"Energy and global warming news for January 19, 2011: Cleantech future threatened by valley of death; FTA boosts seven transit projects with $182 million"
The push to develop cleaner energy technologies–a widely embraced strategy for nurturing innovative new industries–is increasingly threatened by a shortage of investment, according to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and renewable energy experts.
New technologies that can enable broader use of wind, solar, and other renewable forms of energy require billions of dollars in research and development. But potential investors are balking at the sums involved, cognizant that early-stage technologies are an especially risky bet, with the majority of start-up companies almost certainly doomed to fail.
At the same time potential American ventures are stalling, China’s leaders are directing enormous political and financial support toward forging a Chinese-made clean energy future. And they are moving fast. Chinese factories churn out enormous quantities of solar cells and wind turbines. More importantly, China is investing aggressively in innovation, with spending for clean energy exceeding $51 billion last year–a 31 percent increase from 2009, and ten ten times the level of American governmental support.
This lopsided disparity has occasioned talk that the United States is on the cusp of a modern-day Sputnik moment. American industry has built itself on a legacy of innovation, from the advent of the automobile through the expansion of aviation and into satellite communications and the Internet. In each of these spheres, American companies and know-how have played dominant roles in pioneering technologies and developing lucrative products. But as cleantech now emerges as the next potentially enormous area of global innovation, the United States risks falling behind.
“America still has the opportunity to lead in a world that will need a new industrial revolution to give us the energy we want, inexpensively and carbon-free,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in a recent speech. “It’s a way to secure our future prosperity. But I think time is running out.”
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced on December 27 that it is advancing a total of $182.4 million in “new starts” funding for seven transit projects already under construction in New York, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Northern Virginia. The grants being awarded will not increase the federal government’s overall share in the projects. Rather, a portion of the federal share for each project is being paid earlier than expected because of unallocated funds in FTA’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget for new construction.
The projects cover mass transit, such as light rail and commuter rail, including the 21-mile Dallas-Northwest/Southeast Light Rail extension, which opened December 3, 2010 and is to carry nearly 46,000 weekday riders by 2025. Another, the 3.5-mile New York-Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) East Side Access project, will use an existing rail tunnel under the East River to increase LIRR tunnel capacity across the East River and significantly relieve over-crowded conditions throughout the LIRR network, carrying more than 27,000 new transit riders by 2030. The project will cost a total of $8.4 billion, with a federal New Starts share of $2.6 billion. See the FTA press release and the list of projects.
Cooperation on clean energy could be a high point in U.S.-China relations leading to benefits for both countries, government and business officials said ahead of a summit between Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama.
Disputes between the world’s two largest economies and energy consumers over China’s wind power subsidies and its slowdown in exports of rare earths minerals, used in everything from wind turbines to cell phones, have dominated headlines in recent months.
The countries are also having wider arguments. The United States says China’s currency, the yuan, is undervalued and Washington is pushing Beijing for help in persuading North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.
But with rising concerns about oil prices, now above $90 a barrel, energy security, and global warming, officials said the world’s biggest developed country and the biggest developing country have much to learn from each other. Progress can be made on sharing technologies on efficiency, cleaner coal, and development of renewables like wind and solar power, they said.
As China tries to transform its economy from the manufacturing of cheap goods into one developing and distributing sophisticated technologies, such as clean energy, spats over intellectual property rights have already troubled trade relations between the two countries. But pressure on both countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reel in fossil fuel demand may push them to overcome these differences.
In an emotional public meeting on Wednesday, January 12th, citizens from across the Gulf Coast urged the president’s oil spill commission to help solve the growing health crisis here — and got a pledge of support in return. Many citizens and non-profit groups praised and thanked the commission for its report on the BP disaster; but they also say it failed to adequately address health issues.
During the question and answer session, people from coastal communities across the gulf stood up with a common message: We need more than just a report, we need immediate help now to address an urgent and growing health crisis along the Gulf Coast.
“I really see no sense of urgency here … Where is the sense of urgency?” asked Robin Young of Orange Beach, Alabama. “Is there anything being put in place? Has anyone talked about getting somebody on the ground now with a team of doctors?”
Dr. Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist who has studied and lived through the Exxon Valdez spill, estimates that four to five million gulf coast residents have been exposed to dangerous levels of oil and dispersants.
In my last two posts (#1 and #2) I explained that to truly make the transition to using renewable energy, we need the utilities on board, and to make that happen, the utilities need an affordable way to store energy.
Batteries are not environmentally or financially the best solution for grid-scale storage. Pumped Storage Hydro (PSH) “” the only GW-scale storage technology deployed “” and Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES), with only two plants in operation globally, have given good results. But the construction of these energy storage options is costly, time consuming and wrought with environmental concerns.
So what’s the alternative? The answer may actually lie in digging deep rather than building up.
Pumped storage hydro uses gravity to store energy that is sourced from the grid by raising water to a higher altitude, creating potential energy. That potential is then converted to electricity when the water returns to its original level, passing through a turbine on the way. Storage capacity can be increased by adding mass and/or the storage height
A federal interagency group says that carbon permit trading markets should be open to parties well beyond industrial polluters and providers of carbon offsets.
The freewheeling derivatives trading that helped spawn the financial crisis has prompted claims by some lawmakers and other critics that carbon markets could be vulnerable to market abuses.
But an interagency working group, led by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, says in a new report that the markets will nonetheless function best if they’re open to a wide range of actors “” as long as tough oversight is in place.
By helping stand up responsible large-scale renewable energy projects on America’s public lands and oceans, the Department of the Interior is playing a leading role in fulfilling President Obama’s vision for a new energy future.
As America’s principal public lands management agency with stewardship responsibility over 20 percent of the nation’s land mass and 1.75 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf, Interior manages areas with extensive renewable energy potential.
In 2010, we began to unleash the potential of these resources in unprecedented ways, approving historic renewable energy projects, as well as developing strategic plans for a strong future.