19 Responses to April 7 news: Melted ice water could have major impact on climate; Big companies bet big on solar startups
An enormous pool of fresh water twice the size of Africa’s Lake Victoria will trigger unpredictable changes in Europe and North America’s climates, says a study.
The pool, located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, was formed by melting ice caps and runoff from rivers. Eventually, this water will flush into the Atlantic, with unknown consequences.
“This could have an influence on ocean circulation,” said Benjamin Rabe of the Alfred Wegener Institute. “It could have an influence on the Gulf Stream.”
For now, the fresh water acts as a “lid” for the warmer salt water, preventing it from melting ice. But this situation is likely to change when atmospheric circulation patterns move.
“The volume of water discharged into the Arctic Ocean, largely from Canadian and Siberian rivers, is higher than usual due to warmer temperatures in the north causing ice to melt,” said Laura de Steur, an oceanographer at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. “In the worst case, these Arctic outflow surges can significantly change the densities of marine surface waters in the extreme North Atlantic. What happens then is hard to predict.”
This sudden influx of water could slow the “conveyor belt” of atmospheric circulation, which carries heat from the tropics, said Rabe.
Detlef Quadfasel, of Hamburg University’s climate center, said there was a possibility that changes would be abrupt, occurring over 10 to 20 years.
Fledgling solar power companies looking to grow beyond their venture capital roots are increasingly catching the eye of deep-pocketed corporate investors.
For many startups, rounds of venture or private equity funding are thought of as stepping stones on the way to an initial public offering — the ultimate corporate symbol of having arrived.
But a tepid investor appetite for publicly traded clean energy companies has dampened enthusiasm for splashy IPOs, leaving solar companies looking elsewhere for the large sums of money they need to build factories, construct power plants or invest in improvements to their technology.
“Clean tech generally is going to require a lot of money to advance,” said Ted Roosevelt, chairman of Barclays Capital’s Clean Tech Initiative. “You compare that with telecoms or the Internet revolution, and those didn’t require very much money.”
Specifically, Roosevelt noted that Google Inc raised just $25 million in venture funding before going public.
Compare that with venture capital-backed BrightSource Energy Inc, which is building massive solar power plants in the California desert. Last week, Oakland, California-based BrightSource said it has raised more than $530 million in five rounds of fund-raising.
It is in these later rounds that the industry is increasingly seeing big corporations step in, as venture capital firms simply don’t have the resources to fund the large-scale manufacturing needed to commercialize a nascent solar technology, for instance.
“It’s pretty hopeless,” Sequoia Capital’s Michael Goguen said of companies looking to venture capitalists for second, third and fourth rounds of funding. “But a lot of the big energy companies are pretty interested.”
Just hours before a vote Wednesday on a GOP plan to block Environmental Protection Agency climate regulations, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) called climate change a bigger public health threat than AIDS, malaria and pandemic flu.
Capps and several other liberal Democrats spoke out Wednesday morning in opposition to the legislation, authored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
The lawmakers, who were joined by officials from the American Lung Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the Upton bill would harm public health.
The Lancet, a medical journal, that said climate change could be the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”
“That makes climate change a bigger public health problem than AIDS, than malaria, than pandemic flu,” Capps said. “That’s why we need to take steps to address this cause behind this growing public health problem.”
Later, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) blasted the Upton bill as a “move by Republicans to reject science.”
Democrats intend to force a vote on an amendment calling on the House to accept a scientific finding by the EPA that climate change affects public health. Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee offered a similar amendment during the panel’s consideration of the bill.
The last-minute push to oppose the bill is part of a broader effort by some Democrats and environmental and public health groups to cast Republicans as opponents of public health protections and cohorts of industry.
French nuclear giant Areva SA is moving forward with plans to build a nuclear and solar power complex in California.
Areva signed a memorandum of understanding with Fresno Nuclear Energy Group LLC to embark on the first phase of its plan, which is to build at least 3,200 megawatts of nuclear and solar power to run a desalination plant and a wastewater treatment facility in the Central Valley.
Areva is trying to build at least three “clean energy parks” in North America — in Fresno; Piketon, Ohio; and New Brunswick, Canada. The plans call for building wind, solar or biomass power first, then adding the company’s pressurized reactor technology (Greenwire, Feb. 16).
“Clean energy parks, like the one under development in Fresno, will help the U.S. meet a growing demand for clean power generation using Areva’s advanced nuclear energy and renewable technologies,” said Areva North America CEO Jacques Besnainou, ahead of a visit to Fresno tomorrow to promote the plan.
The Senate rejected a measure on Wednesday to kill the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, handing President Barack Obama a victory in his effort to quicken the move to clean energy.
The EPA’s rules, which it began rolling out on polluters such as power plants and oil refineries early this year, are one of Obama’s top strategies to show the world the United States is fighting climate change.
Republicans, who were able to block a climate and energy bill last year, hoped to pick up support from Democrats in energy-dependent states facing tight elections next year on the measure sponsored by Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
But it got only 50 votes in the Democratic-led 100-member chamber, short of the 60 votes needed to pass.
“(The Senate) rejected an approach that would have increased the nation’s dependence on oil, contradicted the scientific consensus on global warming, and jeopardized America’s ability to lead the world in the clean energy economy,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Obama has pledged to world leaders that the United States would cut emissions about 17 percent by 2020 under 2005 levels. The EPA rules could help that effort, though it may also take faster adoption of clean energy like wind and solar power, and natural gas, and energy efficiency.
The battle over the EPA’s moves to curb emissions is likely to continue in Congress ahead of the 2012 elections.
A long-term Republican budget plan released this week by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin calls for drastic cuts in federal spending on energy research and development and for the outright elimination of subsidies and tax breaks for wind, solar power and other alternative energy technologies.
The plan “rolls back expensive handouts for uncompetitive sources of energy, calling instead for a free and open marketplace for energy development, innovation and exploration,” Mr. Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, wrote on Monday in The Wall Street Journal. The details were released on Tuesday.
Mr. Ryan’s plan has yet to be finalized or endorsed by the full House and is expected to be opposed by President Obama and the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. But it enjoys substantial support among Republicans could loom large in the run-up to next year’s elections.
Under the Republican plan, overall discretionary funding for energy programs would fall to about $1 billion per year. President Obama’s 2012 budget, meanwhile, would provide about $8 billion to support clean energy research and deployment.
Mr. Ryan’s proposal calls specifically for “eliminating welfare for energy companies.” The proposal does not include details on which subsidies would be curtailed, but its references to “uncompetitive” energy sources clearly point to wind and solar power, which typically generate electricity at a premium to fossil fuels like coal.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu had a distinguished scientific career before joining Barack Obama’s cabinet. He shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, was a professor at Stanford University, and ran the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He was the guest speaker at the April 1 Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C.
Progress dealing with the damaged reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi complex:
“They are making headway, but [in one reactor] … there [are] significant levels of radiation that impede progress.”
Nuclear energy’s continuing role in US energy policy:
“We still believe that that has to be part of our energy mix…. We do not want to be generating our electricity from one source…. We want to have a diversified source as the renewables pick up … steam, as the price drops and they become cost [competitive] without subsidy.”
Calls to close nuclear plants close to population centers like New York City:
“It is premature to say that these plants have to shut down. New York State, in partnership with the nuclear regulatory agency, is reviewing the issue…. It would be imprudent to say we have 20 percent of our energy [from nuclear] so shut them all down. That’s like saying you have a major gas leak somewhere and an explosion kills a lot of people – we don’t want to use natural gas anymore.”
Two days after a conservative group filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver challenging Colorado’s renewable energy standard (RES), Colorado Sen. Mark Udall – who was instrumental in getting voter approval for that RES back in 2004 – introduced a bill with his cousin Tom Udall, D-N.M., to establish a national standard.
Mark Udall has tried several times in the past to model a federal standard after Colorado’s RES, which is the second most aggressive in the United States behind only California. Last year he and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet tried unsuccessfully to at least pass a federal RES even when it looked like a comprehensive climate bill didn’t have enough votes to make it out of the Senate.
The Udalls’ latest bill would require utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources by 2025. Colorado’s RES, first approved by voters in 2004 at the 10 percent by 2020 level, has since been legislatively increased to 30 percent by 2020.
The latest Udall bill would require utilities nationwide to generate 6 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2013, followed by gradual increases up to 25 percent by 2025. Including Colorado and New Mexico, 29 states and the District of Columbia currently have some sort of RES.
“I was proud to lead the effort in Colorado to pass one of the country’s first Renewable Electricity Standards – and it has helped the state create over 30,000 new good-paying jobs and spurred the growth of one of the strongest renewable energy sectors in the country,” Mark Udall said in a release.
“We can do the same thing across the country with a robust national RES. A national RES would unleash innovation, helping America compete for renewable energy manufacturing jobs and lead in the global economic race.”