Sunday, 29 March 2009

Consumers beware the costly spin of wind turbines

The view from the top could not be clearer: Ed Miliband, the minister for energy and climate change, said last week that opposing the onward march of wind turbines – on which the government is pinning its hopes of meeting its targets on renewable energy – should be as “socially unacceptable” as not wearing a seatbelt or failing to stop at a zebra crossing.

Hmm. Tell that to the people who believe the view over Britain’s last remaining wildernesses is about to be destroyed for ever – and for a very dubious set of returns. Will wind farms turn out to be a truly revolutionary source of energy for the future or an expensive folly?

Whatever the final answer, there’s no doubt about the expense. Over the past decade developers have grown rich on lavish – and, critics would say, misdirected – government subsidies. Wind farming is the new gold rush.

So far, renewable power companies have erected 2,390 wind turbines at 200 onshore sites. Another 4,800 are planned, with many more to follow. The power generated will be carried away by lines of pylons crossing Snowdonia national park and areas of outstanding natural beauty in Anglesey, Kent, Lincolnshire and Somerset. For enthusiasts such as Miliband, this destruction is the price Britain must pay.

Alas, it’s not the only price. A quick calculation shows just how lucrative wind farms can be for the lucky few: take the output of a 3-megawatt (MW) turbine, standing about 550ft high. In a good wind it can generate enough power to meet the annual needs of about 1,600 households.

The owner of such a machine could expect to sell the 9,200MW hours of power generated in a year for about £331,000 at today’s prices. Not bad, but the real profit lies elsewhere, in the form of little bits of paper known as renewable obligation certificates (Rocs). Under a government scheme, the wind farmer is allowed to “create” one Roc for each megawatt hour of electricity generated – and to charge the consumer for doing so.

Currently each Roc is worth £48, so our 3MW turbine is generating an additional £441,600 each year, simply from the sale of Rocs. Add this all together and that one machine will earn £772,600 a year, or just under £20m over a typical 25-year lifetime – assuming the subsidies continue at the same rate. And it will have cost only around £3m£4m to build.

In other European Union countries the payback can be even more astonishing. Germany subsidises renewable power generation through the so-called “feed-in tariff” (Fit). Anyone generating solar, wind-powered or hydro electricity gets a guaranteed payment of four times the market rate – about 35p a unit – for 20 years.

The cost is spread among users so that only €1.50 (£1.40) is added to the average bill a month. The German system is deemed so successful that Fits have been adopted in 19 countries and the recent Climate Change Act allows for their introduction here.

In Britain, however, while the government has thrown money at renewable energy generators, it seems not to have anticipated the huge additional costs that wind brings with it.

The problem is this: wind does not blow all the time, so if Britain is to keep the lights on when the breeze slackens, wind power needs support from other forms of power. This means that for every wind farm we build, there must be a coal or gas-fired power station waiting in the wings to take over.

Right now Britain has about 76 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity, mostly nuclear, coal and gas. The government has said it wants 30GW of our power to come from wind by 2030, but to achieve that it will also have to build or maintain an extra 30GW of back-up power stations. So by 2030 Britain will have to sustain power stations capable of generating 100GW of electricity to provide the power we now get from 76GW.

Then there are the new European Union regulations, which stipulate that Britain must get 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. To meet this target overall will mean producing some 30% of our electricity from renewables – and wind is the only mature technology able to deliver it.

Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, believes this is too ambitious. “We could build and install the thousands of turbines and back-up power stations needed, but only at great cost,” he says. “It is bound to fail but no one dares talk about that – or not yet.”

The other thing government does not like to talk about is the cost to consumers. At the moment, subsidising wind turbines adds £12 to the typical annual domestic power bill of £474. This is small now but will surge as more turbines are built.

Will it be worth it? The renewables obligation, by the way, is just one of the charges for dealing with climate change already being added to our energy bills. The average power and gas consumer is already paying an annual extra £31 for carbon permits, under the EU emissions trading scheme, and another £38 for the UK government’s carbon emission reductions programme, which subsidises home energy efficiency programmes.

Many wonder if such mounting charges are politically sustainable. A couple of years ago Ofgem, the energy regulator, warned the government that the renewables obligation system was handing wind farm operators windfall profits that could provoke a consumer backlash – perhaps one as angry as the fuel tax protests of 2000. What price then for Miliband’s bleats about the “social unacceptability” of opposing wind power?

Source - Thetimes

British eco-migrants flee to New Zealand

NEW ZEALAND is seeing its first influx of British eco-migrants, environmental refugees who have quit the UK because they fear the long-term impacts of climate change.

The country’s islands, renowned for their temperate climate, clean environment and low population, have often been put forward by greens as potential “lifeboats” for a world suffering serious warming.

Recently, James Lovelock, the scientist and creator of the Gaia theory, said in his new book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, that New Zealand could be one of the world’s last havens as climate change fundamentally changes the planet.

Such effects are expected to take years or decades to happen but some families are already trying to anticipate them.

Among them are Lizzy and Mike Larmer-Cottle who have moved their family from London to Albany, half an hour north of Auckland on North Island, surrounded by rolling hills and beaches.

Britain’s recent climate of summer droughts and warm, wet winters was becoming alarming, said Lizzy. She added: “England was just having more and more flooding — if that continues, half of it is going to be underwater.”

The couple stress there were other factors too, such as lower traffic, less pollution and cheaper property. Before moving to New Zealand their sons Milo, 10, and Theo, 12, had, for example, never been able to ride their bikes on local roads.

They are, however, part of a rising tide of Britons heading for the New Zealand. Statistics NZ, which collects data for the country’s government, said more than 18,000 British residents moved there last year alone.

Among recent arrivals was John Zamick who also believes climate change will tip Britain into long-term environmental decline.

The businessman, who now co-directs a biodiesel company in Nelson, a town on South Island, points to East Anglia, where rainfall is now so low it is classed as semi-arid, while its coasts are threatened by rising sea levels.

What such eco-migrants have in common is not so much a fear of Britain becoming warmer but that climate change could destabilise the global economy, causing shortages of food.

At the Copenhagen climate science conference earlier this month, scientists set out the latest research on how climate change could affect crops.

This showed that, as heat and water shortages took hold, many equatorial regions in Africa and Asia would become unable to grow enough food, creating global shortages of staples like wheat and rice.

Zamick said New Zealand's low population density, agricultural independence and availability of farmland were all prime attractions, along with its English-speaking population.

Americans have also spotted New Zealand’s potential. Adam Fier and his wife Misbah Sadat moved their family from Maryland in the United States to New Zealand late last month.

Fier, a computer security expert who used to work at Nasa, told the Washington Post the decision was made because of his two girls.

“I am not going to predict how the climate might change and how it might affect New Zealand,” Fier said. “But quite honestly, I feel in 100 years, one of my daughters is still going to be alive and this planet is going to be a mess.”

Scientists agree that New Zealand is likely to be more resilient to any global warming than many other countries — but that could lead to problems with immigration. Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at Britain’s Met Office, said: “A lot of countries in temperate zones could come under pressure to take eco-migrants.”

Immigration specialists say climate is an increasingly important issue for Britons trying to emigrate. Liam Clifford, a director of the British-based GlobalVisas, described how clients increasingly wanted to move to “a temperate country that will escape extreme climate.”

James Hardy shared such views. He used to live in lush Buckinghamshire but became increasingly concerned at how he and his family might cope on such a crowded island if the global climate underwent sharp changes.

Three years ago he moved to New Zealand with his wife and their three children.

“New Zealand has land, New Zealand has wind, New Zealand has a far more sustainable climate,” he said.

Source - The times

Intersolar To Honor Highly Innovative Companies In Solar Industry

This year, Intersolar, the world's largest trade show for solar technology, will for the second time award prizes to groundbreaking products and services in the categories "Photovoltaics" and "Solar Thermal Technology".

Any company or institution exhibiting at Intersolar from May 27 - 29, 2009 can participate. The official award ceremony will take place on May 27. Applications will be accepted until April 24, 2009.

Intersolar, the world's largest trade show for solar technology, is the most important platform for showcasing groundbreaking technologies and innovations in photovoltaics and solar thermal technology. It sets a benchmark for innovative strength in the solar industry.

Intersolar organizers Solar Promotion GmbH and Freiburg Wirtschaft Touristik und Messe GmbH and Co. KG, in cooperation with the German Solar Industry Association (BSW-Solar), will this year be presenting the Intersolar AWARD for the second time. The prize will be awarded in the categories "Photovoltaics" and "Solar Thermal Technology".

The top ten submissions from each category will be nominated. Three winners from the nominees in each category will then be selected by two independent juries made up of experts from the fields of photovoltaics and solar thermal technology.

"The Intersolar AWARD aims to promote new developments in research and technology within the solar industry and pay tribute to the companies' innovative power. It is a clear indication of how the industry is firmly focused on the future and lends support to the companies who will have the most crucial impact on the development of solar technology," says Markus Elsasser, CEO of Solar Promotion GmbH.

The winners will be presented with their awards during an official ceremony on May 27, 2009, which will take place at the Innovation Exchange in Hall B3. Winners of the AWARD are guaranteed to receive a great deal of exposure as the international solar industry focuses its gaze on Intersolar for the duration of the trade show.

"The Intersolar AWARD offers applicants a global platform to present themselves and their products to one of the largest international growth markets. Competition between the different technological solutions helps to open a door into the future of sustainable energy supply," explains Klaus W. Seilnacht, CEO of FWTM. In addition, featuring the Intersolar-AWARD signet on product marketing materials is guaranteed to enhance their status.

Evaluation Criteria
Only products and solutions that are being exhibited for the first time at Intersolar in 2009, or that show significant further development compared to earlier trade show outings, are permitted.

Submissions must have undergone industrial trials or must already be in industrial use, and their technology and economy must be classed as especially innovative.

"Together with the organizers of Intersolar, we want to promote technological excellence," says Carsten Kornig, CEO of BSW-Solar. The jury will judge submissions according to their degree of technological innovation, how they will benefit industry, the environment and society and their economic viability.

Interested companies can download application documents from the Exhibitor Service area on the Intersolar website.

Sponsors of Intersolar 2009
Intersolar 2009 is supported by the leading solar industry associations: the German Solar Industry Association (BSW-Solar) as the exclusive partner of Intersolar, the German Solar Energy Society (DGS), the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF) and the International Solar Energy Society (ISES).

Source - Solardaily

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

State intervention vital if Britain is to meet its green energy targets, says former BP boss

Article by Alan Rusbridger and David Adam from the guardian

Britain must revert to greater state control of energy markets to hit ambitious targets on renewable energy and climate change, according to the former head of BP.

Lord Browne of Madingley warns that market mechanisms are failing to deliver the necessary growth in clean energy. Crucial offshore wind projects could be cancelled unless there is an urgent rethink of energy policy, he says.

In a speech tonight at Cardiff University, Browne will say: "Competition has been the guiding star of UK energy policy since the 1980s and it worked well while there was a surplus of energy infrastructure capacity. But price competition is now failing to deliver the new, more diversified infrastructure that we urgently need to bolster energy security and meet our climate change targets.

"I remain convinced that the market is the most effective delivery unit available to society. But the market will need a new strategic direction and a new framework of rules, laid down by government."

Under EU efforts to combat global warming, Britain must generate 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. The bulk of this is expected to be met by the electricity sector, and ministers have announced plans to build thousands of offshore wind turbines off the UK coast.

In an interview with the Guardian in advance of the speech, Browne, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said there was a real risk that many of these windfarms would not be built, because of high costs, falling power prices and more expensive credit. His words echo the concerns of others in the industry.

"We must fundamentally rethink the objective of energy policy in this country," Browne said. He compared the current need for urgent investment and new infrastructure with efforts to develop North Sea oil and gas fields in the 1970s and 1980s. "High oil prices provided a strong market pull. But governments also gave industry a helping hand, creating generous tax incentives and regulations, and helping to build strategic infrastructure," he said. "There's even more cause for government intervention today. That's because energy security and climate change mitigation are public goods. They would not otherwise be recognised by the free market."

One option, he suggested, would be for the government to direct state-controlled banks to lend money for green infrastructure projects, as is being done in Ireland. "Policymakers must be frank - the cost of supporting renewable energy will be borne by consumers who pay a little more for their delivered energy."

Browne said the UK risked being left behind in the global race to develop a low-carbon industry if ministers relied on market mechanisms such as carbon trading to drive change. "A lot of people say carbon trading, the European emissions trading scheme, will take care of this. In theory it can, but in practice it won't."

The scheme is supposed to encourage companies to trade the rights to emit carbon dioxide, with cleaner firms selling pollution permits to dirtier rivals - thereby setting a price on the emission of carbon. It has been dogged by a surplus of permits, the price of which has fallen to near €10 from €30 last summer.

Analysts say the price drop reflects a slowing demand for permits as recession-hit companies scale back production and cut their carbon emissions. But it could also indicate companies have sold large amounts of surplus permits to raise cash.

Browne said of the scheme: "Eventually I'm sure it will be terrific. Right now it needs to work side by side with simple regulations and simple incentives to get investors to invest in the right way."

He said the recent decision by Shell to stop investments in wind, solar and hydro-electric power reflected a move "back to basics" for oil and gas companies. "I read it as a pure business decision," he said. "Oil companies have a tremendous number of things they've got to do in developing oil and gas. That's where their expertise is and that's probably where they're focused."

He said the large utility companies and independent firms might be better placed to develop renewables. "It's about focus. When telephones went from landlines to mobiles, the people who did the best in mobile telephones were not the people who did best in landlines. A new breed of people came up and dominated that industry. It may be the case with renewables too."

On the controversial plans by E.ON to build a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, Browne said that the pragmatic need for a diverse energy supply should triumph over environmental concerns. "I think there's a practical reality here. From everything I've seen it looks like it does need to be done."

He said the price of carbon would need to be much higher than today to realise carbon capture and storage, where pollution could be trapped and piped to underneath the North Sea. "It is expensive, it is very expensive. In the long term we may find a way of capturing the carbon and putting it back in the ground. Right now that looks like a really big challenge with no solution. But it may have a solution."

He said it was vital that environmental policy was at the heart of government. "It's essential that we do not compartmentalise climate change as an issue. Environmental integrity should be made a tangible part of other social priorities, such as economic prosperity and national security. This will require a new approach to policy across all levels of government and all government departments."
Risky investment

The financial crisis has hit numerous firms in the renewable power sector:

Shell pulled out of the British wind sector last year. It believes only biofuels, and carbon capture and storage make sense, alongside oil and gas.

E.ON The economics of the world's biggest offshore wind farm project are "on a knife edge", warned the chief executive of one of the companies behind it.

Centrica planned to invest in 1,500MW of offshore wind capacity but is now reviewing its investment plans.

BT is trying to develop renewable energy projects to generate its own green power, but it says government rules for on-site renewables are threatening its schemes and it may not go ahead without a change in regulation.

Source - The Guardian

UK energy news update

Britain’s energy policy is in crisis, the successive failure of the UK Government to take any meaningful action on its innovative 2003 Energy Policy and its subsequent watering down in the 2007 Energy Bill has now been further compounded by it’s recent inability to make any decisions at all about anything argues Naturalchoices Editor Peter Shield.

On the upside the United Kingdom is blessed with a tremendous amount of wind power, both on and off shore wind, according to the Sustainable Development Commission, “The UK has the best and most geographically diverse wind resources in Europe, more than enough to meet current renewable energy targets”, in their report ‘Wind Power in the UK’ they find, “Onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy and increasing supply to 20 per cent by 2020 would present only a very modest increase in cost for consumers that compares well with other energy sources. Indeed, as fossil fuel prices increase and wind turbines become cheaper to build, wind power may even become one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation over the next 15 years.”.

After 3 years of total inaction, they undertook another re-look at their energy policy, maybe this time with the idea of actually doing something about it, the 2006 Energy Review lead to the 2007 Energy White Paper which reinserted the nuclear option.

Big energy companies have always had an on off relationship with renewables. They understand ‘traditional’ fossil fuel and nuclear plants, you put fuel in at this end it creates electricity at a fixed ratio, it is plugged into the grid in such as fashion and it yields ‘x’% return on investment over ‘y’ years. They know how to build them, run them, promote them and very importantly how to get funding from their banks, and tax breaks from governments for them. Renewables are altogether a different ball game, they involve R&D, they work with the national grid differently, they require demand side changes as well as supply side changes: In short they are a much bigger challenge, banks don’t understand them and are reluctant to fund them, and the civil servants who like the power companies themselves, were brought up on mega generators equally like to stay within their comfort zone. Last week alone we say Shell say it was going to sell its solar division, EDF and E.ON try and blackmail the British Government into lowering its commitment to renewables, and Scottish Power back away from its commitments to renewables. The UK Government is relying on these power companies to pay for its renewable commitments, and now they are saying no. Unless the Government take a firm stance both we regards to negotiations with the power companies and a renewed commitment to financially supporting renewable energy then the whole edifice could come crashing down.

The Government promised a decision on the rolling out of smart meters in May last year, they then delayed until November, they still haven’t made a decision. Dave Robinson, market development manager at smart meter developer Landis+Gyr, told The Guardian: “We’re still waiting for a decision on how this will be done and a start date for the roll-out. It’s very frustrating.”

Source - Heatmyhome

London’s burning carbon - but not if the capital’s fire brigade has anything to do with it

By involving all employees, companies like First Direct can make big reductions and motivate staff at the same time by David Robertson

Surviving the recession may have become the top priority for business this year, but many companies still see carbon reduction as their principal long-term goal.

There remain good economic reasons for chief executives to promote carbon reduction, since lower energy bills are an obvious way to make savings at a time when everybody is looking to cut costs. For example, the 65 companies that have attained the Carbon Trust Standard, an award for carbon reduction, have saved £73 million a year through lower energy bills.

The London Fire Brigade estimates that it saved £250,000 last year by cutting emissions, which it has done by introducing a number of ideas, such as sensors that switch off lights when a room is not in use.

“That means when firefighters get called out to a job they don’t have to worry about stopping to turn off a light,” a spokesman said. “This has drastically reduced our carbon footprint.”

The Brigade has also found a company that will recycle its old water hoses, turning them into handbags and belts.

First Direct, the bank, has used technology to cut emissions. It has installed a software program that shuts down any computer not logged on after 7pm and, with more than 3,000 terminals in its Leeds call centre, this is expected to translate into significant energy savings.

The bank, which is owned by HSBC, has also installed solar panels on its roof to provide energy for its onsite crèche – Europe’s largest, with 350 children. This and other measures have saved the bank £200,000 a year on its energy bill. Matt Colebrook, chief executive of First Direct, said: “We believe that if a company behaves ethically and responsibly, it is better able to deliver profits growth. It also gives our people a sense of belonging and keeps them within our family.”

However, companies cannot merely rely on technology to cut emissions. Employee interaction remains vital to changing work habits and introducing new ideas that can cut a company’s carbon footprint.

Both First Direct and the London Fire Brigade have “carbon champions” among their staff who recommend ideas to management and promote change at a local level. These champions are the front line in ensuring that schemes to cut emissions are actually adopted on the shop floor.

At First Direct, this includes promoting the use of an innovative car-sharing database on the company’s intranet. This site allows employees who may have different shift patterns to find a ride from someone else in their neighbourhood.

Mr Colebrook said that it had not been difficult to engage staff in helping to reduce the company’s carbon emissions. “We have brought a different set of values to running this business,” he said. “People always respond here, it is a blessing for me.”

Harry Morrison, general manager of the Carbon Trust Standard, said: “By involving all employees, companies can make major reductions – and this can be highly motivating for staff as well. Communicating these successes externally can also have a positive impact on customer perceptions.”

There are technological solutions to cutting carbon emissions but, ultimately, habits have to change in the workplace for real progress to be made and that means encouraging employees to take responsibility for carbon reduction themselves.

Source - The times

Trina Solar Inaugurates Largest Single Rooftop Solar Installation In USA

Trina Solar has announced the commemoration and completion of the largest roof mounted solar array in the United States.

Trina Solar's Director of Sales and Marketing for North America, Jim Day, joined project partners and invited guests as Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey and other officials dedicated the completion on March 5, 2009.

The Atlantic City Convention Center ("ACCC") project is North America's largest single roof-mounted solar array and consists of more than 13,400 modules.

The project, which provides approximately 2.4 MW at peak capacity, was completed in December, 2008, and can power up to 280 homes and effectively curtail the release of 2,350 tons of carbon dioxide every year.

The panels will produce about one-fourth of the building's energy and will provide the ACCC with energy savings of approximately $4.4 million over 20 years.

"We are very delighted by the completion of this significant project, which helps to bring clean, green solar energy solutions to Atlantic City," stated Jifan Gao, Trina Solar's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

"We are proud that Trina Solar's modules were selected for this landmark achievement. The success of this project demonstrates our capacity to deliver large scale commercial solar solutions to market as we continue to broaden our distribution networks and project partnership agreements in the U.S."

Source - Solardaily

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Warning over renewables as economic crisis leaves funding gap

Scant aid, too much hype and unrealistic targets threaten climate-change pledges by Terry Macalister and David Adam.

Green power companies are heading for "crisis" and Britain should no longer rely on them to meet its energy security and climate change obligations, some industry experts are warning.

The difficulties - triggered by the credit crunch, recession and a collapse in the carbon price - have led to new demands this weekend to ministers from companies warning that their renewables schemes are at risk without more financial aid.

Over the past week alone, the previously fast-growing renewable energy sector has seen Shell decide to stop building wind and solar schemes worldwide, the wave company Pelamis hit by technical and financial troubles, and EDF Energy warn that UK renewables targets would not be realised and should be scaled back to achievable levels.

In addition, a group of more than 40 businesses has taken the unique step of writing collectively to Joan Ruddock, the energy and climate change minister, warning her of the threats to a host of projects unless something is done.

"I think it's heading towards a crisis," said Andrew Mill, who sits on the government's Renewables Advisory Board. "The government has done a lot in terms of policies and targets, but the reality is that it was always going to take a lot of money to make it happen. And that money is not coming through quickly enough."

The situation could be worse because green industry figures often suggest that everything is fine, argues Mill. "A lot of the [renewable companies] can't afford to talk about it as they need to be seen as a good investment. If they don't give out a good story then they can't raise money."

The problems stretch across the industry, he said, from small marine energy companies to large-scale investments in offshore wind farms that are expected to form the cornerstone of ambitious plans to generate 15% of Britain's energy from renewable sources by 2020. "The big utilities are struggling to raise project finance for inshore wind farms, and they were supposed to be the easy projects."

"There is a serious problem," agrees John Constable, head of policy at the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF). "I warned a year ago that the industry was being set up for a fall and now it has happened. There has been too much hype and the government was always far too unrealistic about what could be achieved."

David MacKay, a Cambridge University professor and author of a new book, Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, also agrees. "It may well be that renewables has been overhyped and there is a backlash against it ... There is a big, big problem compared with a year ago. I know a number of people who are unable to get investment for the kind of new technology we need for a low-carbon future."

Leading companies such as BT, Marks & Spencer and United Utilities have told Ruddock that they are "concerned over the current barriers to renewable energy investment and generation by the corporate sector".

The British Wind Energy Association, which usually paints an unfailingly upbeat picture and which has just wrung a series of new subsidy concessions from ministers, will demand in a budget submission to be unveiled in two weeks' time more help for an industry hit by a shortage of bank finance, the plunging value of the pound and mounting equipment costs.

The London Array, potentially the biggest offshore wind farm in the world, is already known to be under threat because of the changed economic conditions. Shell pulled out last year and Centrica and E.ON have both voiced major concerns about the prospects for big wind schemes, which are essential if the UK is to meet its targets for renewable power.

The Carbon Capture & Storage Association has also written to the chancellor, Alistair Darling, saying government hopes of meeting carbon-reduction targets using CCS are doomed "without a serious and urgent commitment to funding from the UK government".

The REF says that some of the £1bn annual subsidy that already goes into green schemes through the Renewable Obligations Certificates should be used to bolster the "utterly disgraceful" low levels of research and development funding.

Constable also believes that Britain could be left having to use more gas or even coal plants to keep the lights on, accepting that even the "super-critical new efficient coal plants like the one E.ON wants to construct at Kingsnorth would leave us breaching our carbon-emission targets".

Source - The guardian

Friday, 20 March 2009

Google to release energy-saving tools

Google is soon to roll out free software which allows consumers to track their home electricity use and improve energy efficiency in a bid to help mitigate global warming.

Dan Reicher, Director for Climate Change and Energy Initiatives Google, told Reuters it was in talks with utilities companies in the United Sates, Europe and Asia to make the product available shortly to general consumers.

As part of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Google said in February it would use its software skills for the program that will show home energy consumption in real time on a user's computer or a telephone.

"It will get rolled out very soon to regular energy consumers," Reicher said, without providing exact timings.

"When I began getting information about my own home, I discovered that I had a 35-year electric motor running for my heating system. That was using huge amount of electricity. I did not realize that's the change I need to make in my home."

The company cited studies showing that access to home energy information typically saves between 5 percent and 15 percent on monthly electricity bills.

"The beauty of the tool we are developing is that is going to be an open source," Reicher said.

Source - The Independent

UK government halts solar panels grants

The government ran into a storm of criticism yesterday after quietly closing its grant programme for solar energy last week, which campaigners said made a mockery of its commitment to build a low-carbon economy.

The controversial low-carbon buildings programme is a grant system aimed at boosting renewable energies including wind, biomass and solar. It was due to close this summer but last week the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) put an announcement on its website saying that applications for solar photovoltaic (PV) projects on public buildings such as schools and hospitals were running at such high levels that they had used up their allocated share of half of the £50m grant pot ahead of time.

PV has proved to be the most popular renewable technology under phase two of the grants programme and the industry argues that the unspent money available for other technologies should be thrown open to PV because otherwise it simply will not get spent. They also want the grant money recycled to other projects if some are cancelled.

Environmental campaigners are furious that the solar industry will undergo a gap in support for well over a year at a time when Gordon Brown and other ministers are talking of creating 400,000 green jobs as a way of boosting the economy and combating climate change.

Paul King, head of the UK Green Building Council, said: “The prime minister has talked of the need to both invest in low-carbon infrastructure and to stimulate the economy. [This grant system] did just that, so it seems absurd that government has now suspended grant applications for solar PV. This emerging industry needs to be confident of government’s commitment - which this decision seriously calls into question.”

A DECC spokesperson said: “We recognise that the popularity of the low-carbon buildings programme has led to an over-subscription in solar PV applications. We are discussing with industry what options are open to us to address this.”

Friends of the Earth accused DECC officials of standing in the way of progress towards a low-carbon economy by remaining too sympathetic to fossil fuel firms.

Source - The Guardian

UK ends solar panels grant funding

In yet another case of governments underestimating the willingness of citizens to install solar panels systems, the UK government has ended a controversial program well ahead of time.

As has been the case in in Spain, Florida and Ontario, Canada in relation to gross feed in tariff systems, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has found that applications for grid connected solar power projects on public buildings has far exceeded their expectations.

Half of the £50m funding set aside for the low-carbon buildings program been used up by solar projects within just a few months.

Seen by many as a token effort from the UK government, the program was also meant to encourage the uptake of other renewable energy sources and carbon reduction initiatives. Critics believe that the other half of the funding will sit mostly unused and should therefore be accessible to solar power projects, and any funding from failed projects should be returned to the pool to and also made available.

Solar panels industry supporters have also said that the ending of the funding will see the local solar sector experience a gap in government support for over a year, which flies in the face of Gordon Brown’s plans of of creating 400,000 green jobs to boost the economy and combat climate change.

Funding instability for the industry will also discourage investment, leading some to accuse officials of retarding progress towards a low-carbon economy for the UK by remaining too sympathetic to fossil fuel companies.

Source - Energy Matters

Renewable Distributed Energy Generation Markets To Reach 61 Billion Dollars

Global system revenues for sub-utility scale Renewable Distributed Energy Generation (RDEG) grew at a breakneck pace between 2007 and 2008, rising 76% to an estimated $29.9 billion at the end of 2008, according to a new report from Pike Research.

The cleantech market research firm forecasts that the RDEG market will continue strong growth in the coming years, more than doubling in value to $60.6 billion by 2013.

"Renewable distributed energy generation is a sector dominated by small solar energy installations," says industry analyst David Link.

"Solar represents approximately 98% of the world market, with small wind power and stationary fuel cells each accounting for about 1%, a mix that we expect to remain constant during the next five years."

In each country where RDEG technologies have established a foothold, the market is heavily reliant upon government subsidies, most often in the form of feed-in tariffs for solar installations. However, says Link, this reliance will subside in the long term as system installed prices come down, and Pike Research forecasts that these costs will decline at a compound annual rate of -6% between 2008 and 2013.

"Dependence on solar energy subsidies will taper off in Europe during the next 3-5 years," comments Link, "though we expect that horizon to be somewhat further in the U.S., approximately 5-10 years away."

Pike Research's study, "Renewable Distributed Energy Generation", provides a comprehensive overview of the opportunities and challenges associated with deploying RDEG technologies, including solar photovoltaics, small wind, and stationary fuel cells, to meet the world's increasing demand for electricity. The report includes an examination of key market drivers over the coming years, analysis of cost factors for each technology, and detailed market forecasts. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm's website.

Source - Solardaily

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Anger as Shell reduces renewables investment

Royal Dutch Shell provoked a furious backlash from campaigners yesterday when it announced plans to scale back its renewable energy business and focus purely on oil, gas and biofuels.

Jeroen van der Veer, the chief executive, said that Shell, the world's second-largest non-state-controlled oil company, was planning to drop all new investment in wind, solar and hydrogen energy.

“I don't expect them to grow much at Shell from here, due to portfolio fit and the returns outlook compared to other opportunities,” he said, speaking at the Anglo-Dutch group's annual strategy briefing.

He said that instead Shell would focus its remaining renewable energy investments on biofuels, where it is conducting research into “second generation” fuels, so far with little commercial success.

Linda Cook, who heads Shell's gas and power business, said that wind and solar power “struggle to compete with the other investment opportunities we have in our portfolio”.

The announcement, which comes as Shell is fighting to maintain its commitments on dividends (which it will increase by 5 per cent this year) and its core oil and gas business in the face of a more than $100 slide in the price of crude since last summer, triggered a furious response from green groups.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said that Shell had “rejoined the ranks of the dirtiest, most regressive corporations in the world ... After years of proclaiming their commitment to clean power, they're now pulling out of the technologies we need to see scaled up if we're to slash emissions.”

A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said: “We believe renewables have a strong future as part of the UK and global energy mix in the fight against climate change.”

Shell has invested $1.7billion on alternative energy in the past five years, compared with total capital expenditure of $32billion this year. It holds stakes in 11 wind power projects, mostly in the United States, with the capacity to generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity. It also operates research programmes into thin-film solar and hydrogen technology.

Shell also said that it will maintain its spending on carbon capture and storage projects in Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Australia and America - most of which also receive state support.

Source - The times

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

UK government carbon targets 'too weak' to prevent dangerous climate change, scientists say

Official advice being used to set Britain's first carbon budget is "naïvely optimistic" and will not stop dangerous climate change, experts from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research say

Proposed government carbon targets are too weak to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, according to a new analysis by leading scientists. Ministers are poised to introduce strict limits on UK carbon pollution when they announce Britain's first carbon budget next month. But experts from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research warn today that official advice used to set the budget is "naïvely optimistic" and will not stop dangerous climate change.

It comes after scientists at a global warming conference in Copenhagen last week warned that emissions are rising faster than expected, and that climate change could strike harder and faster than predicted.

The Tyndall Centre report analyses the conclusions of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which said in December that ministers should aim to cut UK carbon emissions 34% by 2020, as part of worldwide efforts to limit temperature rise to 2C.

The Tyndall scientists say the committee's report is "inevitably and significantly compromised" because it focuses on limiting temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels, which the EU defines as dangerous. The committee was forced to use "highly optimistic and sometimes unclear assumptions" to hit the 2C target, they say.

Chief among these, they say, was that global emissions of greenhouse gases would peak in 2016, despite little evidence that such a U-turn in soaring emisions within seven years is "in any way viable". A peak of emissions in 2020, which the Tyndall Centre says is more realistic, would leave governments facing an impossible challenge to hit the 2C target, it adds.

"The CCC's first report is therefore inevitably and significantly compromised by its implicit need to deliver demanding but nonetheless politically palatable conclusions in line with the 2C threshold," the scientists say. "Peaking in 2020 would recast the agenda as much more radical and urgent, and well beyond the ability, even if applied stringently, of orthodox policies to deliver the necessary mitigation and adaptation."

The government should aim to cut emissions 42% by 2020 - the most stringent scenario in the CCC report - the Tyndall Centre says, and must make the cuts at home rather than buying offsets abroad. These proposals are backed by more than 90 Labour MPs – including four ministerial aides – in a parliamentary petition.

Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre said: "At a time when the message from Copenhagen is for urgent action and leadership, paying poorer communities elsewhere to make the reductions for the UK risks undermining seriously the government's hard-earned reputation as leading the international climate change agenda."

The findings of the report, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, will be presented at a special meeting of the Environmental Audit Committee today.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth's executive director, said: "This advice from one of the world's leading climate research centres cannot be ignored. If we are to play our part in avoiding dangerous climate change, the government must commit the UK to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 42 per cent by 2020 without buying pollution 'offsets' from abroad. The UK has one of the best renewable energy potentials in Europe. Investing in green power and cutting energy waste can create tens of thousands of jobs and help lead this country out of recession."

The CCC said: "The choice of peaking year was more determined by what we thought might be possible if a global deal was achieved in 2009. The CCC analysis drew upon, and cited, a number of studies which suggested that global emissions could peak around 2016 if the world dedicated sufficient intellectual and material resources towards solving the problem."

Source - The Guardian

World's first solar-powered film premiere in London

A new film warning of the devastating effects of climate change was screened in London on Sunday in what organisers said was the world's first solar-powered premiere.

Oscar-nominated British actor Pete Postlethwaite stars in "The Age of Stupid", which was shown in a solar cinema tent in Leicester Square and beamed to more than 70 cinemas nationwide via a live satellite link.

The event's organisers said they hoped up to 16,000 people would watch the premiere -- but discouraged anyone from flying to London to see it.

Postlethwaite turned up in a solar car to the premiere, which was also attended by actress Gillian Anderson, designer Vivienne Westwood -- on a bicycle -- and Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband.

In the film, Postlethwaite plays an old man living alone in a devastated 2055, looking back on archive footage of 2008 and asking why no one acted to stop climate change.

"The Age of Stupid", which opens here on March 20, took 3.5 years to make and had a budget of just 450,000 pounds (500,000 euros, 630,000 dollars) provided by 228 individual investors.

Source - Solardaily

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Solar firms hit by government grants freeze

Solar panels companies have accused the government of undermining its own “green” industrial strategy by ending subsidies for solar energy under the low carbon buildings programme (LCBP).

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) said it was “astonishing” and worrying that solar grants had been frozen since 26 February although there was still money in the building programme’s budget.

“This latest disaster in the low carbon buildings programme is completely at odds with the green new deal we hear so much about,” said Philip Wolfe, the director general of the REA.

“We are talking about relatively small sums to support UK manufacturing, technological innovation and local jobs. This is an industry with a very bright future and a key contributor to the low-carbon future we are aiming for,” he added.

Last December an extra £7m was allocated to fund solar projects under the LCBP to tide it over until the programme closed but this cash was used up by the end of last month.

The REA claims a further £12m-£15m still remains in the wider programme budget and predicts that £8m of that will remain unspent by the end of the programme at the current rate of take-up. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has said the programme will not be extended and any funds left over will be sent back to the Treasury, according to Wolfe.

The government department, which only days ago launched a new green industrial strategy with great ministerial fanfare, denied last night that any definite decision had been made about the cash that was still available inside the LCBP budget.

“We recognise that the popularity of the low carbon buildings programme has led to an over-subscription in solar PV applications,” said a spokesperson. “We are discussing with industry what options are open to us to address this. From 1 April people who install small-scale energy equipment like solar panels or wind turbines will be able to claim double the financial support through the renewables obligation and from April next year we will introduce a new system of guaranteed cash payments.”

The REA said it had warned the DECC of the funding gap in early February.

“The end of the LCBP will leave many REA members in limbo with no funding as the recession bites. It is imperative that the tariffs are implemented as soon as possible and that the renewable electricity and heat tariffs are introduced together by 2010 at the latest. Otherwise the industry is looking at a serious funding gap and contraction as some firms are unable to stay afloat,” it added.

Source - The Guardian

‘Green’ dams hasten rape of Borneo forests

THE island of Borneo, a fragile treasure house of rainforests, rare animals and plants, is under threat from plans for Chinese engineers to build 12 dams that will cut through virgin land and displace thousands of native Dayak people.

The government of the Malaysian state of Sarawak says the dams are the first stage of a “corridor of renewable energy” that will create 1.5m jobs through industries powered by safe, clean hydro-electricity.

Campaigners are furious but appear powerless in the face of a project they fear will compound the devastation wreaked on Borneo’s peoples and land by previous dam projects and the felling of its forests.

They point to the ruin caused by the levelling of millions of acres of trees for oil palm plantations to meet the world’s demand for biofuels.

The dams would slice across a vast sweep of Sarawak, a place where wisps of cloud cling to remote, tree-clad peaks, huge butterflies flit through the foliage and orang-utans, sun bears and leopards roam.

There is more than an ecological argument over the scheme. The initial contract has gone to the Chinese state-owned company that built the controversial Three Gorges dam – a project described by Dai Qing, the campaigning Chinese journalist, as “a black hole of corruption”.

Teams from the China Three Gorges Project Corporation are at work on the first of the 12 new dams at Murum, deep in the interior, from where Sarawak’s great rivers uncoil towards the South China Sea.

Tribal peoples are dazed and frightened, telling a visiting researcher last week that they had been ordered off their ancestral lands. Signs in Chinese were posted all over the project site.

No financial details or contracts have been publicly disclosed. Analysts in China say the work is likely to have been financed in part by a loan from a state institution.

Critics argue that Sarawak does not need more electricity. It produces a 20% surplus and there is as yet no cable to deliver power to peninsular Malaysia – which itself generates more energy than it needs.

Company records filed with the Malaysia stock exchange show that a big beneficiary of the policy is a firm whose shareholders and directors include the wife and family of Abdul Taib Mahmud, Sarawak’s chief minister.

Taib, 72, who drives around in a vanilla Rolls-Royce, is one of the richest and most powerful men in Malaysian politics. He also serves as Sarawak’s finance minister and planning minister.

The family-owned firm, Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), has interests in cement, construction, quarrying and road building. It has signed a memorandum of understanding with Rio Tinto, the London-listed mining group, to build a “world class” aluminium smelter that will get its electricity from a dam at Bakun.

The Bakun dam, a separate project due to be completed by 2011, has already displaced an estimated 10,000 indigenous people, leading to bitter legal battles and a chorus of dismay from economists about cost overruns.

Malaysia’s reinvigorated opposition is now campaigning against what it calls “crony capitalism”, helping hitherto powerless tribal peoples to challenge in the courts land grabs and cheating.

For all that, it may be too late to save the natural bounty of Borneo itself. Orphaned orang-utans, piteously holding the outstretched hands of their human saviours, are the most conspicuous symbols of its fragility.

Divided between Malaysia and Indonesia, with Brunei occupying a tiny enclave in the north, Borneo’s riches have ensured its plunder.

One reason is the voracious world demand for timber. The other is the fashion for biofuels made from palm oil. Almost half of Borneo’s rainforests have been cut down. Two million acres have vanished every year as trees are felled, the wood sold and the land turned over to oil palms.

The greatest plunderer of all was Indonesia’s late dictator, Suharto, who doled out timber concessions to generals and cronies during his 32 years in power.

Now the central government in Jakarta is winning praise for a determined crackdown that has slowed the rate of illegal logging.

However, much of Indonesian Borneo is already laid waste. Enormous fires cast a perpetual pall of toxic haze, making Indonesia the world’s third largest greenhouse gas polluter after China and the United States.

“Green gold”, or palm oil, poses an even more insidious threat because it promises prosperity and development to the numerous poor of Borneo – along with immense rewards for the elites.

The vegetable oil comes from crushed palm husks. Long used for cooking, cosmetics and soap, it has now become a principal source of biodiesel fuel.

Malaysia and Indonesia produce about 85% of the world’s supply of palm oil – most of it on Borneo.

The price of this apparently environment-friendly fuel is high. Its damage far outweighs its benefits, according to a recent international study published in the journal Conservation Biology.

One of the research team, Emily Fitzherbert of the Zoological Society of London, concluded that oil palm as a biofuel was “not a green option”.

John Anthony Paul, a Dayak notable in Sarawak, explained it another way: “There’s a stench from the palm oil mill close to my longhouse. There’s a huge quantity of slurry and sludge. Our water is deteriorating. Many fish disappear and there are more floods. Pesticides leach into our soil. The insects start to change, so the pollination changes and so does the quality of our fruits and crops. It’s unsustainable.”

Resistance is growing. Last week two Dayaks walked for four hours, carrying their sharp-edged parangs, or blades, to meet me near a cluster of huts housing Chinese dam workers.

The scene was Bengoh, a place so wild, flower-strewn and lovely that it would have made a tourist poster were it not for the grumble of construction noise and the gouged earth.

The Dayaks are being forced out of their villages because engineers from SinoHydro, a second Chinese contractor, are building yet another dam to improve the water supply to Kuching, capital of Sarawak.

“We are 28 families, in our village since our ancestors,” said Simo Anakbekam, 48. “The government says we must leave. We want them to recognise our rights to our land.”

The state government says it has offered adequate compensation plus resettlement to new homes with better jobs, health and education.

However, most people in Simo’s village just want to move higher up their familiar mountainside and cannot understand why they must depart for the hot, marshy lowlands.

It turned out to be an example of legal coercion with the familiar echo of “crony capitalism”. Armed with eviction orders, the dam builders told the Dayaks their presence might contaminate the new water supply.

However, lawyers for the villagers found draft plans for the Bengoh dam – drawn up, the documents state, with input from Halcrow, the British consultancy firm – which reveal that unnamed investors plan to build two resorts on the site.

The Dayaks are now fighting for better compensation and the right to stay in the area.

All over Sarawak, tribal people have lost their ancestral lands to similar gambits. “They don’t know that this thing is coming until they hear the sound of the bulldozers,” said See Chee How, a lawyer and civil rights activist.

It is worse deep in the northeast interior, where logging, palm oil and dams threaten the existence of the Penan, a nomadic tribe. Last week a British researcher for Survival International, the campaign group, found people running short of food.

“They hunt but go for weeks at a time without finding a single animal. Fish are also scarce, because the logging silts up the rivers. Sago is becoming more and more difficult to find,” said the researcher, who asked not to be named.

“One old man told me that the changes could be seen in the bodies of the young people, who were thinner and weaker than the people of his generation. The Penan asked me again and again to get news of their plight to the outside world.”

The ravishing of Borneo – its peoples, animals and the land itself – has roots in the past. But there may be a remedy, too.

Sarawak led a romantic, isolated existence under the “white rajahs” of the Brooke dynasty, whose adventurous founder, James Brooke, established himself in 1848 as an absolute ruler. His heirs held power until 1946.

The Brookes disdained the British empire’s commerce and industry, seeking to preserve a noble Dayak culture in all its splendour.

They established native customary rights by which district officers recorded land tenure as a way to stop headhunting wars among the Dayaks. The rajahs also granted leases and published an official gazette.

Malaysian courts have upheld cases based on such documents and now a hunt is on for letters folded away in longhouses and yellowing copies in archives in Britain. For many in faraway Sarawak, it may be their only hope of justice.

Source - The times

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Study: Solar water heating good investment

Scientists in India say they have analyzed the engineering and economics of a solar water-heating system and determined it is a good investment.

Vivek Khambalkar, Sharashchandra Gadge and Dhiraj Karale at the Deshmukh Agricultural University in Maharashtra, India, determined the 264,172-gallon (1,000 liter) solar water-heating system at a university hostel had a payback period of only two years.

The researchers evaluated the various costs and benefits involved in solar hot-water production.

"Solar energy is the only renewable energy source that has a wide range of uses with commercial viability," they said. "Solar energy provides water heating, air heating and electricity through various modes of applications. The use of solar energy for thermal purposes is the most cost-effective way of utilizing the resource."

The team estimated the solar water-heating system will effectively pay for itself five times over, given an estimated working life of about 20 years.

The research appears in the International Journal of Global Energy Issues.

Source - Solar daily

Europe 'will be hit by severe drought' without urgent action on emissions

Southern England would be badly affected – while Spain, Portugal, southern Italy, Greece would turn into semi-desert

Europe will be struck by a series of severe droughts that will make life "hell" for hundreds of millions of people unless urgent action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, a new study shows.

Large swaths of land, from Portugal to Ukraine, will suffer serious droughts at least every other year by the end of the century if average temperatures rise by 4C. Southern England would also be severely affected, with summers as dry as the droughts of 1976 and 1995 expected every other year.

Rachel Warren, a climate expert at the University of East Anglia, who presented the new research to a global warming conference in Copenhagen today, said: "We are looking at enormous increases in drought over the 21st century, particularly in the south."

Spain, Portugal, southern Italy, Greece and numerous other countries would be turned to semi-desert as climate change turned off their rainfall, the study shows. Asked what life would be like there, Warren said: "Hell, I should think. It is incomprehensible to imagine adapting to that level of drought."

Other studies have predicted increased drought in southern Europe, but these are the most severe conditions so far. "I certainly haven't seen such a dramatic picture."

She added: "The message has to get out that this can be avoided. The world has to pull together to deliver the kind of [carbon] cuts we need."

Strict controls on greenhouse gas emissions would prevent almost all of the damage, the research shows.

Source - The guardian

£50bn of European investment needed to kick-start Saharan solar plan

Government investment worth £50bn would convince private companies that power from the Sahara solar scheme is feasible and attractive option, expert says

European countries could transform their electricity supplies within a decade by investing in a giant network of solar panels in the Sahara desert, an expert told a global warming conference in Copenhagen today.

Dr Anthony Patt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Africa said some £50bn of government investment was needed over the next decade to make the scheme a reality. That would convince private companies that power from the Sahara was both feasible and an attractive investment, he said.

In the long term, such a plan, combined with strings of windfarms along the north Africa coast, could "supply Europe with all the energy it needs".

He said technological advances combined with falling costs have made it realistic to consider north Africa as Europe's main source of imported energy.

"The sun is very strong there and it's very reliable. There is starting to be a growing number of cost estimates of both wind and concentrated solar power for North Africa....that start to compare favourably with alternative technologies. The cost of moving [electricity] long distances has really come down."

He said only a fraction of the Sahara, probably the size of a small country, would need to be covered to produce enough energy to supply the whole of Europe.

The results are the first findings of a major research effort, together with experts at the European Climate Forum and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, to judge whether such a Sahara solar plan is realistic.

Patt said the team was looking at questions of security and governance, as well as ways to pay for the technology. The full results will be presented to governments later this year.

He said sunshine in the Sahara is twice as strong as in Spain and is a constant resource that is rarely blocked by clouds even in the winter.

The scheme would use mirrors to focus the sun's rays onto a thin pipe containing either water or salt. The rays boil the water or melt the salt and the resulting energy used to power turbines.

Unlike wind power, which usually has to be used immediately because of the cost of storing the electricity generated, the hot water and salt can be stored for several hours.

Trials of such concentrated solar power plants are planned for Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Dubai, but Libya and Tunisia could also be considered.

Patt said that starting such a scheme would not be all plain sailing though. There would likely be opposition from local communities across Europe who unhappy about transmission cables installed near their homes. Piecemeal national transmission networks could also pose a problem.

The findings were revealed at the Copenhagen Climate Congress, a special three-day summit aimed at updating the latest climate science ahead of global political negotiations in December over a successor to the Kyoto treaty.

Source - The Guardian

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Solar panels in the Sahara could power the whole of Europe

All of Europe's energy needs could be supplied by building an array of solar panels in the Sahara desert, a climate change conference has been told.

Technological advances combined with falling costs have made it realistic to consider North Africa as Europe's main source of imported energy.

By harnessing the power of the sun, possibly in tandem with wind farms along the North African coastline, Europe could easily meet its 2020 target of getting at least 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources.

"It could supply Europe all the energy it needs," Dr Anthony Patt, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, in Austria, told scientists at a climate change conference in Copenhagen. "The sun is very strong there and it's very reliable."
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"There is starting to be a growing number of cost estimates of both wind and concentrated solar power for North Africa....that start to compare favourably with alternative technologies. The cost of moving [electricity] long distances has really come down."

He said only a fraction of the Sahara, probably the size of a small country, needed to be covered to extract enough energy to supply the whole of Europe.

Dr Patt told the conference that calculations show a £50 billion investment by governments over the next ten years would be enough to make Saharan solar power an attractive and viable prospect for private investors.

Over the last decade technological advances, especially the development of high voltage direct current cables, has brought down the cost of transmitting electricity by three-quarters.

The sun in the Sahara is twice as strong as it is in Spain and is a constant resource, rarely being blocked by clouds even in the winter.

Because direct sunlight is available almost every day the use of concentrated solar power can be used in the desert.

It operates by using mirrors to focus the sun's rays at a thin pipe containing either water or salt. The rays boil the water or turn the salt molten and the energy is extracted by using the heat to power turbines.

Unlike wind power, which usually has to be used immediately because of the cost of storing the electricity generated, the heated water and salt can be stored for several hours before being used to generate electricity.

Trials of concentrated solar power are being planned for Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Dubai but Libya and Tunisia could also be considered as sources of European electricity.

Getting energy from North Africa would, the conference heard, have the benefit of reducing dependence fossil fuels which drive climate change by emitting carbon dioxide.

Similtaneously, the renewable source of energy would mean that Europe relied less on Russia and the Middle East for fuel.

Attractive as Saharan solar power is, Dr Patt said, there remains the challenge of overcoming the political hurdles posed to the idea, such as the huge opposition put up by residents across Europe of having transmission cables installed near their homes. Piecemeal transmission networks are a further obstacle.

Dr Patt was enthusiastic about the "fantastic wind resource" and the potential of putting wind farms along the North African coast.

Winds created by the sun heating the air are especially strong during the summer when European wind turbines, including those in Britain, are at their least productive.

The conference is being held to collate the latest scientific findings on climate change. Its conclusions will be passed to diplomats and world leaders who in December will arrive in Copenhagen to try to agree an international deal to limit greenhouse gas emissions to reduce global warming.

Source - The times

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Carbon cuts 'only give 50/50 chance of saving planet'

As states negotiate Kyoto's successor, simulations show catastrophe just years away
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

The world's best efforts at combating climate change are likely to offer no more than a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature rises below the threshold of disaster, according to research from the UK Met Office.

The key aim of holding the expected increase to 2C, beyond which damage to the natural world and to human society is likely to be catastrophic, is far from assured, the research suggests, even if all countries engage forthwith in a radical and enormous crash programme to slash greenhouse gas emissions – something which itself is by no means guaranteed.

The chilling forecast from the supercomputer climate model of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research will provide a sobering wake-up call for governments around the world, who will begin formally negotiating three weeks today the new international treaty on tackling global warming, which is due to be signed in Copenhagen in December.

The treaty, which is due to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, is widely seen as the Last Chance Saloon for the community of nations to take effective action against the greatest threat the world has ever faced. But the Met Office's new prediction hits directly at the principle guiding all those hoping for an effective agreement, with the European Union in the lead: that of stopping the warming at two degrees Centigrade above the "pre-industrial" level (the level of average world temperature pertaining two hundred years ago).

Today, world average temperatures stand at about 0.75C above the pre-industrial, and many scientists and politicians agree that further increases have to be stopped at 2C if catastrophic impacts from the warming are to be avoided, ranging from widespread agricultural failure and worldwide sea level rise, to countless species extinctions and irreversible melting of the world's great ice sheets.

But the Hadley Centre's simulation indicates that even if global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing the warming, were to be slashed at a very high rate the chances of holding the rise at the C threshold are no better than even. The scenario, prepared for Britain's Climate Change Committee, the body recommending the UK's future carbon "budgets", visualises world CO2 emissions peaking in 2015, and then falling at a top rate of 3 per cent a year, to reach emissions of 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

At the moment, global emissions are thought to be rising at nearly 3 per cent a year – so turning that into a 3 per cent annual cut would be a gigantic slashing of what the earth's factories and motor vehicles are pumping into the atmosphere. There is as yet nothing remotely like that on the table for potential agreement in Copenhagen, and if a deal of this ambition were to be done, it would be regarded as a triumph.

Yet even with that, the Hadley Centre research suggests, the chances of keeping the rise down to about 2C by 2100 would be only 50-50. Furthermore, the simulations suggest that there is a worst-case scenario – about a 10 per cent chance – of the rise by the end of the current century reaching, even with these drastic cuts, a level of 2.8C above the pre-industrial, which is well into disaster territory.

With any action that is slower than the scenario above, the likeliest outcome is a much higher eventual temperature – and in fact, the model indicates that each 10 years of delay in halting the rise in global emissions adds another 0.5C to the likeliest end-of-the-century figure. So if emissions do not peak and start to decline until 2025, we can expect a 2.6C rise by 2100, and if the decline only begins in 2035, the figure is likely to be 3.1C – even with 3 per cent annual cuts.

These new figures suggest quite unambiguously that the world is on course for calamity unless rapid action can be taken which is far more drastic than any politicians are so far contemplating – never mind the general public.

If action is sluggish or non-existent, the model suggests that climate change is likely to cause almost unthinkable damage to the world; under a "business-as-usual" scenario, with no action taken at all and emissions increasing by more than 100 per cent by 2050, the end-of-the-century rise in global average temperatures is likely to be 5.5C, with a worst-case outcome of 7.1C – which would make much of life on earth impossible. "Even with drastic cuts in emissions in the next 10 years, our results project that there will only be a 50 per cent chance of keeping global temperatures rises below 2C," said Dr Vicky Pope, the Met Office's Head of Climate Change Advice.

"This idealised emissions scenario is based on emissions peaking in 2015 and changing from an increase of 2-3 per cent per year to a decrease of 3 per cent per year. For every 10 years we delay this action another 0.5C will be added to the most likely temperature rise. If the world fails to make the required reductions, it will be faced with adapting not just to a 2C rise in temperature but to 4C or more by the end of the century."

Source - The Independent

Stimulus Plan Is A Ray Of Sunshine For Solar Industry

The solar industry was moving at a frantic pace through the end of 2008 in an effort to capture the solar tax credits that were set to expire at years end. Global demand for solar hit a whopping 5.3 GW and saw the price of silicon skyrocket and solar panels became very scarce.

Citigroup's Timothy Arcuri in a recent research note observed that, "Global demand for solar is likely to see a slight decrease to 5 GW, but driven by a growing pipeline of utility scale projects and aided by government stimulus programs, he thinks the total will jump up to 7.6 GW next year and 9.6 GW in 2011."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office released a draft of legislation that would give the federal government power to speed the siting of transmission lines from remote zones to population centers. "This is one of the key components to expanding the footprint of both solar and wind power," commented Robert Kaapke, CEO of Evolution Solar.

Mr. Reid's office also suggested that the bill would set aside enough federal land to build 4 to 25 GW of solar power at royalty payments far below current rates.

"Senator Reid's legislation provides a solid framework to start working on policies that will allow VAST QUANTITIES of solar power to be delivered to consumers across the country," Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a prepared statement.

Robert Kaapke CEO of Evolution Solar sites that, "All the evidence is in and solar and wind power will be the shinning light in the new stimulus plan and industry giant First Solar, Silicon Valley-based manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems, Sunpower, and Trina Solar, the China-based manufacturer of solar modules, are among the solar companies that will benefit from the new legislation."

Source - Solardaily

Sunday, 8 March 2009

All-In-One Solar Electric, Thermal And Rainwater Harvesting

Englert Environmental has unveiled an integrated metal roofing system that can deliver much of the energy, heating and water needs of the average American home without tapping into local utility resources.

The new rooftop system provides electric power, hot water heat and water for outdoor and indoor uses all in a single package.

Englert's UltraCOOL Energy Star and LEED compliant standing seam metal roof system is a pivotal component in providing electric power and thermal heat as well as rainwater for lawns and landscaping, vehicle cleaning and laundry and toilet flushing.

Resource-saving technologies included with a single Englert standing seam metal roof include:

+ Englert's SunNet solar standing seam roof with Building Integrated Photovoltaics using quarter-inch thick laminates that are virtually invisible and provide all the electric energy the average home requires year round.

+ A solar thermal system mounted under the Englert Solar standing seam roof which draws heat from the roof and transfers it to the home's hot water system. The roof and thermal technology are self-regulating, preventing overheating and can even be used to heat roofs to rid them of snow and ice.

+ Three rainwater harvesting solutions that integrate Englert's Kynar-coated standing seam roof, Englert LeafGuard and Gutter Tunnel leaf protection systems and three compact residential rainwater harvesting kits that capture 225, 400 and 1,700 gallons of water for non-potable uses including landscape irrigation, vehicle cleaning and non-potable household uses such as toilet flushing and laundering.

The Englert Kynar-coated roof does not leach and Englert's line of leaf protection systems including LeafGuard and Gutter Tunnel eliminate much of the debris that channels into conventional gutter systems before it reaches the filtering systems and containment tanks included in surface and underground rainwater harvesting systems.

A single Englert Environmental-sponsored project utilizing all of its metal roofing, rainware and solar photovoltaic and thermal technologies can earn more than 15 U.S. Green Building Council LEED credits.

Englert Environmental projects also qualify for federal renewable energy investment tax credits, state-specific financial incentives including rebates, incentives, grants and state credits, accelerated depreciation tax benefits, Renewable Energy Credits (REC's) and net income from electric power purchase agreements.

All of the roof-related technologies can be incorporated during new construction or as retrofits to existing homes and are perfect for light commercial applications as well.

Source - Solardaily

China announces green funding for Tibet

China Plans to spend 15bn yuan (£1.5bn) on environmental protection in Tibet, including measures to halt the encroachment of deserts on the roof of the world, the state media reported today .

Although the new money is presented as green spending, Tibetan exile groups fear much of it will be used to fund ecologically and culturally damaging development projects, including the damming of rivers and measures to force nomads off high-altitude pasture lands.

The Tibetan plateau, the highest region on earth, is suffering from soil erosion, melting permafrost, shrinking glaciers, grassland degredation and declining biodiversity as a result of increasing human activity and climate change.

Since 1961, temperatures have risen 0.32C every 10 years, one of the fastest rates of warming in the world, leading ice fields on the "third pole" to melt faster than anywhere else in China. The population has almost tripled in the same period as a result of an influx of migrants from China's dominant Han ethnic majority.

Under the government's new ecological protection plan, funds will be provided to preserve grasslands, woods and wetland, protect endangered animals, grow forest shelter belts to protect against gales, and expand clean energy, the China Daily reported.

The government plans to build several big hydropower dams on the Yarlung Zangbo (better known in the outside world by its downstream name, Brahmaputra), the Nujiang (Salween), the Lancang (Mekong) and the Jinsha, a major tributary of the Yangtze.

Qiangba Puncog, the chairman of Tibetan regional government, said in the China Daily: "Hydropower is clean and can greatly ease the electricity shortage in Tibet at present." It is unclear if the 15bn yuan includes the funds for dam construction.

Tibetan exile groups warn that water and other resources are being extracted at a high cost to the fragile mountain environment and its native people.

In the name of protection and climate-change adaptation, tens of thousands of nomads have been forced off the grasslands, which account for 70% of the Tibetan landscape, but many conservationists believe this ignores the real problem of over-development and mismanagement of resources.

Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: "Far from being environmentally friendly, the consequences exemplify the damaging impact of the imposition of Chinese urban and industrial models on traditional and sustainable modes of production in rural Tibetan areas."

Source - The Guardian

I do: Tying the knot is getting greener

Economic woes may be causing the appetite for expensive white weddings to crash, but at least one form of wedding is blossoming: the green variety. In tune with a thriftier climate, today sees the doors open on the UK's first major wedding show dedicated to brides and grooms wanting to minimise the environmental impact of their big day, and is just one sign of the rising trend.

Billed as the Eco Chic Wedding & Home Show, the event in Birmingham follows a flurry of new books, suppliers and gift lists on the subject of green unions amid reports from churches and wedding planners of a growing interest in the concept.

Though there is no hard and fast definition of a green wedding, typical conscientious celebrations include a focus on low carbon transport — horse-pulled wagons to gas-powered Bentleys — and local produce — organic beers to British cider.

"A green wedding is one that truly reflects the values of the couple by being conscious of consumption — from the venue to the dress and the reception decorations — and being aware of your carbon footprint," said Rosie Ames, the founder of Green Union, a website that puts couples in contact with sustainably minded suppliers.

"The British public are becoming more environmentally conscious, so it makes sense that this awareness will trickle down to all areas of their life including their wedding day," said Kate Haines, the show's organiser.

Wedding venues have noticed the trend. The Church of England, which is running a two-year project to make its churches more enticing for weddings, reported that it has begun receiving requests for couples wanting a sustainable special day. One such couple was Jessica Randall and Joseph Carrick, who held their wedding in St. George's Church, London, to enable guests to travel via public transport. "We also honeymooned in the UK to reduce our carbon footprint and had a gift list with Oxfam Unwrapped," added Randall.

Organisers behind the National Wedding Show, the UK's biggest wedding event, said they had seen a move towards "ethical" gift lists akin to the advent of goats for Africa and other philanthropic gifts at Christmas. Charities including Cancer Research UK, Oxfam and NSPCC all exhibited for the first time at its Olympia show last month .

The past year has even seen four books published on the subject. "Almost every wedding magazine has had a green feature this season but, unlike previous years, it has lost its alternative 'druid' factor. It's now seen as very in vogue to have organic champagne," said Jen Marsden, author of the Green Guide to Weddings.

Websites catering for the rising interest have also enjoyed a boost in traffic, with the Ethical Weddings site reporting a six-fold increase in traffic between January 2007 and January 2009. An online poll by You And Your Wedding magazine suggested 22.6% of 745 respondents thought about green issues when planning their wedding.

With the credit crunch biting and the average cost of a wedding hovering just under £20,000, according to, there are also signs that more newlyweds are opting for UK honeymoons. The eco travel site said it experienced a 144% increase between 2007 and 2008 for honeymoons in the UK, a trend it attributed to cost-cutting and avoiding the carbon footprint created by traditional long-haul destinations.

But not everyone is convinced couples are always putting sustainability first in their planning. "I've noticed over the past two years that clients are asking about the provenance of food, questions such as: where do you source your meat and cheese?" said Kelly Chandler, a wedding planner for the Bespoke Wedding Company. "But it seems more out of curiosity and a desire for a 'feel-good' factor, because it hasn't ever been a deal-breaker when venues aren't sourcing locally."

The terms "green wedding" and "ethical wedding" appear to have originated in the UK. Data from Google's Insights for Search service shows that searches for "green wedding ideas" have mushroomed by over 5000% in the past five years, with the UK outstripping the US and Australia by a wide margin for queries on the subject.

Perhaps the surest sign green weddings are going mainstream is that TV companies are sniffing around green weddings. Dragon's Den researchers are reportedly scouting the Eco Chic Wedding & Homes Show today looking for exhibitors to go head-to-head with Peter Jones and company.

Source - The Guardian

Tilting at windmills

Are we throwing caution and common sense to the wind in the rush to meet renewable energy targets? Wendy Holden

Moving to the country is the dream of many, and it was for us. Having lived for more than a decade in King’s Cross, central London, five years ago we found a beautiful castellated Victorian lodge in a protected landscape in Derbyshire.

We settled happily. The summerhouse was the perfect place for me to go about my business as a novelist, while my husband, Jon, spent every spare minute (and most of our money) engaged in the never-ending task of lovingly restoring our garden to its 19th-century glory.

The estate our house is on once belonged to the family of Charles Darwin, and the great naturalist is described as listening with interest to the wild boars in the woods across the valley. But what, I wonder, would he have thought of plans that will ruin the views he once enjoyed and compromise a protected landscape?

Recently, we discovered that a company called West Coast Energy was seeking permission to install wind turbines on Matlock Moor, not much more than a mile from our home. Our first reaction was positive. Like everyone with a sense of social responsibility, we believe in the importance of acting and thinking green, and the importance of renewable energy. We recycle fervently. Every compostable kitchen scrap ends up in those Dalek-shaped bins, while the back of our estate car is a holding pen for vast bags of plastic, glass and clothes intended for the recycling centre, along with heaps of those jute shopping bags we never remember to take into the supermarket, so end up buying even more of.

So the idea of a wind farm was fine, even if the site seemed a little close. Only when we saw the application and realised how close, and how enormous, inappropriate, landscape- and wildlife-endangering and, ultimately, ineffective it would probably be did the alarm bells start to ring.

Five turbines, each more than 400ft tall – almost the height of Blackpool Tower – would march along the sky-line, disfiguring not only our protected view, but that of anyone living locally or looking in our direction from within the Peak District National Park, which begins a few fields away. The colossal size of the turbines – at the absolute top end of the scale – is surely an indicator that any wind there might be in our area requires more effort than most to gather.

The East Midlands is set to meet its 2020 targets for renewable energy without Matlock Moor, if you take into account other schemes for which the green light has already been given. Which makes the irony of wind turbines liquidising rare bird and bat species right next door to the Darwin-connected estate, as wildlife enthusiasts fear, even more marked. Not only that: wind farms, particularly of the size planned, are noisy. Whatever their apologists tell you, they create a drone at a decibel level that has driven many unfortunates living close to them to distraction. And how green are they, anyway? What many people also don’t realise is that that wind energy needs other generation capacity – often coal-fired power stations – to back it up when, as is often the case, the wind drops.

In our case, the adverse impact on the local landscape must also be taken into account. The planned mega-turbines are close to the Chatsworth estate and the Peak District National Park.

Anything that undermines the appeal of either is a financial as well as an aesthetic threat to the district.

So, last year, together with a group of similarly concerned locals, we began the long process of opposition. The business of stopping wind-farm developments is, however, not an easy one. An already complicated bureaucratic procedure is further hampered by the fact that nobody wants to be seen, however erroneously, as “anti-green”.

Time is of the essence – not just in terms of the speed with which the development process can move, but the hours required of the individuals involved in stopping it. The organisers of our local action group have all given up enormous amounts of both time and energy to meetings, research, lobbying, PR and running a website (

You need money, too. In the interests of gathering as much accurate and relevant evidence as possible, Jon and I consulted, at some personal cost, a barrister who specialises in wind farms. We have also called in expert noise- and land-scape-impact advice. So goodbye, new car – appropriate, perhaps.

Not everyone will be prepared to go to these lengths, but anyone planning opposition should bear in mind the need to pay for professional advice that can cost thousands of pounds.

As things stand today, the Matlock Moor wind-farm application has been filed with the relevant local authorities, who will prepare their reports on the proposal for local councillors to consider this spring. While they may reject it outright, a planning appeal before an inspector seems likely – which would add at least another year to the process.

Similar applications to the one at Matlock Moor are being filed all over the country, causing similar controversy. Especially now, because, with the main-stream property market slumping, developers are spotting new and green-looking shoots of opportunity.

The rush for answers to environmental challenges has added to the panic, as regions stampede to fill renewable energy targets. My fear is that this will lead to a new breed of climate-change cowboys, who will use the environment as an excuse to obtain permission to develop a wind farm that they will build and sell on – aided in such speculations by government sweeteners and the willingness of landowners to do a deal.

West Coast Energy has acknowledged local concerns about its project, but says it “represents a viable and suitable site for a wind-farm development on this scale”. The company also claims to have considered in some detail issues such as noise, visual effects and the effect on ecology and birds.

We are not convinced. Maybe you’ll be the next to discover it’s not fairies at the bottom of your garden, but a planned Blackpool Tower-sized turbine or five.


- Work with local people, and with wildlife groups, ramblers, cyclists and other interested parties. Set up an action group and a website. Contact local media and your MP.

- Ask the developer for all relevant information, especially on noise and environmental effects.

- Determine how the application fits planning policy at national, regional and local levels. Object in writing to the relevant authorities.

- Have an expert take noise measurements: developers will claim your quiet corner is as noisy as Heathrow, so you won’t notice the drone.

- Find out what “landscape character” assessments the local authority has made.

- Ask an expert in planning law to look at the application.

Source - Sunday Times

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Consumers face £4.7bn bill for expansion of National Grid

Hard-pressed energy consumers face a "worryingly high" bill of £4.7bn to pay for the cost of hooking up wind farms and new nuclear power stations to the UK's electricity grid network over the next decade, it was made clear today.

A report from a joint government, industry and regulatory group said that 1,000 kilometres of new cables were needed in what would be the biggest expansion in the network for half a century.

The Electricity Networks Strategy Group (ENSG) said the shake-up would allow Britain to move towards a low-­carbon energy supply with the potential for 30% of electricity generated from renewables by 2020. It advises that work should start immediately on the project, which includes two high-voltage sub-sea links between Scotland and England.

Mike O'Brien, the energy and climate change minister, said it was vital to build a grid that was "fit for purpose" so that Britain could cut carbon emissions and make supply more secure. "This is a massive long-term investment opportunity and this upgrade work will help support jobs across the low-carbon economy," he added.

Department officials said that there was no intention at this point of the government picking up the tab, which would be an issue for the energy companies and their consumers. This suggests that higher bills are likely at a time when households have already been under pressure over ­rising energy bills, helped only recently by lower oil and gas prices.

The National Grid, which runs the transmission system in England and Wales and will pay for the bulk of the programme in the first instance, said it was government's role to provide the right framework of policies rather than pay directly for it. "We can recover the costs in the same way that we do all our other investments," said a Grid spokesman, who admitted it could need to spend as much as £9bn overall on changes to the network.

The Grid would bill utilities such as Centrica, EDF and E.ON, which generate the electricity and then supply it to customers using the Grid's network. These companies can be expected in turn to pass on the extra costs to the householder.

Chris Stubbs, director at environment consultancy WSP, said the £4.7bn bill highlighted the "worryingly high cost" of embracing new energy generation and that the consumer or taxpayer would end up paying.

"It is important to consider that offshore wind is particularly expensive when compared with onshore wind, as the laying of underwater cabling is costly, as is the building of the turbines," he added.

Friends of the Earth's executive director, Andy Atkins, welcomed the report as forward-looking. "Up to now the short-term attitude of the energy regulator Ofgem and lack of strategic ­thinking have stood in the way of the massive expansion of renewable energy needed to tackle climate change and bring hundreds of thousands of new jobs to this country," he said.

Source - The Guardian

Obama must pass climate laws ahead of Copenhagen, Danish minister warns

American leadership on climate change will be undermined if the Obama administration does not swiftly pass laws to reduce carbon pollution, according to Denmark's minister for climate and energy.

Connie Hedegaard said Obama must move from promises to action and push through global warming legislation ahead of the climate change summit in Copenhagen this December. Without that she said it would be hard for the US to exercise a credible leadership role at the summit.

"We can postpone anything but we have been postponing things for many years. We must come from this era where we talk about what to do and instead come to the era where we actually do things. We must come to that now," Hedegaard told the Guardian.

"The deadline set — 2009 — is actually set also by the former Bush administration. It is not just Denmark or Europe or somebody who set that deadline. It is set also by the United States. We must deliver on that deadline and I can see no better alternative than having cap and trade."

Hedegaard was the most forceful among a group of visiting foreign dignitaries in Washington this week who have been trying to build momentum ahead of the Copenhagen talks.

Also in Washington were Ed Miliband, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, Jim Prentice, Canada's environment minister, Yvo de Boer, the UN's environment minister and Tony Blair. The EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, is due to visit Washington next week.

Blair said it was important for America to show the developing world it was serious about enacting measures at home on climate change — but stopped short of saying it needed to introduce a carbon cap and trade regime.

"People have to know that America is committed. Whether it is necessary to have that done legislatively — I don't know," he said.

Hedegaard, in remarks to Congress on Tuesday, returned to her theme that much preparation remained for the Copenhagen talks to make progress.

"We all have a load of homework before Copenhagen but the world is looking towards the United States to provide leadership," she said.

She said: "We know what we are going to do. We will have to set targets. We will have to come up with financial means. We will have to find ways and means to disseminate technologies faster and to help the least developed countries adapt to the climate change they are already experiencing. Those are the major issues on the table."

The visiting officials broadly see Obama as a positive force for climate change negotiations — a sea change from George Bush who had refused to ratify the Kyoto agreement, which the Copenhagen meeting will seek to replace.

Obama, who campaigned on a promise to green America's economy, added to those expectations by investing $100bn in environmental measures in his economic recovery plan earlier this month.

But Hedegaard said that move had to be followed up by climate change legislation. That could be difficult for Obama. An attempt last year to put a cap on carbon struggled to get even Democratic support before it was defeated.

Todd Stern, the state department's lead climate negotiator, agreed that the prospects for a successful outcome at Copenhagen would be improved if the US could pass climate legislation in advance.

"The optimum would be legislation that is signed, sealed and delivered," he said. "I think nothing would give a more powerful signal to other countries in the world than to see a significant, major, mandatory American plan."

However, he admitted that may not happen — although Democrats in Congress say they will take up legislation by the summer.

Some Democrats are pushing for Congress to take up other energy issues, such as mandating greater use of wind and solar power, before dealing with carbon caps.

But Hedegaard said that such actions would not be considered effective substitutes.

"Could we just put some taxes and things? Well then you will not be sure that we actually reduce the level of emissions and that is important if we are going to stick to what science tells us."

The US was also facing pressure to set interim targets — as a stepping stone towards reducing emissions by 80% in 2050.

But Stern told Congress, that America would not meet the short-term target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40% by 2020.

"I don't think it's necessary, and I do know it's not possible," he said.

The European Union committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 late last year. But it said it would increase the cut if other industrialised states get on board. Obama has committed to reducing emissions by 20% on 2005 levels by 2020.

Hedegaard and others believe that interim targets are essential.

"It's always easy for politicians to set targets that are 41 years away," she said. "We also need ambitious action by the United States in the short- to medium-term."

Source - The Guardian