“A mirror facet for a solar dish is cut on a machine at Tower Automotive in Livonia, Mich. The maker of body parts and other components decided to diversify after its orders from automakers dropped during the downturn.”
Areas hard-hit by the U.S. automakers’ slump are pitching themselves to green technology firms. Workers and machines that used to crank out cars are now making parts for solar and wind power plants.
At a recent solar energy conference in Anaheim, economic development officials from Ohio talked up a state that seemed far removed from the solar panels and high-tech devices that dominated the convention floor.
Ohio, long known for its smokestack auto plants and metal-bending factories, would be an ideal place for green technology companies to set up shop, they said.
“People don’t traditionally think of Ohio when they think of solar,” said Lisa Patt-McDaniel, director of Ohio’s economic development agency. But in fact, the Rust Belt goes well with the Green Belt, she said.
In years past, Sunbelt governors recruited Midwestern businesses to set up shop in their states, dangling tax breaks and the lure of a union-free workforce.
Now the tables have turned as solar start-ups, wind turbine companies and electric carmakers from California and the Southwest migrate to the nation’s industrial heartland.
They’re looking to tap its manufacturing might and legions of skilled workers, hit hard by the near-collapse of the United States auto industry and eager for work.
For all of green tech’s futuristic sheen, solar power plants and wind farms are made of much of the same stuff as automobiles: machine-stamped steel, glass and gearboxes.
That has renewable energy companies hitting the highway for Detroit and Northeastern industrial states, driven in part by the federal stimulus package’s incentives and buy-American mandates.
Irvine’s Fisker Automotive, for instance, will manufacture its next plug-in electric hybrid car at a defunct General Motors assembly plant in Wilmington, Del.
And Stirling Energy Systems, which is building two massive solar power plants in Southern California, has signed deals with two automotive companies to make components for its giant solar dishes.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed yesterday that India would be “part of the solution” to combating climate change, despite contributing little to the long-term accumulation of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Singh outlined energy efficiency and clean technology measures that India recently adopted as part of its national action plan. But Indian leader also bluntly defended his country’s right to economic growth, and expressed doubt about negotiations toward next month’s U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.
“It is important for all countries to make every effort to contribute to a successful outcome at Copenhagen,” Singh said. “India was a latecomer to industrialization, and as such, we have contributed very little to the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions that caused global warming. But we are determined to be part of the solution.”
“We are willing to work toward any solution that does not compromise the right of developing countries to develop and lift their populations out of poverty,” Singh said.
Singh’s three-day trip to Washington is his first state visit under Barack Obama’s presidency. Obama will today welcome Singh to the White House, where discussions are planned on a wide range of issues, from terrorism to the economy. Singh said the two countries also will forge agreements on energy security and clean technology.
The memorandum of understanding between the two countries “will provide a framework to pursue bilateral cooperation in specific areas,” he told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He did not provide any details about the agreement, though experts said it is likely to include substantial funding — in the neighborhood of $100 million over five years — for green energy in India. The money will come both from the U.S. government and private-sector investment.
The United States and India have long been at odds over how far each country should go toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. India, as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, is the fourth-largest emitter of global warming-causing emissions. Yet its per capita emissions remain among the lowest in the world — 1.7 million tons of CO2 annually, compared to 23.5 million tons in America.
Pushback over international accountability
American climate negotiators want fast-growing nations to reduce emissions growth, but also to be internationally accountable for those actions. India, in particular, has pushed back against the idea of international verification, calling it an issue of sovereignty. That issue and other thorny ones are not likely to be resolved soon, and Singh yesterday noted that the Copenhagen talks are “proving more difficult than we would have liked.”
Yet domestically, India appears to be moving rapidly on a number of practical clean-energy fronts.
This week, the Indian Cabinet approved a national plan to boost the country’s installed solar capacity to 20 gigawatts by 2022 from its current 6 megawatts. The full $19 billion plan also aims to dramatically bring down the cost of solar energy about 60 percent. Money will go toward incentives and tax breaks to utilities that purchase solar power, as well as for research and development.
“That obviously has a huge impact on the costs within the U.S., as well,” said Keya Chatterjee, acting director of climate change for the World Wildlife Fund. A Greenpeace analysis found the plan could ensure a reduction of about 434 million tonnes of CO2 annually by 2050, as long as the new solar replaced fossil fuels.
Indian news outlets have reported that Singh will ask developed nations to help fund the plan. Singh himself yesterday indicated as much, saying the national plan “will require considerable resources.”
“We are committed to ambitious and time-bound outcomes,” Singh said. “We will do more if there is global support in terms of financial resources and technology transfer.”
Hopes for the Copenhagen climate summit in December have been boosted after it emerged more than 60 presidents and prime ministers planned to attend.
The talks are not expected to result in a new treaty and there are doubts over whether the biggest polluters will commit to emissions reduction targets.
But observers say the number of leading attendees will raise expectations for the talks, from 7 to 18 December.
Delegations from 192 countries will be attending the summit.
The talks will attempt to draw up a new global climate treaty to supplant the UN’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said the involvement of heads of state and government was “crucial” to the success of the summit.
“That is why we are encouraged that already more than 60 heads of state and government have confirmed they will participate, and just as important that many more have also been positive,” he told a meeting of his Liberal Party on Sunday, according to a spokesman.
Talks ‘very tough’
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who will be attending, has said a new deal will be more likely if heads of governments put their own reputations on the line.
Kevin Rudd on Copenhagen hopes
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who will be a key negotiator at the summit, has said he believes those involved in the summit are capable of reaching a non-binding political agreement that would be codified sometime next year.
“I believe there is a strong and high degree of political resolve from many of the leaders around the world to land a Copenhagen agreement,” he told the BBC.
Parts of Great Britain and Ireland, already reeling from their worst flooding in decades, braced for more storms on Monday, as some residents were allowed back home to assess the damage of torrents that inundated streets, knocked out bridges and displaced hundreds of people.
With weather forecasts predicting another week of rain for northern England’s sodden Lake District, Hilary Benn, the environmental secretary, warned that residents had probably not seen an end to the relentless rains.
“Cleaning up the mess has now started,” Mr. Benn said in a speech to Parliament. “However, I must advise the House that further heavy rain is forecast overnight, and there may be some further flooding.”
Police in Wales continued to search for a woman who disappeared on Saturday evening near a swollen river. Three other people were reported to have been killed in the floods “” an environmental contractor, a canoeist and a police constable.