Energy and Global Warming News for September 27: Renewables continue remarkable growth; China wants climate treaty by 2011; China’s electric car ‘moon shot’

Growth in renewables capacity, annual and five-year average

Renewables Continue Remarkable Growth

By 2010, renewable energy had reached a clear tipping point in the context of global energy supply, concludes the “Renewables 2010 Global Status Report.” With renewables comprising fully one quarter of global power capacity from all sources and delivering 18% of global electricity supply in 2009, the latest release of the definitive assessment of the state of the global renewable energy industry from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) details the current status and key trends of global markets, investment, industry and policies related to renewable energy.

Investment in new renewable power capacity continued to increase during 2009, despite challenges posed by the global financial crisis, lower oil prices, and slow progress with climate change policy. For the second year in a row, more money was invested in new renewable power capacity than in new fossil fuel capacity. The renewable generating capacity installed over the past two years accounts for nearly 50% of total generating capacity added to the world’s grids over this period.

Furthermore, the rapid adoption beyond the industrialized world means that today more than half of the existing renewable power capacity is in developing countries.

Installed capacity by region and technology for 2009

These trends reflect strong growth and investment across all market sectors including power generation, heating and cooling, and transport fuels. Grid-connected solar PV has grown by an average of 60% every year for the past decade, increasing 100-fold since 2000. During the period from year-end 2004 through 2009, consistently high growth year-after-year marked virtually every other renewable technology as well. During those five years, annual growth rates averaged 27% for wind power capacity, 19% for solar water heating, and 20% for ethanol production. Indeed, as other economic sectors declined around the world, existing renewable capacity continued to grow during 2009 at rates close to, or exceeding, those in previous years. Market growth for some technologies – including wind and concentrating solar power, and solar water heating – exceeded their five-year averages in 2009. Annual production of ethanol and biodiesel increased 10% and 9%, respectively, despite layoffs and ethanol plant closures in the United States and Brazil. Biomass and geothermal for power and heat also grew strongly last year.

Asia Begins Embracing Solar Power

In May, the Asian Development Bank started a major drive to promote solar power across the region. Last year, the Indian government approved an ambitious National Solar Mission, which seeks a huge increase in the country’s solar-energy capabilities. Bangladesh, with the support of the World Bank, is aiming to have one million remote rural homes supplied with solar panels by the end of 2012.

And in India, where nearly 40 percent of households have no access to electricity, companies like Selco Solar and Orb Energy have helped tens of thousands of families and small entrepreneurs purchase solar panels.

All worthy causes. So worthy and sensible, in fact, that you may well ask why on earth they did not take off much earlier.  The answer, as is so often the case, is political support “” or, until relatively recently, the lack of it “” and, inevitably, cost.

“The upfront costs of installing solar-electricity-generating farms, plus high borrowing costs and the fact that developing nations struggle to access long-term capital, have inhibited the growth of solar energy until recently,” said Seethapathy Chander, chairman of the committee on energy issues at the Asian Development Bank in Manila.

“It takes a long time before investment costs are recouped, and you need long-term financing until that stage is reached.”

China Wants Legally Binding Climate Agreement by 2011

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, hopes definite measures for the next decade will be implemented after the United Nations conference in South Africa scheduled for the end of next year, Li told the newspaper. The biggest obstacle to reaching an accord is the U.S., he said.  Without domestic legislation, the U.S. can’t participate in forming a legally binding international agreement, he said, as cited by the Economic Times.

UN and national envoys have said chances concluding a treaty to reduce global warming gas emissions are slim after the Copenhagen summit in 2009 produced only a non-binding accord. UN talks failed because developing nations called for richer countries to adopt tighter targets on the gases blamed for global warming.

China and India say developed nations must cut emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and poorer countries need room to raise their greenhouse gases to allow them to grow.  China has pledged to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide it emits for each unit of economic output by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Li, head of international negotiations at the National Development and Reform Commission, which represents China in the talks along with the Foreign Ministry, said participants have “pragmatic” expectations of this year’s summit in Cancun, Mexico. He added that this does not mean the Cancun meeting can’t make any progress.

U.S. Military Captures Magnetic Power to Save Energy on Lighting

Magnet power is emerging as a jack-of-all-trades in new green technology, and its latest trick could mean a big cut in the energy used for lighting. The Office of Naval Research Global has partnered with the Tokyo Institute of Technology to develop a device for harvesting residual magnetic power from electrical currents. In an experimental installation at a military hotel in Tokyo, the device racked up a peak power savings of 39 percent. Its success has lead to a plan to equip the entire facility with new device, called the Magnetic Energy Recovery Switch (MERS).

MERS is basically a way to control the flow of electricity more efficiently. The experimental installation, at the Hardy Barracks hotel in Tokyo, involved several fluorescent lights. In addition to saving energy, the MERS technology also generates less heat and helps to reduce electromagnetic interference. The proposed expansion of MERS to other areas at Hardy Barracks would occur next year, involving a break room, printing room, laundry, gym, and offices.

In case you’re wondering why the Office of Naval Research is involved in the project, the Navy has been front and center in the U.S. military’s sustainability efforts.  Along with a growing number of solar power and biofuel projects, the Navy has worked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on high-efficiency LED lighting systems for Navy ships. At a forum last year, the Office of Naval Research affirmed its commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainable energy, and reaffirmed its role in bringing new technologies and alternative energy to the civilian world.

Electric cars a ‘moon shot’ project for China

China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots,” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: One is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers “” from America – giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.

Not to worry.  America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan.

This contrast is not good. I was recently at a Washington Nationals baseball game. While waiting for a hot dog, I overheard the conversation behind me. A management consultant for a big national firm was telling his colleagues that his job was to “market products to the Department of Homeland Security.” I thought to myself: “Oh, my! Inventing studies about terrorist threats and selling them to the U.S. government, is that an industry now?”

We’re out of balance – the balance between security and prosperity. We need to be in a race with China, not just al-Qaida. Let’s start with electric cars.

The electric car industry is pivotal for three reasons, argues Shai Agassi, the CEO of Better Place, a global electric car company that next year will begin operating national electric car networks in Israel and Denmark. First, the auto industry was the foundation for America’s manufacturing middle class. Second, the country that replaces gasoline-powered vehicles with electric-powered vehicles – in an age of steadily rising oil prices and steadily falling battery prices – will have a huge cost advantage and independence from imported oil. Third, electric cars are full of power electronics and software.

17 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for September 27: Renewables continue remarkable growth; China wants climate treaty by 2011; China’s electric car ‘moon shot’

  1. ihatedeniers says:

    Joe why dont you say anything about the threat of toxic ozone which is a ghg and is killing trees and plants and therefor threatening us all with starvation?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Are CO2 emission statistics blatantly false?
    UK calculates emissions of their shipping from fuel sold in UK ports, when everyone gets their fuel from Rotterdam.

  3. george ennis says:

    “…Without domestic legislation, the U.S. can’t participate in forming a legally binding international agreement…”

    The best hope is that China unlike the US recognizes what is in its self interest and that is to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels if not for reasons related to climate change then for reasons of national security. China unlike the does not embrace the idea of increasing its energy dependency on politically and unstable countries in the Middle East and Africa as a viable path to its future economic security.

    Neither will it tie itself down with climate treaty obligations while the US in a suicidal act with consequences for its national and economic security focuses on protecting narrow vested domestic economic and political interests in the status quo.

  4. Robert says:

    “With renewables comprising fully one quarter of global power capacity from all sources and delivering 18% of global electricity supply in 2009…”

    OK. I’m really worried now. CO2 has been rising faster than ever over the last decade so just building renewable capacity is not enough – we also need to reduce fossil fuel consumption. If you scroll down to the Full Mauna Loa CO2 record (1960 2010) the steepest part of the graph is the last 10 years:

    Global primary energy consumption fell 1.1% last year but this was an exception caused by the global recession. It will be back in strong growth this year. (Primary energy consumption is treated as fossil fuel, nuclear and hydro in the BP review)

  5. Richard L says:

    Hopefully China can put some leverage into their bargaining. If they are so flush with cash, maybe they could afford to stop commerce with the US for a brief period to emphasize thier position.

    I may be dreaming there, but I am grasping for some force to push us in the right direction.

  6. “China and India say developed nations must cut emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020”

    But that is nowhere near what is politically possible, so it leads me to believe that they are just posturing.

    When they start saying “developed nations must cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050,” then they will be getting real and there will be a chance if an international treaty (but only if the US also has a strong enough Democratic majority in Congress).

  7. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe – a small thing –

    The Chron “moon shot” editorial is by Thomas Friedman at NYT.

    Why not link to your friend directly at NYT?

  8. paulm says:

    Interesting observation here….holding capacity…

    Flooding cuts off B.C. communities
    “We had no snow in the mountains whatsoever and our rivers were low. They’re very empty because it’s been so dry. So I believe that there may well be a factor in that the forest fires and the mountain pine beetles have dropped the water-holding capacity of the soils, reduced that in the upper slopes. So we’re getting more water down in the valley than we have in the past,” he said.

    Meanwhile on the East coast…
    Igor fixes will take months

  9. pete best says:

    It can only be good that 18% of the global electricity supply comes from renewables and from burning oil, coal and gas. James Hansen has it right when he states that replacing coal is the way to go as it pollutes the most mainly from electricity generation so replacing it with renewables is the easiest method of co2 mitigation. Oil and gas are a different matter but coal replacement technology is here now and ready to deploy. Solar baseload (CSP), wind and other solar can mitigate coal fired power plants globally, create jobs and reduce our emissions by 40% come the middle of the century.

  10. Paulm says:
    According to Western Weather Expert Ken Clark, “The City of Angels had their hottest day in 20 years on Sunday with a high of 105 degrees.”

  11. Paulm says:

    One community that has been severly affected by the climate trend. A trend is forming in terms of how local communities are going to be able to recover from more frequent extreme events. Eaarth has arrived for this community.
    Hundreds of people on Newfoundland’s Bonavista Peninsula are out of work because Hurricane Igor badly damaged a fish processing plant there.

    “There’s talk that it won’t be open this year and will probably never open again,” said Eric Squires, a priest at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, which is in the area.

  12. Tim says:

    The “Renewables 2010 Global Status Report.” link is broken.

    [JR: That site is down. I’ll use another link.]

  13. Robert says:

    The BP annual review I linked to in #5 gives consumption figures for every country in the world, for each type of fuel. One of the numbers that really stands out is China’s coal consumption. In 2009 this was 1537.4 million tonnes oil-equivalent (mtoe), up 9.6% (130mtoe) from 2008 and now equal to a staggering 46.9% of global consumption.

    By comparison US coal consumption was a paltry 498 mtoe and flat. At this rate of growth the US could stop burning all coal and China would have taken up the slack in just 3 years.

    In light of these figures I view China’s push for green energy, calls for a climate treaty, etc. as no more than greenwashing on a massive scale. It is time they stopped thinking of themselves as a developing country and admitted they are now at the epicentre of the problem.

  14. paulm says:

    So are my kids all going to be speaking chinese?
    What happen to the CIA and Pentagon. Caught napping?
    Check mate? Pursuit of capitalism to the end game!

    China Hold on Metals Worries Washington

    China’s control of a key minerals market has U.S. military thinkers and policy makers alike worried about access to materials that are essential for 21st-century technology like smartphones—and smart bombs.

    The concern over supplies of so-called rare-earth elements was highlighted this week by a report that Chinese customs officials had blocked exports of the materials to Japan. On Thursday, Beijing denied those reports. “China doesn’t block rare-earth exports to Japan,” said Chen Rongkai, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce.

    At issue is a group of 17 metallic elements with magnetic properties suited for high-tech applications such as computer hard drives and digital cameras. Rare-earth elements are also key to “green” technology: Energy-efficient light bulbs use europium and yttrium, while hybrid car batteries and wind-power turbines use neodymium.

  15. mike roddy says:

    Robert, it’s true that China is acting badly, but we are giving them the perfect excuse. The US is responsible for by far the biggest share of emissions currently in the atmosphere, and is still the largest economy in the world. Until we act, coal and oil oligarchs around the world have political cover.

    Senators and presidents won’t save us, because the liberal mantra is true in this case- oil and coal companies own Congress. Our leadership will have to be prodded into reducing emissions by grassroots activity, particularly boycotts.

  16. Robert says:

    Mike, I agree with what you say. I was just astonished by the rate of growth in China’s emissions when I looked at the consumption figures which are growing at more or less their GDP growth rate, currently 9%. At that rate their coal consumption will have doubled by 2017 and quadrupled by 2025, bounded only by the availability of the resource.

    Taken together the US and China represent over half of global emissions. They must get together and agree something meaningful, because right now the only thing that will ultimately curb emissions is resource depletion (or some form of climate-induced catastrophe).

    I am also concerned that people see the growth in renewables as a solution in its own right. It isn’t – not if fossil fuel consumption continues to grow in parallel. Barring some game changing technology the only way fossil fuel consumption will fall dramatically is if the world decides to set hard and reducing limits on how much we dig up each year.