Other Key Stories below: Solar Power is Beginning to go Mainstream
Crop scientists in the United States, the world’s largest food exporter, are pondering an odd question: could the danger of global warming really be the heat?
For years, as scientists have assembled data on climate change and pointed with concern at melting glaciers and other visible changes in the life-giving water cycle, the impact on seasonal rains and irrigation has worried crop watchers most.
What would breadbaskets like the Midwest, the Central Asian steppes, the north China Plain or Argentine and Brazilian crop lands be like without normal rains or water tables?
Those were seen as longer-term issues of climate change.
But scientists now wonder if a more immediate issue is an unusual rise in day-time and, especially, night-time summer temperatures being seen in crop belts around the world.
Interviews with crop researchers at American universities paint the same picture: high temperatures have already shrunken output of many crops and vegetables.
“We don’t grow tomatoes in the deep South in the summer. Pollination fails,” said Ken Boote, a crop scientist with the University of Florida.
The same goes for snap beans which can no longer be grown in Florida during the summer, he added.
“As temperatures rise we are going to have trouble maintaining the yields of crops that we already have,” said Gerald Nelson, an economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)….
The bankruptcy this summer of Solyndra — a solar company heavily subsidized by the U.S. government — unleashed a torrent of concern about the risks of wasting taxpayer money on renewable-energy projects.
There have been similar worries in Europe, where bountiful state support led to a boom and bust in the Spanish solar sector and where targets for some biofuels may contribute to greenhouse emissions.
But what are the effects of subsidies that continue to flow to fossil fuels?
Two years ago, in Pittsburgh, the Group of 20 industrialized and developing nations acknowledged that many of these subsidies were wasteful, impeding investment in clean energy and undermining efforts to deal with climate change, and they pledged to step up efforts to get rid of them.
These subsidies are fiendishly difficult to dismantle because of the political risks involved.
In December, Bolivia had to rescind fuel price increases less than a week after announcing them, after violent protests. Early this year, Iran managed to institute sweeping changes, but only after overcoming major obstacles.
In the developed world, some of the beneficiaries include French taxi drivers, who receive an annual rebate on diesel and gasoline; British householders, who pay a reduced value-added tax for heat and power; and oil and natural gas companies in Alaska, which receive tax credits to offset the cost of drilling and exploration.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group in Paris that advises mostly high-income nations on their economies, said this month that these supports were worth as much as $75 billion each year in 24 of its 34 member countries.
Solar energy may finally get its day in the sun.
The high costs that for years made it impractical as a mainstream source of energy are plummeting. Real estate companies are racing to install solar panels on office buildings. Utilities are erecting large solar panel “farms” near big cities and in desolate deserts. And creative financing plans are making solar more realistic than ever for homes.
Solar power installations doubled in the United States last year and are expected to double again this year. More solar energy is being planned than any other power source, including nuclear, coal, natural gas and wind.
“We are at the beginning of a turning point,” says Andrew Beebe, who runs global sales for Suntech Power, a manufacturer of solar panels.
Solar’s share of the power business remains tiny. But its promise is great. The sun splashes more clean energy on the planet in one hour than humans use in a year, and daytime is when power is needed most. And solar panels can be installed near where people use power, reducing or eliminating the costs of moving power through a grid.
Helped by strong policy framework and better cost competitiveness compared to conventional power generation, India is expected to see wind energy installation of about 3,000 MW this year, says a report.
The anticipated capacity addition would be 39% higher than that of 2,142 MW witnessed last year, according to a HSBC Global Research.
Further, the country is projected to have wind capacity addition of nearly 7,500 MW between 2011-15 period.
“The key drivers for growth are primarily a strong policy framework and improving cost competitiveness of wind technology compared to conventional generation,” the report said.
Going by projections, this year alone would see a capacity addition of 2,984 MW.
The country had a wind energy capacity of nearly 15,000 MW at the end of August 2011, as per official data.
Historically, a significant proportion of installations in the Indian wind market have been by non-utilities/ non-developers.
The U.S. solar industry is divided over a petition by a handful of companies aimed at pressuring the Obama administration to impose duties on Chinese solar imports.
The rift within the industry – which has pitted a group of seven solar panel manufacturers against major solar developers and power generators – underscores the complexity of the United States’ trade relationship with China on renewable energy.
SolarWorld Industries America, a solar panel manufacturer, filed petitions Wednesday with the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission alleging that China is illegally subsidizing its solar industry.
The company alleges that China is flooding the U.S. market with underpriced solar panels and subsidizing its solar industry in violation of World Trade Organization rules. China’s efforts, the company says, are burdening U.S. solar manufacturers and are partly responsible for seven U.S. companies going out of business or downsizing in the last year.
Kenya has stepped up plans to produce over 1,300MW of geothermal power in the next seven years to stem its overreliance on hydro and thermal sources of energy.
Through its main power generator Kengen, Kenya has drawn an ambitious plan that targets production of more than half of its total power from geothermal sources by 2018 and, in the process, phase out its longtime dependence on thermal power and the not-so-reliable hydro and wind power.
“The company is deliberately pursuing a green energy strategy to cushion Kenyans from weather-induced power shortages and high power prices associated with the rising global oil prices, while assuring availability of adequate electric power for development” said Kengen managing director Eddy Njoroge.
The company has earmarked a total 3,189MW to the national grid over the period, a challenge that requires expansion of geothermal plants and building of new ones and also investing more in wind and hydro power.
Geothermal sources will contribute 49 per cent (about 1,500MW) with dependence on thermal electricity significantly dropping.