Energy and Global Warming News for December 13th: EPA could eliminate 55 GW of coal power with regs; Efficient lighting could save U.S. $9 billion a year

EPA Could Eliminate 55 GW of Coal Power with Regulations

By far the greatest threat coal poses is to future climate. But even regulations that only seek to reduce its more immediate health threats could cut coal plants in the US by 20%, according to a report from coal industry consulting firm The Brattle Group, via Electricity Forum. Even aside from regulations specifically to lower greenhouse gas emissions, if the EPA mandates further reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulates, mercury and other harmful emissions by 2015, 40 to 55 Gigawatts will likely be retired.

Another 11–12 Gigawatts would be shut down, if cooling towers are required, with 75% of the reduction coming from the oldest, dirtiest coal plants, that are mostly in the Midwest. New mandates in combination would reduce the number of coal power plants by about 20%. This would be even without greenhouse gas regulation. To replace coal power from the oldest dirtiest plants, natural gas power plant conversions would likely increase.

However, since 2009, renewable energy and particularly wind power has been the fastest growing new power on the grid. The Recovery Act is responsible, with one provision in particular, Section 1603 cash grants covering 30% of the project costs for companies and organizations unable to take a tax credit. According to Clean Energy States, as of early 2010, wind has received 87% of the nearly $3.6 billion in Section 1603 cash grants that were awarded in 2009, and the tax provision was responsible for getting 6.2 Gigawatts of new wind on the grid in its first year.


Efficient Lighting Could Save U.S. $9 Billion Annually

Replacing incandescent lighting with energy-efficient alternatives could save the United States $9 billion a year and avoid the carbon dioxide emissions of 11 million midsize cars, says a United Nations report. Energy-efficient lighting could save $5.5 billion a year in China, which uses 12% of its electricity for lighting, $1 billion annually in Indonesia and $900 million in Mexico, according to an analysis of 100 countries by the U.N. Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility. These groups, working with lighting companies Osram and Philips, released the findings this week at the U.N. climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico.

President Obama and his family attend the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse, just south of the White House, on Thursday. The tree has efficient LED (light emitting diode) lighting. Worldwide, a shift from incandescent lamps to efficient alternatives would reduce electricity demand for lighting by more than 2%, the U.N. reports. “In reality, the actual economic benefits could be even higher,” Achim Steiner, U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNEP executive director, said in a statement. “A switch to efficient lighting in Indonesia, for example, would avoid the need to build 3.5 coal-fired power stations costing U.S. $2.5 billion and similar findings come from other country assessments.”

“Among the low hanging fruit in the climate change challenge,” he added, “a switch to far more efficient lighting must rank as among the lowest.” Yet despite these environmental and economic savings, the study says incandescent lamps account for 50% to 70% of lighting sales worldwide. It notes, however, that about 40 countries including the United States currently have plans to phase out old bulbs.

Cancºn Agreement Signals a New Pragmatism in Global Climate Policy

In the end, it came down to Bolivia. The South American country “” whose President Evo Morales was one of the few world leaders to attend this meeting “” had raised angry objections throughout the two-week-long U.N. climate-change summit in Cancºn, Mexico. On Friday night, with the draft texts of an agreement prepared and every other nation ready for a deal, Bolivia wouldn’t budge. “We reject this document,” Bolivia’s U.N. Ambassador Pablo Solon told the assembled representatives of more than 190 nations at the final plenary session, “and therefore there is no consensus for its adoption.”

That spelled trouble, because the rules of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “” the body to guide global-warming action “” require decisionmaking by consensus. That gives an effective veto to even a single obstinate country: a handful of holdouts blocked adoption at last year’s summit of the Copenhagen Accord, a last-minute agreement brokered by President Barack Obama. “Showdown at the Bolivian pass coming up soon,” tweeted Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who followed the negotiations. (Read more about the Cancºn climate-change agreement.)

Unlike last year, however, Bolivia was isolated in its opposition, virtually friendless in the plenary hall. Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, the tough diplomat who presided over the summit negotiations, held firm, gaveling through Bolivia’s objections no matter how often Solon raised his voice to speak. In the end, with no other opposition in the hall and sleepless diplomats desperate to end hours of round-the-clock negotiations, Espinosa declared the process finished. “The major results of this meeting will be issued as the Cancºn Agreements,” she said, to a standing ovation in the plenary hall. “This is a new era of international cooperation in climate change.”

Apparently, multilateralism isn’t quite dead yet. The disarray at Copenhagen prompted many calls for abandoning the UNFCCC’s dysfunctional consensus model. A few small developing countries could stop all progress, and negotiations were poisoned by paranoia and suspicion. Given that a relatively small number of large nations “” the U.S., European countries, India, China, Brazil “” were responsible for most of the carbon emissions on the planet, it seemed that the future for climate talks lies in more manageable institutions, like the G-20. (See five ways of looking at the U.N. climate-change summit in Cancºn.) But the U.N. process might still have some life yet. Thanks in part to the oversight by the host country, Mexico “” acclaimed for its transparency and focus “” negotiations at Cancºn were relatively productive.

Deepwater Wind Energy to Build Giant Wind Energy Center in Atlantic Waters

Shortly after the announcement made by the Obama administration, which supports the offshore wind-power development, Deepwater Wind Energy has great plans regarding the building of a “Wind Energy Center” that according to the company would supply electricity for several East Coast states. Deepwater Wind Energy also stated that more than 200 offshore wind turbines would be assembled in southern Rhode Island Sound. The turbines will be capable of generating around 1,000 MW of clean energy, most of them being located in deep waters (20–25 miles from the coastline).

As officials said, the northeastern United States now has one of the largest renewable energy projects ever proposed. “This ‘second generation’ of offshore wind farms will be larger and farther from shore, and will produce lower priced power, using more advanced technology than the offshore projects announced to date. We expect the offshore wind industry in the United States to follow the European experience, where a more mature industry is building larger projects farther from shore,” Deepwater Wind CEO William M. Moore said in a press release.

Southern New England and eastern Long Island will be connected by a regional offshore transmission network called the New England-Long Island Interconnector (NELI) which allows the electricity generated to go to Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. The company also said that unlike any offshore wind farm in the United States, its project would help produce energy at a lower price, having the advantage of the stronger winds farther offshore.

U.S. Defense Agency Deploys Yeast to Fight Global Warming

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, otherwise known as DARPA, has been developing next generation solar technology and a slew of other game-changing innovations designed to drive the military into a more sustainable future. The latest example is a new kind of bioplastic made from yeast. And what, you may ask, does bioplastic have to do with national defense?

As it turns out, bioplastic has everything to do with national defense. Disposing of waste is part and parcel of the “logistical nightmare” and troop risk equation that fossil fuels pose for overseas bases. Whether trucked off site to landfills or burned on site, the disposal operation requires fuel and plenty of it. Just to give you some idea of the volume involved, a couple of years ago the military’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) estimated that the 135,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq were generating 446 million pounds of plastic waste annually.

Now, if all that plastic was bioplastic, composting would be an option. And if you don’t think the U.S. military is interested in all that hippy-dippy composting stuff, guess again. They’ve been investigating both food waste and sewage sludge composting, so bioplastic composting is the next logical step. It sure beats soaking solid waste in diesel fuel and putting it in a burn box, which is the conventional practice. DARPA and SyntheZyme have developed an all-biodegradable, durable, moisture-resistant bioplastic that can be used for different kinds of packing films, bags, and gloves.

Interestingly, the idea is to use the bioplastic as packaging material, then break it down and use it for biodiesel on site rather than composting it. That part of the research is still under way, and if successful it demonstrates multipurpose flexibility that DARPA and other Department of Defense agencies envision for the fighting force of the future, in which energy is harvested or scavenged from a variety of renewable resources, including garbage. Let’s hope that certain politicians change their head-in-the-sand position on climate change and start adapting this mindset for civilian life, too.

Chevron told to close pipeline after second oil spill in Salt Lake City

It’s not quite the Gulf Coast, but Salt Lake City has developed a persistent problem with oil spills. The federal Department of Transportation ordered Chevron this week to temporarily close a pipeline running through the city after the second spill there in six months.

The first incident happened in June while the BP spill was gushing thousands of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. The Salt Lake City pipeline, which carries oil from a western Colorado terminal to a Utah refinery, leaked, sending 800 gallons into the Jordan River. That river runs through the city and empties into the Great Salt Lake, a major bird refuge.

Then, on the evening of Dec. 1, the pipeline leaked again as temperatures plunged below freezing and a valve cracked. This time, 500 gallons of oil spilled toward a local creek, though only trace amounts have been found in the water. A Chevron spokesman said the leaks were “highly unusual” and promised a full examination of the latest one. The order from the Department of Transportation, issued Wednesday evening, requires the oil company to submit a detailed plan before it can restart the pipeline. In the meantime, some of the oil is being trucked to the Salt Lake City-area refinery.

Twin Creeks Technologies Builds Solar Plant in Malaysia

Twin Creeks Technologies Incorporated (TCTI) is an American company that wants to invest in the construction of a high power solar cell plant in Ipoh, Malaysia, at the Kanthan Industrial Area. The plant costs about RM1 billion and will be built by Twin Creeks Malaysia Sdn Bhd (TCMSB). In the first part of 2012, the TCMSB plant will generate around 100 MW of electricity. Afterwards, the power production will be increased to 500 MW in 2014.

According to company officials, TCMSB will expand the solar cell plant on a 15-hectare area stretching to the Perak Hi-Tech Park (PHTP) by the end of 2015. The technology used by this company in the solar cell production does not involve toxic metals, being different from that of other manufacturers operating in Malaysia.

When the new plant will begin operating, it will create 1,000 green jobs for the natives, involving 200 in engineering, 500 semi-skilled workers and the rest in supervision and management.

Production and Delivery of Ford Transit Connect Electrics Underway

Ford Motor Company and Azure Dynamics have begun shipping the first Ford Transit Connect Electrics to early customers in North America and to the United Kingdom for a demonstration project. The all-electric commercial vans, built on the Ford Transit Connect vehicle body, equipped with Azure Dynamics’ patented Force Drive„¢ battery electric powertrain, and assembled by AM General at its facility in Livonia, Mich., are reaching the market 13 months after the collaboration to develop the zero-emission vehicle was first announced.

To date, all initial units have designated customers. Azure Dynamics’ LEAD customer program includes seven companies that are taking delivery of their first units in 2010, with the remainder of their orders to be filled in 2011. Customers that have been previously announced include AT&T, Southern California Edison, Xcel Energy, Johnson Controls Inc., New York Power Authority, Canada Post and Toronto Atmospheric Fund EV300. Additional LEAD customers will be identified by the end of the year. Transit Connect Electric is the first product in Ford’s accelerated electrified vehicle plan, and will be followed by the Focus Electric passenger car in 2011, along with a plug-in hybrid electric and two next-generation lithium-ion battery-powered hybrid vehicles in 2012.

The all-electric, zero-emissions Transit Connect Electric has a driving range of up to 80 miles per full charge and is designed for fleet owners who have well-defined routes of predictable distances and a central location for daily recharging. Delivery fleet and utility vehicle operators have begun to show a preference for smaller, more efficient vehicles. Owners will have the option of recharging Transit Connect Electric with either a standard 120-volt outlet, or preferably a 240-volt charge station, typically installed at the user’s base of operations for optimal recharging in six to eight hours. A transportable cord that works with both types of outlets will be available for recharging at either voltage.

Pew Reports on Potential $2.3 Trillion Clean Power Investment by 2020

A report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that investment in clean power projects could rise as high as US$2.3 trillion at the end of the next decade. The Pew Charitable Trusts, says that private investment (read venture capital funding) in clean power among G-20 nations could be the serendipitous result of adopting clean energy policies whose ultimate aim is to keep global warming below the 2 degrees (Celsius) threshold, beyond which most scientists see an inevitable climate “tipping point”. The G-20, or Group of Twenty, is a consortium of nations formed in 1999 to discuss the global economy and make recommendations.

Using data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and released through the Trust’s Environment Group, the report extrapolated from 2009 clean energy investments to conclude that such financing could reach US$2.3 trillion globally if the countries in question developed policies to strongly promote solar, wind, and hydro energy. Biofuels were absent from the equation due to concerns “surrounding the reliability of production targets.” Energy efficiency was also not a factor. The report also noted that, if current policies are all the inspiration offered to clean tech, investments would likely top out at $1.7 trillion — yet more evidence that the carrot works more magic than the stick.

Strong policies would include renewable portfolio standards, or RPSs (mandated levels at which individual states calibrate renewable energy in the overall electricity generation mix); carbon taxing or cap-and-trade (putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, as per the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, or COP15; figures available on page 23 of the report); feed-in tariffs (FiTS), which are price supports for renewable energy generation usually paid per watt-hour; and federally funded clean energy tax incentives like the United States’ Treasury Grant Program (TGP) and the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Credit, both due to expire at the end of the year.