Energy and Global Warming News for March 30th: Europe’s electricity could be all renewables by 2050; Clean tech investment set to soar 35% this year

AFP: “Many scientists have warned that if global temperatures rise more than 2.0°C (3.6°F) by century’s end, Earth’s climate system could spin out of control, unleashing human misery on an unprecedented scale.”

Kudos to AFP for its bluntness on the harsh reality of climate science today, a sharp contrast to the generally wishy-washy reporting in this country.

Europe’s electricity could be all renewables by 2050

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Europe could meet all its electricity needs from renewable sources by mid-century, according to a report released Monday by services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

A “super-smart” grid powered by solar farms in North Africa, wind farms in northern Europe and the North Sea, hydro-electric from Scandinavia and the Alps and a complement of biomass and marine energy could render carbon-based fuels obsolete for electricity by 2050, said the report.

The goal is achievable even without the use of nuclear energy, the mainstay of electricity in France, it said.

Over all, about 50 percent of Europe’s energy demand is met with imported fuels.

Under so-called business-as-usual scenarios, that share could increase to 70 percent in coming decades, according to several projections.

The switch to renewables is more than a matter of energy security, said the report, backed by research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the European Climate Forum, both based in Potsdam, Germany.

“Substantial and fairly rapid decarbonisation… will have to take place if the world is to have any chance of staying within the 2.0 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) goal for limiting the effects of global warming,” the report said.

Many scientists have warned that if global temperatures rise more than 2.0 C (3.6 F) by century’s end, Earth’s climate system could spin out of control, unleashing human misery on an unprecedented scale.

Report: Clean tech investment set to soar 35 per cent this year

Global investment in clean technology will rise 35 per cent this year, despite ongoing uncertainty over climate change policy in the US and EU, according to a report published today by research firm Datamonitor.

The report, entitled Challenges and opportunities for energy utility companies post-Copenhagen, predicts clean tech investment will bounce back strongly this year, led by the wind energy sector, which has received a major boost from government-backed economic stimulus packages.

Alex Desbarres, senior renewables analyst at Datamonitor, said that despite the failure to deliver an international climate change deal and ongoing uncertainty about the future of the carbon markets in the US and Europe, growing numbers of businesses are increasing their investment in clean technologies.

“Copenhagen did not deliver the low-carbon vision, clear policy landscape and regulatory frameworks that the energy clean tech investment community had hoped for,” he said. “For all its flaws, however, the Copenhagen Accord gave the clean tech community the sense that private investors will drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The report said there was little evidence that an overarching global regulatory framework would be developed within the next few years, but argued that with new national and sub-national legislation and initiatives emerging all the time, investors will continue to flock to the clean tech sector.

“Datamonitor expects that progress on new global and US climate regimes will be slow and unconvincing this year, but that the race to dominate the emerging clean economy will accelerate regardless, fuelled by unprecedented quantities of green and clean stimulus funding,” the report states.

The study is the latest in a series of reports to suggest that the clean tech sector is recovering well after venture capital investment levels collapsed following the onset of recession in 2008.

A report earlier this year by the Cleantech Group suggested that while venture capital investment in clean tech firms fell 33 per cent last year to $5.64bn (£3.76bn), the sector fared better than many other industries and has overtaken biotech and IT as the largest venture capital investment categories.

Similarly, a survey of more than 200 clean tech investors undertaken at the start of the year by investment bank Jeffries revealed confidence that investment levels will rise, while a separate report from analyst New Energy Finance predicted global clean tech investment in 2010 would reach $160bn, compared with $125bn in 2009.

Ohio plugs wind power on Lake Erie

Ohio officials outlined plans Monday to put Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, at the forefront of offshore wind power development.

Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown joined industry and education leaders to detail tax-cut and regulatory measures to jump-start wind power development on Lake Erie. The lake’s comparatively shallow depth is seen as an advantage when erecting towers to produce wind power.

Strickland said his proposal to eliminate the tangible personal property tax on wind and solar generation equipment would make Ohio competitive in developing wind power.

The measure, now before state lawmakers, would cover wind and solar facilities where ground is broken this year and energy is being produced by 2012.

Last week regulators approved the state’s first large-scale wind farms, all in western Ohio: two farms in Hardin County and an operation in Champaign County.

Construction is scheduled to begin this summer.

Texas Weighs Efficiency, Solar Mandates

Texas regulators may soon ramp up mandates requiring tougher energy-efficiency standards and development of renewable energy sources other than wind power.

Earlier this year, the state’s Public Utility Commission proposed requiringutilities to offset 50 percent of their growth in electricity sales with energy-efficiency measures by 2014. That would be well above the current requirement of 20 percent. (Separately, another state agency last week proposed strengthening Texas’s building codes.)

The utility commission has also put forward an early-stage proposal that would require 500 new megawatts of power in Texas to come from renewable energy sources like biomass, geothermal, solar and hydro in 2014. That represents a substantial increase from current amounts, though it is still small compared to the amount of wind power already in the state.

Texas leads the nation in wind development, but under the proposal, 50 megawatts of nonwind renewables in 2014 would have to come from solar projects. Texas currently has less than seven megawatts of solar power, according to Michael Webber, the associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas.

Awash in Awareness: Knowing a Product’s “Water Footprint” May Help Consumers Conserve H2O

If you think your morning cup of joe only has 12 ounces (35 centiliters) of water in it, you’re sorely mistaken””it has closer to 40 gallons (150 liters). Conservation scientists say it’s time consumers become aware of the quantity and source of waterthat goes into growing, manufacturing and shipping food.

Concerns over greenhouse gas emissions have vaulted the term “carbon footprint” into mainstream vernacular. Now, by promoting the concept of a “water footprint” with the goal of including it on product labels, researchers are hoping to draw similar attention to how drastically we’re draining our most precious resource. As the use of a footprint to gauge water use gains popularity, however, researchers are struggling to reach a consensus on how best to measure that footprint so the public understands its full impact.

As currently defined, a product’s water footprint is an inventory of the total amount of water that goes into its manufacture. For that cup of coffee, for instance, most of the 40 gallons flow either into watering coffee plants or cooling the roasters during processing.

“Most people have no idea how much fresh water they’re consuming,” says Brad Ridoutt, a water conservation specialist from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. According to Ridoutt, food and energy production account for nearly 90 percent of the world’s fresh water consumption.

Tracking Trash to Turn Waste into Efficiency

“Smart” phones offer the intelligence of a computer, with the convenience of a phone. “Smart” meters let homeowners choose between using cheap and expensive electricity.

The next frontier: “smart” trash?

A 5-year-old group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has spent the last year attaching thousands of tracking devices to pieces of garbage in Seattle and New York City. The devices send out pulses to signal where they are.

The signals go to MIT’s SENSEable City Lab for analysis. Last year, they also went to art exhibits in both cities, where live maps revealed the many paths garbage takes.

For example, a plastic soap bottle tossed in a Manhattan recycling bin took several twists and turns around the city before crossing the river to Kearny, N.J.

Carlo Ratti, who directs the City Lab, said each city he’s lived in — Turin, Italy; Paris; Cambridge, England; Boston — has suffered from congestion, pollution and inefficiency problems.

He believes new technologies, like iPhones, social networking and wireless communication, can inform city dwellers and make cities “smarter.” “The only way we can actually solve some of the big problems, like climate change, is if we really coordinate and act together,” Ratti said. “What, for the first time, is really bringing us together is the power of networks in general and the Internet.”

One product was the “Copenhagen Wheel,” a device that attaches to a bicycle and offers information on how much people are riding and where — in addition to giving a little boost on the uphill. The lab has also designed interactive screens for bus stops that can communicate with an iPhone, tailoring advertisements to riders or serving as a larger screen for hand-held diversions.