"Energy and Global Warming News for June 29: Germany setting up $500 million climate fund; Solar start-up rakes in capital; Is a new reactor rust-prone?"
Germany says it is setting up a $500 million fund to provide micro-finance loans to developing countries for projects such as new supermarket freezers and biomass heating to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said Tuesday the fund is a follow-on to the Copenhagen climate conference last December. Germany has pledged to get concrete projects rolling.
Germany’s government-backed KfW banking group will be managing the fund, which is starting out with $100 million of public money and will try to raise more funds both from public institutions and private investors.
Roettgen says the transformation needed globally to use energy more efficiently cannot work without private money.
SunRun, a San Francisco start-up that leases rooftop solar arrays to homeowners, said Tuesday it had raised $55 million from investors.
The equity investment led by Sequoia Capital, a prominent Silicon Valley venture firm, is one of the largest made in a solar leasing firm and a sign that companies are poised for a major expansion beyond the industry’s core market in California.
The investment follows a $100 million tax equity fund PG&E Corporation, the utility holding company, created last week to finance residential solar installations for SunRun customers. PG&E Corporation in January formed a $60 million financing pool for SolarCity, a Silicon Valley competitor to SunRun. SolarCity is also tapping $190 million in tax equity funds created over the past year for the company by U.S. Bancorp.
“If the $55 million is going to actual corporate expansion, it is one of the largest corporate fund-raisings we’ve seen for that purpose in this space,” said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “It speaks to the opportunity outside of California, in the Southwest and the Northeast.”
In a paper published May 20 in the journal Science, the J. Craig Venter Institute and Synthetic Genomics Inc. announced the laboratory creation of the world’s first self-reproducing organism whose entire genome was built from scratch by a machine. The construction of this synthetic organism, anticipated and dubbed “Synthia” by the ETC Group three years ago, will stir a firestorm of controversy over the ethics of building artificial life and the implications of the largely unknown field of synthetic biology.
According to the May 20 publication, “Synthia” could be a boon to second-generation agrofuels making it theoretically possible to feed people and cars simultaneously. The article further suggests that “Synthia,” or synthetic biology, could help clean up the environment, save us from climate change, and address the food crisis. “Synthia is not a one-stop shop for all our societal woes,” disputes Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group, an international technology watchdog based in Canada. “It is much more likely to cause a whole new set of problems governments and society are ill-prepared to address.”
An expert warns that an air pathway in a new reactor design could open the way for the release of radioactive materials.
Approval of the design for the Westinghouse AP 1000 reactor is slowly moving forward at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as are financial arrangements for building the nation’s first one, near Augusta, Ga. Yet the argument about whether its design is safer than past models is advancing, too.
On June 18, the Southern Company, the utility holding company that is building it, and the Department of Energy announced that they had come to final terms on a federal loan guarantee that would allow the project to go forward. The guarantee is for 70 percent of the company’s costs, not to exceed $3.4 billion. (Georgia Power, the Southern subsidiary building the plant, owns 45.7 percent of it; other partners also got loan guarantees.)
Lots of details have yet to be agreed upon, though. One is that the reactor is surrounded by a shield building meant to protect it from hazards like crashing airplanes, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not convinced that the shield building would survive earthquakes and other natural hazards. Westinghouse, a subsidiary of Toshiba, is doing new analytical work to try to convince the commission staff of its safety.
Also under attack is a thick metal shell inside that shield building that critics say might not withstand an accident.
The theory behind separating the shell from the surrounding wall is to avoid a problem in existing reactors, which use a strong concrete building with a metal liner. In case of a serious accident, some argue, that combination of concrete and steel could become a thermos bottle, allowing heat to build up. In the AP 1000 design, the metal is not a liner but an entire separate shell, with a concrete building surrounding it and an air gap in between.
In the event of an accident, the thinking goes, heat flows through the shell and out into the environment rather than getting bottled up and letting the building’s interior get dangerously hot.
But a nuclear engineer, Arnie Gundersen, told a commission committee last week that keeping the metal and the concrete together presents an advantage: essentially, it would be harder for a flaw to appear in both and create a leak. If they are separated, he argued, rust could attack the metal shell in a place that is hard to inspect. What is more, creating a pathway between the metal and concrete that works like a chimney could allow for the release of radioactive materials.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, a panel of about a dozen senior experts drawn mostly from academia, gave Mr. Gundersen an hour and fifteen minutes on Friday to make his case, a long period. He outlined rust problems and other containment problems at existing reactors, including Beaver Valley near Shippingport, Pa., Salem in southern New Jersey, and DC Cook in Michigan, on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore.
Still, he said, the metal in those reactors is usually only a liner. “Up until now, it’s been a containment system,” he told the committee. “You’ve got the liner and the concrete and they work together.”
“The difference with the AP 1000 is, it’s one thing; it’s two inches thick, but it’s one thing,” he said. In existing reactor containments, the liners are usually considerably less than two inches thick.
Are there any failures in thicker metal, the committee wanted to know? On Monday morning, Mr. Gundersen dredged one up, at the FitzPatrick reactor in upstate New York. While the geometry of the FitzPatrick plant is very different from the design of the AP 1000, a thick metal part rusted through. The Union of Concerned Scientists explained the problem in 2005.
Environmental groups say world leaders have failed to address the climate issue at the G20 summit in Toronto, Canada.
The executive director of Greenpeace USA, Phil Radford, summed up the G20 summit from his perspective.
“It is like a meal where you ask your friends to come and bring a dish,” he said. “Some countries came with things that were half-baked. Some countries like Canada came with food that was rotten and then others showed up with nothing at all,” said Radford.
World leaders met in Toronto, Canada for a two-day summit with the primary focus being the world economy. Environmentalists say the problem of climate change was not given due attention.
Radford says coping with climate change can and should go hand-in-hand with economic recovery. He says world leaders need to move forward with a plan to end subsidies on fossil fuels. Instead, he says, they have repeated the same promises made last year.
Political leaders of the world’s 20 leading industrial and developing nations took note at their economic summit of the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in their concluding statement yesterday.
The document recognized “the need to share best practices to protect the marine environment, prevent accidents, . . . and deal with their consequences.”
The April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig unleashed the worst offshore oil spill in US history. BP is London-based and the disaster has contributed to strains between the United States and Britain.
Britain’s new conservative prime minister, David Cameron, told reporters BP was working hard to cap the well, “clean up the mess,” and compensate victims. At the same time, he said, “what we all want is for this important company to be strong and stable for the future.”
Cameron and President Obama held a meeting yesterday on the sidelines of the economic summit.
Obama also said the international community must stand behind South Korea and send a clear signal to North Korea that its provocative behavior is unacceptable. North Korea is blamed for the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship.
Big changes to agriculture have been forecast at the world’s first international conference on adapting to climate change.
The chair on the inter-governmental panel on climate change has told the conference the world’s dry land farmers are among the most vulnerable groups under predicted climate change.
Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri says innovation is critical in farm management, crop development and water harvesting.
The 1000 delegates have been told a new international research institute will be set up to meet these challenges.
Agronomists and forestry researchers have been called on to add their expertise to the global efforts.
A tussle over subsidies for the coal industry in the European Union offers another sign of how difficult it will be to phase out government support for fossil fuels, even in the most industrially advanced parts of the world.
Aid for industries like oil, gas and coal is back in the spotlight after leaders at the summit meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in Toronto disappointed environmentalists by mostly restating previous commitments to curb supports rather than making new pledges.
Even though many nations have pledged significant increases in their use of renewable energy, and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has focused attention on the dangers associated with fossil fuel extraction, the G-20 nations still hand out subsidies worth about $100 billion annually to the fossil fuel industry, according to Greenpeace.
In the European Union, one of the most sensitive debates about continuing fossil fuel subsidies focuses on the coal sector. Subsidized coal delivers only about 5 percent of the overall electricity needs of the bloc, according to the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body. Even so, the commission has recommended maintaining special subsidies for the coal industry for at least another decade, according to a draft proposal obtained by the environmental group W.W.F. and circulated among journalists.
Germany and Spain hand out the biggest subsidies: Germany’s are expected to be worth around ‚¬2 billion and Spain’s about ‚¬1 billion this year, according to a report in the weekly European Voice newspaper.
The global climate is more than likely to slip into an unpredictable state with unknown consequences for human societies if carbon dioxide emissions continue on their present course, a survey of leading climate scientists has found.
Almost all of the leading researchers who took part in a detailed analysis of their expert opinion believe that high levels of greenhouse gases will cause a fundamental shift in the global climate system – a tipping point – with potentially far-reaching consequences.
The 14 scientists, all experts in their fields of climate research, were asked about the probability of a tipping point being reached some time before 2200 if global warming continued on the course of the worst-case scenarios predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Nine of the fourteen scientists said that the chances of a tipping point for the high scenario were greater than 90 per cent, with only one saying that the chances were less than 50:50. At current rates of CO2 emissions, the world is on course for following the higher trajectory on global warming suggested by the IPCC.
From the ranches of East Texas to Capitol Hill, folks suddenly have the jitters about a proposed pipeline that would bring Canadian crude to the refineries of Houston and Port Arthur.
The $7 billion project, called Keystone XL, would increase America’s access to crude from Canada’s tar sands, as offshore crude exploration faces scrutiny amid a runaway oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a legal fight over a federal offshore drilling moratorium.
But critics warn that the oil flowing through the 2,000-mile pipeline would come with a high environmental toll, leaving behind toxic sludge ponds and destroyed forests while producing large amounts of gases linked to climate change.
Ranchers also worry about the possibility of groundwater contamination, while some Houston-area residents say refining the crude will further foul the region’s already dirty air.
“This isn’t a hard thing for people to understand,” said Matthew Tejada of the advocacy group Air Alliance Houston. “We’re picking up Canada’s trash and dumping it in Texas.”
TransCanada Corp., the Canadian company building the pipeline, counters that the pipeline would provide a politically stable and reliable source of crude without the risks of drilling in the Gulf.