If electric cars have any future in the United States, this may be the city where they arrive first.
The San Francisco building code will soon be revised to require that new structures be wired for car chargers. Across the street from City Hall, some drivers are already plugging converted hybrids into a row of charging stations.
In nearby Silicon Valley, companies are ordering workplace charging stations in the belief that their employees will be first in line when electric cars begin arriving in showrooms. And at the headquarters of Pacific Gas and Electric, utility executives are preparing “heat maps” of neighborhoods that they fear may overload the power grid in their exuberance for electric cars.
“There is a huge momentum here,” said Andrew Tang, an executive at P.G.& E.
As automakers prepare to introduce the first mass-market electric cars late this year, it is increasingly evident that the cars will get their most serious tryout in just a handful of places. In cities like San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and San Diego, a combination of green consciousness and enthusiasm for new technology seems to be stirring public interest in the cars.
The first wave of electric car buying is expected to begin around December, when Nissan introduces the Leaf, a five-passenger electric car that will have a range of 100 miles on a fully charged battery and be priced for middle-class families.
Several thousand Leafs made in Japan will be delivered to metropolitan areas in California, Arizona, Washington state, Oregon and Tennessee. Around the same time, General Motors will introduce the Chevrolet Volt, a vehicle able to go 40 miles on electricity before its small gasoline engine kicks in.
“This is the game-changer for our industry,” said Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s president and chief executive. He predicted that 10 percent of the cars sold would be electric vehicles by 2020.
Utilities are gearing up to cooperate with the automakers, a first for the two industries, and governments on the West Coast are focusing intently on the coming issues. Price and tax incentives need to be worked out. Locations must be found for charging stations. And local electrical grids may need reinforcement.
The California Public Utilities Commission, whose headquarters are in San Francisco, has brought together utilities, automakers and charging station companies in an urgent effort to write the new rules of the road.
Much of the attention on electric cars has been on the vehicles’ design, cost and performance. But success or failure could turn on more mundane matters, like the time it takes car buyers to navigate a municipal bureaucracy to have charging stations installed in their homes.
A top Saudi energy official expressed serious concern Monday that world oil demand could peak in the next decade and said his country was preparing for that eventuality by diversifying its economic base.
Mohammed al-Sabban, lead climate talks negotiator, said the country with the world’s largest proven reserves of conventional crude is working to become the top exporter of energy, including alternative forms such as solar power.
Saudi Arabia was among the most vocal opponents of proposals during the climate change talks in Copenhagen. And al-Sabban criticized what he described as efforts by developed nations to adopt policies biased against oil producers through the imposition of taxes on refined petroleum products while offering huge subsidies for coal “” a key industry for the United States.
Al-Sabban said the potential that world oil demand had peaked, or would peak soon, was an “alarm that we need to take more seriously” as Saudi charts a course for greater economic diversification.
“We cannot stay put and say ‘well, this is something that will happen anyway,” al-Sabban said at the Jeddah Economic Forum. The “world cannot wait for us before we are forced to adapt to the reality of lower and lower oil revenues,” he added later.
Some experts have argued that demand for oil, the chief export for Saudi Arabia and the vast majority of other Gulf Arab nations, has already peaked. Others say consumption will plateau soon, particularly in developed nations that are pushing for greater reliance on renewable energy sources.
With oil demand only now starting to pick up after it was pummeled by the global recession, some analysts say consumers may have learned to live permanently with a lower level of consumption….
Saudi has about 264 billion barrels of crude reserves and currently produces about 8 million barrels per day out of its overall output capacity of around 12 million barrels per day.
The kingdom, widely seen as the de facto leader of the 12-member OPEC, has embraced an ambitious expenditure program aimed not only at further developing its oil base but also expanding and diversifying its economic base.
Its expansionary policies came even as other nations were tightening purse strings in response to the world’s worst financial crisis in over six decades. The outlays included billions of dollars for a new research university that opened last year, as well as major ventures such as the construction of new economic cities and other infrastructure.
Oil’s pre-recession price boom also helped pad Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves, now in excess of $400 billion, and have helped the government weather the worst of the global crisis.
International ratings agency Moody’s, in a reflection of the country’s macroeconomic position, on Monday upgraded Saudi Arabia’s foreign and local currency government ratings to Aa3 from A1 citing “the continued solid state of government finances which have largely withstood oil price volatility and the global economic crisis.”
Al-Sabban said that along with investing in education and economic diversification, Saudi must ensure that it become the top energy exporter, including in solar power, to keep moving forward.
The country recently launched its first solar-powered desalination plant and al-Sabban said oil giant Saudi Aramco was working on a pilot project to inject carbon emissions back into wells to help boost output. The carbon sequestration project, which he said would be operational by 2012, was a sign of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to environmentally sound energy development.
The push for cleaner technology is pivotal for the oil rich kingdom.
Germany’s environment minister is defying his fellow conservatives by calling to get rid of nuclear power.
Norbert Roettgen is an ambitious politician. A few months ago, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel handed him the environment brief, few knew about his convictions. Today, his bold stance on nuclear power dominates headlines in Germany.
Roettgen, 45, earlier this month broke with a campaign pledge of his Christian Democratic Union when he said the party should “carefully consider whether we want to make nuclear energy our unique feature,” adding that, “even after 40 years there is no sufficient acceptance in the public for nuclear energy.”
… Decisions have not been made yet, however; Berlin has vowed to publish a new energy strategy by October and, until then, it will likely remain unsure which of the 17 remaining reactors — or if any at all — will be saved from closure.
Agreed in 2000 between the government and the country’s utilities, the German nuclear phase-out plan foresee all German reactors to be shut down by 2021.
Roettgen is the first major CDU official to openly question this plan and his remarks, uncommented upon by Merkel, angered officials in the pro-business FDP.
Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle, of the Free Democrats, told the Bild am Sonntag weekly that no one wanted to build new nuclear plants, but added:
“If we don’t want electricity prices to go through the roof, we must build a bridge to the renewable age. For the coalition this bridge is, along with the use of clean coal, nuclear energy.”
British Airways and the US bioenergy company Solena are to establish Europe’s first green jet fuel plant in the East End of London.
When it is up and running in 2014, the factory will turn 500,000 tonnes of landfill waste – including household and industrial rubbish – into 16 million gallons of carbon-neutral aviation fuel every year.
It will produce enough fuel to power all of BA’s flights from nearby City Airport twice over. And with 95 per cent fewer emissions than traditional kerosene, the plan will be equivalent to taking 48,000 cars off the roads.
There are four sites under consideration for the plant, which will be built and run by Washington DC-based Solena, with BA guaranteed to buy all of its output. It will employ up to 1,200 people. Alongside the reduction in carbon from the jet fuel itself, it will also cut the methane produced from landfill and generate 20 megawatts of electricity per year as a byproduct.
Biofuel for aeroplanes has made slow progress, hampered by tricky technicalities including the necessary high energy capacity, and the extreme cold at which it must operate. BA’s rival Virgin conducted the first commercial flight powered by biofuel in February 2008, and last January saw the first algae-fuelled jet take off from Houston.
But the fuel to be produced at Solena’s east London plant will be altogether different. Rather than existing types that must be blended with normal fossil fuel jet fuel, Solena is aiming for a green fuel sufficient to fly the aircraft without any jet fuel added.
BA’s chief executive, Willie Walsh, believes the scheme will help BA to meet its target to cut net carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. “We believe it will lead to the production of a real sustainable alternative to jet kerosene,” he said yesterday. The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, is also behind the plan – which will source as much of its waste material from local rubbish as possible.
City Hall wants to “untap the massive potential to generate cleaner, less polluting energy from waste, otherwise destined for landfill”, Mr Johnson said, adding: “We are working to bring together more organisations in this way to harvest the capital’s rubbish.”
BA is adamant that the plant will be powered only by rubbish, and will not resort to using biomass crops grown specifically to be turned into fuel. But environmental campaigners are sceptical, pointing to automotive biofuel initiatives that ended up with a greater carbon footprint and a destructive global impact by replacing food crops.
“Biofuels for cars were meant to be a way of using waste cooking oil, but fuel companies ended up taking food away from the poor and trashing rainforests to make way for biofuel crop plantations,” said Kenneth Richter, the biofuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth.
“Fuelling planes with biofuels could cause more of the same problems. It seems BA is already backtracking on its claim that it would only use food waste to fuel these planes.”
The Global Wind Energy Council, a trade association based in Brussels, estimates that wind power capacity grew by 31 percent worldwide in 2009, with 37.5 additional gigawatts installed, bringing global wind power capacity to 157.9 gigawatts.
China accounted for a third of the new capacity, and the Chinese market experienced more than 100 percent growth.
According to the trade group, more than 500,000 people are now employed by the wind power industry around the world, and the market for wind turbine installations last year was worth about $63 billion. The primary markets today are in Asia, Europe and North America.
“The continued rapid growth of wind power despite the financial crisis and economic downturn is testament to the inherent attractiveness of the technology, which is clean, reliable and quick to install,” said Steve Sawyer, the secretary general of the council, in a statement issued late last week. “Wind power has become the power technology of choice a growing number of countries around the world.”
The market in the United States grew by 39 percent with nearly 10 gigawatts of new capacity installed in 2009. The total installed and grid-connected capacity in the United States is now about 35 gigawatts, according to the trade group’s assessment.
“The U.S. wind energy industry shattered all installation records in 2009, chalking up the Recovery Act as a historic success in creating jobs, avoiding carbon, and protecting consumers,” said Denise Bode, the chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association. But, she added, “U.S. wind turbine manufacturing is down compared to last year’s levels, and needs long-term policy certainty and market pull in order to grow.”
Some analysts, citing the global financial crisis, had predicted a drop in wind power development in the United States by up to 50 percent, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
China, meanwhile, doubled its capacity from 12.1 gigawatts in 2008 to 25.1 gigawatts by the end of last year.
Combined with new installations in India, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, Asia accounted for more than 14 gigawatts of new capacity in 2009.
An offshore wind farm in the Nantucket Sound could save the New England region billions of dollars over 25 years, according to a new report.
The long-debated Cape Wind project, which would install 130 offshore wind turbines roughly five miles from the nearest shore, would be the first of its kind in the United States. It would cover 24 square miles in the sound.
The turbines would supply about 10 percent of the 2013 power demand in Southeastern Massachusetts and about 1 percent of the total 2013 New England demand.
The project would save the New England region about $185 million a year, according to the report, which was prepared this month by Charles River Associates and commissioned by backers of the project. Over 25 years, this would amount to $4.6 billion.
To do the analysis, Charles River used wholesale power costs, which are closely tied to retail costs paid by end customers. The savings were estimated by calculating wholesale power costs for the region with and without the Cape Wind project in place.
The report’s findings, however, did not dissuade the project’s skeptics, who said that while the project may be a good financial move, there are other important considerations.
“We would like to see them go back and do what the Fish and Wildlife Service asked and properly assess risks posed to birds,” said Sharon Young, field director of marine issues at the Humane Society of the United States.
Ms. Young emphasized that the Humane Society was not opposed to the project, but wants to see research on Cape Wind’s effects on waterfowl.
“The Humane Society strongly supports the need for alternative energy,” she said. “But as they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location location.”
In addition, Massachusetts Indian tribes have argued that the wind turbines would disturb spiritual rituals that require clear views across the sound.
One of the world’s oldest and most prestigious scientific academies will try to map the future of science and its applications in a new far-reaching study.
Britain’s 350-year-old Royal Society — whose members include more than 60 Nobel Laureates — said the findings should help corporate, political and academic leaders around the world tackle some of the planet’s most pressing problems with a better understanding of science, its uses and impact.
“The time has come to assess the changing map of scientific strengths, how collaboration in science and technology…is evolving, and how it can best be harnessed to tackle global problems such as the spread of disease, pollution and climate change,” study leader Chris Llewellyn Smith said.
“More countries are investing in building scientific capacity, and international collaboration is growing and its nature is changing,” he said in a statement Monday.
Royal Society fellows have a history of pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, with past members including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein.
Llewellyn and his team will analyze publication data and consult with international scientists and research communities for the new study.
They will look in particular at how collaboration networks are changing the way research is conducted and funded, and why this is important, the Society said.
The findings will be published in a report in November.
President Obama will visit a local jobs training center in Lanham, Md., on Tuesday to highlight his goal of building a clean energy economy.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that while it is an energy-related event, there will also be a jobs component.
“I am very firm in my conviction that the country that leads the way in clean energy — solar, wind, biodiesel, geothermal — that country is going to win the race in the 21st century global economy,” Obama told reporters last week. “So we have to move in that direction.”
The White House said Obama will deliver remarks on the administration’s investments to “create energy jobs and transition to a low carbon economy.”
President Obama’s energy and environmental initiatives, including a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases, are necessary to reboot the U.S. economy and avert dangerous changes in the Earth’s climate, according to a White House report released yesterday.
However, the cap-and-trade agenda continues to meet resistance on Capitol Hill, particularly among Republicans, many of whom argue that it would hurt economic progress.
Obama’s Council on Economic Advisers warned that status-quo energy policies are not enough to deal with global warming. But it said that climate legislation pending on Capitol Hill, coupled with a number of items already on the books, would help address climate change while also jumpstarting the economy following the nation’s worst recession since the early 1980s.
“Today’s economy is dependent on carbon-intensive fuels that are directly linked to an increase in global average temperature,” the White House report said. “Continued reliance on these fuels will have a range of negative impacts, including increased mortality rates, reduced agricultural productivity in many locations, higher sea levels and the need for costly adaptation efforts.”
The report continued, “For these reasons, a clean energy transformation is essential.”
The White House economic report, Obama’s first since taking office, is an annual requirement that typically allows the administration to highlight a number of its top agenda items. Bigger picture, the CEA report predicted the nation’s unemployment rate would fall from above 10 percent this year to 8.2 percent in 2012 and 5.5 percent in 2016.
This year’s study also included the 23-page chapter dedicated to energy and climate change policy as one of its long-term solutions to the recession.
But the approaches detailed in the chapter are largely opposed by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
“We all want to start seeing real job creation, but this administration continues to double down on more of the same flawed policies that expand government and pile up more debt for our kids and grandkids at the expense of small businesses and private-sector job creation,” Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in response to the White House report. “Families and small businesses are asking ‘Where are the jobs?’ They don’t want more wasteful ‘stimulus,’ they want both parties to work together on common-sense solutions that help small businesses create jobs.”
But Obama’s economic advisers threw their weight behind the economywide cap-and-trade approach as the best way to deal with global warming. “A cap-and-trade program induces firms to seek out and exploit the lowest-cost ways of cutting emissions,” the report said. “It takes advantage of the profit motive and leverages private sector imagination and ingenuity to find ways to lower emissions.”
The CEA report cited a U.S. EPA study and other research that found global temperature increases could be limited to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in 2100 if the House bill became law alongside comparable policies from other countries.
It also detailed how a cap-and-trade approach has worked successfully in curbing sulfur dioxide emissions at costs well below initial industry projections. Provisions can be included in a cap-and-trade program to curtail costs, the CEA said, including placing upper and lower limits on the price for an emission allowance. And it detailed provisions that allow a company to bank or borrow unused emission allowances as well as purchase offset credits from domestic and international sources with their own environmentally friendly projects.
Several other domestic efforts also get ink in the CEA report, including $60 billion in direct spending and $30 billion in tax credits for clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure projects via the 2009 economic stimulus law.
Also touted: EPA’s endangerment finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare; proposed regulations for new passenger vehicles; EPA’s greenhouse gas registry; renewable fuel standards; and energy efficiency rules for several consumer products and commercial equipment, including microwave ovens, dishwashers, vending machines and washing machines.
Republicans believe there are three words so powerful that they might reshape the political order in an economically beleaguered corner of the country: War on coal.
With Democrats holding total control of the federal government and a cap-and-trade bill still looming, the GOP is fanning widespread coal country fears that the national Democratic Party is hostile to the coal mining industry, if not outright committed to its demise.
Those efforts are putting a group of coal state Democrats at risk as Republicans leverage the tremendous economic anxieties surrounding the future of an industry that is a vital part of their states’ economies.
In West Virginia and Kentucky, longtime Democratic House incumbents with solid records on the issue are taking heavy flak. Across the border in Virginia, a veteran Democrat could face his most serious challenge yet in part because of his support of cap and trade. Two junior lawmakers from Ohio are facing threats for the same reason.
The issue may loom largest in West Virginia, where coal mining is an integral part of the culture and makes up a full quarter of the state’s revenues.
A well-known former state supreme court judge switched his party registration to run against 17-term incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall in the state’s coal-heavy south and wasted little time in raising the issue.
“West Virginians deserve a congressman who will fight to end this war on coal instead of standing by idly as thousands of local jobs are threatened,” said Elliott “Spike” Maynard in launching his campaign last month.
In an interview with POLITICO, Maynard said: “Our part of the world and way of life is threatened by liberal Democrats in Washington.”
He pointed out that some environmentalists want to stop all surface mining, the above-ground technique that happens to account for about 40 percent of the state’s coal jobs.
His message, he said, was simple: “If you vote for Spike Maynard, you’re voting for your job and to mine coal. If you’re against me, you’re voting against your job and against mining coal.”
In the state’s north, a region less Democratic than the United Mine Workers-dominated south, 14-term Rep. Alan Mollohan is facing a primary from a state senator and has a host of Republicans vying to take him on in the general election.