April 11 News: Clean-tech investing soars; UK can meet carbon targets even without nuclear energy

Clean-Tech investing jumps 115%

Clean-technology ventures in North America raised $2.2 billion over the first quarter, up 115% from the previous quarter and 43% from a year ago, driving the second-highest quarter in global clean-tech investing, an industry research firm reported this week.

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The gains were led by a $201 million funding deal for BrightSource Energy, a solar power plant developer, and a $200 million deal for Plastic Logic, a plastic semi-conductor developer, according to San Francisco-based Cleantech Group. Both firms are based in California.

North America accounted for 85% of global clean-tech investing in the first three months of the year, followed by Asia and Europe, the report said.

Globally, clean-tech investing rose 52% to $2.6 billion across 159 companies, led by 26 deals in the solar sector and eight deals in transportation, the report said.

The increase was driven by a rash of large later-stage deals, according to Cleantech Group CEO Sheeraz Haji. “It’s encouraging to see some big private-equity firms entering the space and continued strength with M&As,” Haji said in a statement.

U.K. can meet carbon targets even without nuclear energy, minister says

The U.K. government will find alternative forms of clean energy to meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions even if nuclear developments are delayed, an energy minister said.

Charles Hendry, a junior minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, acknowledged there’s a risk that companies delay or scale back investments in new nuclear power because of risks highlighted by the atomic accident in Japan.

“There is a very serious gap, and we’re working very hard to close that gap,” Hendry said on BBC Radio 4 in London yesterday. “We see much of our coal plants closing by the middle of this decade and much of our nuclear plants as well.”

Britain aims to build 10 new nuclear plants in the next decade to replace the ones that are retiring. Companies including EDF SA (EDF), E.ON AG (EOAN) and RWE AG (RWE) are considering investments in new U.K. atomic plants.

Hendry said the U.K. can reduce carbon emissions even without new nuclear plants, though it hasn’t yet mapped out how. His comments indicate ministers are resigned to the idea that fewer atomic plants will be built.

U.S. northeast states to auction 44.2 million carbon permits

A cap-and-trade program for power plants in the Northeast U.S. will auction 44.2 million carbon- dioxide permits on June 8.

The minimum allowable bid will be $1.89 a permit, unchanged from the previous auction on March 9, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative said today in a statement on its website.

Each permit, also called an allowance, gives a power plant the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide. The 10 states in the cap-and-trade program, which spans Maryland to Maine, plan to reduce the number of allowances they issue over time to cut carbon emissions.

The states may change the way they set the minimum allowable bid in auctions and are seeking public comment by May 2, the regional cap-and-trade program said in an e-mail today. The new method would set the minimum bid at 80 percent of the “current market price.”

Wind energy could power the future

South Africa has some catching up to do in the wind energy race

For a fresher perspective, let us start with some statistics. Denmark has 5 052 wind turbines with a 3 545-megawatt capacity, while the Netherlands has 1 879 turbines that generate 1 993MW. Kenya boasts half a dozen turbines with a 5.1MW production (a wind farm comprising 365 turbines with a 310MW capacity is planned for 2012).

China possesses 12 gigawatts of wind power and Ethiopia has a 120MW wind farm under construction.

Tanzania can brag of 50MW of wind power production and Morocco with 165 turbines, at 140MW. Compared to these and other countries, South Africa — despite the various wind projects on the cards — is a small kid on the windy block.

“It is a real pity that this country has not taken the bull by the horns earlier, as it has plenty of wind,” says wind energy expert Dr Kilian Hagemann, referring to the fact that our country boasts only one commercial wind farm, comprising four turbines that jointly feed 5.2MW into the grid.

A solar light at the tunnel’s end

The award of $57.5 million to the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to create a solar manufacturing consortium is not just the kind of news we like to hear about a local educational institution. It’s the kind of investment we’re glad to see this nation make.

It’s a feather for UAlbany, of course, and a bonus for the region, that may have just gotten an early front-row seat on the future of solar energy. If it lives up to its promise, the U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium could lead a revolution in solar technologies that generate electricity.This is the kind of news that gives us hope that the federal government has learned the mistakes it made after the oil crises of the 1970s and that it won’t again let the opportunity to chart a sounder energy course slip by. That means more earnestly supporting the search for practical, sustainable energy. It means treating conservation, from home energy efficiency to fuel efficiency standards to sensible speed limits, as a matter of national interest. It means policies that aren’t driven by the price of corn in Kansas and the campaign contributions of Big Agriculture.

You have only to pull up to the gas pump lately to see the result of decades of lip service to conservation and weaning America off its dependence on foreign oil. The latest surge in oil prices threatens to set back a slow economic recovery. Even as politicians struggle to bring deficit spending under control, billions flow to protecting the nation’s interests in the oil-rich Middle East.Foreign oil is hardly our only problem. We may have harnessed the power of the atom, but we’ve hardly tamed it. The nuclear power industry’s on-the-job learning program has brought radioactive drinking water, too dangerous for infants to consume, to Tokyo “” the largest city in the world “” and time bombs in the form of stockpiles of nuclear waste around the globe.

The “all of the above” sound-bite energy policy that too many politicians promote also includes “clean coal” technology that is years, perhaps decades away from large-scale commercial use. It features a politically determined investment in corn-based ethanol that has driven up food prices and whose energy savings is questionable. And it means off-shore oil and gas drilling, setting the stage for more environmental and economic disasters like we saw in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Ethanol climbs to 32-month high as corn, crude oil advance

Ethanol futures in Chicago climbed to a 32-month high as corn, crude oil and gasoline advanced on supply concerns and a weaker dollar.

The biofuel followed the other commodities higher on speculation that Libya’s unrest will curtail crude oil supply and on signs that the highest corn prices in two years haven’t quelled demand for feed and ethanol. The dollar weakened against its major counterparts as U.S. lawmakers failed to agree on a federal budget.

“All the commodities are going nuts here,” said Dan Flynn, a trader at PFGBest in Chicago. “This budget battle has everyone fleeing to commodities.”

Denatured ethanol for May delivery rose 3.2 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $2.726 a gallon on the Chicago Board of Trade, the highest price since July 11, 2008. Prices have risen 15 percent this year.

Scientists find oil from blown-out BP well on dead dolphins in gulf

For about the past year, some 293 dolphins have washed ashore in the Gulf Coast. Federal scientists confirmed yesterday that a small number of the animals had oil on them that came from BP’s Deepwater Horizon, which exploded in April of 2010.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Six of the dolphins that washed up had oil on them. Chemical tests later showed that the oil was from the BP well, said Blair Mase, a NOAA official. Five of those dolphins were dead, she said.

In addition, nine other dolphins washed up with a substance on them that NOAA officials suspect was oil, but the source of that substance hasn’t been determined, she said.

“It is significant that even a year after the oil spill we are finding oil on the dolphins, the latest just two weeks ago,” Blair Mase, southeast marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, told Reuters.

Now, it’s important to note, that scientists still haven’t determined the cause of death for the dolphins. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reports Mase added that even though oil was present, “it may not be the cause of death.”

CNN reports that since mid-March, 87 dead sea turtles have also been found along the coast.