"Energy and Global Warming News for August 20th: Renewables account for 18% of EU’s power; Offshore wind power approved in New Jersey; Swiss Re warns Caribbean storm damage costs may rise 50% with global warming; 5 races to watch this fall"
Europe’s evolution toward a heavier reliance on renewable energy is nicely documented in a report released this week by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency. The study, “Statistical Aspects of the Energy Economy in 2009,” provides a wealth of interesting detail without a lot of editorializing.
From 2008 to 2009 alone, the use of renewable energy in the European Union increased 8.3 percent. As I’ve reported as part of our continuing series, “Beyond Fossil Fuels,” some countries have made particularly great strides in this arena. Portugal now gets nearly 45 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, up from 17 percent five years ago.
The Eurostat report found that the production of energy from hard coal and natural gas showed an “important decrease” (9.2 and 10.1 percent, respectively). To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the European Union is also aggressively pushing its members to cut back on their use of coal. Consumption of coal dropped 16.3 percent in 2009.
Renewable energy now accounts for 18.4 percent of energy production in the European Union, just behind natural gas, which provides 19.3 percent.
PAULSBORO “” A new wind may be blowing in electricity for New Jersey but there are concerns it may bring a chill to ratepayers.
Gov. Chris Christie today signed an act that aims to facilitate offshore wind power for use in the state.
The measure offers financial aid and tax credits to attract private companies to participate in developing wind farms in the ocean. But this effort may also involve significant expense to be passed on to power consumers.
The Offshore Wind Economic Development Act was signed by Christie at a former BP Oil Company facility in Gloucester County, where a port that once held tanks of fuel oil will become New Jersey’s launching point for an ambitious renewable energy program.
Climate change may add 50 percent to the storm damage costs incurred by some Caribbean nations over the next two decades, said Swiss Reinsurance Co., the world’s second-largest re-insurer.
Wind, storm surges and inland flooding already cost some Caribbean nations up to 6 percent of their economic output each year, the Zurich-based company said today in a statement on its website. Global warming could add costs amounting to another 1 to 3 percent of output by 2030, it said.
Insurers are being hit with more claims as damages from natural catastrophes rise. Costs to clean up after storms and other natural disasters reached a record $180 billion in 2005, of which insurers covered about half, according to Munich Re, the biggest re-insurer.
“As a global re-insurer. we are already exposed to the effects of climate change,” said David Bresch, Swiss Re’s head of sustainability. “Projected climate patterns are likely to heighten the risks.”
From cap-and-trade vs. “cap-and-tax” to bickering over the science behind global warming, climate and energy issues are a common theme in this year’s midterm election campaigns. Many lawmakers are being forced to defend their votes for the House’s cap-and-trade bill last summer, while gubernatorial candidates are being quizzed on whether they’d team with other states to reduce emissions.
Here’s a preview of five races in which environmental issues are playing a leading role:
1. California Governor. California is the state to watch from a climate and environmental perspective, with a Senate contest, ballot initiative, and House races all hitting on related issues. The governor’s race, however, is the locus of the madness. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate, is butting heads with Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown over California’s landmark climate legislation.
In 2006, the state passed AB 32, a law that, among other things, establishes a cap-and-trade market in California starting in 2012. An oil-industry-backed proposition to suspend the law made its way onto this year’s ballot, threatening to undo the most aggressive climate law in the country. Brown opposes the proposition, and Whitman recently said she was leaning toward voting against it as well. She has vowed, however, to suspend the AB 32 cap-and-trade law for a year her first day in office. By proxy, she would also suspend California’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative’s regional carbon trading system, which is scheduled to begin in 2012.
AB 32 has well-organized support from environmental groups, Silicon Valley, and current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “We’re going to fight like crazy to make sure AB 32 is implemented,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the National Resources Defense Council Action Fund. “We think it’s a no-brainer. We’ve known about that one for quite a long time, so we’re quite organized.” On the other side, though, is an industry campaign with bottomless pockets.
California has long served as a bellwether for climate action, so the outcome of this election will have a significant symbolic impact on legislation at both the state and federal levels.
2. Massachusetts Governor. Ten states currently participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) cap-and-trade system for power plants, the Northeast’s verison of the Western Climate Initiative. In 2005, then-Gov. Mitt Romney pulled Massachusetts out at the last moment, but when current Gov. Deval Patrick assumed office in 2008, he revived the state’s participation.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that it has earmarked $120 million to be divided among about 120 organizations working to weatherize buildings for greater energy efficiency. The grant money will be distributed under the banner of its Weatherization Assistance Program, which has already retrofitted thousands of homes across the country.
Like all of the DOE’s funding initiatives, this drive toward more innovative weatherization methods is expected to create thousands of jobs for construction workers, plumbers, electricians, contractors and manufacturers in local communities, while also shaving power use and greenhouse gas emissions.
The departments launched the Weatherization Assistance Program “” designed not only to renovate homes, but also to develop new technologies and relevant financial models “” last year and is already impacting up to 25,000 homes a month. In June alone, the program helped weatherize upwards of 31,600 homes.
Weatherization is one of the most effective, yet least publicized, ways that average homeowners can save energy and cut down their monthly bills. It’s also incredibly easy for people to understand and accomplish. The typical suburban home can be helped immensely by the simple addition of insulation, reinforcement of windows, caulking, or replacement of major power-sucking appliances “” particularly heating and air conditioning systems.
GENEVA “” Ministers will meet in Switzerland next month to discuss crucial financing to curb the impact of global warming, ahead of the UN climate conference in Cancun, Swiss authorities said on Thursday.
About 45 countries are due to attend the informal ministerial conference on September 2 to 3, including Brazil, China, South Africa and the United States, said Franz Perrez, head of international affairs at the Federal Environment Office.
Several ministers have so far confirmed their presence in Geneva, including from Britain, Germany, Singapore, while the United States is sending its special climate envoy, he told AFP.
Key long-term financing issues include a new fund for the environment, ways to bring the private sector into financing, coordinating funding and finding new sources of finance.
American farmers have been ridiculing a proposal by U.S. regulators to reduce the amount of dust floating in rural air.
“If there’s ever been rural America, that’s what rural America is,” said Nebraska hog farmer Danny Kluthe. “You know? It’s dirt out here, and with dirt you’ve got dust.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to tighten standards for the amount of harmful particles in the air, facing opposition from U.S. farming groups who call it an unrealistic attempt to regulate dust.
The EPA is reviewing its air quality standards to comply with the Clean Air Act that prescribes reevaluation every five years. The agency’s scientific panel proposes either retaining or halving the current standard for coarse particles, commonly containing dust, ash and chemical pollutants–particles 10 microns or smaller in diameter, about one-tenth of human hair.
The program is called “demonstrateurs energies renouvelables et chimie verte,” which in English would mean “renewable energy and green chemistry demonstration.” It will include ‚¬450 million ($577 million) in subsidies and another ‚¬900 million ($1.15 billion) in low-interest loans for “cutting-edge technology projects.”
The emerging, cutting-edge technologies it would be supporting projects in solar energy, marine energy, geothermal energy, carbon capture and storage, and advanced biofuel.
This is quite a surprise, to me at least, since France has traditionally put so much of its “clean energy” money into nuclear energy and, to some extent, wind energy.
About ‚¬190 million ($244 million) is supposed to be invested by the end of the year, and then ‚¬290 million ($372 million) every year afterwards until 2014.
The French government is, reportedly, looking to get private investors to put in ‚¬2 billion ($2.56 billion) as well.
And, Bloomberg reports that beyond this clean energy investment program, the French government is looking to similar programs for green transport (a ‚¬1 billion or $1.28 billion program) and smart grid demonstrations (a ‚¬250 million or $320.5 million program).
US private equity firm Blackstone has decided to invest $300 million in one of the leading solar PV companies in India, Moser Baer (Private) Limited.
Moser Baer (NSE: MOSERBAER) has a diversified portfolio ranging from manufacturing of computer peripherals to fabrications of solar panels. While their computer hardware business is very well established, the company is looking to expand its solar panel fabrication capabilities.
The solar fabrication firm of the company was established in 2007 when crystalline silicon and thin film solar cell manufacturing assembly lines were set up. Both the assembly lines are part of Moser Baer Photo Voltaic Limited which holds the record of fabricating the world’s largest thin film solar panel measuring 2.6 meters x 2.2 meters and having generation capacity of up to 390 watts.
The company has a thin film assembly line with an annual capacity of 40 MW. The company also has several manufacturing facilities around the country and exports solar panels to Germany, Italy in addition to setting up solar installations within the country.
The world’s climate is inherently dynamic and changeable. Past aeons have borne witness to a planet choked by intense volcanic activity, dried out in vast circumglobal deserts, heated to a point where polar oceans were as warm as subtropical seas, and frozen in successive ice ages that entombed northern Eurasia and America under miles of ice. These changes to the Earth’s environment imposed great stresses upon ecosystems and often led to mass extinctions of species. Life always went on, but the world was inevitably a very different place.
We, a single species, are now the agent of global change. We are undertaking an unplanned and unprecedented experiment in planetary engineering, which has the potential to unleash physical and biological transformations on a scale never before witnessed by civilization. Our actions are causing a massive loss and fragmentation of habitats (e.g., deforestation of the tropical rain forests), over-exploitation of species (e.g., collapse of major fisheries), and severe environmental degradation (e.g., pollution and excessive draw-down of rivers, lakes and groundwater). These patently unsustainable human impacts are operating worldwide, and accelerating. They foreshadow a grim future. And then, on top of all of this, there is the looming spectre of climate change.