22 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for December 14th: Bingaman opens door to ‘clean’ energy standard (with nukes and coal CCS); Security Council urged to tackle climate change; Building Israel’s first solar field
A leading Democrat on energy policy signaled Monday that he’s open to a “clean” energy standard for utilities “” a GOP-backed proposal that’s favorable to new nuclear plants and low-emissions coal projects. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has long championed a renewable electricity standard that would require utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from sources like wind and solar. Bingaman said in the Capitol Monday that he’d look at a wider standard that includes non-renewable forms of energy “” but only if it doesn’t crowd out the renewables.
“If you can design a so-called clean energy standard that still provided incentives to pursue renewable electricity … then it is certainly worth looking at,” he said. Bingaman has long opposed proposals for a “clean” standard, which were offered several years ago by former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) “” who was the energy panel’s leading Republican “” and more recently Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “The versions I have seen in the past have appeared to me to essentially wipe out any real incentive for things like solar and wind, other of the developing or maturing technologies,” Bingaman said, but added: “I am open to looking at other options, other ways to do it.”
Proposals by Bingaman and other lawmakers to create a renewable power standard have stalled on Capitol Hill amid significant GOP resistance, although a few Republicans such as Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) like the idea. Prospects won’t get any better in the new Congress, when Republicans will control the House and have greater numbers in the Democratic Senate. The idea of a “clean” standard that would credit power from nuclear plants, and coal projects that sequester carbon emissions (a technology not yet commercialized), got a shot in the arm last week.
Germany, which will join the UN Security Council in January, believes the body should start dealing with climate change as a potential global threat, its UN ambassador said on Monday. Peter Wittig told an audience at a think tank in Berlin that Germany shared the view of the more than 40 island states represented at the United Nations that global warming was an urgent security issue. “We are of the opinion that it would be worth the effort to consider strategically — in the Security Council as well — which effects climate change could have on the security situation in the broadest sense including defence assistance, resource assistance, the disappearance of entire island states, the rising of sea levels,” he said.
“In New York this is a current, and for some countries, existential problem and we would like to take up these issues and bring them before the Security Council.” He said however that the drive to have the Security Council tackle potential disasters caused by global warming would be a “challenge” because some of the permanent members did not see it as part of the body’s remit. Germany will join the Security Council from January for two years as one of 10 non-permanent members. Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States comprise the permanent members.
In May, a coalition of Pacific small island developing states at the UN called on the Security Council to immediately address the security threats posed by climate change. Small island states are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, which scientists project could increase by a metre (3.3 feet) or more by the year 2100. More than 190 countries meeting in Cancun, Mexico agreed on Saturday to set up a new fund to manage billions of dollars in aid to poor nations that experts say are already feeling the effects of climate change.
Arava Power Company (APC) and Bank Hapoalim signed an agreement Monday securing financing for the first mediumsized solar field in Israel. The cost of the project is estimated at NIS 100 million, and Bank Hapoalim’s credit line extends to 80 percent. “A lot of belief and determination has brought us to this moment,” APC CEO Jon Cohen said in a statement. “The company’s founders saw before their eyes from the very beginning the first solar field in Israel being built at Kibbutz Ketura. Today, as a result of their vision and the courage of their decision, we are closing the first circle here.
“Today, we give the ‘go’ order to Siemens Israel, which will begin building the field immediately,” he went on. “This is just the first of dozens of fields APC will build across the Negev and Arava. We are grateful to Bank Hapoalim for their belief that APC can meet the goals it has set for itself.” Miryam Gaz, project finance department head at Bank Hapoalim, declared that the bank “has chosen to be a pioneer in assisting the transition to solar energy and has initiated a process over the last two years which will enable the business and the private sectors to fulfill their potential in using renewable energy. We hope that securing financing for the Ketura project will be an incentive toward completing more projects in the field of solar energy.”
APC traversed the bureaucratic gauntlet over the past three years and was the first company to finish the regulatory process. It signed a power purchase agreement with the state in late November. The 4.9-MW field is owned by Ketura Sun – a joint company of APC and Kibbutz Ketura. Siemens, which owns a 40% stake in APC, will be planning and building the field itself. According to APC, the field will be completed in nine months. It is expected to generate, in addition to electricity, revenues of NIS 12.5m. annually for the next 20 years – about NIS 250m. in total.
Shortages of diesel at gas stations, factories forced to suspend production, homes left without electricity. Hard to imagine that these could be the results of a government campaign, but that’s recently been the case in some parts of China. It’s the result of a last-minute effort to meet targets for reducing the country’s energy intensity””the amount of power consumed per unit of GDP produced.
In 2005, the government pledged to reduce energy intensity by 20 percent by 2010. Closures of energy-guzzling plants, notably inefficient coal-fired power stations and small cement works, saw some significant progress””until the financial crisis of late 2008, according to Wang Tao, a climate-change specialist at the Worldwide Fund for Nature in Beijing: “Then unfortunately a lot of the government’s stimulus package went into infrastructure, and into the heavy industries like steel and cement this requires””so this went against the trend of reducing energy intensity.”
Earlier this year, China’s central government called for redoubled efforts to meet the target. In many regions, local governments set energy-use quotas for officials””and warned them they could lose their jobs if they exceeded these. Many responded simply by switching off electricity supplies: in Henan province, steel works were ordered to close for days, and power was cut to homes in towns and villages. In other parts of the country traffic lights, and even hospitals, were left without electricity. It angered residents and frustrated businesses: “We were manufacturing at a factory in Guangdong and they suddenly told us the local government had ordered them to stop production,” says Gustavo Salinas, a Peruvian-Spanish businessman who sources textiles in southern China. “It was nothing to do with lack of capacity””that plant actually generated surplus power for the national grid!”
The Global Crop Diversity Trust announced a major global search to systematically find, gather, catalogue, use, and save the wild relatives of wheat, rice, beans, potato, barley, lentils, chickpea, and other essential food crops, in order to help protect global food supplies against the imminent threat of climate change, and strengthen future food security. The initiative will work in partnership with national agricultural research institutes, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is the largest one ever undertaken with the tough wild relatives of today’s main food crops.
These wild plants contain essential traits that could be bred into crops to make them more hardy and versatile in the face of dramatically different climates expected in the coming years. Norway is providing US$50 million towards this important contribution to food security. “All our crops were originally developed from wild species””that’s how farming began,” explained Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. “But they were adapted from the plants best suited to the climates of the past. Climate change means we need to go back to the wild to find those relatives of our crops that can thrive in the climates of the future.”
Crop wild relatives make up only a few percent of the world’s genebank holdings, yet their contribution to commercial agriculture alone is estimated at more than US$100 billion per year. One example dates back to the 1970s, when an outbreak of grassy stunt virus, which prevents the rice plant from flowering and producing grain, decimated rice harvests across Asia. More than 10,000 samples of wild and locally-cultivated rice plants were tested for resistance to the disease until scientists found it in a wild relative, Oryza nivara, growing in India. The gene has been incorporated into most new varieties since the discovery. “This project represents one of the most concrete steps taken to date to ensure that agriculture, and humanity, adapts to climate change. At a more fundamental level, the project also demonstrates the importance of biodiversity and genetic resources for human survival,” said Erik Solheim, Minister of the Environment and International Development of Norway.
As everyone is probably aware by now, the incoming governors of Ohio and Wisconsin, John Kasich and Scott Walker (respectively), have stated loudly and clearly that they don’t want high-speed rail (HSR) projects in their states. Even though these projects would create thousands of jobs, would help to modernize these states’ transportation systems, and federal funds would cover the majority of the capital expenses, Kasich and Walker have said that they don’t want the federal funds awarded to them for their major HSR projects.
Well, there are plenty of other states wanting that money and the federal government has not waited too long to redirect $1.195 billion from Wisconsin and Ohio to some of these other states. On Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that this money would be redirected to the following states/projects in this manner:
California: up to $624 million Florida: up to $342.3 million Washington State: up to $161.5 million Illinois: up to $42.3 million New York: up to $7.3 million Maine: up to $3.3 million Massachusetts: up to $2.8 million Vermont: up to $2.7 million Missouri up to $2.2 million Wisconsin: up to $2 million for the Hiawatha line Oregon: up to $1.6 million North Carolina: up to $1.5 million Iowa: up to $309,080 Indiana: up to $364,980
I’m sure these states are happy to be getting a little more funding. “High-speed rail will modernize America’s valuable transportation network, while reinvigorating the manufacturing sector and putting people back to work in good-paying jobs,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “I am pleased that so many other states are enthusiastic about the additional support they are receiving to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life.”
Researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) are working on revolutionizing fuel cell technology by enabling portable electronics to operate using fuels like methane, for example. The research team is currently in development of solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), which convert chemical energy from hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuels into an electric current. Up until recently, the cost of materials and high operating temperatures have restricted SOFCs solely to laboratory use.
Fortunately, the team has now developed a thin-film SOFC that uses nano-scale ceramic films “” both eliminating the need for expensive platinum electrodes and increasing stability. Scientists confirm that they are now working with a methane-fueled SOFC operating at less than 500 degrees Celsius, about 500 degrees less than traditional SOFCs. According to the researchers, 300-500 degrees Celsius are the ideal temps for applications in portable electronics and/or transportation vehicles. With budding alternative technologies continuing to emerge, its very exciting to think about the strides that we may all see in the coming years.
Oil and gas wells produce a lot of water. According to the Department of Energy, between 20 and 25 billion gallons of water are drawn up by wells each year in the U.S., creating a hassle for operators and sometimes shutting down production. Geothermal co-production can potentially alleviate that problem. By using generation units that produce energy from low-temperature hydrothermal resources, a handful of companies are looking at converting wastewater from oil and gas wells into electricity. The potential for turning that liability into a generation asset is huge; but so are the technical and economic challenges.
The Binary Cycle and Organic Rankine Cycle technologies used to generate electricity from lower-temperature water (between 195 and 300 degrees fahrenheit) have been around for decades. These units utilize warm water to boil a working fluid, send the vapor through a turbine and generate electricity. Ormat has been the historic leader in the Binary-Cycle sector, with UTC and Fuji starting to catch up. There’s also ElectraTherm, a newer company working with co-production project developers to install its 50-kW Rankine Cycle “Green Machines” at oil and gas sites.
The big question is not whether these technologies work, it’s whether they can work effectively at oil and gas wells, says Ann Robertson-Tait, the vice president of business development for Geothermex, a leading geothermal consultancy. “Could [companies] use that co-produced water for something? They could. Could it be a large grid-connected resource? That’s going to be a bigger challenge,” says Robertson-Tait.
In Mark Moore’s world, long nanotubes reach into the clouds, serving at once to tether a turbine-vehicle flying at 2,000 feet, or 10,000 feet, or 30,000 feet (610, 3,050 and 9,150 meters); and also to conduct the power that vehicle can harvest from the wind back to Earth. Aloft might be a funnel-shaped blimp with a turbine at its back; or a balloon with vanes that rotate; a truss-braced wing; a parachute; a kite. Any and all of them are ideas being considered by nascent renewable energy industry that is flexing its imagination.
Moore, who works as an aerospace engineer, centering his focus on advance concepts in the Systems Analysis Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center, is using a $100,000 grant from the federal government to research what it will take to judge the value of any of those ideas. “It’s the first federally funded research effort to look at airborne wind capturing platforms,” Moore said. “We’re trying to create a level playing field of understanding, where all of the concepts and approaches can be compared — what’s similar about them? What’s different about them, and how can you compare them?”
He likens the development of wind-borne energy to flight itself, adding that “this is like being back in 1903. Everybody’s got a dog to show. Everybody’s got a different way of doing it.” But the Wright Brothers didn’t have to deal with a crowded sky and the laws regulating it when they took off at Kitty Hawk. “Airspace is a commodity,” Moore said. “You have to be able to use airspace without disrupting it for other players. Smaller aircraft are still going to need to fly around. Larger airplanes, you can’t expect them to fly around every wind turbine that has a two-mile radius as a protected flight zone.”