Business & Technology

Google funds R&D to make clean energy cheaper than coal

Google has made a humongous announcement — which goes without saying, since everything Google does is humongous — of plans to heavily fund R&D of renewable-energy technology, focusing on wind, solar, and geothermal power. Calling the project Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (or RE<C), Google has an end goal of cleanly produced electricity that’s less expensive than dirty-black-rock power — and “within years, not decades,” no less. The company has no intention of being froogle: it will allocate hundreds of millions of dollars total to the project, and tens of millions in 2008 alone. The Google motto, “Don’t be evil,” …

More proof that coal ain't cheap

Duke wins approval for a $3100/kW plant

From E&E News ($ub req'd): Indiana has approved a $2 billion, 630 MW integrated gasificiation/combined cycle coal plant. Two billion divided by 630 MW = $3,174/kW. If we assume that coal equity investors expect to recover their investment over 20 years, with an 11 percent return, that works out to 5.7 cents/kWh just to pay off the capital for the power plant. Add in another 3 cents or so for transmission and distribution, and a couple cents for fuel and operating costs, and this plant will work out to over 10 cents in retail prices. This in a state where the current average retail electric rate is 6.79 cents/kWh. So why was it approved? Simple: "In the Midwest, coal is plentiful and low-cost, and finding ways to burn it cleanly is fundamental to meeting our customers' demand for power," Duke Energy Indiana President Jim Stanley said in a statement. The head spins. Excerpts of the story below the fold.

Not-so-great grandfathering

Cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax

I don't know what to say about this article, which is largely a critique of a grandfathered "cap-and-trade" system for reducing greenhouse emissions. On the one hand, I shouldn't complain. Any serious discussion in the press of climate policy is welcome. But on the other hand -- jeez, is it so hard to get climate policy right? My problem isn't so much that the article gets things wrong (though it does). It's that it tells, at most, half the story of cap-and-trade -- not even the important half.

The mother of all green jobs fact sheets

A great summary of recent studies on green jobs

Clean energy, a job-creation engine already generating impressive performance, will rev up to even higher levels in coming years. A comprehensive new fact sheet (PDF) from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute strongly documents these trends with capsule summaries of dozens of recent studies on the topic. In the last several years, numerous studies have validated the emergence of renewable energy and energy efficiency as a major new economic and employment driver. EESI -- a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that educates Capitol Hill on energy issues and the general public on energy legislation -- has created this invaluable fact sheet to survey many of the major national, state, and industry studies. Here are a few samples:

The cash nexus

Is there really so much money in environmental devastation that it can’t be stopped?

In the Nov. 12 New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert published an article (unavailable online; abstract here) typical of her style: spare, restrained, vivid, cogent, devastating. The topic was Canada’s tar sands, now being profitably exploited by the major oil companies: Shell, Conoco-Phillips, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. And they’ve only just begun. According to Kolbert, the oil majors intend to invest more than $75 billion over the next five years in building infrastructure to transform a little bit of Canada into fuel for our cars. "Thanks in large part to what’s happening in the tar sands," Kolbert reports, "Canada has become America’s No. …

Just because you're paranoid ...

A critical issue wrapped in a dose of black helicopters

This 47 minute video on the essence of debt currency briefly touches on perhaps the critical environmental issue of the time: can anything be done about our deficits in the real world (in carbon sinks, fisheries, clean water, etc.) if we have no way to think about public policy except through the language of "what it will do to the economy"? Despite the paranoid tone, the fundamental question asked in this video is the right one: is a sustainable world even plausible if we continue to accept a monetary system that must grow without end?

Dream of hydrogen car goes down in flames

Full-cell company bought by Daimler and Ford

Ballard -- the Canadian fuel-cell company that once hoped to be the "Intel Inside of the hydrogen car revolution -- has sold off its automotive fuel-cell business to Daimler and Ford. You can listen to a good CBC radio story on it, which includes an interview of me (click on "Listen to the Current," Part 2). You can read Toronto Star columnist Tyler Hamilton on the story here. A Financial Post post piece headlines the story bluntly: "Hydrogen highway hits dead end: Ballard's talks with potential buyers is admission that dream of hydrogen fuel car is dead: analyst." The story has a keen interpretation of the sale's meaning from Research Capital analyst Jon Hykawy:

Civilization …

… is doomed.

Celebrate Buy Nothing Day on Friday; no purchase necessary

Thousands of people the world over plan to celebrate what’s usually the biggest shopping day of the year by … not buying anything. That’s right, it’s almost time for Buy Nothing Day, celebrated Nov. 23 in the U.S. and Canada and Nov. 24 in the rest of the world, drawing attention to how easy it is to stop, drop, and not shop. The poor, the hungover, and the lazy aren’t the only ones getting in on the no-buying action. Activists across the globe will be staging events at malls and sprawling superstores near you, encouraging people to take a day …

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