March 16 News: Clean tech’s decade of explosive growth; DOE aims for $1 a watt solar by 2017; NOAA data shows warming world

Clean-tech: a decade of explosive growth with more to come

What a difference a decade makes. Once shunned as an industry only a tree-hugger could love, clean-tech has blossomed into an economic heavyweight, according to a report from research firm Clean Edge Inc.

Companies working on green construction and the smart grid are proliferating, the study said. From less than 10,000 hybrid electric vehicles in 2000, now more than 1.4 million are speeding around U.S. roads.

The solar photovoltaics market grew an average of 40% each year over the past decade to $71.2 billion in 2010 from $2.5 billion in 2000. The average cost of installing a photovoltaic system back then was $9 per peak watt; it’s now $4.82. In related news, the solar industry has logged another record-breaking year with a market value of $6 billion in 2010.

The wind industry saw similar growth, jumping an average of 30% each year to $60.5 billion last year from $4.5 billion in 2000, the report concluded. Nearly a quarter of all venture capital in the U.S. goes into clean-tech ventures now, compared with less than 1% in 2000.

The upswing follows the same momentum that telephones, computers and the Internet rode, said Ron Pernick, managing director of Clean Edge.

“The markets are getting to a place where they’re not quite reaching maturation but have grown quite a bit off a very small foundation,” he said. “We’ll eventually see a cooling-off of sorts as the clean energy market reaches wide adoption and utility-scale deployment, but overall the markets have been astounding.”

Over the prior year, the combined global revenue for solar photovoltaics, wind power and biofuels surged 35.2%, up to $188.1 billion from $139.1 billion and is on track to reach $349.2 billion in 10 years.

Biofuels are expected to double to $112.8 billion by 2020. Solar photovoltaics will boom to $113.6 billion by 2020 from $71.2 billion in 2010, according to Clean Edge. Wind, which has struggled against difficult project financing and pressure from Chinese competition, is projected to also double to $122.9 billion by 2020.

SunShot: Lowering the Price of Electricity from the Sun

Silicon translates sunshine into electricity””and Earth receives enough sunshine in a daylight hour to supply all of humanity’s energy needs for a year. But despite being as common as sand, photovoltaic panels made from silicon””or any of a host of other semiconducting materials“”are not cheap, especially when compared with the cost of electricity produced by burning coal or natural gas. The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) aims to change that by bringing down the cost of solar electricity via a new program dubbed “SunShot,” an homage to President John Kennedy’s “moon shot” pledge in 1961.

“If you can get solar electricity down at [$1 per watt], and it scales without subsidies, gosh, I think that’s pretty good for the climate,” notes Arun Majumdar, director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-e), the DoE’s high-risk research effort. “With SunShot, the goal is to reduce the cost of solar to [$1 per watt] in the next six years.”

As it stands, melting silicon or depositing thin layers of copper indium gallium selenide, then manufacturing photovoltaic modules and installing them on rooftops or in large arrays in the desert, can cost as much as $10 per watt. And whereas some technologies can deliver modules for roughly $1 per watt, installation at least doubles that.

“We are making solar for the masses”¦to get to [a] cost point that is viable,” said Bruce Sohn, president of Columbus, Ohio-based First Solar, the world’s largest thin-film photovoltaic manufacturer, which claims it can produce its modules for less than $1 per watt, on a panel at ARPA-e’s second annual summit on March 1. “We are looking to make something that can compete head to head with fossil fuels over the long term.”

Senate Democrats work to defend EPA

Senate Democrats are scrambling to combat a GOP-led offensive against the Obama administration’s climate regulations ahead of a possible Wednesday floor showdown.

In a surprising move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled Tuesday he would allow a floor vote on a Republican amendment to nullify the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered the amendment “” authored by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) “” to the small-business bill pending on the floor. The language mirrors the anti-EPA bill the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed during a daylong markup Tuesday.

Now, Reid and other top Senate Democrats who oppose the amendment are looking for ways to kill it. And they may have a tougher time than they expected, given the momentum after the Energy and Commerce vote and anti-EPA sentiment among moderate Senate Democrats.

Option 1: Get the votes to defeat it

Majority Whip Dick Durbin told POLITICO that he’s expecting a vote early Wednesday. Durbin didn’t say how many Democrats would defect to vote in favor of the amendment, but he thinks it will fall short of the 13 needed to get to 60.

House Panel Rejects Measure Backing U.S. EPA’s Finding on Climate Change

A Republican-led House panel rejected a measure supporting the Obama administration’s finding that the earth’s climate is warming because of human activity.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 31-20 along party lines to turn down an amendment by Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, to a measure that would block Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse-gas rules. The bill also rejects the agency’s finding that carbon-dioxide emissions endanger the public.

“This is science denial,” Waxman, former chairman of the committee, said today after the vote. “It’s not worthy of this committee.”

The committee debated the scientific evidence supporting a conclusion that man-made climate change is a threat to the public as lawmakers consider whether the EPA should regulate carbon-dioxide pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes. Republican lawmakers argued that the rules will hurt the economy and offer no environmental benefit.

“Let’s not sell the American people an environmental placebo that promises great things but delivers nothing,” said Representative Brian Bilbray, a California Republican.

Bilbray said Democrats are ignoring the fact that the EPA regulations won’t affect global climate change because they won’t achieve the kind of emissions cuts that scientists say need to occur to avoid dangerous global warming.

‘Hasn’t Been Proven’

Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and skeptic of the link between human activity and global warming, said the EPA has never conducted its own study of climate change.

“I have yet to see them actually do a real scientific analysis on their own,” he said. The theory of climate change “hasn’t been proven,” he said.

GOP rejects EPA’s climate finding

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans don’t want Congress to go on record accepting the ideas that global warming is “unequivocal” and humans are likely the cause.

Without the votes to stop the committee from passing legislation Tuesday to block the EPA’s climate rules, Democrats on the panel were left to score political points by forcing their colleagues across the aisle to vote on the science underpinning those rules.

Ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) offered a measure stating that Congress accepts the EPA’s finding that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

The amendment was defeated on a party-line vote, with 20 Democrats voting in favor, and 31 Republicans opposing the measure.

Another measure from Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) stated that Congress accepts the EPA’s finding that “the scientific evidence is compelling” that man-made emissions “are the root cause of recently observed climate change.” That measure also failed along party lines on a 21-30 vote.

A third measure from Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) was also knocked down. That amendment stated that Congress accepts EPA’s finding that public health is threatened by climate change. It failed 21-31.

The amendments were offered to the bill from Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and his deputy on energy issues Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

The committee is set to pass the bill Tuesday afternoon and it is likely to hit the House floor before the Easter recess.

“We are free as a political body to ignore science,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “But just remember this: We are not experts, we are congressional experts. And a congressional expertise, when it comes to science, is an oxymoron; it’s a contradiction in terms, like jumbo shrimp or Salt Lake City nightlife.”

As Energy Speculation Hits An All-Time High, CFTC Tries To Fend Off Budget Cuts

The price of oil closed yesterday at $101.19 per barrel, and analysts have been predicting that rising gas prices may stunt America’s slow economic recovery and cause the loss of as many as 600,000 jobs. Unrest in the Middle East is just one of many factors behind the recent rapid rise in oil prices.

But as ThinkProgress’ George Zornick pointed out last week, “one question remains unanswered “” to what extent are commodity traders influencing these high gas prices?” Many experts point to speculative trading, not simple supply and demand, as one of the causes of the 2008 spike in oil prices. And today, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission “” which is responsible for policing energy markets “” said that energy speculation is at an all-time high:

Hedge funds and other speculators have increased their positions in energy markets by 64 percent since June 2008 to the highest level on record, according to data released by U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner Bart Chilton. Speculative positions accounted for more than one million energy futures equivalent contracts as of January, according to the data.

CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton said in a speech today that high speculation is skewing prices. “We could have helpful limits in place that could guard against markets being adversely impacted by excessive speculation. We could do that now if we wanted. And, as you can tell, I want,” Chilton said.

The CFTC was given the power to restrict speculation in the oil market by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. But the agency has yet to implement the regulations, with its two Republican commissioners and one Democrat, Michael Dunn, expressing reservations. The CFTC actually missed the January 13 deadline to put speculation limits into place. As Zornick reported, Dunn’s term is ending this summer, giving the Obama administration an opportunity to appoint someone ready to fully implement the speculation restrictions included in Dodd-Frank.

On Our Radar: Wind and Solar Stocks Surge on Nuclear Fears

Stocks for wind and solar energy producers jump as investors speculate that demand for renewable power will surge in response to the unfolding Japanese nuclear catastrophe. The German solar-panel maker Solarworld leads the pack, surging 32 percent. [Bloomberg]

With their industry under fire, nuclear lobbyists on Capitol Hill l scramble to quell lawmakers’ fears. “We have a lot of support from politicians in both parties right now,” says one top lobbyist. “They all have questions “” they’ve been watching the news.” [CNN]

Plans for a $10 billion expansion of a South Texas nuclear plant could be shelved because of repercussions from the growing disaster in Japan, analysts say. “We think the potential added pressure could be the end of its nuclear loan guarantee award,” Barclays tells clients, referring to the project by NRG Energy. [Reuters]

Glenn Beck, the Fox News commentator, warns that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami could be a “message” from God and advises his listeners to follow the biblical Ten Commandments. “We can’t see the connections here,” he says. “There’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.’ I’m just saying.” [The New York Daily News]

U.S. will do new studies on Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

The U.S. State Department is going to require additional environmental studies before granting a permit for the 1,660-mile Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to carry oil from the tar sands of northern Canada through the U.S. heartland and on to south Texas.

In an announcement Tuesday, department officials said they would open a new round of public comments on a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, to be released in mid-April, with a decision on whether to grant a permit for the controversial pipeline now expected by the end of the year.

Pipeline opponents have long called for new environmental reviews, looking especially at the ability of a standard oil pipeline to safely carry the diluted bitumen found in the tar sands of northern Alberta.

study last month by three of the nation’s biggest environmental organizations and the Pipeline Safety Trust warned of a higher risk of corrosion-related spills linked to higher levels of abrasives, temperature and acidity in tar sands oil — claims that TransCanada, the pipeline builder, has rebutted. Download Keystone XL Fact Sheet TransCanada

Ranchers in Nebraska and surrounding states are also calling on the State Department to look at the possibility of a new pipeline route that would avoid a sandy, vulnerable area above the Ogallala Aquifer, a key source of farmland irrigation and drinking water that underlies eight states in the Great Plains.

Now that the State Department has announced the new studies, opponents are worried whether the  month before release of the new draft EIS will be enough to do them right.

NOAA data for February shows cold European winter, warming world

The US government research centre the National Atmospheric and Atmospheric Association provide a monthly assessment of surface temperatures around the world. It’s a useful resource – although pretty detailed, it gives a picture both of what temperatures are doing around the world, and how they’re changing over time.

The overall conclusion for the month was:

The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for February 2011 was 0.40°C (0.72°F) above the 20th century average of 12.1°C (53.9°F). This ties for the 17th warmest such value on record.

As part of the report, NOAA have graphed February temperatures over the past 130 years. The weight of where above-average years are falling is pretty obvious.

Noaa -4

They’ve also produced geographical maps of temperature over the past winter, which show pretty clearly the cold weather we’ve had in Europe.

Noaa -3

This short term temperature mapping is interesting is only a small part of the bigger climate picture. Temperature rise rightly gets a lot of attention – it’s one of the primary things that people focus on to try and determine how the planet is changing.

But it’s worth remebering that it’s not the only sign that the world is warming – as described by scientist Andy Dessler in this video which is worth a watch:

if [temperature rise] was the only thing we had, there are lots of ways these data could go bad. What scientists do is we look for coherence, find lots of data that are independent but tell you exactly the same thing… if you ask why scienitsts are so confident the earth is warming, it’s because we have lots of data.

29 Responses to March 16 News: Clean tech’s decade of explosive growth; DOE aims for $1 a watt solar by 2017; NOAA data shows warming world

  1. Robert In New Orleans says:

    Lead article at “Food Prices Rise At Fastest Rate In 36 Years”

    But only a minor mention of bad weather as a contributing factor.

  2. Mike says:

    U.S. energy chief: don’t delay new nuclear plants

    By Tom Doggett
    and Jeff MasonPosted 2011/03/15 at 5:20 pm EDT

    WASHINGTON, Mar. 15, 2011 (Reuters) — U.S. regulators should press ahead with approving construction licenses for new nuclear power plants despite Japan’s nuclear crisis, President Barack Obama’s top energy official said on Tuesday.

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    The plant operator described No. 3 as the “priority.” No more information was available, but that reactor is the only one at Daiichi which uses plutonium in its fuel mix.

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    It’s perfectly reasonable to argue that the problem here isn’t that nukes are genuinely more dangerous or more expensive than other forms of power generation, it’s that other forms of power generation aren’t forced to pay for their own externalities. Charge them properly for the carbon they emit and the mercury they spew and the particulates they make us breathe and they’d be just as expensive and just as dangerous as nuclear power. I think there’s a pretty good case to be made for that. Nonetheless, until we do start charging properly for all those externalities, nukes just aren’t going to be cost effective and nothing is going to change that.

  5. And we should also charge nukes for the externalities they create. Start by removing the liability limit; that alone will make it impossible to insure a nuclear power plant and so impossible to build one.

    If we charged all sources of power (including both fossil fuels and nukes) for the externalities they create, we would find that wind and solar are the most cost-effective by far.

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    Charles Siegel –

  7. Colorado Bob says:

    Breaking News –
    Wind blows solar panel from man’s home , photons spill on roof.

  8. Arthur Smith says:

    I really don’t understand sentences like “Global revenue for solar photovoltaics, wind power and biofuels surged 35.2%, up to $188.1 billion from $139.1 billion and is on track to reach $349.2 billion in 10 years”

    What could “on track” possibly mean here? Revenue increased from 139.1 to 188.1, that’s $49 billion dollars. So just increasing *linearly* at the same rate, you’d see revenue of $629 billion in 10 years. Increasing at the same 35.2% rate, you’d see revenue of almost $3 trillion in 10 years.

    The “on track” projection suggests growth will level off within 10 years. Why should it? What possibly basis is there for such an expectation?

  9. paulm says:

    What do Nuclear Power & Global Warming have in common? …

    Mans inability to assess risk …

  10. Paulm says:

    We could add financial collapse to the list also…

  11. Colorado Bob says:

    Flooded With Proof, Insurance Industry Turns Climate Change Realist

  12. GFW says:

    >Wind blows solar panel from man’s home , photons spill on roof.

    Heh, yeah.

    However, I’ve been thinking about renewables and natural disasters. While renewables have the (considerable) advantage of not adding to a disaster, it seems to me quite likely that large scale renewable installations would be more vulnerable and would take more time to repair. E.g. a minor hurricane or weak tornado could completely wreck a PV farm or the mirrors of a CSP field while doing much less damage to fossil fuel infrastructure. So in a world where we’ve gone almost entirely to renewables, we’ll need even more redundancy and a more robust grid than we already know we’ll need just for handling source variability.

    We still have to do it, but we’ll have to take that into account.

    On the plus side, highly distributed renewables will be more robust – even if a city has lost a couple of large-scale sources and/or transmission capability in a disaster, everyone with intact solar on their roofs still has enough power for essentials.

  13. Bob Doublin says:

    Hi Dr Romm, I’ve noticed a really frustrating problem on your blog. I’ve been to well over 50 blogs this year alone and this one is the only one I have this problem on. In a post and also comment sections I can’t click my mouse cursor,drag,and select “copy” at the top under edit on the menu bar.It selects everything below my insert point and doesn’t allow me to scroll if the portion I want to hilight is below my computers bottom of the screen. N

    Nowhere else do I ever have this problem.Have you set your site this way? Is this fixable? Sometimes I want to accent portions of a post for additional comments. If I copy and paste everything it forces me to include in the body of an email or post, it doesn’t allow me toselect the portions I don’t want to keep,but I have to use my keyboard’s delete button and wait for it to go through every single line.
    Would you have any suggestions? Thanks. Bob

    [JR: Never heard of this. You use Chrome? Doesn’t happen on Firefox or IE (for me).]

  14. Bob Doublin says:

    Just Internet Explorer (never heard of Chrome) I’m not exaggerating at all when I say your blog is the only one I have this problem on. I’ll check with my companies computer whiz to get more info. I couldn’t help wondering if it was a special feature you had opted for when setting it up. Thanks,Bob

  15. Interesting story at CSMonitor…

    Pepsi bottles: no more plastic
    Pepsi bottles introduced Tuesday are made from 100 percent plant material. Company plans to market test plant-based Pepsi bottles next year.

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    Naval Sonar Linked to Whale Strandings

    … an international team of researchers reports in a paper led by Tyack the first data on how beaked whales respond to naval sonar exercises. Their results suggest that sonar indeed affects the behavior and movement of whales.

  17. paulm says:

    The risk of nuclear power….its not worth it.

    U.S. Concerned Japan Facing Situation That Could Be ‘Deadly For Decades’: ABC News

    According to the official, the U.S. believes a larger evacuation zone should be imposed and that the next 24-48 hours are “critical.”

    “It would be hard to describe how alarming this is right now,” ABC quoted the anonymous official as saying.

  18. paulm says:

    This is what one means by ignoring the risk on purpose so that we can build the plants….

    At California Nuclear Plant, Emergency Response Plans Don’t Include Earthquakes

  19. DaveE says:

    “huge victory for Americans” is exactly right. I once saw the Clean Water Act referred to as a victory for environmentalists–I always thought of it as a victory for everyone.
    This is my third attempt to send a variation of the above, osmetimes I just don’t seem to be able to post (I don’t really think I am saying anything too inflamatory).

  20. Mossy says:

    Bob, #14 and 15, we’ve got that problem too. I used to have an aol account and we could selectively copy sections of CP from this site, but now that I’ve dropped aol, we’re frustrated too on Internet Explorer.

    Thanks for the Firefox suggestion, Joe. We’ll try that.

  21. vic says:

    Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard yetserday delivered what has been referred to in the local TV media as a “landmark address”, describing the reality of climate change and the need for pricing carbon.
    Full text,

    Amongst the highlights…

    “No opinion poll can change the fact that climate change is real. It is caused by human activity. And we must cut carbon pollution. In a nation rich in fossil fuels, I wish it were not so. But it is.”

    “And the scientific consensus is stronger than ever. Given these realities, I ask who I’d rather have on my side: Alan Jones, Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt. Or the CSIRO, the Australian Academy of Science, the Bureau of Meteorology,NASA, the US National Atmospheric Administration, and every reputable climate scientist in the world.”

    “Action versus inaction. Acceptance versus denial. Setting Australia on the path to a high skill, low carbon future. Or leaving our economy to decay into a rusting industrial museum. That is the choice we face.”

    “The pity and shame posterity reserves for leaders who miss the wave of history and misjudge the big calls.”

    “We will not leave our nation stranded by history. We will not live at the expense of future generations. We will get this call right and get this job done: For our nation. For our people. For our future.”

  22. Prokaryotes says:

    I like

    Julia Gillar “We will not leave our nation stranded by history. We will not live at the expense of future generations. We will get this call right and get this job done: For our nation. For our people. For our future.”

  23. Prokaryotes says:

    Rare subtropical cyclone forms near Brazil
    An unusual low pressure system that came close to becoming a tropical storm is in the South Atlantic, a few hundred miles east of the coast of Brazil. The Brazilian Navy Hydrographic Center has officially named the system Subtropical Storm “Arani”, but I’m not sure the low would have been named by NHC, since Arani has somewhat of a loose circulation and limited heavy thunderstorm activity. The storm is expected to move slowly eastward out to sea, and does not pose a threat to South America. The latest run of the GFDL model shows little development of Arani, and the storm is now encountering a frontal system, which is bringing 20 – 30 knots of wind shear. It is unlikely that Arani will become a tropical storm. Some runs of the GFDL last weekend were predicting Arani would intensify into a Category 3 hurricane; that’s the first time I’ve even seen such a prediction for a South Atlantic storm. The blog has more info on Arani, for those of you who read Portugese.

  24. Leif says:

    The best news I have seen in a long time Vic,@ 22. Thank you PM Julia Gillard. It is only a matter of time before President Obama will be forced to make a similar speech. It cannot be too soon for me. At times I fear I am going to stroke out with all the heavy S**t coming down.

  25. Prokaryotes says:

    PV producer Inventux receives RoHS certificate for thin-film panels

    With the official confirmation of RoHS conformity, Inventux guarantees that its non-toxic, climate-friendly modules are also ethically produced. The disposal and recyclability of an Inventux solar installation is also unproblematic at the end of its service life. The silicon-based thin-film modules are classified as conventional building glass and can be easily disposed of and recycled without elaborate chemical processing.

    Competitive photovoltaic modules produced on an environmentally friendly basis

    Roland Sillmann, Chief Technology Officer of Inventux Technologies AG said, “Inventux thus stands for clean solar energy in two respects. Through the generation of green electricity, we are making a positive contribution to the energy revolution and are at the same time ensuring that a solution that is being used today to fight climate change will not lead to disposal problems at a later stage. Through voluntary compliance with the guidelines, we are proving that it is quite possible to produce competitive photovoltaic modules on an environmentally friendly basis.”

    Low process temperatures provide for an especially short energy-payback period

    With independent confirmation that its products are free of toxic substances, Inventux is underscoring its consistent strategy of sustainability. Even during the production process, CO2 emissions are kept at the lowest possible level. The low process temperatures also provide for an especially short energy-payback period. In contrast to other technologies, the use of silicon as a raw material means that raw material extraction is not a problem and that long-term availability is ensured.

  26. paulm says:

    #22 Come on Obama!!

  27. Ziyu says:

    Mr. Romm, sometimes when I try to post a comment, the page just loads back to the top and my comment isn’t there. But when I post the same message again, a message pops up saying I already said this. Is there anyway to fix this? I use IE on Windows 7.

  28. Zetetic says:

    @ Bob Doublin (and JR):
    Interesting I’ve just tried to verify the problem and IE8 does seem to be acting oddly. I don’t know if it’s what you are using Bob, but when I tried this page in IE8 it seems to want to highlight the nearly the whole page from where I click towards the top.

    This isn’t happening for me in either Firefox or Chrome, just Internet Explorer.
    This is just as well, for me at least, since I prefer to not use IE, too much trouble and the security risks. Your employer may feel differently though.

    Just in case it helps…