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 setting up $500 million climate fund

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.

A Solar Start-Up Rakes In Capital

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.”

Synthetic Biology Creation Could Change Biofuels and the Environment

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.”

Is a New Reactor Rust-Prone?

An expert warns that an air pathway in a new reactor design could open the way for the release of radioactive materials.

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 Blast G20 Summit

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.

Nations call for safer offshore drilling

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.

Climate change conference hears warning to farmers

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.

Europe’s Enduring Coal Subsidies

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.

Scientists ‘expect climate tipping point’ by 2200

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.

Proposed oil pipeline to Texas raises worries

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.

23 Responses to 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?

  1. paulm says:

    Less we forget…–24-years-on-1954969.html?action=Popup&ino=20

    The risk assessment for nuclear power has to be rehashed due to the changing climate….

    “Chernobyl’s third and fourth power block under a ‘sarcophagus’. Officials shut down the crippled nuclear power station 10 July 2000 as a safety measure due to flooding from torrential rains. ”

    ….many of these are on the coast and along rivers at current sea level. What happens over the next 50yrs of sea level rise with more floods and storms?

  2. fj2 says:

    Regarding “Synthetic Biology Creation Could Change Biofuels and the Environment [3]” with funding by BP and Exxon should give considerable cause for alarm.

    It may be crucial in the transformation to a sustainable civilization that burning stuff to produce energy be rapidly outmoded.

  3. paulm says:

    BP ‘staked future on expanding offshore drilling’

    Document reveals that the company marked out ‘expanding deepwater’ as its number one area for long-term growth

  4. catman306 says:

    How about breeding up a collection of bacteria that can digest the Corexit ingredients and crude oil in a low oxygen, low temperature high pressure environment? What a gift to the world that would be! We probably don’t want those Corexit and oil plumes drifting around in the world’s oceans for centuries. BP should pay for the research.

    Just say no to petroleum pipelines. They always leak at some time or another. The fears about ground water contamination are well founded. One of several pipelines that pass near my house had a leak about 10 years ago. It was a hush-hush clean up. The same pipe is leaking about 20 miles from here where it crosses a river and is rusting.

  5. Wonhyo says:

    I hate it when scientists make climate predictions two hundred years into the future. When a casual reader reads “tipping point in 2200”, s/he shrugs that off as being too far into the future to worry about now.

    Of course, the articles says 9 of 14 scientists said the probability of a 2200 tipping point is 90%. What that means is their predictions of a 50% probability of exceeding the tipping point will occur much sooner than 2200.

    When I compare past scientific predictions to actual developments, I find it likely that we are at the tipping point now and heroic measures are required to slow the rate of climate change down to a pace that the human species can adapt.

    [JR: I don’t think the study is particularly useful, and I may do a longer post on it once I track down a copy.]

  6. paulm says:

    #5 there was this back in 2007…..

    Greenhouse gases already beyond ‘worst-case’: scientist

  7. Prokaryote says:

    Climate Change Drives Dengue Fever Re-emergence in U.S.

  8. Prokaryote says:

    Much-Lauded Strict Mountaintop Mining Guidelines Not So Strict

  9. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Wonhyo at #5 –

    Quite what “tipping point” means appears to vary according to the user. That we have feedbacks accelerating exponentially is beyond question – but then that has been the condition since the early 1960’s when the worldwide DOC feedback was first observed to have started its 6%/yr output rise.

    The only milestone I’ve seen for claiming a tipping point is when the feedbacks’ CO2e output-equivalent exceeds the natural sinks’ annual cleansing capacity. This we are heading towards (without any clear scientific assessment of the arrival date AFAIK) but we are still quite a long way from it.

    It might be claimed that the de facto tipping point occurs when we are committed to the feedbacks exceeding the sinks, due to timelagged warming plus coolant aerosols’ being phased out plus the sinks’ decline.
    But that proposed inevitability is undermined by our potential to intervene effectively both by carbon recovery and by interim albido restoration.

    Without the latter interventions (which face substantial if under-informed opposition) there is plainly no prospect of diverting from our course toward the feedbacks’ exceeding the sinks, since even a radical global phasing out of GHG pollution will not significantly reduce airborne GHGs’ ppmv within the relevant time-scale – and it is their ppmv that is driving the feedbacks.

    Thus it might be said that without rapid commensuate action we are already way past the de facto tipping point, but with that action it can still be avoided. However, given the degree of apathy that is already being seen on grounds of “its just hopeless” maybe we should be slow to use the threat of the tipping point as an argument for change ? Be sure that the status quo shills will be delighted to help push those who recognize AGW from thoughts of active pressure into disempowering apathy.



  10. Mike #22 says:

    @ #5, Wonhyo, the abstract at PNAS doesn’t say tipping point, rather, “For a forcing trajectory that stabilized at 7 Wm-2 in 2200, 13 of the 14 experts judged the probability that the climate system would undergo, or be irrevocably committed to, a “basic state change” as ≥0.5.”

    I don’t know if they use the term in the full paper (ten bucks for two days access). “Basic state change” sounds dire though.

  11. Raoul says:

    @Mike #10

    The full text says: “Our written protocol
    defined basic as a state change “with global consequences persisting
    for several decades.” When pressed by the experts with candidate
    examples, we verbally elaborated that the changes would
    need to have effects that were at least hemispheric in scale, and
    that several decades was a lower bound on their persistence. Such
    events have been referred to as “tipping points” in the most recent

  12. James Newberry says:

    Tipping Points (alternate definition): Amount of hundreds of billions of annual dollars global taxpayers hand out to mining industries (uranium, coal, petroleum, methane/nat. gas). Approx. US direct and indirect “fuel” subsidies: $100 billion/ year. Approx. externalised subsidies: priceless.

  13. Edward says:

    1 palum: Chernobyl was not like ANY reactor ever built in the US after 1945. The Soviets copied the first reactor ever built and never made any improvements, and they didn’t put them in containment buildings. We dismantled that first reactor almost immediately because it wasn’t safe. The old Soviet states have another 136 Chernobyl-type reactors that need to be replaced. It is amazing that they only had one fire.
    Containment buildings are like “furherbunkers”. They are indestructible. They are very strong concrete 39 inches thick and so heavily reinforced it makes you wonder where they put the concrete. What happens? Nothing.

  14. Edward says:

    The dangerous thing that we have to stop is “crude from Canada’s tar sands.” The reason is that burning all possible fossil fuel except methane hydrates takes us to 1400 ppm CO2 see:
    1400 ppm CO2 is sure-fire extinction for Homo Sap.

    Please call AND email your senators and say: “NO TAR SANDS CRUDE EVER!” We also have to prevent syncrude from coal and oil shale, for the same reason.

  15. Prokaryote says:

    Arctic Climate May Be More Sensitive to Warming Than Thought, Says New Study

    A new study shows the Arctic climate system may be more sensitive to greenhouse warming than previously thought, and that current levels of Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide may be high enough to bring about significant, irreversible shifts in Arctic ecosystems.

  16. paulm says:

    #13 Edward, so what’s going to happen to all the plants at sea level in the next 50yrs?

    Do you think they can be decommissioned and moved some where else in that time frame? Where’s the money going to come from?

  17. paulm says:

    10,000yrs of ice gone in a couple of centuries….

    Ancient tool found in melting ice near Yellowstone

    Researchers say they’ve found a 10,000-year-old hunting weapon that had been preserved in melting ice near Yellowstone National Park. The spear-like wooden dart was found in 2007, but the University of Colorado didn’t announce it until Tuesday.

  18. Prokaryote says:

    UK will miss carbon emissions targets ‘unless government takes urgent action’

    Committee on Climate Change says policies required within next year to reform electricity market and home efficiency

  19. Prokaryote says:

    China has approved cars made by Warren Buffett-backed BYD Co (1211.HK) and 15 other Chinese automakers and joint ventures to receive fuel-efficiency subsidies of 3,000 yuan ($441) per vehicle, a top government agency said on Wednesday.

    Stocks | Regulatory News

    Energy-saving cars made by Hyundai Motor’s (005380.KS) China car venture and Changan-Ford-Mazda, a three-way tie among Chongqing Changan Automobile Co (000625.SZ), Ford Motor (F.N) and Mazda Motor (7261.T), are also among the approved models, the National Development and Reform Commission said on its website.

    Beijing also unveiled a pilot programme in five Chinese cities earlier this month to subsidise buyers of electric and hybrid vehicles as it steps up efforts to cut emissions in the world’s biggest auto market.

    The maximum subsidy for buyers of fully electric cars was set at 60,000 yuan, while plug-in hybrid cars could get up to 50,000 yuan.

  20. Prokaryote says:

    U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar, who has promised a new ban on deep-water oil drilling after an initial one was ruled illegal, has hinted what a revised moratorium might look like and may provide more details when questioned by members of Congress today.

    In any new ban, Salazar must reconfigure the original moratorium to address legal flaws cited by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in a June 22 ruling. Alternatively, he might impose regulations that effectively stop deep-water drilling without a formal prohibition, legal experts said.

  21. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Whonhyo

    When I compare past scientific predictions to actual developments, I find it likely that we are at the tipping point now and heroic measures are required to slow the rate of climate change down to a pace that the human species can adapt.

    Yes, it’s all happening too fast, IMO. This is more like a “basic state change” right now than it is like a slow build-up to such a change. Yes, the El Nino is probably having some effect, but we can’t just keep setting global average temperature records every year like we’ve been doing without being in a tipping point right now, in my opinion.

    I keep looking around for negative feedbacks, and not finding very many. Forest fires creating a bigger reservoir of soil carbon, as came up in a discussion here a few days ago, is one possibility. Unfortunately, even while this removes carbon from the carbon cycle for quite a while, it simultaneously injects CO2 into the air. So the amount of short term help we will get from forest fires seems dubious.

    As I’ve advocated many times, I think what we need to do is seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them into BECCS (Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) power plants. The best long term storage for carbon is carbonate, and the only cheap way to make enough carbonate is in situ mineral carbonation using supercritical CO2, I think.

    The wikipedia article on BECCS has some good references. Some of those references point out that without CCS, preferably carbon negative CCS, the cost of getting back to 350 ppm rises exponentially. Without carbon negative action of some sort, we can stabilize at 450 ppm or so by making a heroic effort. But we cannot get back to 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 without carbon negative action of some sort.

    We need massive capability to move carbon. The coal fired power plants have that ability to move massive amounts of carbon. We need to change the source of that carbon from coal to carbon already in the active carbon cycle- biomass. We need to change the sink where that carbon goes from the atmosphere to deep geological formations for in situ mineral carbonation, IMO.

    By changing the carbon sources and sinks I am convinced we can transform the coal fired power plants from climate destroyers to climate saviors. We can transfer billions of tons of carbon per year from the active carbon cycle into deep geological formations.

    It’s just about the only real hope we have left, IMO. Biochar and enhanced soil carbon is the other real hope, I think. But carbon negative action is essential, IMO.

    And fossil fuel subsidies at this point are just brain damaged. Christ, let’s find the biggest gun we can and blow our feet clean off. Everybody needs a hobby, right?

  22. Juvenon says:

    According to me the biggest loss is for farmers,,other sector also may have hurdles by this,,but the larger group of sufferer will be the farmers,,