Climate & Energy

Green buildings wise up

Linking green buildings and the smart grid will spawn a green energy ecosystem

A new energy ecosystem is emerging that connects smart, green buildings with a smart, green grid to optimize energy flows. Since commercial and industrial buildings represent around 40 percent of U.S. energy use, and homes another 30 percent, this represents the most significant opportunity for energy efficiency and mass-scale renewable generation. But creating this new green energy ecosystem means linking what are today heavily "stovepiped" separate systems within buildings and between buildings and the grid. It also means expanding the definition of green buildings to include the digital smarts that connect diverse systems. The Green Intelligent Buildings Conference in Baltimore on April 2-3 focused on ways to cut through "stovepipes" and build those new linkages. "We need to find ways to make the grid smarter, to make buildings smarter, and to have these smarts communicate with each other," keynoter Jeffrey Harris of the Alliance to Save Energy told attendees. This will require new technologies and partnerships that cross traditional boundaries, said the ASE vice president for programs. "We need not just utilities but private industry to be involved." One key area where new partnerships are needed is within the building industry itself, between green builders and building intelligence providers.

Bush to push for climate legislation?

This is in the Washington Times, so take it with a very large grain of salt: President Bush is poised to change course and announce as early as this week that he wants Congress to pass a bill to combat global warming, and will lay out principles for what that should include. Specifics of the policy are still being fiercely debated, but Bush administration officials have told Republicans in Congress that they feel pressure to act now because they fear a coming regulatory nightmare. It would be the first time Mr. Bush has called for statutory authority on the subject. …

Markets, not technologies

A long-term extension of the solar investment tax credit is vital

Joe is correct to point out that solar energy is not a monolith -- but he's got the categories wrong. The relevant division is not between technologies but markets. Market No. 1 is distributed generation solar -- that is, solar sited on the customer side of the meter, serving on-site load. Think rooftops. This market will be served almost exclusively by photovoltaics (for electricity -- hot water is another case) -- and the relevant cost comparison is the retail price of electricity, not wholesale generation values. Market No. 2 is utility-scale solar -- that is, central station generation for wholesale power. Think big plants in the desert that sell electricity to utilities for further distribution and sale to their customers. The relevant cost comparison is the future price of non-renewable alternatives, such as coal. This market will be served by many different technologies, including solar thermal electric (from parabolic troughs to power towers) to concentrated photovoltaic to dish Stirling engines to thin film solar of various flavors.

Bush may turn about-face, ask Congress to address climate change

President Bush may soon announce that he wants Congress to pass a climate-change-fightin’ bill, and will lay out suggestions for what that should include as early as this week, according to the Washington Times. Republican Congressfolk reportedly are cautioning the administration not to go too crazy. The U.S.-led climate group of major economies meets this week in Paris, potentially providing Bush with a good venue in which to turn his about-face.

Clinton, Obama questioned on climate change at religion forum

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were asked about climate change as part of the Compassion Forum, a gathering focused on eliciting the candidates’ views on matters of faith. Asked whether Americans can combat global poverty and climate change without changing their standard of living, Clinton got all “10 things you can do,” advising people to unplug appliances and change their light bulbs. “I hope that, as president, I can model that and lead that effort so that people don’t feel so threatened by the changes we’re talking about when it comes to dealing with global warming,” she …

A surge of wonkery

Presidential advisers discuss climate and energy on C-SPAN

On Friday, C-SPAN hosted an event with energy/environment advisers from all three campaigns — attending were Jason Grumet (Obama), James Woolsey (McCain), and Todd Stern (Clinton). (A slightly different threesome than the one I saw at the WSJ conference.) You can watch streaming video of the event here. I haven’t watched through the whole thing yet, but thus far I just hear lots and lots of sensible thoughts and broad agreement. The moderators — the excellent Margie Kriz from National Journal and Susan Feeney from National Public Radio — are really letting me down. Feeney used her one specific question …

Succeeding in the free market

One of my favorite writers, Jonathan Chait, has an article in The New Republic on “the latest in global warming denialism” (the latest being acknowledging it exists but refusing to do anything about it). It mostly goes over familiar ground, but I wanted to call out one part where Chait makes an unwarranted concession. Discussing recent efforts to repeal some oil industry tax breaks in order to fund tax credits for renewable energy, Chait writes: Objection number one is that repealing the tax break to pay for renewable energy amounts to “taxing successful energy sources and subsidizing unsuccessful ones,” as …

Cheap clean coal now dirty, expensive

The WSJ energy blog points out that skyrocketing demand for coal in the developing world is rapidly driving up the commodity price. (And WSJ proper points out that rising prices for coal mean rising prices for steel.) Meanwhile, Reuters says “clean coal” is “elusive” and the head of one of Australia’s biggest energy companies — AGL — says that coal’s days are numbered: … Michael Fraser said it is unlikely any new coal generators will be built without significant improvements in technology and the ability to capture and store carbon. Mr Fraser says he is accelerating the company’s investment in …

When does additionality matter? Part 4

The carbon offset market needs additionality

This post is the slightly tardy conclusion of a series (see parts one, two, and three). Let's wrap this up by shifting gears a bit. Additionality is central and essential part of the carbon offset market. Additionality is also, in the long term, probably not relevant to the energy efficiency market. The reason hinges on the difference between carbon offsets and carbon allowances. Both are often lumped together under the term "carbon credits," but they're different in important ways that are sometimes lost in discussions of cap-and-trade systems. Some basic definitions are in order. Carbon allowances are those things that everyone is eager to auction off these days: pollution permits for greenhouse gas emissions. Under a cap-and-trade system, the government issues a fixed number of these permits, and every year the number drops. That's the cap, and as long as it covers a sufficiently large swath of the economy, it's difficult for polluters to evade. (New Yorkers can't, for example, buy electricity from China.) Carbon offsets, on the other hand, are pollution permits generated from specific projects that exist outside the cap. For example, no matter how big a chunk of the economy the cap covers, it probably won't cover cow manure on small dairy farms. If you can demonstrate that you took specific measures to reign in a certain number of tons of dairy farm methane, you can use those emissions reductions to satisfy your obligations under a cap.

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