June 16 news: U.S. Solar Installations Rose 66% in Q1; Pentagon Rolls Out Energy Plans

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.U.S. Solar Installations Rose 66% in First Quarter

The amount of solar energy capacity installed in the U.S. increased 66 percent in the first quarter as panel prices fell and developers took advantage of expiring government incentives, a trade group said.

Developers installed 252 megawatts of photovoltaic power systems in the first quarter, compared with 152 megawatts a year earlier, according to a report released today by the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association.

“Strong demand continues to make solar one of the fastest- growing industries in the United States,” Rhone Resch, SEIA’s president, said in a statement.


Commercial and government projects accounted for 59 percent of the installations, compared with 44 percent a year earlier. Residential projects were 28 percent and the remaining 13 percent came from utility-scale plants.

The cost of installing solar power is falling, driven by lower costs for components, greater economies of scale and streamlined development and installation, the report said. Prices of solar panels in the first quarter fell about 7 percent from a year earlier.

Battlefield Energy Plan Aims to Spark Major Changes in the Pentagon

In the most significant step the Defense Department has yet taken to address its substantial thirst for energy, the Pentagon yesterday released its first strategy (pdf) for changing the way it uses energy on the battlefield.

The plan will be fleshed out with more details in the next three months, including the goals and timelines that motivate the Pentagon’s bureaucracy. They will target three main areas: reducing consumption on the battlefield, transitioning to alternative energy sources and building more energy-efficient vehicles and weapons systems.

The cost — both in dollars and in lives — of fueling the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been a frequent theme among top defense officials, from President Obama down.

“The less [energy] we need, the more operationally resilient we will be,” Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn said at a briefing. “We will increase military effectiveness while lowering our costs.”

California set to overcome CO2 market lawsuit: Point Carbon

Lawyers following the twists and turns of a legal challenge to California’s planned carbon market said it looks increasingly likely the state will win.

Several California-based attorneys told Point Carbon News on Wednesday there are a number of reasons to believe that the widely-discussed lawsuit will not delay the start of the market in January 2012.

Earlier this year, the California Air Resources Board (ARB), which is charged with designing and implementing the market’s rules, was sued by a group of organizations opposed to cap-and-trade.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge dismissed many of the group’s claims, but agreed that ARB had failed to adequately consider policy alternatives to cap-and-trade, such as a carbon tax.

Late last month, Judge Ernest Goldsmith ordered ARB to halt work on the program, but ARB was successful in getting a temporary stay on that order from an appeals court.

China Takes a New Interest in Energy Efficiency

The Chinese government is considering plans to subsidize the use of energy-efficient materials and renewable energy technologies in new buildings and is encouraging provincial and municipal governments to impose stricter efficiency standards than the national minimums, Chinese officials said Wednesday.

China’s heightened interest in saving energy — a response to electricity shortages and blackouts this year as well as longer-term security worries about dependence on energy imports — comes as the country’s construction industry continues to barrel ahead at a breathtaking pace. Last year, China consumed eight times as much cement as the world’s second-largest consumer, India, and it now leads the world in consumption of steel and other industrial materials by wide margins.

With 13 million to 21 million rural people in China migrating to cities each year — a number comparable to the 18.9 million people in metropolitan New York — the real estate industry has been putting up office towers and apartment buildings at a brisk pace but often with little regard for energy efficiency.

NOAA’s new weather satellite expert faces ‘tough sell’ in Congress

In her first six weeks on the job overseeing the nation’s weather forecasters, Kathryn Sullivan helped guide the nation’s response to historic tornado outbreaks in the Midwest, wildfires in the Southwest and flooding across the Great Plains.

Now another challenging task awaits Sullivan, an oceanographer best known as the first American woman to walk in space.

Newly installed as a deputy administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she must coax enough cash from Congress to maintain the country’s network of weather- and climate-monitoring boats, buoys, planes and satellites.

It’s a tough sell these days. Both political parties are pushing fiscal austerity, and the Republican-controlled House has aimed its budget ax squarely at federal environment agencies. In April, Congress voted to trim NOAA’s 2011 budget to $4.6 billion, $140 million less than the agency received the year before — and well below the $5.5 billion the agency sought.

“We are in the early innings of a very long baseball game,” Sullivan told ClimateWire. “I knew coming in — agreeing to be vetted, even, as long ago as that was — it was clear that this will not be a tenure that’s steering an agency through the flush budget times and some great wave of growth. This is going to be rough waters.”

IPCC asks scientists to assess geo-engineering climate solutions

Leaked documents ahead of key Lima meeting suggest UN body is looking to slow emissions with technological fixes rather than talks

Lighter-coloured crops, aerosols in the stratosphere and iron filings in the ocean are among the measures being considered by leading scientists for “geo-engineering” the Earth’s climate, leaked documents from the UN climate science body show.

In a move that suggests the UN and rich countries are despairing of reaching agreement by consensus at global climate talks, the US, British and other western scientists will outline a series of ideas to manipulate the world’s climate to reduce carbon emissions. But they accept that even though the ideas could theoretically work, they might equally have unintended and even irreversible consequences.

The papers, leaked from inside the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ahead of a geo-engineering expert group meeting in Lima in Peru next week, show that around 60 scientists will propose or try to assess a range of radical measures, including:

New EPA Regulations: Lisa Jackson Denounces American Electric Power

Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson hit back against powerful coal-burning utility American Electric Power on Wednesday, calling its recent claims that looming EPA rules will prompt massive layoffs and plant closings a “doomsday” scenario.

AEP said last week that the agency’s proposed regulations on mercury and other toxic air pollution would cause the loss of 600 jobs and force the utility to prematurely retire nearly 6,000 megawatts from old coal-fired power power plants.

“The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling” AEP Chairman Michael G. Morris said in a statement at the time. “We will continue to work through the EPA process with the hope that the agency will recognize the cumulative impact of the proposed rules and develop a more reasonable compliance schedule.”

Nebraska Water Scientists Warn of Oil Pipeline’s Risk, Call for More Study

A single study by the U.S. Geological Survey in Minnesota is the sole source for what scientists know about crude oil behavior in aquifers

Great Plains states are risking an unknown level of environmental and economic hurt if the U.S. State Department persists in routing a controversial tar sands pipeline atop the Ogallala Aquifer without further study.

That is the scientific warning coming from a pair of University of Nebraska professors with expertise in groundwater flow and contamination.

In a June 6 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (attached below), the two scientists laid out how their state’s fragile sandhills region is particularly vulnerable to crude oil pollution from a pipeline spill and why a research information gap needs to be closed.

Their concerns align with those expressed by Environmental Protection Agency authorities in their recent harsh critique of the State Department’s second attempt to draft an environmental review of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.

McDonnell promotes clean, renewable energy at ceremonial bill signing

In a ceremonial signing, Gov. Bob McDonnell added his signature Wednesday to eight pieces of legislation to promote clean and renewable energy in Virginia.

The bills include creation of a voluntary solar resource development fund, expansion of the scope of the Virginia Resources Authority to encompass financing of renewable energy projects, and a clean energy manufacturing incentive grant program. The new laws go into effect July 1.

“These pieces of legislation will foster innovation and support expansion of our domestic power generation, conservation, efficiency and resources,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell, some of the bills’ sponsors and advocates of renewable energy attended the ceremony at Virginia Commonwealth University.

McDonnell has made energy development a cornerstone of his Republican administration and said he wants to make Virginia the East Coast energy capital. He repeated that ambition Wednesday, and said Virginia has the resources to pull it off.

Climate change will cost poor countries billions of dollars, studies say

Adapting economies and maintaining infrastructure under global warming will cost developing countries dear, and resentment is building as rich countries delay in providing finance.

Africa, notoriously, has the worst roads in the world because its extremes of sun and rain bake them dry or leave them cratered and impassable for months at a time. The whole continent, which is physically larger than China, western Europe, India and the US together, still only has 171,000 km of all-weather roads — less than a country like Poland.

Now it can expect an extra $183bn bill just to maintain its few paved roads over the next 60 years because of the impact of climate change. According to a UN university team of economists, every African country will have to pay an extra $22m-$54m a year just to keep its already substandard road infrastructure in today’s condition. The bill to upgrade and maintain Africa’s many millions of miles of secondary roads and tracks, which can be expected to deteriorate even further with climate change, is not even considered.

The figures are not exact, but show how even the minimum of infrastructural improvement — considered a prerequisite for economic development — will be reined in in poor countries unless money is made available for them to adapt to climate change, and unless rich countries lessen the chances of runaway warming by reducing emissions quickly.

Mapping Sun’s Potential to Power New York

Two-thirds of New York City’s rooftops are suitable for solar panels and could jointly generate enough energy to meet half the city’s demand for electricity at peak periods, according to a new, highly detailed interactive map to be made public on Thursday.

The map, which shows the solar potential of each of the city’s one-million-plus buildings, is a result of a series of flights over the city by an airplane equipped with a laser system known as Lidar, for light detection and ranging.

Swooping over the five boroughs last year, the plane collected precise information about the shape, angle and size of the city’s rooftops and the shading provided from trees and structures around them.

The map is at the Web site of the City University of New York. City officials said the information should advance efforts to increase the city’s reliance on solar power as part of its energy mix, reducing the metropolis’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric Motors Use 45% of Global Electricity, Europe Responding {+Electric Motor Efficiency Infographic}

Interesting fact: today marks the passage of 45% of the year (yeah, time flies). 2nd interesting fact: electric motors account for ~45% of total global electricity consumption (yeah, that means electric motors are a beast of an energy user).

Are We Setting the Right Priorities to Address our Energy Challenges?

Electric motors are the single biggest consumer of electricity. They account for about two thirds of industrial power consumption and, as stated above, about 45% of global power consumption, according to a new analysis by the International Energy Agency (linked above).

Lighting is a distant second, consuming about 19%.

This means that almost every second power plant is producing electricity for the sole purpose of running motors.

However, as you have probably noticed, electric motors rarely form part of the intensive debate on our energy future (including here on CleanTechnica). Thousands of words and column inches are devoted to topics such as nuclear power, renewable energy, and electric vehicles, but rarely (if at all) do we discuss the fact that the majority of electric motors are inefficient, oversized, or running when they don’t need to be running.