Energy and Global Warming News for March 30th: Europe’s electricity could be all renewables by 2050; Clean tech investment set to soar 35% this year

AFP: “Many scientists have warned that if global temperatures rise more than 2.0°C (3.6°F) by century’s end, Earth’s climate system could spin out of control, unleashing human misery on an unprecedented scale.”

Kudos to AFP for its bluntness on the harsh reality of climate science today, a sharp contrast to the generally wishy-washy reporting in this country.

Europe’s electricity could be all renewables by 2050

Europe could meet all its electricity needs from renewable sources by mid-century, according to a report released Monday by services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

A “super-smart” grid powered by solar farms in North Africa, wind farms in northern Europe and the North Sea, hydro-electric from Scandinavia and the Alps and a complement of biomass and marine energy could render carbon-based fuels obsolete for electricity by 2050, said the report.

The goal is achievable even without the use of nuclear energy, the mainstay of electricity in France, it said.

Over all, about 50 percent of Europe’s energy demand is met with imported fuels.

Under so-called business-as-usual scenarios, that share could increase to 70 percent in coming decades, according to several projections.

The switch to renewables is more than a matter of energy security, said the report, backed by research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the European Climate Forum, both based in Potsdam, Germany.

“Substantial and fairly rapid decarbonisation… will have to take place if the world is to have any chance of staying within the 2.0 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) goal for limiting the effects of global warming,” the report said.

Many scientists have warned that if global temperatures rise more than 2.0 C (3.6 F) by century’s end, Earth’s climate system could spin out of control, unleashing human misery on an unprecedented scale.

Report: Clean tech investment set to soar 35 per cent this year

Global investment in clean technology will rise 35 per cent this year, despite ongoing uncertainty over climate change policy in the US and EU, according to a report published today by research firm Datamonitor.

The report, entitled Challenges and opportunities for energy utility companies post-Copenhagen, predicts clean tech investment will bounce back strongly this year, led by the wind energy sector, which has received a major boost from government-backed economic stimulus packages.

Alex Desbarres, senior renewables analyst at Datamonitor, said that despite the failure to deliver an international climate change deal and ongoing uncertainty about the future of the carbon markets in the US and Europe, growing numbers of businesses are increasing their investment in clean technologies.

“Copenhagen did not deliver the low-carbon vision, clear policy landscape and regulatory frameworks that the energy clean tech investment community had hoped for,” he said. “For all its flaws, however, the Copenhagen Accord gave the clean tech community the sense that private investors will drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The report said there was little evidence that an overarching global regulatory framework would be developed within the next few years, but argued that with new national and sub-national legislation and initiatives emerging all the time, investors will continue to flock to the clean tech sector.

“Datamonitor expects that progress on new global and US climate regimes will be slow and unconvincing this year, but that the race to dominate the emerging clean economy will accelerate regardless, fuelled by unprecedented quantities of green and clean stimulus funding,” the report states.

The study is the latest in a series of reports to suggest that the clean tech sector is recovering well after venture capital investment levels collapsed following the onset of recession in 2008.

report earlier this year by the Cleantech Group suggested that while venture capital investment in clean tech firms fell 33 per cent last year to $5.64bn (£3.76bn), the sector fared better than many other industries and has overtaken biotech and IT as the largest venture capital investment categories.

Similarly, a survey of more than 200 clean tech investors undertaken at the start of the year by investment bank Jeffries revealed confidence that investment levels will rise, while a separate report from analyst New Energy Finance predicted global clean tech investment in 2010 would reach $160bn, compared with $125bn in 2009.

Ohio plugs wind power on Lake Erie

Ohio officials outlined plans Monday to put Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, at the forefront of offshore wind power development.

Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown joined industry and education leaders to detail tax-cut and regulatory measures to jump-start wind power development on Lake Erie. The lake’s comparatively shallow depth is seen as an advantage when erecting towers to produce wind power.

Strickland said his proposal to eliminate the tangible personal property tax on wind and solar generation equipment would make Ohio competitive in developing wind power.

The measure, now before state lawmakers, would cover wind and solar facilities where ground is broken this year and energy is being produced by 2012.

Last week regulators approved the state’s first large-scale wind farms, all in western Ohio: two farms in Hardin County and an operation in Champaign County.

Construction is scheduled to begin this summer.

Texas Weighs Efficiency, Solar Mandates

Texas regulators may soon ramp up mandates requiring tougher energy-efficiency standards and development of renewable energy sources other than wind power.

Earlier this year, the state’s Public Utility Commission proposed requiringutilities to offset 50 percent of their growth in electricity sales with energy-efficiency measures by 2014. That would be well above the current requirement of 20 percent. (Separately, another state agency last week proposed strengthening Texas’s building codes.)

The utility commission has also put forward an early-stage proposal that would require 500 new megawatts of power in Texas to come from renewable energy sources like biomass, geothermal, solar and hydro in 2014. That represents a substantial increase from current amounts, though it is still small compared to the amount of wind power already in the state.

Texas leads the nation in wind development, but under the proposal, 50 megawatts of nonwind renewables in 2014 would have to come from solar projects. Texas currently has less than seven megawatts of solar power, according to Michael Webber, the associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas.

Awash in Awareness: Knowing a Product’s “Water Footprint” May Help Consumers Conserve H2O

If you think your morning cup of joe only has 12 ounces (35 centiliters) of water in it, you’re sorely mistaken””it has closer to 40 gallons (150 liters). Conservation scientists say it’s time consumers become aware of the quantity and source of waterthat goes into growing, manufacturing and shipping food.

Concerns over greenhouse gas emissions have vaulted the term “carbon footprint” into mainstream vernacular. Now, by promoting the concept of a “water footprint” with the goal of including it on product labels, researchers are hoping to draw similar attention to how drastically we’re draining our most precious resource. As the use of a footprint to gauge water use gains popularity, however, researchers are struggling to reach a consensus on how best to measure that footprint so the public understands its full impact.

As currently defined, a product’s water footprint is an inventory of the total amount of water that goes into its manufacture. For that cup of coffee, for instance, most of the 40 gallons flow either into watering coffee plants or cooling the roasters during processing.

“Most people have no idea how much fresh water they’re consuming,” says Brad Ridoutt, a water conservation specialist from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. According to Ridoutt, food and energy production account for nearly 90 percent of the world’s fresh water consumption.

Tracking Trash to Turn Waste into Efficiency

“Smart” phones offer the intelligence of a computer, with the convenience of a phone. “Smart” meters let homeowners choose between using cheap and expensive electricity.

The next frontier: “smart” trash?

A 5-year-old group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has spent the last year attaching thousands of tracking devices to pieces of garbage in Seattle and New York City. The devices send out pulses to signal where they are.

The signals go to MIT’s SENSEable City Lab for analysis. Last year, they also went to art exhibits in both cities, where live maps revealed the many paths garbage takes.

For example, a plastic soap bottle tossed in a Manhattan recycling bin took several twists and turns around the city before crossing the river to Kearny, N.J.

Carlo Ratti, who directs the City Lab, said each city he’s lived in — Turin, Italy; Paris; Cambridge, England; Boston — has suffered from congestion, pollution and inefficiency problems.

He believes new technologies, like iPhones, social networking and wireless communication, can inform city dwellers and make cities “smarter.” “The only way we can actually solve some of the big problems, like climate change, is if we really coordinate and act together,” Ratti said. “What, for the first time, is really bringing us together is the power of networks in general and the Internet.”

One product was the “Copenhagen Wheel,” a device that attaches to a bicycle and offers information on how much people are riding and where — in addition to giving a little boost on the uphill. The lab has also designed interactive screens for bus stops that can communicate with an iPhone, tailoring advertisements to riders or serving as a larger screen for hand-held diversions.

9 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for March 30th: Europe’s electricity could be all renewables by 2050; Clean tech investment set to soar 35% this year

  1. sasparilla says:

    Just to add, Nissan released Leaf EV pricing today for the US ($32k before the US tax credit of $7500 = ~$25k).

    This is a big deal, as expectations were for much higher prices. Full line EV prices were not expected to get down this low for a long time. Has about 100 mile range.

  2. Bob Wallace says:

    12,000 miles @ 30MPG = 400 gallons @ $3 gallon = $1,200 per year for fuel. Add in $100 for oil changes for a total of $1,300.

    12,000 miles @ 0.25 kWh/mile = 3,000 kWh @ $0.105 per kWh = $315 for electricity.

    That’s a difference of $985 per year. $4,925 over five years.

    The average lifespan of a US passenger car is 13.3 years, a lifetime savings of $13,100. And it doesn’t include the cost of repairs on an ICE engine which should greatly exceed costs incurred with an industrial quality electric motor.

  3. sasparilla says:

    Nice calculations Bob. This vehicle seems poised to be a game changer for a chunk of the market (as will be the Chevy Volt if they get its price close to this).

    Carlos Ghosn, the Nissan CEO, had been throwing around production numbers of 500,000 a year within a couple of years of production start – I assumed he was misquoted and meant 50,000, however with this kind of price, he may have meant 500,000 (Toyota has just gotten Prius production levels up to that amount). I doubt he’ll get 500,000 for a while, but it definitely means they’ll have the capacity to do more than the 50,000 unit marketing campaign most of the manufacturers have been talking about. At 500,000 a year you can start to change the world. Its a great time to be someone who wants to get an EV/EREV.

  4. KnowNukes says:

    Monbiot has been writing on the financial disaster that the solar feedin tariff in Germany has been.

    $1000 per tonne CO2 avoided for solar PV in Germany, vrs less than $10 per tonne for nuclear. Sure the EU could be all renewables by some date in the future, but at what cost? Nukes don’t need the super smart grid, the threat of radiation has been blown out of all proportion, there is enough energy there to power civilization as far ahead into the future as anyone cares to look – we’ve all bought into a load of BS that has us acting and thinking as if nukes are a bad thing. Its the wastes of fossil fuels that threaten the existence of civilization.

  5. Ryan T says:

    “KnowNukes”, I’d like to see a comparison of lifecycle costs for what the article is actually talking about (not just PV in Germany) vs. nuclear. If grid upgrades are going to be done anyway, a portfolio of renewables (including concentrate solar thermal) looks even better.

    As for the Leaf, some people might have an issue with the range limitation, but it should be interesting to see how it does. Battery cost has also been a point of concern, so hopefully Nissan will be offering a good warranty to help facilitate demand.

  6. Brendan says:

    @Bob Wallace: While my area is somewhat inexpensive, I buy electricity at night at a much much cheaper rate than you quote (currently 5.78c/kWh), but I also think .25kWh/mi is a bit optimistic since you’re unlikely to achieve that in everyday driving conditions while running heat, A/C, etc. So the two factors probably balance each other out (say .33kWh/mi @ 8c/kWh night-rate yielding the same number you quote). The motor will probably outlive the car, but the batteries are a bigger unknown. The exact spec of these is still a pretty closely guarded industry secret. Simple economics suggest that if they’re going to warranty them for 100K miles, they’ll easily do significantly more than that on average. Either that, or the batteries have become so cheap that their replacement cost is included in the price (which I find unlikely). Even more unknown is what the replacements would look like and cost in 8 years if they failed at 100K+1 miles, much less 10 years if they last to 120K. I can pretty much guarantee that the battery of 2020 will be different than that of 2010. The fuel cost savings you quote would make up for any residual value of the car with that many miles, anyway, even if you had to sell it for scrap steel once the batteries died. I think it’s fair to assume electric rates probably won’t go up any faster than gasoline rates.

    The reality is, the bar shouldn’t be set any higher than for an equivalent ICE car at this point (say a Sentra with an automatic, which is about the same price). The economics work as it is without suggesting it needs to perform to unrealistic expectations (i.e. 160K miles with virtually no maintenance costs). Doing so makes EV’s sound like snake oil, something too good to be true. If they do preform beyond 100K miles then it’s gravy, if not, it’s still a good deal. Buying a new car is always an irrational decision. Even at $5/gallon, it’s cheaper to buy and scrap a $2K 25mpg clunker every couple years than to go out and buy any new car. EV advocates often forget this. As an home-conversion EV owner, I know the reality is that it’s still a car, subject to all of the ups and downs of owning such a thing! It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver.

    That said, I’m planning to make a deposit on a Leaf in April.

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    When batteries “fail” in an EV they aren’t really worthless. Common assumption is that batteries will get swapped out when their charge capacity drops to about 80% of new. (Leaf range drops from 100 miles to 80 miles.)

    Those “80%” batteries will still be valuable. Utility companies will buy them for grid smoothing/storage. In EVs one needs to maximize the weight/charge ability because that weight has to be hauled around. But if you’re going to take those batteries and rack them up in an inexpensive building then that weight/charge ability is not very important.

    I have no idea what the resell value might be, but I would guess at least 50% of initial purchase price. If you buy a replacement set of batteries for your EV you shouldn’t have to pay more than half the cost after selling your old set.

    Gas is almost certainly going to increase in price. Baring some incredible breakthrough in biofuels. World demand for oil is heating up once more and we’ve basically maxed out in terms of how much oil we can bring to market.

    Electricity, especially nighttime/off peak electricity, is likely to drop in price. Wind is the cheapest way that we have to produce electricity aside from fossil fuels. We’ll likely build lots and lots of wind farms to feed daytime/peak demand which will mean lots of affordable wind produced electricity at night.

    I don’t know how the first generation or two of EVs will hold up over time. But I wouldn’t be surprised if 200K becomes the “new normal”.

    Industrial electric motors are very long lasting. Even if they need repair, we’re generally talking about a new set of bearings, not a ring job or new short block.

    Electric motors have a more gentle life. They are not subjected to the heat and vibration of ICE engines. Electric motors spin, they don’t have thousands and thousands of little explosions taking place in them every time you drive to the corner market.

    There are many, many fewer parts in an EV. Just look at an exploded drawing of a car’s engine sometime. Lots more stuff to wear out and break.

    And, if the EV has regenerative braking, brake pads and rotors are going to last much, much longer. The mechanical brake in your EV might not be used in most of your stoppings/slowings.

    I wish I could join you in buying a Leaf. But I’ve got a paid off car with less than 30K on it and don’t buy enough gas in a year (~200 gallons) to justify a new purchase.

    When gas goes back over $5 I’ll rethink my options.

  8. paulm says:

    Water World…And we thought that Miami would be the first affected by flooding. Big suprise.

    And the US starts to get its share of extreme GW weather. Lets see how well it copes with it year in year out.

  9. prokaryote says:

    James Lovelock on the value of sceptics and why Copenhagen was doomed

    Read the full transcript of James Lovelock’s G2 interview with Leo Hickman
    • James Lovelock: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change