Energy and Global Warming News for July 23rd, 2009: Industry lines up behind bold concentrated solar power project in hopes politicians will follow

JR: This story is a follow up to “Siemens, Munich Re study $555 Billion, 100 GW concentrated solar project in the Sahara.” The map above comes from Desertec — and looks to me to be the inevitable future for the region in a carbon-constrained world.Industry lines up behind bold concentrated solar project in hopes politicians will follow

For centuries, Mediterranean countries have found countless ways to disagree — over religion, ethnicity, colonialism and trade. But there are signs the region might yet unite in pursuit of a common goal: renewable energy.

European government and industry have been eyeing tracts of sun-drenched, vacant land in North Africa and the Middle East for some time. And now, officials and business executives are beginning to sweat out the details that could see renewable power sprouting in the desert.

Their vision is ambitious. By 2050, massive solar thermal plants, which concentrate the sun’s energy using mirrors to heat steam-generating media, would sprawl across the Sahara and Middle East, feeding most of their power to their host nations. Leftover energy, meanwhile, would travel north on a new ‚¬45 billion grid to meet 15 percent of Europe’s electricity needs….


All the Arab states attended the Paris meetings, and Egypt, in particular, has been a strong supporter. According to Egyptian officials, this is because for the first time, in a Mediterranean detente, Europeans are treating African and Middle Eastern countries as equal partners. This is best seen in the union’s co-presidency, which Sarkozy and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak share….

Costs for solar thermal could eventually come down to about 10 cents a kilowatt-hour as the technology scales up, said the Center for Global Development’s Wheeler, who has written an influential paper on the topic.

That paper is “Desert Power: The Economics of Solar Thermal Electricity for Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.”

Meet Belcha — Europe’s biggest carbon polluter (and it’s about to get even bigger)

The biggest single producer of carbon emissions in the European Union has been named — and it is about to get even bigger. The appropriately titled Elektrownia Belchatow — a massive coal-fired power station — belched out 30,862,792 tonnes of CO2 last year and by 2010 the whole generating facility will have grown by 20%.

The Polish energy giant was named as climate change enemy number one in a report by the London-based Sandbag Climate Campaign and its greenhouse gas output dwarfed the 22m tonnes of annual carbon produced by the Drax power station in North Yorkshire and a host of equally dirty German plants.

India leads demands for £120bn climate change fund paid for by the West

In a proposal that appears to have astonished Western officials, the Indian government suggested that the price of co-operation would be for industrialised countries to pay at least 0.5 per cent of their GDP to help developing nations invest in cleaner renewable sources of energy and reduce their carbon emissions.

While the size of the demand was dismissed by US officials as unrealistic, Gordon Brown has proposed industrialised countries contribute to a £60 billion fund to help the developing world play its role and said Britain would pay “its fair share”.

But Indian ministers have been particularly forceful on the issue. They have warned they will not allow international inspections of how the Asian powerhouse is meeting reduction targets unless Western countries pay an even greater 0.8 per cent of the GDP to fund what they call “mitigation and adaptation” — compensation for the West’s historic role in contributing to global warming, and the cost of changing over to green technologies.

Why the Microgrid Could Be the Answer to Our Energy Crisis

“¦The evidence is growing that privately owned, consumer-driven, small-scale, geographically distributed renewables could deliver a 100% green-energy future faster and cheaper than big power projects alone. Companies like GE and IBM are talking in terms of up to half of American homes generating their own electricity, renewably, within a decade. But distributed power — call it the “microgrid” — poses an existential threat to the business model the utilities have happily depended on for more than a century. No wonder so many of them are fighting the microgrid every step of the way.

Harvesting Clean Energy Along the Road

You can get your kicks on Route 66, as the old song goes, but what if you could get your wind and solar power there as well?

A few states are already dabbling in roadside energy production. Last year Oregon launched a “solar highway” demonstration project with a 104 kilowatt ground-mounted solar array situated at the interchange of Interstates 5 and 205. The array powers about a third of the lights on the interchange. Massachusetts recently announced a plan to install a utility-scale wind turbine — big enough to power 400 households — on land adjacent to the Massachusetts Turnpike’s Blandford Rest Area.

Researchers and designers are also toying with ways to generate power along roads, including the use of piezoelectric materials, energy producing speed bumps and integrating wind turbines into road barriers.

Feed-in Tariffs for Solar Continue To Spread

Variations on the policy that jumpstarted Germany’s decade-long boom in rooftop solar systems are taking root in more cities in the United States.

The policy, called a feed-in tariff, offers small-scale producers of solar energy long-term contracts (usually at above-market rates) for the electricity they sell. Last week, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.4 million people, approved a feed-in tariff that allows homeowners with solar panels a chance to sign up for 10, 15 or 20 years of guaranteed payments. The policy will take effect next January. The city of Gainesville, Fla., adopted a feed-in tariff this spring, as did Vermont. Washington state also has such a policy, and Hawaii is currently considering one.

While feed-in tariffs are most closely associated with solar photovoltaic panels, utilities managing the programs in Vermont and Sacramento will also pay a set price for electricity generated from other renewable sources, like wind.

Foreign rail companies eye US stimulus money to build new passenger trains

Foreign companies that dominate the international high-speed rail industry are trying to cash in on the Obama administration’s plan to pump billions of dollars into U.S. rail systems to help stimulate the economy.

The stimulus plan sets aside $8 billion for high-speed rail, a figure that has ambassadors and foreign leaders jockeying to get their preferred companies in on the deal. Though the law requires the U.S. to “buy American” with stimulus money, the rail plan requires so many trains and so much expertise that the administration has conceded foreign companies are likely to be part of it.

“I guarantee those companies that have been involved in high-speed rail in Asia and Europe are in America right now meeting those folks that are putting proposals together to tap into our $8 billion,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has spoken with Japan’s ambassador and transport minister about the matter.

GOP questions Locke’s stance on paying for imports’ carbon content

House Republicans yesterday solicited clarification from Commerce Secretary Gary Locke about comments he made last week in China that the United States should pay for the carbon content on imported goods.

In a letter, the eight legislators, all ranking members of House committees and subcommittees, asked Locke to clarify his comments made during a speech to business leaders in Shanghai and reported by Reuters.

“It’s important that those who consume the products being made all around the world to the benefit of America — and it’s our own consumption activity that’s causing the emission of greenhouse gases, then quite frankly Americans need to pay for that,” Locke said last week (Greenwire, July 17).

Price put on Copenhagen success

The UN’s top climate official has said that the richest nations will have to put $10bn “on the table” during the Copenhagen climate change summit.

Yvo De Boer, who will lead the negotiations, said such a commitment was necessary for their success.

He insisted the burden of climate change must be shared and that the money would help developing countries.

Taiwan doing on climate what China won’t

In a twist to the stand-off between China and the US over greenhouse emission reduction responsibilities, Taiwan appears to set to commit to the hard targets to cut emissions that mainland China rejects.

There appears to be the broad political support necessary in Taipei for laws to cap greenhouse emissions and implement an emissions trading scheme with foreign carbon offset provisions. The Greenhouse Reduction Act is headed for a final vote in the Taiwanese parliament as early as late 2009, Reuters reports, with both major parties broadly supportive despite business sector opposition.

US wind firms win capital funding

Two US renewables firms — First Wind and Terra-Gen Power — won capital funding for wind farms this week despite the harsh economic environment, while a third Nordex AG began construction on a manufacturing facility for turbines.

Newton, Massachussetts-based First Wind, which generated sales of $12m (£7.3m) and a net loss of $73m in fiscal 2008, has just closed two transactions totalling $191m.

The first is a $115m, 8.5-year loan facility from Alberta Investment Management, while the second is a $76m, one-year loan from HSH Nordbank. The money will be used to finance operations, boost development activity, service the company’s debt and fund its ongoing Stetson project.