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Energy and Global Warming News for November 9th: GE to invest $2 Billion in China; Spring floods cost Nashville a year’s worth of economic activity; Europe to invest in massive solar plants in India

General Electric Plans to Invest $2 Billion in China

General Electric Co. plans to invest more than $2 billion in China in technology and financial service ventures and research, adding 1,000 jobs in a country Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt is targeting for growth.

GE intends to invest more than $1.5 billion in joint ventures with Chinese state-owned companies in “key high- technology sectors,” it said in a statement today. The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company will spend $500 million on product development and customer innovation centers through 2012, where the jobs will be added.

Immelt yesterday appointed Vice Chairman John Rice to accelerate a push to bolster exports and expand partnerships in countries building infrastructure to support economic growth, such as China and India. GE expects to have $20 billion in discretionary cash by year-end partly for investment to boost sales, which missed analyst estimates in the third quarter.

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“China and India will lead future growth in energy demand,” Zhang Shun, a Beijing-based analyst with Ping An Securities Co., said by phone today. “They will need more roads, more power plants and more railways to meet the needs of their soaring economies, generating opportunities for equipment manufacturers and technology providers like GE.”

Spring Floods cost Nashville a year’s worth of economic activity

Early May’s flooding has left a major hole in the region’s financial fabric, sparing some residents but leaving recovery months away for many other consumers and business owners who saw jobs, houses or their companies washed away.

Although more than $1 billion in federal aid will end up flowing into counties with damage from the flood statewide “” mostly in grants to individuals or local governments “” that money and private insurance proceeds won’t nearly be enough to cover all of the losses. By one estimate, Nashville alone lost the equivalent of one year’s worth of economic activity as a result of the flood or about $2.65 billion in the value of goods and services from damaged buildings to lost business operations.

Short-term gains tied to the sale of supplies to repair homes and offices, as well as the labor hired to do the rebuilding helped some people land temporary jobs. Others who worked at the still-shuttered Opry Mills mall or at smaller businesses that never reopened are still looking for work.

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On the harsh side of the equation, hundreds of millions of dollars in property values were wiped out by rising waters, much of it linked to damaged properties that weren’t covered by flood insurance.

“By itself, a flood that affects 2,700 businesses is virtually a recessionary occurrence,’’ said Ralph Schulz, the president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, speaking about Davidson County’s impact alone. “At six months, the long-term nature of the recovery really starts to sink in.” The Chamber estimates that 300 to 400 businesses impacted by the flood have not reopened and about 1,500 jobs probably have been lost.

For background, see “The Tennessee deluge of 2010: Nashville’s ‘Katrina’ and the dawn of the superflood” and “Stunning NOAA map of Tennessee’s 1000-year deluge.”

Europe to Invest in Massive Solar Power Plants in India

The Asian Development Bank has roped in the European Investment Bank to invest in large-scale solar power plants in India. The ADB is committed to arrange finances for India’s ambitious National Solar Mission projects.

The Asian Development Bank has been working closely with many Asian countries to provide them financial, technical and policy-related support for expanding solar energy infrastructure. The ADB is playing an active role in India to make solar energy more popular. In addition to the European Investment Bank, the ADB has also attracted funding from the US Import-Export Bank and Germany’s KWF.

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Under the National Solar Mission, India plans to install 20,000 MW solar-based power generation capacity by 2022. The current install capacity is a dismal 14 MW. The 20,000 MW capacity also includes the off-grid rural power plants. In order to rapidly increase the installed capacity the Indian government has announced two massive solar farm projects, one each in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Both these states are blessed with substantially high solar radiation resource and also have large areas of unused lands due to lower agricultural land use. Rajasthan has the vast Thar desert while Gujarat has vast wastelands in the west. Gujarat has set aside 2,500 hectare for a 1,000 MW plant while Rajasthan has set aside 8,000 hectare for a 3,000 MW plant. Construction of these plants is expected to start after 2013, that is, during the second phase of the National Solar Mission.

The ADB is also supporting the project developers who intend to set up power plants during the first phase. The first phase aims at installing 1,1o0 MW by 2013; ADB will support 350 MW of these installations. The smaller power plants have been provided with 50 percent loan guarantees and project developers will also provided direct loans.

Costa Rica Confronts Large and Costly Cleanup Effort

Costa Rica is beginning to tally up the cost of damage as well as donations of cash and other assistance as the country begins to deal with the aftermath of last week’s deadly downpours, which claimed at least 27 lives. Early estimates from Costa Rica’s Executive Branch indicate that the storms, which forced flooding and landslides across the country, have already cost the country ‚¡840 million ($1.6 million) in immediate response efforts to the disaster.

According to a report released on Monday by Costa Rica’s vice president, Luis Liberman, the country has spent ‚¡300 million ($590,000) in the distribution of supplies such as food, water and medical goods and ‚¡400 ($785,000) in rent for heavy machinery to clear debris from roads. Costa Rica’s National Emergency Commission (CNE) has distributed ‚¡100 million ($196,000) to local governments in areas most affected by the disaster. The government calculates that money transfers and fees have cost ‚¡40 million (78,500) so far.

The government has not yet estimated a total cost for cleanup and repairs after last week’s weather destroyed homes and collapsed bridges and highways, but announced that it has created a ‚¡4 billion (roughly $7.7 million) fund that will be used to build or repair houses for storm victims.

On Monday, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) pledged a total of $60,000 to Costa Rica between the two bureaus. This money will be used to buy blankets, small electric generators and fuel for search and rescue helicopters. Costa Rica’s National Emergency Commission (CNE) also confirmed a $300,000 donation from the Moroccan government, which will be used to support rescue missions and transport supplies to isolated communities and evacuation shelters across the country.

A Novel Tactic in Climate Fight: Expanding the Montreal Protocol

With energy legislation shelved in the United States and little hope for a global climate change agreement this year, some policy experts are proposing a novel approach to curbing global warming: including greenhouse gases under an existing and highly successful international treaty ratified more than 20 years ago. The treaty, the Montreal Protocol, was adopted in 1987 for a completely different purpose, to eliminate aerosols and other chemicals that were blowing a hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

But as the signers of the protocol convened the 22nd annual meeting in Bangkok on Monday, negotiators are considering a proposed expansion in the ozone treaty to phase out the production and use of the industrial chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs The chemicals have thousands of times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

HFCs are used as refrigerants in air-conditioners and cooling systems. They are manufactured mostly in China and India, but appliances containing the substance are in use in every corner of the world. HFCs replaced even more dangerous ozone-depleting chemicals known as HCFCs, themselves a substitute for the chlorofluorocarbons that were the first big target of the Montreal process.

“Eliminating HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is the single biggest chunk of climate protection we can get in the next few years,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a nongovernment organization based in Washington. He noted that the ozone protection effort had begun under former President Ronald Reagan and continues to enjoy bipartisan support.

The United States has thrown its support behind the proposal and negotiators said there was a strong current of support for the move at the meeting on Monday. All the signatories to the Montreal Protocol would have to agree to the expansion, but no further approval from Congress would be needed. So far, there has been no Congressional or industry opposition to the idea. But the plan is not expected to be adopted this year. Large developing countries, including China, India and Brazil, object that the timetable is too rapid and that payments for eliminating the refrigerant are not high enough.

Oil Traveled Up the Gulf Food Chain

A group of scientists in Alabama has been studying another pathway for all of that oil: through the Gulf of Mexico’s hungry oil-eating microbes. Scientists expected bacteria to eat the oil, but speculation remained about what would happen after that. As it turns out, the oil that the bacteria consumed traveled up the food chain as the oil-eating bacteria were eaten in turn, the scientists suggest.

By tracking oil’s particular carbon signature, which differs from the nutrients in the usual bacterial diet, scientists from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama were able to observe the growing presence of oil in the planktonic food web as oil reached the waters of the northern gulf.

They describe their findings in a report published on Monday in Environmental Research Letters.

“We showed with little doubt that oil consumed by marine bacteria did reach the larger zooplankton that form the base of the food chain,” Monty Graham, the lead author of the report, said in a news release. These zooplankton are in turn eaten by larger marine organisms like fish and whales.

Australia and U.S. partner on solar energy

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a $50 million joint solar research program aimed at developing cheaper solar power solutions. “The price of solar technology has come down in recent years but we need to accelerate that trend,” Gillard said Sunday. The project aims to bring down the sales price of solar technology by two to four times.

Gillard said the research would focus on advance solar technologies, such as dual junction, photovoltaic devices, hot carrier solar cells and high-temperature receivers. “We have a common goal of making solar energy competitive with conventional sources by the middle of this decade, 2015,” said Clinton.

Clinton also announced a $500,000 grant from the U.S. State Department to Australia’s state-backed Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute to fund a global survey to identify promising technologies for reusing carbon dioxide.

Australia has set a renewable energy target of at least 20 percent of the nation’s electricity to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2020, which Gillard said is expected to generate $19 billion in related investment. Australia has allocated $5.1 billion for the country’s clean energy.

At least 10 more years of R&D needed, but algae biofuels could be major contributor (particularly for jet fuel): study

If you want a comprehensive snapshot of the state of algae biofuel development you may want to read a 178-report put out by the Energy Biosciences Institute in California. The general observation is that the market is in “early gestation” and there’s at least a decade to go before algae biofuels achieve the production economics that make them competitive with conventional fuels. “It is clear from this report that algae oil production will be neither quick nor plentiful “” 10 years is a reasonable projection for the R&D to allow the conclusion about the ability to achieve relatively low-cost algae biomass and oil production, at least for specific locations,” according to the report, which also goes far in separating hype from reality.

However, the report excluded analysis of algae-to-ethanol production, such as that being pursued by Algenol, which says it is only a few years away from commercial-scale deployment.

“The availability of the resources required for microalgae production “” land, climate, water, and, perhaps most critically, carbon dioxide “” at the same site, will likely limit the U.S. potential for algae oil production to less than a few billion gallons annually. While minor compared to total U.S. transportation fuels consumption (about 200 billion gallons per year), renewable algae oil could be a major contributor to biofuel resources, particularly in specific markets, such as aviation fuel.” I agree on the last part with regards to jet fuel, but I’m a bit more optimistic on the overall market impact. The good news is that 10 years isn’t such a long time to wait, unless you’re a VC firm waiting to cash out.

Cogenra’s Hybrid PV and Hot Water Plus Financing

Cogenra Solar is a solar cogeneration startup combining photovoltaic and heat generation to deliver electricity and hot water for commercial and industrial sites. We profiled them here in September.

Hybrid PV and hot water is not entirely new — the twist the Khosla Ventures-funded Cogenra might be the combination of the Heat and Power Purchase Agreement (HPPA). Cogenra offers renewable energy below utility rates while trimming natural gas and grid-sourced electricity usage. This is akin to what Solar City and SunRun offer in residential solar PV and to what a host of firms like Tioga Energy or Borrego Solar offer for commercial solar. Meanwhile, Skyline Innovations and Metrus Energy do hot water and “everthing but PV” PPAs.

The firm just officially unveiled a solar cogeneration project at the Sonoma Wine Company in Graton, California. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures were on hand as the winery flipped the switch on the 272-kilowatt installation. Although, as Ed Gunther reports — these units were not operational for long.

The Sonoma Wine Company buys the heat and electricity generated from the installation at a guaranteed rate from Cogenra under the company’s Heat and Power Purchase Agreement (HPPA). Under the HPPA, Cogenra maintains ownership of the solar systems, and the wine company gets a hedge against jumpy power prices throughout a 15-year contract.

Cogenra claims that their system produces five times more energy and three times the greenhouse gas reductions over traditional solar offerings. The solar thermal element heats water to 165 degrees F to fuel some of the wine company’s tank and barrel washing requirements. Other early-stage companies looking to generate more than just electricity from the sun include Absolicon, Chromasun, PVT Solar, Sundrum, Turkey’s Solimpeks.

Peru to Add 200 MW of Renewable Energy in 2012

Peru is to launch six renewable energy projects in 2012, with a total capacity of 200 MW, as part of the government’s new drive to seek alternative sources of energy, it has been announced.

Three wind farms and three solar power plants will operate in 2012 in Peru, according to newspaper El Comercio.

El Comercio quotes the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ director of electricity Ismael Aragon, who explained that the wind farms will be located in northern Peru’s Piura Department, while the solar plants will be built in the south — specifically in Moquegua, Arequipa and Tacna departments.

Aragon also said that this month the concessionary company of the Inambari hydroelectric project is due to deliver its feasibility study, although other studies to define a date when the works will begin are still pending, according to the press report.

Power Grid of the Future Saves Energy

Green energy too comes out of the electricity socket, but to get there it has to travel a long journey — from wind turbines in the North Sea or regional solar, wind and biogas power plants. On the way to the consumer lots of energy is lost. New electronic components will change things in future.

Cars and trucks race down the highway, turn off into town, wait at traffic lights and move slowly through side streets. Electricity flows in a similar way — from the power plant via high voltage lines to transformer substations. The flow is controlled as if by traffic lights. Cables then take the electricity into the city centre. Numerous switching points reduce the voltage, so that equipment can tap into the electricity at low voltage. Thanks to this highly complex infrastructure, the electricity customer can use all kinds of electrical devices just by switching them on.

“A reliable power supply is the key to all this, and major changes will take place in the coming years to safeguard this reliability. The transport and power networks will grow together more strongly as a result of electromobility, because electric vehicles will not only tank up on electricity but will also make their batteries available to the power grid as storage devices. Renewable energy sources will become available on a wider scale, with individual households also contributing electricity they have generated,” says Professor Lothar Frey, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Systems and Device Technology IISB in Erlangen.

In major projects such as Desertec, solar thermal power plants in sun-rich regions of North Africa and the Middle East will in the future produce electricity for Europe. The energy will then flow to the consumer via long high-voltage power lines or undersea cables. The existing cables, systems and components need to be adapted to the future energy mix now, so that the electricity will get to the consumer as reliably and with as few losses as possible. The power electronics experts at the IISB are working on technological solutions, and are developing components for the efficient conversion of electrical energy.

For energy transmission over distances of more than 500 kilometers or for undersea cables direct current is being increasingly used. This possesses a constant voltage and only loses up to seven percent of its energy over long distances. By comparison, the loss rate for alternating current can reach 40 percent. Additional converter stations are, however, required to convert the high voltage of the direct current into the alternating current needed by the consumer.