"Energy and Global Warming News for August 17th: Record floods threaten to drown Pakistan’s economy; Levels plummet in crucial Lake Mead reservoir; Are batteries the key to electric cars, more responsive grid?"
The Obama administration is betting that some of its stimulus grants for batteries will have a double whammy — helping electric cars as well as the electric grid. Yesterday, the president gave remarks at ZBB Energy Corp., a company northwest of Milwaukee. ZBB builds large batteries that can cushion the grid when there’s a power hiccup — and, it is hoped, that can eventually smooth out the electricity generated from the fickle forces of wind and sun.
But just before President Obama praised ZBB for exporting its batteries around the world, he mentioned a statistic: that in a matter of years, American firms will have gone from supplying 2 percent of the world’s batteries for vehicles to 40 percent. Experts say there are some commonalities between vehicle and grid batteries, but it’s not a perfect overlap.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave billions in grants to set up manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries in the United States. These are the batteries thought to have the best near-term potential for use in vehicles — they’re relatively light and carry plenty of energy. Nissan, General Motors, Ford and Toyota are among the companies planning to use the batteries in plug-in cars.
Some companies receiving the auto-battery grants will also be working on grid batteries. A123Systems and Ener1, for example, each make lithium-ion batteries for cars; together, they received more than $350 million in grants for auto batteries, and both have recently announced demonstration projects for storing power from the grid.
The floods wreaking havoc in Pakistan are also destroying the country’s economy, according to a senior U.N. Development Programme official who called for billions of dollars beyond what governments have already pledged.
In Pakistan earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the flooding — the worst there in more than 80 years, responsible for the death of more than 1,300 people and still not over — is the worst natural disaster he has ever seen.
While the United Nations appealed last week for $459 million in emergency relief funds, U.N. Interim Resident Coordinator in Pakistan Onder Yucer said agencies are currently conducting separate assessments for long-term recovery needs.
“The damage that has been inflicted on the country’s economy, especially in the agricultural and farming sectors, is still being assessed, but we can confidently say that it is enormous,” Yucer said in a statement.
The United States so far has evacuated about 2,328 people and delivered 213,600 pounds of relief supplies, and pledged an additional $20 million in humanitarian assistance, according to the State Department. It also has delivered about $3.2 million worth of halal meals to Pakistani civilian and military officials, six water filtration units able to provide clean water to 10,000 people daily, about two dozen concrete-cutting saws and 12 pre-fabricated steel bridges valued at $3.2 million for temporary highway bridge replacements.
Water levels in Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir, fell sharply again this summer and are nearing an elevation that would set off the first-ever official water shortage on the river, The Arizona Republic reported last week.
The reservoir, which supplies roughly 30 million users in the West, dropped to 1,087 feet above sea level, or about 40 percent of capacity. Were the lake to hit 1,075 feet, allocations on the river would be cut by more than 100 billion gallons under the terms of a 2007 agreement struck by seven Western states and Mexico.
Las Vegas, which draws about 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead, is particularly vulnerable to dropping lake levels. Were levels to fall to 1,050 feet, or 26 percent capacity, one of the city’s two water intake pipes on the lake would cease functioning. In anticipation of such an event, water managers have developed a highly controversial plan to tap groundwater in northeast Nevada and transport it to the city via a multibillion-dollar pipeline.
Climate scientists gathering this week in Colorado are trying to come up with an early warning system to predict future meteorological disasters triggered by climate change.
Storms, hurricanes, droughts, flooding and other weather catastrophes have dominated headlines throughout the world this year, and scientists predict that 2010 will likely be the hottest year on record. On the heels of such news, the meeting in Boulder, Colo., has been set up to cope with devastation in the future.
Freak weather events are likely to become more severe and persistent over the coming century as levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rise, warn scientists. The events will be difficult to track, however, and scientists today cannot pinpoint where the worst devastation will occur. Although they can figure out general trends in climate and say with certainty that the world will be warmer and wetter, they cannot predict specific weather outcomes at particular places.
The Colorado meeting is aimed at developing precise techniques to find out regions that will be hit by droughts, floods and heat waves before the events happen. If such a system is available, the impact of events such as the peat fires in Moscow or the floods in Pakistan that have displaced 20 million and killed 1,600 people could be lessened.
Batteries in the Honda Civic hybrid can lose power years before expected, but it is the automaker’s fix that has customers up in arms. Rather than replacing the costly batteries, Honda is installing software programs on affected cars’ computers that drivers say make the cars guzzle more gas.
The Japanese company sent a letter to more than 100,000 owners of Civic hybrids warning that the batteries “may deteriorate and eventually fail” and saying a software patch would solve the problem. Honda says the patch is designed to make the car run more smoothly and prevent battery crashes.
But reports say the fix drops the car’s gas mileage, with one driver claiming says his has fallen to 33 miles per gallon, down from 45 miles per gallon when the car was new.
The California Air Resources Board, which monitors vehicle emissions, says that could prompt a mandatory recall or fines. The board says it was not adequately notified of the changes and that the fix could violate regulations if it does increase emissions. “It becomes a potential air quality concern for us,” said John Urkov, chief of the in-use vehicle branch.
When the Petermann Glacier calved an ice island four times the size of Manhattan earlier this month, GPS sensors embedded in the ice and time-lapse cameras sitting on nearby rock were watching.
But scientists who put them there were caught off guard. Traveling to northwestern Greenland to retrieve the data that equipment recorded will cost them roughly $93,000, money they currently don’t have.
That’s unfortunate, says Jason Box, a climate scientist at Ohio State University who helped place those instruments, because the difficulty comes as his research team has made a startling discovery. Of the 30 widest glaciers in Greenland, it’s the ones in the north — where Petermann is located — that are collectively losing the most ice.
“The science really hasn’t caught up with the observations,” he said of those results, which he will present at a scientific meeting this week in Ohio. “The observations are showing really dramatic changes. There is an element of surprise. The fact that there is so much change in northern Greenland is not something the community is aware of yet.”
Big-city mayors converged yesterday to make the case for more federal funds for energy efficiency. Cities and counties have spent only a fraction of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act’s $2.8 billion for energy efficiency and conservation block grants — 8 percent, according to a recent report from DOE’s inspector general (Greenwire, Aug. 16). But they are putting the pressure on Congress and DOE to continue funding the grants, which fund local efficiency and emissions-reduction projects.
San Francisco is on track to spend 20 percent of its $7.7 million by the end of September and is projecting it will create 3,600 home energy audit and retrofitting jobs with the entire sum. Mayor Gavin Newsom expressed enthusiasm yet frustration yesterday with the pace and scope of progress.
“That’s what’s so frustrating — it’s so obvious and so easy,” he said.
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said her city has spent $868,000 on energy audits, lighting in four municipal parks and heating and air conditioning in eight buildings. The audits alone will save $150,000 annually in energy costs, she said.
From Norway to New Delhi, leaders are struggling to define the World Bank’s role in eradicating energy poverty while keeping a lid on carbon emissions.
The global financial institution currently is revamping its blueprint for funding energy projects, a document it hopes to present to its board of directors by mid-2011. But in doing so, the bank finds itself confronting head-on some of the formidable policy questions that it previously had been able to resolve on a project-by-project basis.
Those are: how to bring energy to the 1.5 billion people in the world who live in darkness and another 2.5 billion without access to modern energy fuels without underwriting a mammoth increase in the global level of greenhouse gases — and what precisely should the bank’s policy be when it comes to the construction of major coal-fired power plants in developing countries?
“Any energy solution or proposal will stir controversy and debate in the public arena,” Lucio Monari, World Bank energy sector manager, said in a video the agency posted after a worldwide energy consultation that spanned 45 meetings in 37 countries.
“Between rich and poor countries, in particular, there is an awareness of the need to move to a low-carbon and climate change-conscious development, but at the same time, the issue is who is going to pay for it, and how is it going to be financed?” Monari said.
Two Russian tankers carrying 70,000 metric tons of natural gas to China are, for the first time, using a shortcut through the Arctic Ocean.
Chaperoned by two nuclear-powered icebreakers, the shipment left the port town of Murmansk for Asia on Saturday. Shipping companies OAO Sovcomflot and OAO Novatek are aiming to cut their delivery time to China by half by using the northern route rather than the Suez Canal.
“We decided to try the new supply because Southeast Asia is a prime market for oil and gas,” Sovcomflot Deputy CEO Evgeny Ambrosov said today by phone. “Even with the accompanying icebreakers, the passage will break even. It’s true that it won’t give especially material returns.”
The journey will cut the distance to an unidentified port in China to 7,000 nautical miles, down from 12,000 via the Suez, according to Sovcomflot. But others were less sure about the economic justification for the trip.
“The fact that there are two icebreakers for a small ship would imply that there is no economic justification for the route, for condensate or LNG,” said Keith Bainbridge, a partner in charge of gas at RS Platou LLP, an offshore shipping broker and investment bank in London.