Energy and Global Warming News for November 30: British company to help India harness tidal power; Dalai Lama says climate change needs global action
"Energy and Global Warming News for November 30: British company to help India harness tidal power; Dalai Lama says climate change needs global action"
“The Gulf of Kutch, off Gujarat, is ideal for tidal energy and can be exploited by the turbines that are made by Atlantis Resources.”
A small British-based tidal energy company has won a landmark contract to attempt to harness the power of the sea around India for the first time.
Atlantis Resources has forged a deal with the western state of Gujarat, under which the privately owned company will establish the feasibility of developing tidal power projects capable of generating more than 100 megawatts of power “” enough to supply about 40,000 households.
Of particular interest are the Gulf of Kutch and the Gulf of Khambhat in the Arabian Sea: two sites renowned for extreme daily tides. The project could lead to hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment in tidal energy if the results of the study are positive.
India has more than 4,500 miles of coastline and is scrambling to tackle a gaping power deficit but has yet to establish a single tidal power project. The move to explore the untapped resource comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, an event where India will strive to demonstrate that it is doing its utmost to limit emissions while refusing to cap economic growth.
India, which imports 70 per cent of its oil and relies on modest coal reserves to generate most of its electricity, is on course to become the third-largest user of energy by 2030, behind the US and China.
Atlantis’s backers include Morgan Stanley and Statkraft, the Norweigan state utility. The company, which is run by Tim Cornelius, an Australian former pilot of manned submersibles, is also hoping to establish a £400 million project to build one of the world’s biggest tidal power plants in the Pentland Firth, off the Scottish coast.
The waterway, famous for its treacherous currents, has the potential to turn Scotland into “the Saudi Arabia of tidal energy”, according to Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister.
Proponents of tidal current power argue that it is the most reliable and predictable form of clean energy, even though the technology lags that used in wind power.
The gravitational pull of the moon and sun is predictable and moves horizontally around the earth, creating high and low tides. Tidal current energy takes the kinetic energy in these tidal currents and converts it into renewable electricity
Tibet’s exiled Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama entered the climate change debate on Monday, urging governments to take serious action and put global interests ahead of domestic concerns.
Australia’s government is struggling to have its key climate change policy, a carbon emissions trading scheme (ETS), passed by a hostile upper house Senate this week ahead of U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen from December 7-18.
In Sydney for a series of talks, the Dalai Lama called for individual and collective action to tackle climate change.
“In my own case I never use bathtub, only shower. Whenever I leave my room I always put off my light,” the Dalai Lama told a news conference.
“Taking care of the environment … (is now) part of my life. Taking care of the environment should be part of our daily life.”
Some Australian politicians skeptical about the causes of climate change have dumped a deal to back the government’s carbon trade scheme.
If defeated in parliament for a second time this week, the deal could allow Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to call an early election in 2010 on the issue of climate change.
The skeptical climate change views of some Australians are being echoed in other countries, like the United States, as they seek to reach agreement on climate policy ahead of Copenhagen.
The Dalai Lama urged governments to act in the global interest in dealing with climate change.
“The elected government, sometimes their number one … priority is national interest, national economy interest, then global issues are sometimes secondary,” said the Dalai Lama.
“That, I think, should change. The global issue should be number one. In some cases in order to protect global issues, some sacrifice of national interest (is needed).”
Small-scale renewable energy could provide 6% of Britain’s electricity needs – equivalent to more than two Sizewell B nuclear stations or the Drax coal-fired plant – by 2020 if the government improves the terms of a new deal for producers due to be launched next April, Friends of the Earth says today.
The environmental campaign group used figures obtained from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and prepared by consultants Poyry and Element Energy to show that introducing a more ambitious scheme than that currently proposed would add only an average £2.37 a year to household electricity bills over the next four years – just £1.20 a year more than the government is already proposing to add to fund the scheme.
The Guardian revealed last week that decisions on the final levels of the “feed-in tariff” (FIT) – which would offer guaranteed, above-market payments for electricity produced from technologies such as solar panels or wind turbines – have been delayed until January by wrangling between DECC, the Treasury and the regulator Ofgem.
Britain lags other countries in introducing FITs which have proved successful in kick-starting renewable energy sectors around Europe.
But the Treasury and Ofgem are worried about the potential cost and have also been lobbied by the nuclear industry which dislikes renewable energy because it sees it as a direct competitor.
FoE and other critics, such as the Renewable Energy Association (REA), worry that the government’s proposed return on investment of 5-8% is far too low to stimulate mass take-up of the technologies by the public and businesses.
Indeed, the government is only aiming for 2% of the country’s electricity to be generated from small-scale renewables by 2020. FoE says that if the return on investment were raised to 10%, that share would treble to 6% and lower the average cost of the electricity generated.
“Small-scale green energy systems such as solar panels on homes and businesses and community-owned wind turbines could play a crucial role in cutting UK emissions and speeding us towards the development of a low carbon economy,” said FoE energy campaigner Dave Timms.
“A tiny addition to UK electricity bills would kick-start a world class scheme that would allow homes, businesses and communities to play their part in tackling climate change, increasing energy security and creating thousands of new green jobs.
“As the world prepares for crucial climate talks in Copenhagen, the government must show that it is taking this issue seriously.”
The DECC figures show that a more ambitious FIT offering a 10% return on investment would lead to the generation of 25 terawatt hours of electricity by 2020 and cut UK carbon emissions by 10 million tonnes a year by then. It would also help reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and increase energy security.
The figures are published as 30 organisations and businesses – including FoE, the REA, the TUC, the British Retail Consortium, the Co-operative Group, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), the Federation of Small Businesses, Unison and WWF – have written to MPs urging them to support an Early Day Motion (EDM 276) tabled by Alan Simpson MP calling for a much greater level of ambition for small-scale renewable electricity generation than the government scheme proposes.
UK PM Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have proposed a multi-billion-dollar fund to help developing nations deal with climate change.
Mr Brown said the $10bn (£6bn) fund should also be used to help developing nations cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Both spoke at the Commonwealth summit in Trinidad, the last major world forum before the global summit on climate change in Copenhagen on 7 December.
Many Commonwealth members are island states threatened by rising sea levels.
Mr Sarkozy, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Danish Prime Minister Prime Lars Loekke Rasmussen, is there to give weight to any climate change statement.
The topic was the only issue on the Commonwealth summit’s agenda for the first day.
Opening the Trinidad meeting, Queen Elizabeth II said the Commonwealth had an opportunity to lead once more on climate change.
“The threat to our environment is not a new concern but it is now a global challenge which will continue to affect the security and stability of millions for years to come,” she said.
This city has been selling the world Lake Michigan water for decades. It just mixed in a little hops and barley first.
Now, the nation’s onetime brewing capital is trying to use its abundant water supply the way other towns use tax credits and highway ramps: as a lure for new businesses, particularly big users of water such as beverage makers and food processors.
Milwaukee is preparing an application for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission that would offer reduced water rates for up to five years to businesses that bring in at least 25 jobs. Milwaukee would be joining Erie, Pa., which has been offering a 40% discount on Lake Erie water to businesses that relocate to or expand in the city for more than a year.
“Our whole city was built around rivers and the lake,” says Mayor Tom Barrett, a two-term Democrat who recently announced a gubernatorial bid, as his sport-utility vehicle sped toward the site of a former car-chassis plant that could benefit from the proposal. “It’s our history, our culture and our recreation. So why not take advantage of that to revitalize our economy?”
Fresh water is growing scarce around the globe, and many people are betting that the Great Lakes’ abundant supply will become increasingly valuable. But since water is usually far down on a company’s list of reasons for relocating, some business experts are skeptical about how successful Milwaukee will be.
“It’s a good idea on its surface,” says Thomas Lyons, a business professor at the City University of New York’s Baruch College, who has written numerous books on economic development. “But I’m not convinced it’s going to have a major impact on the economic development of the city.”
Backers of the plan and some environmentalists argue that it makes sense to locate businesses that use a lot of water in the Great Lakes basin. Here, once a company uses water and treats it, it can be put back into the lake. Elsewhere, treated wastewater often ends up in rivers that flow into the ocean.
But other environmentalists fear that using cheap water to lure business sends the wrong signal — and could encourage waste.
“We support the idea of using the lakes as an economic development tool,” says Joel Brammeier, acting president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. The group pushed hard for the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement signed last year by former President George W. Bush to protect the source of 20% of the world’s fresh surface water. “But Great Lakes water priced at its full value should be attractive enough.”
Milwaukee, a city of just over 600,000, was built on industries like brewing and tanning that used large quantities of water. At the dawn of the 20th century, Milwaukee was the nation’s No. 1 brewer with companies like Pabst, Miller, Schlitz and Blatz.
A group of U.S. senators who could determine the fate of a climate bill received more than $20 million in campaign contributions over the past two decades from energy interests with a direct stake in pending legislation.
Electric utilities poured at least $4.2 million to the 27 lawmakers, who are considered “fence sitters” on a global warming bill, according to an E&E analysis of potential votes. The oil and gas sector pumped $5.8 million to the group over the past 20 years.
Transportation companies and their associated unions gave some $6 million combined, while forestry companies and agricultural interests doled out more than $2 million. Environmental groups donated $315,000 over the same time frame.
Many senators insist that such contributions do not buy their votes, even though many have meetings with donors.
“What you really buy with money is access. The lawmaker’s door is open,” said Al Cigler, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.
E&E analyzed the contributions using Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The numbers represent money funneled through an entity’s political action committee or via its individual members or employees. Under federal law, interest groups and unions are banned from donating directly from their treasuries.
The $20 million tally reflects donations from the top 20 sectors giving to each senator. It did not include money from leadership PACs, which allow politicians to collect money to donate to other politicians.
With Democratic leaders scrambling to find a legislative blueprint on climate change that attracts 60 votes to block a filibuster in the U.S. Senate, the group of 10 Republicans and 17 Democrats likely will determine the outcome of an ultimate package in Congress. The House passed a bill in June establishing a mandatory cap on heat-trapping gases….
Railroad operator Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which was just acquired by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corp., tripled the amount given to Lincoln from $11,000 in the 2004 cycle to $35,550 in the 2010 cycle. A cycle represents six years, the length of a senator’s term.
Burlington’s trains ferry coal providing 10 percent of the nation’s electricity. The fossil fuel is responsible for about a third of national greenhouse gas emissions. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Electric utilities have been on a recent money roll, as well, even though the 2010 election period has a year left for companies to pump huge amounts of additional money into campaign coffers.
“Most of the money is going to come in the final months before [November 2010],” said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Exelon, the nation’s largest operator of nuclear power, donated $74,650 from 2005 to 2010 to Specter through its political action committee and individual members, compared to $22,000 from 1999 to 2004. Similarly, Atlanta-based Southern Co. doubled its donations to Murkowski from her last election cycle to now.
Utility giants American Electric Power and Duke Energy followed a parallel pattern with Dorgan. Duke gave $39,000 to him in the past six years, after the company did not register in his top 100 donors at all in the 2004 cycle. The same trend occurred with Ohio-based American Electric Power.
American Electric Power’s employee-run political action committee recently sponsored a fundraiser for Dorgan, according to company spokeswoman Melissa McHenry. Climate change and energy issues generally were a top reason for the upped donations to him, she said.
“[Dorgan] is on key committees and represents an important coal-producing state,” McHenry said.
Climate change is likely to hit the water-starved Arab world harder than many other parts of the globe and threatens to slash agricultural output in the area, U.N. and Arab League officials said.
Arab governments have shown more awareness of the issue but need to cooperate further to improve research and policies, they said.
“Climate change will be critical for the Arab world because this region in particular already suffers from poverty, widespread aridity, water scarcity and social marginalisation,” said Sima Bahous, Deputy Secretary General for Social Development in the Arab League.
Fifteen percent of people in the Arab world already have limited or no access to potable water, the officials said, speaking on Tuesday at the launch in Cairo of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) report on climate change.
The report was released worldwide on Nov. 18, ahead of U.N. climate change talks in Copenhagen in December.
UNFPA Regional Director for Arab States Hafedh Chekir said that, while 80 percent of Arab world water consumption was for agriculture, climate change induced scarcity was expected to cut food production by half in the region.
Henrietta Aswad, regional communication adviser for UNFPA, said more cooperation between the Arab League, UNFPA, and Arab non-governmental entities was needed to help governments draw up appropriate policies.
“Awareness in the Arab region is getting better at this point and governments are aware of the impact of climate change,” she said.
There’s a story circulating in climate circles that Chinese President Hu Jintao had two speeches in his pocket the day he spoke to the United Nations in New York last month.
One put specific numbers to a new plan of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide China emits for each unit of economic output. The other also vowed a carbon intensity goal but promised only a vague aim of slashing emissions by a “notable margin.”
President Obama took the stage first that day, delivering a speech many described as a rhetorically powerful call for the world to fight global warming but devoid of details or promises. Hu spoke next — and, the story goes, pulled out the noncommittal speech. It was as if he was waiting for a signal that meant the bargaining process could begin.
Now the details are finally in, coming a day after Obama pledged the United States will reduce emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels in the coming decade. China, in return, said it would reduce its carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels over the same period of time.
The goal is essentially where China would get to anyway in the next decade, according to the International Energy Agency. That has prompted some energy analysts to pan the Chinese pledge as insufficient. But the IEA projections also assume serious investments of effort, technology and money on China’s part to improve energy intensity, leading others to defend the plans as robust and ambitious.
“It’s really difficult to be categorical about whether China’s numbers are weak or strong,” said Julian Wong, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.
“On the one hand, just to think how rapidly China has turned around from being a nonparticipant in the whole climate change discussion to actually announcing a 10-year target with a concrete number is pretty remarkable,” Wong said. And yet, he noted, even under a 10 percent annual GDP growth, China’s emissions will still at least double and perhaps even triple. “That’s a scary thought,” he said.
For China, an abrupt turnaround
According to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, the new intensity target will be a “voluntary action” taken by the government. Deborah Seligsohn, a Beijing-based energy consultant for the World Resources Institute think tank noted that the decision was made by the state council, which is considered binding on the domestic government — somewhat akin to a Supreme Court decision in the United States.
The goal will require China to achieve a 4 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions each year, based on an annual economic growth rate of 8 to 9 percent. Achieving it, many said, means China will have make major efficiency improvements in its smaller energy-intensive industries, imposing stiff regulations rather than just shutting inefficient plants down as it currently is doing.
Seligsohn is firmly in the camp of those who count China’s goal as a serious effort. It is one the government is confident it can meet, she acknowledged, but only because they already have done tremendous work to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy intensity.
Seligsohn and others, including William Chandler, an energy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, note the IEA has modified its outlook for China in recent years based on those steps, like tough new fuel economy standards that exceed the United States’.
“It’s really true that ‘no good deed shall go unpunished,'” Chandler said in an e-mail. “It was a hell of a rocky road to get China to where it is in the Copenhagen announcement.”
Debate over efficacy of carbon intensity
Reducing “carbon intensity,” experts agree, essentially boils down to the same thing as simply reducing carbon emission. Calling it an intensity target rather than an emissions cut, however, makes the goal more palatable for developing countries where the annual growth rates remain unpredictable.
Former President George W. Bush in 2002 outlined a carbon intensity goal for the United States that was widely criticized by U.S. and international environmental activists. Under Bush’s plan, the United States would reduce GHG intensity 18 percent by 2012.
That target is rarely mentioned these days, but according to Paul McCardle, a spokesman for the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the country is nevertheless on track to meeting it. The target would have required the United States to slash emissions about 1.96 percent each year, and the current average is about 2.1 percent annually, putting the country slightly ahead of Bush’s curve, he said.
So why is a carbon intensity target good for China but not the United States? Barbara Finamore, China program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said recently the answer lies in the United States’ responsibility as the world’s largest historic emitter.
“The U.S. economy is stabilized. The U.S. is a developed country. For the U.S., we can and must go far beyond that,” Finamore said.
According to figures published by the U.S. Department of Energy, China uses more than four times as much energy to produce a unit of growth as the United States. In 2006, China emitted 2.85 metric tons of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels for every $1,000 of GDP, around 15 percent lower than a decade earlier. The United States, with a largely leveled-out growth rate and an increasingly service-oriented economy, emitted 0.52 metric tons for every $1,000 of GDP that year.
Finamore noted China already has an goal of reducing energy intensity 20 percent by 2020. That can be met by using energy more productively. The atmosphere, of course, does not care how efficiently carbon is burned — just how many tons are emitted. And that is where a carbon intensity target comes in — consciously trying to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide the nation uses as it grows.
Some criticize the use of carbon intensity goals entirely. John Watson, who chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee that examined energy futures and air pollution in urban China and the United States, called it a diversion from the need to reduce absolute emissions.
“You can have carbon emissions increase substantially, but carbon intensity still goes down. The real key for global warming is the absolute number, not that relative number,” Watson said. “The atmosphere doesn’t care how much money we make.”
Will the bargaining intensify in Copenhagen?
Yet others say a serious carbon intensity goal could make a significant contribution to lowering emissions to the point where a fast-growing country could even plan to peak and finally decline in absolute terms.
“An ambitious carbon intensity target is much better than an unambitious absolute target. The accounting method is not what fundamentally matters,” said Michael Levi, a senior energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
But the problem with China’s goal, Levi argued, is “this carbon intensity target will not result in a peaking of emissions.”
Levi and a cadre of other energy experts are taking a harder line with China’s announcement. While praising the country for taking serious steps in the past years on climate policy, he noted that if China enacted policies just to meet its existing aspirational goals, it would go beyond the 40 to 45 percent reduction it announced. Had China announced a carbon cut of 5.5 percent annually, he said, the country could have peaked emissions by 2020, after which it could start to reduce it in absolute terms.
Ken Lieberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution agreed. “Basically, it’s a continuation of the same trend line they’re on,” he said. “This still does not reflect raising the bar, and I think the bar does need to be raised.”
How will China be accountable?
Even Finamore, who has largely praised China’s plans for a carbon intensity goal, said in a statement after the announcement that both the United States and China should “raise the level of their ambition in Copenhagen and aim for the higher end of their ranges.”
Derek Scissors, a research fellow at the Heritage Institute who focuses on China, said he worries that tying carbon levels to growth rates gives the Chinese government an incentive to exaggerate GDP — a problem he described as already rampant in the provinces.
“The faster your growth, the better you appear to be doing on environmental integrity. And we know provincial reporting is terrible,” Scissors said.
Meanwhile, Chinese leaders also maintained that the country would not allow itself to be held internationally accountable for its goals. Seligsohn said she believes that position is still open to negotiation, and many analysts said securing a reporting agreement from China is just as key as improving the basic numbers.
It remains to be seen what impact, if any, China’s announcement will have on Congress’ debate over domestic cap-and-trade legislation. So far, the comments from politicians are largely predictable, with Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming praising China’s target and Republicans blasting it.
As delegates from nearly 200 countries pack their bags and prepare for Copenhagen, analysts from all quarters said they hope to see more from both countries.
“All politicians, Americans and Chinese and everyone else, if they’re going to go, they want it to seem there would be a success,” Scissors said.
“If these are bargaining positions, if this is a start, then this is very positive because we didn’t have anything on the table before.” Otherwise, Scissors said, “It’s just a stunt to make Copenhagen look worthwhile.”