Energy and global warming news for February 1: Scientists make solar cells with low-cost metal oxide; GE and GM boost energy efficiency

Scientists make solar cells with cheap metal oxide

A team led by Dr Henry Snaith at the physics department combined the oxide with a thin dye printed on to glass to turn the sun’s energy into electricity.

The glass can be produced in a range of different transparent colours for use in windows and cladding buildings.

“It opens up a lot of versatility and a lot of possibilities for building design,” said Dr Snaith.

Because the manufacturing process uses abundant, non-toxic materials the carbon footprint is considerably smaller than rival technologies.

Ollie Bennett, from MiPower, a company that specialises in installing solar panels, said he had not seen anything like the new cells on the market.

Green sparks fly as GE and GM boost energy efficiency

When you rub two green-transitioning corporate powerhouses together you’re bound to start something, and that seems to be the result of a new collaboration between GM and GE. The two have partnered in a new energy efficiency program that uses GE software to synchronize the conveyors at GM factories with lights, generators, and other equipment. The concept is simple but the results are impressive, which makes you wonder why nobody ever thought of it before.

Energy Efficient Factories and Conveyor Belts
The basic idea is that the schedule for running one type of equipment – the conveyor belt – determines all of the other equipment in a conventional manufacturing plant. GM started by jiggering GE’s Proficy Cimplicity factory management software to coordinate the schedule of conveyors with lighting for 20 of its factories. Then they moved on to include heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment. Compressed air generators, hydraulic pumps, ovens, and other equipment are also included. The gains in energy efficiency are significant and GM estimates that the payback period is only six months. After that it’s all gravy. GE has also just introduced a new software package called Proficy for Sustainability Metrics, which monitors energy and water use.

Momentum for Clean Energy
With corporate juggernauts GE and GM up to their necks in green tech, things are starting to cook. Just this weekend, the Koch brothers are meeting with other influencers, presumably to figure out how to keep the oil industry afloat politically in the 2012 election cycle. They’re facing a tough road for two reasons that just popped into the news this week. One is Obama’s momentum, which could enable green-centered candidates to coattail on him. Also, sustainable energy is starting to look very do-able, the latest example being Los Angeles, which just announced that it has bumped its renewables up while keeping utility rates down.

Obama’s bid to end oil subsidies revives debate

When he releases his new budget in two weeks, President Obama will propose doing away with roughly $4 billion a year in subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies, in his third effort to eliminate federal support for an industry that remains hugely profitable.

Previous efforts have run up against bipartisan opposition in Congress and heavy lobbying from producers of oil, natural gas and coal. The head of the oil and gas lobby in Washington contends that the president has it backward “” that the industry subsidizes the government, through billions of dollars in taxes and royalties, not the other way around.

But even as the president says he wants to do away with incentives for fossil fuels, his policies continue to provide for substantial aid to oil and gas companies as well as billions of dollars in subsidies for coal, nuclear and other energy sources with large and long-lasting environmental impacts.

Mr. Obama’s proposal rekindles a long-running debate over federal subsidies for energy of all kinds, including petroleum, coal, hydropower, wind, solar and biofuels. Opposition to such subsidies “” often euphemistically referred to as incentives, tax credits, preferences or loan guarantees “” spans the ideological spectrum, from conservative economists who believe such breaks distort the marketplace to environmentalists who believe that renewable energy sources will always lose out in subsidy fights because of the power of the entrenched fossil fuel industries.

Gas drilling technique is labeled violation

Oil and gas service companies injected tens of millions of gallons of diesel fuel into onshore wells in more than a dozen states from 2005 to 2009, Congressional investigators have charged. Those injections appear to have violated the Safe Water Drinking Act, the investigators said in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday.

The diesel fuel was used by drillers as part of a contentious process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives “” including diesel fuel “” into rock formations deep underground. The process, which has opened up vast new deposits of natural gas to drilling, creates and props open fissures in the rock to ease the release of oil and gas.

But concerns have been growing over the potential for fracking chemicals “” particularly those found in diesel fuel “” to contaminate underground sources of drinking water.

“We learned that no oil and gas service companies have sought “” and no state and federal regulators have issued “” permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman of California and two other Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in the letter. “This appears to be a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

Building a country by switching on the lights

The first decades of the 21st century will be remembered as the ones in which the world finally began to grapple with global development. The likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono “” TIME’s Persons of the Year in 2005 “” have channeled funds to fighting malaria, TB and HIV, while supporting agriculture, infrastructure and even governance. But there’s one obstacle to development that has too often been forgotten, a blind spot that does more than almost anything to keep the poor poor: they don’t have electric power.

Some 1.6 billion people around the world lack reliable access to electricity. That means they don’t have electric lights for students to study by at night. They can’t easily charge cell phones “” assuming they even have them “” which means they can’t easily create markets or sell goods. Without regular power, their hospitals are severely limited “” after all, you can’t even keep vaccines cold without a refrigerator. Agriculture is essentially peasantry if farmers lack powered machinery. As long as those hundreds of millions remain in the dark, they will remain poor “” yet solving energy poverty isn’t even one of the U.N.’s ambitious Millennium Development Goals.
(See the top 20 green tech ideas.)

At the same time, the reality of climate change means that even the developing world needs to look for cleaner sources of energy because Western-style growth driven by fossil fuels could lead to catastrophe. That’s left a gap to be filled by small but innovative organizations like E+Co, a New Jersey-based group that lends out capital to entrepreneurs in the developing world to create clean energy businesses. The effect is multiple “” the loans create business, help reduce energy poverty and keep carbon emissions from growing. “Without energy, very little can happen,” says Christine Eibs Singer, who heads E+Co. “It’s clear to us that if you want to help with development, you need to address energy.”

Climate change threatens Europe’s living standards

Just a few key aspects of climate change could wipe out up to half of the annual gain in the standard of living for the average European household by 2080.

The European Union has seen economic welfare “” a measure of prosperity “” grow by an average of around 2% each year. But the climate of the 2080s is likely to cut that by at least 0.2-1 percentage points, according to a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which looked at just five impacts of climate change. “On average, that might not impact individuals much. But in aggregate it’s not trivial,” says Alistair Hunt, an economist at the University of Bath, UK, and a co-author on the paper.

The report is one of the first to use models that can distinguish differences in climate at the city-scale and to count up the costs of specific climate impacts such as flooding. Most previous studies have used global models to estimate the costs of climate change.

“These are certainly the kinds of studies we want,” says Tim Wheeler of the University of Reading, UK, who studies the impact of climate change on agriculture but was not involved with the work. Such reports are important for helping policy-makers to take action on a country-by-country basis, he says.

26 Responses to Energy and global warming news for February 1: Scientists make solar cells with low-cost metal oxide; GE and GM boost energy efficiency

  1. Michael T. says:

    Global Warming 101 (1 of 5) – The Greenhouse Effect

    “Become familiar with the fundamentals of the man-made global warming theory and the vital role the atmospheric greenhouse effect plays in moderating the Earth’s climate.”

  2. Dickensian American says:

    For those following the developing story: Yasi is now a category 5 storm.

  3. paulm says:

    Hansen is arguing about the moral aspects of leaving a degraded planet to our future generations.
    Have a look at this…say no to nuclear!

  4. Dickensian American says:

    Good post from an Oz climate blog providing some historic perspective to Yasi and a similar category 5 landfall in 1899:

  5. Dickensian American says:

    scratch that link–sorry to spam. it’s a disinformation site, even though the link that came up in a ticker for me does a good job of making this storm seem pretty damned serious. funny how the facts get in the way of disinformation efforts sometimes.

    *sigh* sorry for not screening more thoroughly.

  6. Chad says:

    Obama is missing the point. The direct subsidies to the oil and gas industry, while substantial and in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year worldwide, are still chump change vs the pollution-related externalities, which are several times larger. These absolutely must be addressed.

  7. Crank says:

    Dickensian American,
    useful link – it’s a pretty good illustration of what we’re up against. There’s literally nothing that will cause the deniers to question what’s going on. A hundred year storm? Well, that just proves that climate change is a hoax, because one happened a hundred years ago! The fact that it’s happening to an area still recovering from unprecedented flooding is just a coincidence. Floods have happened before too, don’t you know?

  8. Dickensian American says:


    That’s exactly what my reaction was and what lead to my own confusion. Since Yasi has been upgraded and is now anticipated to make landfall as a STRONG category 5, many Australian news outlets are using the phrase “strongest storm in living memory.”

    And that particular blog is using a storm from 112 years ago to… REFUTE those characterizations? Really?

  9. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Yasi is huge, not just powerful. It is exxpected to retain a lot of punch a long way inland.

  10. Ziyu says:

    Removing $4 billion in oil subsidies is about the equivalent of a $4.29 per ton carbon price. If all revenues lost from the subsidies are passed directly onto the consumer, gas prices would rise by 3 cents. If a $20 carbon price was in place, prices would rise by 14 cents. 3/14 = 21.4% x 20 = 4.29. Removing fossil fuel subsides would be a huge step foward.

  11. The Bobs says:

    According to two different hurricane sites I just checked, Yasi is cat 4, not cat 5. It is not expected to make 5 either.

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    Tropical storms made for the wettest January on record for parts of Northland, as much of the North Island was battered with four times the normal amount of rain.

    Niwa’s National Climate Centre said January was “an extraordinary month for rainfall”, with lows caused by tropical cyclones Vania, Zelia and Wilma bringing torrential rains and gales to much of the North Island.

  13. nz says:

    Bill Maher on Climate Change:

  14. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Kind of seriously OT, but I found this very interesting. Looks like maybe the Permian extinction was caused by burning coal:

  15. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    paulm @7 above:

    Very impressive indeed! Unbelievable!

  16. Mike says:

    This is off topic, but it does show that amateurs can be right sometimes – and that mainstream scientists recognize this.

    Nonfiction: Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution Is Vindicated

    Vladimir Nabokov may be known to most people as the author of classic novels like “Lolita” and “Pale Fire.” But even as he was writing those books, Nabokov had a parallel existence as a self-taught expert on butterflies.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’ve just been in the garden, pruning a grevillea, tying up the tomatoes, watering and giving the trees a drink of comfrey tea, and listening to the radio. Yasi is definitely Category 5, perhaps high end 5. They’ve just increased the estimated storn surge to four metres from two. Of course as soon as I heard mention of the famous hurricanes of 1918 and 1899, or whenever, I knew how the denialist industry would approach this. Even after we leave any historical record far behind, in the next few years, they’ll probably concoct ‘reconstructions’ of pre-historic hurricanes to meet their religious obligations and keep the pay-cheques coming in. Still the technological news continues hopeful. When I was in the UK recently I read a newspaper article concerning science graduates. The prospects in the UK for their employment are disastrous, as an uber-Thatcherite Tory regime drives the economy and society into the ground. However, graduates were being urged to try China, which despite its own high production of graduates, still needs more, including native English speakers. I think that US researchers, if the political climate turns hostile, could enjoy a few years in China, and learn a lot before they return home when the ideological tide turns. Chinese have traveled to the US for education for years, and the exchange will also, I believe, help mutual understanding and lessen the risks of geopolitical competition.

  18. Steve says:

    Today’s LA Times editorial is in defence of the Koch Bros. Its called “Rich Guys have rights too”. This is really beyond words. As news papers have dived into irrelevancy they’re embracing “special interests” that put them at odds with the role of the fifth estate. Newspapers in the past were considered part of the solution to society’s CHALLENGES but now have become part of the problem. Where does that leave society?…adrift in a cesspool of myths and lies. It is interesting to read many of the comments attached to this editorial, some of which were no doubt bought and paid for by the Koch’s.,0,6858366.story

  19. David B. Benson says:

    Climate change cover-up? You better believe it

    h/t to Hank Roberts

  20. Mike says:

    Dust Levels Doubled World-Wide

    There is twice as much dust in the atmosphere as there was 100 years ago. … Understanding the changing patterns of dirt particles in the atmosphere could help scientists improve the accuracy of climate predictions.

  21. Prokaryotes says:

    U.S. probes BP for gas market manipulation

    BP said U.S. regulators were considering filing charges against it related to alleged manipulation of the gas market.

    “The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) are currently investigating several BP entities regarding trading in the next-day natural gas market at Houston Ship Channel during October and November 2008,” BP said on Wednesday.

    The FERC’s enforcing body is now mulling whether to pursue charges against BP, which was prosecuted on propane market manipulation charges in 2006. BP paid around $300 million to settle those charges.

    The news comes as BP is struggling to rebuild its business and reputation in the United States after causing the U.S.’s worst-ever oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico.

  22. Prokaryotes says:

    BP puts refinery with history of disasters up for sale

    BP wants to sell its Texas City refinery, the sprawling 1,200-acre complex where 15 people died in a 2005 explosion that became symbolic of safety deficiencies in the culture of the British oil giant.
    Several other fatalities and injuries have occurred in the ensuing years and a dispute with federal safety regulators over improvements related to the 2005 accident drags on.
    The plant also faces civil lawsuits from state regulators and local residents related to an accidental release of benzene and other emissions over several weeks last spring.

    BENZENE THE cancer causing agent, brought to you by BP,same procedure then every year …

  23. Roger B. says:

    Although there has been a lot in the news about the snow and cold in the eastern U.S. so far this year, in January 2011 northern North America generally had temperatures well above the 1971-2000 average values. Here are some temperature deviation values for a few select locations:

    Town …………. Temp. Dev. (F) …… Temp. Dev. (C)
    Iqaluit, Nunuvut …. +16.0 ……………. +8.9
    Goose Bay, NFL …… +12.8 ……………. +7.1
    Resolute, Nunuvut …. +9.5 ……………. +5.3
    Nome, Alaska ……… +9.0 ……………. +5.0
    Ft. Nelson, B.C. ….. +7.7 ……………. +4.3
    Churchill, Manitoba .. +4.6 ……………. +2.6
    Prudhoe Bay, Alaska .. +3.5 ……………. +1.9
    Yellowknife, NWT ….. +1.1 ……………. +0.6
    Moosonee, Ontario …. -0.3 ……………. -0.2
    Hibbing, Minnesota … -1.5 ……………. -0.8
    Sault Ste. Marie, MI . -2.1 ……………. -1.2

    Roger Blanchard
    Sault Ste. Marie, MI

  24. Ziyu says:

    A DOE study just said the Canada tar sands pipeline would eliminate Middle Eastern oil imports by 2030. I bet the fossil fueled Congress will use this as an excuse to support the pipeline like Clinton will. They just cleverly forget that the tar sands have 82% more CO2 emissions than regular oil and runs through Nebraska’s aquifier. One oil spill, and yikes, all of Nebraska’s water supply could be contaminated.

  25. Prokaryotes says:

    Will cyclone Yasi push Australia into action on climate?
    The ‘monster, killer storm’ is the biggest for at least a century, with 400,000 people in its path. Will this latest extreme weather affect attitudes to global warming?

    Following the recent general election – seen by some as the world’s first climate change election – cyclone Yasi could be a tipping point for opinion, suggest observers.