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

Will ‘Solar Trees’ Sprout in Parking Lots?

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.

Obama to Promote Electric Vehicles in Michigan

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 Algae-Fuels Venture Moves From Lab To Greenhouse

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”.

EU official urges ban on deep-water drilling

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.

Federal officials are considering whether to veto mountaintop mining above a little Appalachian valley called Pigeonroost Hollow, a step that could be a turning point for one of the country’s most contentious environmental disputes. The Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit in 2007 to blast 400 feet off the hilltops here to expose the rich coal seams, disposing of the debris in the upper reaches of six valleys, including Pigeonroost Hollow.

But the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, in a break with President George W. Bush’s more coal-friendly approach, has threatened to halt or sharply scale back the project known as Spruce 1. The agency asserts that the project would irrevocably damage streams and wildlife and violate the Clean Water Act.

Because it is one of the largest mountaintop mining projects ever and because it has been hotly disputed for a dozen years, Spruce 1 is seen as a bellwether by conservation groups and the coal industry.

Clean Energy Builds Slowly, Despite Federal Cash

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.”

EU Nations Set Carbon-Auction Rules to Start in 2013

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.”

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

  1. Lore says:

    “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.”

    While he is here he could also mention, off-shore Lake Michigan wind power which stands in the balance of being turned away. What about plans for revitalizing small towns in Michigan and an overhaul of our nations mass transportation system starting with our railroads. Instead of just concentrating on promoting sources for continuing our happy motoring ways and business as usual.

    Obama’s problem is he needs to come up with a clearer definition of growth. Time for some real honesty.

  2. Raul Dickson says:

    300 million dollars corporate welfare and subsidies for 300 jobs.
    Hannity is given a lot of material on this expensive boondoggle.
    The Koreans are ecstatic.
    They will build batteries for Government Motors.

  3. paulm says:

    US-Mexico trade hit by flooding, trucks stalled
    22,000 trucks unable to deliver goods on Texas border

  4. Peter Mizla says:

    Once again Obama shows he is no leader- just a wimpy fence straddler.

    He knows as much as we do on Joe’s blog here-probably more- yet he plays the same old tune on his piano.

    Boy did the Dems make a big mistake with him.

  5. Lore says:

    Peter Mizla #4

    McCain and Palin would have been a better mistake? I blame ourselves for who we have running this country. Our politicians are a clear reflection of who we are not who they are.

  6. Michael Tucker says:

    Dengue fever reported in Miami-Dade County.

    “Key West had 27 cases in 2009 in an outbreak that stopped with the end of mosquito season in mid-October. But since April of this year, 16 new cases have been confirmed.”

    “In February, Puerto Rico declared an epidemic of the disease, with more than 200 cases reported in January alone, and three deaths by mid-June.”

  7. Prokaryotes says:

    BP says test shuts off oil from ruptured Gulf well

    BP Buys $100 Million Biofuel Business

  8. Bob Wallace says:

    Raul – get your numbers from FOX? The battery plant, Compact Power, received $151 million from the government.

    It will create 300 jobs during construction and 300 permanent jobs once the plant begins operation. Then add in the jobs which those paychecks will support.

    It’s a good way to spend our tax dollars, creating new American manufacturing and American jobs. That FOX wants more jobs to go overseas is not something we should applaud.

    And when those battery plants that the stimulus money is assisting open they will be making batteries for half a million new cars a year, and the batteries will cost 70 percent less.

    Do you realize what “70% less” means? It means very affordable electric cars. Put that together with the fact that it costs about $0.03 cents per mile to fuel an EV and we’ve got some sweet driving ahead of us. Easy on the environment and easy on the pocketbook.

    BTW, with a 30MPG car and $3 gas it costs $0.10 per mile for fuel. And how long do you think we’ll enjoy $3 gas? I’d bet $5 within two years as China and India turn up their demand.

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    Carnegie Wave Energy believes its undersea wave power technology is one of the keys to Australia’s clean, green energy future.

  10. Raul M. says:

    I’m thinking that I don’t see many used electric
    cars or economy sized hybrids because the origional
    owners like their cars and so… it will be years
    before they are in mass at the used car shops like
    the SUV’s.

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    The point of the battery plant is (from above article link).

    “the U.S. is on pace to increase its share of the world’s battery production from 2 percent to 40 percent in the next five years.”

  12. Raul M. says:

    Good Idea!
    Good Action!

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    Solar panel farm opens at Knox County Detention Center

    According to a Knox County press release, the switch to solar energy will save the county $60,000 per year in natural gas expenses and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 174 tons.

  14. Michael Tucker says:

    The Shape of Things to Come

    India suffers terrible water shortages and they invest a tremendous amount of energy to pump and transport what they have from deep aquifers.

    “Firm Seeks ‘Blue Gold’ in Alaska”

    The export of high-quality bottled water has long been big business, but bulk water sales have yet to catch on – no doubt because the cost of producing local supplies even with pricy desalination plants remains cheaper than shipping water across vast distances by sea.

    But as water supplies grow scarcer – a likely outcome for many regions if global warming scenarios prevail – the margins for bulk water exports may well improve. If they do, you can expect to see many more entrepreneurs try to strike “blue gold.”

  15. Ryan T says:

    Raul, that’s why we need policy putting a price on fossil carbon and/or expanding incentives. Otherwise, mass market propagation will likely remain slow for awhile. Look how long it’s been since hybrids were introduced, and still they’re nowhere near as ubiquitous as conventional ICE vehicles. Gas prices just haven’t been high enough long enough for most people to find them appealing. Particularly the all too typical American lover of mass and excess power.

  16. Raul M. says:

    I’m guessing though, that the buyers like the
    way that the electric car is dependable.
    I like my elec. bike and for about 10 cents
    for 10 or more miles my wallet likes it too.
    Also, some veterans aren’t thinking that I
    had much to do about the fighting. That is
    another good reason.
    Good riding to you.

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    Tiny Marine Microbes Exert Influence on Global Climate: Microorganisms Display a Behavior Characteristic of Larger Animals

  18. Ziyu says:

    Coming in 2010, Nissan Leaf with a range of 100 miles on pure electric.
    Coming in 2011, Chevy Volt with a range of 40 miles on pure electric and another 300 miles using the gasoline electric generator (more efficient than ICE)
    Coming in 2011, the Hyundai Sonata Gas/Electric Hybrid with pure electric at low speeds and a fuel efficiency of 38 miles per gallon.
    Hybrid sales are picking up. Just know that the transition will pickup the pace after more hybrids and electric vehicles are released and give consumers more choice.

  19. Ziyu says:

    Germany pledges to be 100% renewable by 2050. The Bingaman Energy bill establishes a renewable energy standard like that. While the concept is nice, the details need to be strengthened. Bingaman envisions 22% total renewables (15% from sources other than existing hydroelectric power plants) by 2039. If we include nuclear and assume it stays at 20% of electricity, we can achieve 80%+ renewables.

  20. Ryan T says:

    Yes, Raul, dependability and per-mile cost are big considerations, just as up-front cost is. And agreed, Ziyu, but at least for now manufacturing costs remain higher and that needs to be offset. It would be interesting to see the Sonata’s combined MPG figure and how it compares to the Ford Fusion hybrid (39 combined and a max of 41 – city), still significantly shy of the greenest hybrid, the Prius.

  21. Sasparilla says:

    #6 Michael Tucker, nice link on the Dengue fever moving into Florida – I was totally unaware (as this huge event was totally ignored by the national media).

    And so, the first of the nasty, deadly tropical diseases that will be brought to us by global warming gains a foothold in Florida. I assumed we had another decade or two before this started happening, ugh.

    I wonder how soon Malaria will be touching down on the mainland?

  22. Prokaryotes says:

    Collapse in Earth’s Upper Atmosphere Stumps Researchers

    The “thermosphere,” a rarefied layer of gas at the boundary line between the atmosphere and space that stars about 50 miles above the Earth, recently collapsed and now is rebounding again.

    Emmert said that one possible explanation is the presence of carbon dioxide, which would act as a coolant as it gets into the thermosphere. But even then, he said, the the numbers don’t quite add up.

    “Even when we take CO2 into account using our best understanding of how it operates as a coolant, we cannot fully explain the thermosphere’s collapse,” he said.

    Uhhhm …… so what is needed to stop emissions – of any sort, which is unnatural?

  23. Prokaryotes says:

    To describe their results, the researchers pointed out that the air density at orbital altitudes is ultimately linked to the temperature of the upper atmosphere. A hotter upper atmosphere will expand in vertical extent and increase the air density at a given altitude. The two major factors that control upper atmosphere temperatures are heating via absorption of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the Sun, and cooling via CO2 infrared emission.

    The Sun was unusually quiet during the prolonged solar minimum of 2007-2009, and the research team found that the associated reduction in solar UV heating can partly explain the reduction in density. Increasing concentrations of CO2 near the Earth’s surface are likely making their way into the upper atmosphere and are thus increasing the upper atmosphere cooling efficiency. However, it is not yet clear whether the combination of reduced solar UV heating and enhanced CO2 cooling can fully account for the occurrence of the anomalously low thermospheric density, and the researchers suggested that changes in upper atmospheric chemistry and composition may have also contributed to the record-low density.

  24. Prokaryotes says:

    A response to Steve Goddard’s misinformation about ice loss

  25. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Michael at 6 –

    The northward spread of mosquitos carrying dengue-fever is indeed a serious issue – from suffering dengue in Venezuela many years ago I can say its a vile disease. It kills quite a fraction of its victims – particularly those without timely medical aid. (I was deep in the sticks and so went without like the local people).

    As such, its predictable arrival in Florida, and also via Mexico into the well-deluged Texas, has to be a concern that is very well worth publicizing as a direct threat from ongoing climate change.

    So Joe – how about a post some day on the real “immigration threat”, being the warming that allows the influx of the dengue-mossy, the fire-ant, the killer bee, the screw-worm fly, etc ? Perhaps their impacts on children, rich or poor, might be a worthwhile focus by highlighting the moral dimension of the need for climate action ?



  26. Prokaryotes says:

    Clean Energy Economy Forum now live

  27. Prokaryotes says:

    Photos Reveal Receding Himalaya Glaciers

  28. Michael Tucker says:

    Lewis Cleverdon,

    I am also concerned about malaria, yellow fever, and what the warming will do for tick and flea born diseases. I also have some concern for what a prolonged drought in Northern Mexico might do to the locust population.

    As you say they are a threat and as we warm the climate we will see changes in annual precipitation that could encourage the northward migration of these diseases and pests. Malaria used to be endemic in many parts of the US and yellow fever was reported in New Orleans in the early years of the 20th century. They are not a problem in the US at the moment but several other diseases are and dengue is the newest addition to that list.
    All these pests are tracked by the CDC and the UN so it is possible to see what the current threat is.