Energy and Global Warming News for February 9: Ford to unveil electric Transit Connect van today

The Transit Connect Taxi is designed for extreme wear and tear and allows rear-seat credit card payments.   (Ford)

Ford to unveil electric Transit Connect van today

Ford’s decision to offer an electric version of its award-winning Transit Connect van is giving a boost to a small Oak Park company, Azure Dynamics, and is expected to create new jobs in metro Detroit.

Ford will unveil a Transit Connect Electric commercial van as well as a Transit Connect Taxi powered by compressed natural gas today at the Chicago Auto Show.

Both vehicles, based on the Transit Connect that won North American Truck of the Year for 2009, are expected to go on sale late this year.

Ford and Azure work together on gas-electric hybrids, but the Transit Connect Electric will be the first electric vehicle for both companies.

U.S. proposes new climate service

“The Obama administration proposed a new climate service on Monday that would provide Americans with predictions on how global warming will affect everything from drought to sea levels.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Service, modeled loosely on the 140-year-old National Weather Service, would provide forecasts to farmers, regional water managers and businesses affected by changing climate conditions.

The move is essentially a reorganization of NOAA, and would bring the agency’s climate research arm together with its more consumer-oriented services. It would not come with a boost in funding.

A Web portal launched Monday at provides a single entry point to NOAA’s climate information, data, products and services.

The effort was announced at a time when skeptics have become increasingly effective in attacking the credibility of global warming forecasts.

NOAA, along with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, ranks as one of the federal government’s key agencies for monitoring the climate and conducting climate research.

Good Energies Invests in Massachusetts Clean Energy Firm

Amid a state-wide feud over the job creation spin-offs of President Obama’s stimulus package, a Massachusetts clean energy design and construction company announced Tuesday that it has raised $6.5 million in venture financing to help underwrite a national expansion strategy.

The move comes scarcely a week after the company, Nexamp Inc. of North Andover secured a $20 million deal to install four megawatts of solar generation capacity on a dozen state water and waste-water treatment plants. Company officials say that deal will create about 100 engineering and construction jobs in New England’s fast-growing clean energy market.

“Anyone questioning whether the stimulus package is creating jobs should come to Nexamp,” said the state’s governor, Deval Patrick, according to The Eagle-Tribune.

With 45 employees, Nexamp designs and builds integrated renewable energy and energy conservation projects on behalf of a range of clients, according to the company’s president and chief operating officer, Dan Leary. To date, the company has developed about five megawatts of clean energy, a figure that does not include the water treatment deal with the state, or other projects in its pipeline.

Scrap biofuels targets and focus on improved public transport

In his article Antony Blakey alleges that groups like Friends of the Earth are “vilifying” biofuels. In fact, Friends of the Earth is supportive of biofuels like biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil that deliver real greenhouse gas savings without leading to biodiversity loss, social conflict and food price rises for the world’s poorest.

However, as part of a wide coalition of environmental and development groups including Oxfam, Action Aid, Greenpeace and the RSPB, Friends of the Earth is opposed to high EU and UK biofuel targets that cannot be met in a sustainable way. There is simply not enough recycled cooking oil to replace 10 per cent of Europe’s fuel needs. More importantly, biofuel targets are a dangerous distraction from the real solutions to climate change.

Antony Blakey complains in his article that the UK government had “reduced its own biofuels targets, inevitably stunting the use of biofuel and the growth of the industry”. The truth is that the UK has simply delayed its final 5 per cent target under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) from 2012 to 2014. Of greater concern is the looming EU target that by 2020 10 per cent of Europe’s road transport fuel will come from “renewable sources” of energy. According to the UK government 95-100 per cent of this will be first-generation biofuels.

Shell has just signed a $12bn (£7.7m) joint venture to form the biggest bioethanol producer in the world – hardly an indicator of a stunted industry.

Calif. official tapped for key enforcement post

The Obama administration has chosen a California official to serve in a top U.S. EPA enforcement post.

Matt Bogoshian will become deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance on Feb. 22, EPA said.

As one of EPA’s top environmental enforcement officials, Bogoshian will be charged with reducing threats to public health and the environment by ensuring compliance with federal environmental laws.

“Matt’s more than 15 years of state experience prosecuting criminal environmental cases and overseeing civil enforcement of air, water and waste laws, as well as his leadership in addressing the legal and enforcement issues in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, will be a great asset to EPA and our enforcement and compliance programs,” said EPA’s enforcement chief, Cynthia Giles, in an e-mail to staff.

In 2007, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) appointed Bogoshian as deputy secretary of law enforcement and counsel at the state EPA. In that capacity, Bogoshian led the state EPA’s environmental enforcement initiative and oversaw a multi-agency group within California to address enforcement issues surrounding the state’s cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He also worked with the Western Climate Initiative, a multi-state cap-and-trade plan.

Before joining the California agency, Bogoshian served for more than 12 years as a deputy district attorney for Monterey County, where he was involved in several successful environmental prosecutions targeting major companies like 7-Eleven Inc. and AT&T Inc.

At his new federal post, Bogoshian will work alongside Catherine McCabe, the office’s principal deputy assistant administrator, a career official who joined the office in 2006. Both deputies will serve under Giles.

The enforcement office has historically had two deputy assistant administrators — one political appointee and one civil servant. The responsibilities of those officials vary according to the administration, said former enforcement chief Granta Nakayama, who served during the George W. Bush administration.

Nakayama called Bogoshian a natural fit for the agency’s enforcement office. “I think he’s a very qualified person, and it’s certainly an appointment that I think people should be very comfortable about,” he said.

Bogoshian has also served in the private sector as a business litigator and was an officer in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He earned a law degree from the University of California, Davis, a master of public administration degree from San Diego State University, and a bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University.

EU bioethanol outlook brightens, biodiesel dims

The European Union has been expanding the use of the two major biofuels as it seeks to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change.

But a political backlash, driven partly by accusations the growth of biofuels had helped to drive up food prices, has led some member states to scale-back support.

Industry sources said, however, the political mood has started to become more favorable again, demand is expected to grow in 2010 and two massive bioethanol refineries are due to come on line in the first half of the year.

“I think we’ve had the worst,” said Rob Vierhout, secretary general of the European Bioethanol Fuel Association.

“I think we are seeing now a change in the tide and it will slowly come back to the old idea that we need biofuels to achieve our targets for 2020,” he added.

Bioethanol, which is produced mainly from sugar and grain crops, is a substitute for petroleum. Vegetable oil, tallow and recycled cooking oil are used as produce diesel substitute biodiesel.

In north-east England, Ensus is bringing on line Europe’s largest biorefinery which will use 1.1 million tonnes of wheat to produce 400-450 million liters of bioethanol.

The refinery is only expected to retain that mantel until the second quarter of this year when Spain’s Abengoa is expected to bring on line an even bigger refinery in Rotterdam in the Netherlands with a capacity of about 480 million liters.

CHINA’s Government reveals first national pollution census

China’s first national pollution census has found nearly 6 million industrial, residential and agricultural polluters, the country said today. China, the world’s largest polluter, also said it may reach its pollution peak sooner than expected as the country strives to balance economic growth with green concerns.

The two-year survey places China ahead of other developing nations in mapping who and where its polluters are. The central government now has a year to use the results to craft its next five-year environmental protection plan.

The census also marks the first time China has factored agricultural sources into its pollution studies.

Meanwhile, the increasingly vocal Chinese public lacks access to the detailed census results. The information is available only to the government and to officials at relevant ministries.

ELECTRICITY: Company hopes to put SoCal’s power-storage problems on ice

After seven years of development and testing, the Windsor, Colo.-based company signed an agreement recently with the Southern California Public Power Authority here to deploy some 6,000 Popsicle-making units at 1,500 locations in the utility’s service territory around Los Angeles. Ice Energy says the units, called Ice Bears, will lead to a 30 percent fuel reduction for the utility through avoided use of so-called peaker generation plants, which are only turned on when demand is highest.

In Southern California and other warm places, the benefits are numerous, the company says, because of a heavy reliance on air conditioners during hotter months. Avoiding peak power also means importing less coal-fired electricity from out of state when the California grid is taxed during heat waves.

“Electricity suffers from the central tenet that it has to be used when it is generated,” Ice Energy CEO Frank Ramirez said in an interview. “What we’re really leveraging is what nature gives us every single day through its rotation: cooler temperatures at night.”

Ramirez likes to call their technology “energy storage,” but in truth the Ice Bear is just a way to use energy when it is cheaper and more plentiful. Doing so could save utilities money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create more blue-collar jobs for HVAC technicians and manufacturers.

The cost? The Southern California Public Power Authority paid about $100 million for the 6,000 units, a price that comes with a maintenance guarantee by Ice Energy, which plans to subcontract to HVAC experts, and smart-grid coordination with the distribution network.

That may seem pricey on its surface, but Ramirez insists the investment will save the utility as much as 20 percent in reduced fuel costs over a 20-year period. And, as he likes to point out, that is an investment not backed by the federal or state government, unlike many rival new technologies that tend to vie for subsidies.

“We are the first stand-alone energy efficiency technology that doesn’t require government assistance or subsidy to employ,” Ramirez said.

Not your average icemaker

This is how the Ice Bear works: It fluctuates between charging and cooling, freezing 450 gallons of water at night (a process that might be said to “store” electricity) to then reverse course during the day. The cool air is fed into buildings with the same duct system already in place.

Some have likened the technology to hybrid cars, which rely on batteries to shut down internal combustion engines until their juice runs out, when the engine restarts. Also comparable are geothermal heat pumps that are used widely in Scandinavia and other cold nations to heat homes during colder months. Like the Ice Bear, such systems act like freezers, in a sense, with the back of the pump (which gives off heat) built into the inside of a home, with water freezing taking place outside.

Converting water to ice is a means of removing heat from H20, physicist Jan Olaf Gunderson explained. The heat is then expelled through the back of the freezing unit, warming homes.

“In Norway almost all new homes are heated by heat pumps built into the wall, with the ‘back of the freezer’ on the inside of the home and the ‘freezer’ on the outside of the home,” said Gunderson, a Norwegian national. “A home freezer is a typical heat pump, and the cheapest way to heat your home is to fill the freezer with water, then when the water is in the form of ice, throw out the block of ice outside of your house, then fill the freezer with water again.”

Ice Energy seems intent on capitalizing on the same sort of simple system in the inverse, and Ramirez readily admits his technology applies best to warm climates. Energy is lost in the conversion process from ice back to water (as much as 15 percent), but Ramirez said a temperature gradient of 15 degrees Fahrenheit or more from day to night makes the product energy neutral.

“In most of California, the average gradient [the difference between day and night temperatures] is 22 degrees,” Ramirez said. “We have a natural advantage provided by cooler temperatures to reject heat, instead of running the AC that has to overcome heat during the day.”

As for water supply, the Ice Bear is filled once and never filled again. And Ramirez insists the concept is storage by any other name, just not the kind of storage people tend to anticipate.

“It’s a battery filled with water,” Ramirez said, taking up the hybrid-car analogy. “I think you can draw the conclusion that nothing will ever be cheaper as a storage medium.”

Visit to Capitol Hill

Ramirez said California is an ideal venue for bring his Ice Bears to market for another reason: The state has on the books a renewable portfolio standard of 20 percent by 2010 and to 33 percent by 2020.

Citing a report on wind power by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, Ramirez said what nobody wants to admit in California that an intermittent source like wind tends to be weakest during peak power periods. When it is hottest, in other words, the wind tends not to blow as hard.

This would make wind an unreliable source during hot, windless days when some sort of storage medium might counteract that reality. “The greatest output of wind occurs 180 degrees out of phase with the peak,” Ramirez said. “It’s variable in nature and typically blows when you don’t need it.”

So to this executive, the answer is pairing ice storage with renewables as complementary technologies. He also said the distributed nature of his machines means less loss of electricity through transmission and distribution, in addition to more reliance on baseload power, which is more efficient than peaking power.

“Air conditioning demand is the root cause of the peaking power problem,” Ramirez said, noting that 14 peaking units have been stymied recently in Southern California by environmental justice activists who do not want the plants built in low-income neighborhoods.

At least one prominent lawmaker, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has become a believer. Pelosi recently invited Ramirez to address the House Democratic caucus, where he gave Democrats much the same pitch he presented to this reporter.

Up next? Ramirez said he is talking to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power — the largest public utility in the United States — about signing a deal that could potentially dwarf the Southern California Public Power Authority arrangement. On the table in those discussions is building a manufacturing facility in Southern California, which is a high priority for a state facing 12 percent unemployment.

Such a deal could follow in the footsteps of Tesla Motors Inc., the electric carmaker based in Silicon Valley that recently agreed to locate a manufacturing plant in Southern California in exchange for tax breaks to boost production (Greenwire, Oct. 29, 2009).

“We are going to be speaking to [Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa] and the L.A. Department of Water and Power about what it might take to build a plant in Southern California,” said Ramirez, adding that if Ice Energy gets a big enough project commitment from the utility, a California-based plant is possible.

Scientists: Global warming real despite harsh winter

Global warming may be the last thing on the minds of Delawareans still recovering from the second major snowstorm in a month, with a third in the offing.But recent record snowfall doesn’t clash with the larger trend of the Earth getting warmer, climate scientists said Monday.

“It’s very easy for us to look out a window and say global warming is not happening,” said Cornell University weather scientist Stephen J. Colluci. “Tell that to people who are living in areas where sea level rise will make them homeless.”

Colluci said climate-change skeptics were likely to seize on snow in the East as proof of their skeptical stand.

Atmospheric scientist Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama at Huntsville is among those who doubt a long-term warming trend is occurring. The weather — including the 2 inches of snow that fell recently on the southern campus — is simply hard to predict lately, he said.

“There’s chaotic variation in the climate system that will make one winter different from the next,” Spencer said. “My opinion is that most variability in weather, no matter where it is on earth, is natural and not related to any kind of long-term climate change

Studying storm surge risks

Researchers funded by a $170,000 federal grant are focusing on Sarasota and its Gulf of Mexico shoreline to demonstrate how low-lying coastal communities grow more vulnerable to storm surge as sea levels rise.

And they are rising, scientists say.

Driven by melting arctic ice, sea level increases are inevitable, and scientists are working to help communities pinpoint vulnerable spots and start planning for the future.

Some of that information was presented to the public at Mote Marine Laboratory on Monday by Tim Frazier, a University of Idaho assistant professor of geography and bio-regional planning. He and researchers with Pennsylvania State University and the United States Geological Survey are conducting the research, which is now in its final stages.

A final report is due this summer.

Sarasota will be able to use the study to make smart planning decisions for the future, such as directing dense residential development and important infrastructure away from its most exposed areas, speakers said.

The region’s concave shoreline that follows a shallow continental shelf already makes it susceptible to storm surge, should a hurricane come ashore here or pass close by.

9 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for February 9: Ford to unveil electric Transit Connect van today

  1. Chris Dudley says:

    The climate service would be very welcome. It is becoming scandalous that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues to entertain license applications for nuclear power plants in tidal regions and pays scant attention to projections for precipitation that will affect the flow in rivers used for cooling inefficient nuclear power plants. A climate service could relieve the NRC from responsibility to plan for these basic things and lay down sensible policies in which they would operate.

  2. Sam says:

    The Global worming is one of the most discussed topics i today’s scenario
    It is a good initiative taken by ford motors to launch there electric version of its award-winning Transit Connect van.

  3. A good way to save money on electricity. Air conditioning is utilized a good deal by most people and helping it perform better is one great way to lower your utility bill.

  4. fj2 says:

    The new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Service (NOAA) is a good advance and potentially the first step in a comprehensive 24-hour Global Climate Crisis News Network.

  5. fj2 says:

    re: “Ford to unveil electric Transit Connect van today”

    With the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in deep economic trouble in New York City, a much closer integration of the subway and bus system with cycling would provide an immediate low-cost and substantially improved service.

    There is some hope for this as the newly elected president of the system comes from a Vancouver system that does just that.

    Automobiles are much too large, dangerous, and costly for dense urban environments.

  6. Bob Wright says:

    Is there any technical controversy about the new EU grain ethanol plants? Considering the entire process from tilling and fertilzer, harvesting, transportation, separating the alcohol from water, waste treatment… grain alcohol barely breaks even on energy out vs. energy in. Plus it drives up food prices, increases factory farming fertiliser run-off and associated damage, and requires huge subsidies to compete with fossil fuels.

  7. Dennis says:

    In response to the ongoing discussion about the reliability of the IPCC and the climate reports, a group of 53 leading Dutch scientists in the field of climate research has written an open letter. The letter is published in several Dutch media on February 10.

  8. Sam says:

    This is a very good example that these companies give among the society. Ford’s decision to offer an electric version of its award-winning Transit Connect van is a very good initiative environment friendly move made on the part of the company.