November 23 News: IEA Says Renewables Becoming Cost-Competitive Without “Specific Economic Support”

Other stories below: Climategate 2, a Weak Sequel; States Surpass Feds in Renewable Energy

Renewable energy becoming cost competitive, IEA says

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Renewable energy technology is becoming increasingly cost competitive and growth rates are in line to meet levels required of a sustainable energy future, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report on Wednesday.

The report also said subsidies in green energy technologies that were not yet competitive are justified in order to give an incentive to investing into technologies with clear environmental and energy security benefits.

The renewable electricity sector has grown rapidly in the past five years and now provides nearly 20 percent of the world’s power generation, the IEA said during the presentation of the report titled Deploying Renewables 2011.

The IEA’s report disagreed with claims that renewable energy technologies are only viable through costly subsidies and not able to produce energy reliably to meet demand.

“A portfolio of renewable energy (RE) technologies is becoming cost-competitive in an increasingly broad range of circumstances, in some cases providing investment opportunities without the need for specific economic support,” the IEA said, and added that “cost reductions in critical technologies, such as wind and solar, are set to continue.”

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Climategate 2: A Weak Sequel

There are exactly two lessons I can immediately draw from what’s being called Climategate 2, the apparent hack and release of thousands of emails between climate scientists.

One: get a better email password! This cache of emails was taken from the hard drives of the CLimatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain, most likely in the same theft that netted the thousands of emails released right before the Copenhagen climate summit two years ago. All of this drama — and the negative impact the original Climategate had on the global perception of climate science — might have been avoided with some decent digital cryptography. So right now, dear reader, immediately go read James Fallows’s piece on email hacking in the Atlantic. (I’ll wait.) And then read this Slate post on how to easily come up with unbreakable passwords.

Two: the good constables of Norfolk, who have been investing at the hack at East Anglia, are in no danger of giving Sherlock Holmes a run for his money. Seriously, it’s been two years since the original Climategate, and as Richard Black points out in the BBC, they’ve apparently got bupkis, or whatever the British equivalent of that would be. And the investigation doesn’t exactly seem to be on the frontburner — as Black writes, the police have spent all of $8,843 on the investigation.

States Pass Feds in Encouraging Renewable Energy

State-based targets for green electricity generation have been so successful in developing renewable energy projects that any current proposals for a federal clean energy standard could require little or no additional capacity, according to a leading academic.

Ryan Wiser, a scientist specializing in electricity markets and policy at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said recent data showed that any proposed federal RPS would require fewer additions than were seen in 2008–10 to meet state-based Renewable Portfolio Standards targets.

Recent renewable capacity additions in 2008 and 2010 had been growing at 6–11 GW a year. Projections for 2011–2025 to meet state RPS targets would only require an additional annual average of 4–5GW of renewable capacity.

Last year, US Senator Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall introduced bipartisan legislation to create the first-ever national renewable electricity standard (RES). Utilities would be required to purchase at least 11% of their power from renewable sources of energy. But California’s RPS is far more aggressive, requiring 33% by 2020.

Wiser said that these proposals in addition to state RPS mandates would result in 4–9 GW of growth a year between 2011 and 2025.

For Detroit, size matters: Will automakers latch on to loopholes and undercut new emissions rules?

Launching its biggest environmental accomplishment, the Obama administration has proposed rules that would determine how far 2025 cars go on a gallon of gas and how much global warming pollution they emit.

Surprisingly, the auto companies support the strong rules. Even more surprisingly, though, they can dictate how successful the program will be.

This presents Detroit with an unusual challenge.

After accepting $80 billion in bailouts and demanding wide flexibility in the new environmental standards, will the carmakers act responsibly and embrace them as an opportunity for bold transformation? Or will they latch onto the loopholes they won, undercutting the rules’ benefits by building even more gas guzzlers and pushing a “bigger is better” line?

President Obama announced the broad goals, which cover new cars and light trucks sold from 2017 to 2025, in July. The administration unveiled the specific rules for reaching those targets last week, as the industry prepared for the L.A. Auto Show.

U.S., European Renewables Hurt by ‘Perfect Storm,’ E&Y Says

Renewable energy projects in the U.S. and western Europe have been hurt by subsidy cuts, reduced access to finance and competition that are shifting markets to emerging economies and eastern Europe, Ernst & Young said.

Brazil became the third developing country to move into the top 10 of the consultant’s 40-nation quarterly Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, rising one notch from 11th place, according to an e-mailed statement today. Tunisia, Argentina, Ukraine, Israel and Hungary were all added to the measure for the first time.

“The mature renewable energy markets of western Europe and the U.S. have been hit by a perfect storm of reduced government incentives, restricted access to capital and increased competition from abroad,” Gil Forer, Ernst & Young’s global cleantech leader, said in the statement.

Doubts about climate change drive attack on state air board

Climate change skepticism by one congressman among California’s 53 ordinarily wouldn’t matter much. But coming from Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, it’s now leading to one of the most significant attacks ever on California’s top smog-fighting agency — the state Air Resources Board.

Issa, representing a conservative north San Diego County district, does not dispute that the globe has warmed. It’s the pace of warming he questions, doubting that action is urgent. He also questions how much warming is man-made and whether the actions of one country alone can make much difference.

It doesn’t matter that his questions ignore scores of countries that have cut emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by thousands of tons since the Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997. China and India have not taken significant action and that’s enough to make Issa wonder publicly whether any American actions can help, especially if they might negatively affect the economy.

It also doesn’t matter much that his skepticism questions individual moves by millions of Americans to cut their carbon footprints.

For Issa’s committee has legal authority to investigate anything and subpoena anyone short of the president and his immediate aides.

Tackling the Communications Challenge of the UN Climate Conference

A recent comment by Maldives President Mohammad Nasheed exemplifies the communications challenges that will arise when representatives of 194 countries meet in Durban, South Africa, as parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The current negotiation process is stupid, useless and endless. It is based on this principle: two parties reach an agreement, a third one comes along and says it doesn’t agree and it reduces the ambition of the others. In essence, even if we reach an agreement, it will be an agreement about nothing. It will be so diluted that it will be of no use.News-hungry media feast on comments like these. With prospects remote for a game-changing breakthrough in Durban, we can probably look forward to more headlines like this one from Time magazine: “The Kyoto Accords — and Hope — Are Expiring.” The unfortunate conclusion many readers will draw: The negotiations are a waste of time, and worse, a failure in Durban spells failure for climate action more generally. Both conclusions are incorrect.

For better or worse, the December 2009 Copenhagen meeting is probably the benchmark against which many journalists will measure results in Durban.