Throw open the skies and get your passports ready! You may have heard by now that the proverbial jump across the pond is about to get much easier and, perhaps, cheaper. As of March 30, an “open skies” agreement between the United States and the European Union has gone into effect, opening up more possibilities for the recently struggling airline industry than you can shake a complimentary pack of peanuts at. Read it in all of its legalese glory here [PDF]. “Open skies” translates to several significant changes in international air relations. First, it lifts restrictions on which airlines can …
Carbon-offset dealings by the World Bank have been criticized (and not for the first time) in a report released Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies. In the past two years, the report charges, the bank has loaned $1.5 billion to fossil-fuel companies to make minor greenhouse-gas reductions. It then sells carbon credits for those reductions, says coauthor Daphne Wysham, “takes its 13 percent cut, and everyone is happy.” (Well, except the planet and its advocates — the bank has come under much protest recently for funding a massive coal plant in India.) The bank would be better off getting …
Would you pay $25,000 to $30,000 to put solar panels on your home? If you’re like most cash-strapped Americans, you’d balk at that five-figure expense, no matter how green you aspire to be. OK, what if you could do it for $1,000 or $2,000? SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive. SolarCity, based in sunny Silicon Valley, has just launched a new program that will push the upfront costs of a residential solar system down to a grand or two. Under the company’s SolarLease financing program, backed by Morgan Stanley, SolarCity will own the solar panels it installs on customers’ roofs, and homeowners …
Daniel J. Weiss and Robin Pam of the Center for American Progress have a new article on the health impacts of global warming. As they explain, "Some of the most severe health effects linked to global warming include the following": More illness and death resulting from heat waves. Worsening air pollution causes more respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Vector-borne disease infections will rise. Changing food production and security may cause hunger. More severe and frequent wildfires will threaten more people. Flooding linked to rising sea levels will displace millions. Already, "WHO now says that 150,000 deaths annually are attributable to the effects of climate change." And we've only warmed about 1.5 degrees F in the past century. We might warm 10 degrees F each century! The time to act is now.
Almost certainly not and absolutely not. I give two answers here because there are two very different types of solar energy: Solar photovoltaics, PV, which is direct conversion of sunlight to electricity. It is well known, high-tech, uneconomically expensive in most parts of this country (but poised to resume dropping sharply in price), and intermittent (power only when the sun shines). Solar thermal electric or concentrated solar power (CSP), which uses mirrors to focus sunlight to heat a fluid to run a turbine or engine to make electricity. It is, as I've blogged, "The solar power you don't hear about." It is relatively low-tech, competitive today (and poised to drop sharply in price), and can be made load-following (matching the demand curve during the day and evening) and possibly baseload (round-the-clock). Absent major subsidies, solar PV is simply not a big-time winner (in terms of kWh delivered cost-effectively) in rich countries with built-out electric grids in the near term. It is, however, a big winner in the medium-term (post-2020). I don't agree with the Scientific American article that calls for a massive $400 billion 40-year plan for solar. I have been meaning to blog that it has many weaknesses, in my mind. No energy efficiency. No wind. Heck, nothing but PV and CSP, and it looks to be mostly PV, which needs expensive storage.
The need to reduce our impacts is actually a tremendous opportunity to build a green economy, green jobs, and green infrastructure. But first it will require us -- the developed world, emerging economies, oil and coal interests -- to change the way we think. Gandhi and King understood this. In fact, they eerily anticipated our predicament and speak to us across the decades about it. They both quite clearly foresaw a time when technological development divorced from development of consciousness would threaten the survival of the planet.
Newbie New York Governor David Paterson has put the kibosh on a proposal for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound. Paterson and other outspoken opponents say the Broadwater project would damage the sound and be a floating terrorist target. Oil companies TransCanada and Shell, which are pushing the project, point to LNG as a source of clean energy, and say they’ll seek other avenues for regulatory approval.
With today's green energy boom (and over 100,000 existing jobs in the wind and solar industries alone) hanging in the balance, the Senate voted this morning by an overwhelming 88 to 8 margin to attach short-term extensions of key clean energy tax incentives set to expire at the end of this year -- the Production Tax Credit that mostly goes to wind power, the Investment Tax Credit for solar, and other incentives for energy efficient appliances and the like -- to the housing bill that the Senate then went on to pass by an also overwhelming 84 to 12. (None of the presidential contenders were around for today's votes, for those keeping track of such things.) (The overwhelming popularity of wind power was also clearly on display this morning. An effort by wind-hatin' Sen. Lamar Alexander [R-Tenn.] to double the extension to two years by cutting the subsidy to wind in half was trounced on a 15-79 vote -- fewer votes than similar efforts by Alexander have received in the past.) Today's victory -- the first time this Congress that the Senate has approved even short-term extensions of these clean energy incentives -- is sweet, to be sure, as it underscores the strong, bipartisan support for these measures and the urgent need to extend them. However, unless the House and the Senate can bridge some key differences, this particular strategy may not ultimately result in victory on this make-or-break issue.
A few more thoughts on the 4,000 MW coal plant in India recently approved for international aid financing, which David and Joe have noted. I think this deserves attention because it's at the center of the biggest climate question out there: how to meet tens of thousands of megawatt hours of unmet and projected power demand in India and China without huge coal plants like this Tata Mundra "Ultra-Mega" plant. It's not simple. But following the logic for this project involves going down a "There Is No Alternative" rabbit hole. To people in India facing daily brown-outs or a lack of electricity altogether, it may seem like environmental organizations in the U.S. are opposing this power development from a different universe. They may be. But the financiers trying to justify this project in the public interest are themselves in their own universe of self-justifying arguments. The main justification for international aid for this project is that "super-critical" coal-generating technology will make this plant more efficient than others in India. However, the broader situation in India's power sector is such that nearly all of the efficiency gains at the plant are likely to be eaten up by the world-beating levels of transmission and distribution loss of the rickety Indian electricity grid. It's a good bet that the equivalent of the output of at least one of the plant's five 800 MW generating units will disappear before it gets to an actual electricity consumer [PDF].
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