August 31, 2009

PV Power for the World

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Why Green is Growing (When Not Much Else Is?)

Harvard Business Review Editorial

When an economy slips into recession, the pattern is familiar: Growth slows, unemployment rises, and governments fiddle with interest rates and stimulus spending to jump-start a recovery. But every recession brings a few surprises, as well. For instance, in this downturn companies and governments didn't walk away from green initiatives. Quite the reverse, in the case of a couple of 800-pound gorillas. In July, Wal-Mart announced plans to create a universal rating system that scores products on how environmentally and socially sustainable they are. That system should have a huge effect on consumer products worldwide—and on competing retailers such as Target and Tesco. China, meanwhile, allocated 210 billion yuan, or 5%, of its stimulus spending to sustainable development.

To what extent will this enhanced commitment to sustainability cascade through the global economy? The lead article in this issue's Spotlight on Sustainability and Innovation makes the audacious claim that companies won't innovate successfully—and as a result won't grow—unless they throw themselves whole hog into green initiatives. "Smart companies now treat sustainability as innovation's new frontier," write Ram Nidumolu, C.K. Prahalad, and M.R. Rangaswami. The Spotlight also offers six leading-edge approaches to clean energy and a passionate essay by former U.S. president Bill Clinton about programs in Africa that both support a cleaner environment and create entrepreneurial opportunities.

Coal Subsidies

The coal industry is subsidized by our government.

If that is surprising to anyone, than clearly the coal industry has done a number on public perceptions. For example: Duke Energy, a major utility servicing several eastern U.S. states, has a power mix that is predominantly coal. It is the third largest carbon emitter in the U.S. The company and its maverick CEO Jim Rogers are rankling feathers in the coal industry by talking about climate change. Other coal-heavy utilities such as Southern Power and AEP, in contrast, are taking firm stances against carbon regulation. In its recent sustainability report, Duke cites gaining $460 million in subsidies for a new coal plant in Indiana from state and federal government agencies. To modernize their Cliffside coal power plant, they are receiving $125 million in federal tax credits.

Why, dear God, why, are we subsidizing coal? Sure it creates jobs. So would subsidizing the roller skating industry.

August 29, 2009

Front Yard Vegetable Gardens

Most folks front yards are just going to waste growing small plots of grass. Why not use your yard to grow some vegetables?

Well, these people have discovered the art of planting edible gardens in their front yards, which simultaneously saves them money on buying vegetables and contributes to better health.

Bread Basket Hit the Hardest

The NOAA has published a report detailing regional impacts of climate change. This report shows that we can expect that America's bread basket will experience some of the highest temperature rises resulting from climate change. This image shows that we can expect about a 7 degree rise over the next 40 years in some of the most important food production areas of the world.

The image below shows that the we can expect a 10 degree rise throughout much of the central United States by the end of the century.

The Nature Conservancy, The University of Washington, and The University of Southern Mississippi, worked together to create the ClimateWizard, an interactive climate change website, based on the NOAA data, that enables technical and non-technical audiences alike to easily and intuitively access leading climate change information and visualize the impacts anywhere on Earth.

You can choose a state or country and see both the climate change that has occurred to date and the climate change that is predicted to occur. Simply put, ClimateWizard can be used to assess how climate has changed over time and to project what future changes are likely to occur in a given area. ClimateWizard represents the first time ever the full range of climate history and impacts for a landscape have been brought together in a user-friendly format.

August 26, 2009

Climate Change is biggest global health threat

A new UCL short video introduces the conclusion of the Lancet–UCL Commission that climate change is the biggest global-health threat of the 21st century.

The commission reviewed the likely health impacts of climate change on human societies – and documented ways to reverse those impacts. It concluded that there is a need for policymakers, practitioners and the public to act urgently on the human health effects of climate change.

The full text of the report is available here.

August 25, 2009

Tesla's New Electric Car - photos

This is one beautiful car.

Today, Tesla finally unveiled its first ground up production vehicle. The Model S will sell for an anticipated $49,900, up to 300-mile range and a 45-minute QuickCharge capability.

The standard Model S does 0-60 mph in under six seconds and will have an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph, with sport versions expected to achieve 0-60 mph acceleration well below five seconds. A single-speed gearbox delivers effortless acceleration and responsive handling. A 17-inch touchscreen with in-car 3G connectivity allows passengers to listen to Pandora Radio or consult Google Maps, or check their state of charge remotely from their iPhone or laptop.

Teslas do not require routine oil changes, and they have far fewer moving (and breakable) parts than internal combustion engine vehicles. They qualify for federal and state tax credits, rebates, sales tax exemptions, free parking, commuter-lane passes and other perks. Model S costs roughly $5 to drive 230 miles – a bargain even if gasoline were $1 per gallon.

Tesla expects to start Model S production in late 2011. The company believes it is close to receiving $350 million in federal loans to build the Model S assembly plant in California from the Dept of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program.

August 21, 2009

In hot water: World's ocean temps warmest recorded

WASHINGTON — The Associated Press reports that the world's oceans this summer are the warmest on record.

Breaking heat records in water is more ominous as a sign of global warming than breaking temperature marks on land. That's because water takes longer to heat up and doesn't cool off as easily, said climate scientist Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

The National Climatic Data Center, the government agency that keeps weather records, says the average global ocean temperature in July was 62.6 degrees. That's the hottest since record-keeping began in 1880. The previous record was set in 1998.

Meteorologists blame a combination of a natural El Nino weather pattern on top of worsening manmade global warming. The warmer water could add to the melting of sea ice and possibly strengthen some hurricanes.

The result has meant lots of swimming at beaches in Maine with pleasant 72-degree water. Ocean temperatures reached 88 degrees as far north as Ocean City, Md., this week.

The Gulf of Mexico, where warm water fuels hurricanes, has temperatures dancing around 90. Most of the water in the Northern Hemisphere has been considerably warmer than normal. The Mediterranean is about three degrees warmer than normal. Higher temperatures rule in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

It's most noticeable near the Arctic, where water temperatures are as much as 10 degrees above average.

"This is another yet really important indicator of the change that's occurring," Weaver said.

August 20, 2009

Smart Car - the Electric Version


Perfect for running to the store to get a gallon of milk, stop by the bank, pick up the dry cleaning...

Daimler announced today that it will begin mass-producing the urban runabout by mid-November and begin leasing it to "selected" customers in Europe and the U.S. by the end of the year. The rest of us will be able to buy it in 2012. The car we'll see this fall is actually the second generation fortwo EV, and it sports a lithium-ion battery pack — designed by Tesla Motors — with a range of 115 kilometers (about 71 miles) and an "overnight" recharge time.

The 14 kilowatt-hour battery sits between the rear wheels in the space where the conventional fortwo has a gas tank. It powers a 30 kilowatt (40.2 horsepower) electric motor. That isn't much, but the tiny motor produces enough torque — 92.1 pound-feet — to propel the car from 0 to 60 in a respectable 6.5 seconds. For the sake of comparison, the 2009 Honda Civic needs 9.8 seconds.

August 11, 2009

GM says Volt will get 230 MPG

General Motors claims the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle will get at least 230 mpg in the city when it hits the road late next year. That's more than four times higher than the Toyota Prius, the current EPA fuel-efficiency champ.

"From the data we've seen, many Chevy Volt drivers may be able to drive in pure electric mode on a daily basis without having to use any gas," Henderson said.

The 2010 Prius gets 51 mpg in the city while the Insight hybrid gets 40. Nissan, which recently unveiled the Leaf electric vehicle it plans to offer in the U.S., Europe and Japan next year, has said that vehicle will get the equivalent of more than 340 mpg.

August 6, 2009

Leaky House Gets Makeover

You may be aware that the UK has set a target that all the new homes in the UK need to be zero carbon by 2016 and are also setting targets requiring homeowners to upgrade existing homes to zero carbon status as well.

Here's a story about that effort.

Why would the University of Nottingham build a house meeting 1930s specifications in 2008? So it can use it as a guinea pig for a zero-carbon renovation experiment, the results of which will be relevant to millions of householders across the UK.

The house is about to undergo the first of three planned energy-efficiency upgrades ultimately aimed at helping it meet the Government's 2016 zero-CO2 targets for all new housing. Over the next two weeks, the university will improve the house with cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, draft-proofing, double-glazing and other upgrades.

"This might be the extreme example, but millions of us live in homes like this. Our homes are responsible for almost a third of the CO2 emitted in the UK, so any benefits we identify here could go on to lower the bills and the carbon footprint of millions of families."

August 4, 2009

John Doerr & Jeff Immelt Op-Ed

Falling Behind On Green Tech

By John Doerr and Jeff Immelt
Monday, August 3, 2009

America confronts three interrelated crises: an economic crisis, a climate crisis and an energy security crisis. We believe there's a fourth: a competitiveness crisis. This crisis is particularly evident in America's worldwide standing in the next great global industry, green technology.

There is no topic of greater importance to America's economic future. The question is whether the United States will lead or lag in tomorrow's global energy markets. And the difference between these two futures is dramatic.

Energy in the United States costs more than $1 trillion a year -- for oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables. This is on top of a similar sum spent on the things that use this energy -- our homes, shops, factories and cars. That means about $2 trillion a year is at stake right here.

Do we want to win the race to lead the next great global industry, clean energy? That is the choice before us.

We are clearly not in the lead today. That position is held by China, which understands the importance of controlling its energy future. China's commitment to developing clean energy technologies and markets is breathtaking.

Consider: Chinese cars are more than one-third more fuel-efficient than U.S. cars. China is investing 10 times as much on clean power, as a percentage of gross domestic product, as the United States is. China is on track to create 150,000 jobs through the deployment of 120 gigawatts of wind power by 2020 -- an amount equivalent to today's global total and nearly five times America's. As a result, China is already curbing its carbon emissions substantially. This year alone, it will abate almost 350 million tons of CO2, as compared with business as usual. That's as much as is emitted by Argentina.

What do Amazon, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have in common? Two things: They are the world's five leading Internet technology companies, and they are all American. But when it comes to wind power, the most mature of the clean-energy sectors, of the top five manufacturers (Vestas, GE, Gamesa, Enercon and Suzlon) only one is American. Similarly, the United States is home to only one of the 10 largest solar panel producers in the world and two of the top 10 advanced battery manufacturers. How can we catch up? Not through protectionism or massive government intervention but through the power of good old home-grown innovation.

We are American businessmen. Our job is building businesses and commercializing innovation. Every year, GE invests 6 percent of its industrial revenue in research and development to produce more efficient and cleaner wind turbines, jet engines, locomotives, power turbines and appliances. Kleiner Perkins has invested $680 million in 48 of the most compelling new clean-energy technologies, with $1.1 billion more to invest. We are trying to do our part. But our government's energy and climate policies are our principal obstacle to success.

Right now, the United States has no long-term market signal to tell companies and consumers that it values low-carbon energy. It has no policies to discourage sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas for energy. It does not offer adequate sustained R&D funding to be a serious competitor in this huge business.

Today's policies stifle American innovation and competitiveness. But good policy can flip this dynamic. Five basic changes are needed:

-- Send a long-term signal that low-carbon energy is valuable. We must put a price on carbon and a cap on carbon emissions. No long-term signal means no serious innovation at scale, which means fewer American success stories.

-- Get the rules of the road right for utilities. We must make our utilities a driving force for repowering America, driving efficiency through incentives, a renewable electricity standard and a national unified smart grid.

-- Set energy standards that grow steadily stronger. America should strive to have the most efficient buildings, cars and appliances in the world. The savings will land in the pockets of U.S. consumers and businesses.

-- Get serious about funding research, development and deployment, at scale. The federal government currently spends only $2.5 billion on clean-energy R&D a year -- 0.25 percent of our annual energy bill. Sen. Jeff Bingaman's Clean Energy Deployment Administration is a good idea that would be fast and flexible. But more such programs are needed.

-- Fulfill President Obama's commitment to "become the world's leading exporter of renewable energy." We need a robust trade policy that seeks to open markets abroad -- including the Chinese market -- for U.S. clean-energy products through new trade agreements. Such policies unleash American competitiveness disciplined by market forces. This is widely endorsed by U.S. companies that compete internationally and by the broad-based President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

We should carefully design policy to bring in other nations. Think of the Copenhagen climate summit in December as an opportunity to create world markets and momentum for a low-carbon future, just as the Internet set the world on course for an information-rich future. Some say we shouldn't move until China moves. In fact, China is moving full speed ahead -- with or without us.

There is still time for us to lead this global race, although that window is closing. We need low-carbon policies to exploit America's strengths -- innovation and entrepreneurs. We know that building such policies is a heavy political lift. But, without doubt, bad energy policy has cost our country dearly, and the costs of continuing it are incalculable.

John Doerr is a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Jeff Immelt is chairman and chief executive of General Electric.

Christian Leaders Urge Action on Climate Change

"Although climate change is affecting us all, it is having the hardest impact in the most vulnerable communities around the world, who have done the least to cause it. It is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people, mainly in the developing world," the Christian leaders stated. "We see the impacts of this in extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, storms and unpredictable rainfall within the communities we work with and the effects this is having on food security, access to water, livelihoods and biodiversity. All the indicators point to increasing frequency and severity of these events and their impacts," they added.

"We cannot ignore their plight – our God calls us to speak out." In their recent statement, the Christian leaders who met in Kenya last month said they especially call on developed countries to agree to cut their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020 and to urgently commit to providing at least $150 billion a year of additional funding to help developing countries adapt, reduce their emissions, protect their forests and develop sustainably.

"As Christian leaders we believe there is a moral, spiritual and economic imperative to tackle climate change," they explained.

August 1, 2009

Building Efficiency

The biggest opportunity to improve the nation's energy situation is a major investment program to make homes and businesses more efficient, according to a study released Wednesday by the consulting firm McKinsey. An investment of $520 billion in improvements like sealing ducts and replacing inefficient appliances could produce $1.2 trillion in savings on energy bills through 2020, the study found.

Such a program is expected to reduce end use energy consumption in 2020 by 9.1 quadrillion BTUs, roughly 23% of projected demand, potentially abating up to 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gases annually.