Energy and Global Warming News for September 21st: India floods leave two million homeless, destroy crops; Bingaman, Brownback headline renewable energy bill; 10 themes driving climate change investments; Developing low-temperature geothermal energy

India floods leave two million homeless, destroy crops

At least two million people in northern India have been left homeless as the Ganges and other rivers, swollen by heavy monsoon rains, broke embankments and submerged villages, fields and religious sites. State officials said 500,000 hectares of agriculture land in top cane growing state Uttar Pradesh were flooded and the heavy rains could affect cotton output from Punjab and Haryana.

They said floods in Uttar Pradesh were the worst in years and were still assessing the damage to the cane.  Any output loss would reduce sugar supply in India, the world’s top consumer and second-largest producer of the sweetner, and could push up prices globally.

Television pictures showed people leaving villages on bullock carts through submerged roads, while several women and men were seen wading through waist-deep water, carrying children on their shoulders and belongings on their heads.

Farmers in northern Haryana and Punjab told Reuters that heavy rains have damaged cotton boils and fear, which could affect harvesting this year. “Rains are likely to increase risk of pest attack and disease to cotton, escalating cost of production. It will bring quality of crop and lower its value,” said G.S. Butter, director, Cotton Research Centre of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU).

Sens. Jeff Bingaman, Sam Brownback headline renewable energy bill

A bipartisan group of senators will unveil a stand-alone renewable electricity standard Tuesday in a last-ditch bid to convince leadership that such a controversial bill could move in the partisan Senate. Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) will formally unveil their bill in the Capitol, according to Bingaman’s office.

The actual legislation is expected to be a version of the RES that came out of Bingaman’s panel last year, possibly with a few minor tweaks. That bill would require utilities to provide 15 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2021.

Clean energy advocates, environmentalists and labor groups have been beating the drum for the Senate to take up a standalone version of an RES ever since Senate Democrats abandoned plans to move a sweeping energy and climate bill this summer.  At the time, an RES was one of a number of items on the Democrats’ energy agenda but Majority Leader Harry Reid ultimately decided that it – like a cap-and-trade proposal – was too controversial to move in the divided Senate.

But over recess, Reid suggested that he would be open to revisiting the issue of an RES, even in a lame duck session, which could potentially be a boon to renewable projects in his home state of Nevada. Such statements buoyed the spirits of RES backers, who carried on an aggressive lobbying blitz over the summer.

Brownback was the only Republican senator to expressly offer his support for a renewable standard, although he did so with the caveat that it would have to move alone and that the bill would need to be the one that came out of the energy panel – and not a higher standard advocated by a number of liberal lawmakers.

Report: U.S. firms lag competitors on climate change

Corporate efforts are growing worldwide to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but U.S. companies are still not doing as much as their European counterparts, says a new report Monday. Three times as many European companies as North American ones got top scores for taking steps to reduce their CO2 emissions, according to the latest annual report from the non-profit Carbon Disclosure Project. The group, based in the United Kingdom, solicits the world’s largest companies for climate change data on behalf of institutional investors.

The report comes as Climate Week gets underway in New York City, where business leaders and government officials from around the world are gathering to discuss climate change. It finds that 70% of companies surveyed believe they can benefit financially by addressing the issue.

“Companies are seeing the opportunity from climate change, from energy efficiency initiatives to renewable energy development and new innovations,” Paul Dickinson, the project’s CEO said in a statement.

The report’s top 10 scorers, among those on the S&P, for disclosing greenhouse gas emissions and trying to reduce include: Consolidated Edison; News Corporation; Spectra Energy; Praxair; Cisco Systems; Dean Foods; CSX ; Exelon; PG&; Xcel Energy.

10 Themes Driving Climate Change Investments

Despite challenging economic conditions and regulatory uncertainty, global executives believe that the climate change agenda will significantly impact and drive their business performance and strategy over the next few years according to a recent survey by Ernst & Young: Action amid uncertainty: the business response to climate change.

Three hundred global corporate executives from 16 countries with at least $1 billion in annual revenue participated in the survey conducted during the spring 2010. Here are 10 key findings that offer insight into where businesses are with their climate change strategy and investment, and perhaps more importantly, where they are going.

1. Increasing spend on climate change business initiatives: 70 percent of the corporate executives plan to increase spending on climate change initiatives between 2010 and 2012. Nearly half plan to spend between 0.5 percent to more than 5 percent of their revenue on climate change initiatives. For a $1 billion company, this represents an anticipated spend of $5 million to $50 million annually.

2. Energy use is top of mind: When asked about what factors will be important in driving their climate change initiatives in the coming months, 92 percent of respondents consider energy costs to be a very important or important driver over this period. As a reflection of this, energy efficiency is at the top of the list as 82 percent of respondents plan to invest in this space over that time period. About half of the respondents confirm new ventures, such as spin-offs or start-up businesses, as an area for focus.

3. Consumer demands are driving investment: Corporate climate change activities are being driven by evolving customer demands according to 89 percent of survey respondents. In some sectors — including automotive, consumer products and technology — the response is unanimous that this is an imperative for action.

Pod Cars Start to Gain Traction in Some Cities

Is the pod car finally ready for prime time? After almost 50 years of trial and error, these futuristic personal rapid transit systems, or P.R.T.’s, may be coming to airports and city centers because of technological advances and a growing interest in sustainable transportation.

Pod cars are automated vehicles that carry up to six passengers who are traveling together to the same destination. The cars ride on dedicated guideways above or alongside automobile and bus traffic. Propulsion is provided by an electric motor, and the car rides on small rubber tires. Imagine a very posh golf cart, but without the steering wheel. Navigation is entirely automated through a computer control system.

Because of the reduced carbon pollution and lower operating costs compared with traditional bus service, proponents envision widespread use at airports, urban centers, office parks, shopping malls and tourist attractions. Many airports offer automated people movers: driverless train cars linked together that move passengers between parking lots and terminals, stopping at every station on a constant loop. By contrast, pod cars move only on demand, offering point-to-point service with no fixed schedule. Either a car is waiting for you when you step up to the platform, or you can summon one from the control panel at each station.

Several projects have been announced, built or put through a trial in 2010. The highest profile project connects the new Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport to parking areas. The 21-car system, which is complete but still being tested, covers 2.4 miles with the capacity to move about a 1,000 people a day, said Steve Raney, a principal at ULTra PRT , the firm that built the pod cars for Heathrow.

GDF Suez To Build 5 MW CSP Plant In Chile

In collaboration with Solar Power Group, the energy group is now seeking permits for a concentrating solar power (CSP) plant to supply the 150 MW Mejillones coal-fired plant with superheated steam. A pilot plant should operate from early 2012, say the developers. The steam’s offtaker will be E-CL, GDF Suez’s electricity company in Chile’s northern electric system.

“This project is aligned with GDF Suez Group‘s intention to incorporate renewable and clean energy in its own energy mix, as well as with the development of innovative and effective solutions for our clients,” said Jan Flachet, head of GDF Suez Energy Latin America.

A solar boiler based on Solar Power Group‘s Fresnel technology will receive solar irradiation from an array of mirrors to generate steam that can raise the Mejillones plant’s fuel efficiency and cut its coal consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. “This project is a first step to unlock the potential of solar energy in the north of Chile,” said E-CL’s CEO Lode Verdeyen.

Under Chile’s new energy law 20.257, 5% of total production in new energy contracts must come from non-conventional sources. By 2024 renewables should contribute 10% of total energy production.

Developing Geothermal Energy at Low Temps

A large portion of the world’s installed geothermal generation capacity is located in North America. The United States has 3086 MW of installed geothermal capacity and is the world’s leading geothermal electricity generator. Mexico ranks fourth with 958 MW and new projects, all across the region, are underway.

A few new high-temperature fields are under development: Blue Mountain in Nevada, which recently came online, is one such project. Additionally, much of the new geothermal power generation that has come online in the past 10 years has been from expansions of geothermal fields already connected to power grids. And while the largest high-temperature geothermal complex in the world, the Geysers in California, boasts 1517 MW of installed capacity, there is quite a bit happening on the lower end of the temperature scale.

Existing geothermal energy fields that have more untapped energy potential in leasable areas can be hard to come by. But this may not hamper the growth of geothermal energy projects. The reason, some experts say, is that low-temperature geothermal projects are becoming more economical through the use of organic rankine cycles (ORCs) and through new technologies like coproduction from oil and gas wells.

Low-temperature geothermal projects are defined as projects that use water temps of up to 300°F to produce power and/or those that have output capacities of just a few megawatts. The U.S. Geological Survey has identified more than 120,000 MW of untapped potential at these temperatures, some of which are conventional hydrothermal operations, where shallow geothermal fields are used because the deeper field lacks permeability.

Recent low-temperature developments have also been made in oil and gas co-production projects, generating electricity from the warm wastewater byproduct at oil and gas wells – wells that have already been drilled, eliminating the costs of one huge step of the process.

As a side note, direct use geothermal and heat pump applications can also be classified as low-temperature geothermal projects, but they are generally used for heating and cooling applications as opposed to power generation.

Low-temperature geothermal power projects have been in existence in the U.S. since 1984, when Ormat Technologies deployed a 700-kW net geothermal power unit in Nevada, the first commercial geothermal power plant in the state….

An article that ran in 2009 in Geotermia magazine by Eduardo R. Iglesias and Rodolfo J. Torres, entitled First assessment of low- to medium-temperature geothermal reserves in 20 Mexican states, gives an assessment of low-to-medium geothermal reserves in Mexico and their aggregate value on a state-by-state basis. “The most likely reservoir temperatures range between 60-180°C [140-356°F] with a mean of 111°C [232°F],” according to the abstract. “Such massive amounts of recoverable energy””and the associated temperatures””are potentially important for the economic development of nearby localities and the nation.”

… ORCs are often used in low- to moderate-temperature systems. With a range between 200°F and 350°F they are often used when brine is not sufficient for flashing the steam. “It is ideal for vapor power cycles,” according to an article by Josh Nordquist of Ormat Technologies in a Geothermal Resource Council publication titled Use of Small, Sub 1 MW Organic Rankine Cycle Power Systems and Low Temperature Resources (Vol. 33, 2009).

An example of how ORCs in low-temperature projects can extend the life of existing resources was recently reported in another part of the world. In Taiwan, the Yilang Chingshui Geothermal Project will use two UTC PureCycle systems to generate electrical power at an existing geothermal site for the first time in 25 years. With a capacity of 500-kW net using 130°C geothermal resources, power production is expected by the end of the year.

Another application of low-temperature ORC systems is through the use of Solar Ponds.  In large lakes with high salt content, much of the salt sinks to the bottom.  “The upper layers of [fresh]water act as an insulating blanket and the temperature at the bottom of the pond can reach 90 degrees C. This is a high enough temperature to run an organic rankine cycle (ORC) engine or Stirling engine,”  as described on, The first solar pond ORC system in the United States was a 100-kW system that supplied process heat to a commercial manufacturer.  It was installed in Texas in 1986 and produced at 85°C [185°F], according to Ormat Technologies, which supplied the unit.

Chena Hot Springs, Alaska, is the site of the lowest temperature commercial geothermal plant to date, though test units of 1-4 kW have run on lower temperatures. Two 210-kW units using 73.3°C [165°F] geothermal fluid as the heat source were installed at Chena in 2006 by United Technologies Corp. The systems replaced on-site diesel generation systems, resulting in substantial cost savings.

48-MW Offshore Wind Farm Completed in Germany

Construction of Germany’s newest offshore wind park has recently been completed. The 21 wind turbines that make up the 48-MW Baltic 1 wind farm are now installed and set to enter the commissioning phase, the final step before energy production can begin.

Germany needs to move offshore if it wants to continue adding large amounts of wind capacity. In 2009, companies were able to put about 1,720 MW of new capacity onshore. But with over 21,000 turbines installed across the country, there isn’t much room left on land.

Companies are often deciding between two choices: Trade out older turbines for new ones (known as re-powering projects), or build in the water. With feed-in tariffs and loan guarantees to help them out, companies are creating an offshore gold rush in the country. The German government wants to develop 10 GW of offshore wind in the North Sea and Baltic Sea by 2020 and 25 GW by 2030.

After last year’s completion of Germany’s first deepwater offshore wind farm, alpha ventus, several new projects are underway. BARD Offshore 1, another wind farm with 80 five megawatt turbines, is currently under construction 100 km off the North Sea coast. More than 30 wind parks have already received formal approval.

According to HSBC, the global offshore market is predicted to grow at approximately 29 percent between 2009 and 2020, with Germany set to be a major contributor. Already Europe’s top wind energy generator with market growth of 15 percent in 2009, Germany’s offshore segment is looking to be a growth driver for the coming years.

10 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for September 21st: India floods leave two million homeless, destroy crops; Bingaman, Brownback headline renewable energy bill; 10 themes driving climate change investments; Developing low-temperature geothermal energy

  1. Aaron Lewis says:

    Part of the problem is that during this monsoon, it has been raining at higher altitudes in the Himalaya and the snow fields that feed the high Asian glaciers have been getting rain instead of snow. During the Pakistan floods and again during the last week it has been raining as high as 19,000 feet in the Himalaya – well above the glaciers that source the big rivers and above the snow fields that source those glaciers. There were other things that contributed to the Pakistan floods, but the rain at high altitudes was a real eye-opener. Looks like we are seeing loss of functionality of the Himalayan glaciers to store water, and the IPCC may have been correct about the Asian glaciers that source the major rivers being (functionally) gone in 25 years.

  2. _Flin_ says:

    Considering green jobs, Germany’s economy is expected to grow more than 3.4 percent this year (which is a lot for German standards and a post unification record) and government already talks about possible “Vollbeschäftigung” (= unemployment around 2%) in 4-5 years.

    Doesn’t seem as if the 10 years of investment in green energy were that negative after all. 20 bn€ Investment in renewables in 2009, 300.000 green jobs (+8%)

  3. Sasparilla says:

    A rather horrifying article on Yahoo news (the important part is that the consequences of an ice free summer arctic – destruction of permafrost and methane emissions are referenced by several scientists in the article):

    Arctic Ice in Death Spiral

    The short version is that the scientists think we’ve locked in an ice free (summer) arctic at this point (not surprising at all based on what we’ve seen). The surprising part is the direct talk about the consequences – the permafrost will (no ambiguity on this) melt as a result (sooner rather than later, it says) releasing the methane & CO2 its trapped for many thousands of years. Time frame for the melt is “a matter of decades” (alot of ambiguity there). The lower boundaries of the permafrost on a geographic scale have already started northward, apparently.

    Because of the amount of methane and CO2 in the permafrost is so vast, this is one of the really big tipping points / feedbacks that we had to avoid to prevent mother nature from taking control of this CO2 geo-engineering experiment out of our hands for good. At this point (according to the article), short of a miracle, we’ve locked this feedback in.

    Joe, can you please help me feel better and tell me this article is a bunch of bluster and that we don’t have large scale melting of the permafrost locked in yet?

    [JR: “Locked in”? Not yet. Likely, given how things stand, I’m afraid so. devastating to modern human civilization? Very possibly.]

  4. paulm says:

    So Canada (GOP:) thought that they would benefit from GW. Well the reality is sinking in…
    .Pine Beetle
    .Drought & Flooding hand in hand
    .More, more intense Storms/Hurricanes
    .Heat Waves

    And were at 0.8C.–hurricane-igor-washes-out-roads-strands-residents-in-newfoundland

    “We’ve never seen such a violent storm before,” he said from his office, where he spent the night monitoring the storm’s arrival.
    “We’ve had over 200 millimetres of rain in the past 20 hours and very few, if any communities in the country, could deal with that amount of rainfall. … We’ve lost sections of our main roads, completely washed out to sea.”

    “The amount of rain in such short time has overwhelmed and is in excess of most of the infrastructure that exists,” said Shea.

  5. Edward says:

    13 martin weiss
    mexico, mo
    September 10th, 2010
    11:08 am
    The poleaxed priorities of recalcitrant vested interests refusing to re-tool and finding ever more Machiavellian means to prolong their grip on profit would be amusing if they weren’t so extortive and enraging.
    Here in my state, we passed a law requiring a percentage of power generation to come from wind.
    The local monopoly complied by buying wind-power at extravagant rates from a neighbor state. At the same time, they shut down generation from the turbines at a local government-built reservoir, even during a period of heavy rains and high water, citing insufficient demand. Meanwhile, they demanded and got a ten percent rate increase due to higher costs!
    Bass-ackwards thinking for more profit with less efficiency, while never ending their purchase of coal on freight trains from Montana. The elaborate lengths sought out to defy new technologies’ establishment eclipse all reason. As Goya said, “The sleep of reason produces monsters.”

  6. Edward says:

    I am experiencing a severe thunderstorm right now. This is not supposed to happen in September where I am.

  7. Harrier says:

    We could always just ignite the methane as it comes up…

  8. Dan B says:

    The rapidly escalating potential for Arctic methane release from melting permafrost and, in addition, from methane (clathrates, etc.) in shallow portions of the Arctic Ocean is very troubling. The area is so vast and the quantities immense.

    There is also an error in the math used to compare the degree of impact methane compared to CO2. The figure most often quoted is “20 times” as potent. The number is calculated over a century, but in reality that’s not how it functions. Methane is 100 times as potent as CO2 in the first year, then its impact drops. As I recall it’s 50 times as potent after a decade falling to 20 times at the century mark. Methane is degraded to CO2 and water vapor by UV in the upper atmosphere, hence the drop off.

    Release of a small portion of the methane from permafrost melt would have rapid impacts. It’s the race car of global warming, much like dumping ether into the pistons, the additional acceleration is frightening.

  9. Omega Centauri says:

    To correct Dan B. The immediate effect of an extra atmospheric molecule is a hundred and some times more than an additional molecule of CO2. The time scale for atmospheric methane is roughly twelve years. So if a methane spike is added, after 1 2years the immediate forcing is reduced to 1/e, after 24 years to 1/e squared (roughly an eighth). After a century essentially none of the methane would be left. The 23 times number for quoted for a century, is the ratio of the total forcing of the methane after a full century, to that of a CO2 forcing for a century. Both forcing decrease with time, as methane is destroyed by oxidation, and CO2 gradually equilibrates with terrestrial reservoirs.

    Methane may have a substantial indirect effect by changing upper atmospheric chemistry, but I don’t think the forcing from this is well pinned down. One indirect effect, is that oxidation of methane in the stratosphere is a major source of stratospheric water vapor, which is another warming agent. The net result is that methane is probably worse than the widely quoted numbers say it is.