels.

Obama has streamlined the offshore wind energy approval process in logical ways. With zero offshore wind farms up in the US, and several other countries having several such wind farms, this was a very important help to the wind industry.

His administration has also created solar energy development zones on public lands in order to greatly boost solar power while also doing so in an environmentally sensitive way.

And, the Obama administration has found specific ways to advance energy efficiency and clean energy use amongst US farmers, benefiting both the farmers and the rest of society.

Energy Efficiency

Obama implemented a Better Buildings Initiative that will create about 100,000 jobs, make a smashing number of buildings at least 20% more efficient, cut emissions greatly, and cut businesses’ energy bills by about $1.4 billion.

A new auto fuel mileage rule established under the Obama administration which requires “all newly manufactured automobiles that fall under the car or light truck category to achieve a minimum gas mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025″ will reportedly save US consumers about $1.7 trillion, as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions tremendously. By 2025, it will have an equivalent consumer cost effect to lowering the price of gas by $1/gallon.

Obama has also established new initiatives to increase energy efficiency in the US military.

And Obama has established energy efficiency block grants for states and localities. “The program specifically names building codes and inspections to promote energy efficiency as projects that could be approved. Other such projects include development of an energy efficiency strategy, residential and commercial building energy audits and energy efficient retrofits of existing buildings.”

High-Speed Rail & Streetcars

Obama put a ton of work into creating high-speed rail in the US (which is far behind numerous other countries in this arena), something that a huge percentage of the population supports. While Tea Party governors in some states have blocked the federal support for projects in their states for no logical reason, other states are happily moving forward with the support. Notably, mass transit/rail is a top (if not the top) job creator per $1 invested:

Due to a slight transformation in federal transportation policy (long overdue), streetcar projects across the US have been able to get support that other transportation projects had long benefited from.

Additionally, hundreds of transportation projects across the US have benefited from ARRA funds and support; creating jobs (see above), much needed clean transportation options, and more.

Notably, on other clean transportation fronts, Obama established a tax credit for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, purchased 5,600 hybrids for the federal vehicle fleet, and greatly increased support for bicycling and walking.

Green Jobs

In addition to all the above, here’s a quick list of a few more of Obama’s green jobs policies:

  1. Created job training programs in clean technologies for displaced workers.
  2. Created Green Vet Initiative to promote environmental jobs for veterans.
  3. Established program to convert manufacturing centers into clean technology leaders.

CleanTechnica Endorsement: Obama

With all of the above successes, more strong clean energy and green promises from Obama if he has another 4 years in his current role, and the completely anti-green campaign of Romney, I think it’s clear who CleanTechnica should endorse for president.

Of course, some might contend that we should endorse Jill Stein. However, with such a clear difference between the two main contenders, and with all of the cleantech support noted above, CleanTechnica is endorsing Obama without hesitation. Hopefully we can look forward to another 4 years of strong cleantech support and growth under Obama.

For more on Obama’s cleantech policies, click the links above and see:

  1. Difference Between Obama & Romney on Energy, Climate Change, Clean Air, Energy Efficiency, & Public Lands
  2. Obama Stimulus, Especially for Clean Energy, Helped Country
  3. Renewable Electricity Nearly Doubles with Obama in Office
  4. $1 BILLION — Stimulus Funding Awarded for Renewable Energy
  5. Obama Announces New Recovery Act Smart Grid Funding — $3.4 Billion
  6. President Obama's Jobs Speech (Full Text & Video from White House + Commentary)
  7. Obama's Energy-Efficient Buildings Initiative Will Create 114,000 Jobs, New Report Finds
  8. Sunshine State Politician Says US Can't Compete with China on Solar; Obama: "I'm Not Going to Surrender to Other Countries"
  9. Obama's Better Buildings Bonanza! (Video, Facts, & More)
  10. Independent Report: DOE Loan Program Working, Could Be Improved
  11. Obama vs Romney on Energy (Chart)

For more or to connect on various social media sites, check out ZacharyShahan.com


Note to Exelon: You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 07:10 AM PST

 
By Courtney Lane of PennFuture Energy Center (reposted by request)

Exelon has changed its tune on the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy and has begun to lobby against its extension. Most recently, the company issued a report attacking the subsidy.

The truth behind this about-face is not something Exelon wants the public to know. Exelon owns the country's largest commercial nuclear fleet, and the profitability of these plants depends primarily on the price of power. While lower electricity prices are good for electric customers, they cut into Exelon's bottom line.

While Exelon would like you to believe that the PTC is causing wholesale electricity prices to fall, that is simply not the case. It is well documented that the recent reduction in wholesale electricity prices has primarily been caused by the economic downturn and the abundance of cheap natural gas. Natural gas production is at a record high in the U.S., and prices are the lowest they've been in over a decade. It is, therefore, not surprising that the use of low-cost natural gas by electric power generators has increased every year since 2009.

While wind does have beneficial impacts on lowering wholesale electricity prices, it is not from subsidies. Rather, it is due to the fact that wind has no fuel costs and therefore can bid into competitive electricity markets such as PJM at a price of zero.
 

 
Another flaw in Exelon's argument is that it fails to recognize that all forms of power generation are subsidized. The company's nuclear plants, it should be noted, are no exception. A 2011 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that more than 30 subsidies have supported every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to long-term waste storage. The report concluded that legacy subsidies exceeded 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), which is above the average wholesale electricity price from 1960 to 2008. All told, the nuclear industry has received over $160 billion in subsidies since 1947, and new plants have been eligible for a production tax credit of $18 per megawatt-hour since 2005.

Exelon may be feeling the pinch from lower wholesale electricity costs but it cannot use wind energy or the PTC as a scapegoat. It is critical for electric customers, and the reliability of our grid, that we continue to invest in a diverse supply of power generation. Wind is an important part of our generation portfolio and provides many benefits to electric customers, the economy and the environment.


On Romney: CleanTechnica’s Evaluation

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 04:03 AM PST

 
As a top (or the top) clean tech site in the US and the world, and given the great importance government policy has in the energy sector, we here at CleanTechnica believe it’s our duty to chime in on US and global politics and policy fairly regularly.

As I’m sure regular readers have noticed, many of our writers have written posts or made comments about the 2012 US presidential election. Still, though, I haven’t chimed in with full opinion pieces focused on what I think of each of the top candidates.

So, to start with, here’s my piece on what I think of Romney, especially in a cleantech context.

Romney, As Any Other Dude

Simply looking at Romney as a person, I think he is a decent man. He cares about his family. I think he cares about being a good person and living in an honorable way.

Of course, many don’t think this is the case, but I think such perspectives have more to do with a misguided intermixing of their views of specific policy or ideological matters and their evaluation of Romney as a person.

But Romney Isn’t Any Other Dude

The fact of the matter, though, is that Romney is aiming to be president of the United States of America (arguably, the most powerful person in the world). So, simply looking at him as “any other dude” and evaluating him on very basic character issues is inappropriate. One must also evaluate him on his socio-political ideologies and his policy goals.

Governmentally, we don’t have a ton to go on in order to evaluate Romney. While he was the governor of Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the US, he surely had to bend towards the left to a great degree while in power there. But he apparently didn’t do so nearly as much as he claims. Professor of psychology Marsha Mrikin writes:

“In his first two years of office, he vetoed legislation at more than twice the rate of Republican predecessor Governor Weld. Governor Romney had a record 800 vetoes (most of which were overturned, sometimes unanimously). One example is when the legislature provided a budget amendment to stop contracting with companies that outsource state work to other countries. Governor Romney vetoed the provision. This meant that he supported outsourcing jobs at the expense of U.S. workers. He also started a huge campaign to unseat Democratic legislators, but failed and ended up with even fewer Republican seats than before he took office.”

And he didn’t exactly leave with a ton of support from his constituency. His approval rating was a super low 34% just before he left office at the end of his first term.

In business, we do see that Romney outsourced a ton of jobs to China and other countries (perhaps the reasoning for his outsourcing support above). And we do see that he succeeded well in what is known as “vulture capitalism,” investing in a failing firm and “triggering the takeover clauses, resulting in forfeiture of some or all the assets of the company, with an eye towards selling off the constituent parts, hence showing a profit while destroying or hobbling the company.”

Those are hardly things the American public looks for in a president — in fact, they are very much things that a huge proportion of the country’s populous despises.

But, this still doesn’t take us very far on what we could expect from a Romney presidency.

Flip-Flopping

While Romney had an approval rating of just 34% in November 2006, his approval rating when taking office as the governor of Massachusetts in February 2003 was 56%. If there is one thing Romney is known for more than anything else, it’s flip-flopping. And while he ran on a left-leaning or moderate platform in Massachusetts, he certainly didn’t act as one once in power.

Dr. Mirkin again writes:

“Mr. Romney won the governorship by presenting himself in one way, as a social and fiscal moderate (some saw him as a social progressive), and by the end of his single term, he had acted in an entirely different way. He said during his campaign that he favored stem cell research and then vetoed a bill to fund it. He argued for a lower minimum wage than the state legislature ended up passing (over his veto). He vetoed a bill funding hate crimes prevention, and took back money approved by a former Republican governor for a bullying prevention program. He denied all requests for commutations and pardons, including one from a soldier serving in Iraq whose was convicted at age 13 for a BB gun incident. He vetoed emergency contraception. He raised many fees in my state — even quadrupling the gasoline delivery fees.”

Interestingly, we even saw a reverse flip in the debates. Romney noted that Massachusetts rose to #1 in education while he was governor, but he didn’t mention that he wasn’t the reason for that and that he was trying to change education policy in the other direction — “it was based on former Governor Weld's education reform plan. Governor Romney moved in the opposite direction — he vetoed bills that would have strengthened preschool education.”

In the end, it’s rather obvious that Romney is a clear flip-flopper, and not in a good way. “We elected a governor expecting him to be one thing and then he did something totally different and got on the national stage,” Dr. Mirkin adds. “Regardless of your political beliefs, this constant turning into something we didn't vote for is no way to run a state, never mind a country.”

Guiding Ideologies

Now, beyond the flip-flopping, one of the things to really consider here is what Romney’s guiding ideologies really are. One very critical (and ironic) guiding ideology seems to be that we should all succeed on our own, via our own hard work and ingenuity, without support from others.

You don’t have to follow politics very closely to know that this is very close to the heart of Mitt Romney. But if you aren’t sold on this, have a read of this great article about Tagg Romney and what it’s like to be Mitt’s son (of course, it’s not a complete or 100% accurate view, but it seems about as good as it gets when it comes to political journalism): Growing Up Romney: Mitt, Tagg, and the Romney family's myth of self-reliance.

Of course, this “earn everything you get” ideology is a rather absurd ideology for Mitt Romney (or Tagg Romney) to stick to so dogmatically, since their family wealth and connections have given them a great deal of what they have achieved in their lives. To say or think otherwise is simply absurd.

It’s also an absurd ideology for someone looking to run the country to focus on and base one’s policies on. Quite simply, if you want to live in a country that doesn’t provide a lot of basic support to its citizens (educational support, healthcare support, and quality of life support), you should educate yourself in how much the countries with the highest quality of life (e.g. many Northern and Western European countries) support their citizenry. You should also look at what it’s like in countries where Romney’s ideology governs (e.g. Somalia).

It also, very simply, doesn’t actually line up with Romney’s favored policies, at least not all of them… and not in a good way. He uses the ideology with some industries, but not with others. Unfortunately, the ones he doesn’t use it with are largely industries that harm society.

Actual Policies Romney Supports

The government has a clear role to play in the marketplace. It is needed in order to correct for market imperfections and in order to protect citizens from societally harmful market manipulations.

A “free market” as idealized by some people is only a fantasy. You will learn that very well in Economics 101. The question is how to best get the market to act like something similar to an idealized free market — and that actually requires strong government intervention.

In the realm of finance, which affects all of society (as we’ve seen in recent years), Romney is strongly in favor of deregulation, even coming out of a ridiculously harmful economic catastrophe that was caused by excessive deregulation of finance and housing markets (combined with the very immoral manipulation of those markets by those given the trust to regulate themselves more).

In the realm of energy, Romney is also in favor of deregulation of fossil fuel industries — the same sort of thing that led to the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill and numerous other oil spills, that leads to $500 billion a year in US health costs directly due to the use of coal as an electricity source, that leads to a similarly large healthcare bill for health costs directly related to the burning of oil and natural gas, and that leads to numerous other societal problems that I won’t list at length here.

Meanwhile, Romney supports policies that allow oil, gas, and coal companies to pay lower taxes than you and me, much lower.

None of this is really any surprise at all, given that oil, gas, and coal companies dump over 80% of their political spending into the Republican party.

As shown in a recent NRDC news release, Romney (according to his own statements and proposals) does not support numerous cleantech policies (policies which would help make the market work more ideally, more similar to an idealized free market… that is, a market without externalities, with all parties having access to and knowledge of 100% correct and comprehensive information). Here’s a look at a few of the key things Romney is opposed to:

  • Government support for wind or solar power (which the huge majority of Americans support, as numerous polls have shown).
  • Keeping CO2′s lawful designation as a pollutant regulated under the Clean Air Act (despite Supreme Court evaluation and vindication of that designation, as well as the near-consensus support of climate scientists).
  • Federal support for clean, zero emissions electric vehicles.
  • Auto mileage standards that are projected to save U.S. consumers $1.7 trillion.

Meanwhile, he has stated:

  • "I will fight for oil, coal and natural gas."
  • "I'm not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet."

Quite simply, such ideologically-driven policies as Romney seems (by pretty much all indication) to support, would result in:

  • A slowdown of cleantech growth in the US (a key economic market in the 21st and probably 22nd centuries).
  • Much fewer jobs for the US than we would have under a “business as usual” (e.g. business under Obama) approach.
  • Much more put on the American public in health costs and human suffering.

As such, it would be completely ignoble of us to support Romney (who, again, I think is actually a decent guy… as a normal human being). And it would even be ignoble of us to not speak out in opposition to his campaign.


ChargePoint Announces Upgraded Electric Vehicle Charging Network

Posted: 04 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST

 
ChargePoint is an innovative company that has already emerged as a global leader in linking owners of electric vehicles with independently-operated charging stations. It is headquartered in Campbell, CA, strategically situating itself in a state that has been at the forefront of electric vehicle usage.

On October 16, 2012, ChargePoint announced that its new upgrade, ChargePoint 4.0, has gone live. ChargePoint bills itself as the world’s most advanced electric vehicle (EV) charging network. Its new ChargePoint 4.0 is a free upgrade for currently participating electric charging stations. EV drivers enjoy free access to the network.

Pat Romano, ChargePoint CEO and President says that, "ChargePoint 4.0 represents the next major milestone for ChargePoint." He adds: "With ChargePoint 4.0 we built upon our experience of having the largest and most established EV charging network on the market. ChargePoint 4.0 provides a major upgrade in our software services and moves ChargePoint into the role of helping organizations connect EV ChargePoint Announces Upgraded Electric Vehicle Charging Network.”

ChargePoint is an innovative company that has already emerged as a global leader in linking owners of electric vehicles with independently-operated charging stations. It is headquartered in Campbell, CA, strategically situating itself in a state that has been at the forefront of electric vehicle usage.

Pat Romano, ChargePoint CEO and President says that, "ChargePoint 4.0 represents the next major milestone for ChargePoint." He adds: "With ChargePoint 4.0 we built upon our experience of having the largest and most established EV charging network on the market. ChargePoint 4.0 provides a major upgrade in our software services and moves ChargePoint into the role of helping organizations connect EV drivers to their business. The ChargePoint Connections platform will change the way the industry thinks about offering EV charging services.”
 

 
From Isuzu to Mitsubishi to BMW electric car drivers, ChargePoint 4.0 is a big help.

ChargePoint has already linked independently-owned charging stations in 14 countries. The company provides turnkey charging services to those station owners that want to add charging for EVs to their properties. It offers participating stations marketing options as well. Special offers and discounts can be included amidst ChargePoint’s online services to drivers.

It also addresses the needs of drivers by helping them to locate and navigate to unoccupied charging stations via both mobile apps and online tools. Both iPhone and Android applications have already been developed. ChargePoint users are already participating in over 4,000 charging sessions per day. Over 700 megawatt hours of electricity is already dispensed on a monthly basis.

The network of charging stations that ChargePoint has developed is open to all manufacturers of such stations.

The new ChargePoint 4.0 upgrade offers a variety of advanced new features:

  • ChargePoint Connections — a patent pending advanced business-to-consumer networking application that identifies participating stations for drivers and provides them with special offers and discounts. Convenience and time savings are added features.
  • Advances in payment services for owners of charging stations.
  • More advanced user experience with intuitive dashboard interface and easier navigation. Drivers can efficiently identify charging locations, plan trips, and track their power usage.
  • Upgraded services for larger organizations operating a multiple charging facilities. Such organizations can now control activities and monitoring from any single location. They can set varying levels of access for local support teams.
  • Advanced analytics, allowing station owners a better understanding of station usage.
  • ‘Rights Granting’ administration model that allows station owners to outsource certain management tasks and activities to third parties.
  • More flexible pricing options for the station owner, including pricing for drivers that exceed allotted time as well as additional flex billing options.

The ChargePoint ‘test drive’ offers organizations an opportunity to try out ChargePoint 4.0 during a 7 day free trial. “The ChargePoint Connections platform will change the way the industry thinks about offering EV charging services,” Mr. Romano notes.


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