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Q: What's corn ethanol's footprint?

A: The cropland area of several states

According to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), U.S. farmers planted 92.9 million acres of corn in 2007, exceeding last year's corn area by 19 percent and surpassing the USDA's earlier projection (in March) by 3 percent. To put that number into perspective, it is equal to the total arable (cropland) area of four of the nation's leading farm states: Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota and Oklahoma. The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) forecasts that some 2.18 billion bushels of that corn will be converted to ethanol this year. At an average …

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It's time for a national renewable portfolio standard

The energy policy that kicks ass and gets too little support

As this story in the WaPo makes clear, one of the more controversial measures in the House energy bill is a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which would require that utilities produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Legislators in Southern states -- where, it is conventionally thought, there is little renewable power available -- oppose it. They're afraid their constituents will be stuck with higher energy prices. They are wrong. A national RPS would benefit energy consumers in all states. Furthermore, it is one of the most effective and important measures in shifting from fossil …

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Congress debates whether 'clean coal' is awesome or supercool

Oy

Witness as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee discusses clean coal: how awesome is it? Should we give it a gazillion dollars, or alternatively, a fajillion? Tough questions! Note: 9:32 [Carl] Bauer [director, National Energy Technology Laboratory, Energy Department] Given current technology and coal consumption, the US has about 250 years of coal use. Um, no. Not according to NAS: It is clear that there is enough coal at current rates of production to meet anticipated needs through 2030, and probably enough for 100 years, the committee said. However, it is not possible to confirm the often-quoted assertion that …

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Economist stuff

Two short articles of interest in The Economist. One describes the nascent attempts to conceive and build a network of high-voltage DC power lines across Europe, which would enable wind and solar to play the role of baseload power. The other is about compressed-air storage. This is nifty, but confusing: Meanwhile, General Compression, a small firm based in Attleboro, Massachusetts, is taking another approach. Its windmill compresses air directly. This has the advantage of eliminating two wasteful steps: the conversion of the mechanical power of a windmill into electricity and its subsequent reconversion into mechanical power in a compressor. But …

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Renewable energy in the House

Do your part

It's game time for renewable energy in the House. First up is the federal renewable portfolio standard. HR 969, known as the Udall-Platts Amendment, would require utilities nationwide to increase the amount of renewables in their portfolio to 20 percent by 2020. It will be voted on in the House on Friday. Take action here. The RPS bill won't do much for solar. If you want to see solar come into the mainstream -- and you better -- then the proper tool is the federal investment tax credit. Extending the current 30 percent ITC (and lifting the $2K cap for …

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Heath Row

London airport owner seeks injunction against weeklong climate protest We've got juicy legal goings-on from London, and while it's probably not true that all involved are wearing long, white wigs, we like to picture it that way. Here's the deal: in mid-August, an estimated 5,000 protesters will descend on London's Heathrow Airport for a weeklong Camp for Climate Action. BAA, the company that owns Heathrow, is not so keen on the plan, and has sought an injunction that would ban the camp. But the wording of the injunction was so broad it appeared to apply to 5 million members of …

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Climate marches kick off in New Hampshire and Iowa

A scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, Bill McKibben is the author of The End of Nature, the first book for a general audience on climate change, and, most recently, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. He serves on Grist's board of directors. Thursday, 2 Aug 2007 LITCHFIELD, N.H. The climate movement is on the move again. Eleven months after a march across Vermont inaugurated a new, grassroots protest phase of the movement to slow global warming, two new parades are snaking across the nation's most significant political battlegrounds, thanks to student leaders who have been organizing for …

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Cellulosic beef

It’s a thing

Tom Konrad ponders the ethanol situation and wonders: what if, instead of feeding most of our corn to cows, and then growing a bunch of grass to make cellulosic ethanol, we use all the cow corn for ethanol and feed the grass to the cows? Gimmicky hook, but quite a fact-filled, educational article.

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Dingell argues for a carbon tax

In a prominent op-ed

Today in the Washington Post, Rep. John Dingell has an op-ed arguing on behalf of a carbon tax: I apparently created a mini-storm last month when I observed publicly for at least the sixth time since February that some form of carbon emissions fee or tax (including a gasoline tax) would be the most effective way to curb carbon emissions and make alternatives economically viable. ... A carbon tax or fee has been endorsed by President Bush's former chief economic adviser, Greg Mankiw; Nobel Prize-winning conservative economist Gary Becker; the chief executive of the largest U.S. auto-dealer chain, Mike Jackson; …

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More on thin-film solar

It’s coming soon

Technology Review has an article on thin-film solar, mostly focusing on First Solar. This stuff is very, very close to competitive with conventional solar panels and on a clear path to being competitive with traditional fossil-based electricity sources. It's an exciting time. Speaking of solar excitement: A team at the Univ. of Delaware has just broken the previous world record for solar cell efficiency. The previous record was 40.7% efficiency, held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The UD team hit 42.8%. They're shooting for 50%. Skeptics point out that solar power has been "on the verge of …

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