Energy and Global Warming News for November 10th; Governments gave 6 times more to fossil fuels than renewables in 2009; Oil price escalation coming due to inaction on climate

$312 Billion: Governments Gave Six Times More to Fossil Fuels Than Renewable Energy in 2009, IEA Report Says

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) global subsidies for fossil fuel production were almost six times that of renewable energy subsidies 2009.

In its annual World Energy Outlook report [pdf], released today, the IEA says the fossil fuel industry received US$312 billion compared to US$57 billion for renewables.  The majority of the subsidized funding for fossil fuels came from developing countries.  The World Energy Outlook-2010 sees oil as the leading fuel in the energy mix until 2035.

Nevertheless, the agency sees renewable energy resources continuing to gain a larger share of the energy pie.  It estimates the primary use of energy sources such as sustainable hydropower, modern biomass, wind, solar, , marine, and geothermal geothermal energy tripling by 2035.  According to the World Energy Outlook-2010, renewable energy sources will see their contribution to the global energy supply grow from 7% to 14%.

The IEA’s chief economist Fatih Birol said that renewable energy subsidies are expected to increase to US$110 billion in 2015 and US$205 billion in 2035.  In its report the Agency urged the subsidies for fossil fuels to be slashed in order to allow for a faster transition to renewable energy and to meet the emissions targest climate scientists deem are necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change from occurring.

The IEA’s Executive Director, Nabuo Tanaka said, “[The] WEO-2010 demonstrates that it is what governments do, and how that action affects technology, the price of energy services and end-user behaviour, that will shape the future of energy in the longer term. “We need to use energy more efficiently and we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels by adopting technologies that leave a much smaller carbon footprint.”

Oil Price Escalation on the Way Due to Lack of Climate Action?

Sadly, much more than concern for future generations or concern for other creatures on the planet, a slight reduction in the amount of money in people’s wallets (or the number of new gadgets or clothes they can buy) may be the biggest driver of environmentally-responsible behavioral change. Well, it looks like this driving factor may be on the move.

In its annual World Energy Outlook report, the International Energy Agency warned yesterday that the failure last year to create a meaningful climate agreement in Copenhagen and weak implementation of the general goals that were agreed upon is likely to result in considerable oil price escalations.

One of the most important conclusions from the report is that under a business-as-usual model, global energy demand will increase 36% by 2035. Of course, most of the projected increase (93%) is from expected growth in the developing world, and 36%  of it (odd coincidence) is due to expected growth in China.

With modern society still quite reliant (over-reliant, some might say..) on oil, the report predicted that oil prices will almost double by 2035, increasing to about $113 per barrel (in 2009 dollars) by 2035.

As we all know by now, China is leading the way on clean energy in many respects. It is pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into clean energy, including some humongous solar and wind energy projects.

But the country, like others around the world, also gives plenty of subsidies to fossil fuels. And until that is addressed, fossil fuel use will dramatically increase in the fast-growing country as well.

The clear message is that unless we get off fossil fuels fast, we are going to get hit with major energy price increases in the years to come.

And one of the best ways to get off fossil fuels fast is to cut the subsidies.

“The IEA delivers a blunt message ahead of Cancun that cleaning up our energy systems now is cheaper than delay,” UK energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne bluntly said. “We need to go further and faster in getting ourselves off the oil hook – and on to clean green growth. Greater energy independence – with more renewables, clean coal and nuclear – is the best way to protect our consumers and our country from energy shocks to come.”

Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo Outlines Environmental Agenda for New York

Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo released a 160-page environmental agenda for New York on Saturday, October 30, three days before he was elected to be New York’s next Governor on January 1st, 2011. The document allows some insight into the vision and priorities of the next administration with regard to the environment.

One of the most significant components of the agenda is an overall vision of promoting and talking about environmental protection in the context of economic development in the State. It emphasizes that “environmental protection can benefit our economy””creating green jobs while reducing pollution…”[1] The environmental agenda, like other parts of Cuomo’s published agenda for reforming New York State, proposes review and reform of the state’s environmental bureaucracy to maximize environmental protection and coordination among agencies, and create cost savings. The Governor-elect would task the state’s Spending and Government Efficiency Commission with this review of existing agencies and procedures.[2]

The document also suggests that Governor-elect Cuomo will be as much about the carrot as the stick when it comes to promoting conservation. He proposes a “Cleaner Greener Communities Competitive Grant Program” to help create incentives for sustainable communities, encourage smart growth, and reduce sprawl. The grants would support innovative comprehensive regional plans which incorporate sustainability, transportation, emissions and efficiency issues into the planning framework.[3] Where the funds for such a grant program will come from is not spelled out.

Cuomo’s environmental agenda supports the continuation of New York’s Brownfield Cleanup Program (“BCP”), including the tax credits component, while streamlining the BCP process to ensure its effective use on those sites that need it most.[4] The document does not address the State’s participation in the Federal Superfund program, from which current Governor David Paterson has proposed to withdraw.

California’s Air Quality Plan to be Rejected by the EPA

Yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to disapprove plans developed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The air quality plans aimed to bring areas with poor air quality such as the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley into attainment with national health standards for particulate emissions. The fine particulates, known as PM2.5 are notoriously bad in places like Los Angeles and the surrounding area.

EPA requires the states to submit a plan on how health-based air quality standards will be met in areas that are currently non-attainment zones. They are set to reject California’s plan because the emission reductions rules have not been submitted to EPA for review. EPA needs California to demonstrate that their new rules will achieve its air quality goals.

“California has a history of adopting aggressive rules to tackle some of the worst air quality in the nation, but we need to redouble our efforts,” said Jared Blumenfeld, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region. “EPA will continue to work with California to strengthen measures to improve air quality for the millions of residents in the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley.”

Parts of CARB’s plan will be approved by EPA. For example, there are emission reductions rules from state and local agencies that have already been approved. These pre-approved rules include emissions control from various industrial processes along the South Coast, and even rules governing residential wood-burning.

A final decision from EPA on their rejection of California’s plan is set to be made next year. If the plans are officially disapproved, and corrections are not made in a timely manner, EPA would apply certain sanctions. This may include imposing more stringent facility permitting requirements after 18 months and imposing highway funding restrictions after 24 months from the date of final disapproval.

Largest U.S. Biodiesel Plant Begins Production at 2,500 BPD

Shares Syntroleum Corporation (NASDAQ: SYNM) declined only slightly yesterday (and recovered today) after the company reported another quarter of depressed financial results.

The share price might have fallen more had not investors received some good news with the bad: The company’s new biodiesel plant at Geismar, Louisiana, the largest commercial scale biodiesel facility in the United States, is now producing and selling biodiesel formulated as jet fuel to the United States Air Force Research Laboratory.

Other news: EnerNoc, Inc. (NASDAQ: ENOC), LDK Solar Co. Ltd. (NYSE: LDK), JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. (NYSE: JASO)

For months it looked like Syntroleum’s new Geismar plant might be mothballed without any commercial production.

The $170 million plant was conceived by Syntroleum and its 50/50 joint venture partner Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE: TSN) in 2007 and partially financed in late 2008 by $100 million of tax free bonds from a legacy fund established to help the Gulf region’s economy recover from  Hurricane Katrina. When construction began the biodiesel industry was booming, but the sector came crashing down when federal tax incentives expired at the end of 2009.

The plant was completed in July 2010, but there was no word of any production until Syntroleum announced yesterday that the plant has actually been converting animal fats and waste restaurant grease into 2,500 barrels of biodiesel a day for more than a month and the rate of production is increasing.

Syntroleum’s announcement did not explain why it waited until Monday to disclose the commencement of commercial operations.

Tyson and Syntroleum officials said they remain hopeful that Congress will restore the $1 per gallon renewable diesel tax credit that expired in December 2009. They did not provide guidance on the Geimar plant’s economics with and without the $1 per gallon tax credit.

In its Q3 (nine months) ended September 30, 2010 financial results, Syntroleum reported a net loss of $3.88 million ($4.5 million for nine months) on revenues of $1.26 million ($6.79 million for nine months), compared with 2009’s net loss of $0.27 million (net income of $7.10 million for nine months) on revenue of $4.4 million ($26.29 million for nine months).

The company’s cash position at September 30, 2010 was $20.83 million, compared with $25 million at December 31, 2009. Syntroleum has invested $34.3 million in the joint venture with Tyson Foods as of September 30, 2010 and funded an additional $5.0 million in October, 2010.

America’s Energy Question: What Price Will it Take to Commit to Renewable Energy?

The economic recession has hit renewable energy industries in the United States hard, and the effects have been accentuated by the country’s lack of national renewable energy policy.

Many renewable energy businesses have found it increasingly difficult to receive money from financial institutions since 2008.  Yet, even when the finances have been in order, these companies have seen their projects halted by regulatory bodies which deem the cost of their energy as an added expense to the already tight monthly budget for American consumers.

The New York Times reports that deals for utilities to purchase renewable energy have been delayed in states such as Virginia, Idaho, Kentucky, and Florida.  Michael Polsky, the owner of Invenergy, a wind farm company, says his contract to sell energy to a utility in Virginia was rejected by state regulators.  The regulators cited the recession in their decision, and stated that energy produced by natural gas was a cheaper and better option for ratepayers — wind power would have increased monthly bills by 0.2%.

The cost of producing renewable energy is still higher than fossil fuel production.  However, as the technology continues to improve and fossil fuels prices increase, analysts say the costs will become competitive.  Nevertheless, the United States has yet to commit whole-heartedly to clean energy.

Paul Gipe, a member of the steering committee of the Alliance for Renewable Energy — an organization advocating energy policy reform — says lack of commitment comes from a nation-wide failure to confront the tough question:  “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we really want renewables?’ And if the answer is yes, then we’re going to have to pay for them.”

China and the European Union have each shown a willingness to pay for renewable energy.  The latest research from Ernst & Young states China has become the most attractive area for cleantech investment.  Meanwhile, governments across Europe have modified their energy policies to mandate renewable energy generation.  Even though some policies have been more effective than others, they are all working toward meeting the European Union’s target of generating 20% of its energy from renewable energy by 2020.

So far the United States has relied on individual states enacting their own renewable energy standards and federal government grants for renewable energy projects.  Even without a full-scale commitment from the federal government, renewable energy continues to grow in America — a statement of the industry’s robustness.

Fossil fuels are cheaper than renewable energy sources, and most likely will remain so for the near future.  Price, however, is more inclusive than just dollars and cents; it now must account for environmental cost and long-term sustainability.  The 21st century economy will have to reflect a more acute awareness of the environment as well as the accessiblity of vital resources, such as energy supply.

This current recession will end, but the enduring American energy question is likely to remain:  what price will it take to commit to the new energy economy?

Bringing Next-Gen Solar PV from the Lab to Market

California — Solar advocates usually fall into one of two categories: Either you believe that today’s conventional thin films and crystalline PV technologies will enable mass penetration of solar, or you believe that some fundamental technological breakthrough is needed.

Favorable changes in the economics of the current generation of PV technologies is making the first scenario most likely. But that isn’t stopping companies and research teams from experimenting with semiconducting polymers, inks and other materials in the hopes of changing the solar paradigm.

Experimenting in the lab is the easy part. Bringing third and fourth-generation solar technologies to commercial scale and proving them in the marketplace is much more difficult. We held a roundtable at last month’s Solar Power International conference (which you can watch below) on creating a pathway to market for exotic technologies. Here are three key needs for the industry, as outlined by the panel:

Establish Testing Standards

The reliability and testing standards in conventional PV are well-established; not so for organic and dye-sensitized cells. The lack of continuity in testing has allowed labs to publish inconsistent data about the performance of devices. The same is true of companies doing internal testing.

Damoder Reddy, CEO of Solexant, a company producing nano-crystal semiconducting inks, said that the accuracy of reported efficiencies “is all over the place.”

That’s not a good thing for investors who need to be confident in the claims made by companies.

In 2007, a well-respected NREL researcher publicly criticized another researcher at Wake Forest University for using poor testing methods that inflated the efficiency of an organic solar cell from Konarka by 50%. The disagreement highlighted how differently labs were using equipment and interpreting data.

In order to avoid this type of conflict and ensure consistent results, there’s been a greater push to establish a set of standards for equipment and measuring techniques in the organic PV space. Until that happens, investors should examine efficiency and lifetime claims with a very critical eye.

“We need to…compare apples to apples and maintain industry credibility,” said Vishal Shrotriya, director of the Lifetime Project for Solarmer Energy, a company developing plastic solar cells for building-integrated applications and portable electronic devices.

Test Early, Test Often

Getting these nascent solar technologies ready for market is about far more than finding the initial efficiency of the cell; it’s about testing the device as a function of an entire system. You can’t get those results in a lab, said Jennifer Granata, team leader of the PV testing and reliability team at Sandia National Laboratories.

“You need to know how to test, how to test outdoors quickly, and test to failure,” Granata said.

Sandia examines every kind of technology, from crystalline-silicon PV to dye-sensitized thin films. By taking a systems-level approach to testing, researchers at Sandia create models to determine energy production in varying locations, how a system will perform with different components and how long the system will last. Granata calls the performance of third and fourth-generation solar technologies “very mixed.”

While peak and stabilized efficiencies are important, she said, “it’s all about kilowatt-hours. If you can’t get electrons out for a long time, it doesn’t matter how big your manufacturing plant is.”

The above-mentioned Konarka recently built a 1-GW manufacturing facility for its plastic solar cells. But the market hasn’t demanded anywhere close to a GW of demand. That’s because low lifetimes (a couple years) and low efficiencies (3-5 percent) limit the applications of plastic solar cells mostly to charging consumer electronics and other portable devices. Until organic PV companies can greatly improve those two factors by doing aggressive testing in the field, the market for such technologies will be very niche.

But that might not always be a bad thing.

Find a Niche

Rapid degradation and low efficiencies make most exotic materials uncompetitive with conventional technologies that have proven lifetimes of 25-30 years. Unless, of course, you’re not looking to beat those technologies.

Plastic solar cells and solar inks aren’t going to match up head-to-head with crystalline PV. So rather than try to enter that market, Solarmer’s Vishal Shrotriya said that companies need to exploit the niche they’re suited for. It’s okay that organic PV stays in the realm of consumer electronics and recreational applications if that’s where it works best, he said.

Shrotriya also pointed to the building-integrated market where transparent plastic solar cells could be installed on windows. Assuming an organic PV module lasts 5-10 years (where many researchers think the technology will be in the next 5 years), that could potentially match well with the replacement of windows.

“It’s about finding the right business model for your product. You don’t have to be as efficient or stable to enter the market,” Shrotriya said.

So even if this new generation of solar technologies can’t reach the scale of cadmium-telluride thin film or crystalline-PV in a short time horizon, there are still opportunities for companies to bring them to market.

To hear the full discussion on commercializing next-generation solar, watch the video below or listen to the podcast, linked above.

Three Major Solar PV Funding Rounds Close

El Cajon, California, USA – This week saw the close of three major financing deals for solar developers in China, Europe and the U.S.

The first was a $100 million investment from Wells Fargo in a Chinese polysilicon producer and PV project developer, GCL Solar Energy. GCL says it will use the capital to develop projects for schools, government buildings and utilities. Wells Fargo has already poured around $2 billion into the renewable energy sector since 2006, mostly in the form of tax equity.

The entrance of this Chinese firm into the U.S. is evidence that foreign players are increasingly eyeing the country as the next booming solar market. Last month, the Solar Energy Industries Association said that the American market could realistically be 10 GW per year by 2020.

The second round of financing went to Borrego Solar for six PV projects worth $36 million. U.S. Bank and East West Bank led the round. The California projects include a 1.2-MW system at Madera Community Hospital and a 1.8-MW system for the San Diego County Water Authority.

Borrego will sell power to the site owners under power purchase agreements.

The third major announcement came from the U.S.-based private equity firm First Reserve Corporation, which entered into a euro 276 million project financing agreement to acquire a 70-MW PV plant in Italy. The project was originally developed by Sun Edison.

Six different banks participated in the financing agreement.

These are just three more pieces of proof that with a solid project, there’s still money available.

Researchers Aim to Harvest Solar Energy from Pavement to Melt Ice, Power Streetlights

ScienceDaily (Nov. 9, 2010) “” The heat radiating off roadways has long been a factor in explaining why city temperatures are often considerably warmer than nearby suburban or rural areas. Now a team of engineering researchers from the University of Rhode Island is examining methods of harvesting that solar energy to melt ice, power streetlights, illuminate signs, heat buildings and potentially use it for many other purposes.

“We have mile after mile of asphalt pavement around the country, and in the summer it absorbs a great deal of heat, warming the roads up to 140 degrees or more,” said K. Wayne Lee, URI professor of civil and environmental engineering and the leader of the joint project. “If we can harvest that heat, we can use it for our daily use, save on fossil fuels, and reduce global warming.”

The URI team has identified four potential approaches, from simple to complex, and they are pursuing research projects designed to make each of them a reality.

One of the simplest ideas is to wrap flexible photovoltaic cells around the top of Jersey barriers dividing highways to provide electricity to power streetlights and illuminate road signs. The photovoltaic cells could also be embedded in the roadway between the Jersey barrier and the adjacent rumble strip.

“This is a project that could be implemented today because the technology already exists,” said Lee. “Since the new generation of solar cells are so flexible, they can be installed so that regardless of the angle of the sun, it will be shining on the cells and generating electricity. A pilot program is progressing for the lamps outside Bliss Hall on campus.”

Another practical approach to harvesting solar energy from pavement is to embed water filled pipes beneath the asphalt and allow the sun to warm the water. The heated water could then be piped beneath bridge decks to melt accumulated ice on the surface and reduce the need for road salt. The water could also be piped to nearby buildings to satisfy heating or hot water needs, similar to geothermal heat pumps. It could even be converted to steam to turn a turbine in a small, traditional power plant.

Graduate student Andrew Correia has built a prototype of such a system in a URI laboratory to evaluate its effectiveness, thanks to funding from the Korea Institute for Construction Technology. By testing different asphalt mixes and various pipe systems, he hopes to demonstrate that the technology can work in a real world setting.

“One property of asphalt is that it retains heat really well,” he said, “so even after the sun goes down the asphalt and the water in the pipes stays warm. My tests showed that during some circumstances, the water even gets hotter than the asphalt.”

A third alternative uses a thermo-electric effect to generate a small but usable amount of electricity. When two types of semiconductors are connected to form a circuit linking a hot and a cold spot, there is a small amount of electricity generated in the circuit.

URI Chemistry Professor Sze Yang believes that thermo-electric materials could be embedded in the roadway at different depths — or some could be in sunny areas and others in shade — and the difference in temperature between the materials would generate an electric current. With many of these systems installed in parallel, enough electricity could be generated to defrost roadways or be used for other purposes. Instead of the traditional semiconductors, he proposes to use a family of organic polymeric semiconductors developed at his laboratory that can be fabricated inexpensively as plastic sheets or painted on a flexible plastic sheet.

“This is a somewhat futuristic idea, since there isn’t any practical device on the market for doing this, but it has been demonstrated to work in a laboratory,” said Yang. “With enough additional research, I think it can be implemented in the field.”

Perhaps the most futuristic idea the URI team has considered is to completely replace asphalt roadways with roadways made of large, durable electronic blocks that contain photovoltaic cells, LED lights and sensors. The blocks can generate electricity, illuminate the roadway lanes in interchangeable configurations, and provide early warning of the need for maintenance.

According to Lee, the technology for this concept exists, but it is extremely expensive. He said that one group in Idaho made a driveway from prototypes of these blocks, and it cost about $100,000. Lee envisions that corporate parking lots may become the first users of this technology before they become practical and economical for roadway use.”This kind of advanced technology will take time to be accepted by the transportation industries,” Lee said. “But we’ve been using asphalt for our highways for more than 100 years, and pretty soon it will be time for a change.”

Coalition says money could flow from Green Bank next year

The Green Investment Bank (GIB) could be making its first investments in low-carbon infrastructure before the end of next year, according to senior figures at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

According to departmental business plans released earlier this week, the bank’s initial £1bn of funding from BIS is not due until 2013/14, but officials confirmed last night that it could deploy proceeds from the sale of government-owned assets in late 2011 and throughout 2012.

The news has been welcomed by private investment managers, who encouraged the government to “just get on with it” and launch the bank as soon as possible.

Speaking at a GIB summit organised by cross-party lobbying body the Aldersgate Group last night in London, Martin Donolley, permanent undersecretary for BIS, said the coalition is “passionate about accelerating development” of the GIB.

The government has already said it will establish the governance arrangements and business operating model for the GIB by the end of May 2011, ready for an official launch by the end of December next year. But Donolley said the timeline could be accelerated further.

“We may manage to bring forward some aspects of this timetable and announce elements of the structural detail of this institution before the end of this year,” he said. “It is possible that the GIB could be in a position to make its first investments within six to 12 months of the next announcement in the spring.”

The move was immediately welcomed by private investment managers sharing a platform with Donolley.

“Many of us in the private sector take the view that speed is of the essence,” said James Wardlaw, managing director of investment banking at Goldman Sachs. “[The GIB] might not be perfectly formed to begin with, but let’s just get on with it, create it and shape it, and it will evolve as an institution.”

The GIB’s main aim is to “mobilise private capital”, according to BIS, and a measure of its success would be the public/private investment gearing it could achieve.

“I welcome the sense of pace [BIS] has given to this and I do think it’s important that momentum is maintained … because there is now considerable latent demand in the private sector,” said Nick Robbins, head of HSBC’s climate change centre.

His comments were echoed by Peter Young, chair of the Aldersgate Group, who predicted the bank would stimulate private sector investment in low-carbon projects.

“Bringing forward these capitalisations is essential, particularly the opportunity to advance some of the receipts from asset sales and get those up and running before the end of next year,” he said. “I noticed the government has been quick off the mark in selling the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. I don’t know who has got their hands on that money, but it would be good to see some of it coming the way of the GIB. The private sector is desperate to join in, but we can’t do it until those commitments are made.”

Skirmishes escalate between Republicans and EPA

It may be just a week since the Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives, but the battle to overturn regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already intensifying, with the agency rejecting accusations that its actions are damaging the economy.

Republicans have been waging a co-ordinated campaign against many of the regulations that the EPA is in the process of introducing, arguing they will impose an onerous regulatory burden on firms that will lead to increased unemployment.

In a letter to the EPA last month, Representative Joe Barton, who is the top-ranking Republican on the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee and is in the running to chair the influential committee in the next Congress, accused the EPA of failing to properly consider the economic impact of a variety of proposed environmental regulations including new ozone standards, greenhouse gas emission rules and other air pollution limits.

He said that at least eight new rules from the EPA would have compliance costs of more than $1bn (£624m), adding that he was “concerned about the highly accelerated pace at which EPA is issuing complex and expensive regulatory proposals”.

But on Monday EPA administrator Lisa Jackson rejected Barton’s analysis, releasing a letter that suggested Barton’s letter and an accompanying chart displaying the economic impacts of the EPA’s actions had willfully ignored the economic benefits that will arise from tighter regulations and which outweigh the economic costs.

“Those benefits projections can be found in the same documents from which the cost projections were drawn,” Jackson wrote. “Had the chart included the benefits projections, readers of it would have [been] able to see that the projected benefits of EPA’s pollution reduction rules under the Clean Air Act exceed the projected costs by 13 to one.”

The letter provides further evidence that the EPA and the Obama administration are willing to fight Republican efforts to limit its powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

It also provides a trailer for the battles that are expected next year when the Republicans take control of key House Committees.

Barton is one of the front runners to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee and has already signalled that he plans to launch a probe into the EPA’s activities.

Meanwhile, re-elected Republican governor Rick Perry confirmed that he would continue to fight EPA efforts to ensure new industrial facilities meet minimum emissions standards.

Speaking following his election victory Perry said that Texans were “tired of the government killing jobs with their do-gooder policies that have nothing to do with science or economics”, promising to continue to oppose new EPA rules.

According to reports, Texas attorney general Greg Abbott has filed seven lawsuits against the EPA in the past nine months, adding to a host of separate suits against the agency from other states and business groups, all of which challenge its decision that it is entitled to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

E.P.A. Subpoenas Halliburton on Fracking

The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it had subpoenaed Halliburton for information on the chemicals it uses for hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas drilling technique involving the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock formations.

In a statement, the E.P.A. said it had made a voluntary request for the information from eight other major drilling companies, all of which had either provided the information or pledged full cooperation by early December.

By contrast, Halliburton said only that it would “endeavor to complete its response” by the end of January, according to a letter accompanying the subpoena by Peter S. Silva, the agency’s assistant administrator for water.

“E.P.A. believes that Halliburton’s response is inadequate and inconsistent with the cooperation shown to date by the other eight companies,” Mr. Silva wrote.

In a statement, Halliburton said Tuesday that it was working in a “good faith effort” with the E.P.A. but called the agency’s information request unreasonable.

“We are disappointed by the E.P.A.’s decision today,” Teresa Wong, a Halliburton spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail message. “Halliburton welcomes any federal court’s examination of our good faith efforts with the E.P.A. to date.”

The E.P.A. is conducting a congressionally mandated study on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, on drinking water supplies. A 2005 vote in Congress exempted the practice from regulation by the Clean Water Act after a 2004 federal study determined that the practice posed little threat to human health.

As hydraulic fracturing has grown by leaps and bounds, calls for greater oversight and study of the practice have intensified, however.

A 2009 Congressional spending bill supplied nearly $2 million for further study of the drilling technique and ordered the E.P.A. to carry it out. The study is expected to be finished by 2012.

The companies that have already complied with the information request or pledged their full cooperation are BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, RPC, Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services and Weatherford.

The E.P.A.’s announcement came as Halliburton came under a microscope on another front, at hearings by a presidential commission on the causes of this year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Preliminary findings by the commission have raised concerns about the cement used by the company to seal the well.

Charting China’s Energy Explosion

If your gasoline and electricity bills go up in the years to come, and you want to blame someone other than yourself, a new report by the International Energy Agency has some ammunition for you.

In its annual global energy report, issued on Tuesday, the International Energy Agency predicted that China’s push for rapid economic development will dominate global energy markets and be the single biggest force in spurring higher oil prices and carbon dioxide emissions linked to climate change over the next quarter-century.

There are 1.3 billion Chinese in the world today, and currently they each use about one-third the amount of electricity as the average European or North American. But that’s changing, so watch your wallet.

The agency predicted that Chinese energy demand will soar 75 percent by 2035, accounting for more than a third of total global consumption growth. While China today accounts for 17 percent of the world demand for energy, it should account for 22 percent in 25 years, while India and other developing countries will also expand their energy use.

I caught up with Fatih Birol, the agency’s chief economist, and he told me, “Chinese energy demand will grow by such huge terms it will put pressure on the global energy markets in terms of oil, coal and, to a lesser extent, natural gas.”

The expansion in Chinese energy consumption has already been breathtaking, according to the report. Over the last decade China’s energy demand has doubled. While China used only half as much energy as the United States in 2000, it actually surpassed the United States in 2009 as the world’s largest energy user.

China’s thirst for energy is leading it to build coal-fired power plants but also wind farms at a record pace, and to invest in energy sources around the world, from oil fields in Sudan, to hydroelectric power in Burma to natural gas fields in south Texas. Beijing’s ability to raise hundreds of millions of people into the middle class over the coming years will largely be based on its ability to produce more energy, and its foreign policies can also be expected to follow its energy interests.

The agency’s prognosis for Chinese energy use is a challenge to efforts to control climate change, but it is not entirely bleak.

With $735 billion in investment plans over the next decade in nuclear, wind, solar and biomass projects, China is becoming a world leader in low-carbon energy output, the report said.

“Given the sheer scale of China’s domestic market, its push to increase the share of new low-carbon energy technologies could play an important role in driving down their costs through faster rates of technology learning and economies of scale,” it said.

The study offered many predictions about demand and supply of various fuels around the world but also concluded that there were many uncertainties. It wondered whether capture and storage technology for carbon dioxide would ever become commercially available for the purpose of increasing clean coal-fired electricity generation. It wondered whether biofuels production from crops like corn can be sustainable for food supplies.

“One point is certain,” the report concluded. “The center of gravity of global energy demand growth now lies in the developing world, especially in China and India.”

43 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for November 10th; Governments gave 6 times more to fossil fuels than renewables in 2009; Oil price escalation coming due to inaction on climate

  1. gecko says:

    “We kind of just assumed that the threat of total annihilation spurred everyone into action back in ’07 and that everything got better . . .”,18431/

  2. “We have mile after mile of asphalt pavement around the country, and in the summer it absorbs a great deal of heat, warming the roads up to 140 degrees or more,” said K. Wayne Lee, URI professor of civil and environmental engineering and the leader of the joint project. “If we can harvest that heat, we can use it for our daily use, save on fossil fuels, and reduce global warming.”

    Wouldn’t it be much cheaper and more effective to paint that asphalt white and rely on the albedo effect to reduce global warming?

  3. cyclonebuster says:

    ” Underwater Suspension Tunnels” cost 1/3 of that price at most and eliminate GHGs for good thus restoring our climate back to pre-industrial revolution temperatures for thousands of years to come. Summer Northern Arctic Sea ice returns to past levels as our climate cools again. No more coral bleaching occurs and ocean PH returns to normal! Do a blog about them and I will prove what they can do for our climate!

  4. Michael Halpern of UCS has an article in the AAUP’s special issue of Academe on attacks on academic freedom, on the attacks on climate science and scientists:

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    “Fraser’s Penguins” Documents Stark Climate Change in the Antarctic

    “It’s the tale of how Fraser came to believe—and I think it’s widely accepted now—that warming is the main cause behind the drop in the penguin populations,” Montaigne told SolveClimate News.

    … has been studying the ecosystem of the northwestern Antarctic Peninsula, where the midwinter temperature has risen 11°F in just 60 years, making it one of the three most rapidly warming regions on the planet. (The other two are Siberia and the Arctic.)

    Since the mid 1970s, the penguin population in this zone has dropped some 85 percent to about 5,000, a depletion rate mirrored in other colonies on the northwestern Antarctic Peninsula. There are some 2.5 million Adélie penguins in all of Antarctica.

    Bye bye penguins, our children will know them only from linux.

    More on penguins

    Dr. David Ainley has been studying penguins in Antarctica since 1977 and recently reported that entire rookeries of penguins will gather for a short period of time before returning to their nests and feeding area and leave one penguin behind. That single penguin marches into the continent never to return.

    Dr. Ainley and his team have returned these errant penguins to their rookery only to have them turn around and re-start their suicide march into the frozen continent.

  6. James Newberry says:

    “And one of the best ways to get off fossil fuels fast is to cut the subsidies.”

    “The IEA delivers a blunt message ahead of Cancun that cleaning up our energy systems now is cheaper than delay,” UK energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne bluntly said. “We need to go further and faster in getting ourselves off the oil hook – and on to clean green growth. Greater energy independence – with more renewables, clean coal and nuclear – is the best way to protect our consumers and our country from energy shocks to come.”

    After all the reporting on perverse fuel subsidies, Secretary Huhne seems much less cogent than a level headed office secretary. It seems the bloody Brits have chosen for decision makers confused, inconsistent, illogical, fiscally bankrupting and ecologically contaminating stooges for past paradigms.

    Which is at least consistent with the United States of Corruption. This way, both nations can nuke the climate, using massive public bailouts for schemes that are increasingly uneconomical, threats to national security and massively contaminating.

  7. Michael T. says:

    Obama team braces for Rep. Darrell Issa, avid investigator

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    Oil spill’s toxic trade-off

    Dispersed oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be more dangerous to wildlife than reports suggest.

    But until it is degraded by such bacteria, the dispersed oil becomes mixed into the water rather than sitting on top of it. This means that its toxic constituents, most notably polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are likely to have a greater effect on marine wildlife. “It’s definitely a trade-off,” says Charlie Henry, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s lead scientific support coordinator for the emergency response to the oil spill.

    Official statements by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have reported that the oil–dispersant mix resulting from the Deepwater Horizon spill is no more toxic than the oil itself. Although that is technically true, it is misleading, says Hodson, who has been studying the effect of dispersed oil on Atlantic herring embryos.

    The problem, explains Hodson, is that the dispersed cloud of microscopic oil droplets allows the PAHs to contaminate a volume of water 100–1,000 times greater than if the oil were confined to a floating surface slick. This hugely increases the exposure of wildlife to the dispersed oil. “EPA was presenting only part of the risk equation,” he told the meeting. “They’re trying to sugar-coat the message. In trying to understand the risks of dispersed oil, we need to understand exposure.”

    Hodson’s research suggests that fish embryos, still in their eggs, are extremely sensitive to dispersed oil. “Exposures as brief as an hour can have a negative effect on embryonic fish,” he says. That, combined with the fact that for any some species, large numbers of fish can spawn at about the same time of year, means that an entire hatch could be decimated by a plume of contaminated water: “You could have a very large portion of the fish stock affected.”

    Worse, the toxic constituents of oil hang around longer than other components, another speaker told the meeting. “This idea that there’s an oil biodegradation rate doesn’t hold,” says Ronald Atlas, a microbiologist at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, who has studied the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Alkanes, the simple hydrocarbons that comprise the bulk of oil, are degraded more readily than the PAHs, he points out.

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    Measuring the meltdown

    With global warming hitting the Tibetan plateau hard, scientists gather to plan an international research campaign to understand and mitigate changes at the ‘third pole’.

    Cold, remote and threatened by global warming: the description applies not only to the North and South Poles, but also to a region of more than five million square kilometres, centred on the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas, that researchers call the third pole

    As the region’s population booms, the top priority of researchers is to understand the status and fate of glaciers that are a vital source of drinking water. Last year, a claim in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 turned out to be an error (see Nature 463, 276-277; 2010). But participants at the workshop argued that the IPCC’s broader concern about the rapid loss of Himalayan glacier ice was correct. “There is no doubt that many of the glaciers in the region are retreating fast,” says Baldev Raj Arora, former director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun, India.

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    China tackles surge in mental illness
    Psychological examinations to be added to selection procedure for government officials.

    Maybe this should be adopted more broadly – to prevent sociopath intrusion.

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    17.5% of Chinese have some form of mental illness, one of the highest rates in the world

    In comparison, a World Health Organization survey found that the United States had the highest prevalence of mental illness in the world, with 26.4% of the population thought to have a diagnosable disorder in any given year

  12. Prokaryotes says:

    David Cameron has ended his two-day visit to China by urging the country’s leaders to recognise that its economic power requires it to shoulder greater responsiblities on human rights, climate change and Africa.

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    Senate approves National Climate Change Commission
    According to Bent, the commission will undertake the implementation of the rule,institutions, and procedures governing the national and international climate change regime “as outlined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol and Marrakesh Accords” all of which Nigeria is signatory.

    Promote environment

    The commission will also specifically develop a national strategy for the reduction of Greenhouse Gas emission and low carbon economy, coordinate national response to climate change amongst government agencies and promote, regulate, and develop the carbon market in Nigeria.

  14. Prokaryotes says:

    The floods in Pakistan show our vulnerability to climate chaos

    Just before the monsoon deluges that killed 2,000, left 4 million people homeless and one-fifth of my country submerged, our lakes had dried up. We need global action urgently

  15. Prokaryotes says:

    Climate change and its effects on the Middle East

    The future of the Middle East is a cause for concern – and I am not referring to peace or politics, but to the many environmental challenges that lie ahead. Despite regionally being one of the lowest producers of greenhouse gases and air pollution, the Middle East and North Africa is one of the regions likely to be most affected. By 2020 the urban population is likely to be over 60% of the total population; desert has swallowed up over two-thirds of our region; and only 43% of the scarce surface water resources available to Arab countries originate within those countries.

    The message is very clear: something needs to be done urgently – and finally someone is taking notice. On September 22, 2010, at the UN Millennium Development Goals summit, President Barack Obama unveiled his Presidential Policy Directive for Global Development. One of the key points of his vision for long-term sustainable economic development is to undertake initiatives to counter the effects of climate change.

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    Climate change, biodiversity and REDD+

    The international community is currently tackling two urgent global problems: the rapid increase in climate change and the ongoing loss of biodiversity. Two weeks ago, delegates from around the world gathered in Nagoya, Japan to discuss the failure of countries to meet their 2010 biodiversity targets and to propose new targets for reducing further biodiversity loss. And, at the end of this month, country delegates will convene in Cancun, Mexico, to continue the ongoing climate negotiations and seek solutions to the climate crisis.

    One topic that is critical is how to deal with deforestation and degradation of the world’s tropical forests.

    Each year, roughly 13 million hectares of forests are cleared globally, resulting in the emission of around 4.4 billion tons of CO2, or roughly 15 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

    This deforestation also leads to the loss of hundreds — or perhaps even thousands — of plant and animal species, and negatively impacts local and indigenous communities who depend on these forests for their livelihoods.

    In Indonesia alone, it is estimated that roughly 1 million hectares of forests are lost each year, resulting in the annual emission of more than a billion tons of CO2, and negatively impacting Indonesia’s biodiversity. Indonesia has a very rich biodiversity, including at least 58 amphibian species, 182 bird species and 141 mammal species that are endemic to its forests and are found nowhere else on earth.

    REDD+ offers an opportunity to tackle both of these problems simultaneously. REDD+ is an international policy mechanism in which developed countries provide incentives to developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, and to enhance carbon sequestration through forest conservation, carbon stock enhancement and sustainable management.

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    UN climate chief sees prospects for limited deal

    The top U.N. official on climate change says the U.S. and China have moved closer on elements of a global warming agreement under discussion at a major conference next month.

    Christiana Figueres says “there is a deal to be done” when delegates from most the world’s countries convene in Cancun, Mexico. The two-week meeting begins Nov. 29.

  18. Prokaryotes says:

    ‘Worst storms for years’ sweep in

    GALE-force winds, drifting snow and driving rain gave many parts of Scotland a taste of what winter will bring, with disruptions on roads and ferries.

    • A man battles against the force 11 storm as he leaves a public meeting in Daliburgh, South Uist. The subject of the meeting was climate change

  19. Prokaryotes says:

    Philippines: Legarda lauds heightened awareness on climate change

  20. Prokaryotes says:

    Reforestation In Papua New Guinea

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised “the efforts that the government and people of Papua New Guinea are making to combat climate change and to protect this beautiful environment.”

  21. Prokaryotes says:

    Climate change and erosion will displace millions by 2050

    Marino, a guest lecturer from the University of Alaska — Fairbanks, gave a lecture Friday, Nov. 5 about climate change and environmental migrants.

    The lecture, “Losing Ground: Understanding Environmental Relocations and Climate Change Response in Alaska and Throughout the World,” was held in the Jordan Ballroom in the Student Union Building.

    “When a profound ecological disaster occurs, very often people leave,” Marino said.

    Marino said there are more environmental migrants than refugees in the world. Very often these displaced people end up in inner city slums. They have no place else to go.

    Marino used Shishmaref, Alaska as an example of the impact of climate change. Shishmaref is a barrier sand island on the western coast of Alaska. It is home to about 600 people, most of them Alaskan Natives.

    Shishmaref is just half a mile wide and has been losing 10 feet each year due to erosion. One night during a bad storm, it lost 30 feet.

    “The Army Corps of Engineers has said in 15 years this place is going to be uninhabitable,” Marino said. “And that was four years ago.”

  22. Prokaryotes says:

    Weather gives fair warning of a future watery world

    On the basis of Irvin Laszlo’s thesis, stated in his book The Chaos Point, we have until 2012 to change our way for the better, or the earth will move into the path of irreversible decline.


  23. Prokaryotes says:

    Colorado State University Hurricane Forecast Team Accurately Predicted Very Active 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season

    Colorado State University Hurricane Forecast Team Accurately Predicted Very Active 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season

  24. Paulm says:

    He said he used the bridge, which is about 100 years old, several times a day.

  25. Prokaryotes says:

    Korea, Russia agree to boost energy ties

    “We agreed to cooperate closely to improve conditions for the resumption of the six-way talks,” Lee said, adding that the two countries will make joint efforts to effectively cope with global challenges, including climate change, terrorism and narcotics trafficking.

  26. Prokaryotes says:

    Haiti death toll rises as cholera spreads to Port-au-Prince

    At least 10,000 people suffering from cholera in hospitals in Haiti as disease reaches country’s capital

  27. Prokaryotes says:

    Rep. John Shimkus Not Worried About Climate Change Because of God’s Promise to Noah

  28. Prokaryotes says:

    Climate change expert gives glowing review on carbon price

    Rod Sims told the committee on Thursday that carbon price is the best available means that would cut down greenhouse gas emissions without much must costs for the Australian government.

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    New green drivers of growth

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has just released the final report of his High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF). As the two private sector members of the AGF , we are proud of our work. The report lays out the available options for mobilising $100 billion annually for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, and establishes the conditions that would make it possible to achieve this goal by 2020.

    One essential condition is setting a robust carbon price of $25 per tonne of CO2 in order to unleash the large private sector investments that are necessary to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy. We are concerned, however, that the political will for carbon pricing is lacking.

    The world cannot wait until 2020 to find the necessary resolve: while international negotiations drag on and the momentum that has been generated in the private sector is in danger of dissipating, global warming is progressing. There is an urgent need to start producing concrete results now, based on several promising initiatives that deserve to be scaled up.

  30. Prokaryotes says:

    Friday’s opening session was devoted to further discussions on the state of the global recovery, at risk from a currency war fuelled by a mutual desire to make exports cheaper and imports more expensive.

    The rest of the day was to be devoted to reforming global finance, climate change funding and development — an issue being dealt with for the first time by the G20.

  31. Prokaryotes says:

    Record rains flood Sri Lanka, leaving 36,000 families homeless

  32. Prokaryotes says:

    The death toll in Thai floods over the past month rose to more than 200, with at least 8.6 million people in 51 provinces affected by the deluge, officials said yesterday.

  33. Prokaryotes says:

    Convoy of Hope sends food to flood-ravaged areas in the Philippines