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