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Energy and Global Warming News for May 17th 2010: LED bulbs for home coming this year; With Solar Valley, China embarks on bold green technology mission; Pricing for utility green power continues to fall

LED Bulbs for the Home Near the Marketplace

The prospects of replacing today’s inefficient incandescent light bulbs with long-lasting, low-power LEDs are increasing.

Two of the lighting industry’s three biggest manufacturers, Osram Sylvania and Philips, plan to sell energy-efficient LED bulbs this year that can replace a 60-watt bulb, the most commonly used incandescent lamp.

The third company, General Electric, will sell an LED equivalent to a 40-watt bulb this year, but it will not have a 60-watt replacement ready until 2011.

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Beginning in January 2012, federal law will require that light bulbs, or lamps as the industry calls them, will need to be 30 percent more efficient than current incandescent bulbs. Standard incandescent lamps will most likely not be able to meet those requirements. LED makers hope their bulbs will.

Compact fluorescents have been unpopular with consumers, and LED bulbs have been too dim. But Osram’s Ultra bulb, available in August, and Philips’s EnduraLED, which will be in stores in the fourth quarter, will use just 12 watts of power to equal the light output of a 60-watt bulb.

“The 60-watt lamp is the most-sold bulb in America,” said James R. Brodrick, the manager for solid-state lighting at the Energy Department. “These new bulbs should give consumers something to think about.”

The LED bulbs use 20 percent of the power of a current incandescent bulb and last up to 25,000 hours, compared with 2,000 hours for a standard bulb and 8,000 for a compact fluorescent. That’s 17 years if the bulb is on four hours a day.

The companies say that, unlike compact fluorescents, these new LED lights completely mimic standard bulbs. They are dimmable, create light in all directions, and display virtually the same warmth and range of colors as incandescent bulbs. And most important, they work.

“In our research, we mixed up these new LED lamps with regular bulbs, and when asked which was which, most selected the wrong lamps,” said Guido van Tartwijk, a Philips group manager.

Glacier Park: The next 100 years

Glacier National Park just marked 100 years as crown jewel of the parks system, but questions dot its spectacular landscape as its next century begins.

Will the park’s 2 million tourists still come when the glaciers are gone? Is the nation willing to spend $200 million to repair the cliff-hugging Going-to-the-Sun Road? Will climate change destroy the habitat of grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and other iconic animals?

… The 25 or so remaining glaciers in the park are mostly located in the back country, and many tourists never see them. What they do see are the jagged, snowcapped peaks that were carved by those glaciers, along with blue lakes, alpine meadows and hiking trails.But there are those who worry that tourism may drop once the glaciers disappear in the next decade or so.

A recent report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council said climate change threatens the nearly $1 billion a year tourism business in Glacier, the 11th most visited national park.

Nearly three-quarters of its visitors are from out of state, and 56 percent are returnees, the report said.

“I have been coming to Glacier ever since my parents came here on their honeymoon,” Steve Doherty, senior adviser to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, joked during the anniversary celebration.

Glacier supports more than 4,000 Montana jobs, the report said….

The park will inevitably be changed as average temperatures in Glacier have climbed 2 degrees compared to what they were in 1979, double the national average.

GCL May Build 500 Megawatts of Solar Farms in China

GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., in which China’s sovereign wealth fund holds a stake, may build solar farms with a total capacity of as much as 500 megawatts to help meet demand in the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

China’s largest producer of polysilicon, the main raw material used in solar cells, is also looking at setting up solar farms in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East and may make investment decisions on some projects this year, Chief Financial Officer Sam Tong said at a media briefing in Hong Kong today.

The solar-cell parts maker completed its first 20-megawatt solar plant in China in December and is seeking clean-energy projects overseas to benefit from global efforts to harness energy from the sun. Tong didn’t give a timescale or figure for GCL-Poly’s planned investment in China.

“Building generating capacity of between 400 megawatts and 500 megawatts would be feasible,” he said.

Investment in the 20-megawatt farm reached 420 million yuan ($62 million), Tong said. Costs vary for each project, he said.

GCL-Poly expects strong demand for polysilicon this year partly because of rising consumption in emerging markets including India, Tong said. The company said last month it expects to double production this year to 16,500 metrics tons.

China Investment Corp., the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, acquired a HK$5.5 billion ($705 million) stake in GCL-Poly in November.

With Solar Valley project, China embarks on bold green technology mission

Uprooting the last traces of rural life on the edge of this northern Chinese city, laborers with chain saws spent a recent morning cutting down trees to make way for a hulking factory. A big red banner trumpeted the future for what used to be farmland: “The Biggest Solar Energy Production Base in the Whole World.”

Across China, villages are being turned into pollution-belching industrial zones, but nature’s retreat on the outskirts of Dezhou boasts a paradoxical purpose — protecting nature.

“This is an experiment. It is a big laboratory,” said Huang Ming, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon, who is driving one of China’s boldest efforts to promote, and profit from, green technology.

At the center of his outsize ambitions is Solar Valley, a massive exercise in social, economic and ecological engineering. As part of the project, tens of thousands of farmers have been moved into concrete apartment blocks and their land is being converted into what Huang and Dezhou’s planners hope will be China’s clean-technology answer to California’s Silicon Valley.

The $740 million plan has attracted about 100 companies and spawned factories, a research center and wide boulevards illuminated by solar-powered lights. It highlights the promise — as well as the limits — of China’s efforts to reconcile breakneck economic development with environmental concerns.

Pricing for Utility Green Power Continues to Fall

Edmond Electric, OG&E Company, Avista Utilities, Park Electric Cooperative and Arizona Public Service offer the lowest price premiums for renewable energy, according to the annual assessment of leading utility green power programs by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Price premiums range from -0.17 cents/kWh to 0.80 cents/kWh.

NREL analysts report that the rate premium that customers pay for green power continues to drop. The average net price premium for utility green power products has decreased from 3.48 cents/kWh in 2000 to 1.75 cents/kWh in 2009.

Even during the downturn, the assessment shows that consumers continued to support renewable energy by voluntarily participating in utility green power programs. More than 650,000 customers are currently participating in these programs, according to NREL.

This year’s assessment finds that more than 850 utilities across the United States now offer green power programs. In 2009, utility green power sales exceeded 6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), representing more than 5 percent of total electricity sales for some of the most popular programs.

NREL says wind energy represents approximately two-thirds of electricity generated for green energy programs nationwide.

A recent wind power assessment conducted by NREL shows that U.S. wind resources are larger than previously estimated. The new assessment shows that onshore U.S. wind resources could generate nearly 37,000,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) annually, more than nine times current total U.S. electricity consumption.

In addition, a shift to 20 percent or more of the Eastern Interconnection’s electrical load to wind energy is possible by 2024, but costs for new transmission lines could be as high as $93 billion, according to a new NREL study.

US, Europe look to China for clean energy sales

U.S. leaders want China’s clean energy boom to drive technology exports and are sending a sales mission to Beijing this week. But Beijing wants to create its own suppliers of wind, solar and other equipment and is limiting access to its market, setting up a new trade clash with Washington and Europe.

China passed the United States last year as the biggest clean power market, stoking hopes for Western sales of wind turbines, solar cells and other gear. But U.S. and European companies find that while Beijing welcomes foreign technology, it wants manufacturing done here and know-how shared with local partners. In the wind industry, foreign suppliers with factories in China say they are shut out of major projects.

“China is very keen on being able to depend on themselves,” said Frank Haugwitz, a renewable energy consultant in Beijing.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says clean energy sales to China can help fulfill President Barack Obama’s pledge to double U.S. exports over the next five years and create 2 million jobs. Locke is leading a group of 24 American suppliers to Beijing and Shanghai this week to drum up business.

But Chinese leaders want clean energy to be one of a series of emerging industries with their companies playing a leading global role. They are using regulations to ensure the bulk of Chinese sales go to local producers.

“There is a clash there that I think is going to become more and more prominent unless both sides come to some agreement,” said Jim McGregor of APCO Worldwide Inc., a consulting firm, and a former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

China already is embroiled in an array of disputes with Washington, Europe and others over currency, trade in goods from steel to shoes to chicken and Beijing’s industrial policies that favor Chinese companies in areas including computer security and telecoms at the expense of foreign competitors.

Washington and Beijing have so far avoided a formal dispute over clean energy and have pledged to cooperate in research.

The potential Chinese market is huge: Beijing invested $34.6 billion in renewable energy last year, nearly double U.S. spending of $18.6 billion, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

On Climate, Food and Security

I recently moderated a conversation on climate, food and security at the Asia Society involving some informed and influential figures, including Maria Blair, who’s directing analysis of climate adaptation for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Here’s the summary:

Erratic weather patterns caused by climate change are undermining traditional agricultural practices across much of the developing world. At the same time, high levels of population growth in these regions are generating greater demand for food. Though nations with temperate climates may benefit from increased agricultural yields, farmers in other parts of the world will be more susceptible to changes in water supply and soil moisture. Is it too late to combat the effects of climate change? What could new policies look like? How can climate change adaptation improve food security? What responses are needed from donors, governments and civil society to reduce impacts of climate change on food security?