Energy and Environmental News for May 4: Green jobs ticking upward; Google invests $39 million in wind farms; S. Korea moves toward carbon cap-and-trade

Green Jobs Ticking Upward

The green economy is growing, but slowly.

That’s according to a report released by the Economics and Statistics Administration, a division of the Department of Commerce. Green services and businesses amounted to just 1 to 2 percent of the private business economy in 2007. And there were 1.8 million to 2.4 million green jobs in 2007, less than 2 percent of the total work force.

Still, three years have passed, and there are plenty of reasons to think that these numbers have risen since then, said Mark Doms, the chief economist for the department. “There is a clear increased customer awareness of all things green,” he said.


There’s the money made available recently through the Department of Energy for research in green technology and clean energy, for example. One report last year found that the Obama’s administration’s goal of having renewables provide 25 percent of the nation’s energy by 2025 would translate into about 297,000 new jobs.

Marc Stoiber, vice president for green innovation at the Chicago-based business consultancy Maddock Douglas, said it was important to remember that jobs that might not fall under a green job classification might have strong green elements, given the drive for energy efficiency.

Google Invests $39 Million in Wind Farms

Google has long dabbled in the clean energy business. Now the company is investing in the generation of green power.

On Monday, Google said that it invested $38.8 million in two North Dakota wind farms built by NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of the FPL Group, a $16 billion electricity company based in Florida. Google’s investment represents a minority interest in a $190 million round of financing for the projects.

The two wind farms have already been built, and Google said that its investment would provide funds for NextEra to invest in additional renewable energy projects. Google’s investment takes the form of a “tax equity investment” where it will earn a return based on the tax credits awarded by the government for renewable energy projects, said Jamie Yood, a Google spokesman. Mr. Yood said the energy from the wind farms would not be used to power Google’s data centers, which consume vast amounts of electricity.

Mr. Yood said that Google’s primary goal was to earn a return from its investment but that the company also hopes to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy.

Conscious of its high electricity bills and its impact on the environment, Google has long had an interest in green energy. Its projects in the area run the gamut from a large solar power installation on its campus, to the promotion of plug-in hybrids, investments in clean energy start-ups like eSolar and AltaRock, a controversial project to tap geothermal energy in Northern California. Google has also worked on making its data centers more efficient, promoted changes in energy policy and developed technologies to to let people monitor their home energy use.

S.Korea moves toward carbon cap-and-trade

South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, says it will finalise plans in September for an emissions trading scheme covering the majority of the nation’s carbon pollution.

Trading is likely to start from 2012 and is part of a two-step plan by the government to mandate emissions cuts by big polluters. The trading scheme will allow firms to set a market price for carbon and other industrial emissions.

South Korea last year set a 2020 emissions reduction target, aiming to curb greenhouse gases by 30 percent from projected levels if no action were taken.

Although the target is voluntary, the government will impose regulations to force major emitters to comply as part of the nation’s efforts in the broader international fight against climate change.

Rapid Analysis of DNA Damage Now Possible: Technology Offers New Way to Test Potential Cancer Drugs, See Effects of Environmental Toxins

Our DNA is under constant siege from a variety of damaging agents. Damage to DNA and the ability of cells to repair that damage has broad health implications, from aging and heritable diseases to cancer. Unfortunately, the tools used to study DNA damage are quite limited, but MIT researchers have developed a new tool for rapid DNA damage analysis that promises to make an impact on human health.

The researchers, led by Bevin Engelward, MIT associate professor of biological engineering, and Sangeeta Bhatia, professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, have produced a completely revamped version of a three-decades-old lab test known as the comet assay. This new technique combines the versatility and sensitivity of the comet assay for DNA damage analysis with a robust high-capacity platform, which could make DNA damage analysis routine across a variety of applications, ranging from epidemiology to drug screening.

Engelward, Bhatia, postdoctoral fellow David Wood and graduate student David Weingeist describe the technique in a paper that will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of May 3.

The technology could offer a new approach for epidemiologists to detect dangerous environmental exposures long before they cause cancer, for clinicians to provide better cancer treatment, and for researchers in the pharmaceutical industry to identify new drugs and screen out hazardous drugs.

How they did it

The comet assay is based on the idea that during gel electrophoresis, a commonly used lab test in which an electric field is applied to DNA placed on a polymer gel, damaged DNA moves farther across the gel than undamaged DNA. The result is a “comet” made of DNA, which looks remarkably like its astronomical namesake. The assay is both sensitive and versatile, but it is also laborious and tedious. It requires at least one microscope slide for every experimental condition, which means that researchers need to juggle dozens of slides just to do a few experimental conditions. Additionally, the readout is entirely manual, meaning researchers have to spend hours staring into a microscope and selecting cells for analysis. The team’s goal was to harness the strengths of the comet assay while overcoming its limitations in throughput and labor.

How Technology Failed in the Gulf Spill

The unabated flow of crude oil from a well off the Louisiana coast speaks to “the tyranny of distance and the tyranny of depth,” according to Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, named by President Obama last week to be national incidence commander to take control of the response effort from BP.

Allen has expanded already extensive efforts to disperse, skim, and block the oil that is surfacing from the well blowout that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drill rig last month. But he told a media briefing this weekend that his top job is stopping the flow of new oil into the sea — a complex and risky process at the one-mile depths where Deepwater Horizon drilled.

The oil leak also reveals an overreliance on one piece of equipment that academic and industry experts have warned of for close to a decade: The blowout preventers, or BOPs, that are the industry’s primary line of defense against deepwater oil spills.

Clean energy catalyst launches

Climate legislation may be in suspended animation, but a new group combining investors, labor unions and policymakers hopes to leverage the market to expand energy efficiency efforts.

The Clean Economy Development Center, which will be run by former Change to Win executive director Chris Chafe and former investment banker Jeffrey King, has raised $1 million in operating capital and aims to galvanize retrofit efforts across the country.

Chafe said that while there are plenty of policies aimed at creating a clean economy, “What we need is to connect the players so we can overcome the market barriers. The Gulf oil disaster is another reminder of why we have to do this.”The center’s leaders say they are in what they call “serious discussions” with more than 12 major financial investment firms, nine unions, and policymakers at the Department of Energy and in a dozen states.

‘We’re going to be left with a crippled industry’

Fishermen who live on the spit of silt called the Mississippi River Delta are watching helplessly as oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico threatens their livelihood.

The 25,000 residents of Plaquemines Parish are all too familiar with catastrophe. They were hit hard by Hurricane Katrina five years ago, and now this: Oil unleashed from an uncapped wellhead by the explosion and sinking of rig nearly two weeks ago is heading their way.

At risk is the heart of the U.S. seafood industry.

“These estuaries are the richest in the country — shrimp, oysters, crabs,” said Ryan Lambert, a director of the Louisiana Charter Boat Association and owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. “In the long term, as the oil comes in and shuts the fishery down … it’s going to wipe all that out.”

Louisiana’s coastal wetlands support a $2.4 billion fishing industry by providing breeding areas and nurseries for fish, crabs and shrimp. They also set the table for migrating waterfowl and other birds. The spill is likely to affect this and the next generation of wildlife because it is spawning season, and oil kills fish larvae. It is being seen as an ecological disaster.

It is an economic catastrophe, too. Shrimpers have been waiting through the long months of one of the toughest winters on record for their harvest to begin this month. In the past few weeks, they have been pouring money into boats and equipment for a season that usually starts in mid-May and lasts through summer.