Energy and global warming news for March 10, 2011: U.S. solar grew sharply in 2010; Smog-filled air more harmful and deadly than previously thought

U.S. solar grew sharply in 2010, still lags Europe

* U.S. solar market grew 67 pct in 2010* U.S. had 5 pct of global PV share in 2010, down from 2009* U.S. PV installations expected to double in 2011

LOS ANGELES, March 10 (Reuters) — The U.S. solar power sector grew 67 percent in 2010 but still lagged European markets by a wide margin in installing solar systems, the industry’s trade group said on Thursday.

The U.S. market for solar energy reached $6 billion in 2010, up from $3.6 billion the previous year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.


But U.S. share of worldwide photovoltaic solar installations slipped to 5 percent last year from 6.5 percent in 2009 due to booming growth in Germany and Italy, where solar players enjoy generous government incentives.

Photovoltaic, or PV, solar systems transform sunlight into electricity.

Solar electric installations reached 956 megawatts in the United States last year, including 878 MW of PV systems. More than 17 gigawatts of PV were installed globally.

In 2011, SEIA expects U.S. PV installations to double from 2010, while the global market will experience slower growth due to subsidy cuts in Europe.

“Much of the global PV industry is turning its eye toward the U.S. with great expectations,” the report said.

This year is likely to be “light” for concentrating solar power, or solar thermal, SEIA said. In 2010, 77.5 MW of CSP were installed, and that portion of the market is expected to grow quickly in the coming years with 41 projects totaling 9 GW currently under development.

As Ozone Decision Looms, EPA Finds Stronger Science

Recent studies suggest that smog-filled air kills more people and causes more breathing problems than previously thought, U.S. EPA scientists say in a new draft paper, but due to a procedural twist, the findings can’t be taken into account as Administrator Lisa Jackson decides whether to set stricter limits than the George W. Bush administration chose in 2008.

The new research provides stronger evidence that short-term spikes in ground-level ozone can cause premature death, according to the 996-page scientific assessment, which was released late Friday. And on top of that, EPA scientists found evidence that long-term exposure could lead to more premature deaths — a conclusion that was not reached when the agency last reviewed the state of smog science in 2006.

It is well-established that ozone can have health effects at the current limit of 84 parts per billion (ppb), which still has not been met in parts of the Northeast, much of Southern California and industrial cities such as Houston. According to the assessment, recent studies found a robust link between health effects and smog levels below either the current limit or the standard of 75 ppb that was selected by the last administration.

Environmental and public health groups said the most recent studies show why the Obama administration should move this summer to tighten the national limits on smog even further, as EPA originally proposed doing last year (Greenwire, Jan. 7, 2010).

The perpetual politics of petroleum

The boom-bust cycle of oil politics is booming this week on Capitol Hill, where the only thing more predictable than politicians’ policy solutions are their claims that the other side is ignoring the issue.

With gas prices surging to about $4 a gallon in some places, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are recycling … the same talking points they used the last time there was such pain at the pump.

Call for “all of the above?” Check. Demand the White House open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? Check. Find some old quotes from the other guy about high oil prices? Check.

Rising oil prices are a serious issue, especially with the economy just beginning to recover. And the U.S. Energy Information Administration says prices at the pump will continue to rise because the recent increases in oil prices haven’t been fully passed on to consumers. Gasoline could average about $3.70 per gallon “” or higher, depending on the region “” in the peak April-September driving season, EIA says.

But Washington’s reaction demonstrates the limits of any policy response “” as well as the reality that the issue can be more useful as a political tool.

GOP gas price claims under fire ahead of climate vote

State of Play: House GOP claims that legislation to block Environmental Protection Agency climate change rules will combat rising gasoline costs are coming under fire ahead of a committee vote Thursday.

The claim “” which Republicans including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are touting “” has struck a nerve as pump prices move up the political agenda.

“It is one of the most pathetically, economically invalid arguments ever made in human history,” Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told E2 Wednesday.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is the chief sponsor of the bill that will be taken up Thursday in the Energy and Power subcommittee.

Senior House Republicans have tailored their political messaging on the bill to focus more heavily on gasoline prices.

But their claims about the degree to which prices will rise are rooted in an industry-commissioned study of cap-and-trade legislation that died in the last Congress “” not an analysis of rules that EPA is moving ahead with under its existing powers.

Health Groups Gird for Fight Over EPA’s Power-Plant Toxics Rules

With the Obama administration required to put its plan for reducing toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants on the table a week from today, the American Lung Association and other public health groups have started an early push to explain why U.S. EPA shouldn’t flinch on the long-delayed rules.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is under a legal deadline to release a proposal by March 16 and finalize it by November. Environmentalists and public health groups are pushing her to make the rules far stricter than the George W. Bush administration’s Clean Air Mercury Rule, a cap-and-trade program that aimed to cut mercury pollution by about 70 percent but did not place limits on other types of toxic emissions.

According to a report (pdf) released yesterday by the Lung Association, the technology needed to control all of the toxic pollutants is already in wide use, and in most cases, it cuts emissions by more than 90 percent. Currently, the power sector produces about 40 percent of U.S. mercury emissions and 76 percent of acid gases, the report says.

Janice Nolen, the group’s director of national policy, said power plants have gone long enough without cleaning up their pollution, as Congress had ordered 20 years ago. In late 2000, just before the Clinton administration left office, EPA wrapped up a years-long study and decided that limits on toxic pollution from power plants were needed to avoid health problems such as asthma, heart attacks and cancer.

Jay Inslee: Republicans Suffer From ‘Allergy To Science And Scientists’

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) accused Republicans on Tuesday of having an “allergy to science and scientists” during a House hearing on a Republican-led proposal to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The New York Times reports that the meeting, which focused largely on the effect of the gases on climate change, was contentious and ultimately unproductive, as representatives on both sides of the aisle appeared to stubbornly reject claims that countered their own views.

Despite the impasse, however, the hearing didn’t go over without its fair share of sparks.

“If Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein were testifying today,” Inslee, an environmentalist with a knack for confrontation over green initiatives, posited, “the Republicans would not accept their views until all the Arctic ice has melted and hell has frozen over, whichever comes first.”

In another exchange, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), a man-made climate change skeptic, took a shot at Inslee’s wealth of scientific literature when he offered to get him an e-reader to organize it.

Carbon Capture Projects Gain

The race to deploy carbon capture and storage projects shifted to North America and away from Europe last year, according to an annual report on the sector, but industry watchers are keeping a close eye on China as well.

Carbon-capture technology pulls carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of coal and other fossil-fuel plants, pressurizes the gas and pumps it underground for permanent storage. The technology is seen by many governments and energy companies …