18 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for November 3: Clean energy jobs are real; The next stage in the Industrial Revolution; Companies fight to keep global warming data secret
In researching for my series on jobs in renewable energy in the U.S., I turned up some very interesting information. First, it’s clear that clean energy is creating jobs. In 2010, the solar industry created 50,00 jobs according to the first ever national solar jobs census that was conducted by The Solar Foundation, Green LMI, Cornell University and others. In total there are 93,000 people employed in the solar industry right now.
The geothermal industry, too, is ramping up hard. As a whole, the industry expects to add almost 3000 jobs next year. For the past year and a half or so geothermal project developers have been finding lands to lease, collecting permits, arranging financing and generally getting their ducks in a row so that the real work of developing geothermal energy projects could begin. Now, in 2011, it is set to start.
They hydro energy industry – the largest of the renewables – accounts for 200,000 to 300,000 workers right now and could grow to millions should the U.S. adopt a strong renewable electricity standard, according to Navigant Consulting.
You can read my full report on renewable energy workforce developments on RenewableEnergyWorld.com soon. The manufacturing installment is here.
When you read it you will see that of the five renewable energy technologies – solar, geothermal, wind, bioenergy and hydro – only one, wind, experienced a slowdown in 2010. The rest are growing and unequivocally adding jobs.
And yet there remains a perception that clean energy is NOT creating jobs as it promised that it would. Here are some reasons why I think this is happening.
First, there are 30 million people looking for jobs in the U.S. right now. That number includes the 10 percent of Americans officially unemployed plus the Americans that have been out of work for so long that they have given up looking plus the Americans that have accepted part-time jobs but wish they were working full-time, often called “underemployed.” It seems that everyone has at least one personal friend or family menber who was laid off in the past 24 months.
That might be why adding 50,000 solar jobs in one year can easily go unnoticed when it is up against a number as vast as 30 million. It seems to me that in many ways the unemployment problem is just too big for clean energy to solve alone.
Second, I want to address the issue that I have heard often that you can’t define green jobs and they therefore don’t exist. First of all, anyone who does anything involving renewable energy, has a green job. Making energy without emissions from something that is replenished naturally in the world is about as green of a job as you can get. We can quibble about installation workers, utility personnel and recycling center attendants if you wish, but in my book if you are part of the making, buying, selling or installing of equipment that makes energy from the sun, wind, water, forests or other agricultural feedstocks, you have a green job.
But guess who hasn’t defined renewable energy jobs yet or even classified them as an industry? The Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS has statistics for the following industries involving producing energy from fossil fuels: Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction, Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing, Gasoline Stations, Support Activities for Mining, and Support Activities for Transportation. The BLS even has job numbers for industries like Couriers and Messengers and Lessors of Nonfinancial Intangible Assets (whatever that is!). But there are currently no statistics on jobs involving renewable energy equipment, installation, financing, operations and management, etc. No doubt this is due to the fact the renewable energy industry is still young and hasn’t been around long enough for the bureaucrats to start to tally the numbers, but I wonder how big the industry needs to get before the government begins to count it as an industry.
So another reason for claims that green jobs don’t exist: it is hard to stand up and be counted when you just don’t count, at least according to the U.S. government.
Finally, Rhone Resch of the Solar Energy Industries Association offered me yet a third perspective on why even though renewable energy is creating jobs, no one is noticing. He thinks it is the active fossil fuel lobby spending large amounts of money to discredit the renewable energy industry and convince the American public that green jobs are a farce. He said, “The fossil fuel industry sees solar, wind and other renewables as a threat and they have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into lobbying and advertising to distort the record on green jobs.” You can read more on Resch’s appeal for a more direct head to head approach against the fossil-fuel lobby in my last blog, “Solar Power VS Fossil Fuels: Game On.“
So even if it is a case of the unemployment problem being too large for any one industry to make a dent in it or an oversight by the government or an active campaign to misrepresent gains made by renewables in general, let’s be clear on just this one thing. The numbers don’t lie: green jobs do exist and at the rate they are growing pretty soon someone you know may have one.
Food produced in the tropics comes with high carbon emissions and low crop yields, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In the most comprehensive and detailed study to date looking at carbon emissions versus crop yields, researchers found that food produced in the tropics releases almost double the amount of carbon while producing half the yield as food produced in temperate regions. In other words, temperate food production is three times more efficient in terms of yield and carbon emissions
Tropical forests store a tremendous amount of carbon, and when a forest is cleared, not only do you lose more carbon, but crop yields are not nearly as high as they are in temperate areas,” explains lead author Paul C. West, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a press release.
The researchers found that one ton of food emitted approximately over 75 tons of carbon in the tropics, whereas a ton of food grown in temperate regions released just less than 27 tons of carbon.
“This creates a kind of ‘double whammy’ for a lot of tropical agriculture: we have to clear carbon-rich ecosystems to create tropical croplands, and unfortunately they often have lower yields than temperate systems,” says co-author Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. “In terms of balancing the needs of food production and slowing carbon dioxide emissions, this is a tough tradeoff.”
Rising human population, increasing consumption of meat (which requires more grain per area), the demand for biofuels, high commodity prices, and economic development plans have pushed many tropical nations to pursue large-scale agriculture over forest protection. However, the authors say the realities of carbon loss in the tropics makes a strong argument for intensifying agriculture on already cleared land, rather than more deforestation.
“Our results corroborate recommendations to concentrate reforestation and avoid deforestation in the tropics to have the greatest worldwide impact,” the authors write.
But, West admits, “the realty is there will be some of both [agriculture intensification and deforestation].”
The authors explain in the paper that “despite the clear benefits of concentrating reforestation and forest conservation efforts in the tropics, several local and regional factors influence implementation. [“¦] Choices are made locally and are influenced by local and regional food security, transportation costs, labor, poverty, and technology rather than global atmospheric carbon. Thus, local and global outcomes must be coupled to manage ecosystem services and assess their tradeoffs.”
The study also highlight that agriculture comes with additional tradeoffs on top of carbon including impacting ecosystem services such as “soil and groundwater recharge, runoff, and nutrient regulation as well as ecosystems, species, and genome diversity of landscapes.”
The broad study looked at 175 different crops worldwide using government data and satellite imagery.
“We have a very fine resolution of both what the carbon stocks and the yields are globally,” says West. “Spatially, it is much more explicit than anything that has been produced before.”
Approximately 20% of the temperate region is used for crops, as opposed to 10.5% of the tropics. In all, deforestation contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than global transportation: 12-20% of the total greenhouse gas emissions are due to the loss of forests. Scientists say that such emissions are driving global climate change.
After Eli Whitney, Henry Ford and Michael Dell, efficiency and sustainability are the next logical steps, argues Tay Yoshitani.
Faster, better and cheaper has been the rallying cry of capitalism for the past 250 years, ever since the first factory brick was laid in bucolic pasture land. Indeed, one of the dominant drivers in business – from the Industrial Revolution to the Internet Revolution – has been low-cost, high-impact innovation.
This was part of the inspiration for Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin in 1793. Whitney’s machine delivered on faster, better and cheaper, and it touched off a surge of productivity that doubled the yield of raw cotton each decade after 1800.
This was a key factor behind the building of the Erie Canal, which doubled transportation speed in the United States in 1825 while cutting transportation costs by 95 percent.
And this was a prime motivator behind Ford Motor’s new factory in 1913, which reduced the assembly time for an automobile chassis from 12.5 hours to 1.5 hours over the course of one year. The results were profound: Ford’s sales skyrocketed from 202,000 units in 1913 to more than 1 million in 1920.
Faster, better and cheaper has played a huge role in recent decades, too.
Harnessing its hub-and-spoke system, for example, Federal Express took on the U.S. Post Office and “snail mail” in the 1970’s. On its first night of operation, FedEx used 14 jets to deliver 186 packages to 25 cities; today, the company’s 664 jets and 80,000 vehicles make 8 million deliveries to 220 countries every day.
And utilizing its lightening quick configure-to-order system, Dell Computer integrated just-in-time delivery to make the manufacturing and purchase of computers less expensive and more flexible.
The entire notion of faster, better and cheaper has been radically redefined in the Internet era, and perhaps no company better embodies this recalibrated 21st century revenue-and-profit mantra than Amazon.
Initially, the faster, better and cheaper magic for the giant online retailer was its ability to provide consumers with discounted merchandise that could be ordered with several simple clicks; but now, with Kindle, consumers get the books they want instantly at even lower prices.
In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, faster, better and cheaper resulted from fine-tuned processes, systems and technologies; but over the past 15 years – since the advent of the commercial Internet – faster, better and cheaper has also become a crucial competitive differentiator. In a world of hundreds of thousands of near-customized Web apps, consumers absolutely expect to get what they want, when they want it, and how they want it – and at a price that makes sense to them. These are the non-negotiable variables in a new commercial equation spawned by real-time digital communications and capabilities.
So what’s next? What other variables will be added in the 21st century?
Right now, I believe we need to focus on greener.
Companies today increasingly recognize that it’s not enough to be faster, better and cheaper, especially if they’re not greener.
The rise of sustainability and its emergence as a key business determinant is interesting, especially because the climate issue remains a problem without a real solution at this moment. We also haven’t established standard global metrics that indicate how much progress we’re making – or need to make – in cleaning up the environment.
But it’s clear that greener is a critical addition to the new commercial equation that is taking hold today after 250 years of faster, better and cheaper.
Because companies recognize that there is a significant financial and economic cost attached to pollution, even though there’s no firm and formal price on carbon at this point in time. There are also tremendous societal expectations at play today; and it’s becoming increasingly unacceptable to pollute in a globally interdependent world.
Perhaps the best paradigm for faster, better, cheaper – and greener – right now is the shipping container industry, an industry I know well as the CEO of the Port of Seattle.
Over the past few decades, container transport has been one of the key catalysts behind the global economy’s expansion, and it now represents a major percentage of the world’s total cargo.
In terms of faster, better and cheaper, a high-speed crane can load a 40-ton container every two minutes, increasing productivity significantly. And, because loading and unloading containers is so efficient, cargo can now be transported between Hong Kong and New York in 15 days, as opposed to 50 days, the length of the journey in 1985.
In terms of greener, the major container shipping companies, as well as many ports, are trying to conduct business on a more sustainable basis today.
A number of ships are slow steaming, for example, in an effort to cut fuel consumption and emissions.
And at the Port of Seattle, we’ve worked with our terminal operators to retrofit and electrify nearly 200 pieces of cargo handling equipment to reduce noxious particulate matter by 25-50 percent.
We’ve also set strict mandatory benchmarks for truck emissions that must be met starting in 2011; and we implemented a financial incentive program for truckers who need to retrofit their vehicles or upgrade to newer, cleaner models. As a result of this program, 223 older and more polluting trucks have been scrapped since November, and the number of vehicles that are unfriendly to the environment is decreasing rapidly. (Editor’s note: both the Prometheus Institute and the Carbon War Room have tagged ports as a prime opportunity for greening an industry.)
In addition, we’re providing incentives for cargo ships to use cleaner fuels. We believe that this policy will lower diesel particulate emissions from container ships by 60 percent and sulfur dioxide by at least 80 percent. Our At Berth Clean (ABC) Fuels program already reduced dangerous emissions by 68 metric tons last year.
From my perspective, it’s extremely encouraging that companies across the board are adding greener to the tried-and-true faster, better and cheaper model. And, in my view, this evolving commercial equation will lead to even greater innovation and prosperity in the coming years – as well as the environmental progress that citizens and communities all over the world need and deserve.
Taoyuan County, Taiwan — Of the five key components of the crystalline silicon (c-Si) photovoltaics supply chain — polysilicon, wafer, cell, module, and inverter — many PV companies in Taiwan have set their sights on the high-value-add cell manufacturing. These companies have installed production capacity of 60-100MW or more, and have well-defined ramp up plans to bring more on-line in the next year, by adding to existing lines or building new facilities. Others are looking to become more vertically integrated, and have included module manufacturing capabilities in their portfolio, and even inverters.
Jay Meng-Chieh Wang, an analyst at the Industrial Economics and Knowledge Center (IEK), which is part of the ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute), said that he believes Taiwan is well-positioned to become the No.1 world supplier in the cell market. He envisions a scenario where Chinese PV companies with well-known brand names outsource the production of cells to Taiwan. “They will provide OEM service to brand companies,” he said. He noted that Taiwan presently has 5.3 GW of installed cell capacity at more than 15 companies, and 1.2 GW of installed module manufacturing capacity at another 15+ companies (see table, below).
China has already invested heavily in polysilicon production (the casting of silicon ingots) and PV wafers (where the ingots are cut into wafers with band- and wire-saws). Often with experience in LCD, semiconductor, LED, and CDROM manufacturing, Taiwanese companies are well-suited to take on the next step: cell manufacturing, where the blank wafer us turned into a PV cell through a series of doping, firing, metallization, and front-surface texturing steps. Module manufacturing is the final assembly step, where cells are connected by a tabber/stringer, attached to a glass surface, laminated with a backsheet and framed. A junction box finishes off the module.
The capabilities of Taiwanese companies in cell and module manufacturing have been bolstered by a government effort called the “Sunrise Project for Green Energy,” launched in April 2009. This effort is focused on improving cell efficiency, developing key materials, building equipment capacity, incubating international companies for PV system integration, and setting up strategies for global competition.
One example of a Taiwanese company focused on the cell and module business is Kinmac Solar Corp. (formerly Lucky Power), based in Taouyan, which with the addition of two more lines will be at 100 MW of production this year, according to Yawder Wang, director of business development. A key focus of the company is to provide assurance to customers that they can support the 25-year guarantee they offer by well-known shareholders, and partners up and down the supply chain. Major shareholders include Kinsus Interconnect, WIN Semiconductor Corp., and Zeus Computer. Inventec, which is already a partner as a supplier of wafers, is expected to become the major shareholder in the near future, he said. Other partners include SolarGia in the polysilicon area and Jinmao PV.
Wang said the company’s cell manufacturing line is 90% automated, and that the company has well-known suppliers for all of the materials, including the cell, glass, EVA, backsheet, ribbon, silicone, junction box connector, and frame tape. “We use major name-brand materials from Germany, US, Japan, and Taiwan for best product quality and reliability,” he said. Kinmac also has the “most complete certification” portfolio of any company, and do wind, salt, thermal shock and vibration tests of the final product, as well as various inspections throughput the manufacturing process including incoming cell sorting and a final electroluminescence test.
“The PV market is huge,” Wang said. “Some care mostly about price, but some care very much about quality.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new set of rules that has American industrial corporations running scared.
The proposal would force companies to publicly disclose the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are producing, as well as their methodology for calculating these emissions. These results would be posted online for consumers.
The main opponents of this new proposal are oil producers and refiners, steel and aluminum manufacturers, and even the makers of household appliances. These industries represent some of the highest emitting corporations in America, and for now, consumers know very little about the amount of greenhouse gases they are releasing into the environment.
Business leaders claim that by revealing how much pollution they are discharging that they would be giving their competitors an advantage by allowing them to know more about the inner workings of their company. They also claim that consumers do not need to be aware of what they are releasing.
And they have every reason to want to keep this information secret. Polls show that more than 80% of consumers would choose a sustainable business over a non-environmentally friendly business, which would give large polluters a severe disadvantage in the marketplace.
The EPA is currently preparing to begin regulating all greenhouse gas emissions in America, and the data provided to them by businesses will be crucial in determining what levels are acceptable, and which are excessive. 2010 is the first year in which companies were required to submit information on their total emissions to the EPA.
Some of the country’s largest emitters of heat-trapping gases, including businesses that publicly support efforts to curb global warming, don’t want the public knowing exactly how much they pollute.Oil producers and refiners, along with manufacturers of steel, aluminum and even home appliances, are fighting a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency that would make the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that companies release – and the underlying data businesses use to calculate the amounts – available online.
While gross estimates exist for such emissions from transportation and electricity production and manufacturing as a whole, the EPA is requiring companies for the first time to submit information for each individual facility.
The companies say that disclosing details beyond a facility’s total emissions to the public would reveal company secrets by letting competitors know what happens inside their factories. More importantly, they argue, when it comes to understanding global warming, the public doesn’t need to know anything more than what goes into the air.
“There is no need for the public to have information beyond what is entering the atmosphere,” Steven H. Bernhardt, global director for regulatory affairs for Honeywell International Inc., said in comments filed with the agency earlier this year. The Morristown, N.J.-based company is a leading manufacturer of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in a variety of consumer products. Honeywell wants the EPA to reconsider its proposal, which the company said would damage its business.
Other companies are pressing the agency to require a third party to verify the data, so they don’t have to submit it at all, or to allow them to argue on a case-by-case basis to keep some of it confidential, a suggestion the EPA warned would delay public release.
The EPA says it’s necessary to make the data public in order for the companies’ calculations to be checked.
“It is important for outside groups and the public to have access to this information so they can essentially see and check EPA’s and the company’s math – giving the public greater confidence in the quality of data,” the agency said in a statement.
As the EPA prepares to regulate greenhouse gases, the data companies are being required to submit will help determine what limits eventually are put in place and whether they are working.