97 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for August 11th: China surpasses U.S. in energy usage; Top U.S. green power cities; Free solar panels to 2.5 million UK homes
Preliminary data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that China has become the largest energy consumer in the world, having overtaken the United States in the top spot. An IEA chart shows China using roughly 2.25 billion tons of oil last year, while the United States used roughly 2.2 billion tons of oil in 2009. China rose to its top ranking faster than expected because the country was much less affected by the global financial crisis than the United States. The IEA notes that China’s energy use would be even higher today had the government not made significant progress in reducing the energy intensity of the nation’s economy, that is, the amount of energy used per unit of output. China has also become one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy, particularly wind and solar energy, and is planning a major expansion of its nuclear power industry.
The IEA notes that China has experienced “phenomenal” growth in energy demand in recent years, doubling its energy use since 2000. But despite this rapid growth in demand, China’s energy consumption on a per capita basis is still only approximately one-third of the average among industrialized countries. Considering this low per-capita energy consumption and China’s rank as the most populous nation on the planet, the IEA concludes, “prospects for further growth are very strong.” The IEA will further explore these trends in its World Energy Outlook 2010, due to be published on November 3. See the IEA press release and the accompanying chart.
HomeSun, a British solar company, has announced that it will spend £1 billion (US$1.6 billion) on a free solar panel giveaway to British households. The method behind HomeSun’s billion-dollar madness is to promote home solar power in the UK. The free installations will be spread out over the next three years and will add solar energy to an estimated 2.5 million homes.
HomeSun plans to recoup its massive investment through earnings from government feed-in tariffs to promote solar power installation. Any excess energy produced by the free-paneled homes will be collected by HomeSun and sold back to the national grid at a premium.
Daniel Green, head of HomeSun, aims to boost renewable energy production in Britain while helping the European Union meet its carbon reduction goals on schedule. He pointed out that Germany already produces half of the world’s solar energy, but the UK has yet to show much progress in the field. He wants HomeSun, “the free power company,” to catapult Britain onto the global solar power front.
It’s back to school, and back to solar for Butte College, a 21,000-student community college in Northern California, which recently announced its intent to become the first U.S. “grid-positive” college. Administrators plan to produce more electricity by solar power than the school consumes by adding approximately 15,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels by May 2011. The new arrays will generate 2.7 megawatts (MW) of power””which when combined with the 1.85 MW already produced from 10,000 existing campus solar panels””will make Butte the largest solar-producing college in the world, the college said.
The system approved by the schools’ Board of Trustees will allow Butte to generate more than 6.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which is enough to power more than 9,200 households. The school introduced PV to campus in 2005 and added to that over the years. Under the latest expansion, new solar panels will be installed on rooftops, on covered parking and walkways, and in ground arrays. The $17 million project will use $12.65 million in federal clean renewable energy bonds and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocations for the bulk of the cost. The remainder, up to $4.35 million, will be funded by college, which expects a $1 million rebate from PG&E, their utility provider, and the California Solar Initiative. See the Butte College press release.
LEMOORE, Calif. “” Thousands of acres of farmland here in the San Joaquin Valley have been removed from agricultural production, largely because the once fertile land is contaminated by salt buildup from years of irrigation.
But large swaths of those dry fields could have a valuable new use in their future “” making electricity.
Farmers and officials at Westlands Water District, a public agency that supplies water to farms in the valley, have agreed to provide land for what would be one of the world’s largest solar energy complexes, to be built on 30,000 acres.
At peak output, the proposed Westlands Solar Park would generate as much electricity as several big nuclear power plants.
Unlike some renewable energy projects blocked by objections that they would despoil the landscape, this one has the support of environmentalists.
The San Joaquin initiative is in the vanguard of a new approach to locating renewable energy projects: putting them on polluted or previously used land. The Westlands project has won the backing of groups that have opposed building big solar projects in the Mojave Desert and have fought Westlands for decades over the district’s water use. Landowners and regulators are on board, too.
“It’s about as perfect a place as you’re going to find in the state of California for a solar project like this,” said Carl Zichella, who until late July was the Sierra Club‘s Western renewable programs director. “There’s virtually zero wildlife impact here because the land has been farmed continuously for such a long time and you have proximity to transmission, infrastructure and markets.”
Having major corporations advising government isn’t anything new”¦ but in the UK they have begun a refreshing approach. Instead of having major oil companies and other big polluters working hard to water down any legislation aimed at controlling the damage caused by their operations, the UK is taking a different tack and having some of their most prominent corporations become forces for good.
David Cameron’s government took the decisive step of announcing the goal of a 10% cut in carbon in its first year in power, just days after being elected. Now Cameron has taken another firm step down the road to being the “greenest government ever” and has asked for help from some major players. Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and B&Q owners Kingfisher and HSBC will all be providing advice to the government on how exactly it can achieve this 10% target.
To some, this may seem surprising. How can a supermarket chain, a department store, a home supply store chain and a financial services company be expected to give the UK sound green advice? Simple. They are far ahead of the game and have already become quite green themselves. Super energy saving heroes, if you will.
Take Tesco as an example. In 2007, they were already concerned about the energy efficiency of their stores. In fact, they were so concerned that they had already completed a two-year roll-out of Smartcool technology to 500 Tesco Express stores in order to reduce the energy used by their refrigeration systems. This one measure cut refrigeration energy use by 22%, saving the company thousands of pounds of cash and carbon emissions.
So that’s pretty neat- using the lessons already learned by big business to help government get greener. But perhaps the most impressive part is that they are managing to do this in a coalition government. Aiming for a 10% cut in carbon emissions in a single year sure sounds like green, liberal policy. One which should have Conservatives at the very least worried, if not frothing at the mouth in opposition.
For those of you who consider the green data center movement a fad, there is a new report out from Pike Research that suggests investment in greener facilities will grow rapidly over the next five years. In fact, Pike predicts that so-called green data centers “” with a focus on energy efficiency and environmental design sensitivities “” will generate $41.4 billion in revenue by 2015, representing close to 30 percent of the total data center market.
Three hallmarks of these facilities will be energy efficiency, virtual technology infrastructure and adaptability, meaning that these data centers can respond dynamically to new business needs, new processes and services, and technology innovation. (What’s green in 2015 might necessarily be green in 2016, after all.) Cooling and power infrastructure will represent about 46 of the revenue associated with green data centers over the next five years, followed by investments in more efficient IT equipment, with about 41 percent of the revenue.
In a press release about the report, Pike analyst Eric Woods writes: “Cost of energy has seldom been a concern for IT departments in the past, and there was little incentive to invest in energy efficiency improvements. But as data center energy costs become more visible, the financial benefits of moving to a greener mode of operation are being recognized by CEOs, CFOs and CIOs.”
For me, the Pike research is validated by the fact that I’m receiving a growing number of pitches from data center operators, such as Stream Data Center (which I wrote about yesterday) that are investing substantially behind the idea that their data center site or co-location facility is greener than the alternative. And that customers will be interested in that.
While for a brief period of time you might see some of these data center operators charging a premium for those services, I think you are more likely to see them use the “green” messaging as deal closers and strategic differentiators with companies that use corporate sustainability issues as a divining rod when making procurement decisions.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has named 22 cities of varying sizes to its 2010 Smarter Cities list for green power. And now I’m wondering why I ever moved away from Santa Cruz, Calif., which is one of the smaller cities on this latest ranking.
Here’s the NRDC’s list, chunked up by size:
Large (population more than 250,000)
El Paso, Texas
Long Beach, Calif.
Medium (population between 100,00 and 249,999)
Fort Collins, Colo.
Huntington Beach, Calif.
Santa Clarita, Calif.
Small (population less than 100,000)
Santa Cruz, Calif.
The NRDC said it used green energy as the criteria for this list because half of all the energy in the United States is still produced by coal, a dependence it would like the nation to wean itself off of, for various environmental and health reasons. Factors for list selection included aggregate kilowatt-hour power consumption, the top three fuel sources for a particular city, whether it had completed a greenhouse gas inventory, and what energy conservation programs are in place locally. Transportation was deliberately excluded from the inventory. An evaluation of this metric is planned for fall 2010.
Cities with populations of more than 50,000 were consulted for the planned list. In all, about 655 cities were contacted. NRDC also reached out specifically to the appropriate cities on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Communities list.
The U.S. wind power industry had a record-setting year in 2009, adding 10 gigawatts of new capacity and securing $21 billion in investments, a new DOE report shows. The cumulative wind power capacity grew 40% despite the economic turmoil throughout the year, according to the “2009 Wind Technologies Market Report,” which was released on August 4. The analysis, from DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), showed that for the fifth consecutive year, wind was second only to natural gas in adding new electrical capacity to the U.S. grid. Still, a sharp drop in wholesale electricity prices (due in part to lower natural gas prices) pressured the wind energy industry bottom line in 2009 and indicated challenges on the horizon.
Gains in wind power capacity figured prominently in the DOE report’s key findings. Utility-scale wind power grew at a pace 20% higher in 2009 than in the previous record year of 2008, driven in part by support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the carryover of projects planned for completion in 2008. Wind power supplied 39% of all new U.S. electrical generating capacity, which was down from the 44% in the previous year but remained the second-largest new resource for the grid behind natural gas. The United States held the lead in total global wind power capacity but was passed in total annual additions in 2009 by China, which reached the top spot by recording 36% of the world’s market share in 2009 while the U.S. recorded roughly 26%. Domestically, Texas added 2,292 megawatts (MW) of wind power, easily outpacing the next highest states””Indiana with 905 MW and Iowa with 879 MW””as well as the 26 other states that brought new large-scale wind turbines online last year.
Conditions in the 2009 wind power market suggested some future uncertainties, according to the LBNL report. For example, the LBNL authors noted that going forward, natural gas prices may not rebound to earlier levels as the economy recovers, putting the near-term comparative economic position of wind energy at some risk. Further, the installed cost of wind power projects continued to rise. Among a large sample of wind power projects installed in 2009, reported installed costs had a capacity-weighted average of $2,120 per kilowatt, which marked a 9% average increase from the weighted-average cost of $1,950 per kilowatt for projects installed in 2008. The report concludes that while there are expectations that those costs will eventually decline, the costs may remain high, on average, as developers work through the dwindling backlog of turbines purchased at peak prices in early 2008. Although the DOE report showed strong wind power growth in 2009, a mid-year update from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), released on July 27, found that wind industry growth slowed in the first half of 2010. See the 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report (PDF 3 MB) and the AWEA Q2 report (PDF 541 KB).
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) in San Francisco on August 5 approved $5 million in funding for further development of a regional electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure program in the Bay Area. The stations and home chargers are part of the BAAQMD’s “Spare the Air” program, designed to make owning EVs viable in the Bay Area.
The program will leverage the funds to support EV charging infrastructure grants that cover 3,000 home chargers at single family and multi-family dwellings. The grants also will supply 2,000 public chargers at employer and high-density parking areas as well as 50 fast chargers near highways. According to the BAAQMD, which covers nine counties, transportation accounts for more than half the air pollution in the region. See the (BAAQMD press release) and the BAAQMD Web site.
Nonproliferation objectives get attention from Congress and China
The Wall Street Journal reports Aug 3 that US talks with Vietnam about its plans to build nuclear reactors has “unsettled” key members of Congress. The Hindu, one of India’s largest newspapers, reports Aug 9 that China is annoyed by reports Vietnam might develop uranium enrichment capabilities with U.S. technology.
The WSJ report leads with news that the Obama administration is “in advanced negotiations to share nuclear fuel and technology . . . that would allow Hanoi to enrich its own uranium.”
It didn’t take long for a reaction in Congress. On Aug 6 the WSJ reports that Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the negotiations are an example of a double standard when compared to the “hard line position” the US took in its 1-2-3 agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE promised not to develop its own uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing capabilities in return for the right to import U.S. commercial nuclear energy technologies and components. So far the arrangement hasn’t done much for U.S. nuclear firms as last December the UAE awarded a $20 billion contract to South Korea to build four 1,400 MW reactors.
This afternoon, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi called them back from their six-week summer break, members of the House of Representatives passed an emergency $26 billion spending bill to prevent the layoff of 300,000 teachers, police and other civil servants from layoffs due to state cutbacks. The bill passed along a nearly party-line vote“”Democrats hailed it as the only way to keep thousands of teachers in the classrooms as students prepared to return to school, while Republicans derided the legislation as yet another fiscally irresponsible government bailout. To wit:
“Where do the bailouts end?” asked Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. “Are we going to bail out states next year and the year after that, too? At some point we’ve got to say, ‘Enough is enough.'”
And on the other side of the aisle:
“We can’t stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe,” said President Obama during remarks in the Rose Garden ahead of the vote.
So, yet another example of how politically divided Washington is, how strapped our state finances are””and perhaps how essentially ungovernable we’ve become. Not something that would usually involve Ecocentric””I try to avoid any stories that contain the word “Medicaid.” But in order to provide some of the funds needed to pay for that $26 billion package, the House voted to transfer $1.5 billion from the renewable-energy and loan-guarantee program used to support solar, wind and other alternative energy companies. Along with another reduction earlier this year, that leaves the program’s size at about $25 billion””less than half what Democrats in Congress had originally planned. (Unsurprisingly, the Senate has already passed a similar measure.)