Energy and global warming news for January 19, 2011: Cleantech future threatened by valley of death; FTA boosts seven transit projects with $182 million

Cleantech Future Threatened By Weak Funding for scale-up

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.”

FTA Boosts Seven Transit Projects with $182.4 Million

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.

Clean energy seen as “bright spot” for US-China

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.

Oil Spill Commissioner Pledges to Address Health Issues

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.

A New Energy Storage Option: Gravity Power

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

Don’t freeze Wall Street out of carbon markets, federal report says

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.

Standing Up Renewable Energy on America’s Lands and Oceans

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.

34 Responses to Energy and global warming news for January 19, 2011: Cleantech future threatened by valley of death; FTA boosts seven transit projects with $182 million

  1. Drew M. says:

    Apologies if this has been posted previously. I heard about it last night on CBC news.

  2. John Mason says:

    Joe, this a particularly foul piece of anti-science propaganda:

    I have a thought for it that I may well post later this week. Time to crank up the effort over here, methinks!

    Cheers – John

  3. Prokaryotes says:

    Climate change growing risk for insurers: industry

    Insurers are struggling to assess the risks from climate change, industry officials say, with the floods in Australia and Brazil highlighting the potential losses from greater extremes of weather.

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    WASHINGTON—Scientists have taken a major step toward accurately determining the amount of energy that the sun provides to Earth, and how variations in that energy may contribute to climate change.
    Click here to find out more!

    In a new study of laboratory and satellite data, researchers report a lower value of that energy, known as total solar irradiance, than previously measured and demonstrate that the satellite instrument that made the measurement—which has a new optical design and was calibrated in a new way—has significantly improved the accuracy and consistency of such measurements.

  5. catman306 says:

    Bob, that’s 0.1 degree C. variation during the 11 year solar cycle.

    According to your link.

  6. The U.S. Forest Service has enormous wind resources at its diposal. It has no procedure for wind developers to apply for projects to use the long and potentially productive mountain ridges under its control. The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the USDA, not the Department of the Interior.

    Answers to inquiries about the use of these publicly owned ridgetops include that even if there were a procedure, no roads could be carved for the use of a wind farm on USDA land. As a reminder, these lands are routinely clearcut and forestry roads are allowed. Frequently forestry roads are along ridgetops and could be used by both industries. I believe that there needs to be pressure brought on Congress and the Administration to counter the opposition of the forestry companies to joint use of these public lands.

    A wind farm would use only about 2% of the land area within its boundaries, including joint-use roads. The rest of the land can be used as before.

  7. John Mason, James Delingpole’s blog is a sewer of narcissism and antiscience rhetoric. Its continued presence in The Telegraph discredits the whole newspaper. But there we go: my country has its own would-be Rush Limbaughs. Delingpole is an inadequate who has found something to do that gets him attention.

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    Bangkok – Thai authorities were mulling closing some marine parks to tourists after bleaching killed more than 50 per cent of the country’s coral reefs last year, officials said Wednesday.

    The government was expected to decide this month whether to close certain dive sites to tourists in a desperate effort to rejuvenate the country’s coral reefs, said Nipon Pongsuwan, head of the Phuket office of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.

    More than half of Thailand’s estimated 15,385 hectares of coral reefs died last year from bleaching, caused by unusually high water temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius that lasted for more than three months in the hot season.,dive-tours-coral-bleaching-surge.html

  9. Colorado Bob says:

    Johannesburg – Over 50 people have died in floods in South Africa and neighbouring Mozambique, South Africa’s Minister for Cooperative Governance Sicelo Shiceko said on Tuesday. Meteorologists said more rainfall was expected over the next few days, which could cause already high river levels to rise dangerously. South Africa’s army has been put on high alert.,africa-claims-50-lives.html

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    Every place, that is suffering from these extreme rains, has the same forecast ……. More rain.

  11. Colorado Bob says:

    Berlin – German solar power producers agreed Wednesday to subsidy cuts of up to 15 per cent, sources told the German Press Agency dpa, to compensate for a solar energy boom that inadvertently drove up costs and threatened to overburden electricity networks………….. Photovoltaic panels are so popular in Germany – where the generating capacity equivalent to six nuclear power stations was installed in 2010 alone – that consumer energy prices for those not using photovoltaic have risen noticeably to cover the subsidy costs for those using solar energy.,producers-agree-subsidy-cuts.html

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    World is ‘one poor harvest’ from chaos, new book warns

    What distinguishes “World on the Edge” from his dozens of other books is “the sense of urgency,” Brown told AFP. “Things could start unraveling at any time now and it’s likely to start on the food front.

    “We’ve got to get our act together quickly. We don’t have generations or even decades — we’re one poor harvest away from chaos,” he said.

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    ScienceDaily (Jan. 18, 2011) — Researchers at Northwestern University have placed nanocrystals of rock salt into lead telluride, creating a material that can harness electricity from heat-generating items such as vehicle exhaust systems, industrial processes and equipment and sun light more efficiently than scientists have seen in the past.

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    The floods and mudslides hit with such force that the geography of the region has changed profoundly, officials said.

    “Streams turned into wide, deep rivers. There is a huge geographical change; it’s as if towns were completely re-founded,” said Icaro Moreno, president of EMOP, a government public works firm.

    “People in these mountainside areas aren’t as secure as they used to think.”

  15. Colorado Bob says:

    . Rainfall at Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, during the 42-day period December 1 – January 12 was 1606 mm (63″), which is about how much rain the station usually receives in an entire year (1651 mm, or 65″.) Sri Lanka’s previous most devastating flooding disaster was the 2004 tsunami, but as The Economist commented, “in terms of the numbers of people displaced and farmland inundated, the floods have been even more devastating than the tsunami of December 2004.” Damage estimates start at $500 million, and much of Sri Lanka’s agriculture has been severely damaged by the disaster.

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    New Farming Method To Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Increase Farm Yields

    U.S. agricultural practices create 58 percent of nitrous oxide in the world, which is the third most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Scientists believe nitrous oxide contributes to global warming about 300 times more than carbon dioxide.

    At the University of Missouri Greenley Research Center in northeast Missouri, Kelly Nelson, a research agronomist and associate professor in the MU Division of Plant Sciences, monitored fields of poorly drained claypan soil that were planted with corn after soybean.

    One field was “strip tilled” with nitrogen fertilizer placed in a band in the soil, while another field was left untilled with a surface application of nitrogen fertilizer. The research team found that strip tillage and banded fertilizer significantly reduced the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per bushel of corn grain production, when compared to that of surface applied no-till treatments.

    Strip tillage is the practice of tilling a field in strips up to a foot wide and eight to nine inches deep, rather than tilling the entire field, so that crop residues can be left on the surface of most of the field.

    “The main goal for our team has been to identify agricultural practices that maintain or increase production while reducing the environmental impact,” Motavalli said.

    Motavalli should try Biochar, the perfect solution.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    John Mason #2 and Gregory Norminton #7, in my opinion the increasingly deranged behaviour of the likes of Delingpole and Booker and a plethora of similar creatures in Australia is a good sign. Their hordes of Dunning-Krugerite acolytes are going bonkers in similar vein, egged on by their thought controllers. I think that the record temperatures, and the unbelievable spate of concurrent flood disasters, coming on top of others only months ago, are beginning to tip the public mood. These things avalanche, and when the public finally wakes from its torpor and realises that we are in dire straits indeed, one uncomfortable reality is that many will not be well disposed towards the febrile liars who took the denialist industry’s thirty pieces of silver and spread untruths and disinformation that will prove to have been disastrous for humanity. I think a lot of prominent denialists are feeling cornered, where snakes become rather more aggressive and dangerous.

  18. Michael T. says:

    Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change

    “Milankovic climate oscillations help define climate sensitivity and assess potential human-made climate effects. We conclude that Earth in the warmest interglacial periods was less than 1°C warmer than in the Holocene and that goals of limiting human-made warming to 2°C and CO2 to 450 ppm are prescriptions for disaster. Polar warmth in prior interglacials and the Pliocene does not imply that a significant cushion remains between today’s climate and dangerous warming, rather that Earth today is poised to experience strong amplifying polar feedbacks in response to moderate additional warming. Deglaciation, disintegration of ice sheets, is nonlinear, spurred by amplifying feedbacks. If warming reaches a level that forces deglaciation, the rate of sea level rise will depend on the doubling time for ice sheet mass loss. Gravity satellite data, although too brief to be conclusive, are consistent with a doubling time of 10 years or less, implying the possibility of multi-meter sea level rise this century. The emerging shift to accelerating ice sheet mass loss supports our conclusion that Earth’s temperature has returned to at least the Holocene maximum. Rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions is required for humanity to succeed in preserving a planet resembling the one on which civilization developed.”

  19. David B. Benson says:

    A New Energy Storage Option: Gravity Power
    appears to be hihgly competative with pumped hydro and certainly Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES). So here is a (fairly) cost effective way to store excess generation from wind turbines and solar PV.

  20. David B. Benson says:

    Egypt to build 4 new nuclear power plants:

  21. Colorado Bob says:

    MILLERSVILLE, Pa., Jan. 19, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Thanks to a $250,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant we may soon know how climate change will impact our risk of malaria and dengue fever. Dr. Kathleen Schreiber, professor of geography at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, received the grant from the NSF sponsored Vector-Borne Disease Project to measure how environmental temperature change influences the transmission and disease risk of the two diseases.

    There are two climate models used in the project: the downscaling model which produces the localized temperature projections and the epidemiological model. Schreiber says that when the two are mixed together, researchers can predict the risk of infection in the future. “Temperature affects the biting rate of mosquitoes and the incubation of parasites,” said Schreiber. “With a higher temperature, for example, malaria incubation in the mosquito does not take as long. Therefore, the mosquito is more likely to become infected before dying and transmit the disease to others.”

  22. David Stern says:

    The piston storage idea is interesting. My first thought was “what about groundwater?” Don’t know if that would be a problem or limit available sites. Just been reading again about the huge role played by coal mine drainage requirements in the Industrial Revolution. Until steam engines came along deep coal mines were not practical.

  23. Steve UK says:

    @ John Mason #2

    I find that repetition of the magic formula, “Climate Change Act (2008)” dispels the high blood pressure caused by reading Mr Delingpole’s “journalism”. As much as he cuts, pastes and rants and as much as his me-too-bies bang their drinking cups on the bars in the comments, mitigation is the law in this country for the foreseeable future, which I think we can be quietly proud of. I’m sure you know this, but for evidence of sensible people treating the question sensibly.


  24. David B. Benson says:

    David Stern @23 — The piston moves inside a steel pipe. I don’t see any ground water issues.

  25. Mike says:

    From the Chronicle of Higher Education, a rather depressing article by someone who needs help with framing.

    January 16, 2011
    The Perils of Unleashing Students’ Skepticism
    By John Horgan

    Don’t always believe what scientists tell you. Be skeptical.

    That’s what I tell students in my history-of-science and science-writing classes. But some of them may have taken the lesson too much to heart.

  26. David B. Benson says:

    Pumped Hydro: It has low Capital and nominal operating costs; typically $900-$1,200/KW Capital Cost and 1 cents/kW-hour O&M.
    which seems to imply adding ~3 cents/kWh to the cost of purchased power (for pumping) when generating.

    So puchasing for wind (or solar PV in the future) for about 7 cents/kWh means being able to sell for around 10 cents/kWh. Some NPPs might be able to do better but the capitalization is stiff hurdle.

  27. paulm says:

    The seasonal cooling effect of light-reflecting snow and ice in the Northern Hemisphere may be weakening at twice the rate predicted by climate models, a new study shows, accelerating the impact of global warming.

  28. paulm says:

    Related to above ….

    Residents of a town on the western coast of Greenland may have seen the sun peek over the horizon 48 hours earlier than its usual arrival on Jan. 13, sparking speculation, and disagreements, over possible causes.

  29. paulm says:

    Deep Past Climate a Clue to our Future Climate?
    Jan 14, 2011; 2:01 PM ET
    Our future climate may be even warmer than latest projections.
    If the current pace of emitting greenhouse gases continues through the end of this century, future temperatures may eventually rise far more than currently projected, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which looked at the earth’s climate tens of millions of years ago.

    If society continues on its current pace of increasing the burning of fossil fuels, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are expected to reach about 900 to 1,000 parts per million by the end of this century. That compares with current levels of about 390 parts per million, and pre-industrial levels of about 280 parts per million. (from the UCAR News Center)

  30. John Mason says:

    Gregory, Mulga, Steve,

    Thanks for the responses and I think there is a lot of truth in what you all say, especially as at present here in the UK we have a Conservative government that at least appears to take the issues seriously. It may well indeed be a “Mummy, you’re not looking at me” type tantrum – either we will mitigate/adapt or climate chaos will bring disaster and neither of those outcomes represent the likes of Delingpole getting his way.

    However, whenever there is a particularly nasty piece like the one I referenced above, I think it is useful to highlight it briefly – it is a necessary insight into what is going on in the minds of the opposition, however big a head-vise is required in order to read such stuff.

    Cheers – John

  31. Raul M. says:

    NASA’s TES measures the atmosphere
    and their drawing seems to show a discernible
    Increase in atmospheric methane. Enough to
    Change the forcing calculations of just a few
    years ago of what the expected is to be.

  32. catman306 says:

    Skeptical Science has a great graphic showing where the extra heat is going on our planet.
    93% goes in the oceans!