31 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for July 15: Will ‘solar trees’ sprout in parking lots? Obama to promote electric vehicles — not climate action — in Michigan
Part of the fine print in solar power systems is that whatever wattage number is quoted, it is usually “peak watts,” or the amount of electricity that the panel would deliver when the sun is directly overhead. For the rest of the daylight hours, the output is lower; a graph showing minute-by-minute production resembles a sharp mountain peak.
One way to do better is to mount the panel on a metal backbone and let it tilt over the course of the day, keeping itself pointed towards the sun from sunrise to sunset. This is called a single-axis tracker. Better yet is a two-axis tracker, which also adjusts the angle to compensate for how high the sun is in the sky. Then the graph showing output would resemble a plateau. But all of this adds cost.
Envision Solar, a San Diego company, has found a niche in the solar world by building shaded parking areas with solar panels fixed to the roofs. The panels do not track the sun, but they are angled to take advantage of it: they are usually tilted to the south.
But parking lot designers seldom take solar orientation into account when painting the stripes for the parking spaces; the company has sometimes had to realign the parking stalls so that the roofs will have good solar orientation, with the rows of cars running east-west. In the ideal configuration, said Robert Noble, an architect who founded the firm and is its chief executive, the sun rises in the windshield and sets in the back window, or vice versa.
Facing fresh criticism of his handling of the economy, President Barack Obama travels to Michigan on Thursday to promote investments in the electric vehicle battery industry, a sector the administration sees as a bright spot in the sagging recovery.
Obama will attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a plant that will manufacture advanced batteries for Chevrolet and Ford electric cars. The Compact Power plant in Holland, Mich., is the ninth factory to begin construction following the $2.4 billion investment in advanced batteries and electric vehicles Obama announced last August.
An Energy Department report to be released Thursday says the investments will increase U.S. production of advanced batteries from 2 percent to 40 percent of the world’s supply by 2015, creating thousands of jobs along the way.
“We’re going to build these products in America,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday. “We’re going to employ Americans. I think that’s a strong economic record.”
But recent polls suggest the public’s confidence in the president’s record on the economy is slipping. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted this month found that just 43 percent of Americans approved of Obama’s handling of the economy, down from 50 percent last month.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM: 58.75, -0.56, -0.94%) and Synthetic Genomics Inc. are taking their algae biofuels program into the light, at a southern California greenhouse that will allow the companies to experiment with pond scum outside of a laboratory setting.
The move, announced Wednesday, is a small step in what promises to be at least a decade-long path to the full-scale deployment of algae-based gasoline or diesel. But it’s a key sign that the world’s largest publicly traded oil company still thinks that the humble aquatic micro-organism could fit within its massive array of oil platforms, refineries and pipelines–and that the experiment is going according to plan.
From a technical progress standpoint, “we’re right on track,” said Emil Jacobs, Exxon Mobil’s vice president of research and development. To make algae fuel viable, the algae should yield at least 2,000 gallons of oil per acre annually, more than five times the yield of other biofuel crops such as corn. Jacobs said that some of the joint venture’s strains are doing better than that.
If the program successfully runs its course, Exxon Mobil could end up investing more than $600 million in its venture with Synthetic Genomics, a closely held biotech company run by celebrity scientific entrepreneur J. Craig Venter. To take it to a commercial level the company would have to spend hundreds of millions more, Jacobs said in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires.
Ministers and scientists have unveiled a Google Earth map showing potential impacts of global temperature rises of 4C, as they acknowledged the need to rebuild public trust in climate science. The interactive map enables interested members of the public to see what could happen in various parts of the world if action is not taken to curb temperature rises by cutting greenhouse gases.
It also lets people find out more about the scientific research behind the possible effects of “dangerous” climate change, from sea level rises to changes in crop yields. The launch of the map by the Foreign Office and the Department of Energy and Climate Change comes in the wake of the “climategate” row over emails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climatic Research Unit and the sustained attack it prompted on scientific research into man-made global warming.
Government chief scientist Professor John Beddington said much of the criticism of the content of emails by climate researchers at UEA and the response to the emergence of mistakes in a key international report on global warming was “saloon bar scepticism”.
The European Union’s top energy official on Wednesday suggested banning any new deepwater oil and gas exploration projects in the North Sea, Black Sea and the Mediterranean while regulators examine safety risks. The U.S. banned offshore drilling in April in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill from a well operated by BP “” and is now trying to maintain the six-month ban despite legal challenges.
Norway, Europe’s biggest oil producer, also has banned new deepwater drilling in the North Sea. It is not a member of the 27-nation EU. Britain is the most important EU nation with offshore oil rigs – but so far has made no plans to stop drilling.
EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told reporters after talks on Wednesday with 22 oil companies that “a moratorium of new drillings would be a good idea” Oettinger said he would seek a temporary ban. Also Wednesday, biologists say oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill has smeared 300-400 pelicans in the largest shorebird nesting area on the Louisiana coast. An estimated 10,000 birds nest on Raccoon Island, a spit of land that lines the Gulf at the edge of the state’s coastal marshes.
On Thursday, for the second time in two weeks, President Obama will deliver an economic pep talk at a company that has received Recovery Act funds for electric car batteries. He has recently given similar speeches at companies that create solar panels, wind turbines and biofuel.
The Recovery Act has provided billions of dollars in matching grants for clean energy programs. Despite this massive infusion of federal money, it is unlikely that these technologies will make a dent in Americans’ fossil fuel consumption anytime soon.
Clean technologies such as solar and wind power are growing at dramatic rates, says John Denniston of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. “Seven or eight years ago, the solar industry was tiny,” he says. “Today, globally the solar energy market is a $50 billion industry. That surpassed, last year, the size of the global online advertising industry.”
European Union member states approved rules for auctioning most of their carbon permits after 2012, when the next phase of trading begins in the world’s largest emissions market.
The EU, which has given away the majority of allowances since it started its cap-and-trade program in 2005, will require most emitters to purchase their allotment of permits in the phase that starts in 2013 and runs through 2020. The European Commission, the EU regulator, said countries will be able to apply for permission to run national auctions alongside a common European platform in the system’s third and later phases.
“The commission would have preferred a single platform,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in an e-mailed statement. “But some member states insisted on the possibility to have their own platform. So I am satisfied to see that member states have found a compromise.”